Mondo Arcana

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DARK INTRUDER (1965) is easily recognizable for what it is — a failed TV pilot masquerading as a feature. Like the amiably grim CHAMBER OF HORRORS, released the following year, it’s a kind of occult detective set-up, and one can only wish either or both of these series had been picked up in preference to the somewhat lacklustre KOLCHAK.

Spoilers throughout.

This one is set in foggy, Victorian San Francisco, where an eldritch serial killer is on the prowl, and only carefree socialiteĀ and occult detective Leslie Nielsen can stop him (assisted by his dwarf manservant, Nikola). This is way better than it has any business being, with a witty script by Hollywood old-time Barre Lyndon, who had a penchant for the sepulchral (THE AMAZING DR CLITTERHOUSE, THE LODGER, HANGOVER SQUARE, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES). Nielsen, whose character keeps a potted mandrake to warn him of evil, seems to be having the time of his life, playing the role with a somewhat Wellesian archness. You know that lowering the chin while rolling the eyes up slightly to look ahead, and slowing down and rising in pitch at the end of a sentence?

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The show’s wacky nastiness, which makes it interesting, no doubt spelled its downfall, as with CHAMBER OF HORRORS. The plot, which is easily guessable but unfolded in a pleasing manner, involves a withered parasitic twin, possession, and ritual murder, with a hint of grave-robbing thrown in as a light diversion. Harvey Hart, a prolific Canadian TV director who returned to ritual homicide with the feature THE PYX (distinguished by eerie Karen Black vocals on its soundtrack) directs with gusto and plenty of dry ice to compliment Nielsen’s dry delivery.

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They should totally bring this show back.

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6 Responses to “Mondo Arcana”

  1. henryholland666 Says:

    I love The Lodger and especially Hangover Square. Both are helped by having gone-too-soon Laird Cregar, good atmosphere and in the latter case, a really terrific, fiery ending.

  2. I NEED to see this, just because of “whose character keeps a potted mandrake to warn him of evil…”

  3. More ritual homicide from Harvey Hart: he directed several good Columbo episodes, including my fave, “By Dawn’s Early Light.” That’s some good Columbo.

  4. Ah, with McGoohan! Always a fine sparring partner for the lieutenant.

  5. Yes. And “By Dawn’s Early Light” is unusually atmospheric and subtle.

    There’s one beautifully acted scene in which Columbo, still pretending to believe that the McGoohan character was the intended victim of the murder, asks him whether he can think of anyone he knows who might have a motive to kill him. Any enemies? “No.” Some conflict involving a woman? “Oh no.” The McGoohan character is written as a deeply closeted gay man, I think, but the main nuance in the scene is McGoohan’s awareness that he’s revealing how empty his life is. He doesn’t even have enemies.

  6. Excellent! And I’ve never seen that one, that I can recall.

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