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Anthology series focusing on the supernatural. Winston Essex opened each episode by taking the audience into his spooky old mansion and introducing the plot, which could range from a vampire preying on college students to a ghost haunting a house to an old man using voodoo against his own family. On January 5, 1973, the series changed its title to "Circle of Fear", the Essex character was no longer part of the show, and the stories didn't always feature supernatural themes Written by
Despite, typical seventies TV cinematography, marred by over-lighting, and bland paint by numbers art direction, (the show often looks like an episode of "Qunicy"--hardly ideal for supernatural horror--just imagine, ten years earlier it might have had the glorious monochrome of "Boris Karloff's 'Thriller') this program is, nonetheless, unjustly forgotten. I saw it in its original prime time incarnation and though it can't approach the sophistication of Britain's "Journey to the Unknown," and had more duds than hits, several episodes were standouts, and the entire series needs to again see the light of day.
The pilot, (entitled, "The New House") aired in March, 1972, and featured Sebastion Cabot as the program's host, grandly swaggering about an old world luxury hotel, as he expounds upon his fondness for the glories of earlier times. He then spots Barbara Parkins, (never more beautiful than here--her close-ups are lovely) the protagonist of the teleplay at hand, seated at the bar, and expresses his doubts as to her future happiness (with good reason as you will soon see!) All this serves as the springboard for her saga--a tale of witchcraft--with elements not unlike "Crowhaven Farm". This episode, despite being marred by some excessive lovey-dovey dialog between Parkins and on screen husband David Birney, is effectively rendered, and surprises in the power of its extremely bleak denouement.
The show changed its title to "Circle of Fear" in Jan. 1973, though the stories continued to be supernatural in character. Amongst the better "Circle of Fear"s were:
1) Still lovely Eleanor Parker's riveting performance as a tortured mother in a splendid yarn of spectral siblings, "Half a Death" written by the accomplished Henry Slesar.
2) The Janet Leigh episode, "Death's Head" which contains a deliciously foreboding visit to a seaside carnival gypsy, who later turns up in a woozy nightmare sequence.
3) The story depicting Martin Sheen and Kim Darby as newlyweds coping with a malefic toy horse.
4) The always superb Shirley Knight, (in an outstanding Emmy worthy characterization) as a diffident young typist who finds new meaning in the phrase, "office politics" in "Legion of Demons." This episode is extremely provocative and disturbing in its images and dialog, some of which make it hard to see how it got past the censors--and is arguably the best written of the series.
Unfortunately, the series had more bombs than clicks, which may account for its premature demise. Still, tastes vary, and there are doubtless viewers out there who will enjoy the Helen Hayes, Melvynn Douglas, and Tab Hunter episodes as well. As for the trivia-ites, note that the Jody Foster episode features the Samantha and Darren Stevens house from "Bewitched."
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