The Hollow Watcher [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “It’s because it isn’t quite dead”

The Hollow Watcher aired Feb 12 1962

“For the sightless eyes of the Hollow Watcher see more than you might imagine” -Boris Karloff

American Gothic by artist Grant Wood

The Hollow Watcher was written by Jay Simms, the man responsible for bringing us the screenplay of The Killer Shrews 1959. This is American Gothic. The mood is perfectly inhospitable and eerie with a poignant score that creates an atmosphere of queasy desolation.

Directed by William F. Claxton. The episode stars Audrey Dalton as Meg O’Danagh Wheeler, Warren Oates as Wheeler, Sean McClory as Sean O’Danagh and assorted members from the Andy Griffith Show. Sandy Kenyon, Denver Pyle as Ortho Wheeler,Norman Leavitt, Mary Grace Canfield as Ally Rose and then great character actor Walter Burke as Croxton.

CapturFiles

A Backwoods hollow, rife with superstition, folklore and omens. Abuse, murder, greed and rural righteous retribution for sins delivered by a legendary wielder of the law The Hollow Watcher. Black Hollow’s name for the bogeyman. A very homespun scarecrow. A straw man. A stitched guy on a stick, who watches over the simple people of Black Hollow from up on a hill. If any of the town folk should transgress they would surely be at the mercy of either ‘claws, feet or teeth’ of The Hollow Watcher. Do stuffed men have teeth I wonder?

CapturFiles_24

The town of Black Hollow is filled with characters that are nosy gossips who seem almost gleeful with the idea that someone might fall out of grace within the old fashioned laws watched over by this bucolic straw avenger. There’s a pervading fear anyone might become the next victim of their rustic beastie which lurks in the fields by night. The towns people are also ethnocentric bigots who are suspicious of all outsiders or foreigners. The locals refer to Meg as ‘that fancy woman’ putting her in way that separates and admonishes her for her difference

The abusive father, the general store’s proprietor Ortho Wheeler is perfectly cast, by Denver Pyle (Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show )

Denver Pyle

Denver Pyle as jug playing Briscoe Darling the quintessential hillbilly patriarch on The Andy Griffith Show

CapturFiles_31

CapturFiles_32

CapturFiles_33

CapturFiles_34

CapturFiles_35

CapturFiles_36

CapturFiles_39

CapturFiles_40

the townsfolk are reading a letter addressed to Meg…

Ortho doesn’t approve of his son Hugo’s new wife. To Ortho, she’s “mail order baggage” The perfect hypocrisy of this self righteous and sexually repressed small town brutality is illustrated when Ortho in a rage, savagely rips Meg’s dress then proceeds to tell her “Your nakedness is an abomination before the lord.” Typical of a patriarchal figure to damn the female subject of his gaze and project his own inner conflict onto them. This kind of religious fanaticism breeds an inverted frenzy that comes across like moral zealotry.

CapturFiles_6 your nakedness is an abomination against the lord

“Your nakedness is an abomination against the lord”

CapturFiles_7 I buy you a newspaper and what do you do the first thing You send off for this mail order baggage here

“I buy you a newspaper and what do you do the first thing You send off for this mail order baggage here

CapturFiles_9 any man who allows himself to be beaten by another will remain husband to me in name only

“Any man who allows himself to be beaten by another will remain husband to me in name only”

Hugo Wheeler thinks he has married a virgin mail bride from Ireland. An innocent lass whom he can dominate sexually, although Audrey Dalton who plays Meg successfully holds him at bay throughout the episode which adds to the tension. Hugo remains husband in name only. Warren Oates  plays Hugo who enacts his carnal frustrations with such a subtle volatility that we wish mercifully that Meg would at least grant him entry to a mere kiss.

CapturFiles_10

CapturFiles_10b do you want your wife to see this (beating lickin')

Ortho says, “Do you want your wife to see this?” – getting his lickin’

CapturFiles_11

CapturFiles_12

Hugo has been emasculated by his brutish father, and so he seeks out Meg’s physical attentions to help boost his nerve to fend off his daddy’s assaults and to bridge the gap between weak young farm boy and his rightful claim of manhood. After Ortho tells Hugo, “come to the barn and get your lickin’ Hugo asks Meg, “If I stand up to daddy, things will be different?” His identity seems to hinge on this. Ortho thrashes his son into a bloody swollen heap who passes out from the beating, in the meantime Meg cracks Ortho in the back of the head with a very large farm implement and kills him.

CapturFiles_13

CapturFiles_14

CapturFiles_18

CapturFiles_19

“Me I whooped daddy?” “Aye and so sound that he went hootin’ over the hill vowing he’d never return again”
Hugo-“I’ll be moving my clothes into your room tonight”
Meg- “Hugo Wheeler you’re a shameless man with evil thoughts”
Hugo-“I have a feeling I’ll be welcome on a dark night. We raised a hand against our elders. Hollow Watcher gonna peering in on us”
Meg-“Oh… go on with your spook”

CapturFiles_21

CapturFiles_22

CapturFiles_23

CapturFiles_26

“I wonder how many of you have had the urge to eliminate one of your in-laws oh come now chances are it has occurred to you at least once, but after a moments thought you decided against becoming a murderer. Of course I wouldn’t presume to ask if you made the right decision. But I would however be interested in your reason for refraining. Was it respect for human life?Fear of the law?… or terror of the unknown?… The wrath of a demon such as the Hollow Watcher. For the sightless eyes of the Hollow Watcher see more than you might imagine. Even now they can perceive the leading players in tonights story”

CapturFiles_28


“Well I certainly don’t need the Hollow Watcher to tell me that you’re skeptical, but as sure as my name is Boris Karloff… the people who live in Black Hollow believe in him…The beliefs of simple country folk can create forces that’ll certainly surprise you… perhaps even frighten you… to death”

CapturFiles

CapturFiles_43

Sean O’Danagh (Meg’s real husband) arrives and tries some of the local hooch from Mason who runs the general store for Otho when he’s away… and he’ll be away for a long time

What Hugo doesn’t know is that Meg already has a husband Sean who has killed a woman in back Ireland for her money and has now come to America to reunite with his bride who plans on doing the same to Hugo.

She has stuffed his daddy body into the scarecrow that sits atop the hill, hoping the locals will find the body and blame him. No one goes there but field mice and copper headed serpents.Even the carrion birds, seem to sense the evil deed what’s been done and stay far away from that straw man in the field. Meg says, “It’s because it isn’t quite dead” The Black Hollow bumpkins suspect that either Hugo and his curious foreign witch like bride have offed Ortho or that The Hollow Watcher has plucked him out because he was “mean enough”

CapturFiles_46

CapturFiles_45

CapturFiles_48

CapturFiles_49

Sean tells Hugo and Meg about his poor wife’s untimely demise under the wheels of a wagon back in Ireland

CapturFiles_50

Hugo offers Meg’s ‘brother’ Sean a place to sleep in his barn while he helps out with the chores around the place

CapturFiles_51

CapturFiles_53

The pathologically fragile Meg who clings to her rag doll as if it were the child she’s never had, is in actuality awaiting her real husband, the dapper Sean who eventually arrives and begins to masquerade as her brother in order to swindle her woefully boorish and crude husband Hugo Wheeler out of his inheritance. Unfortunately, she has no idea where Ortho’s fortune is hidden.

Meg eventually starts to descend into subtle madness because she finally believes in Hugo’s “spook” and that The Hollow Watcher is a thing that sneaks around in the shadows getting closer and closer, casting judgment upon her and waiting in the darkness to exact his revenge. As Boris says in the beginning she’s afraid of “The wrath of a demon such as The Hollow Watcher”

CapturFiles_54a

“Oh Sean something awful is happening here and dreadful horrors are upon us…
And when it was done I stuffed his body into the old scarecrow, thinking the scavenger birds would find it and Hugo would be blamed. The place was too obvious for even these bumpkins to find” 

CapturFiles_55

Sean says, “Too obvious what do you mean?”
“Well it stands in a field that’s laid fallow now for two years, no one goes there except for field mice and copper headed serpents
Why do you suppose the carrion birds ignore it?
Because… because it isn’t quite dead…
But it is there Sean it is… It gets closer and closer… I can see it there up on the hill at twilight”

CapturFiles_59

CapturFiles_62

CapturFiles_63

CapturFiles_66

CapturFiles_67

CapturFiles_68

CapturFiles_69 CapturFiles_70

CapturFiles_74

CapturFiles_78

CapturFiles_79

CapturFiles_81

CapturFiles_83

CapturFiles_84

CapturFiles_87

CapturFiles_89

CapturFiles_90

CapturFiles_92

CapturFiles_94

CapturFiles_95

Although, the ending of this episode is slightly anti climatic because we eventually see the scarecrow confront the weary Meg and it’s simplistic presence could be considered laughable, coming closer and closer it’s burlap painted face peeking through the window pane. It clumsily follows her up the stairs, {my Grandma Milly could have out run it!} Still, The Hollow Watcher has a wonderfully creepy American Gothic quality to it. And really, how could you make a simple straw man terrifying in the 60s. The effect at the end exposing Ortho Wheeler’s skeleton is pretty striking…

The sweetly sad melody written by Sidney Fine and William Lava sounds much like American composer Aaron Copeland and really adds a very moving dimension to this bleak and eerie story.

I love the cameo appearances from the Andy Griffith Show regulars, which adds to the home grown rustic feel of the episode. Makes me sort of want to break into a rousing section of “Sourwood Mountain Old Man Old Man I want your daughter- hey, ho, diddle-um day.” Mary Grace Canfield has a brief appearance as Ally Rose a homely plain town girl, (although It always bothered me that she was often cast as the ugly girl. I thought she was adorable and I wonder how it must of made her feel when ever they would send out a casting call for a homely girl and her agent would say Mary Grace there’s a role for you. Isn’t that awful really. It truly pains me.

CapturFiles_4

Ally Rose says to Sean- “You sure are pretty”

CapturFiles_5

“You know seldom has such loveliness covered such silver a tongue”

Sourwood Mountain
Chickens a-crowin’ on Sourwood Mountain,
Hey, ho, diddle-um day.
So many pretty girls I can’t count ‘em,
Hey ho, diddle-um day.
Old Man Old Man I want your daughter
Hey ho diddle um day
Bake me bread and tote me water
Hey ho diddle um day
My true love’s a blue-eyed daisy,
She won’t come and I’m too lazy.
Big dog bark and little one bite you,
Big girl court and little one spite you.
My true love’s a blue-eyed daisy,
If I don’t get her, I’ll go crazy.
My true love lives at the head of the holler,
She won’t come and I won’t foller.
My true love lives over the river,
A few more jumps and I’ll be with her.
Ducks in the pond, geese in the ocean,
Devil’s in the women if they take a notion.
RG

Nathaniel Hawthornes short story Feathertop is about a scarecrow created and brought to life in seventeenth century Salem, Massachusettsby a witch in league with the devil. He is intended to be used for sinister purposes and at first believes himself to be human, but develops human feelings and deliberately cuts his own life short when he realizes what he really is. In the Japanese mythology compiled in Kojiki in 712, a scarecrow appears as a deity, Kuebiko, who cannot walk, but knows everything of the world.

The Scarecrow is one of the most familiar figures of the rural landscape not only in the United Kingdom but throughout Europe and many other countries of the world. His ragged figure has been recorded in rural history for centuries. His image has proved irresistible to writers from William Shakespeare to Walter de la Mare as well as to film makers since the dawn of the silent movie. Yet, despite all his fame, the origins and the development of the scarecrow have remained obscured in mystery.

Earliest known written fact about scarecrow’s written in 1592.Definition of a scarecrow – That which frightens or is intended to frighten without doing physical harm.Literally that which – scares away crows, hence the name scarecrow.

 

MonsterGirl bids you howdy!


7 responses to “The Hollow Watcher [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “It’s because it isn’t quite dead”

  • John

    The Hollow Watcher is one of my favorite Thrillers, packs a lot of drama into less than an hour’s running time. Like so many Thrillers it could have easily been expanded into a feature length film. I can imagine Val Lewton working wonders with the tale, or the Jacques Tourneur of Night Of the Demon, which was sort of like Thriller: The Movie even before the show even began.

    Excellent characterizations in this one, which shows just how unfair life can be. Poor Hugo is scarcely the hero type, yet he’s the main character in the story. The Irish interlopers are more engaging, attractive types even when we learn what they’re up to, which sort of makes the viewer root for a dramatic resolution to the tale rather than a “horror ending”. I found it easy to get lost in the human drama of this one, more than in most episodes in the series.

    Human drama it may be, The Hollow Watcher is truly a Thriller, and, near the end, as the tension mounts, feels it. I remember getting a literal frisson the first time I watched it when someone, probably Hugo, remarked that the scarecrow seemed just a little closer to the main house today than it did last yesterday. There was a dead air feeling throughout the show, as events seemed to be happening in a backwoods vacuum, hundreds of miles from “cvilization”. Isolation and alienation were major factors in this one. The O’Danas are fish out of water in the hills of North Carolina; Hugo is estranged from his father; and the village folk live in fear that the hollow watcher could, shall we say, kick in at any moment, punish them for their transgressions. This is scarcely a serene rural community of the sort Norman Rockwell.was so fond of idealizing.

    A fine episode overall. I disagree with you about the ending, however. I think that we had to see the eponymous hollow watcher in action. He’d been idle for too long. He was, after all, the title character, and his swinging into action was a genuine shock. The show had been, up till this time, stronger on emotion than horror, and only hinted at the possibility of the supernatural being fact, not superstition, so when it all came together, with the lumbering raggedy man moving in on the main house, I felt satisfied. It was a decent episode up till then, kicked in like white lightning with the scarecrow walking on his wooden legs, the conflagration in the final scene. Strong stuff.

  • alandhopewell

    “The Hollow Watcher” is one of the reasons why THRILLER is still fondly remembered; MeTV is showing it again, and I’m waiting for this one to air.

  • John

    I watched The Hollow Watcher last night, Joey, and it didn’t play as well as before, felt cramped, claustrophobic, which many Thrillers were, and this often worked in their favor, as in the Markesan and Pigeons From Hell episodes. The Waxworks, too. But The Hollow Watcer was too self-enclosed for my tastes and I kept on yearning for a long view of the field, to see the scarecrow way in the distance. Also, the village was underpopulated.

    It was certainly worth watching again, yet I was struck by a few things:

    1.) Pa Orho Wheeler, cruel as he was, correctly assessed his son’s new wife even as he was wrong for the beating he administered. Hugo should have listened to his old man. Moral of the story? Maybe.

    2.) The Hollow watcher was poorly defined, too amorphous as an idea. It was spoken of as a kind of evil spirit, and yet in the end it came crashing through like an avenging angel. Could it have been a force for good misunderstood by the uneducated local yokels? I

    3.) Avenging angel the hollow watcher may have been, but why did he kill Hugo, who, aside from disboying his father hadn’t done anything to warrant his being killed as he was (shades of Sebastian Grimm of The Cheaters here, as maybe “disoedbience” is enough). For all that, Meg essentially got away with murder even as in doing so she was driven mad. And how was she going to explain her behavior to the authorities?

    4.) What a great feature film this would have made! With better writing, the main characters more developed, more of the village shown, more time spent on details, it could have been a winner of the kind Val Lewton was a specialist at. Jacques Tourneur would have been a fine choice for director, though Brahm or Florey could likely have done just as well.

    It would have been, even in 1962, something to have seen on the big screen, even on a B budget.

    Best wishes,

    John

  • modern mansions for sale

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you
    so much, However I am having difficulties with your RSS.
    I don’t know the reason why I cannot subscribe to it.
    Is there anybody getting similar RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer will
    you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  • Fort Worth Lon Smith Roofing

    The Hollow Watcher [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “It’s because it isn’t quite dead” | the last drive in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers

%d bloggers like this: