Monday, 9 December 2013

William Castle's Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear)

I’d been slowly making my way through William Castle’s TV anthology series Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear) over the past year. Though it originally ran on NBC from 1972-1973, I wasn’t even aware of its existence until I came across a review of the Sony Manufacture on Demand (MOD) release of the complete series.

Based on the series’ limited exposure and short on-air history (one season), it’s fair to say that it was not a hit like similar anthologies Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. It did, however, attract significant behind the scenes genre names in addition to Castle, like Hammer Horror writer-director Jimmy Sangster and I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, as well as performers such as Janet Leigh, Jodie Foster, Karen Black, and Martin Sheen, among many others.

Originally, the show was called Ghost Story and featured Hotel Manager Winston Essex (Sebastian Cabot of Family Affair) as a sort of through line who would intro and extro each episode. Towards the end of its run, however, the show’s name was changed to Circle of Fear, the Essex concept was dropped, and each episode ran without comment. A sure sign of something not quite working, but did this revamp work?

The short answer is no. The changes were made to relatively inconsequential elements, when instead Castle and company should have been making sure that they had the occasional story that really stood out – the kind that people remember long after its episode has aired. Horror anthologies live and die based on the impact that individual episodes make – two or three per season may be all it takes to succeed. Instead, Circle of Fear offers an almost consistent level of decent quality that entertains rather than scares. Seen through the rose coloured tint of nostalgia, that’s enough for a watch, but not enough to make it a classic.

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