Monday, November 1, 2010

The Hollow Watcher: Season 2 Episode 20

Originally aired 2/12/62
Starring Audrey Dalton, Sean McClory, Warren Oates.
Written by Jay Simms.
Directed by William F. Claxton.

Meg O'Danagh Wheeler (Dalton), the new bride of Hugo Wheeler (Oates), doesn't make a good first impression on her father-in-law (Denver Pyle) when she bashes his skull in after the old man beats Hugo senseless. Meg hides the body in the family's scarecrow and convinces Hugo that his father has flown the coop.

PE: It's a long ride to the Boogie Man. When we get there, we realize he was scarier in the shadows. Unlike its direct descendant, Dark Night of the Scarecrow (one of those rarities, a TV movie that actually delivers on its supernatural promise in an unnerving final scene), which kept its menace hidden until the final frames, we get a really good look at "The Hollow Watcher." And while he's fairly effective in his early scenes, it's not until the finale that he becomes a full blown menace. Two words make the ride worth it: Audrey Dalton. My vote for Ms. Thriller seems to change all the time. Catch that smile that crosses her lips when she does in the old man. She's sexy and bad all rolled up into one fine package. She's a complicated lady.

JS: I just watched her again in Mr. Sardonicus, and have also grown to appreciate her Thriller appearances more. Thankfully, she gets a fair amount of screen time.

PE: Meg and Sean are Irish cousins of Dick and Marian, the homicidal couple from "An Attractive Family." Sean McClory even looks like a stocky Richard Long. Audrey Dalton, pleasantly, does not resemble Joan Tetzel.

JS: While the audience can pretty much figure out what's going on, I still think the first scene in which she kisses her 'brother' is pretty creepy. And the only thing creepier than that is her fixation with that doll of hers, which is a bizarre plot thread that ultimately goes nowhere. I thought for a second that we might see her set upon in the last act by the Hollow Watcher and her doll. No such luck.

PE: The last ten minutes are a hoot. First, Warren Oates is dispatched by his Straw Daddy off screen and we're left to wonder how he met his fate. Then Sean (McClory) dies a very bloody death (I saw the raking of the face but what else gets done there?). Finally, Meg comes face to bale with the Watcher, dispatches him with fire, and goes off the deep end. Ironically, Meg, the only one to commit murder, is the only one to survive (Or does she? With that impromptu torch burning on the ground right next to her, I think the episode ends a few moments before the whole house goes up in flames... -JS).

JS: I had to laugh when the scarecrow is outside the door. The handle rattles a bit before he gets in, but you immediately notice he's got no hand on the left side where the doorknob was, and his right hand doing a heil-Hitler salute. If you look closely you can see the hand of the production assistant who opened the door. As H-dub's hay filled head sack burned away, I thought it might be cool if it left a burning, headless scarecrow. It might have played a bit more effectively than the skull on a stick routine. And speaking momentarily about the titular star of the show. How hard would it have been to give him a creepier face? Seriously, he's scarier in his present day Jack in the Box commercials...

PE: "The Hollow Watcher" is very reminiscent of a comic story that appeared in Shock SuspenStories #17 (Oct-Nov 1954). Titled "4-Sided Triangle," written by Carl Wessler and illustrated by Jack Kamen, the 8-pager tells the tale of Annie, simple-minded farm girl in love with a scarecrow. The story is shot through with the same kind of sexual undertones as "The Hollow Watcher."

THE COMMENTARY
I've read complaints on another website about rambling commentaries, commentators that don't keep to the subject at hand, commentaries about make-up and music but not the episode, blah blah blah. You can't please anyone ever. I'm just glad that Image bigwigs can't be bothered by these internet dweebs. I'd hate to think that future releases might skimp on the quality extras we got this time around. We've had several enjoyable commentaries throughout this run but I think this was my favorite. I don't mean to shove Gary Gerani and David J. Schow to the side (I have said nice things about their commentaries in the past), but this is Larry Blamire's show. Much like his knowledgeable talk during "The Storm," and "Late Date," Larry doesn't just comment on what's happening on the screen (after all, we can see that) or what horror film Mary Tyler Moore appeared in, he requires us to put pen to paper (I was ready this time) to jot down all these suggestions for viewing ("Cimarron Strip," "Rawhide," "Have Gun Will Travel," the list goes on and on). I've got a suggestion for Larry - why not wrote a book on all these weird western TV shows?

OUR RATING:

24 comments:

  1. Did you notice that Alan Warren in his THRILLER book really hates Audrey Dalton? He says, "...she gives her usual inadequate performance." Then later in the same paragraph he slams her again for her acting in MR SARDONICUS, saying "She was inadequate in that as well."

    ReplyDelete
  2. Always thought I was the third wheel on this commentary, and we were smart to keep these talks limited to duos (and a couple of singles) most of the way. Larry was great, as you pointed out, and David was his usual informative self.

    Interesting point about commentaries, in general. Guess it's a personal thing, and every approach has its own rewards. Some listeners prefer extensive credits and cross-references, so they can check out other books/films/whatever that relate to the subject. Others crave a shot-by-shot analysis, the way a college professor may take his students through an important film for a deeper, focused study. I did my best to combine these elements, and found my approach changing slightly from episode to episode. For a cinematically rich show like "Pigeons," I felt it was important to describe how Newland was setting up a shot and delivering a unique bit-of-business, even though I was essentially describing what we were all seeing on the screen. One thing I pretty much insisted on, for myself and other commentators, was that we be familiar with the original fiction source material, so viewers could understand what the screenwriter was facing when he did his adaptation (Compressing characters? Softening themes? etc.).

    As for "Hollow Watcher"... A strange show, with no one to really root for (Sean McClory comes closest, yet he's a scheming would-be murderer), but that ending was wonderful. All three of us -- David, Larry and myself -- got off on the Watcher shambling downstairs even after he's been "destroyed." And there's that always-welcome THRILLER skull... the classic horror icon for the series, next to Boris himself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thriller's big, disappointing "What If?" episode for me. It spends WAY too much time on incidental stuff, while ignoring much that would have really propelled the show in a much more satisfying way. A real bummer.

    Scarecrow shots n' scenes are really creepy, classic Thriller Halloween-type images. LOVE the scarecrow sitting up on top of the hill, in both day and night shots. The final 7 minutes of the show are Thriller at its best. Blackened, burning skull is truly gruesome, grotesque and frightening (Yeah, it's on a stick..), another example of TV being pushed to its extremes by this series. (Glad I didn't see this when I was very young; I would have been traumatized!) Also, looks to me like Sean McClory was impaled by one of the scarecrow's wooden legs, after having his face slashed by that terrific blow).

    But this very promising, intensely cool premise (dead body in scarecrow which continually moves closer to house of murderess) is WAY sidetracked and shoved into the background, while we follow the adventures of "The Irish dude meets the crazy townsfolk." Then, for those final great 7 minutes, we FINALLY get what we we've all been waiting for (of course, there IS the bone-in-the-arm scene at the close of ACT II--but it's not enough!)

    MUCH more time could have been spent with Audrey Dalton and her absolutely impossible, just-plain-silly, super-human feat of dragging the hulking corpse of Denver Pyle out of the barn and up the hill, then sewing him into the scarecrow and hoisting it upright--ALL IN THE TIME it took for Warren Oates to wake up from his beating; and, to make matters worse, she SWINGS LIKE A GIRL, and couldn't have possibly killed the big guy with that litte tap she gave him. There must have been a way to fill more screen time to make her deed more plausible, thus eliminating the wasted filler of the pointless fist-fight, etc.

    Warren Oates at his quirky best. I'm not much on Audrey Dalton's acting abilities; "Sardonicus" is her most believable, poised performance I've seen. I think her final confrontation and mad scene in "Hollow Watcher" is her best work in her 3 Thriller appearances.

    And watching good old Walter Burke in yet another silly role that wastes his talents only creates more anticipation for his late season 2 appearance, where he FIANLLY gets a chance to display his acting cops.

    I'm assuming that composer Sidney Fine contributed the gentle, folk-song-like elements of the score (including the weird, high clarinet tune with the clumsy waltz-like accompaniment that accompanies the shots of the scarecrow in the prologue), and that William Lava wrote the thickly scored, Hans Salter-like stuff that is most prominently heard. After so much finely-crafted, chamber-like, string-centric writing from Goldsmith and Stevens, I find Lava's late-50's B-movie style too bombastic (and I can't believe he only used 12 or 13 players for this score; sounds WAY bigger to me).

    Very disappointing, lop-sided script.

    SIX-OUT-OF-TEN smiley-faced, burlap-bagged Karloff heads 'fer me.

    LR

    ReplyDelete
  4. I personally love these commentaries with the passion and love coming through, quite marvellously and personably. I only wish there was one for 'Masquerade'. And the Doug Benton recital was ingenious. You can't lose with David and Gary on there.

    ReplyDelete
  5. << Did you notice that Alan Warren in his THRILLER book really hates Audrey Dalton? <<

    His aversion to Audrey extends to his belittling her Irish accent in some episode, sounding Irish was obviously was beyond her capabilities, he wrote. ... She IS Irish!

    I gave his book a good but not great review in FANGORIA, and I humorously zinged him on a few points -- including the Dalton thing above. So when a guy walked up to me at a FANEX and said he was Alan Warren, my first thought was "Ruh-roh! How sore is he gonna be?" Pfffft!!!--he couldn't have been nicer; wanted to buy me a drink and chat and everything. A very, very nice guy. I really enjoyed meeting him.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sorry guys, but this one happens to be one of my favorite episodes. One thing about watching Thriller, I learned to be thankful for episodes like this one that stick to being supernatural. Luckily the ending didn't turn out to be something stupid like the scarecrow was really one of the town yokels dressed up to scare the scheming couple.

    As far as the effectiveness of the scarecrow, me thinks that he is sort of a precursor to stalking killers like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers. The skull at the end was a little cheesey, but it did remind me a little of "Ghost Rider."

    I have to agree and would love if someone published a book about Weird Western television shows. Does anyone know if an anthology of fictional Weird Westerns was ever published???

    It's not exactly a Weird Western episode, but the "Tate" titled "The Bounty Hunter," has an excellent Robert Culp playing the title character, and man, does he play a creepy dude!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Big thank you, Peter (and Gary), I'm glad you were down with moseying along the Weird Western Trail for a spell. And YES, actually, on my agenda of things-to-do-when-I-find-the-damn-time are a book on old dark house movies (and TV) and a book on the horror-western in TV and movies.

    Yeah, this is one of my favorite shows too, warts and all. Even the scarecrow's innocuous face works for me.

    Hey, thanks for the TATE tip, UTW, I'm a major Culp junkie in all his 60s TV guest star outings; I don't think any actor had such a rich run (check out his drug-addicted Civil War vet in RAWHIDE "Incident at the Top of the World".

    And while we're on western horror, I just rewatched the HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL "Sweet Lady of the Moon" with Crahan "Pigeons From Hell" Denton as an old west Hannibal Lector. This superbly written (by Harry Julian Fink), directed (by Richard Boone) and played (by Denton) show manages to quietly disturb and get under your skin in a way that will haunt you for days.

    ReplyDelete
  8. UTW-
    Not sure if you know about "Razored Saddles" edited by Joe R. Lansdale from the late 80s. Great book (in fact DJS can be found in its pages). Should be easy to find on abebooks.com.

    Larry- I'll be watching that "Silence of the Moon" episode of HGWT tonight thanks to my wonderful Netflix Instant Watch!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you gentlemen. I will definitely check those out.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Actually, there has been a recent book published about weird western TV shows. I have a copy and it's of interest to lovers of the bizarre and unusual. Written by Paul Green, it's called ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS: SUPERNATURAL AND SF ELEMENTS IN NOVELS, PULPS, COMICS, FILMS, AND TV. Amazon.com has it for $36.00.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just checked it out on Amazon.com. Thanx Walker Martin. This book definitely looks worth checking out!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is probably (hands down) the worst episode of the show: silly, tedious and implausible. Ironically, the picture trasfer for this is one of the most pristine and exquisite in the DVD set.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love The Hollow Watcher, don't regard it as particularly flawed. A bit poky at times, but so are most Thrillers around the half-way point.

    The actors are spirited, the Black Hollow, North Carolina setting conveyed a kind rustic, enervated quality, with its sparsely populated community, it felt dead, almost otherworldly, as if the Elder Gods had taken over (or somethin').

    The last few minutes are among the finest in the show's history. Does any of it makes sense, add up? Not. But it casts its spell regardless, and besides, it's a Thriler.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm going to admit I am not a great fan of the horror genre and I am also not an expert on "Thriller." I bought the set because in general I am a fan of classic TV of all types from the mid-50s to early-80s and it's always fascinating to discover programs I never saw before from this era featuring actors I know from other projects.

    What I am often finding is that too often "Thriller" is a show that seems to sacrifice important plot exposition for the sake of an atmospheric touch and the end result often leaves a first time viewer like me confused as hell rather than impacted. For one, I get very annoyed by these abrupt endings that IMO are just stylistically wrong for an HOUR long show in which so much build-up is invested. A quick ending I can handle better in a half hour show but not in this format.

    Such is my problem with "The Storm" a couple episodes before this one. And on this episode, the climax everyone raves about was leaving me confused because to be honest when I saw it, I had MISSED the critical detail that Warren Oates was dead. Perhaps this is my sin for watching this episode first on my portable DVD player, but when I rewound I realized that this was inexcusable staging by the director that didn't let us see Oates' face when McClorry discovers his body. You had to have a closeup and not a medium shot of McClorry hunched over the body in the dark where in all candor you can't automatically even tell that he's FOUND a body at first. If the other shot was more "atmospheric" well sorry for me, it sacrificed my ability to appreciate the episode because when I'm watching the climax not knowing that Oates is in fact dead, that's going to negate its effectiveness.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Loved this episode, has some flaws, two extended fight scenes in a row seemed gratuitous, I don't know how Dalton
    could have stuffed chubby Denver Pyle in the scarecrow, those are minor quibbles, the finale is truly terrifying, with a great, literal monster. I loved how pretty much all 10 or so of the characters in it are pretty rotten. 3 3/4 Karloffs, #10 out of 67 on my list.

    Also, this maybe my favorite Thriller commentary, its the only one I think with the 3 superscholars on the track. I wrote down all the titles of the horror Westerns they talked about, even watched one- "Incident of the Murder Steer" on Rawhide, which was the first time and will be the only time I ever watch Rawhide.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great episode. The actors are particularly good. There's not much logic in it but once one accepts its supernatural themes it works. The ending is one of the best of the entire series.

    ReplyDelete
  17. The Hollow Watcher is a quirky episode with a wonderful payoff at the end, which surprisingly stays on the rails of the supernatural track.

    As with most Thrillers, the prologue teases us with tense horror and a murder. Audrey Dalton uses those first few screen minutes to whack the skull of not only her father in-law, but also this viewer. Whew! What an emerald femme fatale! Although, it takes half the episode to reveal her sham marriage to Hugo Wheeler, it's obvious from the start that Meg is scamming our thick and dull Hugo. One thing that didn't convince me was Hugo's turn of character. He started out as a bullied wuss whose wife had to do the dirty work and after the prologue turned into a confidant businessman who didn't take no mess.

    The middle section moseyed along in a pleasant manner with the country bumpkin town folk keeping things entertaining. As soon as Meg's Irish love arrived, the Gaelic swindle was immediately evident. I chuckled at Sean's inquiry of how far Meg went to keep her sham marriage intact. Ah, the things we do for money!

    I almost forgot about the Hollow Watcher. This being the 57th episode I would have be my paycheck that ol' H. Watcher was either Hugo or old man Hugo, but horror of horrors, ol' Hollow W. was a real straw boogie man.

    I'll stuff three Karloffs full of straw...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Talk about the need to suspend one's disbelief. What in Black Hollow is that lurking, stalking scarecrow? Is it Ortho's ghost driven by vengeance, the Hollow Watcher driven by...well, driven by whatever drives him to do its independent contract work or some amalgam of the two?

    If it's the title character, then what's its motivation? And why introduce the red herring of Ortho's murder and subsequent hiding of his body in the scarecrow, only to have the Hollow Watcher appropriate that guise for its own purposes.

    But that's just the beginning of the problem with this episode. It's the final scene that really defies all logic. It packs a punch initially, but that's before you stop to analyze it. How is it that the one-armed scarecrow (the real killer of Dr. Richard Kimble's wife?) is like the granddaddy of all slashers when it dispatches Sean with such ease and ferocity, only to become curiously inept and harmless in the attempt to menace diminutive Meg?

    Why does it stand still and do absolutely nothing as she casually walks up to it and sets its head on fire? Is her beauty such as befuddles it to the point that it loses sight of its search and destroy mission?

    Oh, and then there's the torched head. That's a great idea in theory, but the skull beneath doesn't answer any questions we may have, it only confuses all the more. It doesn't seem to be the animated corpse of Ortho under the Raggedy Andy sack face, or else we'd see his face on fire. On the other hand, if it's some supernatural force, what's with the skull? Are we to believe that it's somehow appropriated/possessed Ortho's body?

    If so, there's still the matter of the clean skull beneath the scarecrow, which scarcely would be the case with Ortho's body, which would still be in the process of decaying (that would have been a far more hideous effect than what was shown).

    While I didn't hate the episode, it's one that better left without any attempts at close scrutiny.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This would have worked better as a feature.

      Issues, issues...



      I agree with some of the points many have made here. The hollow watcher mythos, such as it can be called, was insufficiently worked out in the script. Does it represent a kind of Calvinist divine intervention or did it simply allow Ortho's soul to take vengeance? If so--he missed the gal who murdered him, punished everyone else.

      Having just watched it again I can see things wrong with it even as I retain my fondness for the episode as a whole for nostalgic reasons if for no other.

      The characters were better defined than the central concept of the hollow watcher and who or what he was, and this was a flaw. They ought, in my opinion, to have kept him at a greater distance from the house till the very end, not had Sean shoot his arm off so early on, left the entire business of whether he was in fact embodied in the scarecrow or merely represented by it, as a kind of all-seeing eye that could itself drive people crazy, which in turn could make the viewer think that the Watcher's existence was as much in the minds of the characters in the story as something that lived up in the field.

      They gave the game away too early, methinks. I agree that Hugo's murder ought to have been either shown or made clear prior to Sean's entering the barn. That was too much information overload in so short a period of time. The sound of the scarecrow's legs banging across the floor could have been the first signal that something otherworldly was amiss prior to our actually seeing his approach. Given a better script, Jacques Tourneur or Robert Florey might have made a masterpiece of it...

      I'm still a fan, but this past night's viewing showed up some flaws in the episode as well.

      Delete
  19. I kept thinking that the doll Audrey kept hugging had the money they were always talking about hidden inside and was waiting for it to spill out at the end after all the havoc raised by the Hallow Watcher.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I first saw the "Hollow Watcher" when it originally aired and it along with the episode about the witch's wig were the two episodes of "Thriller" that stuck with me all these years. Being very young at the time I really didn't understand it (like the so called brother and sister being lovers). It was not until I caught a repeat of it in the mid 70's that I finally understood what was going on. While flawed I still find this episode very frightening. Over the years scarecrows have always been a source of terror for me and I can trace that fear directly back to this episode.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I saw it a few months ago for what might be the first time. One of the big attractions is the character actors in the smaller parts, including Mary Grace Canfield, "Ralph Monroe" from GREEN ACRES, who has an instant crush on Sean McClory.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Fascinating divided views about this episode here. I agree with much that those who love this ep have said, and yet I found it interminable and virtually unwatchable.

    Yeah, Dalton is sultry and there are a lot of kinky sexual implications here, beginning with a tyrannical father who regularly straps his grown son (bare-assed, one wonders?) yet the episode as a whole ignores what is most twisted, juicy and horrific in this show for a lot of dull nonsense about hostile small town folks. Some good imagery at the end didn't save it for me, it was simply too muddled as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barsh 1956 writes

      A disturbing episode. The scarecrow horror was further developed in several series after this showing. The hollows of Appalachia are still in frozen time as are many parts of the Arkansas Ozarks--think rural parts of the British Isles today-the roots of these simple folk.

      The Thriller shows on ME TV are great-who needs a DVD? In our neck of the woods, the original Wagon Train follows-with Ward Bond! Me, an old fart of 64, saw these episodes when first aired on network TV.

      Delete