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Thursday, October 18, 2012


The 1960-1962 Boris Karloff-hosted NBC anthology television series THRILLER is today largely forgotten by genre fans, presumably thanks to THE TWILIGHT ZONE's five-season episode count and rerun ubiquity, and that's a damned shame because lovers of straight-up horror are missing out on some real gems. Thankfully, the series has been rescued from obscurity on DVD and the curious can now savor it with relative ease. That said, this particular installment is a fun exercise in mounting eeriness that ranks among my favorite hours of televised fright fare and it's written by Robert Bloch, the author of PSYCHO and many, many other shockers of note, so put that in your hookah and smoke it.

Mr. Smith (George Macready), a wealthy Manhattanite dabbling in the blackest of black magic, seeks to restore the life of his son, a souse who failed to heed his father's warning to not walk through the smoking pentagram that dad has drawn on the floor of his study (drawn there apparently in an attempt to summon and control demons).

Virtually the template for Mercyful Fate's classic metal tune "A Dangerous Meeting."

Desperate for a way to bring his idiot kid back, the amateur hour Crowley seeks advice from a blind seeress/white witch (Iphigenie Castiglioni) but she strongly cautions him against proceeding any further with his unholy scheme. When he will not be persuaded to do otherwise, the seeress reluctantly gives Smith the name of a black magician who may be of assistance, and her lead yields results when the magician — whose day job is that of a used car salesman — sells Smith a rare book of spells for a cool million bucks (which was a hell of a lot of money back in 1961). The book is one of three copies known to still exist and is of such a diabolical nature that all of the previous copies were burned hundreds of years ago...along with their owners. Reduced to being a veritable pauper but assured that the spell he requires is to be found in the antique tome, Smith discovers that the spell in question involves the expert crafting of a suit of clothes, dictated by a very specific set of rules — strict hours in which it must be sewn, no buttons, et cetera — so all he must now do is find a suitable tailor for the task.

That quest brings the immigrant Borgs into the picture, a miserable and mismatched pair if ever there were one. Apparently hailing from "the old country" (which would seem to be Germany), the husband,  Erich (Henry Jones), operates a humble tailor shop somewhere in NYC while physically and emotionally abusing his much-younger wife, Anna (Sondra Kerr). Terminally late on paying his rent and with no business coming in, Erich cruelly vents his frustrations on Anna, leaving the pitiful, abused woman to cry and tell her woes to her only friend in the world, a cracked plaster tailor's dummy named Hans (an uncredited Diki Lerner). 

Anna unloads the litany of her unhappiness to the inanimate Hans, her only friend in the world.

From her one-sided conversations with the dummy, it's made plain that Anna's torment has gone on for a long time and that she is trapped in a lonely hell on earth, wishing that Hans were a real man who would simply be kind to her. When Smith arrives with a bolt of very "unusual" cloth and his odd directions for the manufacture of the occult suit, Erich jumps at the chance to make a quick $500 for his services (again, this is 1961 money that were talking), and from there is woven a tapestry of greed, threatened spousal abandonment, murder (both successful and attempted), and something that can only be called a dark miracle...

If you've ever seen a horror movie, read a horror novel, or even absorbed the contents of a scary comic book, you can guess from the get-go where this one is going, but it's the buildup that makes it a flesh-crawling gem. I first saw "The Weird Tailor" during a Thanksgiving or Christmas visit (I honestly forget which) to my mother's house some years ago, encountering it while flipping channels late at night, and it hooked me from the opening sequence of the drunken son discovering his father's Satanic shenanigans. The level of detail/art direction put into the study-cum-conjuring chamber and its unholy decoration was enough to convince me that here was an old school horror series that took itself — and its audience — very seriously indeed, so I stuck with it and as a result it stuck with me to this day. The last two minutes of this story, while providing something of a happy ending, are disturbing as hell and would have come off as silly or laughable on just about any other show, but here it results in a very queasy head-on collision of wish fulfillment and sheer, mind-warping fear. It's one of those stories where you all but scream "Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell happens now?!!?" but it simply ends and provides no further denouement, leaving the audience gobsmacked and profoundly creeped-out. (slow, reverent golf clap)


Acroyear said...

A local channel here in Indianapolis shows this series and I am so glad that they do. Great pick for a review Sir Bunche.

Robert Cousland said...

Just watched this last night/this morning (at 3am) on the local ME-TV station and remembered that this was an episode you mentioned. You nailed this one on the head Mr. Bunche.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your fine review. I watched this last night on OUR local ME-TV station. Will be steering clear of mannequins from now on.