Sunday, March 22, 2020

Shatner Week: Thriller: "The Hungry Glass"

This afternoon's post combines two of my favorite things in the world: 1960's TV horror anthologies and William Shatner.

Adding to my pleasure, this first-season segment of Thriller, "The Hungry Glass," is based on a short story by none other than Robert Bloch, the author who first introduced audiences to Norman Bates.

The Hungry Glass" is a kind of regional-based horror story of the supernatural variety. The tale is set in a chilly "New England autumn" and a sleepy seaside community. It is in this setting that photographer Gil Thrasher (Shatner) and his wife, Marsha (Joanna Heyes), purchase the Bellman old mansion strangely devoid of mirrors
.The Thrashers are upset to learn from locals that their new real estate purchase is not only the site of a fatal accident, but it may actually be haunted. It seems that the woman who once owned the home in the 1860s, Laura Bellman was so vain -- so obsessed with her own beauty -- that when she died, her spirit moved into any and every object that would cast a reflection, whether a mirror or a window. The Thrasher's real estate agent, Adam (Gilligan Island's Russell Johnson) attempts to assuage the couple’s fears, but soon Marsha finds a locked door in the attic. Inside, in the dark, is a room of more than-a-dozen mirrors. Laura is watching.

Almost immediately upon moving into their new home, Marsha and Gil are startled by images of Laura,'s ghost, the woman in the mirror...beckoning to them. She is trying to "break through," to "reach you" and there is no doubt that she is murderous.

/var/folders/1c/tv4txz1x4nlbl83bsck3sv0m0000gn/T/ terror builds and builds in "The Hungry Glass" until the malevolent ghost (another old crone...) pulls unlucky Marsha into the looking glass with her, leaving her husband to destroy the mirror. Before the episode ends, there's another shocking death too.

This Thriller episode features some remarkable visual compositions. As the show commences, we get a view of the vain homeowner, Laura -- a beautiful woman. Or rather a view of her reflection, for she is seen only through a row of mirrors mounted on the wall. We move with Laura as she dances and plays to the looking-glass, and our vision of this character hops from mirror to mirror as she whirls and spins. In each mirror, we ponder, exists a universe unto itself. Then, when Laura is forced by circumstances to open the front door, we see the real Laura for the first time: an elderly hag who looks like she's already been embalmed, in the words of the teleplay.

Of course, we also get a great Shatner-ian performance here. In fact, Shatner plays the same type of character he has played in other contemporary genre anthologies: vulnerable but strong. For some reason, his "horror" characters always have feet of clay, and Gil Thrasher is no exception. In Twilight Zone's "Nick of Time," Shatner's newlywed character became paralyzed because of his superstitious nature. In "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," Shatner was (again) a married man with a problem: he had just suffered a nervous break down so no one believed him when he claimed to have seen a gremlin on the wing of a plane in flight. If you think of Shatner's bomb de-fuser in One Step Beyond's "The Promise" and also his imperiled astronaut in The Outer Limits' "Cold Hand, Warm Heart," you see the same combination of vulnerability and strength showcased.

"The Hungry Glass" is exactly the same. Here, Gil is a Korean War veteran who experienced hallucinations and also "the shakes" after his tour of duty ended. Now, when he begins to experience hallucinations again in the Bellman House, Gil's wife is doubtful about his sanity. And as the episode builds to its inevitable climax, Shatner's character gets closer and closer to the edge and, finally, goes over it in most dramatic fashion. As the lead, Shatner is saddled with a lot of exposition in "The Hungry Glass," but he's marvelous in such scenes because it's clear his character -- while delivering words about Laura's after-life -- has become a shattered basket case. Shatner gets a faraway look in his eyes as he recounts Laura's final disposition, and it's clear he's lost his grip on reality.

And yes, Shatner does get to scream in "The Hungry Glass." So in his horror anthologies, I think he's three for four in that category.

/var/folders/1c/tv4txz1x4nlbl83bsck3sv0m0000gn/T/"The Hungry Glass" is also filled with ironic commentary about mirrors. "Mirrors never lie," "mirrors bring a house to life," "Every time you look in a mirror, you see death," etc., and Boris Karloff's ghoulish introduction gets in on the fun too. He notes to the audience that it should "make sure that your television casts no reflection..." It really is enough to give you a chill.

Douglas Heyes directed several classic, timeless Twilight Zone episodes including "The Howling Man," "The Invaders" and "Eye of the Beholder." Thriller's "The Hungry Glass" is right up there with the best of those in terms of presentation and impact. A pervasive sense of evil hangs over the Bellman House, influencing everything. Those who survive the night bid a hasty exit from the haunted mansion, never to return. But as a viewer, this is one haunted house you'll definitely want to re-visit.

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