Saturday, October 8, 2011

7 Supernatural Sleuths You May Not Know

I like scary movies, but generally don't like the traditional horror movie where you the heroes are faced with seemingly overwhelming supernatural forces, and then they all die. I much prefer movies where the characters have at least a fighting chance. That's a theme I like in shows like The X-Files (the first few seasons, anyway), Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and it's companion series Angel. In fact, I like the premise so much that I still watch Supernatural even though I think it jumped the shark after the end of season 5.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite heroes who have done their bit on film or TV to save us all from the forces of evil.

1) Carl Kolchack - In his out of date, perpetually rumpled suit, Kolchak is an everyman hero. It was refreshing to have a hero who wasn't Mr. Suave-Master-of-the-Mystic-Arts. Kolchak cared about people, but his main goal was getting a pulitzer by proving that one, just one, of his many adventures was real. Failing that he did his best to keep from getting fired from his third-rate newspaper.

2) The Duc de Richlieu - The hero of The Devil Rides Out (1968), Richelieu has the distinction of being one of the few good guys that legendary horror actor christopher Lee ever played. Lee said it was one of his favorite roles and wished that he had been able to plat the Duc in other movies. It could have happened too; "The Devil Rides Out" was an adaptation of one of a long series of supernatural thriller novels by author Dennis Wheatley featuring Richelieu and his companions. It's a shame that it didn't happen because this was a wonderfully atmospheric movie with Lee perfectly cast as Richelieu. He is a heroic man with enough occult know-how to help the heroes when they fall afoul of a diabolic cult led by the evil Mocata (based on real life occultist Alistair Crowley).

I actually like the movie better than the book in this case. Wheatley's politics comes out of the old British upper-class clubland set, and are often racist, sexist and generally offensive.

3) John Thunstone - Manly Wade Wellman's heroic champion against the forces of darkness only appeared on film once. Alex Cord played Thunstone in an adaptation of Rouse Him Not for an episode of the anthology series Monsters. It's a shame that they didn't do more of these, "Rouse Him Not" was one of the best episodes of monsters but one of the weakest of the print stories. Alex Cord did a good job as the suave and good-hearted adventurer whose silver-bladed sword cane handily dealt with the show's monster.

Alas, this version of Thunstone never got to strut his stuff against Wellman's other monsters, like the sinister Shonokins, or the evil sorcerer Rowley Thorne (inspired by real life occultist, Alistair Crowley).

It's interesting to note that two of the villains I've mentioned here, and one that I mentioned in my last post, are all inspired by Crowley.

4) David Sorrell - The hero of Fear No evil (1969) was a sauve west coast psychologist who was a little out of his depth dealing with the supernatural. Despite this, his intelligence and cool head served him well in two TV movies, though it wasn't enough to get him a series. That's a shame, because Fear No Evil, was a well written and genuinely scary story involving ghosts and a demonic mirror. The following year, Sorrell was back in another failed pilot, Ritual of Evil involving an evil cult and an immortal sorceress. Ritual of Evil was also marked by superior writing and a creepy atmosphere.

5) Tom Kovacks and Michelle Brant - In Baffled! (1973) Tom (Leonard Nimoy) is an Indy car racer who gains ESP following a crash. Michelle (Susan Hampshire) is the student of the paranormal who wants to teach him how to use his powers for good. The plot was slight and the dialogue silly, but Nimoy and Hampshire had great chemestry. It's a shame this wasn't made into a series that would have offered them some better adventures.

6) William Sebastian and "Ham" Hamilton - Spectre (1977) was yet another failed TV pilot, this time from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry featuring occult investigators in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. Sebastian (Robert Culp) is a Holmsian investigator with a brilliant mind but lacking in social skills. His Watson is Dr. Amos "Ham" Hamilton, a physician who struggles with troubles involving alcohol and women.

7) David Norliss - The last of my investigators was writer David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), kind of an upscale version of Kolchak. Norliss was the hero of The Norliss Tapes, yet another unsold TV pilot. The premise for the show was to be that Norliss had spent a year investigating occult matters only to disappear, leaving behind a box of audio tapes. Each week his publisher would listen to another tape, revealing a new adventure and, hopefully, providing another clue to what happened ot Norliss.

Looking over this list, I guess the lesson to learn is: if you create a pilot for a TV show, don't do something I'd like. It's the kiss of death.
Happy Halloween

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