Friday, October 04, 2013

TODAY'S BOO TUBE: EARTH, AIR, FIRE & WATER

ONE OF THE HAPPIEST ACQUISITIONS OF THE PAST YEAR WAS MY PURCHASE OF THE WARNER ARCHIVES DVD OF THE COMPLETE "GHOST STORY/CIRCLE OF FEAR" SERIES. 

This practically unknown early-70's horror anthology show was executive produced by horror movie gimmick-meister William Castle and developed by horror icon Richard Matheson; it aired on NBC and, initially, was hosted by Sebastian Cabot puttering around the famous Essex House.  This was during the Fall of 1972.  Oddly enough, over the New Year break, the program was completely overhauled:  the name of the programme changed to from "GHOST STORY" to "CIRCLE OF FEAR" with new opening titles and the swift disappearance of Cabot and the Essex House.  In the New Year winter of 1973, the new "CIRCLE OF FEAR" seemed to display a slight increase in quality as there seemed to be a higher ratio of good stories to clunkers.  The absolute best episode of the entire series is the one I'm watching today:  "EARTH, AIR, FIRE AND WATER".  Directed by Alexander Singer and written by science fiction great Harlan Ellison and legendary Star Trek scribe D.C. Fontana, this is an absolute fantastic episode.  Critic John Kenneth Muir describes it on his blog as "a genuinely upsetting and highly unnerving hour" and "deeply scary in a cerebral way".  It is absolutely superb and I'd stack it up against the best horror anthology programmes.

The story concerns a spooky old cavernous store front in which a group of "artistic" ultra-seventies young men and women set up shop to sell their artwork; one woman works with jewels and precious stones, one woman paints, one man sculpts in metal, one man cultivates plants, etc.  This free and easy, communal art colony existence is suddenly interrupted when a large chest is discovered fill with a collection of large glass jars; each a different colour.  Almost as if hypnotically controlled, each artist reaches for a particular jar and, from that moment on, becomes inseparable from it; to the extent of carrying the jar around with them to the dinner table. 
Starting with the jewelry worker (Brooke Bundy - Diana Taylor of TV soap GENERAL HOSPITAL), each person begins acting more and more obsessed with their work -- their appearance slowly alters as they become more and more unresponsive until finally they disappear completely.  No one seems to take much notice as they themselves are also becoming more and more obsessed with their own work and jar.  It becomes evident that inside each jar is something like a Lovecraftian "old god" who takes a person over to escape their captivity. 
The episode becomes more and more creepy as the minutes tick by.  The jars themselves are extremely eye-catching props and I'd love to find a whole set of them in some antique store!  I'm jealous!  I want my OWN jar!  Also in the cast is Tyne Daly (later one half of "CAGNEY & LACEY"), Frank Converse, Joan Blackman, Tim McIntire, Scott Marlowe, Oliver Clark and veteran character actor Dabbs Greer. 

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