Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Evil Touch: "Heart to Heart"

In “Heart to Heart,” The Evil Touch(1973) host Anthony Quayle introduces a story he calls a “meal of suspense” and “ghastly echoing of fear.”  In particular, a serial killer is roaming the countryside, a “monster who was born with a seed of evil.”
Meanwhile, a callow playboy, Richard (Peter Sumner), stands to inherit the fortune of his wealthy aunt (Mildred Natwick) if he can only get his act together. But he is cruel, abusive, and ungrateful, and is disinherited from the will. Realizing he will lose the estate, he turns over a new leaf, and attempts to mend his ways, though his aunt is suspicious. He secretly has another plan, however, one that takes into account his elderly aunt’s weak heart.
One night, Richard arranges to drive his aunt to her weekly bridge game. But his car breaks down on the way, even as the radio tells tales of “the monster,” believed responsible for eight murders in as many days. Richard’s aunt appears terrified, but has turned the tables on Richard. Conspiring with her butler, she arranges for Richard to be killed, apparently by the local serial killer.
With Richard dead, the aunt and the butler return home for the note, only to be paid a visit by “The Monster…”

The first episode of The Evil Touch,“The Lake,” was, truth-be-told, pretty underwhelming. Nothing much happened, and the episode struggled to achieve its intermittently creepy vibe. On top of that, the narrative was very straightforward, and familiar.  
“Heart to Heart” similarly begins with a familiar or tired premise, but then moves in some exciting and suspenseful directions. The idea of a young man attempting to scare an old female relative to death, for her money, is one that has been explored far too many times in horror fiction and film. Yet “Heart to Heart” adds an element of the unexpected into the proceedings with the presence of the serial killer, “The Monster.”  
This unseen killer could be anyone in the cast, or someone all together outside the dramatis personae. And he operates according to his own agenda and rules. So while the old aunt, and her ungrateful nephew separately hatch murderous plans, the killer is making plans too. There’s an old saying that man proposes, and God disposes. “Heart to Heart” embodies that concept as the aunt and Richard each plot and scheme, playing at being a murderer, while a far more experienced murderer stands to upset their respective apple carts.
“Heart to Heart” is smart enough to play lightly with its twists. Everyone watching the episode realizes that Richard hasn’t suddenly reformed. He’s just out to get his aunt’s money before she can officially disinherit him, and is not afraid to stoop to murder. The aunt’s plan is a shocking twist, but the best twist is last: that the killer chooses the aunt’s estate for his nightly murderous visit. This is more than enough authorial gamesmanship to carry the 25-minute episode’s duration, and make it an entertaining span. 
It’s true that this episode is not one of the best of the series, but it finds the fledgling series on some solid ground after a weak start.  You may not agree with the aunt that the tale is a cause to be “chilled to death,” but if entertainment and suspense is the name of the game, the episode delivers.
Next week, The Evil Touch explores a different genre of horror with “The Obituary.”

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