Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-73)

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear
Host: Sebastian Cabot
1972-73
23 episodes

In Short: Things that go bump in the night.

William Castle is best known for a series of low budget horror movies (The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, etc.) that each featured a nifty gimmick (buzzers in the theater seats, skeletons flying around the theater) that would enhance their publicity value. Castle is not so well known as creator and producer of the 1972-73 TV anthology series, Ghost Story/Circle of Fear or as the producer of Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Anthology shows dealing with fantastic, macabre and supernatural topics were hardly a new thing by the time 1972 rolled around. Some of the more notable ones to grace American televisions by that time included Alfred Hitchcock Presents - later The Alfred Hitchcock Hour - which aired from 1955-1965. Boris Karloff was the host for Thriller (1960–62), and the Outer Limits controlled transmission from 1963-1965. Last and definitely not least were a pair of shows developed and hosted by Rod Serling. Of course, there's The Twilight Zone (1959-64), arguably one of most high-profile anthology shows ever. The lesser of these two was Night Gallery (1969-73), which was still airing by the time Ghost Story began its short run.

Sebastian Cabot, best known to American viewers at the time as Mr. French, on the sitcom Family Affair, took on the hosting duties for the first part of this show's run, when it was called Ghost Story. He played a hotel owner name Winston Essex, who did a not so mysterious disappearing act after 13 episodes. It was at this point that ratings were found to be floundering and the name and premise were tweaked a bit. Circle of Fear would be host-free and would feature a less overt focus on the supernatural (and an opening that seemed to me to recall that of Night Gallery). The revamped version hung in for another nine episodes and then it too disappeared.

Of Note:
Brought to you by NBC. Among the big-name writers here, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch. Among the big-name stars, Hal Linden, Jodie Foster, Angie Dickinson, Jason Robards, Patricia Neal, Janet Leigh, Martin Sheen, and David Soul.

Observed: (1/16) "Earth, Air, Fire and Water"
I realize that it’s a bit of an iffy proposition to review an anthology series based on my usual practice of screening one episode. Writers, directors and stars didn't necessarily stick around for multiple episodes so the quality could vary widely.

From the latter incarnation of the show - the Circle of Fear episodes, comes one that's probably most notable for being written by Harlan Ellison and D. C. Fontana. He, of course, is the infamously opinionated and rather talented writer and she, probably best known as a writer on Star Trek, particularly the first series.

In this episode, a group of young artists set up a space to create and sell their wares and everything seems to be going well. Until someone finds a damned trunk full of odd bottles full of strangely colored liquids. At which point everyone begins to go off the rails. It's not a particularly fresh or exciting premise but with the right approach something interesting might have been made of it. Alas, this didn't happen. It unspools at a decidedly deliberate pace and rather predictably too.

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