"Pigeons From Hell"
is the 36th episode from Boris Karloff's horror anthology series Thriller
(1960-62). The episode aired on June 6th, 1961 during the first season and is based on a 1934 short story by Robert E. Howard. It starred Boris Karloff as the host, and Brandon De Wilde, Crahan Denton, and Ottola Nesmith. The director was John Newland.
Two brothers, Johnny and Tim, traveling through the south get stranded and spend the night in an abandoned mansion. Johnny has a weird feeling about the house and is killed during the night, but appears to become a zombie and tries to kill Tim. Tim escapes and learns the story of the mansion from the local sheriff. The two return to the mansion and find Tim's body as well as some weird phenomena, leading to tales of voodoo and a person long thought dead.
While looking for episodes of Night Gallery
to watch, I found a list of the scariest episodes from classic TV and learned of "Pigeons From Hell
". I was aware of Thriller
and have seen a few episodes in the past, but this was my first viewing of this episode. I found it worthy of its reputation as one of the scariest TV episodes. It was very well done with a really creepy atmosphere and setting. The old mansion looked great, a perfect haunted house. The creepy atmosphere unsettles the viewer enough so that when the frightening scenes show up, they are really effective. The pigeons seem to be less important as the story turns to tales of past murder and voodoo but this is still a gripping horror story. The horror is subtle, leaving the viewer unsure of whether this is a haunting or a man-made horror but there are also punch-you-in-the-gut moments that seem out of place on early 60's TV. Thumbs up!
Johnny finding the mansion. Seeing the mansion through the swamp setting is creepy and the pigeons, while seemingly innocuous, add to weirdness when they attack, aided by Johnny reaction. Then, Karloff appears in one of the creepiest swamp settings ever. Karloff is at the height of his power as he sets up the story. Really great stuff.
Zombie Johnny. Johnny is "called" upstairs by weird singing. When Tim looks for him, he finds Johnny covered in blood from having his skull split and coming at him with a hatchet. This is first-rate horror, like a William Castle scene without the tongue-in-cheek.
Tim and the sheriff investigating the upstairs of the mansion. There's just enough subtle weirdness to be unnerving. You can't help but feel dread for the characters as the lantern slowly dies as they approach the haunted room and then rises as they leave it.
The pair visiting old Jacob in his shack. Jacob supplies invaluable information about the old inhabitants of the house and about the voodoo practices and zombies, but is then suspiciously killed by a snake. Engrossing.
The zuvembie attacking Tim. Tim gets mesmerized and almost has his head split too before the sheriff saves him. They then find the long dead inhabitants of the house in a great ending.
Pigeons From Hell intro
"Pigeons From Hell
" was written by Robert E. Howard(1906-1936) of Conan The Barbarian fame. It was written in 1934 and published posthumously in Weird Tales
in 1938. Apparently, Howard's grandmother would tell Southern Gothic ghost stories which featured "pigeons from hell".
Brandon DeWilde, who played Timothy, is probably best known for playing Joey in Shane
(1953) which was parodied in the "Shame" episodes of Batman
Ottola Nesmith, who played Eula Lee, had a long career dating back to silent movies and appeared as Aunt Enchantra in Bewitched
. She appeared in two other episodes of Thriller
, "Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper" and "The Hungry Glass".
Gold Key Comics published Boris Karloff's Thriller
for two issues in 1962 but changed the title to Boris Karloff's Tales Of Mystery
when the show was canceled. The comic ran for 97 issues, published until 1980.
You can watch "Pigeons From Hell
Pigeons From Hell