Thursday, March 23, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: The Return Of Andrew Bentley

SEASON 2!!! THRILLER: The Return Of Andrew Bentley

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

Season: 2, Episode: 12.
Airdate: December 11, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: Richard Matheson, based on a story by August Derleth
Cast: John Newland, Antionette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Can you hear me Andrew? Can you hear me? The frightened challenge of an old man, to who? Or to what? Questions. How does the old man know that he will soon be dead? And why does he fear that which may follow his death? Questions. Questions which will be answered before the night is done, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. But what of the questions that remain unanswered? Black secrets, carefully guarded and handed down. Spells, incantations, rituals, curses. The mysteries of the universe that have been revealed through the centuries only to a scattered unscrupulous few who thrive on evil. And aren’t too particular about the final disposition of their immortal souls. Such a man was Andrew Bentley. Our story tonight concerns the efforts of the living to combat his return from the world of the dead. Our players are: John Newland, Antoinette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, and Reggie Nalder). Yes, my friends, there are those who believe in the occult arts. And it is said that even those who practice them, all that is required is the proper recipe, a gentleman’s agreement with the devil, and an unflinching faith in the supernatural. Can it really be true? I don’t think so... everybody knows there’s no such thing as magic.”

Synopsis: Sometime in the late 1800s. Newlyweds Ellis Corbett (John Newland) and his bride Sheila (Antoinette Bower) have been summoned to the rambling mansion and estate that Ellis grew up on by his last living relative - his Uncle Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney). Amos wants to meet the new wife. They pull up in a horse drawn coach on a foggy night, and ask the driver to wait for them. As soon as they are out of the coach the driver speeds away. The front door is opened by his uncle’s servant Jacob (Ken Renard) who is happy to see Ellis. This is where Ellis grew up, and Jacob is almost like a father to him. They go into Uncle Amos’ study...

Where crazy Uncle Amos seems just a bit paranoid. Though he seems in good health, he tells Ellis that he is going to die... and will leave the mansion and his sizable wealth to his nephew on one condition. That Ellis live in the mansion and check on Amos’ grave every day to make sure that someone... or something... hasn’t tampered with it. New Bride Sheila is trying not to shake her head - the mansion is creepy. But Ellis says yes - this is the house he grew up in.

In the middle of the night, Ellis and Sheila are awakened by organ music and follow it down to the cobweb filled basement where Uncle Amos is playing the organ... then collapses dead on the keyboard.

Uncle Amos’ coffin is taken down to the crypt, on a level even lowerr than the basement with the organ, because it is so easy to build *down*. Ellis seals the crypt according to Uncle Amos’ instructions, then draws an image on the crypt door in chalk - also according to the burial instructions. Weird.

Afterwards Ellis, Sheila and Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) have a drink, and the doctor tells them that Uncle Amos committed suicide by poison. Sheila remembers him saying the name “Andrew”. When Jacob the butler hears this , he tells Ellis that he wants to quit... after 33 years of service. Ellis talks him into staying for a couple of days... and asks Dr. Weatherbee who “Andrew” is. Was - Andrew Bentley died two years ago.

Before going to bed, Ellis and Sheila go down to check the crypt - not tampered with. See? Not a big deal. They leave the crypt... and Andrew Bentley (Nalder) floats into the crypt, sees the markings on the door, and floats away - looking very much like a vampire.

The next day there is a letter from Uncle Amos telling Ellis to get Burkhardt and check the book on the second shelf of the seventh compartment - Ellis and Sheila find a book: The Rites Of Protection. Knock at the door (not a shock moment, should have been) and Jacob tells him that Reverend Burkhardt (Oscar Berengi) is here... who tells them that he can not protect his Uncle, and to ignore the book... which Ellis reads a page of outloud - about demons lured on by man’s ignorance.

Ellis and Sheila have some relationship issues dues to the whole daily tomb check thing, and one night when Ellis goes down to check he bumps into the floating Bentley who scares him into a faint. Sheila goes down and finds him... he tells her he has seen Andrew Bentley.

Jacob the butler sees Andrew Bentley and drops dead.

Dr. Weatherbee shows up, and tells them Andrew Bentley is dead... and was “completely evil”. A sorcerer whom everyone feared. The only way to stop this is to destroy Bentley’s body - it’s somewhere in the cellar. They will need the Reverend to protect them. They get in the carriage and go to fetch him...

Spooky Bentley tries to scare the horses, but they just go around him. The wagon wheel breaks off, and they run on foot in the dark and foggy night. None of this is filmed in a frightening way.

They bring the Reverend back to the house where they have a running exorcism - chasing Bentley’s ghost through the house. They find his corpse in Amos’ laboratory and burn it. The end.

Review: Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers, I discovered him as a kid due to all of his great TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and DUEL and those Corman Poe movies. So I was excited when I realized that he had written an episode of this series, even though it was an adaptation of someone else’s story (Derleth is also a famous horror writer, though I knew him through his mysteries). I didn’t remember this episode from my childhood... and there was a good reason. It’s thoroughly forgettable. Strange, because Matheson was coming off of HOUSE OF USHER and my favorite PIT AND THE PENDULUM - and he’d been writing scripts for a while (a dozen produced credits before this one). I have no idea what Matheson’s script was like, but the pieces of a spooky story are all present... and the direction seems to destroy all suspense and dread.

The director was the episode’s star John Newland, and he was no stranger to direction at this point in his career. Newland was host and director of all 96 episodes of the TV series ONE STEP BEYOND from the late 50s, which was “the TWILIGHT ZONE before there was THE TWILIGHT ZONE” - an anthology series about the supernatural and paranormal, often with a twist end. He was both the show’s “Rod Serling” host and the shows director. The show was interesting in that it was a docu-drama, and each episode was based on a true story. I tracked down some episodes and watched them - focusing on ARIEL because it starred MANNIX’s Mike Connors as a member of a famous trapeze family. In the episode he gets into an argument with his father (who leads the troupe) and that night his father slips out of his hands and falls to his death. He feels guilty and basically decides to commit suicide by trapeze and swings off the trapeze into the void... and his father’s ghost catches him and takes him safely to the platform. Based on a true story.

But watching the episode I could see where Newland might not have been the best director choice for THRILLER even though he had done 96 episodes of ONE STEP. Because ONE STEP was a docu-drama, it was mostly scenes of actors acting in front of a locked down camera - not much camera movement and not much editing. Kind of a filmed stage play. What made the show work was each of the episodes I saw had a few scenes at an interesting location - often using stock footage. So in this episode there was the whole big top circus trapeze scenes - one with a stock footage crowd and one without. But those scenes made up for the stagey scenes.

But this episode of TWILIGHT ZONE is all stagey scenes. There’s a sequence when they creep down to the crypt - and there are cobwebs and a spooky set, but the camera is stationary and there are no cuts or close ups. What I’m sure was written as the couple walking deeper and deeper into a dark and creepy basement is just two people walking... and avoiding all of the cob webs. Another scene is weird - there is organ music coming from the basement, but neither Ellis nor Sheila look towards the basement, so we don’t know where the music is coming from. Lots of non cinematic direction undercuts this story. So even though we have Matheson at his prime... we have kind of a lackluster episode.

Always great to see Reggie Nalder in an episode - his skull-like face is perfect for this evil enemy from beyond the grave, but for some reason (Newland's direction?) he over acts in this episode, which he did not do in the TERROR IN TEAKWOOD eoisode.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker