Starring Brandon De Wilde, Crahan Denton, David Whorf.
Written by John Kneubuhl, based on the story by Robert E. Howard.
Directed by John Newland.
Two brothers (De Wilde & Whorf) are stranded in a swamp and luck upon the old Blassenville plantation, now long decayed and empty. The boys camp out inside the creepy old mansion, but soon discover that the house isn't as empty as they thought.
PE: So we finally get to use all the notes we made for "Pigeons" when we were scheduled to do the commentary before we were shoved aside by Gerani at the last minute. I'm still kinda pissed. "The Fatal Impulse" was a better episode anyway.
JS: You realize that everyone is waiting to see if we fall in with the 'this is the greatest episode, bar none' group, or take this opportunity to take it down a notch.
PE: Well, we're treated to that patented Thriller atmosphere right off the bat in a nice shot, tracking Whorf through the swamp until he stumbles on the mansion (looking like something out of an apocalyptic epic) and the titular beasts. We get the fabulously creepy interior of the Blassenville house and some eerie camerawork, quietly closing doors (as opposed to the loud creaking kind), and bloody headed zuvembies with hatchets.
JS: And you didn't even mention either of the bits that made my wife jump. First, when Jacob (Ken Renard) picks up the snake—oops, I mean when the snake leaps out of the fireplace to bite him. Second, when Sheriff Buckner (Denton) is in the house and leans back in the chair to go to sleep, she thought the shadow on the wall behind him was another snake! So Newland was definitely doing something right.
PE: For all that, I think "Pigeons" is a slightly above average episode, certainly not the most terrifying television show of all time and certainly not the creepiest Thriller. Its acting is its downer. The two male leads (De Wilde and Denton) annoyed the hell out of me. De Wilde reminded me of a 1960s version of Christian Slater, whiny and blank-faced while Denton (as the laid-back sheriff you'd expect in a swamp) gives to changing his mind every other scene ("Let's go upstairs" "I'm not going in that room" "Let's go upstairs and see what's in the room") and subscribes to the "shout the lines so they'll hear you in the back" school of method acting. Man, am I in trouble. I can just see the Thriller boys dropping their "Ten Karloffs or Die" picket signs in Griffith Park and plastering billboards in Phoenix with "Brandon's Our Boy/Denton's a Joy!"
JS: Pete - don't encourage them. I didn't think Denton was so bad, but that could be due to the fact that I thought DeWilde and Whorf were both awful in this. Obviously the love surrounding this episode is for its horrific elements, and not the performances. But those negatives cannot be overlooked in an honest appraisal of it.
PE: Contrary to popular belief, Stephen King never said that "Pigeons" was the scariest show of all time (he didn't even say it was the second nor did he even opine his feelings about the show). He's been misquoted so many times it's become legend. Here's what he writes about some of the highlights of Thriller:
Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons from Hell," one of the finest horror stories of our century, was adapted, and remains the favorite of many who remember Thriller with fondness.(Danse Macabre, pg. 219)
King goes on to say in a footnote:
And some say it was the single most frightening story ever done on TV. I would disagree with that... Robert Bloch's adaptation of his own story "I Kiss Your Shadow" (from the short-lived TV show, Bus Stop -PE) has never been beaten on TV - and rarely anywhere else - for eerie, mounting horror.(Ibid)
JS: Nice of you to clarify that King didn't say it was the greatest. But even if he had, I would respectfully disagree. I enjoy a hatchet murder as much as the next guy (heck, perhaps moreso), and I still feel comfortable saying this is not one of the better Thriller episodes, let alone the best. And perhaps while cutting edge when released (sorry, I couldn't resist), that doesn't make it a better episode then than it is today. Now allow me to settle in to my easy chair to be schooled as to why "Pigeons From Hell" is the greatest episode ever.
PE: "Pigeons from Hell," one of Robert E. Howard's most celebrated horror stories first appeared in Weird Tales, May 1938 and was reprinted in the Pyramid paperback Weird Tales collection published in 1964. It's also been reprinted in several of Howard's short story collections. Though Howard is remembered as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, he was equally as popular in the 1930s pulps for his horror stories.
JS: As noted several weeks back, I've not been focusing on the audio/video quality unless anything stood apart from the pack. We watched this one on the 100" big screen, and the first thing I noticed during the pre-credits sequence was that it appeared as if it were transferred through cheese cloth. I haven't been watching most episodes at this size, but even when pulling the screen caps, this was the first episode where the transfer itself left me wanting.
PE: I've become very fond of Gary Gerani's voice, so much so that I've been bugging him for his unlisted number (I'll get it, Gary, don't you worry!). His track on "Pigeons" is full of great trivia and author notes. I find that Gerani points out the most obvious things that somehow I missed but, most of all, he never commits the cardinal sin of some commentators: a dry, boring lecture. And good call drawing parallels between "Pigeons from Hell" and John Landis' An American Werewolf in London.