Thursday, June 09, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Masquerade

Masquerade

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 6.
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by Henry Kuttner. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine, Jack Lambert, Dorothy Neumann. Music: Jerry Goldsmith channeling Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer, but has another most unusual talent as well: peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters... or was that old man flesh and blood? No, don’t answer too quickly, for this is the sort of night where all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm, and the wolfsbane reaches out with its evil, hungry brush. Yes, my friends, on just such a night as this who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose? Masquerade. That’s the name of our story. And the Masqueradrers: May I present Mr. And Mrs. Charlie Denham, played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston; and John Carradine, Jack Lambert, and Dorothy Newman as the infamous Cartas. Now that you’ve been formally introduced I’ll make you a promise. Before this terrifying adventure has ended you’ll change some of your outdated ideas about vampires... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Don’t be alarmed, I can assure you the old faithful weapons are not outdated. And those of you who happen to have some silver bullets or sharp pointed wooden sticks around the house have nothing whatever to fear. As for you others, perhaps you’ll be prepared next time... if there is a next time.”

Synopsis: Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his wife Rosalind (Elizabeth Montgomery) are on their second honeymoon... trapped in a rainstorm in a convertible with a torn roof in the middle of nowhere and stop at the most run down, decrepit bed and breakfast in the Southern half of the United States (the PSYCHO house making another guest appearance on the show). Charlie jokes that places like this are where travelers end up on the menu... and explains step-by-step what will happen to them beginning with the old fashioned door knocker falling off the door due to dry rot and the crazy old patriarch of the family inviting them in and warning them about the vampires in these parts...



When they get to the door there *is* an old fashioned door knocker, and then the door is opened by the crazy old patriarch of the Carta clan Jed (John Carradine) carrying an old fashioned oil lamp who invites them in. Jed is dressed in dirty rags, looks like a hillbilly cannibal’s poorest cousin. When the door closes, the knocker falls off - dry rot.

Rosalind keeps joking with crazy old Jed - about him eating them, and he responds by saying that they don’t eat the visitors, they just kill them and steal their money. A joke? Rosalind wants to get back in the car and drive to their destination - no matter the weather. Charlie counters that *she* was the one who insisted they stop. The old man is just joking, right?



Old Jed is building up the fire in the livingroom to warm them up, and tells them to make themselves at home. Charlie asks if they can borrow some dry clothes (WTF?) because Rosalind’s clothes are soaked. Jed says he’ll get something... then tells them about the local legends of vampires, and the recent suspicious deaths. When he leaves, Rosalind admits that she’s terrified... then strips out of her wet dress and wraps a blanket from the sofa around her. They have a conversation about hillbilly vampires - Charlie thinks that might make a good story idea, but Rosalind thinks no one would believe it... people have a preconceived notion of what vampires look like.

That’s when Lem Carta (Jack Lambert, from Don Siegel’s version of THE KILLERS) steps into the room with clothes, startling them. He’s creepy. Says that Mother is coming down to say hello later. Charlie tells Lem to leave, and don’t peek through the keyhole... which is weird because they are in the livingroom and there is no door. I suspect the script was written for a different location and nobody fixed it when they shot this scene in the livingroom - one of many weird disconnects in this episode between what people say and what we see. Lem is also supposed to be Jed’s grandson - except they are both similar in age... so they didn’t fix the script after casting, either. Lem leaves - there is no door - and Rosalind takes off the blanket to put on the dirty old dress (WTF?) - which is much shorter than what she had on. Charlie puts on the dirty checked shirt and overalls...



When Charlie hears a woman laughing... and it’s not Rosalind!

Then a bat flies through the livingroom startling Rosalind!

Charlie smells food, so they decide to creep deeper into the cobwebbed old house to seek dinner.

In the kitchen: Jed is sharpening a knife while Lem pleads to allow him to kill and butcher this one... Jed killed the last few. But Jed says he’s experienced in slitting throats , so he’s gonna do it this time.

Charlie and Rosalind follow the cooking smells to the kitchen... where Jed has finished sharpening the knife. Jed tells Charlie that Lem’s mother has been dead for a decade - found dead on her bed, drained of blood... legend was from vampires. Jed says that he doesn’t believe in vampires - they’d need to change with the times or they’d be discovered. Rosalind says she’s not hungry anymore and runs to the front door... which is locked! Charlie says they are locked in... and then that woman’s laughter begins echoing from the walls again!

Charlie decides they’re going to search for the laughing woman... and they run into more bats on the way to the kitchen where they discover a butchered pig in the pantry. They creep upstairs and discover Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) in a locked room - a prisoner, chained to the wall. She says she’ll show them the way out of the house if Charlie releases her. But after he does, she runs away into the night... after locking them in the room.



They escape the room, get into a spat, have a make up kiss... and then try to find the way out of the house. They discover some muddy footprints that *begin* at a wall. Secret passage or vampires who can walk through walls? Secret passage - with steps going into the basement. So they go down the steps... to the basement, where Charlie finds some moonshine and the guest book - which contains names of people and what valuables they stole from them!

That’s when Jed and Lem discover them! Jed is angry that they let Ruthie go - she’s a vampire. Oh, and Lem has set up a bed for them. So they go into the bedroom, where they find a locked door with the clothes of the previous guests. There are rats and lightning and other scary things that require Rosalind to jump so that her short skirt flips up (I know that sounds pervy to mention, but I see no reason why these hillbillies would give her an Ellie-Mae outfit except to provide scenes like these).

Later that night: the storm ends and Rosalind wakes up... and walks out of the room as if in a trance! Charlie wakes up and searches for her - finding Lem dead on the floor, sucked dry of blood with a pair of fang marks in his neck! Jed is shocked, says the whole vampire thing was just a joke. Laughter from the basement - Charlie wants to investigate, Jed warns him not to go down there. Charlie discovers Ruthie with a knife!

Later, Charlie comes upstairs and finds Rosalind, explains to her that he had to deal with Ruthie - it was her or him. Rosalind has the front door key - she knocked out Jed to get it, and they two leave. Hop in their car, drive away.

Just before dawn: at the resort destination where they had previously been driving to, they are finally able to get some rest... in a king-sized coffin. They are the vampires!



Review: Novelist Don Westlake has this term for stories that don’t fit in any genre, or maybe fit in too many genres - The Tortile Tarradiddle. It comes from Lewis Carroll (maybe even ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, which may be currently playing to almost empty cinemas near you). This story tries to be alll things to all people and ends up not working for anyone. Though we may look at something like this as “meta” now, I wonder at the time how following every single cliche in the genre played. As a short story, it probably worked - one of my favorite Richard Matheson stories, “Tis The Season”, is a clever comedy story that makes fun of post apocalyptic tropes. Because it’s cleverly written, we know that Matheson is making fun of these tropes. The problem with a TV adaptation is that we wouldn’t be able to read the writing and we’d just see all of the tropes, all of the cliches... and even with the comedy dialogue it still might not work. I don’t really think this episode works - but I’m fairly sure (without reading it) that the story it is based on probably does,



This points out a problem with adapted material - often a book or story is famous *for its writing* and none of that writing shows up on screen, only the physical things being written about. There are novels where the way a chair is described is laugh outloud funny, but on screen it is just a chair... or just a character... or just a simple action like a character sitting down. The humor (or whatever) of the novel is in *how* things are described rather than *what* is being described. And only the *what* ends up on screen. I’ve read screenplays that do this as well - a funny read, but nothing funny actually happening. The funny part is in how it’s described on the page.

So we have a story that’s a big bundle of cliches where they push the comedy to the point of it becoming obvious and less funny. Doesn’t really work. What’s kind of interesting is John Carradine’s character saying “She’s got spunk, I like a woman with spunk” years before Lou Grant would say that to Mary Tyler Moore. Also - is this the first time a married couple slept in the same bed on television? Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston do a pretty good job of playing the Nick & Nora Charles of vampires - and maybe because they are undead they could share a bed on TV and the censors didn’t care? The cast is interesting because this was a pre-BEWITCHED Montgomery, and she’s cute and sexy and lights up the screen. But just as we know Montgomery as a sexy young woman, we mostly know Poston as a crotchety old man from that last Bob Newhart show. So it seems slightly weird to see them as a couple (of about the same age) in this episode. The other thing that’s interesting about this episode is that it uses the “car breaks down in cannibal country” trope long before TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... long before it was a trope (at least in cinema). So we have an unsuccessful entry that wasn’t as much fun as they probably thought it was.

Next week, Ida Lupino returns behind the camera for an episode she wrote with her cousin.

- Bill

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