Dogged by critical derision and in danger of cancellation from abysmal ratings, the producers of Boris Karloff's Thriller began to ease their big-budget Hitchcock copycat finally into the realm of the gothic horror more befitting the Karloff name. Probably the best-remembered of these mini-horror-movies was the curiously-titled Pigeons from Hell, an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's supernatural whodunit of the same name. The episode has the look of Universal's stock-and-trade horror classics, even featuring the Universal Mansion (seen in many a horror film), dressed up to look like an overgrown plantation. It's uncommonly atmospheric and cinematic for the television medium and well deserves it's reputation as one of the most chilling hours in '60s TV.
Two college-student brothers, Johnny and Timothy, find themselves stranded by car-trouble in a dark swamp in front of (typically enough) an ominous, and apparently uninhabited, decaying manor. The gloomy estate seems to be infested with unusually aggressive pigeons and the almost hypnotic chorus of their trills. Inside the house, the boys find only cobwebs, shadows and the remnants of a hastily-vacated household, including the haunting portrait of a woman. The brothers decide they might as well put down their bedrolls and sleep there until morning when they can find help. But Johnny is awakened in the middle of the night by a strangely mesmerizing singing voice in the darkness. Under the spell of the unseen siren, he mounts the stairs into the shadows and after a moment his blood-curdling scream shatters the silence. Timothy wakes in a start to find his brother walking back down the steps, wielding a bloody hatchet. Tim realizes Johnny is one of the walking dead, his head split by the very hatchet clutched in his hand. Further, his zombified brother seems intent on burying the hatchet in Timothy's skull, too.
Trivia: Actor Brandon De Wilde, who played Timothy in Pigeons from Hell, is most famous for his role as the little boy Joey in the classic Western Shane. He also appeared with Vincent Price in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery called "Class of '99". It would be one of his last roles. In 1972 De Wilde died in a car accident in Denver, Colorado at the age of 30.
Trivia: Pigeons writer Robert E. Howard was the famous creator of the Conan the Barbarian series of stories, as well as Solomon Caine. He is credited with originating the Sword and Sorcery genre. Howard committed suicide in 1936 at the age of 30.