Sunday, 10 January 2016

Vincent Price invites you to a Black Mass in the Night Gallery’s The Return of the Sorcerer

“Good evening. We’re delighted that all of you could make it this evening because we have something special on tap. In the area of the occult it’s customary to preoccupy ourselves with witches, and too infrequently we dabble on the male side of that time-honored profession, the sorcerer. On display here is a painting showing the natural habitat of this species of black art practitioner: dark alley, murky light, a few sundry skulls, and the gentleman himself on the right of the picture with the upraised hand and the funny little goat horns. Yes indeed, this is a sorcerer, and for those of you who disbelieve his existence we invite you to check this out for a little while. Our painting is called The Return of the Sorcerer, and where better place for him to return than right here in the Night Gallery.”

The third and final season of Rod Serling’s anthology series kicked off on 24 September 1972 with this satanic tale (actually the fourth produced) directed by Jeannot Szwarc and starring Bill Bixby, Vincent Price and Tisha Sterling.

Adapted from the 1931 short story by Clark Ashton Smith, who was inspired by his friend HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology, it involves a reclusive academic, John Carnby (Price), who hires Arabic translator Noel Evans (Bixby) to divine an obscure passage from the infamous Necronomicon, which may help him fathom the mysterious death of his twin brother and fellow sorcerer, Helman.

But a monstrous curse of fire and dismemberment is attached to anyone who attempts to do so, which is why the two previous translators quit before finishing the job. To make matters worse, there’s something slithering and scuttling about in the shadows – and they may not be rats, after all…

A dark, fantasmique atmosphere pervades this richly-visual episode, helped greatly by the mystical paintings of William Blake that decorate the mist-filled sets dripping in blood reds and deep shadow blacks, and littered with genuine black magic ornamental trappings and Jean Cocteau-inspired human arm candles.

Add in a black mass featuring actual incantations (that creeped out Sterling), a sinister eye-rolling turn from Price, and some severed limbs crawling about, and you have an episode that’s guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

It’s also one that will have you checking out the original story by Clark Ashton Smith (I know I certainly did). But this being for TV meant some few alterations, like the introduction of Tisha Sterling’s seductive hippie assistant Fern and a bizarre scene involving a horned goat who is supposed to be Carnby’s father. Then there's that deeply unsettling ending…

The Return of the Sorcerer is available in the 10-disc Complete Collection DVD box-set  from Fabulous Films in the UK from 11 January 2016.

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