The Cheaters [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] ‘Know thyself’

The Cheaters~aired December 26, 1960

Directed by John Brahm, and adapted by Donald S Sanford from the short story by Robert Bloch which appeared in Weird Tales Magazine, The Cheaters concerns an odd pair of spectacles which allow the wearer to read people’s thoughts. Inscribed on the inside is Veritas The Latin word for The Truth.

In Roman mythology Veritas (meaning truth) was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. It was believed that she hid in the bottom of a holy well because she was so elusive.

“The Cheaters” also lay bare the frightening and often hideous true nature of someone’s soul hidden behind their façade. Their Anima Sola or The Lonely Soul, as Jungian psychology considered it.

n.

1. The inner self of an individual; the soul.
2. In Jungian psychology:

a. The unconscious or true inner self of an individual, as opposed to the persona, or outer aspect of the personality.


The Anima Sola or Lonely Soul is a Catholic depiction of a suffering person — almost always a woman — in chains amidst the barred prison doors and flames of Purgatory, the place where sinners go while awaiting final judgment.The Anima Sola is taken to represent a soul suffering in purgatory, usually, if not always, a woman. The woman has broken free from her chains in the midst of a prison (barred doors) and is surrounded by flames, representing purgatory. She appears penitent and reverent, and her chains have been broken, an indication that, after her temporary suffering, she is destined for heaven.

In the case of The Cheaters, I think that the soul’s chains are the corporeal body that binds the true inner self. The funny yellow glass that van Prinn has invented through alchemy allows the boundaries to be crossed over in order to see the actual soul suffering in it’s physical purgatory.

Karloff introduces this memorable episode, his words linger on the edge of air so melodically like a soft sermon as the preamble to The Cheaters

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“When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments… there’s bound to be talk. There were those that whispered that Old Dirk van Prinn was a sorcerer or worse… He might not have been remembered at all had not his research led him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass.”

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Fade in Henry Daniell’s who makes a brief appearance as Dirk Van Prinn, the alchemist/inventor of the spectacles or “the cheaters” Locked away in his primitively rustic laboratory, we see him tinkering amongst the flasks of liquid and scales, a pair of pliers in his hand as he finishes setting the “yellowed old lenses” in the wire frames. He has discovered a peculiar formula for making glass!

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The house keeper Mrs. Ames brings him a package annoying him with an offer of some nourishing soup since he hasn’t had a bite all day. Irritated by the intrusion he just wants her to leave him alone. Mrs. Ames keeps peaking around him trying to catch sight of his mysterious room. He tells her goodnight.

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Jerry Goldsmith’s evocative score teems with eerie delight as the strings pluck and trill out macabre musical strokes and a piano tinkles with flute embellishments that flutter as after thoughts as he sits himself in front of the large mirror by candle light.

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He tries on the spectacles and stares at his own reflection the camera blurs our vision momentarily. van Prinn is horrified by the image he is gazing at. As we view his face in close up, it distorts as he becomes more frightened by what he sees looking back at him in the mirror. The camera closes in on his tinted spectacles and the look of abject fear in his eyes.

The music becomes a frenzied climax as the scene trades with a black background and a few low piano notes held as Boris Karloff walks on screen to tell us about the evening’s terror tale.

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“Dirk van Prinn hanged himself before dawn… His story might have ended there if he had had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many and other scientists he couldn’t bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad…because years later others tried them on.
In The Cheaters, our story for tonight a junkman named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan. A little old fashioned lady named Marion Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock ( Aunt Rose Comfort in Baby Doll ’56) Her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr Jack Weston. And finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm played by Mr Harry Townes.
What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot, and neither will you my friends because as sure as my name’s Boris Karloff this is a thriller”

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I’ve always been struck by Henry Daniell’s unusual facial features that often lend to many of the sinister roles he’s played in the horror film genre. He’s somewhat like a Faustian marionette, with a wooden like grimace frozen in extreme sardonic glee. I particularly loved him in one of my favorite classic campy films of 1959 The 4 Skulls of Jonathon Drake Daniell’s make-up for the Well of Doom episode bears a striking similarity to Lon Chaney’s character in Tod Brownings, London After Midnight 1927

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Lon Chaney’s fright make up in London After Midnight

One hundred years later the spectacles are found by Joe Henshaw junk man, in a hidden compartment of an old rotting,dust covered desk in Prinn’s abandoned house.

The Cheaters includes wonderful performances by Paul Newlan as Joe Henshaw, the down on his luck junk dealer who discovers the cheaters in more ways than one, when he stumbles onto the spectacles at the old Bleaker Place where van Prinn did his experiments.

Continue reading “The Cheaters [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] ‘Know thyself’”

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.

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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?

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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 )

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

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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.

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“Your nakedness is an abomination against the lord”
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“I buy you a newspaper and what do you do the first thing You send off for this mail order baggage here
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“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.

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

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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.

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“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”

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“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”
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“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”

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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”

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

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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”

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“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” 
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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”

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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.

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

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“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!

The Grim Reaper [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “To me death is no more than a business partner”

The Grim Reaper -aired (13 Jun. 1961)

Directed by Herschel Daugherty and adapted by Robert Bloch from a story by Harold Lawlor it concerns a 19th century painting and it’s fatalistic legend The Grim Reaper created by a morbidly obsessed painter Henri Radin. Radin who hangs out in graveyards and paints “still lifes” at the morgue, creates this cursed painting and then proceeds to hang himself. Again, much like with “The Cheaters”, who ever the painting falls into the hands of seems to doom them to a tragic or violent death.

The wonderful Henry Daniell  plays Henri Radin’s father who comes looking for his son, only to find that he’s hung himself, leaving his morbid portrait of death behind.

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Fifi D’Orsay and Henry Daniell open The Grim Reaper

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“last month he did a painting at the morgue His model was a corpse he called his painting… -still life-“

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Pierre Radin-“His last picture… and he finished it” Toinette-“Perhaps the picture finished him”

Boris Karloff presents the evening’s tale of terror standing in front of the infamous painting.

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“Yes the painting did finish it’s morbid creator but I can assure you that our story is not finished. Oh no… it’s only just begun… (He walks over to the painting and swipes the scythe getting blood on his hands) Blood!… think of that, this paining is over a hundred years old and yet real blood still glistens on the scythe of the grim reaper. Which by no mere coincidence is the title of our story for tonight. How strange indeed that the immortality sort by our mad artist should assume the form of death. But even stranger are the fearful consequences to these others… whenever the grim reaper’s scythe drips blood… You’ve seen the harbinger of evil. Someone is in mortal danger as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”
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“Ah… stay where you are, I’ll join you”

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“Is everything alright Aunt Bea?”
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“Isn’t it the ever lovin’ end (referring to her hearse) the only one who drove it was a little old corpse from Pasadena.”
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‘let’s not let all the fresh air into the house”

Fast forward to the present day Natalie Schafer “Lovie Howell” from Gilligan’s Island plays famous mystery writer Beatrice Graves who has a penchant for the dramatic, drives a hearse and lives at Grave’s End, a Charles Adams style mansion she uses for publicity. She purchases the cursed painting in order to garner some attention from the press. She also has a preference for lecherous husbands and has now married her 6th, a smarmy actor Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) 20 years younger who is constantly chasing her after Bea’s lovely secretary Dorothy Lyndon (Elizabeth Allen) who looks like a Hitchcock blonde in this episode.

William Shatner plays Bea’s nephew Paul Graves who reads about his eccentric aunt obtaining the cursed painting. He arrives hoping to convince her that she’s in mortal danger, having made the fatal error of bringing this cursed monstrosity into her home.

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In actuality Paul is plotting to kill her and blame her death on the painting~ His eccentric Aunt Bea is a lush who waves him away as if swatting a fly and dismisses him for being “the worlds oldest eagle scout”. In realty Paul is setting everyone up using the legend of Radin’s painting to cover his murderous plans to become the recipient of Beatrice Grave’s inheritance until the painting decides to hold court and wield it’s bloody justice with it’s scythe. There are some authentically chilling aspects to this episode. The subject of Stigmata is injected into the plot, as part of the legend holds that the painting bleeds whenever someone has been chosen to die. Dorothy understands Stigmata to be a religious phenomena Paul tells her “No it’s not a religious painting unless the man who painted worshiped death”

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Paul tries to warn Bea about the curse-Bea tells him-“That old story about the curse has been running in the Sunday supplements for years”

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Natalie Schafer is wonderful as Aunt Bea modulating between being a sympathetically fragile, sensually self destructive and tragic character then she emerges as vitriolic and sulfurous as the great Medusa quite imposing as a figure of the Monstrous Feminine.

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“Here’s to you old buddy buddy”

Many of Thriller’s female characterizations were very complex and well developed. Medusa as archetype has historically been seen as the archetype of “the nasty mother” Bea Graves having wed a man young enough to be her son. While Medusa symbolizes sovereign female wisdom and female mysteries Bea being a “mystery’ writer, understands her predicament and walks into the flames of desire anyway. She is universal Creativity and Destruction in eternal Transformation. She rips away our mortal illusions. Bea has no illusion that her husband loves anything more than her millions but she desires him anyway. In this case Bea knows that she is on a self destructive path and seems to embrace it willingly. “To me death is no more than a business partner”

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We never see the actual Reaper step out of the painting, in the way he was used in the literal sense in Fritz Lang’s 1925 masterpiece Metropolis where you see him step forward swinging his scythe. With this episode’s adaptation of the myth, It’s the sound and glimpse of his scythe cutting through the air in volatile swipes that create the slashing, nightmarish effect.

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“In English lore, death is often given the name the “Grim Reaper” and shown as a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe, and wearing a midnight black gown, robe or cloak with a hood, or sometimes a white burial shroud Usually when portrayed in the black-hooded gown, his face is not to be seen, but is a mere shadow beneath the hood.”

In some cases, the Grim Reaper is able to actually cause the victim’s death, leading to tales that he can be bribed, tricked, or outwitted in order to retain one’s life. Other beliefs hold that the Spectre of Death is only a psychopomp, serving only to sever the last tie from the soul to the body and guide the deceased to the next world and having no control over the fact of their death. image at bottom ; dance of death. psychopomps”

The origins of the Grim Reaper go back far into the past and he was known by many names. In old Celtic folklore he was known as L’Ankou, sometimes called Father Time. To the Greeks he was known as Cronus and the Romans called him Saturn.

Don’t be grim, I’ll be back with more Thrilling episodes! MonsterGirl

Pigeons From Hell [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Is anybody home?”

Pigeons From Hell~aired June 6 1961

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Adapted for the screen by John Kneubuhl (The Screaming Skull ’58, Two on a Guillotine ’65 both have a similar eerie Gothic sensibility) and directed by John Newland. (One Step Beyond 60s tv series, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ’73) Pigeons From Hell was another story taken out of Weird Tales Magazine from a story by Robert E. Howard (Author of Conan the Barbarian), in 1938, which he based on old legends that his grandmother had told him in West Texas.This also seems to coincide with similar themes of Voodoo by Zora Neale Hurston  Author Folklorist/Anthropologist during the time of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote the non-fiction exploration of Haitian/Caribbean rituals in Tell My Horse in 1937, just a year earlier.

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Starring Brandon De Wilde as Timothy Branner, Crahan Denton as Sheriff Buckner, Ken Renard as Jacob Blount, David Whorf and Johnny Branner, and Ottola Nesmith as Eula Lee Blassenville.

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With original music by Jerry Goldsmith and Mort Stevens which is perfectly haunting for this Southern Gothic tale. And fabulous art direction by George Patrick and set design by Julia Heron who also worked on The Incredible Doktor Markesan (Spartacus ’60) and John McCarthy Jr. The Blassenville house is a place of fear and desolation. The camera frames the characters within the tired structure itself, cobweb laced door frames, dark staircases that hold their ascent and black box rooms with scattered dusty relics.

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The story takes place one fateful night when two New York brothers Johnny and Tim Branner, driving over a rickety wooden bridge (shot in obvious day for night), suddenly hit a muddy ditch and begin spinning their tires to no avail. Now they remain stranded under a wonderfully bewitching weeping willow, a classic prop for a southern Gothic tale,in the swamp lands of the Louisiana countryside.

The opening scene is embellished with the willow’s mossy tendrils, swaying,drifting, blowing as if by an unseen lazy wind. And so it begins.

The boys get out of the car and Tim played by the very wholesome looking Brandon De Wilde says  “Welcome to the fabled south, land of Crinoline, Magnolias, lovely ladies and swamps”

Johnny defends himself for having been chided about his short cut, “Okay okay so it’s not the new york thru way you’ve got to admit that this is the way it truly is”

While Johnny goes off to find a pole that they can use to dislodge the tire from the mud that’s when a strange wailing starts, like that of a distressed alley cat in heat.

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Johnny wanders off starting to reach deeper into the context of the landscape. As he pushes aside the dangling mossy vines, he stumbles upon dozens of pigeons begin cooing madly. He discovers the desolate antebellum plantation, The Blassenville Mansion dying from decay. The place seems plagued  by these mysterious, demonic pigeons. There is an eerie cackling, unearthly wails and the pervasively hellish fluttering of their wings. They begin to converge on Johnny, coming right at his face, like a scene out of Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds  which wasn’t released until two years later in 1963.

Once Tim catches up after hearing his brother’s bloodcurdling screams, Johnny tells him that the pigeons seemed like they were trying to kill him! “That ‘s just it it was like they were attacking me”

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The two young men decide they’re tired and should take refuge in the old house for the night.

Like many great southern Gothic tales, this one is surrounded by the presence of something lurking behind the silent deteriorating walls. The wonderful B&W and shadows of pale and steely gray cinematography by Lionel Lindon  ( Alfred Hitchcock Presents ’55, The Manchurian Candidate ’62, Dead Heat on a Merry- Go- Round ’66)

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Time has stood still. There’s a sense that the house is diseased with a family secret, much like one of my other favorite episodes Parasite Mansion. The setting bares the remnants of a Robert Aldrich film like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte ’62. We break for Boris’ prologue.

By an old gnarled tree Boris Karloff steps out to greet us. A cautionary deep string flourish leads the way, as he looks around, standing in a swirl of mist.

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“The swamp is alive, crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camouflaged in the under growth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flock of pigeons. Harmless you say…Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm. For those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Why… spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirit that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse”
“Join us now as night is falling in the old house where evil dwells two brave young brothers dare to intrude”

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Once Johnny and Tim are inside the house,we see a large winding staircase that hints at a time when this might have been an opulent showplace.I was struck by a frame which shows the disconnection with life outside the old house with it’s splendid chandelier which looms prominently over the two boy’s heads as they enter the empty dusty gray of beginning of the house.

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Tim calls out as they start to climb the stairs, “Is anybody home?” There’s a quick cut to a darkened room filled with cobwebs and the outline of an old seamstress dummy. To the left of screen we see a door as it subtly closes ever so slightly. It’s an eerie touch, that lends to the menacing atmosphere of the decrepit house.

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There is no furniture downstairs yet a strange portrait of a woman who seems to be reigning over the emptiness, the place is a musty, decaying hollow shell of another era like the exoskeleton of a giant decomposing beetle. Preparing to take refuge over night on the lower floor they set out their sleeping bags, but Johnny still seems like he’s in a state of shock.He begins to walk around and finds a cobweb covered painting of a woman whom he senses holds the secret to what is haunting the place. From the beginning Johnny does seem to have an uncanny second sight which is causing him great distress. Staring at the painting, a poignant violin melody begins it’s undercurrent, it is the theme of this mysterious woman. Dissolve, into the spooky, dreamy gray facade of the mansion. Columns, the rhythmically otherworldly drone of these sentinel pigeons guarding their ancient Gothic citadel. Winged gatekeepers to a graveyard.

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Tim is awakened in the middle of the night and discovers that his brother Johnny is not there. We hear a sweet, distant vocalise like the siren Lorelei of Greek mythology who lured the sailors onto the rocks. Johnny has been aroused by this haunting lullaby lilting in the air, and seems to be drawn upward as if in a somnambulist’s trance. Moving by some unseen provocation, the voice leads him up the staircase.

We are sharing his enchantment. We follow him. Now we hear the pigeons in a fury. Louder like a heart pumping blood, pulling us up the stairs with Johnny. Once Tim starts to stir he discovers that his brother is not in his sleeping bag next to him.

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wonderful silhouette of Johnny lurking in the shadow regions of the Blassenville house under it’s spell… holding a hatchet

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Tim proceeds to look for his missing brother. The vocalise is more audible to him now, as Johnny ascends the stairs there is a crescendo of fluttering, wings, a female voice. Tim about to reach the top of the stairs is startled by his brothers screams. Johnny emerges from the shadows, blood flowing down his face. He is holding a bloody hatchet. He moves towards Tim and strikes with the hatchet but misses and sinks it into the wall behind his brother. Tim runs down the stairs, calling his brother’s name. “John, John!” He runs out of the house fleeing in terror into the dark night through the mossy guilded trees.

He stumbles into the swamp after hitting his head on a rock. Johnny still sleepwalking or is he the walking dead, holding the hatchet, collapses as he buries the weapon in the sleeping bag where Tim’s head would have been.

Johnny walks down the staircase still in a trance, holding the hatchet up as if ready to strike.

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This is where county Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) enters the story. He is attending to the gash on Tim’s head. Sheriff Buckner tells him that a local, Howard had found him while coon hunting and found him out cold in the woods, bringing him to this nearby cabin. Tim wakes screaming “Johnny, Johnny… Where am I?” He begins telling Sheriff Buckner that Johnny’s head was smashed but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. “He was walking down the stairs to me, his head was split, he was dead, I know he was dead.” Buckner realizes that the only place he could be talking about is the old Blassenville Plantation.

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In order to clear his name and to recover his brother’s body, Tim agrees to go back to the house with Sheriff Buckner. Buckner seems not to believe the boy, and is pretty sure that he’s either crazy or murdered his own brother. Back at the Blassenville house, Tim tells Buckner, “He came down those stairs” the sheriff holds his lantern and shines light on a blood stain. Tim says, “Look there’s my brother’s blood” Buckner gripes, ” Yeah yeah yeah I see”

They go into the room where Johnny is lying dead on the floor-“He tried to kill me, he tried to kill me” The somber violin and the use of shadow underpin the tension. Buckner doesn’t believe Tim yet.

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Why do you suppose he went upstairs” Tim says “I don’t know but from the moment we saw this house it was as though he were listening all the time. just listening… and then those pigeons started, they’re not there now, but I saw them!” Tim struggles, to press the truth but Buckner tells him that it’s the judge and jury that he has to convince. Sheriff Buckner wants to go upstairs and investigate but Tim doesn’t want to be left alone, so he follows him. The lantern shines light on the bloody trail leading up the stairs.

They find Johnny’s body face down on the sleeping bag still holding the hatchet which is placed on the spot where Tim was sleeping. He’s dead.

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An unseen and eerie breeze seems to dim their lantern

An effectively creepy moment happens while they are searching the upstairs, the lantern goes out. Buckner tells Tim there’s plenty of kerosene and the wick is fine, and there standing right on the spot where Johnny had been struck by the hatchet. Buckner gets spooked and tells Tim they’re getting out of that room and going back downstairs. Once at the bottom of the stairs and the lantern lights up again-

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Buckner says, “What ever it is up there, I aint gonna tackle it in the dark”

The sheriff decides that he believes Tim’s story and that the only way he’s going to get anyone to believe it is to find out what’s in the house. They put Johnny’s body in the station wagon and go back into the house and “wait for something to happen”

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Tim sees the portrait and asks “Who is she?” “I’m not sure, one of the Blassenville sisters I think. Miss Elizabeth, she’s the last one who lived here. She lived here for years after her sisters were gone… Townsfolk wondered how long they were going to hold onto this house,falling into ruin, plantation gone all to weeds, then when they disappeared no one was surprised… Sisters growing old in a place like this, no one to take care of them, cause they had a mean streak in them. All the plantation workers ran away. With the exception of Jacob Blount, who’s very old and half out of his mind. They beat him… the sisters, but he stayed on. And there was a young servant girl, Eula Lee…they beat her too. Finally she ran away.”

Tim wonders if what ever is in the house chased the sisters out as well. Buckner tells him that the last Blassenville sister left the house over fifty years ago.

Back upstairs they find a piano, dust all over everything… tons of it but nothing on the keys. It’s as though somebody’s been playing it. Then they find a diary with what looks like Elizabeth’s name on it. The sad violin melody, the Blassenville theme begins to sway again. Tragically drawn out notes. Tim tries to read the fine writing. “I can sense someone prowling about the house at night, after the sun has set, and the pines outside are black.Often at night I hear a fumbling at the door, I dare not open it. Oh merciful heaven, What shall I do”

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The sheriff responds. “The thing was after her too!” Tim continues reading from the diary “All the help have run away, my sisters…gone, I am here alone. If someone murdered my poor sisters.(pause) Then, Eula Lee named Jacob Blount and Eula Lee would not speak plainly, perhaps she feared I shall die as hideously as they.” Then Buckner says “We’ll see Jacob Blount” Jacob Blount is portrayed by the wonderful Ken Renard.

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They arrive at Jacobs shack. He’s an old raggedy man lying in his cot.Buckner starts shaking Jacob and says “I’ve got some questions I wanna ask you, Come on boy get up. (I was very offended at this gesture, Jacob was a very old southern black man and the use of the term ” boy” was a very racist remark. I don’t believe he would have referred to an old white male this way) He proceeds to tell him that tonight a boy was killed over at the old Blassenville Place. Jacob looks terrified.

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In an accent assumed to be of Caribbean origin Jacob tells them “Nobody dare (there) now, all dem (them) dead, but de come back at night, all dem pigeons” Buckner interrogates him, and tells Jacob that Miss Elizabeth thought he knew who murdered the sisters, and she might still be in the house, after 50 long years. Eula Lee would have reason. Elizabeth was afraid her sisters had been murdered Eula Lee would have reason… they beat her. “Why did they beat an innocent servant girl?”

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“Eula Lee was no servant… She was a lady of quality. A Blassenville like them… Eula Lee was their half sister. They had the same mother, but different fathers” Sheriff Buckner reasons, “That would explain part of it, the sisters rage at Eula Lee. Elizabeth’s terror of her. That plantation that house she could live there alone for years… It is Eula Lee in that house”

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Jacob tells them, “Life is sweet to an old man” meaning that someone would harm him if he continued to talk about it. But he says “No Human… No Human. De big serpent will send a little brudda (brother) to kill me if I told. I promised when de make me maker of Zuvembies (Voodoo superstition. They’re women who are not human anymore)So she knew I was maker of Zuvembies, so she come and stand right dare in my hut, and beg for de holy drink. They live forever, time mean nuting, an hour, a day, a year, all de same. She can command de dead, de birds, de snakes, de fowls, and only a led bullet can kill her”

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Then begins the sound of the unholy fluttering of wings outside the hut. “Listen, no more no more, If I tell, she will come” As Jacob starts to stoke the firep with a stick he begins to scream wildly. He’s been bitten by a snake. A little brother has visited him, and he is now dead.

Buckner and Tim go back to the plantation where they find pigeons sitting on the sheriff’s wagon where Johnny’s dead body is laid out. Interesting touch which would later be profoundly, iconically amplified in The Birds in ’63

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Tim wakes up and finds Sheriff Buckner missing. The climax of Pigeons From Hell leads us once again to the sweetly haunting, mesmerizing musical motif that is the Blassenville theme. The eerie woman’s vocalise now summoning Tim up the stairs. We see, in a slow shot, an old decaying hand not quite in focus yet, reaching around the corner in tattered rags. Until it is framed in necrotic splendor.

Tim keeps ascending up the stairs in a hypnotic state. The Lullaby, the southern Gothic call of Eula Lee, and we now see the old crones desiccated face.The pigeons begin their demonic cooing.

There is some wonderful use of shadow, reminiscent of a good classic suspense thriller as we see Tim’s shadow cast in silhouette on the rotting drapery then moving further deeper into the house’s darkness.

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She’s waiting, she opens the door all the way, holding a meat cleaver. A horrifying vision that still holds it’s shock value watching it nearly thirty times I figure. There’s something quite gripping about a lost soul living in desolation who comes erupting out of darkness, commands even the smallest living creatures, and wielding a very sharp instrument of pain and death.

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One of my favorite images from the episode. Eula Lee is a presence of grand Gothic dread and frightening spirit

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Just as she’s about to hack into Tim, Sheriff Buckner shoots at her and she falls away. Once Tim comes out of his trance, he follows Buckner behind a secret passageway and they stumble onto an incredibly macabre and horrific discovery. With a small candle lit, they find three skeletons, embellished in lace and pearls, “Our three sisters, all murdered, the way your brother was, the way you were supposed to be” Then they turn and see something stage right. Walking slowly. The sweet sorrowful melody begins to play on the violin, the resolve to the nightmarish years at the plantation.

Eula Lee is slumped in a chair, Buckner mutters,“Eula Lee, Eula Lee” Buckner holds the candle to her face-It is an eerie yet poignant moment.

Is she dead? Her eyes stare off -we hear the sweet vocalise once again as it leads us out of the episode. The last thing we see is a close up of her ancient face.

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Fade to black.

I haven’t read Howard’s original publication of the story, so I am not sure where he is coming from in terms of message. There are definite racial themes in this adapted script. But from reading an excerpt from Howard’s story I think that the racial overtones are more severe there. I hesitate to use the word “miscegenation ” because it is problematic in the fact that people find this term offensive. Usually scholars use this when discussing the historical relevance of interracial relationships. The taboo of the mixing of ethnic blood lines. Coming from a time when the process of racial interaction was taking place because of the European Colonization of The Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade. The idea that the Blassenville sisters raged against Eula Lee for being the product of a biracial relationship.

Having the same mother, but not sharing a white father, was a bold underpinning motive for the turbulence and hatred that inflicted the curse upon the family. And the story does “Otherize” Eula Lee.

The fact that she seeks retribution through such “non-Christian” methods, the implication that she’s a savage. Read the little tidbit from Howard’s story below; The references to Eula Lee being a beast only reinforces my sense that she was considered “Other” With words like beast and bestial nature. Of course the story was couched in very supernatural terms but the thread of racism seems so pervasive in this story.

Here’s an excerpt from the original story that didn’t make it into the Thriller script: The name Griswell had been the original last name for Tim and Johnny.

Sheriff Buckner:

“They say the pigeons are the souls of the Blassenvilles, let out of hell at sunset. The Negroes say the red glare in the west is the light from hell, because then the gates of hell are open, and the Blassenvilles fly out.

Was that thing a woman once?” whispered Griswell(Tim). “God, look at that face, even in death. Look at those claw-like hands, with black talons like those of a beast. Yes, it was human, though — even the rags of an old ballroom gown. Why should a mulatto maid wear such a dress, I wonder?” “This has been her lair for over forty years,” muttered Buckner, brooding over the grinning grisly thing sprawling in the corner. “This clears you, Griswell (TIm) — a crazy woman with a hatchet — that’s all the authorities need to know. God, what a revenge! — what a foul revenge! Yet what a bestial nature she must have had, in the beginnin’, to delve into voodoo as she must have done——” (“Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard)

MonsterGirl

Thriller with Boris Karloff: 14 Episodes in Brief

1)The Purple Room-airdate October 25,1960-Rip Torn inherits Black Oak Mansion from his recently deceased uncle, but with one condition;he must live in the house for one full year. Patricia Barry and Richard Anderson (The Night Strangler , The Six Million Dollar Man) play his cousins who lure him into spending one night in the haunted Purple Room! Black Oak Mansion makes use of Universal’s Psycho house.

2) Fingers Of Fear-aired Feb 21 1961-This disturbing and psychologically progressive episode deals with a child killer.It opens with a stark and chilling scene of an elementary school teacher chasing a ball (bouncing balls are usually foreboding of an impending shock! )from the playground only to discover the body of a mutilated little girl in the shrubs. The police start looking for an overweight brutish man, and a mentally ill man fitting the description starts to fear that he will be arrested for the crime. This starts a series of events that are filmed with a taut and thoughtful narrative until the shocking climax where the real murderer is caught. The final scene is quite disturbing when the killer violently attacks a doll, thinking it is a little girl. Directed by Jules Bricken, but could have been filmed by Sam Fuller. Highly recommend Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.

3)The Ordeal of Dr Cordell airdate March 7 1961-A doctor, Frank Cordell, played by Robert Vaughn ( The Man From U.N.C.L.E)trying to find the cure for nerve gas accidentally stumbles onto a chemical vapor that stirs a murderous uncontrollable rage in him, every time he hears a bell. This episode taps into Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 short story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde as Cordell modulates between these dueling personalities.

4) Parasite Mansion airdate April 25 1961-Pippa Scott plays a woman who wrecks her car, then gets shot at and faints only to awaken in an old dark house inhabited by an extremely strange family that are beset by the fear of a family “secret” in the form of violence that has plagued their home and family for three generations. Poltergeists,telekinesis,stigmata,alcoholism, insanity, backwoods vengeance and family dysfunction all play themselves out at the hands of Granny brilliantly acted by the incredible Jeanette Nolan, Beverly Washburn as Lollie ( Spider Baby ).Written by Donald S. Sanford and directed by Herschel Daugherty.

5) Mr George airdate May 9 1961-After a little girl loses both her parents, she is left in the care of her last remaining relatives, a sociopathic provincial trio who plan to kill her for her inheritance. But the child has a special guardian, a ghost named Mr George who is watching out for her safety at every turn.Written by Sanford, and directed by Ida Lupino. Virginia Gregg, Howard Freeman and Lillian Bronson as Adelaide the simple minded sister apropos of a Tennessee Williams character. The musical dynamic to this episode in particular is it’s own character within the plot. it seems to guide the narrative masterfully through a childlike lens.

6) Terror In Teakwood airdate May 16 1961-A concert pianist obsessed with being the greatest living pianist, takes extreme measures to improve his abilities.Guy Rolfe (Mr Sardonicus) plays Vladimir Vicek the tormented musician who goes to drastic and unholy ends to achieve greatness.Hazel Court plays Leonie his beautiful wife. Directed by Paul Henreid. Bette Davis’s love interest and doctor in Now Voyager. Perhaps my favorite film of the great Ms Davis! The theme is very reminiscent of The Hands Of Orlac . Also stars Charles Aidman.

7) What Beckoning Ghost airdate September 18 1961-Judith Evelyn plays Mildred Beaumont, a woman, yet another concert pianist, recovering from a heart attack,goes downstairs one night hearing a funeral dirge, and has a vision of her own dead body lying in repose in an open coffin.She faints and upon awakening is told by her husband and sister that she has started having memory lapses and hallucinations. Are they trying to drive her crazy or to her grave? Written by Donald Sanford from a story by Harold Lawlor first published in Weird Tales (July 1948) and directed by Ida Lupino. photo right Reggie Nalder from Terror in Teakwood.

8) The Premature Burial airdate October 2 1961-loosely based on Poe’s story, Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castavet the patriarchal warlock in Rosemary’s Baby ) plays a cataleptic man who suffers a seizure and is mistakenly buried alive. His doctor friend Boris Karloff breaks into the crypt and saves his life. After being revived by the galvanic battery! Blackmer becomes obsessed with this never happening again. However his young wife Patricia Medina and her artist lover Scott Marlowe are more interested in his inheritance. This episode has a wonderfully morbid tone to it.

9) The Weird Taylor airdate October 16 1961-Writer Robert Bloch brings this macabre story to life directed by Herschel Daugherty.

An abusive husband and bitter man, a tailor is asked to make a special suit of clothes for a wealthy man. The tailor doesn’t know that the man has accidentally caused his son’s death during one of his black mass rituals.The father’s only goal now is to bring his son back to life and having paid one million dollars for a rare book on sorcery which has the formula for creating a suit that if worn can bring back the dead!.George Macready is wonderful as the mournfully obsessed father.Henry Jones is Erik Conrad the angry tailor who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.

10) God Grante That She Lye Stille airdate October 23 1961-In 1661 a woman is burned at the stake for being a witch. She swears that her spirit will avenge her death. 300 years later,a girl descendant from the witch returns to her ancestral home and begins having to fight off the ghost of the witch who is now trying to possess her very body and soul! Henry Daniell plays Vicar Weatherford the descendant of the man who burned the witch 300 years prior.

11)Masquerade airdate Oct 30 1961-A young couple, a writer and his droll wife are on their honeymoon down south after being caught in a thunderstorm, stop at a house to seek shelter. This episode is laced with a lyrical quality and much campy humor.What they find, is a bizarre family led by John Carradine ( love him!) Jed Carta who taunts the couple with local stories about the Henshaw Vampire. Is the family a family of vampires?cannibals or just a bunch of psychopaths who kill wayward visitors for their valuables?Tom Poston as Charlie Denham, and Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched)as Roz Denham.The banter between the cast is so enjoyable. Pictured here John Carradine as Jed Carta sharpening his butcher’s knife.

12)The Return Of Andrew Bentley airdate Dec 11 1961-in 1900’s Ellis and Sheila Corbett arrive at the home of his Uncle Amos an occult enthusiast, who reveals that he is dying and plans on leaving everything to them as long as they remain in the house, never to leave and to keep vigil on his crypt in order to protect his eternal slumber from the mysterious Andrew Bentley and his minion demon that follows him around like a ghoulish pet.Written by Richard Matheson and directed by John Newland who also plays Ellis. Antoinette Bower is Sheila and Reggie Nalder is Andrew Bentley. Nalder is another actor with a very distinct face.

13)The Remarkable Mrs Hawk airdate Dec 19 1961-Mrs Hawk runs a pig farm. Best hogs in the county.She also goes through handy men like Kleenex. They all seem to disappear without a trace. When the last hired hand to go missing, it stirs curiosity in his friends,so they set out to investigate the goings on. Turns out that the lady is the Greek Goddess Circe who is masterful at turning men into swine! John Carradine plays “Jason” Longfellow, Paul Newlan as Sheriff ” Ulysses” Willetts and Jo Van Fleet as the remarkable Mrs Hawk. Directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S Sanford. The original script http://www.geocities.com/emruf7/hawk.htm

14) The Storm airdate January 22 1962-Nancy Kelly ( The Bad Seed’s mother ) as Janet Wilson after finding the body of a dead woman in the trunk in her cellar, is then stalked by a killer during one terrible stormy night! Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

A few other of my favorite episodes are~Dialogues With Death, Well Of Doom ,The Last of The Summervilles , Hay Fork and Bill-Hook, What Beckoning Ghost,A Wig for Ms Devore and The Closed Cabinet!