Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Masquerade (1961) (TV)

...aka: Thriller: Masquerade

Directed by:
Herschel Daugherty

The popular Thriller series hosted by horror legend Boris Karloff ran from Fall 1960 to Spring 1962 on NBC and made an impact on lots of kids during its day, including a young Stephen King, who has called it "the best horror series ever put on TV." Unfortunately, of the 60+ episodes that were made, only six of them were officially released. This, along with "The Grim Reaper," "The Incredible Doktor Markesan," "The Prediction," "The Premature Burial" and "The Terror in Teakwood" were all issued (separately) on VHS in 1996 by MCA/Universal. And sadly, that was it. Even though some (bootleg) sites offer the entire series on DVD-R, this has yet to see the legitimate box set release it deserves. "Masquerade" (episode 6 of the second season) was directed by prolific TV director Herschel Daugherty, who seemed to specialize in westerns but also directed 16 episodes of the Thriller series and even more episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He would also bring back Elizabeth Montgomery (the female lead here) to star in a made-for-TV terror film called THE VICTIM (which was released on VHS as OUT OF CONTENTION).

Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his sarcastic wife Rosamond (a brunette Montgomery) are spending their second honeymoon somewhere in the deep South, get caught in a thunderstorm and then decide to seek shelter in a spooky old home advertising rooms for rent. There they meet the very bizarre backwoods owner Jed Carta (profilic horror vet John Carradine), who jokes around about vampires, and his equally strange grandson Lem (Jack Lambert). Not only spooked by them, there are also bats flying around in the living room, a dead hog hanging upside down so its blood can be collected in a bucket, strange cackling coming from somewhere in the home, bars on the windows, secret passageways and other signals they'll be in for a rough night. Investigating upstairs, Charlie and Ros find a deranged old woman, Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann), chained to the wall in a room. She cons them into setting her free, then runs off. Soon after, Lem's body is found dead with puncture wounds on his neck. Will Charlie and Ros be able to get the key and get out before they become the next victims?

"Masquerade" mixes up old dark house and vampire movie conventions fairly well, with good performances, plenty of comedy and a truly surprising (and amusing) twist ending. It's also noteworthy for using the PSYCHO (1960) sets, including exterior shots of the familiar house.


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