Monday, October 19, 2020

Fear No Evil: Introducing Dr. David Sorrell

He came before Carl Kolchak and Fox Mulder, but Dr. David Sorrell was successful in his chosen field and widely respected by his peers. He also tried to maintain a degree of scientific skepticism, but when he encountered patients troubled by the supernatural, he did what needed to be done to ease their torment. He nearly had his own series, to have been titled Bedeviled, but fate and the network had other ideas. At least we have two vintage TV movies, including Paul Wendkos’s Fear No Evil, which Kino Lorber Studio Classics has collected on a one-disk set with Ritual of Evil, releasing tomorrow.

Paul Varney is not in the right state of mind to buy antiques when he pushes his way into a small shop, but he has cash in hand. Varney writes it off as a case of drunk antiquing when he finds the conspicuously evil looking mirror in his flat. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really drunk. He will not have to live with it very long either, because after attending a party at Sorrell’s apartment, he is killed in a freak accident (that viewers can plainly tell was supernaturally induced).

Sorrell did not know Sorrell or his fiancĂ©, Barbara Anholt, before his party (they were friends of his mentor, Dr. Harry Snowden), but he takes a special interest in her recovery. She has the support of her would-have-been mother-in-law, who reconciles with Anholt, in their shared grief. However, Sorrell is concerned by her obsession with the sinister mirror, through which she believes she can still maintain a sexual connection to Varney. It seems to be depleting her vital energy, so Sorrell retraces Varney’s steps before purchasing it, which leads him to a weird esoteric “study group.”

Frankly, Louis Jourdan ought to be more widely recognized as a great horror thesp. He played Dracula and the villainous Dr. Anton Arcane in the
Swamp Thing movies, but he was also a terrific genre hero in the Sorrell movies. He sounds completely credible and rather soothing when treating his patients, so it is easy to buy into his success as a head-shrinker. It is also fun to watch him talking spooky stuff with the great Wilfrid Hyde-White, who looks like he had great fun playing Snowden, the more prone to accept the supernatural.

Lynda Day (not yet George) is fine playing Anholt, the woman in jeopardy. However, Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker himself) probably does the best work we know about as Varney’s slightly suspicious pal, Myles Donovan. Even after watching the entire film, it is not clear how we should feel abut him. Likewise, Katherine Woodville (ex-wife of Patrick Macnee) is intriguingly ambiguous as Ingrid Dorne, occult group’s office manager.

The David Sorrell telefilms are admittedly talky, but in a way some of us genre fans can appreciate. Screenwriter-producer Richard Alan Simmons (building on a Guy Endore story) clearly gave a great deal of thought to supernatural business afoot. There is a lot of context for the black magic, which Wendkos skillfully uses to quietly but steadily crank up the tension. Honestly, it is a shame
Bedeviled never went to series, because a lot of us probably would have grown-up watching it, but it is great fun to catch up with the Sorrell TV movies now. Very highly recommended for fans of The Night Stalker and the like, Fear No Evil and Ritual of Evil release tomorrow (10/20) on DVD and BluRay.