Monday, October 28, 2013

Boris Karloff's Thriller: Pigeons From Hell

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.

Fleeing the mansion in terror, Timothy soon collapses from exhaustion and is wakened in a shack by the local sheriff, to whom he vainly struggles to describe the mysterious events at the old house. The sheriff suspects Timothy has murdered his own brother and convinces the young man to return there with him to investigate. After the two experience unusual phenomenon in the house, the lawman is forced to reconsider his theory, explaining to Tim that it used to be inhabited by the cruel Blassenville sisters, who abandoned the mansion without a word fifty years earlier. The intrigue deepens when they come upon an old diary written by one of the sisters, hinting that the apparently ill-fated women never made it off the premises. The diary mentions an old black hermit, named Jacob Blount, who was once a servant of the abusive sisters. It's decided that they should pay Blount a visit at his remote shack, and there get to the truth behind the terrible secret of the Blassenville house and the pigeons from hell. 9/10

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.


girl6 said...

Nice review..i will check this out for sure. :)

wow man, that is very strange about both their tragic endings happening at the same age of 30..brrrrrr

i'm a Big fan of the original Shane.
i especially Love how they were able to remedy Jack Palance's problems with mounting his horse properly by reversing the footage of him dismounting.

Steve Ring said...

Thanks! This and The Grim Reaper are probably the best Thriller episodes.

Yeah, I didn't really mean to draw a connection between the two men, but it is kind of an odd coincidence.

I had to read Shane in junior high but I never saw the movie until much later when I rediscovered westerns.