Trilogy of Terror

In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Waiting for MomJack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper–who were changing American film during that era, as well as established film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. She’d won two Golden Globe awards, and would be nominated for another. She had also received one Oscar nomination and was even up for a shared Grammy for her song work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

But when her name comes up among people of my generation, the words that we automatically associate with it are “Zuni fetish doll.”

No one who saw this 1975 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, when they were a child has ever forgotten the final segment.

While I can’t call the first two segments of this trilogy terrifying, I do think they’ve been unjustly disregarded. Along with the third segment, they provide Black with a rare opportunity for a young actress to showcase her talent by playing 4-to-6 different characters (depending on how you want to count them), from meek to menacing. One might assume that she chose this TV movie as a vanity project, but she always said that, when it was first offered to her, she didn’t want to do it.

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Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 9-10

Carrying on with the 1790s storyline.

Episode 9: HPhyllis Wickeow Barnabas Became a Vampire

In 1991, Phyllis Wicke remains dangerously ill with diphtheria, but she retains a connection with the events she was once part of in 1790 before she and Vicky switched places. In her delirious state, she tells the present-day inhabitants of Collinwood that it was such a pity, that handsome young man being killed. She’s referring to Jeremiah Collins, Barnabas’s younger brother.

When we jump to the 1790s story, the Collinses of that era are attending Jeremiah’s funeral. Josette, still under Angelique’s love-spell, is in hysterics over her husband’s coffin and sobs that Barnabas has “killed my only love!”

The pastor performing the service speaks of Jeremiah dying in a “tragic firearms accident” instead of being shot in a duel. The Collinses are already hard at work covering up their family secrets and rewriting the past.

Witchfinder TraskWitchfinder Trask interrupts the funeral, arriving to arrest the witch responsible for this calamity: not Angelique, but Victoria Winters.

The family protests, apart from Aunt Abigail, who literally points an  accusatory finger at Vicky.  Trask hauls Vicky into a carriage and takes her to the Collinsport Gaol.

Barnabas comes to the jail to stop any interrogation before Trask can lay a hand on her. He seems to think the whole thing is ridiculous even if the old witchcraft laws are still on the books, and tries to reassure Vicky that nothing bad will happen to her; she’ll be acquitted and she certainly will never be hanged as a witch.

But if you remember the original series, you know exactly how this is going to turn out. Vicky has every reason to be worried.

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Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 7-8

The last episode ended with a seance, during which Victoria Winters Seance disappeared abruptly from the table to be replaced by another young woman, who was wearing colonial-era clothes and  immediately collapsed. A letter of recommendation she carried with her addressed to Joshua Collins provided her name, Phyllis Wicke*, and a date of April 1790.

The inhabitants of modern-day Collinwood wonder: Is that where Vicky has gone?

Let’s find out.

Episode 7: 1790

Unlike the original series during this same storyline, time does not stand still at Collinwood. Vicky is gone, but life goes on in the 1990s. Before we even find out what happened to her, this episode begins with Dr. Hoffman and Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard looking after the unconscious 1790s governess.

Phyllis WickAfter she’s tended to the young woman, Julia asks Barnabas if he recognized her. He confirms that he does: Phyllis Wicke was indeed governess to the children, and she arrived at Collinwood 200 years ago in pretty much the same state. The mail-coach from Boston overturned on its way to Collinsport and she was injured. She recovered from that, but soon afterward became ill from a fever and died.

Elizabeth falls asleep while sitting at Phyllis’s bedside. When Phyllis wakes up, she dashes out of the room and out of the house wearing only her colonial underwear.

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The Legacy

The Legacy is one of those sophisticated devil-worshipper films that were popular during the 1970s following Rosemary’s Baby. While it has some narrativeBestowing the ring flaws, it was one of the staples of my late-night TV viewing as a teenager and I still have a fondness for it.  The story plays out as if it were an old-fashioned, country-house murder mystery and features a number of  grisly, magically induced baroque deaths. But there’s really little doubt about who’s responsible in the end.

Los Angeles architect Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) receives a job offer in England. The work itself isn’t clearly defined, but the letter encloses a check for $50,000 as a retainer–a massive amount of money in the 1970s–and asks that Maggie be in the UK by a specific date a couple of weeks away.  Her business partner and lover Pete Danner (Sam Elliott)* is dubious about taking a job they know nothing about, but the check is certainly real.

Maggie decides to accept. In fact, she wants to go right away to spend a few days as a tourist and to look up “where her English blood came from” before meeting with her client.

During the opening credits, accompanied by the movie theme song sung by Kiki Dee, we see Pete and Maggie in London, then zipping around the countryside on a motorcycle. They pass through a charming little village, stop to have a picnic lunch beside a stream, then ride down a narrow lane where they swerve off suddenly into the trees to avoid a crash with a Rolls Royce coming up the other way.

Motorcycle crashThe owner of the Rolls (John Standing) is extremely apologetic as he  checks the couple for injuries. They aren’t hurt, but the motorcycle is a bit banged up.

The gentleman offers to take them to his house for a spot of tea while the local mechanic comes for the bike and repairs it. Only when they’re actually in the back of the limo does he introduce himself as Jason Mountolive.

After a brief stop in that village for Harry the chauffeur to speak to the garage mechanic, they drive on to Jason’s house, Ravenshurst, which is a lovely old mansion on a grand estate.

Jason sends his guests in through the front door, telling them that “Adams” will take care of them. He stays in the car as it goes around to the back. While he seemed perfectly fine while talking to Maggie and Pete after the accident, something is seriously wrong with him; he’s very weak, and the chauffeur has to help him out of the car and up the back stairs to his room.

Maggie and Pete, meanwhile, are impressed by the gorgeous interior of the house. They see no sign of Adams or anyone else, apart from a white cat with mismatched eyes like David Bowie–one green and one blue.

The drawing room

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The VVitch

The witch

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?
A pretty dress?
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
Wouldst thou like to see the world?”

 

All that in exchange for signing your name in a book and handing over your immortal soul.

The VVitch is titled in that style to mimic the printed works of the 16th and early 17th century, when U, V, and W weren’t quite distinguished as separate letters of the alphabet. This was one of the things that attracted me to this movie before I even saw it. The other thing was learning that the language used was also in the period style, with dialog taken directly from pamphlets and trial accounts of the era. While some have found this mode of speech and the character’s accents off-putting, for me it’s the best thing about the movie. The way the characters talk and their social and religious attitudes are as close as we’ll probably ever get to authentically historic, while remaining accessible to a modern audience.

Aside from a few quibbles–like the breed of dog, the number of candles, or the pierced holes in the  heroine’s earlobes–the look of this film is also marvelously well done with regard to historic details. It feels right.

Subtitled “A New-England Folktale,” The VVitch evokes several classic  fairytales, but gives them a darker turn. It’s almost a version of Hansel and Gretel in which the witch triumphs.

It’s 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. We meet a transplanted Yorkshire family with no given last name as the father William (Ralph Ineson) is being judged by members of a Puritan council. With him are his wife Kate (Kate Dickie), their teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), 12-year-old Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the 6-year old twins, Jonas and Mercy.

William is having religious differences with the elders. Those who came from England to the North American colonies during this period seeking religious freedom were generally in one of two categories: Puritans, who sought to purify the Church of England and remove all taint of Catholicism and “Popish” practice from its rites and ceremonies, and separatists, who gave the Church up as impossibly corrupt and wanted to strike out on their own with their individual ideas of true Christianity. William falls into this second category, and his ideas are out of accord with the rest of the community.

After calling the council “false Christians” and declaring his beliefs to be the true way, William is banished from the colony. He loads his family into a cart and they head out alone into the wilderness.

They journey for two days before they come to a meadow near a vast primeval wood and decide that this is the place where God meant them to settle. Everyone kneels to pray.

The farm

We next see the family some months later, in the bleak, late autumn: the trees are bare and a small field of colorful but somewhat blighted corn has been harvested into standing stacks. There’s also a withered garden. William has built a one-room thatched cottage and a goat-shed, but a larger barn is still under construction. Kate has had a new baby since the family settled here, a little boy named Samuel.

Unfortunately, with the family living in such isolated circumstances, Samuel hasn’t been baptized.

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The Resurrected

Some time ago, when I was reviewing the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s audioplay  The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I cited the two rather loose film adaptations of this same HP Lovecraft story that I was familiar with: AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days), and this film, which is Lovecraft noir placed in a modern setting.

The Resurrected was released in 1991, and everything about it has the looks of that late ’80s-early ’90s period.

Curwen and Ward

In my above review of the audioplay, I mentioned that both films have one significant change. In Lovecraft’s story, Charles Dexter Ward is a boy in his teens and early twenties. The films make him much older, and a married man as well. Chris Sarandon, who plays Ward here, was just short of 50.

After an introductory scene at the asylum, in which we learn that mental patient Charles Ward has escaped out the window of his padded cell, leaving behind the beheaded body of the orderly and a large, strange burnmark on the floor, our protagonist and narrator, private detective John March (John Terry) sits in his office and reports that this is the end of the case of Charles Dexter Ward. Like Carl Kolchak–or more like Walter Neff, since he’s bleeding from a wound in his shoulder–he speaks into a tape recorder.

“Three weeks ago,” he tells us, “Providence was a sane enough place.”

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Blood on Satan’s Claw

The British film studios Tigon and Amicus were generally seen as second-rate Hammer;  but that’s not a fair assessment. Both turned out a number of horror films in the late 1960s and early ’70s, many of which also starred Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing, but each had a character of its own. The films of all three made up a lot of the late-night TV viewing of my youth.

Peter sees his bride's clawed hand Tigon tended to take risks with less conventional horror stories. Sometimes the gamble worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

For example, Tigon produced the extremely goofy Blood Beast Terror featuring a giant weremoth, as well as The Creeping Flesh with its  philosophical musings on the true nature of Evil.

Tigon also made a couple of interesting films based on witch-hunting in 17th-century rural England with completely opposite points of view.

Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General stars Vincent Price as a chillingly cold-blooded and sadistic man based on real-life witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, who tortures and executes people accused of being witches. There are no real witches in this film, only innocent victims of Hopkins’s lust for money, prestige and power. In Blood on Satan’s Claw, on the other hand, the witches are real and evil, and the men who hunt them are the heroes.

The exact year in which Blood on Satan’s Claw is set isn’t clearly established, but it seems to be circa 1700; there’s a reference to “King James III in exile,” so it must be after the death of James II, when William of Orange or Queen Anne was actually the reigning monarch. The film consists of three separate stories; they were originally meant to be filmed as an anthology, then sewn together to form one plot, although a few gaps show here and there. Although they are original pieces of fiction, they have the flavor of authentic folk horror, the type of tales that might be told around the hearths of country homes during this period.

First folk tale: This farmer was out a-plowing his field, when he found something horrible buried in the dirt…

The film begins on a spring day somewhere in rural England with a ploughman by the name of Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) working in a field belonging to local landowner Mistress Banham. When he notices a number of birds gathered on a spot of ground recently turned up by his plow, he investigates and finds a horrible thing: a collection of bones and a crushed skull with one intact and very fresh-looking eye.

The horrible thing The worm on the eyeball is a particularly grotesque touch and the film makes the most of it, pulling in close to give the viewers the first in a series of disturbing but not gory images.

Ralph runs to the manor-farm, where Mistress Banham (Avice Landone) is entertaining an old friend, a highly placed magistrate (Patrick Wymark. His character is credited as The Judge and doesn’t seem to have a name; I think he’s addressed once as Lord Edmond, but the dialogue isn’t clear).

The Judge is a skeptical gentleman, but he agrees to go out and have a look at Ralph’s gruesome find. When the two get out to the field, there’s no horrible wormy skull to be found. The local parson (Anthony Ainley) is discovered in the underbrush, catching a snake. A harmless proto-naturalist, or is he in league with the devil?

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Kolchak: Two episodes

The Devil’s Platform

Devil doggie. Are the fangs fake?“Palmer is evil incarnate! He’s going to go all the way to the White House, to the Oval Office!”

Not one of my favorites, but I suppose it was inevitable in the immediate post-Watergate era.

In brief, a Chicago politician (Tom Skerrit) has sold his soul to the Devil. (I know, I know — Just the one?) To facilitate his meteoric rise from obscurity to the Senate, and perhaps beyond, Bob Palmer gets rid of all who oppose him by killing them off in horrific and somewhat flamboyant ways. Occasionally, he accomplishes these matters personally in the form of a big woofums doggie, which is kind of cute when it’s not snarling ferociously.

Carl Kolchak gets in Palmer’s way while waiting for an elevator at a high-rise building. The elevator is coming down much too fast, since Palmer and his about-to-be-late campaign manager are inside, along with a number of other unfortunate people. Carl hears their screams as the elevator drops and, after it crashes into the basement, rushes downstairs to get a photo.

In addition to all the now-dead people in the elevator, there is also the doggie wearing a pentagram on a chain around its neck. No sign of Palmer. As the dog leaps past Carl, the chain catches on his coat sleeve and he winds up in possession of the pentagram–and pursued by the dog.

When Palmer’s opponent for the Senate dies in a car crash that evening, it occurs to Carl that there’ve been a lot of weird deaths surrounding Palmer’s campaign. Then he notices a photograph of Palmer wearing the same pentagram.

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CD Review: Return to Collinwood

I’m not done with Dark Shadows yet. An extra feature on one of the final DVDs for the television series, after the last episodes, was about an audio play written by Jamison Selby, David Selby’s son; it was performed by some of the show’s actors at fan conventions in the early 2000s, then they went into a studio and recorded it.

I checked for it on Amazon. Still available!

Return to CollinwoodThe story is on 2 discs.  Some of the actors play their old, familiar characters again. Nancy Barrett is Carolyn Stoddard, now owner of Collinwood since her mother Elizabeth has passed on. David Selby is Quentin Collins, 140 years old, but he puts gray streaks in his hair to look like a well-preserved 50ish. Kathryn Leigh Scott is back as Maggie Evans. John Karlen is still Willie Loomis, living at the old Collins house.

I like that Jamison Selby has followed some of the projections for these characters provided by the show’s writer Sam Hall. Carolyn has been working for years as Head of Psychical Research at the University of Maine (sadly, not Miskatonic U). Maggie was married to Joe Haskell and has been widowed for about 1o years. Maggie now works at the nearby Windcliff sanitarium, where another old boyfriend, Sebastian Shaw (Christopher Pennock) is currently a catatonic patient. She and Quentin are an item again, and she meets him at the train station when he returns from a trip to Peru; he’s been traveling all around the world since 1970, and has most recently tried unsuccessfully to locate the long-missing David Collins. David Collins went away after a quarrel with his father Roger and hasn’t been heard from since.

Other actors from the show are present as new characters. Roger Davis, who played Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark, is Ned Stuart, Carolyn’s husband. They’ve been married about a year prior the events of the audio play. Donna Wandrey, who was Roxanne Drew, is the dour Collinwood housekeeper, Mrs. Franklin. Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny, is the not-at-all evil and entirely sensible Jessica Loomis, Willie’s wife.

The Loomises are hoping to stay on at the old house now that Carolyn is in charge. Willie has been renovating the place, putting in electricity and plumbing, as well as a big-screen TV. He’s in the process of installing a hot tub when he discovers a mysterious package hidden within the wall–a package addressed to him.

The surviving Collins family has been summoned to Collinwood for the reading of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s will and to try contact her spirit at a specific date and time, since she expressed a desire to speak to them all one last time. The only actual Collinses to make it are Carolyn and Quentin. David wasn’t found. Roger predeceased his sister, and who knows where Barnabas is?

To contact Elizabeth, they’re going to hold a seance. You know that the Collinses love their seances even more than I do and will leap on any old excuse to have one.

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DVD Review: Night/Curse of the Demon

This 1957 film is loosely based on M.R. James’s 1911 short story, Casting the Runes–a story about a warlock who sics a demon on his enemies by secretly passing them a slip of paper with a runic curse on it. The only way his victims can escape a horrible fate is by giving the runes back to him without him knowing it, so that the curse rebounds back on the caster. Although the plot and characters are altered from those in James’s story, this version is generally considered one of the best films adapted from his work, and one of the best horror films of its era.

It’s a British film with a mostly British cast, but with an American star to draw a U.S. audience, which was a common practice at the time. It was released in the UK under the title Night of the Demon and in the US as Curse of the Demon.

The DVD has both versions of this film on it: the 95-minute original UK version and the US release, which is about 10 minutes shorter. The order of the scenes are slightly rearranged in the US version, and two full scenes plus some other little bits here and there are removed.

Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes...Both versions of the film begin with shots of Stonehenge back when it stood alone on Salisbury Plain and wasn’t surrounded by wire fences, visitor parking lots, and gift shops. A solemn narrator tells the viewer:

“It has been written since the beginning of time, even unto these ancient stones, that evil, supernatural creatures exist in a world of darkness. It is also said that Man, using the magic power of the ancient runic symbols, can call forth these powers of darkness–the demons of Hell.”

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