Starring Harry Townes, Henry Silva, Ilka Windish.
Written by John Tomerlin.
Directed by John Brahm.
When his uncle, the infamous illusionist Radan Asparos (Nick Nolte, post-DUI) dies and leaves Mario Asparos (Townes) his black book of secret powers, the junior magician conjures dreams of grandeur and world conquest. With help from the summoned demon Astaroth, those dreams may come true.
PE: Can Harry Townes do any wrong and can anyone stand in my way as I crown him "Best All-Around Thriller Actor"? I dare you to cross that line. It would be condescending for me to say that an actor does "a good job for this kind of thing," but really that's what I want to say. Townes isn't performing Macbeth, nor is he Stanley Kowalski, he's a loony magician named Mario Asparos fer chrissakes, but he invests his all into the role and I was enthralled every minute he was on the screen (even when he had eyeballs floating above his head). Harry Townes should have been a great film actor, not popping up now and then in bit roles in Rawhide and The Farmer's Daughter. By the way, I refuse to believe that was Townes in the opener as his uncle. It would negate everything I just said about him. :)
JS: That was clearly not Townes. And it was not Nick Nolte, funny man. Anyone who's been awake the last 30 years can tell you that was Christopher Lloyd, in a performance that clearly went on to inspire 'Jim' in Taxi and 'Doc. Brown' in Back to the Future.
|ATAD Pop Quiz: Radan Asparos: Father of...|
|a) Christopher Lloyd|
|b) Nick Nolte|
PE: I loved most everything about this show: its opening scene almost looks designed by Charles Addams: long, rolling staircase, wall-length painting, creepy relatives just hanging out like vultures waiting to drop on Radan's corpse. Say what you want about "The Purple Room" and "The Hungry Glass", I think "Dark Legacy" and "The Prisoner in the Mirror" trump those in terms of performance, mood and atmosphere. I never saw either one of them coming.
JS: And he tops it off by crawling into his own coffin! It does set the tone right off the bat. The zany costumes, the stock lightning footage, and the extensive smoke effects (those babies were on double duty throughout this episode). I know conjuring a physical demon probably outshines the episode effects budget (this isn't The Outer Limits, you know), but the one disappointment for me was the superimposed floaty eye effect.
PE: That's future low-budget/sleaze/exploitation/garbage/direct-to-VHS king Henry Silva as Mario's good friend (and Monika's better friend) Toby Wolfe. It's amazing to see Silva without an AK-47. (Bullshit or not? -JS) Alfred Pennyworth makes his third and final appearance as Radan's attorney.
JS: I do love seeing Alan Napier turn up, particularly when it seems like he just popped over from his day job at Stately Wayne Manor (which has been all of his appearances save "Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook", where he was actually given a different role to play).
PE: The animal wrangler definitely needs to look elsewhere for vicious growling dogs. I see a trend. Could these "snarling canines" be owned by some corporate sponsor who has no kids and wants to see "poopsie" on the boob tube? Sure, Peter's a cute dog (and that's a tough thing for me to say, mind you) (Not for me. Peter is a cute dog. -JS) but when it comes time to bare the fangs, I've seen nastier animals on The Jerry Springer Show.
JS: Giving credit where credit's due—Thriller dogs sit with the best of them.
|Raise your left hand and swear not to make any noise...|
But hands down, my favorite bit in the entire episode is when Mario is about to perform his greatest trick live on stage for the audience, and as he begins he stops, turns to face the crowd and says most seriously, "In order to concentrate all of my faculties during this performance I must ask for Not. One. Sound." At which point, a drum-roll starts!!! (I blew Jack Daniel's through my nostrils!! -PE) You can't write this stuff!
PE: I was surprised to see that this episode was not written by Robert Bloch. Not because he was the greatest horror story writer who ever lived (he was), but because he cornered the market in nutty sorcerers. In fact, one of those stories made for a crackerjack episode of (here it comes!) The Alfred Hitchcock Hour starring Christopher Lee ("The Sign of Satan" May 8, 1964) and based on "Return to the Sabbath" from Weird Tales (see how I bring it all back around?) (Until you connect it to Mario Bava I remain unimpressed. -JS). That episode would have been perfect for the fourth seaon of Thriller. But the writer was John Tomerlin, who wrote a few Wanted: Dead or Alives (with Steve McQueen) and a Twilight Zone ("Number 12 Looks Just Like You") and not much more. He and director John Brahm deserve a lot of credit for creating such a mood of menace. That mood seems to spill off the screen.
JS: A bit of trivia—those same floating eyes would later appear in Dario Argento's Suspiria...