“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 cryingthe story has been reprinted numerous times over the years, even as recently as 2012. In most of those publications it kept 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 adapted for the small screen and Bloch’s story was one of them, because of this episode. In that iteration, and the later reprint in The Armchair Horror Collection, also edited by Haining, the story was retitled as is for this episode. The reason for the episode’s retitle is obvious – Chaney is not in this version.
In all other respects, the episode pretty closely follows what I can remember of the story. An aspiring writer moves into a cabin he believes once belonged to a legendary silent era actor and finds a magical 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 In the original story, the actor is Lon Chaney himself, while in this episode Chaney has been replaced by the fictional Fulton Pierce – the name may be a nod to iconic makeup artist Jack Pierce, who created the look of several of the Universal monsters.
This also means the episode may be missing the most fun part of the original story, which is an encyclopedic love affair with Chaney’s early career in the picture, including references to lost movies and bits. By necessity, these episodes boil 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.
Like in a movie like The man with a thousand faces (1957), much of the joy to be found in “The Legacy” is watching another makeup artist do Chaney’s classic creeps, and there are some nice images here, even if the results are never a patch on Chaney’s originals or the ones made by Bud Westmore for that movie.
“Sleeping Dragon” and “Pool Sharks” are a couple of relatively forgettable episodes that I won’t 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 resembles a cross between the thing from Trail of the Moon Beast and a 1993 Koopa 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 remembered very well seeing in my childhood. It is also the first of three episodes in the series written by David Odell, frequent Jim Henson collaborator and screenwriter for The dark crystalwho also wrote one of the standout episodes of Stories from the dark side.
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 feeding it to young women. The episode also features Mary Woronov as the woman in whom he finally met his match. In addition to the aforementioned firsts, it’s also the first time in the series that something close to the Cthulhu mythos has made its way into an episode, and the monster(s) in “Pillow Talk” are some of the weirder of the series.
The episode never actually uses Lovecraft names or anything, but the monsters (whom they once called “Great Ones”) are described as older than any other living thing on the planet. They are said to remember Atlantis, and when “monkeys came down from the trees and invented fire.” What’s more, the psychic bond between the novelist and the monster transfers to him the dreams of the monster, 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 an adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s story of the same name, making it one of the far too few film 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 sky wolf And Uninvited fame turns into a surprisingly good Thunston.
“Rouse Him Not” also seems to be a good example of how Samples managed to bring some impressive creatures to life on a relatively modest budget. “We can also sometimes do a little bit of horse trading to get higher caliber monsters,” said Richard Rubinstein in 1989, “for example, we trade the chance to direct in exchange for special makeup effects. That gets us monsters at a lower cost .”
Considering that “Rouse Him Not” is the sole directorial credit of Mark Shostrom, whose other credits include makeup effects in over 70 movies and TV shows, including Videodrome, Evil dead 2the first three Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and many others, it seems like this was probably one of those cases. The episode also directly references the real Saint Dunston, whose name and story will be familiar to fans of Hellboy.
The final episode we’ll discuss tonight is probably another example of that “horse trade” Rubinstein mentioned, representing the sole directorial effort of makeup artist Greg Cannom, whose filmography includes The crying, Batman returnsand over a hundred others, all the way to recent biopics like Shame And Tammy Faye’s eyes.
The episode itself is a pretty standard cautionary fable against greed, represented in this case by an underground troll with a stash of gold coins to lure the unwary. The story belongs to 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. The most interesting contribution is probably a troll who tastes some of the folklore’s oddities, including the usual things like an allergy to iron and sunlight, as well as some weirder things like boiling blood.
That’s it for tonight, but next time we’ll talk about the other episode that I vividly remember from my childhood – and perhaps the best episode in the entire series (they’re not the same).
In addition to his work as a Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Gray is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a byline movie writer on 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.