Thursday, October 21, 2010

Do Scooby’s Origins Lie at the Bottom of Boris Karloff’s “Well of Doo(m)”?

Would anyone mind if I SPOILED a 1961 episode of the television series THRILLER? …And then linked it to SCOOBY-DOO?
If so, please skip this post. If not, you’ve been warned. You may proceed…
LAST CHANCE: I’m REALLY going to SPOIL the ending of the THRILLER episode “Well of Doom”!

Everyone okay with that?

…All right, let’s proceed!
Boris Karloff, the actor and host of the TV series THRILLER (1960-1962), died on February 02, 1969.

SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU, the animated TV series, premiered on September 13, 1969.
Thus, we may conclude that Boris Karloff lived in a world that never knew Scooby-Doo.

While there is a segment of the readership that might envy Mr. Karloff his position on the Universal Time Line, I am not one of them. Especially, because it leads to such an unusually interesting Blog post!

As stated previously, I am presently enjoying THRILLER THE COMPLETE SERIES on DVD. THRILLER began as an anthology of crime / mystery stories and, later in its first season, became known for its great horror tales.

The crime stories were actually quite good! One (“The Big Blackout”) could easily have been expanded into a Humphrey Bogart film, and another (“The Fingers of Fear”) might be reasonably retrofitted into an episode of PERRY MASON.

But, ultimately, fans of THRILLER gravitate to the horror episodes – and with good reason. Those I’ve seen thus far: “The Cheaters”, “The Purple Room”, and “The Hungry Glass” (starring William Shatner and Russell “The Professor” Johnson) are excellent. Another, “Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook”, perfectly straddles both the crime and horror genres.

…And then there is
Well of Doom”.

Well of Doom” is a expertly crafted gothic horror tale, taking place on the Scottish Moors of 1961, where its protagonists (Ronald Howard and Torin Thatcher) encounter a demon/warlock (Henry Daniell) and his undead giant zombie slave (Richard Kiel).

Jerry Goldsmith’s outstanding music score and the eerie black and white atmospheric set (…picture LOST IN SPACE’s “Anti Matter World” in B&W, shrouded in dense fog) made for one memorable viewing experience.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with Scooby-Doo?
Just this… A suddenly unexpected twist occurred toward the end of “Well of Doom”. Something I’d wager was never done on TV before.

The warlock and zombie TURNED OUT TO BE ACTORS (!) hired by Thatcher to
(…Are you ready for this, Scooby fans?) scare Howard into signing over his land!

Yes, really!

You even see Daniell’s warlock out of his makeup, Mister Hyde-like top hat, and scraggly-haired wig, once he believes that the plot has been successfully executed! Kiel (…unfortunately for him) didn’t need to wear a fright mask – just some old tattered zombie clothes and a little pallor.

The most amazing thing is that Daniell and Kiel LOOK LIKE two characters that stepped right out of an episode of SCOOBY-DOO!

Look at these images and tell me I’m wrong! You can’t, can you? It’s uncanny!

So much so, that I can’t help but wonder if Producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera saw this episode (…We KNOW they watched a LOT of TV!), filed it away for the better part of the decade, and refashioned the “Well of Doom” concept into SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU!

What was a brilliantly executed one-time ruse on THRILLER (…where the terrors, at least to this point, were “real” within their story’s context) became standard operating procedure for Scooby-Doo – where EVERY ghost and monster was a phony masked “seeker of something”.

So, did Boris Karloff help give us Scooby-Doo?

You decide! BWAH-HA-HA!


ramapith said...

I'll give you Boris if you'll give me Felix the Cat!

These were run incessantly on TV in the 1950s up until the Joe Oriolo series took their place, so I'm very much willing to bet that the Scooby crew saw repeated airings of this...

Tell me that the last two minutes aren't shockingly Scoobylike.

Joe Torcivia said...

Okay, David… I’ll give you Felix – even though the reveal was VERY WEAK, and in no way set up by ANYTHING that occurred previously, but my point was more that Hanna and Barbera paid very close attention to then-contemporary PRIME TIME TV, and extensively mined it to their own ends.

There’s almost no need to mention the connections between The Flintstones and The Honeymooners – or Top Cat (and to a lesser extent Hokey Wolf) with Sgt. Bilko (“You’ll Never Get Rich”).

And merely WITHIN The Flintstones, the list of Prime Time parodies and tributes is nearly endless: Bonanza, Gunsmoke (in the same episode) The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Program, Candid Camera, Shindig, Bewitched, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Addams Family, Peter Gunn, Perry Mason, Ben Casey, Burke’s Law, and more.

I’d wager even The Great Gazoo was some manifestation of My Favorite Martian – in the plot structure of the episodes Gazoo appeared in. (Unexplainable things or occurrences created by a supernatural man no one else is aware of were standards of both series.)

Specific TV characters like Chester Goode (Gunsmoke) and Col. Hall (Bilko) were tributed in Ricochet Rabbit and Breezly and Sneezly respectively.

Huckleberry Hound once mentioned “Perry Mason” BY NAME. Not a “parody name” like The Flintstones’ “Perry Masonry” – but “Perry Mason”, himself.

And, if there’s any need to prove definitively that Bill and Joe were aware of THRILLER, it’s that the distinctive graphic opening of THRILLER was parodied in Snooper and Blabber’s “Chilly Chiller” (1961).

Happily, this cartoon is available for all to see on the DVD set “Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2”!

Just because the “phony ghost ruse” was used in this artifact of ancient animation, doesn’t mean it influenced something in a similar vein many decades later. THRILLER occurred smack in the center of H-B’s prime period for media influences and WAS actually parodied in an H-B cartoon. Based on that, I give it to THRILLER and H&B’s predilection for parodies and tributes to the prime time television series of the day.

Of course, we’re probably both wrong, and Fred Silverman came up with the whole idea!

ramapith said...

"Even though the reveal was VERY WEAK..."

Hey, we've all got to start somewhere (though the reviews of 1923 actually trashed Messmer for having the "ghost" do things that a disguised human couldn't, like flying and disappearing. They had standards even then, and viewers knew a below-average Felix when they saw it!).

Joe Torcivia said...

That’s exactly what I meant by “VERY WEAK”!

Messmer didn’t “play fair” with the viewers – even by the presumed minimal standards of 1923.

After all the animated ghostly and supernatural hijinks, how could it possibly be a land-grabbing human?! Much less, one utilizing the “available technology” of 1923.

Say what you want about Scooby-Doo, it always played fair with the viewers in that regard. Indeed, early on, sometimes the disguised human was the ONLY incidental character encountered during the entire story.

Boris Karloff and THRILLER’s writers also played fair in the same way. Everything the warlock and zombie did was either explained in character exposition, or presumed to be satisfactorily explained merely by expanding on said exposition.

Just as Carl Barks played fair in his Duck stories of ghosts, werewolves, etc.

Yes, of course it was a cartoon – and a 1923 cartoon at that – and I’m not the scholar on the era that you are… But, it seems to me that most others things I’ve seen in that general time frame (silents to early talkies – Oswald to Mickey, etc) at least held to their own “internal logic” – as bizarre as it often was!

In view of the overwhelming evidence, I’m going to penalize Felix “fifteen yards and a loss of down” (Even though DUCKS, not cats, have “down”!) – and share the prize among Boris Karloff, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera… and, of course, Fred Silverman!