Friday, December 9, 2011


I first came across this flick over 25 years ago, when I tracked down a 16mm print of it at a friend's request. It was well worth the effort. Originally conceived as a pilot for a torpedoed TV series entitled "Black Cloak", about an occult-oriented detective working in late 19th century San Francisco, the film transcends any expectations--especially when you see that Leslie Nielson has the lead role of Brett Kingsford, a playboy/sleuth educated in the supernatural. With a house overflowing with mystical knick-knacks, a resourceful dwarf assistant Nicola at his beck and call, and a tongue firmly wedged in his cheek, the best way to describe this tale is "The Wild Wild West" meets H.P. Lovecraft... When a murderous fiend takes to the streets (leaving an ivory demon head at the scene of each crime), the baffled police call in Kingsford, who determines that a Sumarian demon is attempting a return to earth through the body of a human being. The killer is a chilling presence, always cloaked, with a hat obscuring his face and with big rubbery claws to slash up his enemies (O.K., so the make-up ain't so hot). And each murder provides yet another spoke on this demon's wheel to resurrection, with Nielson wearing disguises and consulting a Chinese wiseman in effort stop this unnatural being. Oh, it comes off much better than it sounds, with director Harvey Hart (THE PYX) overloading the production with creepy atmospherics (on a limited budget), fascinating props (what I wouldnÕt give to have some of 'em in my living room), and loads of namedropping thanks to scriptwriter Barre Lyndon (THE WAR OF THE WORLDS). There's also a wonderfully imaginative wrap-up which goes beyond anything you'd expect. And for the trivia compilers, that's Werner Klemperer ("Hogan!!") providing the voice of Professor Malaki, a fortune teller...A slight but chilling surprise, and so perversely fascinating that it's no wonder the network never picked it up.

© 1991 by Steven Puchalski.

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