A wild haunted house chiller that suffers from a weak ending yet is a great ride up until then, the Night Gallery story “Fright Night” is reviewed here.
Season 3 Episode 7—aired 12/10/72
“Fright Night” ***1/2
Teleplay by Robert Malcolm Young • Story by Kurt van Elting
Directed by Jeff Corey
Stuart Whitman as Tom Ogilvy
Barbara Anderson as Leona Ogilvy
Ellen Corby as Miss Patience
Alan Napier as Cousin Zachariah Ogilvy
Larry Watson as the Longhaired Mover
Michael Laird as the First Goblin (Trick or Treater)
Glenna Sergent as the Second Goblin (Trick or Treater)
Author Tom Ogilvy (Stuart Whitman) and his wife Leona (Barbara Anderson) move from New York City into an old rural house previously owned by Tom’s cousin Zachariah. They are warned by the stern housekeeper, Miss Patience (Ellen Corby), who never stays at the house past dark, not to touch a certain trunk in the attic. Zachariah’s dying words were that no one move, much less open, the trunk lest they be prepared for terrible consequences.
Tom sets up his writing area in the attic, struggles with his writing, and one day observes the trunk move! He comes down to bed, apologizes to his wife for the lateness of the hour, but she is confused because she says he came to bed earlier. He’s sure he did no such thing, then notices the indentation of a person’s head on his pillow.
We then get a special-effects laden sequence around the trunk in the attic where it sounds as though a man and a woman (spirits? ghosts? demons?) are discussing how to possess the Ogilvys. The next morning, Tom discovers something in his typewriter that appears to be a sort of plan for how to carry out that possession. He knows he didn’t write it and accuses Leona of playing a trick on him, but she says she didn’t write it, either, so he chalks it up to neighborhood kids playing a prank.
The most chilling part of the paper says “a young woman shall, with a white liquid scalding hot, pressed to her lips, and then forced down her throat, be executed by the young man, her everlasting soul in forfeit.” Considering Stuart Whitman looks to be about 50 and Barbara Anderson not yet 30, perhaps Tom should not have considered himself the “young man” of the note. Just sayin’.
Gradually, the Ogilvys begin to change, growing more and more short-tempered and combative with each other (shades of the writer and his wife in similar isolation in The Shining). Leona decides that the trunk is causing this change in them and, despite the warnings of the housekeeper, arranges to have it removed. Then, after its removal, it reappears again in the attic!
One evening as Leona is heating milk on the stove for Tom, they get into another argument. Tempers and milk both begin to boil over and Tom grabs the pan of scalding milk on the stove and in a terrifying moment is about to pour it into Leona’s mouth when the doorbell rings, breaking the spell of their fury.
They answer the door and both laugh in a relieved release when it is two young trick-or-treaters. It’s Halloween—all hallow’s eve. They give the kids some treats and the tension is only momentarily broken when they suddenly receive another visitor—the decaying figure of cousin Zachariah.
The ghoul enters and ascends the staircase, causing a blood-curdling scream from Leona (nice scream, Barbara Anderson!)
We then cut to the next morning and the “what the heck” questions begin. There is a new trunk there with a note attached saying “It will be called for.” Then they split with a for-sale sign on in the lawn. No idea what this ending means, which spoils the fun that happened up until then, but not totally by any means.
Jeff Corey, in his ninth and final Night Gallery directorial assignment, shows the talent he had cultivated during the previous eight outings. In both some subtle pans and also in the special effects shots, he keeps this story rolling and engaging. This one is a real thrill ride, reminiscent of Season Two’s “A Question of Fear,” though with a much more disappointing ending. That blame would go to the script, or perhaps to time restraints which prevented a more coherent denouement.