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RETROSPECTIVE: FAILURE TO LAUNCH – THREE ABORTED HORROR TV PILOTS

Monday, June 24, 2019 | Retrospective

Alongside the Horror Anthology tv show, failed pilots are another special sub-interest of mine. Before the age of peak TV, Networks might float a movie-of-the-week, or throw cash behind a one-off pilot, in hopes the thing might catch fire (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER‘s existence as a series was a direct result of the ratings success of the original telefilm and its sequel, for example). But, just as there are bright flames, there are also sputtering sparks that fail to catch… And so I thought I’d bring you a look at three such items, two attempts at anthologies and one an ongoing series.

HAUNTED: “THE FERRYMAN” (1974)
Seemingly an attempt to launch an anthology show in the grand BBC tradition of weighty, somber ghost stories, this Granada produced outing (shown in early December, 1974) has only one other manifestation (HAUNTED: “POOR GIRL”, adapting an Elizabeth Taylor story, which premiered about 2 weeks after “THE FERRYMAN” and which I have not seen) before the plug was pulled.

Sheridan Owen (Jeremy Brett), a somewhat arrogant author of thrillers currently enjoying success with his newest book (“a literate horror story” the critic enthuses), finds himself and his wife Alex (Natasha Parry) stranded in the countryside due to a storm. They take lodging at an inn (“The Ferryman”) whose name is coincidentally similar to the setting of his new book. The inn also proves to be staffed by close *but not exact) analogues of his book’s characters. But what does this imply about the existence of the demonic ferryman of his novel?  Written by Kingsley Amis, this is a promising but ultimately frustrating watch, with an ending that is far more nebulous than it needs to be. Other than the confrontation scene near the climax, it lacks any proper and deliberate chills. Strike one!

“yet another attempt at a venerable British Ghost story anthology show”

CLASSICS DARK AND DANGEROUS: “MRS. AMWORTH” (1978)
a UK/US/Canadian Co-production, this seems likely to have been yet another attempt at a venerable British Ghost story anthology show, adapting E.F. Benson’s classic story from 1923.

Our robust and cheery titular character (played by Glynis Johns) sings “Greensleesves” as she tours her sporty car through the sunny countryside, throws parties and organizes card games (piquet, of course…), all to the delight of her small, rural town inhabotants (which, coincidentally, are suffering a strange, progressive wasting disease). And someone in the town suspects that things may not be as they seem…This traditional vampire story is buoyed by Johns’ matronly fervor and Benson’s deliberate conception of playing off contradictions of expectation. Which makes it all enjoyable, if not particularly scary. Strike Two!

THE WORLD BEYOND: “MONSTER” (1978)
The 1970s saw a small surge in the appearance of “Occult/Paranormal detective/investigators” and “monster hunter” characters on TV: David Sorrell (FEAR NO EVIL, RITUAL OF EVIL), Dr. Michael Rhodes (THE SIXTH SENSE) and one-offs like THE NORLISS TAPES, SPECTRE and THE POSSESSED, most hoping for the success that Carl Kolchak embodied. One such attempt was a series following sports writer Paul Taylor (Granville Van Dusen) who, after a motorcycle accident and near-death experience, “sees dead people” who attempt to cryptically direct him to help the living who are in danger. First appearing in THE WORLD OF DARKNESS (1977), which disappeared without a ripple (and seems to be unfindable), Taylor then returned in THE WORLD BEYOND (1977) – which seems to be a more concerted effort to launch a series (it even has an episode title, “Monster”).

Paul is directed by the spirit of Frank Faver to travel to a remote Maine island and protect Faver’s sister, Marion, from occult danger he has released when alive. On the island they find Frank’s boat sunk and his cabin in disarray, as well as unearthing some volumes of occult incantations, hearing eerie cries and roars from the forest, and discovering a man-sized hole in the earth. “Mud-pies don’t go around killing dogs and people,” we are assured, in this fairly standard (but still somewhat interesting) 70s tv offering which has a cool (if barely seen) creature, accidental (?) resonances with THE EVIL DEAD, and an ambulatory, chopped-off monster arm to its viewing credit. This TV movie was an unsolved enigma in my mind for decades after accidentally stumbling across it when I was eleven years old (“the mud man movie” was what I used to refer to it as), until a blurry copy turned up on video in the 1990s. Worth checking out, if it sounds interesting to you, and here’s to hoping THE WORLD OF DARKNESS may also emerge from the ether eventually. However, the rather dull character of Taylor had none of Kolchak’s panache, however, and so this was Strike Three! And we’re outta here!

Shawn Garrett
Shawn M. Garrett is the co-editor of PSEUDOPOD, the premiere horror fiction podcast, and is either the dumbest smart man or the smartest dumb man you ever met. Thanks to a youth spent in the company of Richard Matheson, Vincent Price, Carl Kolchak & Jupiter Jones, he has pursued a life-long interest in the thrilling, the horrific and the mysterious – be it in print, film, art or audio. He has worked as a sewerage groundskeeper, audio transcription editor, pornography enabler, insurance letter writer – he was once paid by Marvel Comics to pastiche the voice of Stan Lee in promotional materials and he spends his days converting old pulp fiction into digital form for minimal pay. He now lives near the ocean in a small metal box and he hopes that becoming a Yuggothian brain-in-a-jar is a viable future, as there is NO WAY he will ever read all the books he has on his lists, or listen to all the music he wants to hear. Everything that he is he owes to his late sister Susan, a shining star in the pre-internet world of fan-fiction, who left this world unexpectedly in 2010. He spends an inordinate amount of time reading, writing and watching movies.