Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Suspense – Black Passage – review (TV Episode)

Directed by: Robert Stevens

First aired: 1949

Contains spoilers

Black Passage was an episode of the series Suspense and was a take on the vampire myth. It is frustratingly interesting and I have it on a DVD primarily collecting episodes of the show based on Robert Louis Stevenson stories. This was based on his short story Olalla.

Firstly, let us talk the print quality of the show. This is low, given that this was early television, recorded live (it appears) with painted backdrops. However, it is an interesting look into television history and, of course, it is a vampire story.

An American (William Prince) arrives at a hacienda, he has been taken there by a priest (Morton Stevens) and a terrified local. It seems the American wants to sketch the unique architecture and the local is afraid for reasons the American cannot fathom due to the Spanish/English language barrier. The priest tells him that the house is occupied by a mother (Mary Sinclair) – who was a bit of a wild one in the past – and her children the mentally deficient Miguel (Peter Fernandez) and the beautiful Lola (Stella Adler).

Through the priest Miguel explains that the American should not speak to the family. That when the ‘Black Wind’ comes the mother will become sick in the mind and he should stay in his room. He is shown to the room and offers Miguel a glass of wine but Miguel seems scared of it, he calls it sangre.

The American can hear Lola chanting. Miguel brings him a note from the priest that suggests he gets out of there if the ‘black wind’ comes. Suddenly the wind whips up and when we next see the American it appears as though he is going mad. He sneaks out of his room and into Lola’s, he sees her for the first time and it is clear he is attracted to the girl praying before a shrine. He leaves and the mother locks him in his own room. He hears screams.

Three weeks later and the priest visits him and asks him to leave. Eventually he admits he is waiting to see Lola again and the priest has him promise that if he sees her he’ll then go. He tells the American that the female line is cursed. As children they are fine but in adulthood they become drinkers of blood. They are vampires. Lola goes to him and, in broken English, asks him to go but then they kiss.

Miguel enters and tries to get him to leave by taking his bags. The American locks the door and starts shouting to Lola through the window. He cuts his hand, which attracts the mother though she doesn't seem to attack him. Eventually Lola is with him, moping his brow, but as he lifts his bleeding hand up we see a temptation flash across her features. Can she resist the blood?

I said at the head that this is frustratingly interesting. There is so much hinted at but so little explained in the episode. All in all it is not the greatest piece of vampire genre material but it is so unusual and rare that I’ll score at 5 out of 10 – average, but necessary. Normally, after telling you that the imdb page is here, the article would come to an end, however what I wish to do now is look at Stevenson’s story.

Interesting Shorts – Olalla – Robert Louis Stevenson

This was published in 1887 and can be found in the collection “the Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables”. It can be read online here. The location of the story is somewhat different to the Suspense episode based on it, in that it concerned an injured English soldier in Spain. However the premise of him attending the residencia and a mother, son and daughter is the same. In this case the son is called Felipe and the daughter Olalla.

It is less clear as to the source of the horror. The black winds do trigger the mother’s madness and the family, who are said to be of a royal lineage, have suffered through inbreeding. The word vampire is not used – as it was in the TV episode – and there is no indication that Olalla really suffers the same affliction as the mother.

However, we do get an attack in the story. When the mother sees the visitor’s cut hand, “Her great eyes opened wide, the pupils shrank into points;
a veil seemed to fall from her face, and leave it sharply expressive and yet inscrutable. And as I still stood, marvelling a little at her disturbance, she came swiftly up to me, and stooped and caught me by the hand; and the next moment my hand was at her mouth, and she had bitten me to the bone. The pang of the bite, the sudden spurting of blood, and the monstrous horror of the act, flashed through me all in one, and I beat her back; and she sprang at me again and again, with bestial cries, cries that I recognised, such cries as had awakened me on the night of the high wind. Her strength was like that of madness; mine was rapidly ebbing with the loss of blood; my mind besides was whirling with the abhorrent strangeness of the onslaught…”

Of course this could just be insanity and there is no definitive indication that blood drinking was the primary goal of the attack. But the sight of blood triggers the attack and the story itself can be found in various vampire anthologies. Certainly a genre interesting short.

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