Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parasite Mansion: Season 1 Episode 30

Originally aired 4/25/61
Starring Pippa Scott, Jeanette Nolan, James Griffith.
Written by Donald S. Sanford based on the story by Mary Elizabeth Counselman.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

On a dark and stormy night, Marcia (Scott) crashes her car outside a creepy mansion. She soon finds herself held captive by a very strange family with all the requisite secrets, cobwebs, and skeletons in the closet.

PE: One blustery day in the Spring of 1961, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were riding their trikes home from school when George piped up:
“Didja see Thriller last night?”
“You mean the one with the crazy old lady and the poltergeist and the mansion?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Boy did I. I had a nightmare about poltergeists last night. But this one came out of my TV. Some day, when I’m the King of Hollywood, I’m gonna make a movie about poltergeists.”
George, never one to be left out, exclaimed “Oh yeah, well how are you gonna be King of Hollywood? I’ll make six movies about Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers and one of the aliens will be called Yoda and he’ll look just like that crazy lady on Thriller did. He’ll smoosh up his face and talk funny just like she did and I’ll make a bazillion dollars!”
And they rode home, cards in their spokes a-clickin’.
JS: Yep. Forget all those other fabled influences. Star Wars was clearly born of "Parasite Mansion."

PE: You're in denial.

JS: I'm a huge fan of Jack Hill's Spider Baby, which "Parasite Manor" frequently reminded me of. While Beverly Washburn was overshadowed in that film due to the presence of the scene-stealing Jill Banner, she is really allowed to shine here as Lollie, the family's deep, dark secret.

PE: I think Jeanette Nolan must be the 1960s answer to Estelle Getty. Was she ever young? I can remember her playing this part years later on Gunsmoke.

JS: I'll assume the family members were meant to be somewhat dim-witted; otherwise it's hard to believe they never suspected the strange goings on might be tied to the odd-looking family member. Of course, now we know what became of gun toting Tommy Nolan from "Child's Play."

PE: The odd-looking family member? Were you napping during this episode? I wanted to see Rennie's closet. Do you think he had more of those fashionable shirts hanging?

JS: I said odd looking—not oddly dressed. The show is overflowing with atmosphere. It's clear that the set decorators had locked in on creating the 'old, dark house.' It's got some silly bits, to be sure, but I think it's fun and effective for what it is.

PE: “Parasite Mansion” is a triumph of creepiness with its’ gothic mansion, dilapidated furnishings, spider webs galore, paranormal phenomena, and insane characters. What must have audiences thought of this (and its’ closest cousin so far, “The Well of Doom”) when it was first aired? The show provides approximately 40 minutes of chills right up until it comes to a screeching halt and we find out what’s really going on in the disappointing finale.

JS: “Parasite Mansion,” written by Mary Elizabeth Counselman, first appeared in Weird Tales, January 1942. I'm beginning to wonder why they didn't call the show Boris Karloff's Weird Tales?



  1. They probably break half the copyright laws in the book, but I want somebody to compile all the WEIRD TALES stories (and Edgar Allan Poe stories, and and and) that formed the basis for THRILLER episodes, and put 'em together into a book. I'd buy it in a heartbeat. I'd even read the crime ones ....

    .... maybe.

  2. Jeanette Nolan is not one of the names that commonly is called to mind when we think of great horror actresses, but she was. She's very creepy in this episode, also in the later "La Stregha" and she was also involved in voicing Mrs. Bates for PSYCHO.

  3. One of the 3 or 4 really classic creepy, shadowy, mouldy haunted house "Thriller's", this one is truly a feast for the eye. Herschel Daugherty racks up another in his list of impressive episodes, immeasurably aided by John Russell's cinematography. The amazing shot of the unconscious Pippa Scott in her car with Jeanette Nolan and James Griffith peering in from outside in the rain is worthy of Conrad Hall's finest first season Outer Limits work.

    There's plenty of chills in this one, as the feisty Pippa faces a most terrifyingly uncertain fate trapped in this mad mansion. Unfortunatley, the script lets everyone down, as it seems to keep running in circles while we wait for something significant to happen. How many times can we watch Granny or Victor confront Marcia and rehash the same basic dialogue? The show loses its direction rather quickly for me.

    Jeanette Nolan (related to Tommy?) was a fine and respected film and stage actress, who had a knack for playing wacky old hags; (at one point I was keeping a list of her TV-granny appearances which I titled "Crone for a Day-- starring Jeanette Nolan"). She is REALLY scary in "Parasite Mansion", and totally inhabits her role through every word and action. The make-up/lighting shots of her near the end with the floating knife look as is she's decaying right before our eyes. What a gal!

    Great commentary with Beverly Washburn, who really helps give us a feel for what it was like to be a part of this production 50 years ago; a real treat! However---I was waiting...hoping....PRAYING that Steve would ask her about James Griffith---what kind of guy he was...how was he to work with, etc...since I think he is one of the most curious and fascinating of all character actors from the period. What a face---those big, baleful eyes and droopy features atop that scarecrow-like frame--a perfect choice to play this southern gentleman with a most troubling family problem. Maybe Larry Blamire can give us some recommendations re: Griffith's best work in TV Westerns.

    7 Karloffs out of 10 for me.


  4. According to Alan Warren, a "Thriller book" was planned along exactly the lines suggested by Tom, above, but it never came to pass.

    I've been involved in several Weird Tales anthologies myself. It wouldn't be that hard to corral the Thriller source tales together. But then Universal would have to be paid, and so on, and et cetera. And after all that, only Tom and I and Pete Enfantino would probably ever read it.

    What really would have been classy — though administratively impossible — would have been to see such a book as a special add-on to the disc set, the way Image did with VAMPYR. Or Alan Warren's own Thriller book. But the more you add on, the less relevant the commentaries become. Devil's deal.

  5. Jeanette Nolan was the mother of actor Tim McIntire. Her husband was John McIntire. But Jeanette was supposedly very ... very ... very good friends with Orson Welles.

    Who does Tim McIntire look like to you ... gangly old John McIntire, or Orson Welles?

    1. I went to middle school with Tim and he played Macbeth in the school play. He did a remarkable performance channeling Wells to a degree that many people in the audience thought the teacher was the actor. Tim was 12 years old at the time.

      But as Tim reached middle age just before his tragic death, he finally started to look like John Mcintire.

      Maybe this will never be known. Every one who could have known is gone.

      I asked my ex boyfriend who was Tim's lifelong best buddy and he had never heard about this controversy.

    2. James B. Harris (who produced several Kubrick films) said this about Tim McIntire, in an interview in Film Comment:

      "[H]e’s the illegitimate son of Orson Welles! Look it up in Wikipedia, you’ll see. I mean, I don’t know if you can verify it, but everybody says it, and the proof is in the pudding. His voice is exactly like Welles, his nose is exactly like Welles, he’s subject to the overweight thing, just like Welles. Welles made a picture with his mother, I forget her name—Jeannette Nolan. But so everything leads to his being Welles’ illegitimate son. And… he is. I spent so much time with him and I felt like I was talking to Orson Welles most of the time."

      As for James B. Harris, Michelle Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) said that Harris had an affair with 14-year-old Sue Lyon during the filming of LOLITA.

      All this fooling around--and I'm sitting at home watching old "Thriller" episodes.


    Not only Jeanette Nolan, but Thriller's very own Virginia Gregg (of "Mr. George" voiced Mrs. Bates for "parts of" PSYCHO and all the sequels, according to Robert Galluzzo, whose exhaustive doc THE PSYCHO LEGACY comes out this week. Robert says the story that Hitchcock used different actresses for different words in the same sentence ("to throw people off") is apocryphal.

  7. For what it's worth, I just finished reading Janet Leigh's PSYCHO: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE CLASSIC THRILLER (written with celebrity biographer Christopher Nickens), according to which Hitchcock DID switch, sometimes from word to word, among Nolan, Gregg, and Anthony Perkins pal Paul Jasmin. The book seems pretty thoroughly researched, in addition to drawing on Leigh's firsthand experiences, but I don't know what the source for that particular piece of information was, or how accurate the authors are considered to be.

  8. "“Parasite Mansion” is a triumph of creepiness with its’ gothic mansion, dilapidated furnishings, spider webs galore, paranormal phenomena, and insane characters. What must have audiences thought of this (and its’ closest cousin so far, “The Well of Doom”) when it was first aired? The show provides approximately 40 minutes of chills right up until it comes to a screeching halt and we find out what’s really going on in the disappointing finale."

    I must say that pretty much sums this episode up, though like other THRILLERS the ride is often matters more than the destination. Jeanette Nolan was equally effective in the JESSE BELLE episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE from the fourth season.

    John Russell's lensing here is magnificent, and the mood in in sync with what the series achieved in its finest moments. As I recall, Warren gave this a solid assessment in his volume.

  9. Food for thought, Tom, re: Tim McIntire. I just saw him guesting on a late 60s THE VIRGINIAN with his parents.

    I love "Parasite Mansion" and it was great to see it again after so many years if for nothing else than to cleanse the pallet after Jeanette Nolan's VIRGINIAN performances. She and John McInitire were called in to become series regulars after Charles Bickford unexpectedly died. To her credit, she probably hadn't time to find a character, so her awful "southern belle" posturing is to be excused. In "Parasite" she is downright crackling.

    Larry R: Me too, on James Griffith--I'd love to know more about him. Love everything he did, hands down. I recently revisited a favorite performance of his ("The Predators" HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL) where he plays the dissipated leader of the scraggliest, most awful looking gaggle of renegades this side of Sam Peckinpah. I was shocked to see his screen time lasts maybe 40 seconds (!). And he steals the show with a quietly murmuring, scary, haunted performance. He also puts more than his share of unease in the later THRILLER "The Storm".

    Just saw him on a VIRGINIAN ep also ("The Price of Love"); one scene as a grizzled hired gunman in a bar. Steals it, of course. I'll see if I can conjure up some more choice Griffiths.

    "Parasite Mansion" puts me in mind of Joseph Stefano, though It might be the title more than anything. Couldn't you just see an OUTER LIMITS called that?

    1. For years I thought the OUTER LIMITS episode THE GUESTS was titled PARASITE MANSION. And couldn't remember WHAT this THRILLER was called, though I sure remembered the episode!

  10. Larry--

    James Griffith has a suporting role in the 1953 DRAGNET episode "The Big Baby Jesus" that's included in a couple of those cheap-o
    "Christmas Treasures from the Past" TV collections. He's really good in it, very touching..almost pathetic. Worth searching for (though the rest of the episode is pretty silly).


  11. Here I've been questioning the time I spend in my life watching Thriller episodes. Larry B. can tell you who grew the cacti in The Virginian and Larry R. can tell you who played the baby Jesus that got arrested on Dragnet. I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now :>

  12. Peter--
    I hate to nitpick, but the cacti weren't grown for the show, they were were handblown glass props for another NBC western BONANZA, by respected cacti wrangler Tevlin Marber Joyce.

    Okay, I made that up. Sad thing is I wasn't really familiar with THE VIRGINIAN until the Westerns Channel started running it daily. Now I am. Including an AWFUL episode written and directed by Sam Fuller (!).

    Larry R: Yes! Have that DRAGNET on dollar DVD. Good call.

  13. For Larry B:

    I DID see an OUTER LIMITS about a parasitical mansion.

    It was called "The Guests."

    Written by none other than THRILLER's own Donald Sanford.

    1. Yes, I can see the resemblance between Parasite Mansion and The Guests. Some similarities:

      both visitors-outsiders (Scott, Horne) arrive at or near the old house by car.

      There's a "difficult" older woman with an abusive streak in each (Nolan, Burt) who torments a man she's strongly tied to (Griffith, Vaughn Taylor).

      Literally otherworldly and/or supernatural undertones, more elaborately worked out in the more didactic Outer Limits episode.

      A young woman seemingly incapable of leaving and living a full life.

      Many differences between these two eps, too, of course, with the OL by no means a remake or even reworking of the Thriller. Many similarities,though. I like both about equally, with Parasite spookier by far, The Guests more thought provoking.2

  14. This episode was a lot of fun and the commentary is more interesting than I expected. This is really what a Thriller should be. Tommy Nolan was even bearable.

  15. So far, this is the best "Thriller" episode I've seen. If they had all been as good as this in the first season, "Thriller" would be up there with "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits". I want some of those spider webs for Halloween!

  16. One of the creepier episodes of the series. Jeanette Nolan's performance is a standout. The ending was a bit anti-climatic as were the levitation scenes. The scenes with Nolan and James Griffith are priceless.

    "3 Karloffs". This could have been a 4 Karloff if it had a bigger payoff. Still a great atmospheric episode.

  17. It was okay. Better than most. I thought it would have been better at 3/4 of its length. When the girl kept getting clunked on the head by the cup it was kind of comical. I guess my biggest beef is that I didn't buy that the woman was powerful enough to keep three generations as prisoner. I found the boy's behavior kind of random, too. I think I am getting to the point where I can say that Thriller is not quite as good as I thought it would be. I mean, we are more or less hitting a hot streak now and it's still pretty hokey. Although it is kind of cool seeing these pulp writers' works coming to life, and this week was another example with Mary Elizabeth Counselman. Three Karloffs--who I wished wouldn't have tipped off that one person would die in his intro.

  18. Every since I was a wee little tyke I loved old dark house themed entertainment. Parasite Mansion was another fine entry in this genre.

    As most others have commented, Jeanette Nolan was absolutely phenomenal in this episode. I am not familiar with any other of Mrs. Nolan's work to compare to, but she stole all of the scene's with such in a bats in my belfry crazed manner that was came off as completely natural. The tension between Jeanette and Pippa Scott evoked that of Eva Moore and Gloria Stuart in James Whale's version of the Old Dark House.

    The Parasite mansion stage sets along with the set lighting and camera work were near perfect in bringing a decrepit southern mansion to life.

    In his opening dialog, Boris mentioned that one of the characters would be killed off and that had me wondering early on who the unlucky person would be. Obviously, it wasn't going to be our unlucky heroine. Which one of the tragic residents of Parasite Mansion would it be? It was hard to tell during the first half of the proceedings, but than the true source of the family division was made more clear and you know our Thriller babe of the week would be meeting her end before those final white lines would mark themselves across the screen.

    It was funny to hear Marcia explain all the wonders of modern psychology as if this episode was partly underwritten as some sort of infomercial.

    I had mixed feelings about James Griffith's performance. Early on, he struck a nice, drunk and twisted cajun presence, then he seemed to dither into an educated and misdirected persona, which I found unconvincing.

    Despite his lack of air time, I enjoyed another appearance from Tommy Nolan, as a young Lee Harvey Oswald type.

    The supernatural events were effectively kept vague during the first half, which kept things interesting, but as with other Thriller episodes, these things were explained with a cop out ending.

    All in all, Parasite Mansion was good, spooky fun. A three Karloff rating for this hotel!

  19. Hynek-

    If you liked Jeanette Nolan in "Parasite Mansion," all i can say is hold on to your hat when you get to "La Strega"!

  20. This is one of the top 3 or 4 Thrillers-very spooky and disturbing. I prefer Jeanette Nolan in this- I can't get past the fact that her putty nose always seems to be falling off in La Strega (and yet that episode has commentary highlighting the makeup of the series). Also, Beverly Washburn gave by far the most enlightening commentary of any by actors or directors, she was very charming. 4 Karloffs out of 4.

  21. Even with the weak ending, this was a lot of fun. I was grinning ear to ear during all of Jeanette Nolan's scenes. She's a very inconsistent actress. She was one of the worst Lady Macbeth's I've ever seen in Orson Welles's screen version (he wanted Agnes Moorehead, but couldn't get her from MGM, which held her contract at the time) and is pretty unspeakable in "The Big Heat." For the most part, it seems she never met a piece of scenery she didn't want for dinner. But in this case, she's appropriately over the top, so it was great to join in the fun.

    For me, I would have preferred an ending with more of a twist, either by having her spirit come back or by revealing Pippa Scott revealed to be evil. Then again, Ms. Scott was so bad, I was hoping they'd pull a Psycho and kill her off early.

  22. hey Boris, I love you man, but please lighten up about the South - we here below the mason-dixon line resemble that remark, as norm crosby would say. At least we can pronounce Ms. "Noland" 's name correctly....

    and I never was quite sure that she died - how did we know that , because the music stopped ? and how did the family know that ? why did they quit going after her while she was on fire ? why couldn't two grown men keep up with this tiny, elderly woman ?

    why did Lollie's stigmata present itself at the dinner table ? granny had not done any tricks up to that point , which we were led to believe caused the psychosomatic bleedings ....

    ah , sometimes the Thriller mysteries seem to be just holes in the plot... but I love it anyway...

  23. Robert WashingtonMay 9, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    R. Washington; Illinois I really enjoyed this episode more than all than the other's! Parasite mansion was a masterpiece in gothic-horror, particularly, for the time period in consideration.Jeanette Nolan was absolutely enthrawling in her portrayal of a wicked ol' witch, by the way, shes' "ALWAY'S" great in her performances!! Therefore, give them a break, in your cinematic critisism, just except the storyline as given, and the performances as provided, especially, for the period in question. Boris, Jeanette, Pippa, Jimmy and Tommy, job well done!!!

  24. I wholeheartedly agree, R. washington. Parasite Mansion is a favorite Thriller of mine. Jeanette rules but Jim Griffith isn't too far behind.

  25. After some rough early innings, great to see Thriller finally hitting the ball out of the park with shows like Pidgeons and Parasite...
    Thanks again, guys, for all the background info which really adds to my enjoyment of watching these for the first time.
    Agree with our hosts -three Karloffs.

  26. Didn't anyone else find it interesting that Counselman's story appeared in the same edition of WT as did Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth? And is it also not interesting that, to my knowledge, Boris Karloff never used any of HPLs stories for source material in THRILLER?

  27. That's an interesting observation about there being no Lovecraft adaptations on Thriller. My first response was "maybe he was too obscure a figure to be adapted for a 1960-62 TV series", but then I think of the many relatively unknown (except to pulp fans) authors whose works for adapted for Thriller, including Mary Elizabeth Counselman. How famous was August Derleth back then? They adapted stories from many obscure writers. It must have been something else with Lovecraft.

    There are so many Lovecraft tales that would have made excellent Thrillers. One, Cool Air, was done on Night Gallery. A Lovecraft "threesome",--three stories in one hour--might have worked. Lovecraft's unique, offbeat, non-, almost anti-modern prose probably didn't help matters, as in "how the hell do we find a visual correlation (?) or connection/channeling, whatever, for Lovecraft's literary style. Maybe they just passed.

    Parasite Mansion worked for me this past Sunday. Jeanette Nolan's presence was stronger than I'd remembered, James Griffith's, sadly, weaker,--no fault of the actor, his character simply wasn't particularly well developed---while Beverly Washburn was outstanding, Pippa Scott a worthy opponent for Granny. When given first rate material director Herschel Daughtery showed once again that he could rise to the occasion with the best of them.

  28. I fell asleep last night and missed how the old lady died! Please help! Thanks!

    1. Uncontrolled pyrotechnics, she set herself on fire by mistake me thinks.

  29. The ending was more shocking when the episode was new, as one seldom saw people on fire on prime time back then, let alone elderly women, with this one hightailin' down those stars and out into the swamp pretty darn quick for an old lady in her seventies.

    In its day Parasite Mansion was cutting edge. It plays less well now but not by that much. The writing could have been better, though Pippa's character gets the best lines. I wish James Griffith's Victor had been more consistent in his development as a character, as he was as close to a hero as there was in the episode, and I was really hoping he'd hit it off with Pippa later on.