Thursday, July 14, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

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