Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Wig For Miss Devore: Season 2 Episode 19

Originally aired 1/29/62
Starring Patricia Barry, John Baragrey, John Fiedler.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the short story by August Derleth.
Directed by John Brahm.

About to be executed for witchcraft, Meg Peyton (Pamela Searle) requests that the hangmen leave her wig on. After she hangs, it becomes evident why: the wig has magical powers that keep the wearer young as long as it's donned. Washed up Hollywood star Sheila DeVore (Barry) has decided to make her comeback in a big budget bio of Meg Peyton and is determined to wear the famed wig to get her into the role. The cursed rug does the job.

PE: Never mind the wig, it's the hats that gossip columnist Arabella Foote (Linda Watkins) wears that are dangerous.

JS: No kidding—I was particularly scared of the wicker trash basket she wore.

PE: Patricia Barry is perfectly over the top for the Marilyn-esque role. And this is not an easy episode to rate. I appreciated its tongue-in-cheek storyline (at least I hope that's what they were aiming for) but it's a bit slow.

JS: I do think the episode is intentionally tongue in cheek, as there are several moments where they rely on the good old sitcom music. And the casting of Herbert Rudley as Max Qunke seems to support that as well. I must also point out that Patricia Barry is looking fantastic this time out (once she dons that magical wig).

PE: The dopey flailing monster gloves (leftovers from The Leech Woman?) ruin every atmospheric shot they're stuck in.

JS: I'm betting the original Thriller-boys will comment on how effective said gloves were on that cold January night back in 1962. I didn't mind them myself when they were used in a scene, but agree they were far less effective when shot as disembodied arms against a black background clutching at the camera. Perhaps the interpretive dancers from "La Strega" were on the Universal payroll, as those shots look suspiciously like their handiwork (no pun intended).

PE: For the biggest star in Hollywood, her party (where the partygoers are twisting the night away) is a pretty cheap affair. It appears to be held in someone's living room and attended by Brigham Young students.

JS: I kept thinking that had this only been shot a few years later, Ann-Margret would have been perfect in the role of Sheila... particularly for the dance sequence at the party. Nobody could shake the fringe quite like A-M could.

PE: Remember the next time you're running through the streets of Los Angeles to beware of falling Roman columns.

JS: That is actually a valid concern when running through any studio backlot, Peter, and not one you should make light of.

PE: Devore's monster visage in the reveal is a very effective combination of Harry Townes' make-up for "The Cheaters," and a coral reef. It reminded me a bit of the human end of The Fly as well (the finale in the spider's web, that is).

JS: "The Cheaters" was the first thing I thought of, too. Now this is what I would call a satisfying climax. You must have been disappointed that it didn't end when she ran out of the party after losing her wig. (now that you mention it... -PE)

PE: Pay attention and you'll notice that Devore's maid, who inherits the wig after Miss Devore is squished, has a mustache to make her homelier, I guess. When she dons the wig and escapes out the back door (after changing into nicer clothes in faster time than it takes to paint masterpieces around these parts), she's Meg Peyton, gorgeous and clean shaven.

JS: Um, isn't that the whole point? This is a supernatural episode, and not one of your crime dramas, mind you.

PE: "A Wig for Miss Devore" appeared in the May 1943 issue of Weird Tales. Derleth's story is quite different from the Thriller. In the original story, the prologue is dispatched (the murderess is more contemporary), there are rules cited for the wearing of the wig (the wig should not be worn more than a few minutes at a time, it should be kept out of sight, and that it had "certain properties not subject to reasonable explanation"). Miss Devore also becomes hungry for raw meat, in particular human hearts. When she chows down on her publicity manager's ticker, she's carted away to the asylum. End of story.

PE: Steve Mitchell gets a fabulous commentary out of Patricia Barry, who dishes out lots of behind-the-scenes info and gossip about Thriller and Hollywood. Barry lets us in on her relationship with her husband, writer Philip Barry, Marilyn Monroe, old Hollywood, and the dynamics of making the episode. Neither Mitchell nor Barry gloss over the cheesier aspects of the show.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Storm: Season 2 Episode 18

Originally aired 1/22/62
Starring Nancy Kelly, David McLean, James Griffith.
Written by William D. Gordon, based on the short story by McKnight Malmar.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

Miles from civilization, Janet Willsom (Kelly) is stuck in her house in a vicious storm. Adding to her bad night is the female body she finds stuffed in a trunk in her cellar and the mysterious figure prowling outside her window.

JS: If you were wondering what happened to that black cat from "La Strega," he hopped on a boat from Italy to the good old U.S. of A. just in time to witness an effectively staged murder in the pre-credit sequence to this episode.

PE: Almost like a play, "The Storm" is essentially one woman subjected to every cliche in the horror film book: thunder, lightning, and pouring rain, loose shutters, broken windows, hissing black cat, creepy noises, missing husband, suspicions about said husband, etc. Having said that, Nancy Kelly is brilliant carrying the weight of the show on her shoulders for most of its running time. For quite a bit of that running time, I thought I might have been a bit hasty handing over the Golden Karloff to Jeanette Nolan. "The Storm" seemed, to me, to be a solid little mid-1950s noir B-movie.

JS: It helps that the majority of the episode takes place after the power goes out. For me, the episode is a little long getting to the halfway point, when Janet finds the body in the cellar. From that point on, it takes on an effective "Sorry, Wrong Number" vibe.

PE: I'll agree with you there. It's overlong by about 15 minutes. In his commentary, David J. Schow mentions that this episode could be edited down to a half hour and it would be a good representation of the short story. We've hit a good patch of Thriller. Two strong climaxes in a row.

JS: Would you prefer a little more time between them? (That depends on what's up around the corner! -PE) I don't think it rates alongside "The Strega." (nor do I -PE) In fact, it harkens back to those early Thriller episodes that just end abruptly. (But, be fair John, those abrupt endings were lame while this is a riveting jolt. -PE) While David McLean's performance is effective, I do think that after investing an hour with Janet, and anticipating the eventual final-reel reveal, I wanted to see someone get their just (or unjust) desserts. Instead, all we get is confirmation of our suspicions, and nothing more. It was ultimately lacking the "Sorry, Wrong Number" punch I thought it was building towards.

PE: I thought the climax very effective. It could go two ways: either Janet will make it to the cops and hubby will spend the rest of his days behind bars (or, more likely based on his last minute performance, a loony bin) or he'll get his wits about him and go hunting. Regardless, I loved his breakdown from "loving husband" to screaming animal in a matter of minutes. Were you hoping for the kind of expository we just loved in "The Big Blackout?" I thought the final scene in "The Storm" ranked with "Prisoner in the Mirror." I can't get it out of my mind.

JS: Loving husband? Patronizing husband, perhaps. This isn't a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Pete. I'm glad you found crazy hubby's tirade so incredible it satiated any need for a conclusion. I don't need everything spelled out—I wasn't looking for the old "he/she kills the other, was caught, tried for the murder and got the electric chair" ending, but I would have liked to have them lean one way or the other; that he was going to get her, or she was going to get him. It's exactly like those earlier episodes I referenced, where you return from the final commercial break and have wonder if you missed the final reel somehow. In discussing it further, you made me realize I was being too generous in my original assessment.

Illustration by Barry Anderson
PE: "The Storm" by McKnight Malmar was adapted several times in addition to its Thriller incarnation. Twice it was dramatized on Studio One, in 1949 starring Marsha Hunt, and again in 1953, starring Betty Furness. A decade after the Thriller episode, Elizabeth Montgomery starred as the terrified woman in the TV movie, The Victim, directed by Herschel Daugherty! The story first appeared in the February 1944 issue of Good Housekeeping. You can read it online here.

PE: David J. Schow and Larry Blamire discuss the many incarnations of "The Storm" on TV (including the info that Yul Brynner may have directed a 1948 version for Studio One). Make sure you have a pen and paper handy. You'll want to jot down the titles of the creepy shows that Larry hurls forth at one point. Good catch on that "An Unlocked Window" visual, Larry. You won't believe it, but it's in my notes. Damn these commentators. Taking all my best bits.


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lovely Ladies of Thriller: Part Four - Ursula Andress

In honor of today's episode, "La Strega," we bring you a Lovely Ladies of Thriller special, all-blonde-bombshell Ursula Andress edition! Enjoy!

La Strega: Season 2 Episode 17

Originally aired 1/15/62
Starring Ursula Andress, Alejandro Rey, Jeanette Nolan.
Written by Alan Caillou.
Directed by Ida Lupino.

After being attacked by a group of men and left for drowned, Luana (Andress) is rescued by Tonio de la Vega (Rey). The young man is smitten by the beauty and agrees to shelter her from her grandmother, the witch known to the villagers as La Strega (Nolan). After the old woman curses Tonio, he begins to wonder if letting Luana shack up with him was a good idea after all.

PE: And there they are in the very first scene—Ursula Andress!

JS: And what a lovely pair of eyes she has! Lupino sure has a way of capturing the majesty of the rolling hills of Italy. Of course, her talents aside, fortunately as Luana she doesn't require the acting chops of La Strega, Jeanette Nolan.

PE: From start to finish (with only one minor stumble along the way), this is among the best and most atmospheric of the horror episodes. There's a sense of creeping dread in every scene following the arrival of her majesty, La Strega. And how about that Jeanette Nolan? I'm ready to give her the Golden Karloff for this season's best actress without even seeing the rest of the shows. I thought she was mildly creepy in "Parasite Mansion," but here she's the real deal. Not a cackling old biddy or one of Samantha Stevens' kooky relatives, there's nothing remotely human about the old gal. Had to be influenced by The Old Witch from The Haunt of Fear!

JS: When I saw her in the cast intros, I thought, here we go again, but you're absolutely right. This time there's no kidding around. She's a creepy scene stealer every time she's on screen. When she's able to provide some of the scariest moments of the series without speaking a word— that's saying something.

PE: That aforementioned stumble is my Thrillah-Moment: the trio of Luana, Tonio, and his mentor, Maestro Giuliano (Ramon Novarro) go looking for a Sabbat and stumble onto the kids of Glee, rehearsing next week's show in black leotards. The scene is so incongruous with the rest of the episode, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my desire to see some very scary figures writhing around a boiling pot rather than the Denny Terrio Dance Fever squad. It didn't ruin the episode but it was damn distracting.

JS: Welcome to witchcraft through interpretive dance. It definitely does break the tone of the rest of the show, but not irreparably. What I want to know is how come you don't mind Tonio's speed sketching abilities (Italians are known for their speed. -PE)?

PE: Great downbeat climax (and no Karloff epilogue to let us know that the old witch was later arrested and put on trial for her crimes), solid supporting performances, and a teleplay that doesn't drag, compliments of Allan Caillou (who would, years later, star as "The Brain" on the wacky SF TV show Quark).

JS: When you look at this episode, from the introduction of 'La Strega' in the prologue, to her discovery by Antonio, his taking her in, their seeing the old woman, right up through the climax—the pacing is just right, with an excellent payoff. Again, if not for Dark Night of the Black Leotards, I think we'd be looking at a 4-Karloffer. Instead, we have to settle for 37-22-35 Karloffs.

PE: Ursula Andress was just a year away from her star-making role as Honey Ryder in Dr. No.

JS: I prefer her young beauty in this episode over her look later in her career—watch for a special installment of The Lovely Ladies of Thriller later this afternoon.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Waxworks: Season 2 Episode 16

Originally aired 1/8/62
Starring Oscar Homolka, Martin Kosleck, Antoinette Bower.
Written by Robert Bloch, based on his short story.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

When a young lady is murdered under peculiar circumstances, the police are drawn to the wax museum of Pierre Jacquelin (Homolka). Could the killer be a wax figure brought to life by sorcery or just a jealous suitor?

JS: I'm a sucker for wax museum movies, so I was anticipating a slam-dunk Thriller classic in "Waxworks." I wish I could say my disappointment was merely from having set my expectations too high, but aside from a few excellent visual bits, this episode was more lifeless than most of Jacquelin's figures.

PE: Nice opening, slow middle, great final shot. I think that sums it up.

JS: Well said. On the bright side, or I guess I should say on the moody, shadowy side, the shots in the waxworks are beautifully lit, creepy, and effective. Unfortunately we then cut to brightly lit, boring morgue and police station stages, where it feels like we spend the bulk of the episode.

PE: So let me get this straight (SPOILER ALERT): Homolka dresses up like his wax dummies when he needs to kill. Why does he bother disguising himself? To fool the victim? Illogical. And if he can bring his wax wife to life, why not the rest of the dummies? Let them do his killing for him.

JS: Funny how in "The Weird Tailor" the manikin looked too fake, and here, certain wax figures looked too real. When the Sergeant is interrogating Annette (which was a pretty amusing banter leading up to their 'date'), don't you think he'd investigate the figure that looked a little too real more closely? It's been awhile since they've made an appearance in an episode, so I had forgotten about the investigatory techniques of Thriller Police Squad.

PE: On the plus side, Kosleck, Homolka, and Bower are all solid. Bower's a beauty to contend with in the final voting of Miss Thriller.

JS: Sorry Pete, Bower won't even make the preliminary ballot (unless we take into consideration the final shot - and note that in the menu screen they flip the image, so as not to ruin any surprises in the episode). The girl who gets the hatchet (June Kenney) stands a better chance of making the Thriller babe list.

PE: Not one of the better Bloch adaptations. Surprising too, as it's got all the elements: the creepy waxworks, some gen-u-wine genre stars (Homolka, Kosleck, and Ron Ely), and the requisite Thriller shadows. But then there's a deadly snail's pace, the constant return to police headquarters, and that "I know it wasn't you, Jaquelin, for there is the bench with all your disguises" reveal, complete with... the bench with all the disguises shot. Jaquelin can dress up like a wax dummy, murder a cop, and change back into a mild-mannered curator in the time it takes to forge a Robertson Moffat masterpiece.

JS: On top of all that, what should have been a straight-up crime show filled with horrific imagery has a supernatural twist shoehorned in that frankly makes no sense whatsoever.

PE: The police in this episode have a high tolerance for their colleagues' murders. Lt. Bailey (Booth Colman, who has a certain way with the beautiful women) is cold on a slab and his partners, Sgt. Dane (Alan Baxter) and Lt. Hudson (a wooden Ely), don't seem to notice. There was a full house in the morgue so maybe they hadn't gotten the memo yet. Hudson is more intent on chatting up Annette (Bower) than finding the killer. Then, at the climax, when Hudson buys the farm, Dane shows very little interest.

JS: I did laugh when Detective Tarzan (Ely) busts down the door, saying, "It's been ten years since I played football, but let's see what I remember." And I still remember Booth Colman from the Planet of the Apes TV show. Hey, how about it - are you up for An Ape A Day blog when we're done here? (I'm selling the TV when we're done here. -PE)

PE: "Waxworks" originally appeared in the January 1939 issue of Weird Tales. When Bloch wrote his teleplay for Thriller, he jettisoned most of the elements of the original story, save the waxworks itself and the fiery climax. In the WT version, a Frenchman named Bertrand becomes obsessed with the wax figure of Salome in a Chamber of Horrors. He notices that the head of John the Baptist on Salome's silver tray is constantly changing. When he confronts the proprietor, he learns that Salome is actually the man's wife, an executed murderess, and the crazed waxman is offing his lovestruck customers (not much future for his business, I'm afraid). The two men have a tussle and Salome is burned to a bubbling puddle, revealing the skeleton underneath. When Bloch incorporated "Waxworks" into his screenplay for The House That Dripped Blood in 1971, he returned to the original storyline. Just as in "The Weird Tailor," his main protagonist is played by Peter Cushing.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thriller Three-Way: Stefan Dziemianowicz, New Jersey's #1 Weird Tales Expert

Stefan Dziemianowicz may well be the most knowledgeable pulp collector on the planet. He's edited huge volumes of the things, lives in a pulp mausoleum, and managed to set David J. Schow up with the Thriller pulp stories he needed. He also happens to give great interview and this one turned out so massive we split it into two parts. Part One (with emphasis on Thriller) follows, and Part Two (focusing on pulps in general) can be found over on our sister blog, the bare•bones e-zine.

PE: “Well of Doom” seems like it would be the best realization of a shudder pulp ever filmed. Have I missed a better one?

SD: Like all fans of the pulps, I imagine an alternate universe where enough shudder pulp stories have been filmed and televised that we can actually rate them, do comparative studies of their adaptations, and compile a top-100 essential shudder pulp film list whose #1 is the shudder pulp equivalent of "Citizen Kane." (I've always thought that stories such as "The Mole Men Want Your Eyes" and "Revelery in Hell" were unfairly overlooked by Masterpiece Theatre screenwriters.) Maybe in that universe we could even sponsor the World Weird Menace convention, and give out an award—The Shuddie—cast in bronze from a holographic image of Rose Magowan being menaced by a whip-wielding anencephalic mutant.

The fact is, so few genuine shudder pulp stories have been adapted for the big or small screen that it's pretty easy to say that "Well of Doom" is at least one of the best, if not THE best. Which should come as no surprise given that the story which it was adapted from, by John Clemons (whom I believe was an actual writer, and not just a pulpsmith working under a house name), actually was published in the second-tier shudder pulp Thrilling Mystery. Believe it or don't, if you're a fan of Boris Karloff's Thriller, you have the unique opportunity to compare this story's treatment to another genuine shudder pulp extravaganza: Cornell Woolrich's "Papa Benjamin," which appeared in a 1935 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, the grandaddy of ALL shudder pulps. It was also filmed for Thriller.

Two shudder pulp adaptations for Thriller? I think that might make the program the leading exponent of shudder pulp television!

Now, here is where I really make a stretch. If you're familiar with Thriller, then you'll certainly be familiar with "Masquerade," the adaptation of Henry Kuttner's hilarious story from Weird Tales. (I'm willing to bet that Kuttner wrote it originally for the exemplary modern fantasy pulp Unknown, which had folded by the time it was published in Weird Tales. A bunch of stories intended for Unknown made it to Weird Tales that way.) Henry Kuttner placed more than a few stories in the shudder pulps, among them Horror Stories, Thrilling Mystery (a HUGE market for him) and Strange Detective Mysteries. It doesn't take too much analysis to see that "Masquerade" is a comic riff on the old shudder pulp formula: a couple stranded overnight at a creepy old house whose creepy old residents have a menacing aura of the supernatural about them. I'll leave it to fellow Thriller aficionados to decide whether "Masquerade" deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as "Well of Doom," or even "Papa Benjamin."

And lets stretch even a little further. Your question was whether the Thriller adaptation of "Well of Doom" was the best realization of a shudder pulp ever filmed. If we expand to include film as well as television, you open the door to a host of latter-day splatter films that are clearly struck from the classic shudder pulp template. But rather than look ahead, lets look back over our shoulders. One of the best shudder pulp realizations that ever made it to the screen was the 1931 Universal film The Old Dark House, adapted from the J.B. Priestley novel of the same name. It has all the standard elements of a shudder pulp story, and it appeared two years before the shudder pulp formula reared its perverted little head in Dime Mystery Magazine. In fact, it shares similar shudder pulp inflections with The Black Cat, Universal's 1934 riff on Poe (though of course the film has nothing to do with Poe's story). These popular movies may well have shaped readers' tastes for shudder pulp fiction at a time when film was clearly reaching a wider audience than magazine fiction was. What do these two films have in common? That's right--both featured Boris Karloff. Who knows, maybe Boris so remembered the dynamics of these movies that he wanted to do miniatures like them for Thriller.

PE: If there was another pulp even better suited to the Thriller “Style” what was it?
SD: I really don't think there was a magazine better suited to the Thriller style than Weird Tales, but I suspect that's because the style of Thriller as we know and love it derived from its intimate association with the magazine and its writers. I was discussing this with the estimable David J. Schow, one of the primo movers and shakers on the new DVD reissue of the complete Thriller, and we agreed that Thriller is the closest any television show came to being the TV version of Weird Tales.

As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, Weird Tales had a huge archive of stories to choose from--bigger than any other pulp magazine could offer. The sheer size of that archive ensured the sort of variety that a show like Thriller thrived on. Thriller did stories that were straight mystery/suspense, weird menace, supernatural, and comic Gothic. About the only type it didn't do was science fiction. Weird Tales published all of those story types and then some. It published a lot of compact stories that lent themselves well to a half-hour or hour-long adaptation. It published some genuinely cinematic stories, and some stories that, if they weren't cinematic, had a theme or idea that smart screenwriters knew they could work into an exciting teleplay. Any writer for Thriller who went digging through the Weird Tales archive for inspiration would have found the right story for what he wanted pretty quickly.
I could see some magazines yielding a story or two that would have fit well with the Thriller style. For example, Unknown/Unknown Worlds. Robert Bloch's "The Cloak" would have made a bang-up Thriller episode a la "Masquerade." Likewise from the same magazine Nelson Bond's "Prescience," a really great horror story about a psychiatrist who hypnotizes a patient and doesn't realize until midway through the patient's nightmarish recital of what he's experiencing that he died shortly after going under. (There, now, I've totally spoiled that story for any reader who isn't familiar with it.) Fantastic Adventures had a few good stories that might have worked well, as did its digest successor (sort of) Fantastic. But these magazines often tried consciously to distinguish themselves from Weird Tales, or to appeal to a younger, more fannish demographic. Weird Tales was, from the get go, a magazine that published the sort of modern Gothic tale that seemed to work best on Thriller.

If anyone else might have given Weird Tales a run for its money in terms of stories that merited adapting for Thriller, it wasn't another magazine--it was the publisher, Arkham House. But that comes as no surprise, since Arkham House published a lot of short fiction collections by writers for Weird Tales, including quite a few that featured stories adapted for the show. Robert Bloch was an Arkham House author, and given his involvement with Thriller, both as a screenwriter an an author whose works were adapted, I'm betting he put in a good word for Weird Tales stories. Likewise August Derleth, publisher of Arkham House, who had a number of his stories adapted. In the late 1940s, Derleth was publishing in Weird Tales and advising the magazine on its contents. If Thriller was as close as television came to producing a TV version of Weird Tales, Arkham House was the closest Weird Tales came to having a book-selling arm.

PE: Were there any other WT stories off the top of your head that would have made great Thriller episodes?

SD: Would, coulda shoulda. There are some stories that I think could have made bang-up Thriller episodes that were never adapted. The caveat, of course, is that it all depends on who wrote the script, who directed the episode, and who starred in it. Some great stories were turned into lackluster presentations; at the same time, I never could have guessed that an otherwise unremarkable story like "The Black Madonna" by Harold Lawlor would have made such an outstandingly creepy episode ("The Grim Reaper"), thanks in no small part to the powerful acting of William Shatner.

Stories I would have liked to see televised? There's Fredric Brown's "Come and Go Mad," about an investigative newspaper reporter who infiltrates an insane asylum to get the inside scoop and then gets increasingly paranoid that there is a conspiracy to drive him mad while he's there. I always thought Fritz Leiber's "In the X-ray" would lend itself well to television. In this story, a doctor discovers skeletal remnants of an unborn twin in one of his patients, and with each successive x-ray he takes, he finds that a skeletal hand is inching closer and closer to the patient's throat (you can guess how this one ends). Robert Bloch's "The Man Who Cried Wolf" is one of his best stories with an O'Henry twist; it wouldn't have needed a big budget and could have been a suspense masterpiece. Mary Elizabeth Counselman's "Three Marked Pennies," which was one of the most popular stories ever published in Weird Tales, would have made a dandy Thriller episode, though it might not have seemed scary enough. Counselman (whose "Parasite Mansion" was a Thriller episode), like Robert Bloch, published a lot of stories in Weird Tales that would have made good Thriller episodes. Likewise August Derleth, who had a number of stories ("Mr. George," "The Return of Andrew Bentley," "Colonel Markesan," etc.) adapted. His comic ghost story "Pacific 421," and more serious ghost stories such as "The Shuttered House," "Mrs. Manifold," and "Kingsridge 214" (the latter is very similar to Richard Matheson's classic "Night Call," which was adapted for The Twilight Zone) would have adapted well.

I'm crazy enough to say that I think Thriller could have done a great treatment of Henry Kuttner's "The Graveyard Rats." Thriller was really good at atmosphere and moody horror. You could have suggested a lot of what goes on in Kuttner's story with a claustrophobic setting and sound effects. Thriller could have provided nicely.

I recently remarked to someone that I was glad none of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories were ever adapted for television because I don't think they would have worked, but Lovecraft had other stories that would have worked magnificently--for instance, "The Outsider" and especially "In the Vault."

I'm astonished that none of Ray Bradbury's sales to Weird Tales ever were filmed. Can you imagine what Thriller could have done with "The Wind," "The Crowd," or "The Jar"?

PE: As the biggest pulp nerd in the world, what is your estimation of the WT Thrillers?

SD: I don't know that I'm the biggest pulp nerd (that's pronounced "nuuured," like the guy in American Splendor pronounced it) in the world, but I'll gladly take the title as a compliment. I strongly doubt that anyone out there is going to claim to be a bigger nerd than I am. It would require a somewhat perverted sense of self-esteem, no?

What do I think of the Thriller adaptations of Weird Tales stories? By and large, I thought they were very well done, some better and some worse than others. The Thriller version of "Pigeons from Hell" remains one of my favorite episodes ever of "horror television." The Robert E. Howard story it's based on is a tour de force of gruesome horror. The Thriller version mixed atmosphere with just the right amount of physical horror to make it a very effective Gothic shocker. I've already waxed effusively about Thriller's take on Henry Kuttner's "Masquerade." I have a special fondness for Thriller's version of "The Cheaters" because I saw it some years before I ever got to read Robert Bloch's original story. One of the first Thriller episodes I ever saw (when it was in rerun) was the adaptation of August Derleth and Mark Schorer's"Colonel Markesan"; but for the let-down ending, the Thriller episode was genuinely creepy, and a vast improvement over the otherwise lukewarm story. The Thriller version of Robert Bloch's "The Weird Tailor" was the closest the show ever came to turning out a Cthulhu Mythos story, and I can still remember being creeped out, watching the jerky, inhuman movements of the tailor's dummy in that episode as it came to life.

Not all of the Weird Tales adaptations on Thriller were great, but none is, in my estimation, among the episodes that I would say failed to succeed. Again, Thriller was the closest we ever came to having Weird Tales on television. To me, the sense that the show captured the spirit of the magazine, even in those episodes not adapted from Weird Tales stories, is proof that the Weird Tales/Thriller link was strong and key to the show's success.

PE: How do they compare to the handful of WTs filmed for Night Gallery?

SD: I greatly enjoyed Rod Serling's Night Gallery for its brief run, but I thought the few Weird Tales stories they filmed weren't as good as Thriller's. If memory serves, you're really talking only 5 stories, or about half as many as Thriller filmed, and the kitschy approach Night Gallery took to horror and the supernatural in a lot of episodes just wasn't in the Weird Tales spirit. "The Dear Departed" (from the Mary Alice Schnirring story) and "Brenda" (from the Margaret St. Clair story) were not bad, but not terribly memorable. "Cool Air," tacked a love interest and a hokey ending onto the plot germ of the Lovecraft original. "Pickman's Model," also from Lovecraft, was good. Bradford Dillman's scenery-chewing performance made up for the man in the monster suit who shows up at the end.

There was one absolutely superior adaptation of a Weird Tales story on Night Gallery that, to my mind, was as good as if not better than any Weird Tales story done for Thriller. In fact, to my tastes, it is one of the best horror episodes I've ever seen on television. That was the adaptation of Fritz Leiber's "The Dead Man," which was done for one of the show's first six episodes in the truncated first season. It was a remarkably scrupulous adaptation of Leiber's story, and it's ending is one of the most frightening I can remember. In fact, it was the most frightening television episode I'd seen up to that point (and by then, I'd seen all of The Outer Limits, all of The Twilight Zone, and probably about half of all the episodes on Alfred Hitchcock Presents). I mentioned buying my first issue of Weird Tales, (Stefan's referring to an answer he gave that appears in the second part of this interview-PE) and it was to get my hands on that story. After seeing that episode of Night Gallery, I knew I had to track Leiber's original down, and I was very pleased to find how faithful the Night Gallery treatment was to it. If anything, it set the bar so high for other Weird Tales episodes that it was a little disappointing none of the others measured up to it.

An Attractive Family: Season 2 Episode 15

Originally aired 1/1/62
Starring Richard Long, Leo G. Carroll, and Joyce Bulifant.
Written by Robert Arthur from his story.
Directed by John Brahm.

The Farringtons have made a practice of offing new additions to the family, inheriting the wealth of their dearly departed along the way. Their latest plan goes awry when they find they need to rid themselves of a new sister-in-law (Bulifant), or risk losing the part of the family fortune they haven't already spent.

JS: Hold on a second—it's not Halloween. What the heck are we doing back at the Psycho house? What's funny is that growing up, I always recognized The Munsters house when that showed up in other TV shows and movies (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken!) I was watching. I guess the Psycho house wasn't available for sitcoms...

PE: The Psycho house is an icon to us, of course, but I always wonder (when it pops up every other episode) if the folks back in the early 60's noticed that all the creepy goings-on in this show happen in the same old house.

JS: Once again, we've got a very nice looking episode. The pre-credits sequence is particularly creepy, with all the nice statuary dressed around the otherwise familiar house exterior. And then leading into Jinny's nightmare scenario, with the tall shadows and disembodied voices, things were looking pretty cool. It's some time before the episode gets that interesting again (visually or otherwise).

PE: I liked the long run down the hill for Bulifant. When she starts hearing voices, I thought we were seeing the return of Mr. George (with some new friends). Bulifant's got an annoying voice and I couldn't stop thinking of Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ironically, Bulifant went on to have a recurring guest role on that show.

The 'vultures'
JS: While I also found Bulifant's high pitched whine annoying, by the end of the episode my only issue with it was the fact that I couldn't help but picture Frenchie from Grease every time she spoke. As for the rest of the cast, the members of the family Farrington all turn in fine performances, as does Leo G. Carroll, a few years after his great turn in North by Northwest.

PE: Agreed. I did appreciate its mean streak. The two kills are handled with a large dose of sadism. Dick and Marian (Joan Tetzel) almost seem to enjoy the murder aspect of their game more than the profit. Both smile after their handiwork.

JS: Yeah, I thought it was going to be one of the better black comedies, but I didn't feel that it lived up to that early promise. The last line/shot was nice, but by then it was too little, too late.

PE: This one's about as right down the average-o-meter as they get. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either. Richard Long went on to have a major career in television, first in a supporting role on 77 Sunset Strip and then on to fame with The Big Valley and Nanny and the Professor, before dying too young (4 days after turning 47 years old). Joan Tetzel makes her second and final Thriller appearance. She was previously seen as Marie Vane in "The Devil's Ticket." According to the IMDB, Bulifant was originally to play Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch but was jettisoned for Florence Henderson. Small miracle there. The Brady Bunch was annoying enough without Bulifant's vocal chords. She was married for nine years to James MacArthur ("Book 'em, Dano!"), which makes her the ex-daughter-in-law of Helen Hayes and a perfect climax to our trivia section.

JS: "An Attractive Family" by Robert Arthur first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 1957.

PE: No wonder Hitch was pissed. Thriller was not only using most of his TV talent, now it was mining his pages for gold.

JS: Something tells me he wasn't too upset with this particular Thriller...