Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-73). Directed by: Various. Starring: Scads of people.
Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight, in honor of that spookiest of all seasons, Halloween, we’re unearthing not merely a film, but an entire TV series! This is the last of several DVD screeners I got from the Sony Pictures Choice Collection, specializing in titles that have never before been released on DVD.
It’s common wisdom in classic horror circles that William Castle wanted to be Alfred Hitchcock when he grew up, and whether or not it’s true, there’s certainly a lot of evidence to back it up. Tonight’s program is Castle aping Hitchcock’s successful Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, albeit, well, less successfully. Oddly, for a guy who introduced most of his own movies, Castle ceded the hosting duties of the show to Sebastian Cabot, who played the host for the first 13 episodes, before poor ratings prompted a title change from Ghost Story to the somewhat-more-evocative Circle of Fear, along with a switch in format that ditched the host segments entirely.
The show is a pretty standard anthology horror of the era, reminiscent of contemporaries like Night Gallery or later shows like Tales from the Darkside. Unfortunately, in spite of Castle’s involvement as Executive Producer, none of his usual showmanship translates into the series. Despite episodes written by the likes of Richard Matheson (who retains a “developed for television” credit throughout) and Harlan Ellison, and directors like Richard Donner, the episodes are almost uniformly a snooze-fest. There are some clever bits here and there, but almost every episode feels padded out to achieve its hour-long run time, and the best fun to be had from the series is mostly in spotting stars both old and new, including Jason Robards, Karen Black, Janet Leigh, Martin Sheen, and a very young Jodie Foster, among many others.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t watched every episode, but every one I have watched has shared enough in common with the others to make a pretty definitive statement. There’s nothing really wrong with Ghost Story/Circle of Fear. It’ll probably hold some enchantment for people who grew up with it or who really dig TV of the era, but for most anyone else, it’s more interesting as a historical marker or a gallery of actors than anything, and the individual episodes – while sprinkled with good ideas – tend to crawl too much to generate a whole lot in the way of suspense or thrills.
That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time, when we’ll be taking a look inside a certain cabinet, though maybe not precisely the one you’d expect.