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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Darkness at Blaisedon, A (1969)

... aka: Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon

Directed by:
Lela Swift

Produced by Dan Curtis, this was intended to be the pilot episode for a supernatural-themed series titled Dead of Night. It runs just 52 minutes and was never actually aired on TV so the "series" both began and ended right here. It has much in common with Curtis' then-popular daytime soap Dark Shadows: it's set-bound, was shot cheaply on video, is mostly talk and features a relatively small cast. Not at all surprising since the director was Lela Swift, who had previously directed almost 600 (!) episodes of Shadows, and the writer was Sam Hall, who had written over 300. Mrs. Swift, perhaps the most prolific female television director of all time (she retired in 1989), also made a handful of other made-for-the-tube horrors such as DEADLY VISITOR (1973), THE GIFT OF TERROR (1973; which earned her a Daytime Emmy nod and was part of the "ABC Afternoon Playbreak" series), as well as the "Wide World Mystery" releases THE SATAN MURDERS (1974) and ALIEN LOVER (1975). To my knowledge, none of those have seen the light of day since they aired on TV back in the 70s.

Angela Martin (Marj Dusay) inherits the dark, gloomy Blaisedon house from a dead aunt she's never met. Since she can't afford the upkeep on her secretary's salary, she's forced to try to sell it. The problem is that it's rumored to be haunted and no one wants to buy it. Being saddled with creepy, grumpy caretaker Seth Blakely (Thayer David), who informs her the home is "not fit for the living anymore," doesn't help matters. Angela seeks help from debonair Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews), a former law student turned paranormal expert who became interested in all things supernatural after his dead father's ghost paid him a visit in college. Jonathan, along with his Indian assistant Sajid Raul (Cal Bellini), decide to take Angela back to the Blaisedon home to spend the night and see if there's any truth to those haunting rumors. Indeed there are. Almost immediately, all the hoary old haunted clichés (sudden gusts of wind blowing out candles, the organ playing all by itself, a "cold spot" upstairs where a violent act may have occurred years earlier...) start being trotted out.

Tracing back Angela's family history (using books conveniently located in the mansion's library), Jonathan determines that the malicious ghost responsible for the haunting belongs to its former owner: reclusive commodore Nicholas Blaise (Louis Edmonds). At the turn of the century, Nicholas murdered his brother because he believed he was having an affair with his wife, Melinda. Melinda responded by to that by hanging herself. Since Angela is a dead ringer for Melinda and may in fact be her reincarnation, Jonathan believes the restless commodore has lured her there in attempt to kill her and have her join him in the hereafter. There's a possession (when Angela slips on a cursed ruby ring that belonged to Melinda), a séance (where Angela speaks in Melinda's voice), some grave digging (when it's discovered that Melinda's body isn't in the casket) and a hidden, walled-in room that holds the key to the mystery.

After they survive the night in Blaisedon, Jonathan and Sajid offer Angela a job as a medium, and the trio would have no doubt gone on to investigate other paranormal cases if the series ever saw fruition. But it's kind of easy to see why that never happened. Though not badly made or acted for the medium, everything here seems overly-familiar and the whole project is ultimately forgettable (even by 1969 standards). Actor George Di Cenzo (who played prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in the excellent Manson movie HELTER SKELTER) was an the assistant to the producer.

First released on VHS by MPI, it's now available as an extra on the Dark Sky release of Curtis' made-for-TV trio of terror tales DEAD OF NIGHT (1976), which has nothing to do with the proposed series Dead of Night.


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