by Sam Juliano
A regional based horror piece with supernatural underpinnings “The Hungry Glass” is set in a sedate seaside community during a brisk and picturesque New England autumn. This atmospheric early Thriller pre-dates the celebrated “Pigeons From Hell,” which likewise made striking visual and thematic use of it’s deep south environs. Based on a story by Thriller stalwart Robert Bloch titled “The Hungry House” the show is a chilling ghost story that plays on one’s aversion to mirrors. Indeed Karloff, in grand Edwardian garb, sporting a stovepipe hat and carrying a lantern urges his audience during his introduction to “make sure that your television casts no reflection!” while gazing into a mirror that showcases the episode’s star players. Other perceptions revealed during the course of his opening include: “Mirrors never lie,” “Mirrors bring a house to life” and “Every time you look in a mirror, you see death.”
Beginning with a prologue that is equally as effective as ones that began the classic episodes “The Cheaters” and “The Grim Reaper” Laura Bellman fans herself while admiring her reflecting in one of a roomful of mirrors. A man then raps at the door and is answered with “Leave me alone, can’t you–leave me alone with my mirrors.” Then the story proper begins when Gil and Marcia Trasker buy the old Bellman house, a brooding but picturesque enclave along the seashore. After hearing some cryptic warnings from the locals about the Bellman house they are escorted to their new home by the realtor Adam Talmadge and his wife Liz. Gil inquires about the absence of mirrors in the house and Adam informs him that some previous residents were killed by shattered glass. The deaths were given more sinister interpretations by the superstitious townspeople.
Shortly after their arrival Adam cuts his hand after dropping a glass in startled reaction to Liz’s scream which is attributed to her “seeing someone in the glass window trying to grab Marcia.” In disbelief they joke about the incident, but Gil later sees the apparition himself. He keeps it from his wife. Later discussion after Gil cuts himself shaving gets to the point where they belief there is a malevolent presence in the house that is somehow connected to the mirrors. Afterwards Gil develops a photograph in a dark room he’s fashioned in the cellar that yields the image of a child he cannot identify. At the same time Marcia discovers a locked room in the attic and pries it open. The room is fully adorned with mirrors of varying shapes and sizes. Gil is subsequently summoned upstairs, and after Marcia tells him she did not take a picture of a child in answer to his query, he determines it was probably a double exposure. Gil again sees the ghostly figure and faints. When he revives he attributes the mental lapses to stress generated from his years of service in the Korean War. He tells Marcia that the visage looked like an old woman holding a fan.
The Talmadge couple later that night return with a bottle of champagne to further discuss the strange happenings. After Gil asks Adam about the dormancy of the house for two decades, the latter relates a story-within-a-story that pre-dates a comparable narrative arc in Robert Wise’s The Haunting by about 28 months, but shares with it an eerie and supernatural context. The story goes that Jonah Bellman had the house built for his bride Laura sometime around 1860. To allow her to admire her beauty he had numerous mirrors brought in. The years pass with Laura spending most of her time in front of the mirrors. When Jonah dies she is left alone still admiring, still seeing herself as gorgeous and radiant, even as she becomes physically withered by age. Adam then reaches the point visualized in the prologue when Laura enters a deranged state (echos in more ways than one with Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, released the same year.) and dies after falling through a mirror. The same fate was suffered by the man who rapped on her door (her nephew), and apparently by a the same little girl whose appeared in Gil’s picture. Believing that undead souls are lurking in the mirrors, Adam warns Gil to leave the house immediately, before spending even one more night there. This suggestion is interrupted by the grim realization that Marcia is up in the room with mirrors. A scream sends everyone rushing upstairs to find Marcia being pulled into the mirror. Gil uses a poker to destroy the mirror, but much to his horror after he is restrained by Adam, he looks to the floor and sees Marcia’s lifeless body laying on the broken shards of glass. Gil falls apart, knowing he has smashed his wife’s face in with the poker. Gill tries to piece together the events to the tragedy, explaining that vain and mad old woman danced herself into the glass, and though she died her ghost has remained to inhabit the mirror, pulling others to their certain deaths. No matter how supernatural this suggestion is, the fact is he killed his wife by resisting the the power of the woman to lure victims. Gill suddenly sees Marcia again in the class and breaks away from the protective hands of Adam to leap through the mirror and the sea view window to his demise below. Adam carries Liz away after he faints, and sees the ghostly apparition commanding him to approach the mirror. He resists and makes it to his car.
“The Hungry Glass” is one of Thriller’s most atmospheric and intoxicating entries. You can easily envision a misty seashore and feel a chill in the air, while simultaneously smelling the ocean air and practically taste some New England clam chowder. Lionel Lindon’s black and white cinematography is etched in painterly hues, and is beautifully complimented by Pete Rugolo’s evocative impressionist score, a noted departure from the percussive slant of his Thriller theme and some of his other work. Rugolo did several of the early Thrillers, before the extraordinary duo of Jerry Goldsmith and Mort Stevens took turns making the show one of the most distinctive series of the 60′s for it’s innovative music. All three of the composers in fact did yeomen work, and any discussion of this classic series would be incomplete without broaching this most vital element. While the idea of the ugly hag in the mirror might suggest to some that “The Hungry Glass” is a kind of thematic re-working of The Picture of Dorien Gray, it’s clear enough that Director Douglas Heyes (who helmed several of Twilight Zone’s best-known episodes), is mainly concerned with the potential fear one can find in a mirror. One may recall what Dr. Zaius ominously tells Taylor, in Planet of the Apes before the latter embarks on an exploration of ‘The Forbidden Zone:’ “You may not like what you see.” People are not always eager to look in mirrors, as they are a constant reminder of the the unflattering passage of time. As Karloff reminded viewers back in the prologue: “Every time you look in one (a mirror) you see death at work.” Heyes apes The Lady of Shanghai’s cinematic device of multi-screen imagery in the stunning sequence when Marcia sees multiple reflections. The dialogue makes great use of wordplay (“Reflective,” “reflections”), which keeps the screenplay ground in reality while the events show increasing supernatural interference. The show is also one of the most crispy and effectively edited in the series.
William Shatner gives one of his notable early appearances as Gil, and he’s largely effective, though the normally astute and reliable Alan Warren’s assertion in This is a Thriller that it’s “arguably the best performance of Shatner’s career” seems over the top. He’s just as effective in Thriller’s later “The Grim Reaper” and is rightly celebrated for his performances in Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time.” In both of those shows (the former is an undeniable TZ classic) Shatner plays a character with mental issues who is partially protected by a doting wife. Gil Trasher appears to follow this casting as a Korean War veteran with PTSD, complete with a clearly adoring wife. While Shatner’s worth in the episode is generally well-regarded, not everyone agrees. Peter Enfantino for one at the A Thriller A Day blog finds him irritating and overrated as a performer, while Outer Limits Companion co-author David Schow detects a feminine demeanor that betrays his work in the episode. John Scholeri, however, expressed great respect for Shatner’s talents.
Joanna Heyes (wife of the episodes’s director Douglas) is most effective as a likable spouse who becomes unhinged when the supernatural events begin to kick in. Ms. Hayes also starred in the series’ eleventh episode “The Purple Room.” Russell Johnson, who will always be known as the Professor on the popular 60′s desert island sitcom Gilligan’s Island, renders his fine and mannered diction as Adam Talmadge. Johnson also delivered memorable performances in two Twilight Zone time travel episodes, one of which “Back There” featured him in the lead role as Pete Corrigan, who travels back in time to try and stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Elizabeth Allen, who has a bit more to do in another Thriller episode, the classic “The Grim Reaper” is fine enough as Liz Talmadge. Then there’s Donna Douglas (who rose to fame as Elly May on The Beverly Hillbillies) who appears as a ravishing specter as Laura Bellman in all her youthful beauty. Douglas also worked with director Heyes on the beloved Twilight Zone show “Eye of the Beholder,” as the unmasked blond bombshell Janet Tyler. Ottola Nesmith’s niche in Thriller is playing ugly old hags, and she’s most effective in that capacity in this episode and later in the most celebrated Thriller of them all, “Pigeons From Hell.”
The unique appeal of “The Hungry Glass” is expertly framed by professional classical conductor and Thriller aficionado extraordinaire Larry Rapchek on the A Thriller A Day blog:
The atmosphere of this episode is strikingly good, from the cramped, cozy general store to the moonlit ocean vistas seen through the big window. The visual design of the room of hidden mirrors in the attic is sheer brilliance, and the ghost effects are quite good also…..Heyes, not typically regarded as an actor’s director, pulls the best out of his quartet of players. All are real, likable and multi-dimensional. Shatner’s gradual meltdown throughout the show is beautifully paced, and his final scene, delivered ALMOST directly into the camera, is something beyond what I would have thought he was capable of; superbly controlled, and almost searing in its pathos and intensity….Rugolo, in a pseudo-impressionistic mode also contributes a great deal to this most chilling and oppressively seductive tale.
In the end “The Hungry Glass” stands alongside such venerated black and white host story classics like The Uninvited, The Innocents, The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill in it’s visual elegance, accelerating sense of dread and creepy atmospherics, all molded in an impressive whole by Heyes. it’s no mistake that it consistently shows up among online listings of favorite shows by Thriller and genre television fans.