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Archive for the ‘Sam’s ‘Anthology Heaven’ series’ Category

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. (more…)

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pigeons from hell

by Sam Juliano

The figure had moved into the bar of moonlight now, and Griswell recognized it. Then he saw Branner’s face, and a shriek burst from Griswell’s lips.  Branner’s face was bloodless, corpse-like; gouts of blood dripped darkly down it; his eyes were glassy and set, and blood oozed from the great gash which cleft the crown of his head.”                      -Robert E. Howard

Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) is one of literature’s pre-eminent authors of action and adventure stories. The creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, ‘El Borak,’ and many other notable characters, Howard, in an all-too-short 12 year career, wrote well over a hundred stories for the pulp magazines of his time. While he is widely regarded as the ‘father of Sword and Sorcery’ and the creator of Conan the Barbarian, this reputation, while helping to keep his work in the public eye for six decades since his death, has unfortunately overshadowed the wider scope of his imagination, his talent for mastering a variety of genres, and forms. (He excelled at poetry as well as prose) Howard contributed his most acclaimed work to the most celebrated fantasy pulp magazine of the era, Weird Tales.  A good number of his stories also appeared in other publications of the day such as Action StoriesArgosyFight StoriesOriental StoriesSpicy AdventureSport Story, and others.  His vivid and animated writing was hugely popular with readers and his dynamic skills as a storyteller enabled him to achieve some success in other genres. Even after his death publishers continued for some time to publish his stories or reprint them under other by-lines. So enduring is the appeal of his work that over a half century later he continues to gain new fans, introduced to his tales through paperbacks, comics, and movies. His work has also inspired subsequent generations of fantasy writers and a loyal following that has taken to cyberspace to spread the word.  Most literary critics and readers have maintained that Howard’s absolute masterpiece is “Pigeons From Hell,” a macabre story about voodoo, zombies, murder and malevolent birds set in a decaying mansion in the deep south. Published posthumously in 1938, two years after Howard’s death by his own hand, “Pigeons From Hell” has been called “one of the greatest horror stories written in the century” by Stephen King in Danse Macabre, and is one of several Howard stories set in the “piney woods,” located in three states in an area that includes sections of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana.  “The Shadow of the Beast,” “Moon of Zambebwie” and “Black Canaan” are among some of the others.  With it’s thinly disguised undercurrent of sexual sadism, the story is steeped in the Gothic tradition and features an evil, psychotic spinster and and a disintegrating southern family, suggestive of the writings of William Faulkner.  Howard was not a specialist in horror, but most literary critics have favorably compared “Pigeons From Hell” to the works of Poe. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The boundaries which separate life and death are shadowy and vague.  Who is to say where exactly the one ends and the other begins?  In certain mysterious maladies all functions of vitality in the human body seem to stop.  And then some unseen force sets the magic pinions and the wizard wheels in motion once again.  The silver cord has not been cut, the golden bowl has not been broken.  And the soul?  One wonders. What, meantime, has happened to the soul?   -Edgar Allan Poe

The most terrifying phobia known to man in both a literal and figurative sense is the contemplation of being buried alive.  The possibility has long captured the attention of some of literature’s most celebrated figures in hair-raising tales that offer their own spins on the rare condition known as catalepsy.  Poe’s chilling story “The Premature Burial” has always been the most all-encompassing work on this theme, but it was also a central focus in Dickens’ Bleak House, where Mrs. Snagsby’s violent spasms morph into this dreaded condition; in George Eliot’s Silas Marner, where the titular character frequently endures cataleptic fits and seizures and in Emile Zola’s “La Morte d’Olivier Becaille” where the central protagonist is buried alive.  Other stories by Alexandre Dumas and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have showcased it, while it’s been re-current in Poe’s other works like “The Fall of the House Of Usher,” where Madeline Usher is entombed alive by her unstable brother Roderick, and in the lesser known “Berenice.”  Film directors have been no less fascinated with the fearful malady and it’s various narrative possibilities and perversions.  In the latter category is George Sluizer’s horrifying The Vanishing, a depiction of a depraved sociopath whose modus operandi is to chloroform his victims and then bury them, and imagine their reactions when they realize they are under the ground nearing suffocation.  A more traditional visualization of the condition appears in Val Lewton’s Isle of the Dead, one of the later entries in his classic 1940’s horror series for RKO, where a cataleptic woman played by Katherine Emery is entombed on a Greek island during a plague amidst some shuddery atmospheric trappings.  In that film’s most striking sequence a camera moves in on Emery’s face to show us what everybody else in the cast has missed – the quiver of her nostrils.  Then there was the popular television series Dark Shadows, which featured Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) guarding against the unthinkable with some precautionary measures.  Jan Svankmajer’s 2005 surrealist and visceral film Lunacy is also based on the subject.  In any event Poe himself wrote: To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Robert Florey’s association with acting icon Boris Karloff was finally negotiated after a close call thirty years prior. The French-born director was the initial choice to helm the 1931 horror masterwork Frankenstein, but despite his involvement on the screenplay, he was removed from the project by Universal executives, and instead assigned to direct Murders of the Rue Morgue, another genre work based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. The replacement James Whale, was far less a visual stylist than the expressionist-attuned Flory, but most film historians ring true when they predicate that Whale was superior with actors, was far less austere, and understood the playful nuances of language and physical movement.

Alas the creepy ghoulishness, disorientation and unremitting gloom that defines Thriller’s second-season episode “The Incredible Doktor Markesan” are gears in Florey’s wheelhouse, and the show is an uncompromising, old-fashioned gothic horror package that features a decaying mansion à la Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher and death-like visages that envision (and pre-date) Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. Thriller alumni Benjamin H. Kline, lens man par excellence and art director Howard E. Johnson, both of whom fashioned the fog-laden and cobweb subjugated pictorial design of the work are consummate collaborators for an overseer who during his career was far more predisposed with visual rather than spoken language. The subject matter of “Doktor Markesan” also suited Florey especially well, as his career yielded multiple instances when the motif of bringing the dead back to life was showcased. The complete absence of comic relief, aside from unintended guffaws that will undoubtedly greet some of Dick York’s corny lines (“There’s not a muscle in my carcass that’s not howling bloody murder” or “There’s something horrible going on…something unholy!”) and a powerful nihilist undercurrent that characteristically wallows in utter hopelessness, and suggests a resolution of eternal damnation. It appears deliberate that the tone of the piece is so irrepressibly bleak, that Karloff in his opening narration hammed it up a bit by referring to himself as that “creepy, sinister sort of chap” and the film’s Morton Stevens score concluded with a light, if pensive piano flourish under the closing credits.

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by Sam Juliano

“When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts experiments behind locked doors, there is bound to be talk.  There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer – and worse.  He might never have been remembered at all had not his research led him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass.”    –Boris Karloff

Robert Bloch’s short story “The Cheaters” made it’s first appearance in the November 1947 issue of Weird Tales.  Bloch, who also authored the sources that yielded two other exceptional episodes in Boris Karloff’s Thriller, (“The Weird Tailor” and “Waxworks”) and seven other teleplays for the series, also included it in his acclaimed 1960 short story collection Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares, which won the Hugo Award for the selection “The Hell-Bound Train,” a captivating tale about outsmarting the devil.  “The Cheaters” which debuted on Thriller’s fifteenth week, is one of the most perfectly executed episodes of the series, showcasing an extraordinary ensemble, a clever specification of a popular science-fiction deceit and  a remarkable economic teleplay that unifies four short stories with a pre-title vignette.  “The Cheaters” with it’s focus on human greed and the murderous treachery that people will engineer to acquire money is one of the darkest episodes on the show, one where nearly all, the central characters meet their doom by violence or horrific means.  The play on the term ‘cheaters’ extends to virtually all the activities in the omnibus narrative: a wife cheats on her husband, a player cheats in a card game, characters cheat to gain wealth, and the glasses themselves as invented are devices to cheat since they reveal something that should not be observed by another person. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note: This is the first in a new series that will be focusing on individual episodes of classic American anthology television series of the late 50’s through the early 70’s.  The following shows will be well-represented: ‘Boris Karloff’s Thriller,’ the original Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.  Gary Gerani’s seminal volume ‘Fantastic Television’ covered the anthology concept as well, though I will stay clear of sitcoms, and will basically examine the half-dozen or so shows that I have identified above.

The 67 episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, a one-hour horror anthology that ran on network television from 1960-62, were later syndicated and for a number of years were a staple on the popular Sci-fi Channel.  E bay subsequently supported the bootleg sales of various sets that included some of the better know episodes, and in the late 90’s Universal released six shows to VHS and laserdisc, with the LD quality so layered and luminous that some to this day argue it is still incomparable.  While Universal moved forward at a snail’s pace releasing individual seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents throughout the first decade of the new millennium, they steadfastly stayed clear of bringing Thriller to DVD, in large measure because the sales on VHS and LD were reportedly very poor.  But Universal has long been tagged with a reputation of indifference when it comes to their classic television holdings, and they opted to lease the series to Image Entertainment, who released all the episodes with generous extras in an August, 2010 box set that can now be had inexpensively.  Image followed up the comprehensive box two years later with a single disc Thriller: Fan Favorites, which offered up ten of the very best episodes of the series on a single disc aimed at tempting neophytes with the larger purchase. (more…)

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