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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Ghost Story aka Circle of Fear ( 1972-1973 )

In 1972, William Castle, the director of films such as The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, and Straight-Jacket, tried his hand at producing a horror-themed anthology series entitled Ghost Story.

Sebastion Cabot was the host of this hour-long series, which lasted only 23 episodes. He went by the name of Winston Essex and introduced each episode from "Mansfield House" ( Hotel Del Coronado ) the hotel that he owned. In each episode, Mr. Essex would reveal an unusual tale about one of his guests, usually involving supernatural elements, vampires and witches. 

The premise of the series was excellent and the show featured some top-notch guest performers including Carolyn Jones, James Franciscus, Gena Rowlands, Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, Melvyn Douglas, Craig Stevens, Patricia Neal, and Susan Oliver. Ghost Story also boasted an impressive line-up of writers such as Richard Matheson, Robert Specht, Anthony Lawrence, Seeleg Lester, D.C. Fontana and Robert Bloch. The scripts to the series had to be approved of by the show's script-advisor Jimmy Sangster, a British screenwriter who is well-known among Hammer Film fans for writing X: The Unknown, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula: Prince of Darkness and many other films ( including The Nanny ).

The 1970s were the heyday of horror TV movies and anthology series and Ghost Story ranks among the top with Brian Clements' Thriller and Rod Serling's Night Gallery. William Castle, whose idol was the Master of Horror, Alfred Hitchcock, had hoped to create his own version of the Hitchcock series for modern audiences and he succeeded in doing this.
Ghost Story was given an ideal timeslot ( the show aired on NBC on Friday nights at 9pm ) but it failed to garner high ratings and, midway through the season, Sebastian Cabot was dropped as the host and the show was renamed Circle of Fear in the hopes that it might get a rating boost. It did not, and the series was canceled after its single-season premiere. Nevertheless, we have 23 delightfully eerie episodes to entertain us, all of which have been released on DVD in a beautifully remastered format. 

Below are some of our choice picks from this supernatural series. 

TOP FIVE EPISODES

The New House ( March 17, 1972 )

This story, the pilot episode, was based on a tale by horror writer Elizabeth Walter entitled "She Cries". It featured a young couple who move into a home that is haunted by a girl who had been hanged there many years ago and vowed never to be evicted from the house. Barbara Parkins and David Birney play the twosome who are in for a fright; Sam Jaffe also has a great part as the local historian De Witt. 

Alter Ego ( October 27, 1972 )

Bobby ( Michael James-Wixted ) is a very bright student with a fondness for chess. A sickness keeps him at home for several months, during which time he meets his "doppelganger". At first, he is pleased to have a playmate but then he begins to fear him....especially when his villianous double decides to venture to Bobby's school to terrorize his favorite teacher Miss Gilden ( Helen Hayes ). 
House of Evil ( November 10, 1972 )

When Grandpa ( Melvyn Douglas ) arrives for a visit, he brings a couple of unique gifts for his deaf/mute granddaughter, Judy ( Jodie Foster ): the ability for her to hear his thoughts and a special miniature dollhouse. The "kindly" Grandpa wants to use Judy to cast voodoo spells upon the members of her household. After watching this episode you'll never look at a cookie the same way again. 

Time of Terror ( December 22, 1972 )

If you want to truly feel some tingles down your spine, check out this thrilling episode. Time for Terror stars Patricia Neal as Ellen Alexander, a woman who wakes up alone in a hotel room to discover that her husband Harry is missing. The front office simply tells her that he has "checked out"....but as she soon finds out, it is she who has "checked out" of life and not he!
Earth, Air, Fire and Water ( January 19, 1973 )

This episode proves that the subject matter of a horror story need not be horrific in itself if what it implies is frightening....and this one certainly is! The horrible objects, in this case, are merely a collection of six colorful jars. A group of artists discovers these containers in a trunk that was left behind in the dilapidated shop that they recently rented. The "evil air" within these jars permeates the atmosphere of their studio until, one by one, these artists find themselves creating more and more sinister art. 

If you want to read more in-depth reviews of these episodes, we highly recommend checking out the blog John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies, which is where most of these screenshots were obtained. 

2 comments:

  1. This was a fun review, as I haven't thought about this show in years! It had a great pedigree, but I remember wanting to like it much more than I did. The same applied to JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN, a similar anthology show that aired in the late 1960s. Perhaps, I was just spoiled by the quality of earlier anthology shows like TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

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    1. I understand what you mean because I was disappointed with Journey to the Unknown as well, but I think Ghost Story was great, especially for the era ( the shows of the 1970s had some poorly written scripts ). ONE STEP BEYOND was another great anthology series that is underrated. I always thought that show was eerier than The Twilight Zone because the scripts were based on true life incidents. And speaking of The Twilight Zone, on November 14th, Fathom Events will be showing 6 episodes of the series in theaters across America.

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