Friday, February 6, 2009

Scary Television

Thriller was a great old television series. No other television show has ever been able to tell a creepy old-fashioned haunted house story better than Thriller. The haunted house in "The Purple Room" is the house from Psycho. How more creepy can you get than that? In "The Purple Room," Rip Torn plays a man who inherits a mansion from his murdered brother. Torn acts smug when he's told the home may be haunted, but he soon becomes unnerved spending a night in the home alone. Torn gives a convincing performance. A haunted house movie isn't scary unless the viewer believes that the characters on screen are really in danger. It doesn't build up enough suspense just to have people walking around in dark rooms and brushing into cobwebs. Torn seems genuinely nervous. When he screams in terror seeing a ghostly apparition, I felt pretty scared even though this creature-that-goes-bump-in-the-night was nothing more than an actor in a dark robe and a pale rubber mask. "The Hungry Glass," which is about malevolent spirits living in the mirrors and windows of another spooky old mansion, is similar to the recent movie Mirrors. William Shatner stars as Gil Trasker, a Korean War veteran suffering the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. Trasker gradually becomes unhinged seeing ghostly images floating around in the mirrors.

Another memorable episode of Thriller was "The Premature Burial." A rich old man, Edward Stapleton, has contracted a rare medical condition called catalepsy, the onset of which makes muscles rigid and causes breathing and other body functions to slow down. The symptoms, in effect, mimic death. This has proven a problem for Stapleton, who was mistakenly declared dead following his first attack and got himself stuck inside a coffin in a burial vault. The old man eventually managed to escape the vault, but he now lives in fear of suffering another attack and being presumed dead again. He builds a special burial vault to address this problem. Stapleton has it all planned out. He leads his fiancé into the vault and shows her a cord. He tells her that, if he dies, she must run this cord through a hole in the coffin lid and clasp it in his hands. If he awakens, he will be able to gently tug the cord, which will cause the lid and sides of the coffin to spring open. He can also press a bar to make the door of the vault swing open. He has yet another mechanism installed that will set off a bell mounted outside of the vault. This musical, spring-action vault designed to allowed a bygone relative to pop back up in the land of the living is, as one character notes, a macabre jack-in-the-box. That's as creepy as it gets.

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