Thursday, May 12, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: Terror In Teakwood

Tomorrow is Friday The 13th...
Best Of THRILLER Thursday...

Terror In Teakwood

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

Season: 1, Episode: 33.
Airdate: May 16, 1961

Director: Paul Henreid.
Writer: Alan Caillou from a short story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Charles Aidman, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Awesome Jerry Goldsmith score, piano solos by Caesar Giovannini.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Cruelty has a human heart. Jealousy a human face. And Terror? Terror has the human form divine. Tonight we will see how one man’s cruelty and jealousy create a terror which can scarcely be considered human, and which waits silently, malevolently, beneath the lid of this teakwood chest. That’s the bname of our story, Terror In Teakwood. Join us now as these others did who had the misfortune to learn what it contains: Mr. Guy Rolfe, Miss Hazel Court, Mr. Charles Aidman, and Mr. Reggie Nalder. Oh, no: I can’t permit you to leave, you’ve already learned a great deal too much. I can only suggest that you get a grip on yourself.”

Synopsis: Creepy Graveyard: The Night Watchman (skull faced Reggie Nalder the assassin from Hitchcock’s remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) accepts a bribe from a well dressed Vladimir (Guy Rolfe) to break into a crypt. The Night Watchman watches as something terrible happens in the crypt... Something that frightens the night watchman at a cemetery!

Music composer Jerry Welch (the always trustable Charles Aidman) has a visit from his ex girlfriend Leonie (Hazel Court who was a regular in all of the Corman / Vincent Price horror films which were made after this) who asks for his help with her husband, famous concert pianist Vladimir, who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him. Last night she woke up to find him in torn and bloody pajamas. He won’t go to the police. And this isn’t the first time she has awoken to find him like this... and each time he tells her not to tell anyone about it. She wants Jerry to work as her husband’s assistant, live on site at their home, and find out what is happening on these bloody nights.

Jerry asks his mentor Papa Glockstein (Vladimir Sokoloff) for advice and information: does he have any idea what may be happening with Vladimir? Vladimir is obsessed with surpassing rival composer and concert pianist Carnowitz, who is dead... in fact, Vladimir took Leonie on their honeymoon to Carnowitz’s funeral to make sure he was really dead. Since then he has been afraid for some reason. Their conversation is interrupted by a panicked phone call from Leonie that Vladimir has locked himself in his room and is screaming like hell!

Leonie ties to get the doors open as her husband plays the piano and screams in agony. When he stops playing, she steps away from the doors... as he opens them and staggers out: torn up and bloody! As if he had been attacked by a maniac while playing the piano. He falls to the floor unconscious.

When Jerry gets there, Leonie has cleaned Vladimir up and he is resting on the sofa. Leonie tells Jerry that he was playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata” when the episode occurred. Jerry wants to call a doctor, but Vladimir wakes up and says: “No doctor!” Leonie introduces Jerry to Vladimir as the new assistant, and Vladimir orders Jerry to forget what he has seen: he expects his employees to do exactly what he says. His second order of business: he wants Jerry to look after a teakwood box until he returns. Keep it in sight always and whatever happens, don’t open it.

The mysterious teakwood box. Like a miniature coffin. What could be inside of it? Jerry is curious, but dares not open it. He keeps it under lock and key in his room at the house. What could it be....?

At the Concert Hall: Vladimir is an amazing pianist. As he practices, Jerry asks Leonie questions about Vladimir’s odd behavior. If someone is trying to kill him, why doesn’t he want to go to the police? All of this began when Carnowitz died... except Leonie believes that Carnowitz may still be alive and has faked his death. On their honeymoon, Vladimir went to Carnowitz’s crypt and came back angry... she thinks he discovered the crypt was empty, and now Carnowitz has followed Vladimir back to New York and is behind these strange attacks. That sounds crazy, but before the attacks she hears someone playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”, and it can’t be Vladimir... because only Carnowitz could play that piece due to his oversized hands. In fact, Carnowitz composed the pieces just so Vladimir (with his smaller delicate hands) could never play it. Jerry wonders if Carnowitz is alive, is he trying to drive Valdimir crazy... and worries that Vladimir’s sanity may already on shaky ground. But why would Carowitz fake his own death just to drive Vladimir mad?

When Jerry and Leonie sneak out for a drink, Vladimir notices...

And someone follows them down the street... Carnowitz?

Jerry hears the footsteps following them in the darkness, and suspense builds. He sends Leonie into the bar and springs a trap on the man following them: not Carnowitz, but the Cemetery Night Watchman. They struggle, and when Jerry subdues him and asks what he wants, the Night Watchman says: “Money.” If he tells what he saw happen in that graveyard they will throw Vladimir in prison forever. He wants Jerry to tell this to Vladimir. When Jerry asks about Carnowitz being alive, the Night Watchman just laughs.

Jerry thinks the answers may be in that teakwood box, opens it to discover...

Carowitz’s severed hands!

Jerry goes to Music Critic Sylvia (Linda Watkins) who tells him that Vladimir has made a last minute change in his program for his big concert tonight, and will be playing the “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... and she can’t wait for him to fail in front of a concert hall filled with people! Vladimir and Carnowitz were bitter rivals, and Carnowitz only wrote the Seventh Sonata because he knew Vladimir would never be able to play it with his small hands. Carnowitz had the most beautiful hands in the world, and asks Jerry if he ever saw them. Jerry says he has (!).

At the concert hall, Papa Glockstein makes an emergency call to have a new piano sent over right away. When Jerry arrives, Papa shows him the piano they had planned on using for the performance: broken into a dozen pieces! Who would do such a thing? Jerry describes the Night Watchman and asks if they’ve seen him. Yes, he was looking for Vladimir and they told him to come back for the performance. Jerry says after the concert they will call the police about the vandalism, but for now they don’t want to concern Vladimir with this. He needs to concentrate on his music.

Leonie comes to the concert hall and talks to Jerry: she thinks Vladimir may have seen them together and may be jealous. He can be very violent when jealous. Jerry says he figured that out... and tells her what he found in the box. A man who would cut off his rival’s dead hands? Scary! Jerry wants Leonie to leave Vladimir now (and come away with him?)... but she must go to the concert. Jerry says he will be there with her.

The Concert: Jerry and Leonie watch Vladimir play, while Sylvia takes a smoke break outside and talks to Papa about Vladimir’s impending failure in front of a sold out crowd. Sylvia’s photographer shows up late, and she tells him to find a place and take some great photos... of Vladimir’s epic failure. Sylvia is going to kill Vladimir’s career tonight.

A hush falls over the concert hall: Vladimir prepares to play “Carnowitz Seventh Sonata”... Sylvia takes her seat inside to watch. Everyone is waiting for him to fail, but Vladimir does an amazing job! How can he possibly hit those two keys simultaneously? Has he somehow stretched his hands? When he finished there is a standing ovation! Even Sylvia stands and applauds! But when Vladimir stands up to take his bow, Leonie notices that he’s bleeding from his wrists! She passes out.

At their home: Leonie is asleep in bed after the doctor gave her a sedative. Vladimir comes home, angry at his assistant Jerry for not being there when the concert was over: he had to take a taxi home! Does he not understand what an assistant’s duties are? Vladimir eventually makes sure his wife is okay, then talks about the concert and his amazing victory over his dead rival. Jerry walks the doctor to the door and Vladimir stays in the room with Leonie...

...As the Night Watchman breaks in to the apartment through the fire escape, armed with a machete. He wants money from Vladimir, a lot of money! Vladimir fights the Night Watchman and tosses him off the fire escape. Splat!

Then Vladimir goes to his sleeping wife and caresses her face as if nothing has happened. She wakes up and freaks as the hands touch her... calling for Jerry... then goes back to sleep. Id his wife cheating on him with that assistant?

Vladimir goes to see Jerry, carrying the teakwood box. He confronts Jerry, and wants him to open the box... there is nothing inside. Vladimir also has the machete. He screams that Carnowitz was a second rate pianist with freakish large hands... but now Vladimir has conquered him. He stole his hands, and then the hands *came alive* when he put them on like gloves so that he could play the Seventh Sonata! The hands fought him at first, but soon Vladimir tamed them. Vladimir has put the severed hands on Leonie’s bed, and soon the hands will attack her and kill her! Because she cheated on him with this... assistant!

When she screams from the other room, Jerry fights Carnowitz, getting the machete away from him and knocking him out, then running to her bedroom. He breaks down the door! She is laying on the bed with *handprints* on her throat! But alive!

Then we see the severed hands crawling across the floor... towards them? Suspense as Leonie insists that Jerry take her out of the apartment, away from the hands... and Jerry just wants to make sure she’s okay. Then they hear Vladimir scream!

Jerry and Leoni go into Vladimir’s room where they find him dead on the floor... strangled by the hands of his rival! The hands still around his throat, dead now.

Review: Stephen King can have (the upcoming) PIGEONS FROM HELL, *this* is the episode that scared the crap out of me as a kid. The severed hands in the box freaked me out, and the crawling hands? Nightmares for weeks. Even watching it for this entry, and realizing the hands were cheap chromakey special effects, it’s pretty disturbing. You wonder what people though when this was beamed into their living rooms in 1961. I’ll bet there were *adults* with nightmares after this was first shown.

This also shows you how limited and inexpensive special effects can make a story shot on a limited budget work. A couple of episodes from now we’ll look at King’s favorite PIGEONS and how that episode takes the *idea* of being susceptible to an evil spirit into something terrifying. It doesn’t take money to scare people (or give a kid nightmares for weeks).

What I found interesting this time around was how well the story explored the theme of jealousy. Vladimir is jealous of Carnowitz and his large hands. Vladimir becomes jealous of Jerry and his relationship with Leoinie. Sylvia has jealousy issues with Vladimir. Everyone in this story is defined by their jealousy! Even the Night watchman is jealous of all of these people’s money... he works hard for a living and this man just plays the piano!

I think one of the great things about this episode is how it keeps topping itself. The horror escalates as the story plays out. First it’s Vladimir being torn up and bloody. Then we see the severed hands in the box (which you might think is the big scare moment). But there’s more! The crawling hands!

I also love how they keep leading us in the wrong direction. The focus on the whether Carnowitz is actually dead or not gives us a story to follow before those hands are revealed... and we are sure that the man following them in the darkness is Carnowitz... right up until the twist when it’s revealed as the Night Watchman. That’s when we shift from Carnowitz being alive to what’s in the box... and why Vladimir might have taken that particular trophy from the crypt. The story keeps surprising us by leading us in the wrong direction and then introducing information that changes what we thought was the truth. That’s how to write!

I love the idea that Carnowitz wins in the end. That the hands Vladimir cut off and wore as gloves to conquer Carnowitz are the same hands that kill him. Ironic.

Direction by actor Paul Henried (CASABLANCA) is solid. Jerry Goldsmith score is *exceptional*, one of his best for this series.

As we near the end of the first season, you may have noticed a shift in the type of stories. The series began with mostly crime stories and a few suspense tales, and later introduced horror stories... and now has dropped the crime stories completely to focus on horror and suspense. The rest of the season will focus on horror, with an antique mirror the center of the next tale of terror.


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