Something Weird on TV: Monsters Part Two – Monster in the Mirror
“The Legacy” is the first of several series episodes adapted from stories by Robert Bloch – and this particular story has a unique history. Originally published as “The Chaney Legacy” in a 1986 issue of Night Cry, the story has been reprinted numerous times throughout the years, as recently as 2012. In most of those publications, it retained its original title, but in 1993, Orion published The Television Late Night Horror Omnibus edited by Peter Haining.
The Omnibus was a collection of classic horror short stories that had been adapted to the small screen and Bloch’s story was among them, due to this very episode. In that iteration, and its later reprint in The Armchair Horror Collection, also edited by Haining, the story was retitled as it is for this episode. The reason for the episode retitle is obvious – Chaney isn’t in this version.
In all other respects, the episode follows what I can remember of the story fairly closely. A wannabe writer moves into a cabin that he believes once belonged to a legendary actor of the silent era and, in so doing, finds a magic makeup kit that the actor used to transform himself into his most iconic roles. The only difference is the identity of the actor. In the original story, the actor is Lon Chaney himself, while in this episode, Chaney has been replaced with the fictitious Fulton Pierce – the name perhaps a nod to the iconic makeup artist Jack Pierce, who created the look of several of the Universal monsters.
This also means that the episode is missing possibly the most enjoyable part of the original story, which is an encyclopedic love of Chaney’s early career in pictures, including references to lost films and bit parts. By necessity, the episode boils these down to generic versions of three of Chaney’s most famous “monster” roles: Quasimodo, the Phantom of the Opera, and the vampire from London After Midnight.
As in a movie like The Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), much of the joy to be found in “The Legacy” is watching another makeup artist do their take on Chaney’s classic ghouls, and there are some nice visuals here, even if the results are never a patch on either Chaney’s originals or the ones created by Bud Westmore for that film.
“Sleeping Dragon” and “Pool Sharks” are a pair of relatively forgettable episodes that I’m not going to spend much time on, because I want to talk a lot about some of the others. “Sleeping Dragon” features a prehistoric time capsule that unleashes a human-sized dinosaur that looks like a cross between the thing from Track of the Moon Beast and a koopa from the 1993 Mario Bros. movie, while “Pool Sharks” is about a vampire who likes to find her victims by playing pool.
“Pillow Talk,” on the other hand, is the first of those two episodes I mentioned last time that I very clearly remembered seeing in my youth. It’s also the first of three series episodes written by David Odell, frequent Jim Henson collaborator and screenwriter for The Dark Crystal, who also penned one of the more striking episodes of Tales from the Darkside.
A story about a successful horror novelist with a Lovecraftian monster that lives in his bed and gives him the ideas for his books after he feeds it young women, the episode also features Mary Woronov as the woman in whom he has finally met his match. Besides those aforementioned firsts, it is also the first time in the series that anything approaching the Cthulhu mythos has found its way into an episode, and the monster(s) in “Pillow Talk” are among the series’ weirder ones.
The episode never actually uses any Lovecraft names or anything, but the monsters (which they once call “Great Ones”) are described as being older than any of the other living things on the planet. It is said that they remember Atlantis, and when “monkeys came down from the trees and invented fire.” What’s more, the psychic link between the novelist and the monster transmits the monster’s dreams to him, which is where the author’s stories come from. All pretty Lovecraftian, even if we never hear a Yog-Sothoth or a fhtagn.
The next episode is of particular interest to me, personally. “Rouse Him Not” is adapted from the story of the same name by Manly Wade Wellman, making it one of far too few screen adaptations of Wellman’s work (IMDb says six, one of which is a podcast). Specifically, it’s an adaptation of one of Wellman’s many John Thunston stories, with Alex Cord of Airwolf and Uninvited fame turning in a surprisingly good Thunston.
“Rouse Him Not” also seems to be a good example of how Monsters managed to bring to life some impressive creatures on a relatively modest budget. “We also sometimes can do a little horse-trading to achieve monsters of a higher caliber,” Richard Rubinstein said back in 1989, “we trade the chance to direct, for instance, in exchange for makeup special effects. That brings us monsters at less cost.”
Given that “Rouse Him Not” is the only directorial credit of Mark Shostrom, whose other credits involve makeup effects in more than 70 films and TV shows, including Videodrome, Evil Dead 2, the first three Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and many others, it seems that this was probably one of those cases. The episode also makes direct reference to the real-life Saint Dunston, whose name and story will be familiar to fans of Hellboy.
The last episode that we’ll be discussing tonight is probably another example of that “horse-trading” Rubinstein mentioned, representing the only directorial effort of makeup effects artist Greg Cannom, whose filmography includes The Howling, Batman Returns, and more than a hundred others, all the way up to recent biopics like Vice and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
The episode itself is a pretty standard cautionary fable against greed, in this case, represented by an underground troll with a stash of gold coins to lure in the unwary. The story is by Michael Reaves, who also wrote “Sleeping Dragon” earlier this season and seems to have had a byline on just about every Saturday morning cartoon ever made. Probably its most interesting contribution is a troll that samples some oddities from folklore, including the usual stuff like an allergy to iron and sunlight, and also some weirder stuff like boiling blood.
That’s it for tonight, but next time we’ll talk about the other episode I vividly remember from my childhood – and also quite possibly the best episode in the entire series (they aren’t the same one).
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.