Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ghost Story: Elegy for a Vampire – review

Director: Don McDougall

First aired: 1972

Contains spoilers

Ghost Story was a one season long anthology show based on horror themes (rather than simply ghost stories). It changed title halfway through the season, becoming Circle of Fear. This change also saw the removal of the wraparound section, which was essentially introductions by Winston Essex (Sebastian Cabot) owner of the hotel Mansfield House. This actual episode was part of the series when it was called Ghost Story.

In the wraparound protagonists who were either in or connected with the actual episode's story might be mentioned. In this episode Essex talks about a professor named Pendergast who had died but had left a manuscript at the hotel. It was a treatise on modern-day vampires.

running from the vampire
The story proper begins with David Wells (Hal Linden) writing in his dairy. In voice-over we hear that he is frightened and that the spells are getting worse. With Pendergast dead there is no one to help him. His vision blurs... And clears when he is on the Street. A woman, clearly a co-ed, is walking across campus, she decides to take a short cut through the cemetery. A man (clearly Wells) appears behind her, she panics and runs, falls and screams as we see Wells' sweating face.

Laura the love interest
In a faculty staff meeting we see Wells and his friend Frank Simmons (Mike Farrell) as well as other faculty members. Chief of Security Owen Houston (Arthur O'Connell) has decided that, following the murder of another student, the faculty should start civilian patrols. Wells is volunteered to patrol the cemetery. Later that night we see a woman, Laura Benton (Marlyn Mason ), near a building. She goes to a door, enters the building and up to the apartment. It is clearly Wells' apartment. Frank arrives and doesn't recognise the woman who is an intruder. She explains she used to live there, which he finds to be a perfectly acceptable explanation for her being in someone else's home. Outside the apartment they meet Wells and this rather clumsy character introduction adds in a love interest for Wells.

looking as mad as a box of frogs
Wells has Pendergast's manuscript that the professor had asked him to proof just before he died. Within it Pendergast argued a scientific explanation for vampirism, citing chemical imbalances that led to a biological need. Wells searches the manuscript for answers, whilst agonising over his memory gaps and wondering if he is a murderer. Meanwhile detective lieutenant Thorpe (John Milford, Spider-woman in Dracula's Revenge) believes he has caught the killer; the coed’s boyfriend. Things turn weirder when Frank is passing the cemetery, sees a figure (which to us is clearly Wells) and recognises Pendergast.

digging up Pendergast
When Frank tells Houston about this, Houston discloses that the murder victims all had suffered neck wounds. This leads to a midnight cemetery visit were Wells, Frank and Houston dig up Pendergast's corpse with a stake handy. Later dialogue indicates they used it, we're not sure why Wells would have gone along with this. I won't spoil how the rest of the story goes.

nice to see Mike Farrell
This wasn't the best episode in the series, though it was nice to see Mike Farrell as I'm a big fan of M*A*S*H. Keeping the vampire's identity secret from the audience, rather than the character, might have been a good idea. Given that Wells tells us that he's still getting over the death of his wife (after two years), buying the blossoming relationship with the woman who was caught breaking and entering his apartment just doesn't ring true. The cops arresting the unseen boyfriend when the coed wasn't the first victim seemed off. As Wells has no memory of the events one wonders why he believes he might be a vampire.

Despite all this, as part of the series this was a fun piece of 1970s horror hokum. 5 out of 10. The episode's imdb page is here.

Bonus Bits: there were some other episodes worth mentioning on the blog.

the concrete captain
The first is of genre interest because of a name. The Richard Donner directed episode the Concrete Captain aired in 1972. A husband and wife, Ed (Stuart Whitman, the Monster Club) and Kate (Gena Rowlands, Paris, je T’aime), are on an anniversary trip. Ed buys Kate a keepsake, a model of the concrete captain. This is a local landmark said to be where a captain washed up on shore, became trapped in rocks, was put out of his misery with a harpoon to the heart and then buried in concrete. The reason for the mention is that the captain was called Jonathan Harker (Glenn R. Wilder). One might think this coincidence but given that Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplay I believe this was a definitive nod to Stoker's Dracula. The imdb page is here.

Michael-James Wixted as Bobby
The second of interest was an episode called Alter-Ego. Directed by David Lowell Rich and also airing in 1972, this story centres around Bobby (Michael-James Wixted) a young lad who has broken his leg and is stuck in his bedroom. He summons an alter-ego but it is an evil version of him who goes on to wreck his life. Bobby becomes more and more ill but also the alter-ego kills the pet cat and hamster both of which seem to be depleted down to husks. The life also seems to be drained out of flowers. Though this is deliberate and targeted I didn't think there was enough for a "Vamp or Not?" as we have no evidence that the alter-ego is actually feeding. The imdb page is here.

After the series became Circle of Fear there was one more episode that would interest us. I intend to look at the episode the Phantom of Herald Square in a future article.

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