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.

MonsterGirl “Listens”: Reflections with great actress Audrey Dalton!


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?


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 townspeople are also ethnocentric bigots who are suspicious of all outsiders or foreigners. The locals refer to Meg as ‘that fancy woman’ putting her in a 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.








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 and 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 as 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_10b do you want your wife to see this (beating lickin')
Ortho says, “Do you want your wife to see this?” – getting his lickin’



Hugo has been emasculated by his brutish father, and so he seeks out Meg’s physical attention to help boost his nerve to fend off his daddy’s assaults and to bridge the gap between a 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.




“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.”




“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 moment of 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 tonight’s story.”

“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.”


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’s 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 that’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.”




Sean tells Hugo and Meg about his poor wife’s untimely demise under the wheels of a wagon back in Ireland.
Hugo offers Meg’s ‘brother’ Sean a place to sleep in his barn while he helps out with the chores around the place.



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.”

“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.” 
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_69 CapturFiles_70













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 its burlap-painted face peeking through the window pane. It clumsily follows her up the stairs, {my Grandma Milly could have outrun 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 homegrown 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 have made her feel whenever 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.

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

Nathaniel Hawthornes short story Feathertop is about a scarecrow created and brought to life in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts by 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 filmmakers 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.

The earliest known written fact about scarecrows was 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!

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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,


  3. 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!!

  4. Thank you for writing about my mother, Audrey Dalton. I’ve seen this episode of Thriller and now, after spending quite a bit of time reading your website, I must just watch the whole series. My mother is a wonderful woman who still speaks about her love of acting and working with Karloff and Claxton. She remembers Karloff fondly and I will convey to her your kind words. Thank you for keeping these serials alive on your website.

    1. Dear Vicki… I cried when I read your comment. I truly do adore your mother’s work, and believe she is one of the most beautiful & talented actresses. To find out that you are pleased with my tribute to Karloff and your mother, reminds me of why this little blog is a blessing. I can tell that your mother is also a wonderful person because there is such a light that emanates from her eyes and effervescent smile. I wish both of you well. And thank you so very much for leaving this wonderful comment here. It touches my heart. And I hope it will please your mother the great Audrey Dalton as well… PS: Tell your mom I still wish that Karloff had been my grandfather…. It’s anthology tv shows like THRILLER that featured great talent like your mother. Here’s to nostalgia! Cheers Joey

      1. You are such a sweetheart, Joey. My Mother loved hearing your musings about this particular episode of Thriller. Reading it brought back many wonderful memories for her. She’d love for you to write more about Thriller. That was one of her favourite projects. She also asked if you’ve seen Police Woman? She stopped acting after that in the 1970s, but has kept in touch with some of the people she worked with like Ed Bernard. Barb Darrow and her keep in touch and she is going to send her a link to your website. What a blessing, indeed. Thank you for the sweet memories and kind words.

      2. Vicki!- Thank you. It’s a delight talking about your mother and the good old days when people could act, and the films and television programs were quality. Even the B movies are worth re-watching just to see the familiar faces.
        Boris Karloff’s THRILLER was ahead of it’s time. My only regret is that they gave up after 69 episodes competing with Alfred Hitchcock’s tv show. Some of the BEST episodes starred your beautiful mom. Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook, The Premonition, and of course The Hollow Watcher. She was a wild cat in that episode. So believable. And I haven’t forgotten the films she was in. Ironically we just watched The Monster That Challenged the World last Sunday. I love to do Sunday Morning Sci-Fi here, and I was just pointing out, “there’s Audrey Dalton, but her silly daughter turns up the temp in the lab and that giant Mollusk escapes!” I loved My Cousin Rachel and Kitten With a Whip!!! And of course Bill Castle’s Mr Sardonicus! I am an old classic horror and film noir aficionado

        And I am a fan of Police Woman and Peter Gunn. I just watched an episode last night. I love Hope Emerson as Mother and Lola Albright can really sing sultry torch songs… Barbara Darrow looks so familiar to me. Looks like I stared right at her in Monster That Challenged the World.I’ll keep my eye out for the episode Edie Finds a Corpse on Peter Gunn.

        I’m so happy to hear that these memories fill your mother with joy. They should, she has a special place in show biz. And I truly have been a fan. I do believe it was the THRILLER show that brought her to my attention fully.

        You know… I’m a singer/songwriter. I’d love to send your mum my album Fools & Orphans as a gift from me to her. I was on an international indie label, and I think the sound is something she’d appreciate. If you have a non private addy that I could send it to, it would be an honor to share my music with you both.

        Plus, I have a little feature that I’ve done here and there, when ever I find i can, called MonsterGirl Asks. I ask only ONE question of a special actor/director and then do a little feature on them. If there’s a question your mum would loved to be asked. It would be wonderful to feature her on The Last Drive In. There are so many fans that truly love your mum, I know they’d be glad to hear from her! But it’s understandable if she’d prefer to remain quiet at this time. Wish her a Happy Birthday for me on the 21st!

        You have no idea how much I appreciate your reaching out to me. It’s put a warmth in my heart and a smile on my face. And I thank both you and your mom Audrey for being so kind! Cheers Jo Gabriel

  5. Dear Jo, Can you post your email address? My mum said she is not sure if she would have anything worth writing about to tell you, but she would be honored to give it a go. You have brought back good memories for her. Fondly, Vicki

    1. Thank you and your mum so much from my heart that she’s even got the notion to try! Believe me when I say, that when ever I see her in one of her tv appearances or films, I light up and point out to my partner ‘look, that’s Audrey Dalton isn’t she just exquisite!’ Tell her she’s got fans out there. not just me!

      Here’s my personal email addy.

      Please let her know that I don’t want to intrude on her and that even if its a sweet or funny little story about anything– I don’t want it to be work for her. And there’s no rush… and she can decide just just to say no. I’ll understand. I’m just profoundly grateful to know that I brought back some fond memories for her. Cheers Joey

  6. Thank you. My mother is putting together a few stories for your feature. She has not given an interview in ages. She takes a while to write, and then I’ll type it for her and email it to you. If you have any questions you would like answered, let me know. She’s very much enjoying your website!

    1. Oh my dear! That is the sweetest thing that has happened to me in a long time. I’m so grateful and flattered. I hope she’s enjoying herself reminiscing while putting it together. I didn’t intend to put her to work… LOL–I’m more thrilled with allowing her to share her stories. Her fans are going to be so thrilled. You’re both so wonderful to do this… please give her a hug for me! And tell her Happy Birthday in advance… Cheers Joey

  7. I just watched The Hollow Watcher this A.M, Joey. They’re showing Thriller again on MeTV (thank God) and it’s wonderful to see it still being broadcast. Last week’s The Storm held up beautifully, as did The Hollow Watcher. I think there were some edits, minor, this time around, as in the store scene when the girl tells Sean that he sure is pretty. For some reason,–go figure–I wanted to catch that one for myself this time. I’ve seen it many times before but I missed it. The rest of the episode played what seemed to be at full length. A beautifully filmed piece, it stands the test of time beautifully. Black and white, all Uni back lot, it doesn’t feel small or cramped or lacking in any way, as in “time for a remake!”,–“no!”. Color would ruin it, as would too much realistic (as in Method) acting and CGI. The occasional clunkiness of the walking scarecrow in some ways made it all the more forbidding.


    (P.S.: It’s great to know that Audrey Dalton is alive and well, that she enjoyed her work on Thriller; and also that you were able to get in touch with her via her daughter>)

Leave a Reply