Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween 2014

I just want to wish everyone out there a happy Halloween! For more treats, you might want to check out my guest post at The Black Maria on "Classic TV Horror!".  Here at A Shroud of Thoughts I have long had the custom of posting Halloween pin ups on All Hallows Eve. Without further ado, then, here are the pin ups!


First up is Clara Bow, with a rather large jack o'lantern!

And here's Anna Nagel with another gigantic jack o'lantern.

The lovely Leila Hyams is a bit spooked this Halloween!

Veronica Lake is ready to cast a few spells.

 Paulette Goddard is ready for a Halloween party!

Audrey Totter is busy carving pumpkins!

And what would Halloween be without the lovely Ann Miller!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

It seems possible that Sir Alfred Hitchcock is the most physically recognisable director of all time. Many might not be able to identify Frank Capra or Cecil B. DeMille, or even more recent directors such as Martin Scorese or Steven Spielberg, but they know Alfred Hitchcock when they see him. There can be no doubt that much of this is due to Mr. Hitchcock's cameos in his films and his occasional appearances in the trailers for his movies (the trailers for North by Northwest and Psycho being prime examples). That having been said, much of the reason that Alfred Hitchcock remains so immediately recognisable is that he was the host of his own show, the long running suspense anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

It was Alfred Hitchcock's former agent and then president of MCA, Inc. Lew Wasserman, who came up with the idea of bringing the director to television in early 1955. When Mr. Wasserman brought up the idea to Mr. Hitchcock that spring, the director initially appeared reluctant to do such a series. Fortunately, he ultimately agreed to do it. To produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Mr. Hitchcock formed Shamley Productions (named for his summer home). The show would be made at MCA's television division, Revue Studios. While Alfred Hitchcock would serve as the show's executive producer, Mr. Hitchcock hired his former assistant, Joan Harrison, to serve as the show's line producer. Miss Harrison had written several screenplays (many for Alfred Hitchcock) and produced several films as well. Later, in 1957, Alfred Hitchcock's friend, actor Norman Lloyd, would be brought on board as an associate producer on the show. MCA sold the show to CBS and the sponsor Bristol-Meyers on the basis that Alfred Hitchcock would serve as the programme's host and would also direct the occasional episode, as well as serving as its executive producer.

As the host of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Mr. Hitchcock would appear at the beginning of each episode. His introductions, written by James Allardice, were tongue in cheek and often involved black humour and almost always ribbing the sponsors. Mr. Hitchock also appeared at the close of each episode, in which he would humorously explain the comeuppance that the perpetrators of any crimes in the episode might have received. While Alfred Hitchcock's introductions and closings might be humorous, the episodes of the show varied from black humour to deadly serious.

The episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran nearly the entire gamut of the suspense genre. In "Don't Come Back Alive" an elderly couple plots to cheat the insurance company out of money by faking the wife's disappearance. In "Arthur" a chicken farmer resorts to drastic measures when his former fiancée returns to him; the episode starred Laurence Harvey, Hazel Court, and Patrick Macnee. In "The Motive" two friends conclude that the perfect crime is one without a motive, and decide to prove their conclusion. In "De Mortuis" two men become convinced their friend has killed his cheating wife. The murder of spouses was a popular subject on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Indeed, what may be its most famous episode dealt with the subject. In "Lamb to the Slaughter" a wife murders her husband with a rack of lamb after she learns he is leaving her, then feeds it to the investigating police officers. The episode was based on the story by Roald Dahl and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It starred Barbara Bel Geddes as the murderous wife and Harold Stone as the detective on the case.

While most Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes were straightforward mysteries and thrillers, it occasionally ventured into the realms of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. In the first season's "Whodunit," an angel gives a murdered man the chance to relive the last few hours of his life in hopes of catching whoever killed him. The first season also featured an adaptation of Michael Arlen's ghost story "The Gentleman From America". In the third season's "Mail Order Prophet," a mail clerk begins receiving letters from the near future. In the fourth season's "Human Interest Story" a man claiming to be from Mars warns of an impending invasion from Mars. One horror episode was so horrifying that it would not air until the series entered syndication. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was written by Robert Bloch and based on his own story. It starred  Brandon deWilde, Diana Dors, and  David J. Stewart. Meant to be the finale to the show's seventh season (and its final season as a half hour show), "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was deemed "too gruesome" by Alfred Hitchcock Presents' sponsor Revlon and it did not air during the show's network run.

As might be expected from a show coming from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was very much a "prestige' show. Throughout its run the programme adapted the works of such writers as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Thomas Burke, Roald Dahl, Dorothy L. Sayers, Cornell Woolrich, and John Wyndham. Alfred Hitchcock himself directed a total of 18 episodes out of the 318 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Alfred Hitchcock Presents won Emmy Awards for Best Editing of a Television Film (in 1956 for the episode "Breakdown") and Best Direction (for Robert Stevens's direction of the episode "Half Hour or Less"), and the show was nominated for several more. In its time on the air it also won a Director's Guild of America award, a Golden Globe (for Best TV show), and the Venice Film Festival TV Prize for the episode "Man From the South.

Not only was Alfred Hitchcock Presents a highly respected show, but it was also highly successful, outliving many of its contemporary anthology shows. Debuting on CBS on 2 October 1955, it ran on CBS until it switched to NBC in 1960. In 1962 it returned to CBS with an expanded hour long format and a new title, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. When The Alfred Hitchcock Hour went off the air in 1965, it was not because it was no longer popular, but because Alfred Hitchcock had decided to end the show due to his own advancing age and the health issues that came with it. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ended its initial run on 26 June 1965.

In 1985 NBC revived the show as The New Alfred Presents. The show aired colourised versions of Alfred Hitchcock's introductions and featured a mixture of adaptations of the original series' episodes and original episodes. While The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents was cancelled after one season by NBC, it would run for three more on the cable channel the USA Network. The original series can still be seen in syndication to this day (ME-TV recently ran The Alfred Hitchcock Hour). The first six seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents have been released on DVD, with the seventh season forthcoming. All three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour are available on DVD.

Ultimately it seems possible that Alfred Hitchcock Presents could be the most successful American anthology series of all time. Counting the combined runs of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the show ran for a total of ten seasons. It has continued to be seen in syndication ever since. In fact, when many people picture Alfred Hitchcock in their heads, it is most likely as the television host with a macabre sense of humour. Alfred Hitchcock might have achieved immortality as a movie director, but it seems he achieved memorability as a television host.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Peeping Tom (1960)

In the oeuvre of director Michael Powell, Peeping Tom (1960) occupies a unique position. Alongside Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948) it numbers among his most famous films. Today it is also one of his most respected films and widely regarded as a classic. Upon its initial release, however, Peeping Tom was reviled by critics and generated a good deal of controversy. Indeed, the uproar caused by Peeping Tom when it was first released was so great that it has become the stuff of legends.

Given the film's subject matter it is perhaps understandable why it caused such an uproar upon its initial release in 1960. Peeping Tom is the story of Mark Lewis (played by Karlheinz Boehm, who was billed as Carl Boehm), a lonely recluse who works as part of a film crew and takes girlie pictures part time for additional money. Unknown to everyone, he also murders women and films their deaths with a portable motion picture camera. Mark's life is complicated when he meets a young woman, Helen (played by Anna Massey), whose mother is renting the flat below his in his late father's old house.

Peeping Tom began life as a screenplay by Leo Marks. Mr. Marks was a cryptographer who worked with the Special Operations Executive during World War II. Following the war he pursued a career as a playwright and screenwriter, writing the play The Girl Who Couldn't Quite! and the film Cloudburst (1951). For nearly his entire life Leo Marks had been fascinated by Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. He eventually decided that he wanted to write a study of scoptophilia. Mr. Marks's thoughts on scoptophilia eventually led him to the idea of a young man who murders women and films their deaths, with the camera essentially becoming a symbol of murder.

About the same time Leo Marks and director Michael Powell were planning a biopic of Sigmund Freud. This project came to an end when they learned that John Huston was also planning a film biography of Freud (which would come to fruition as Freud: the Secret Passion, released in 1962). Leo Marks then told Mr. Powell of his idea for what would become Peeping Tom. Michael Powell decided that would be his next film and told Leo Marks to write the screenplay. It was Michael Powell who decided up on the title Peeping Tom. When Mr. Marks objected to the title on the grounds that it might "get all the wrong people", Mr. Powell simply responded, "Well, let's get the wrong people in as as well as the right ones!"

Peeping Tom was produced by Nat Cohen of Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, with additional financing obtained through the National Film Finance Corporation. It was budgeted at £125,000. According to some reports Nat Cohen wanted to cast Sir Dirk Bogarde as Mark Lewis, but the Rank Organisation (to whom he was under contract at the time) refused to loan him out. Michael Powell considered Laurence Harvey (who had a recent success with the film Room at the Top), but he proved unavailable. Ultimately German born Karlheinz Boehm was cast in the role of Mark Lewis. At the time Karlheinz Boehm was little known in either the United Kingdom or the United States, but having starred in director: Ernst Marischka's films Sissi (1955),  Sissi – Die junge Kaiserin (1956), and  Sissi – Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin (1957), he was very well known on the Continent.

Peeping Tom was shot over the course of six weeks starting in October 1959. Much of the film was shot at Pinewood Studios, as well as on location at various places around London. It was photographed by Otto Heller, who had shot such films as His Majesty O'Keefe (1954) and The Ladykillers (1955), and would go onto work on such films as The Ipcress File (1965) and Alfie (1966). It was shot in Eastmancolor, the same process used on the popular (and then notorious) Hammer Films.

Peeping Tom was submitted to the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) not long after its completion. In all the BBFC required seven cuts to the film, including reducing some of the murders and cutting the shot of a nude woman (apparently the legendary nude shot of  famous glamour model Pamela Green). Even after the cuts the BBFC certified Peeping Tom "X", meaning that only people over the age of 16 could see the film.

Peeping Tom was released on 16 May 1960 to hostile reviews and a great deal of controversy. In the Tribune critic Derek Hill wrote, "The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer. Even then, the stench would remain."  Caroline Lejeune of The Observer claimed, "It's a long time since a film disgusted me as much as Peeping Tom." In The Daily Express Len Mosley wrote, "In the last three months ... I have carted my travel-stained carcase to some of the filthiest and most festering slums in Asia. But nothing, nothing, nothing — neither the hopeless leper colonies of East Pakistan, the back streets of Bombay nor the gutters of Calcutta — has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom." Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times thought Michael Powell had been tainted by the film, writing, "He cannot wash his hands of responsibility for this essentially vicious film."

Despite the controversy surrounding the film and contrary to popular belief, Peeping Tom did not disappear from British cinemas after only a week, nor was it withdrawn from circulation. Following its premiere Peeping Tom did brisk business at the Plaza in London for two weeks. The film also did well in pre-release engagements in such places as Bath, Bristol, Doncaster, Leicester, and elsewhere. An engagement at the Gala Royal on London's West End Peeping Tom proved very successful as well. Throughout the summer of 1960 Peeping Tom continued to do well at not only the Gala Royal, but smaller theatres throughout Britain. What is more, the film seemed to have some staying power in the United Kingdom. Indeed, according to the article "Peeping Tom: The Myths" by Steve Crook on the web site The Powell & Pressburger Pages, Peeping Tom played in Liverpool on a double bill with Revak the Rebel (1960) as late as 1962.

While Peeping Tom was not pulled from distribution as commonly believed, this is not to say that its initial release went smoothly. The film was banned outright in Reading, Berkshire on the basis of Anglo-Amalgamated Productions' press kit and the bad reviews it had received alone. It was also due to the controversy that Peeping Tom was pulled from theatres in the large ABC Cinemas chain after only a week. It is perhaps because ABC Cinemas cut short their run of Peeping Tom that the legend emerged that the film was pulled from distribution after only a week. As pointed out above, this certainly was not the case. In the end, while Peeping Tom was hardly a smash hit, it actually did modestly well upon its initial release in the United Kingdom.

Peeping Tom did have some difficulty getting distribution in the United States. At the time American International Pictures (AIP) distributed Anglo-Amalgamated's films in the United States. They distributed Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and would distribute Circus of Horrors (1960). Ultimately AIP passed on distributing Peeping Tom, feeling it would not appeal to their audience. Peeping Tom went through the entirety of 1960 and much of 1961 without finding an American distributor. At last, in July 1961, Astor Pictures announced they would be releasing Peeping Tom in the United States.

Sadly, Peeping Tom would not fare particularly well in the United States. The Production Code Administration required extensive cuts to the film in order to qualify for a production seal. As a result Peeping Tom was reduced from its British running time of 101 minutes to a mere 86 minutes. Perhaps because of the cuts the Legion of Decency gave Peeping Tom a rating of "B" (Morally objectionable in part for all); given the controversy the film had stirred up in the United Kingdom one has to wonder that the original British version would not have received a "C" rating (Condemned).

Regardless, in the United States Astor Pictures struck upon an odd means of distributing Peeping Tom. As might be expected of a film directed by Michael Powell, Peeping Tom played art houses. At the same time, however, it also played in grindhouses better known for low-budget horror movies or even sexploitation films. It would seem Astor Pictures could not make up its mind as to whether Peeping Tom was an art film, a horror movie, or a sexploitation movie. While Peeping Tom never made a good deal of money in the United States, it proved to have some longevity on the grindhouse circuit. It was still being shown in theatres as late as 1966.

Of course, here it must be pointed out that Peeping Tom was not the only notable film distributed by Astor Pictures in the early Sixties. They also distributed François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and  Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Unfortunately Astor Pictures overextended themselves not long afterwards and they went bankrupt in 1963. In 1969 Anglo-Amalgamated, the company that produced Peeping Tom, would become part of EMI. At some point thereafter the rights to Peeping Tom were bought by Brad Marks Enterprises Ltd., who retitled it Face of Fear and, with further cuts, released it to television.

Fortunately throughout the years Peeping Tom was able to overcome the controversy it had stirred up in the United Kingdom and its somewhat haphazard release in the United States. Over the years the film developed a cult following among film buffs. In 1977 the Telluride Film Festival held a tribute to Michael Powell at which Peeping Tom was shown. It was in 1978 that Corinth Films approached filmmaker Martin Scorsese about providing money for a re-release of the film. Mr. Scorsese, who had seen the American cut upon its initial release in the United States and had long been a champion of the film, agreed to give them $5000. If it had not been before, Peeping Tom was on the path to reappraisal.

Of course, it must be pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Peeping Tom did not end Michael Powell's career. In fact, his film The Queen's Guards was released in 1961, not that long after the controversy over Peeping Tom. Unfortunately The Queen's Guards received generally poor reviews and died a quick death at the box office. Even with the failure of The Queen's Guards, Mr. Powell would make several more films: Herzog Blaubarts Burg (1963), They're a Weird Mob (1966), Age of Consent (1969), and The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972).  He also did some work in television, directing three episodes of Espionage in the United Kingdom as well as one episode each of The Defenders and The Nurses in the United States. While Michael Powell's glory days might have been behind him, his career did not end with Peeping Tom.

As often been noted, Peeping Tom was released the same year as Alfred Hitchock's Psycho (1960). In fact, the premiere of Psycho in New York City was only a little over a month after the premiere of Peeping Tom in London. Some have even claimed that it was due to the harsh critical reception that Peeping Tom received in Britain that Alfred Hitchcock decided against holding a press screening for Psycho, although it seems equally plausible that Mr. Hitchcock did not want the press spoiling the surprise ending of Psycho. Regardless, the two movies are similar in several ways. Both deal with literate, mild mannered murderers who were the products of dysfunctional parents. Both feature the murders of beautiful women through either slashing or stabbing. And in both the murders come suddenly and, at least initially, unexpectedly. While Peeping Tom and Psycho do share a good deal in common, they differ a good deal as well. Peeping Tom features a much higher body count than Psycho. Indeed, while Norman Bates only seems to kill when the opportunity arises, Mark Lewis actually goes out and seeks out his victims. Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two is that while Peeping Tom was shot in lush Eastmancolor, Psycho was shot in black and white.

Regardless of any other similarities or differences between the two films, one thing that Peeping Tom and Psycho have in common is that they have both generally been considered horror films. Over the years there have been those who  have denied that Peeping Tom is a horror film, even though in its initial release the film was promoted as a horror movie on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the original posters for Peeping Tom in the United Kingdom featured the tagline, "Do you know what the most FRIGHTENING thing in the world is...?" Some posters in the United States went even further. They featured the tagline, ""More horrible than horror! More terrible than terror!" and prominently featured the spear with which Mark Lewis killed his victims. Regardless of what anyone thinks today, it would appear both Anglo-Amalgamated in the United Kingdom and Astor Pictures in the United States thought of Peeping Tom as a horror film and promoted it as such.

Beyond having been originally promoted as a horror film in its original run, over the years there have been those who have noted similarities between Peeping Tom and the slasher films that would emerge in the late Seventies and early Eighties. In her essay on Peeping Tom in the book Fifty Key British Films, Isabelle McNeill notes how Peeping Tom anticipated the slasher film genre. She quotes the characteristics of slasher films Carol Clover listed in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws that feature in Peeping Tom. Quite simply in the film  "...the killer is the psychotic product of a sick family, but still recognisably human..." and the victims are beautiful women. What is more, the locations of murders are not at home, but some "Terrible Place, and the weapons are something other than guns. Finally,the attacks are often from the victim's point of view. To Carol Clover's list Isabelle McNeill adds one more way in which Peeping Tom anticipates the slasher films of the Seventies and Eighties. Quite simply, Peeping Tom has its own "Final Girl" (the woman who survives to confront the murderer at the end) in the form of Helen.

While the resemblance between Peeping Tom and the later slasher films has often been noted, it has rarely, if ever, been noted that the film also resembles the concurrent Hammer Horrors as well. Indeed, despite the fact that Peeping Tom is set in London in the late Fifties and the Hammer Horrors in earlier times, Peeping Tom looks a good deal like a Hammer film. Like the Hammer movies Peeping Tom was shot in lush Eastmancolor. Like the Hammer Horrors a good deal of attention was paid to the detail of the sets for Peeping Tom. If Hammer had been making horror films set in the present day at that time, it would be easily to believe their sets might look like the sets of Peeping Tom. Beyond the look of the film, however, Peeping Tom resembles the Hammer Horrors in one other respect. Quite simply, Mark Lewis as played by Karlheinz Boehm resembles Dr. Victor Frankenstein as played by Peter Cushing. Both are aloof, clinical men who can be charming at times. What is more, both men are obsessed with their individual pursuits. In the case of Dr. Frankenstein that happens to be building monsters. In the case of Mark Lewis that happens to be murdering women to record their faces in fear as they die. At any rate, Mark Lewis would not have been out of place in a Hammer film!

Of course, Peeping Tom is not nearly as graphic as the later slasher films or even the concurrent Hammer Horrors. Despite the number of murders in the film, one never sees any bloodshed. That having been said, that makes it no less a horror film. In fact, I rather suspect many, perhaps most people, find Peeping Tom much more frightening than slasher films from the Seventies and Eighties (most of which aren't very scary at all) or even the classic Hammer Horrors. Michael Powell was able to build suspense in the various murder sequences of Peeping Tom without resorting to gore or shock tactics, to the point that they are very frightening indeed. For myself, the sequence featuring Moira Shearer as Vivian numbers among the scariest scenes in any film. It is true that Peeping Tom is not a traditional horror film. It is a horror film that is literate and cerebral, but it is a horror film nonetheless. Michael Powell described it as a "Freudian thriller".

While Peeping Tom can be considered a part of the cycle towards horror films sparked by Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, to a degree it can also be considered part of another trend in British film making at the time. Quite simply, Peeping Tom shares common with the films of the British New Wave a tendency towards social realism. While for the most part the films of the British New Wave examined the lives of the working classes in the North, Peeping Tom examined the gritty underbelly of London. Like the world of the British New Wave films, the world of Peeping Tom is one where class was swiftly becoming less important. It is a world where Mark Lewis, who is obviously upper middle class at the least, is free to interact with such lower class institutions as a newsagent's shop dealing in pornography and lower class Soho prostitutes. Like the British New Wave films Peeping Tom even makes use of real life locations.

That is not say that there aren't significant differences between the films of the British New Wave and Peeping Tom. Most of the British New Wave films were shot in black and white, while Peeping Tom was shot in striking Eastmancolor. Most of the British New Wave films were shot in a pseudo-documentary style while Peeping Tom was not. Still, there would appear to be more similarities between Peeping Tom and the British New Wave films than differences. Indeed, much of the power of Peeping Tom to frighten and disturb perhaps lies in that its milieu seems all too contemporary and realistic.

Of course, much of the power of Peeping Tom to frighten and disturb probably also lies in the fact that it is essentially a film about a filmmaker who literally kills to make his films and in doing so makes some unsettling statements about movie making and movie audiences. In his review of Peeping Tom Roger Ebert commented, "Why did critics and the public hate it so? I think because it didn't allow the audience to lurk anonymously in the dark, but implicated us in the voyeurism of the title character." Indeed, it must be pointed out that unlike other horror movies of the period (even Psycho), Mark Lewis is the protagonist of Peeping Tom, this at a time when it was generally taken for granted that audiences would identify with the protagonist. The film is made all the more disturbing by the fact that Mark Lewis, unlike many other movie monsters, is presented with some sympathy.

While Peeping Tom invites the audience to sympathise with Mark Lewis, however, at the same time most of the murders are shot from the victim's perspective. In these instances the audience sees what the victim sees. We see Mark Lewis's spear coming in for the kill. In effect the audience becomes the victim. Through his skill as a director Michael Powell insured that audiences would be both the victimiser and the victim in Peeping Tom, something with which most critics probably were not comfortable in 1960.  Martin Scorsese, who may well be the film's biggest fan, believed that Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom said everything that there was to say about directing. Of the two films he said, " captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates... From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films."

Of course, Peeping Tom is an extremely complex and sophisticated film, so that its themes go well beyond filmmaking and the participation of audiences in watching movies. In fact, it would probably take a fairly lengthy book to deal with the many themes upon which the movie touches. Peeping Tom not only deals with filmmaking and voyeurism, but such themes as the relationships between children and their parents, sexual repression, sexual perversion, violence, fear, and the collapse of the class system in post-war Britain. In many respects Peeping Tom is a potpourri of many of the anxieties plaguing the United Kingdom following World War II.

Critically reviled upon its initial release in Britain and suffering from slipshod distribution in the Untied States, Peeping Tom has come to be regarded as a classic. In 1999 the BFI ranked Peeping Tom number 78 in their list of the top 100 British films. In 2004 Total Film ranked Peeping Tom as the 24th greatest British film of all time. Once condemned by British critics as trash that was unworthy of director Michael Powell, in the end Peeping Tom has come to be regarded not only as one of Michael Powell's greatest films, but one of the greatest films of all time.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Shroud of Terrors: My Favourite Horror Blog Posts

Horror is one my favourite genres, so over the past ten years I have written several posts on the subject. Over the years I have written about horror in several different media, including television, radio, film, and comic books. Here are a few of my favourite posts from A Shroud of Thoughts on the genre of horror throughout the years.

The Golden Age of Horror Movies 2 October 2004

The Second Golden Age of Horror Movies 30 October 2004

The Warren Horror Comic Magazines 30 October 2006

The Horror Movies of Val Lewton 20 October 2007

A History of Hammer Horror Movies Part One 26 October 2008

A History of Hammer Horror Movies Part Two 27 October 2008

The 70th Anniversary of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" Radio Broadcast 30 October 2008

The Horror Movies of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford  30 October 2010

The Gothic Horror Film Boom of the Sixties 30 October 2011

Creating Monsters: Pre-Code Horror Films Part One 29 October 2013

Creating Monsters: Pre-Code Horror Films Part Two 30 October 2013

The Evil of Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Films 24 April 2014

Monday, 27 October 2014

Terror on the Newsstands Part Two: The Shudder Pulps

Among the most popular entertainments of the early 20th Century were pulp magazines. Pulp magazines were inexpensive magazines printed on wood pulp paper and devoted primarily to fiction. Starting with Frank Munsey's redesign of Argosy (originally a children's magazine) in 1896, pulp magazines grew in popularity in the earliest years of the 20th Century. By the 1910s pulp magazines started appearing devoted entirely to a single genre. Eventually there would be pulp magazines devoted to Westerns, detective stories, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In the Thirties there would even arise a genre entirely peculiar to pulp magazines. Known as the "shudder pulps" or "weird menace" magazines, these pulps superficially resembled those devoted to supernatural horror and dark fantasy, but specialised in a sub-genre of horror that had its own idioms and formulas.

The very first shudder pulp was Dime Mystery Magazine, published by Popular Publications. Dime Mystery began its life as a pulp dedicated to fairly straight forward detective stories and crime fiction. In its early days it featured a full length novel as well as a few short stories. Its first issue was cover dated December 1932. Perhaps because there were already a number of detective pulps on the market (Detective Story Magazine, Clues, Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, and many others), Dime Mystery Magazine did not sell particularly well. It was after a trip to Paris and a visit to the Grand Guignol there that Popular Publications co-owner and co-founder Harry Steeger came up with the idea of doing a magazine on the lines of the Grand Guignol, with an emphasis on extreme violence. Since Dime Mystery Magazine was failing, Mr. Steeger decided to change it to the "Grand Guignol" format he had conceived.

With its issue cover dated October 1933, then, Dime Mystery ceased to be a straight forward detective magazine and became the world's first "shudder pulp". It was Harry Steeger who developed what would become the basic formula for what would become known as "shudder pulps" or "weird menace" pulp magazines. While the emphasis in weird menace stories would be on horror or terror, there would be no supernatural aspect to them. Everything in the stories would be explained rationally, even if those explanations could be a bit far fetched.The horrors in the stories (which often involved extreme violence and even torture and outright sadism) would also be described in graphic (and often minute) detail.

Heroes of the shudder pulps almost always tended to be clean cut, red blooded American males. The women were always beautiful and always tormented by the villains. As to the villains of the shudder pulps, they tended to be of a more varied sort than the heroes. Mad scientists were perhaps the most common, but villains could also be leaders of cults or simply outright psychopaths. Often the villains had some sort of deformity. The one thing the villains all had in common was a strong streak of sadism and a desire to torture beautiful, young women.

The covers to shudder pulps were often more sensational than the stories contained in them. In fact, Harry Steeger once said, "I devoted more time and attention to covers than to anything else because I figured they were our salesmen." The covers of the shudder pulps numbered among the most notorious of all pulp magazine covers. They tended to be sensationalised, with scantily clad, beautiful damsels in distress being menaced by sadistic villains.

With its new weird menace format Dime Mystery proved to be extremely successful, so much so that Harry Steeger launched two new shudder pulps. The first issue of Terror Tales was cover dated September 1934. It was followed by Horror Stories, its first issue was cover dated January 1935. Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories proved so successful that some of Popular Publications' other pulps would be influenced by the genre. Both the hero pulps The Spider and G-8 and His Battle Aces were influenced by some aspects of the weird menace pulps.

Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories also proved successful enough that other publishers followed Popular Publications' lead in launching their own shudder pulps. Martin Goodman (later the publisher of what would become Marvel Comics) launched Mystery Tales and Uncanny Tales. Magazine Publishers (AKA Ace Magazines) launched Ace Mystery, Eerie Stories, and Eerie Mysteries. While some of these titles lasted only a few months, others lasted well into the Forties. Ned Pines (whose company was known over the years by such names as Thrilling Publications, Better Publications, and Standard Magazines) launched one of the longer lived titles, Thrilling Mystery. It survived until 1947, although it underwent a format change to do so.

Another one of the longer lived weird menace titles would also be one of the most controversial. It was also one the oldest. It was with a cover date of July 1934 that Culture Publications launched Spicy Mystery. Spicy Mystery was part of Culture Publications' "Spicy" line and belonged to a whole genre of pulp magazines that featured a greater amount of sexual content (the "spicy pulps"). Although mild by today's standards, at the time they were considered nearly pornographic. Hard as it might be to believe, the "spicy pulps" were one of the older genres of pulp magazines, having begun in 1912 with Snappy Stories. As a footnote it must be noted that Culture Publications was owned by Harry Donenfeld, who in only a few years would become co-owner of National Comics, one of the companies that would lead to the modern day DC Comics.

The trend towards shudder pulps reached its peak in the years 1935 to 1937. Not only did the general public take notice of the shudder pulps, but they were even the source of a good deal of controversy. In fact, it seems likely that they were referred to as "shudder" magazines even then. An attack on the magazines "Horror on the Newsstands" by Bruce Henry appeared in  the April 1938 issue of The American Mercury. Mr.Henry said of the magazines, "This month, as every month, the 1,508,000 copies of terror magazines, known to the trade as the shudder group, will be sold throughout the nation. Between the frankly lascivious front covers and their advertisements for masculine pep tablets in the rear, these contributions to Americans belles lettres will contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Krafft-Ebing the unholy jitters. (the "Krafft-Ebing" to whom Mr. Henry referred was famed psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing--Terence)."

After  their peak in the years 1935-1937 the genre of shudder pulps went into a slow decline. With its September 1938 issue Dime Mystery changed its format from the "weird menace" genre to that of the "defective detective" genre. For those unfamiliar with the genre, defective detectives are detectives with some sort of physical or psychological affliction (Adrian Monk is a modern day example).  Instead of madmen intent on torturing young women, Dime Mystery now centred such detectives as Nat Perry (who was a haemophiliac) and Ben Bryn (who couldn't walk). After1941 Dime Mystery became a more traditional detective magazine once again.

Popular Publications' other two shudder pulps, Terror Tales and Horror Stories, continued the weird menace tradition, although both were considerably toned down after 1937. Harry Steeger even launched two new shudder pulps in 1940, Sinister Stories and Startling Mystery. Both titles lasted only a few months. Other, older shudder pulps also met their demise in 1940. Martin Goodman's two weird menace titles, Mystery Tales and Uncanny Tales ended their runs that year as well. As to Popular Publications' Terror Tales and Horror Stories, both ceased being published in 1941. The final issue of Terror Tales was cover dated March 1941, while the final issue of Horror Stories was cover dated April 1941.

While many shudder pulps ceased publication in 1940 and 1941, yet other survived. One notable shudder pulp changed its format much as Dime Mystery had. Ned Pines's Thrilling Mystery shifted to a more traditional detective format early in 1941 and would last until 1947. While Dime Mystery and Thrilling Mystery moved away from the "weird menace" genre,  Spicy Mystery continued with very little change. This would ultimately be the undoing of the magazine. Indeed, even if the shudder pulps had not more or less run their course by the late Thirties,  their days would have been numbered given certain events in 1942.

Quite simply, the cover of the April 1942 issue of Spicy Mystery came to the attention of New York City mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.  The cover featured a woman, her clothes in tatters, dangling from a meat hook in a freezer, while being menaced by a hoodlum with a large and sharp looking knife. Mayor La Guardia,who had cracked down on the spicy pulps and other "dirty magazines" in the Thirties, then cracked down on pulp magazines. Even more mainstream pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, would be affected by the mayor's crackdown on the pulps; its covers by Margaret Brundage would be considerably tamer afterwards. As to the shudder pulps and the much racier spicy pulps, they more or less ceased to be.

In the wake of Mayor La Guardia's effort to clean up pulp magazines, Harry Donenfeld simply "sold" Culture Publications' "Spicy" line of publications to its sister company Trojan Publications (another company he owned). The "Spicy" magazines were then given much less titillating titles. Following its December 1942 issue Spicy Mystery became Speed Mystery, while Spicy Detective became Speed Detective and so on. Both the covers and the contents of the various magazines were also toned down considerably. The "Speed" titles would last only a few more years, with most of the line cancelled in 1946.

The shudder pulps represented one of the strangest cycles in any American medium. While they flourished only a short time (from about 1935 to 1937), there was a large number of them. In fact, it seems likely that their slow decline in 1938 was most likely due to a glut on the market. That is, there were simply too many of them. At the same time it seems likely that the "weird menace" formula was simply much too limiting. There were only so many times that seemingly supernatural menaces could be presented and then explained away in some rational fashion (however far-fetched) before the whole thing started seeming repetitive. Indeed, there have been those who have compared the plots of weird menace stories to the plots of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You with sex and violence added.

It is difficult to assess the influence of the shudder pulps or even if they had very much at all. It seems possible that they might have had an influence on the horror comic books of the late Forties and late Fifties (including those published by E. C. Comics). Like the shudder pulps, the horror comics often featured graphic portrayals of murder of mayhem.  Regardless of their influence, the shudder pulps were certainly remembered, at least by fans of pulp magazines. After all, they represented one of the more bizarre trends in pulp magazines--a time when a number of pulps portraying horrors that could be explained rationally (all the while emphasising torture and sadism) proved fairly popular.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Terror on the Newsstands Part One: The Horror Pulps

If you are familiar with the popular culture of early to mid-20th Century America, then chances are you familiar with pulp magazines. Pulp magazines were cheap magazines printed on wood pulp paper and devoted primarily to fiction. For most of their history pulp magazines sold for only 10 cents (in contrast to the more expensive slick magazines, that sold for 25 cents). In many respects the pulp magazines were the descendants of the dime novels of the 19th Century. At their height from the twenties to the Forties, pulp magazines covered a variety of genres. There were pulp magazines dedicated to Westerns, detective stories, science fiction, and so on. There were even the "hero pulps", that centred on one particular hero (the most famous being The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Spider). As might be expected, there were even pulp magazines dedicated primarily to the horror genre.

Horror stories had been featured in pulp magazines almost from the beginning. The first pulp magazine was Argosy, which started in 1882 as a children's magazine. By 1896 Argosy had evolved into what would later be recognised as a pulp magazine. The success of Argosy naturally led to other pulp magazines. Argosy and its sister magazine, The All-Story, published a wide variety of fiction, including the occasional horror story. In fact, the horror writer Tod Robbins and fantasists A. Merritt and Perley Poore Sheehan were published in The All-Story.

By the 1910s pulp magazines devoted to entirely one genre began to arise. Street & Smith launched Detective Story Magazine in 1915. In 1919 they launched Western Story Magazine. It was in 1919 that Street & Smith launched The Thrill Book, the first magazine that published a large amount of fantasy and horror. While The Thrill Book published its share of mainstream fiction, usually at least half (and sometimes more) of the magazine was devoted to fantastic fiction. Indeed, a horror story was included in its very first issue, the werewolf tale "Wolf of the Steppes" by Greye La Spina. The Thrill Book would feature stories by such fantasy and horror writers as Murray Leinster, Seabury Quinn, Tod Robbins, and Francis Stevens. Unfortunately, The Thrill Book would not prove to be a success. It lasted only eight issues before Street & Smith cancelled it due to poor sales.

While The Thrill Book proved to be a failure, the next pulp magazine that would publish a good deal of fantastic fiction would not be. Indeed, Weird Tales could well be the best known fantasy and horror magazine of all time. Here it must be stressed that Weird Tales was not exclusively a horror magazine. It published its share of outright fantasy fiction and even occasionally science fiction. It was both the home for many of Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery tales (including those featuring Conan the Barbarian) and Edmond Hamilton's space operas. That having been said, even as it was being published it might have been best known for its horror stories and it seems that it is the horror stories for which it is best remembered today.

It was in 1922 that  J. C. Henneberger and his partner J.M. Lansinger founded Rural Publications Inc.  J. C. Henneberger was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and macabre stories in generalIt as then natural that he would launch a magazine devoted to what we now call "dark fantasy". The first issue of Weird Tales was published with a cover date of March 1923. That first issue was priced 25 cents, which was more than most pulp magazines at the time (which generally cost about a dime).  That having been said, that first issue was also 192 pages, which was longer than most other pulp magazines (they averaged about 128 pages).

Weird Tales would have a bit of a rocky start. To a small degree Edwin Baird would shape Weird Tales as we now know it. He published many of the authors who would make the magazine famous, including  H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, and Francis Stevens. Unfortunately Mr. Baird did not always use the best judgement when it came to choosing stories. The May-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales included "The Loved Dead" by C. M. Eddy, Jr. with contributions to some degree or another from H. P. Lovecraft. The story not so subtly touched upon the then, as now, forbidden subject of necrophilia. Legend has it that the story was so controversial that particular issue of Weird Tales was removed from newsstands and even banned in the state of Indiana. Whether the legend is true, one has to suspect that "The Loved Dead" earned Weird Tales no love in certain quarters.

Regardless of Mr. Baird's choices of stories, Weird Tales lost money while he was its editor. In fact, after one year not only was the magazine not turning a profit, it was $40,000 in debt. Drastic measures had to be taken to save the magazine. While Edwin Baird would remain the editor of Detective Tales, he was promptly removed as the editor of Weird Tales. The job as editor of Weird Tales was offered to H. P. Lovecraft, who declined, and ultimately it was Mr. Baird's assistant, Farnsworth Wright, who replaced him as editor. An agreement was then struck with the magazine's printer, B. Cornelius, that he would become chief stockholder and if the magazine ever made enough to money to pay off the $40,000 owed him, then the stock would go back to the magazine's founder,  J. C. Henneberger. A new company would emerge from all of this, Popular Fiction Publishing Co.

As its editor Farnsworth Wright would be responsible for transforming Weird Tales from a struggling magazine to the best known dark fantasy magazine of all time. He continued to publish stories by H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, and Clark Ashton Smith, while introducing such new writers as Robert Bloch, Edmond Hamilton, and Robert E. Howard to the magazine. It was also Farnsworth Wright who hired illustrator Margaret Brundage in 1933 to create its now iconic covers. Miss Brundage's covers could be controversial at times, even among Weird Tales readers, as they often depicted semi-nude damsels in distress and often in bondage. She worked on the magazine until 1945.

It was in 1938 that Weird Tales was sold to William J. Delaney, who had recently acquired the pulp magazine Short Stories from Doubleday. The magazine's editor Farnsworth Wright did not adapt well to the change in management and disagreements on the magazine's policies soon ensued. Mr. Wright then left Weird Tales in 1940. Sadly, he died only a few months after leaving the magazine. He was replaced as editor by Dorothy McIlwraith. It was while Dorothy McIlwraith was editor that such writers as Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber,  C. L. Moore, Theodore Sturgeon, and Manly Wade Wellman were first published in the magazine.

Given its fame today, it might be surprising to many to learn that Weird Tales was not particularly profitable. At its peaks it never sold more than 50,000 copies each issue. In contrast Street & Smith's popular hero pulps The Shadow and Doc Savage sold anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 copies in the Thirties. While Weird Tales might not have had particularly large circulation numbers, it did have an extremely loyal cult following. As a result it actually lasted much longer than many pulp magazines. Weird Tales ceased publication with its September 1954 issue after 279 issues.

While Weird Tales was never particularly profitable, other horror magazines would follow it into the market. MacFadden Publications published the magazines True Story and True Detective, which occupied a place in between the pulp magazines and the more expensive slick magazines. In 1926 they introduced a companion magazine to True Story, Ghost Stories. Ghost Stories published some of the same authors as Weird Tales, including Robert E. Howard and  Frank Belknap Long, as well as reprinted material by such writers as H.G. Wells, and Charles Dickens. Ghost Stories lasted for 64 issues, ending its run in 1932.

Tales of Magic and Mystery was a rather shorter lived magazine.Tales of Magic and Mystery was devoted primarily to magic and even published non-fiction articles on the subject. That having been said, it also published its share of horror fiction. Among the stories published in the magazine were "Cool Air" by H. P. Lovecraft and "Ghostly Hands" by Miriam Allen deFord. The magazine was also notable in that it was edited by Walter Gibson, who would go on to co-create The Shadow, as well as write most of the Shadow novels. Unfortunately Tales of Magic and Mystery would not last long. When its publisher, Haddon Press, estimated the costs to publish the magazine they had neglected to include the price of paper. As a result Tales of Magic and Mystery lost money every month. First published in December 1927, its fifth and final issue was dated April 1928.

The first serious challenger to Weird Tales came in the form of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, known more simply as Strange Tales. Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror was published by Clayton Publications, the publisher of the successful science fiction pulp magazine Astounding Stories. It even shared its editor with Astounding,  Harry Bates. As might be expected  Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror published many of the same writers as Weird Tales, including  Hugh B. Cave, Paul Ernst,  Edmond Hamilton, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Williamson. Its first issue was dated September 1931. Unfortunately the Great Depression hit Clayton Publications very hard. The company accumulated a good deal of debt and eventually went bankrupt in April 1933. Clayton Publications sold their magazines to pulp magazine powerhouse Street & Smith. Street & Smith elected to continue Astounding (which survives to this day as Analog), but chose not to go on with Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. Its final issue was then its seventh, cover dated January 1933.

Unless one counts the notorious "shudder pulps" or "weird menace" pulp magazines (which I'll cover in part two), only a few more horror or dark fantasy pulps would emerge in the Thirties. One very short lived horror magazine would be a spin off from a radio show. The Witch's Tale was a horror anthology series that debuted on WOR on 21 May 1931 and later went national through the Mutual Broadcasting System. One of the earliest horror anthologies, it proved very popular. Its success led to the pulp magazine The Witch's Tales, the first issue of which was cover dated November 1936.  With the exception of a story by the radio show's director Alonzo Deen Cole in that first issue, it is widely believed that it consisted mostly of reprints. If so this could explain why The Witch's Tales only lasted two issues. Its December 1936 issue would be its last.

It would be in the last years of the Thirties that Weird Tales would once more see viable competition in the horror and fantasy field. The first was Strange Stories, published by Better Publications. Its first issue had a cover date of February 1939. While its editor was not credited, it seems likely that it was Mort Weisinger, who would later become an editor on the various Superman titles at DC Comics for years. Mort Weisinger edited several of Better Publications' pulp magazines.

Strange Stories was a fairly blatant imitation of Weird Tales, even down to its covers. Not surprisingly, it published many stories by writers who had written for Weird Tales, including Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Eric Frank Russell, and Manly Wade Wellman. Strange Stories would only last thirteen issues, with its final issue cover dated  February 1941. Some believe that it may have suffered due to competition from Street & Smith's Unknown (which I will cover below). This could well be possible. Originally costing 15 cents, its price was cut to 10 cents and its page count dropped from  128 pages to 96 pages with its August 1940 issue. At the very least, this would seem to indicate that sales for Strange Stories were not particularly strong. At the same time the demise of Strange Stories might have been linked to Mort Weisinger's departure to National Comics.  In other words, it might be more than coincidence that Strange Stories ended its run just as Mr. Weisinger left Better Publications.

Strange Stories was followed onto newsstands almost immediately by another fantasy magazine. The first issue of Unknown was cover dated March 1939. Unknown was published by Street & Smith and was essentially a companion magazine to their popular Astounding Science Fiction. Under John Campbell Astounding published only hard science fiction (that is, science fiction with a very firm basis in science). This meant that he had to sometimes reject otherwise good stories for the magazine. This led Mr. Campbell to consider launching a fantasy magazine in which such stories would be suitable. The end result of this would be Unknown.

In many respects Unknown would be a very different magazine from Weird Tales, even though both dealt in the fantasy genre. Essentially John Campbell required that the fantasy novels and stories published in Unknown follow their own internal logic. Quite simply, like the science fiction stories published in Astounding, the fantasy stories of Unknown had to obey some sort of laws. And while Weird Tales tended towards dark fantasy (often with an emphasis on the dark), the fantasy stories in Unknown would often be lighter and even humorous.

This is not to say that horror fiction did not appear in Unknown. In fact, horror stories often appeared in the magazine. Robert Bloch's modern day vampire story "The Cloak" appeared in Unknown in 1939. Jack Williamson's classic werewolf tale Darker Than You Think first appeared as a novelette in the magazine in 1940. Fritz Leiber's classic horror novel Conjure Wife first appeared in the April 1943 issue. Conjure Wife would later be adapted as the films Weird Woman (1944), Night of the Eagle (1962), and Witches' Brew (1980).

With its October 1941 issue Unknown would be renamed Unknown Worlds. Unfortunately it would only survive two more years. The paper shortages of World War II had a huge impact on pulp magazines, with the cost of printing them rising dramatically. Because of the paper shortages John Campbell faced the choice of continuing either Astounding or Unknown Worlds. Mr. Campbell chose to continue Astounding and so the October 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds would be its last.

Unknown would be the last major, new pulp magazine to publish a substantial amount of horror fiction. The paper shortages of World War II would take their toll on pulp magazines. Many reduced their page counts or shrank to digest size. Many were cancelled. At the same time pulp magazines faced growing competition from the relatively young medium of comic books. Things would not improve for pulp magazines following the war. Pulp magazines faced new competition in the form of the growing paperback market and television.

It was in 1949 that pulp giant Street & Smith cancelled nearly their entire line of pulp magazines, including such titles as Western Story Magazine, The Shadow, and Doc Savage. Astounding was one of the few to survive; retitled Analog Science Fact and Fiction in 1960, it survives to this day. Weird Tales, the most famous dark fantasy pulp magazine of all time, would cease publication in 1954. If the era of the pulp magazine did not end with Street and Smith's mass cancellation of magazines in 1949, it most certainly ended in 1955 with the demise of the American News Company, the company that distributed many pulp magazines and later comic books.

While the era of the pulp magazines would come to an end in the mid-Fifties, the impact of the horror pulps continue to be felt to this day. It was in the pages of Weird Tales that much of the work of such writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, and others were published, writers who would have a lasting impact on horror and dark fantasy in general. Like Weird Tales, Unknown would also have a lasting impact on the horror and fantasy genres. Quite simply, Unknown pioneered the subgnere of modern, rationalised fantasy . Even once the magazines ceased to be published, the writers published in them would have a lasting impact on authors ranging from Harlan Ellison to Ramsey Campbell to Stephen King. Though the horror pulps are gone, they are hardly forgotten.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (known simply as One Step Beyond in syndication) was an anthology that explored the paranormal, focusing on events that seemed to defy rational explanation. Over the course of its run, various episodes of One Step Beyond featured such things as premonitions, clairvoyance, ghosts, astral projection, parallel universes, and so on. While Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond covered some rather fantastic subject matter, the episodes were claimed to be based on true events.

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond was the creation of writer Merwyn Gerard. Mr. Gerard had a long career in radio, having written for such shows as The Whistler, Suspense, Escape, and Night Beat, before moving into television where he wrote episodes of such programmes as Robert Montgomery Presents and M Squad. Mr. Gerard's original idea was that of an imaginative anthology that would rotate each week between fantasy, horror, tales of the paranormal, and science fiction. Originally titled Imagination, it was later retitled Fantasy. Merwyn Gerard brought Collier Young in as the line producer on the show.

Mr. Young had been married to director and film star Ida Lupino, and had worked with her on such films as Never Fear (1949), Outrage (1950), Hard, Fast, and Beautiful (1951), and The Bigamist (1953). On television he had created the show Mr. Adams and Eve. He also brought Larry Marcus onto the show as a writer. Mr. Marcus had written on such films as The Red Dress (1954) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and for such TV shows as Four Star Playhouse, M Squad, and Wagon Train. As a director on the show and its host Merwyn Gerard brought in John Newland. As a director Mr. Newland had directed episodes of Robert Montgomery Presents, The Thin Man, and The Loretta Young Show, as well as the films That Night (1957) and The Violators (1957). As an actor he had appeared in the films and on such TV shows as Studio One, Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Kraft Theatre, and Robert Montgomery Presents.

In the end Messrs. Gerard, Young, Marcus, and Newland disposed of the idea of a show that would rotate between fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and science fiction. Quite simply, there had already been horror anthologies (Lights Out) and science fiction anthologies (Tales of Tomorrow), and they wanted to do something that had never been done. Given that except for the short lived quiz programme E.S.P. (hosted by Vincent Price) there had been no programme focused on psychic phenomena, the four of them decided they would produce a show that centred on paranormal events. They further decided that their prospective show would be based on fact. That is, each episode would be based on something that had actually happened. The episodes then unfolded as docu-dramas, with John Newland offering evidence as to the events portrayed in the episodes at their end. This naturally set One Step Beyond apart from the horror and science fiction anthologies that had preceded it.

The pilot for One Step Beyond, "The Bride Possessed," was written by Merwyn Gerard and directed by John Newland. It cost $30,000, a respectable amount for a television pilot at the time. Once the pilot was completed, the production team set about trying to sell it to a sponsor. In the end aluminium producer Alcoa Inc. agreed to sponsor the show for an entire season. As a result it would receive the name it would bear throughout its network run, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. Alcoa was one of the major television sponsors of the era, and had already sponsored The Alcoa Hour (which ran from 1955 to 1957) and Alcoa Theatre, whose run overlapped with One Step Beyond (Alcoa Theatre ran from 1957 to 1960). Ultimately Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond would prove moderately successful. It debuted on 20 January 1959 and ran for a total of 95 episodes (nearly three seasons) until 4 July 1961.

Following its initial network run, reruns of One Step Beyond would be syndicated until well into the Eighties. In fact, it proved to be successful enough in syndication that a new version, The Next Step Beyond, was produced for first run syndication in 1978. Unfortunately, it would not prove as successful as the original, only running for one season (25 episodes). As to the original series, it would be run on the Sci-Fi Channel in the Nineties and has since been released on DVD.

In many ways One Step Beyond was a pioneering television show. It as the first scripted series to deal with the paranormal.  It was the forerunner of such shows as The Sixth Sense, The X-Files, Medium, The Ghost Whisperer, and Haven. Indeed, in some respects it could even be considered an indirect ancestor of various reality shows dealing with the paranormal that filled cable channels in the Naughts.