Spencer’s Sanctorum Presents:
GHOST STORY – SEASON 1, EPISODE 10 – “ELEGY FOR A VAMPIRE” (1972)
Review by Spencer Seams
Welcome to Spencer’s Sanctorum. This column is about old TV shows in the vein of Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and Kolchak the Night Stalker. I seek out the weird, goofy, and underrated episodes, the ones that nobody talks about.
People love ghosts, and people love stories. William Castle (Yes, the schlock icon who pumped out B movies like clockwork) combined the two, a ’la chocolate and peanut butter.
Castle’s foray into television was not a hit, unlike many of the cheap, gimmicky films from his heyday. The show debuted on NBC on Friday March 17, 1972, as GHOST STORY, airing after THE LITTLE PEOPLE (aka THE BRIAN KEITH SHOW) at 9:00 pm. For those not in the know, Friday is reserved (generally) for shows that the network doesn’t exactly believe in. It’s often a death sentence for a show to air on Fridays. GHOST STORY was retitled CIRCLE OF FEAR in January 1973, due to poor ratings. It didn’t help the ratings. One season of 23 episodes later, the show itself was a ghost.
The episode ELEGY FOR A VAMPIRE debuted December 1, 1973. The notable crew include: Don McDougall (FORGOTTEN CITY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1980) – Director; Elizabeth M. Walter (NIGHT GALLERY, 1971) – Writer; Mark Weingart (HEATWAVE!, 1974), and Ben Lane (ANNIE, 1982) did the makeup.
Now, the cast: Sebastian Cabot (Various Disney films) as Winston Essex; Hal Linden (Barney Miller from the show BARNEY MILLER, 1974–1982) as David Wells; Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicutt in the series MAS*H, 1972-1983) as Frank Simmons, and Marlyn Mason (LONGSTREET, 1971-1972) as Laura Benton.
As the show begins, we interrupt Winston Essex as he gleefully spends time in his glorious mansion, seemingly alone. He then fills us in on some hot gossip/handy exposition about a recently deceased Dr. Pendergast. At the local college—you know, that one with the football team with that quarterback? Yeah, that local college. Well, Pendergast was a beloved professor with some crazy ideas. He was researching…VAMPIRES! What A Kook! King of the Bush is NOT he.
Shortly after this loss, a vampire kills a young blonde co-ed. It’s serious now, a white woman died. The college professors and campus security schedule patrols for every night. One person in attendance has a dark secret, David Wells. He’s recently widowed and was a close friend of Pendergast. He even has Pender’s secret diary with his most secret secrets. Apparently, he was a vampire. Also…David is a vampire…with a thirst…for young, attractive co-eds. Blood too, apparently.
David’s buddy, and fellow professor, Frank catches up with David, but first he pervs on two young co-eds. These girls are David’s students. Frank glares as they walk away and says, “Why can’t I have students like that!” So they laugh off that creepy moment and all is fine. Another girl dies, shortly after. The victim was one of the students that Frank ogled as she walked away.
Meanwhile, a mysterious middle-aged woman snoops around David’s home. It was her childhood home. Her name is Laura. She knows David, but he doesn’t know her yet. They strike up a romance, but things are amiss. He wants to tell her, you know, but when? How? Can this love last?
Frank thinks that the killer is Pendergast, as a vampire. The campus police chief is totally fine with that and believes it. They tell others, and no one questions the possibly that it’s a vampire. The victims are bled to death with puncture wounds on the neck. You can’t blame them, for thinking that. David strikes again. He’s shot by the police chief. They think David was a victim. He asks Laura to burn Pendergast’s diary and his own murder notes. However, she reads them. She knows, but keeps his secret.
David’s “corpse” is on the way to Iowa, his home state, via train. Laura is on the train. She goes to visit his coffin. He awakens, fangs at the ready (though she is notably older than his standard victim). She screams. End of episode.
Where to start, well, I’ll start with Frank. The sexual harassment, it’s minor but really, really sticks out. Frank, who is supposed to the likable friend, leers at young women. These women are students. He is a teacher. This is disgusting behavior. Boys will be sexual predators. He never acts on it, as we see, but introducing him with that is a problem. If he is okay with perving on women so openly, what else has he done to or with students? It’s unnecessary and just doesn’t fit.
The story is not handled well, not that badly, but still bad. Laura is the main problem. Her introduction is clunky. You see a woman, creeping around David’s home. Why? No real reason. It just doesn’t feel organic to the story at large. She could just be a red herring, but her arc doesn’t work with that idea. That said, we already know very early on that David is the killer. Laura is completely unnecessary. I understand that it’s about David’s guilt, but it just doesn’t mesh together into something satisfying. There isn’t any suspense. There isn’t any intrigue. It’s just a bland and basic vampire story with very, very little vampire lore in it.
Some positives: the cast is great, the music is amazing, and the fashion is incredible. My favorite thing about 70s TV and film is the fashion. The oddly colored suits, the glasses frames, the choice of shoes, the accessories that people thought matched. I mean, it’s not nearly as incredible as in Rudy Ray Moore films (they are high watermarks of 70s cinema to me), but it’s enough.
ELEGY FOR A VAMPIRE is flawed, but fine.
© Copyright 2017 by Spencer Seams