Hammer on Television: Journey to the Unknown

Hammer Productions and Journey to the Unknown logos

Hammer’s forgotten horror anthology series, Journey to the Unknown, was broadcast over a decade before their House of Horror. But how does it stack up? Andrew Screen rides the rollercoaster into the unknown…

It is ironic for a company that rose to success on the back of cinema adaptations of TV series, such as The Quatermass Experiment (1955), that Hammer Films struggled to find a purchase in the area of television production until the 1980s when they had stopped producing theatrical releases.

After a failed pilot, Tales of Frankenstein, back in 1958, it would be another decade after this before Hammer made their second attempt on the small screen with the now mainly forgotten Journey to the Unknown (1968).

The big break for the film production company came after another failed television pitch, this time for a series based on their then box office smash One Million Years BC (1966). Besides this idea, almost as an afterthought, was a proposal for a horror anthology series under the name of Fright Hour. It was this potential series that caught the eye of TV executives, rather than the dinosaur series, and so it was discussed and developed further. Eventually, a deal was struck during February 1968 with Twentieth Century Fox, in conjunction with American television network ABC, for a budget of three million pounds for seventeen episodes for a series now called Tales of the Unknown.

The series underwent a further title change, now called Journey to the Unknown, before it was announced on 2nd April 1968 at a press reception at the Dorchester Hotel, London. Joan Harrison[1] (1907 – 1994), who had produced the US TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents between 1955 and 1963, was appointed as the showrunner for her ability to ensure a tight, but precise, production. The deal was also announced in the trade press; “Journey to the Unknown will be made in British studios and will be produced by British technicians. Each film in the series is scheduled to cost approximately $175,000. The agreement is believed to be the first of its kind negotiated between American and British companies with guaranteed American presentation and is the first time that Twentieth Century Fox, leaders in the American television production field, have produced a series in the United Kingdom.[2]”

London Weekend Television rapidly purchased the full run of the series despite having not seen a completed episode perhaps excited by publicity materials which promised: “from devil worship to murder, from reincarnation to supernatural powers and from terror to revenge[3]”. However this early confidence was soon lost, and the programme was treated very poorly when eventually transmitted in the UK, resulting in episodes mainly shown as an erratic schedule filler. Possibly due to this, and the lack of any kind of commercial release, the series has never built up a particular following and remains little-seen despite the enduring popularity of the Hammer brand.

The production of Journey to the Unknown would bring a welcome injection of fresh talent to the Hammer fold. Many of these new faces would become to be influential in the later history of Hammer with directors Alan Gibson and Peter Sasdy going on to direct the films Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Countess Dracula (1971) and Hands of the Ripper (1971). A sizeable chunk of an episode’s budget was allocated to the Fox requirement for each instalment to feature a well-known actor for American audiences to identify with and this helped attract such star names as Roddy McDowell, Stephanie Powers and Joseph Cotton.

Episodes began with an off-beat and evocative title sequence with a catchy whistled theme tune composed by Harry Robinson[4] (1932 – 1996) combined with point of view footage of an empty funfair rollercoaster plunging up and down on a track through a deserted funfair during twilight. This sequence was filmed at Battersea Park Fun Fair on their major attraction; a wooden frame rollercoaster called The Big Dipper. The ride suffered a major fire in 1970 but was rebuilt only to be closed for good after a fatal accident in 1972 which killed five children.

Production on the series began at the start of July 1968 at the MGM Studios based at Elstree and wrapped in October the same year. Joan Harrison was interviewed shortly after production completed about the issues around shooting the series in the UK: “We ran up against some problems because this was the first Anglo-American endeavour of its kind. But despite everything, it is still cheaper to shoot a series here than in America, and your cameramen and technicians are superior to those in Hollywood. I cannot speak too highly of them…Filming in London itself is not so bad, because you can always shoot interior locations when it is raining. We managed to use the London Zoo, the John Lewis store, one of the big libraries, and the Thames Embankment. This sort of thing is very expensive, but in London there is so much to shoot that it is not necessary to send out a whole unit.[5]”

Eve

The first episode to be broadcast was Eve (26th September 1968[6]) starring Dennis Waterman as Albert, a sensitive outsider, in a script based on the 1941 short story Special Delivery by John Collier, adapted by Michael Ashe and Paul Wheeler. Albert falls in love with his ideal woman, the only problem being that the centre of his affection is a shop window dummy that he believes to be alive. Carol Lynley played the mannequin as perceived by Albert, and Michael Gough appears as Albert’s horrible boss who meets a suitably sticky end. This was a gentle, low key start to the series from the capable hands of director Robert Stevens who had previously worked on the pilot episode of The Twilight Zone and several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Waterman demonstrates a promise and range he didn’t quite fulfil in his later career and Lynley does her best with a thankless, wordless role to imbue sympathy into the proceedings.

eve

Jane Brown’s Body

Cornel Woolrich, who had previously provided the source story for Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), also wrote the original 1951 short story that the episode, Jane Brown’s Body, (3rd October 1968) was based on. Stephanie Powers took the role of Jane Brown under the direction of Alan Gibson[7] in a story of a woman who commits suicide but is restored to life by a secret serum of which she requires regular injections of to remain alive. David Buck, who had recently appeared in Mystery and Imagination, looks after Jane’s needs as she now recalls nothing, not even her name, and is childlike in behaviour. Slowly memories of her previous life begin to return and her behaviour becomes more menacing. Adapting writer Anthony Skene provided a down-beat and melancholy story heavy on characterisation but with few chills or scares. The story often feels like a female version of the Terence Stamp film The Mind of Mr Soames (1970).

Indian Spirit Guide

Robert Bloch, who had recently supplied the script for the portmanteau horror film Torture Garden (1968), adapted his own 1948 story Indian Spirit Guide (10th October 1968) which displayed his signature macabre sense of humour. Directing was the Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker who had most recently completed work on Hammer’s film version of Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Tom Adams played a detective hired by a widow (Julie Harris) to help screen out fake mediums in her quest to contact her late husband.

The twist is that Adams is actually setting Harris up with a string of fake mediums in order to extend his employment. Adams would later make a memorable appearance as a villain in the horror portmanteau The House That Dripped Blood (1970). Glamour for the episode was supplied with the casting of Oliver Reed’s cousin, Tracy Read, as Adam’s girlfriend. The only genuine medium in the episode, Miss Prinn, was portrayed by Catherine Lacey, a horror veteran due to credits such as The Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) and more prominently opposite Boris Karloff in the cult Michael Reeves horror film The Sorcerers (1967).

Miss Belle

Miss Belle (24th October 1968) was based on the Charles Beaumont 1957 short story Miss Gentilbelle and directed by a returning Robert Stevens. The story contains no supernatural elements, instead viewers are treated to a psychological drama of sexual conditioning, blackmail and repressed lesbianism which must have nudged the boundaries of taste for the era. Miss Belle is a spinster who spends her time hating men and raising her ‘niece’ Roberta. However, Roberta is actually her nephew Robert who Belle is raising as a girl due to her hatred of men. 

The arrival of Drake (George Maharis), hired as a handyman around the household, upsets the status quo when he discovers the true gender of Roberta. Seven-year-old Kim Burfield played Robert/Roberta with a skill beyond his years and later appeared as Jim Hawkins opposite Orson Welles’ Long John Silver in the film Treasure Island (1972). Miss Belle was played Barbara Jefford who would later grace the Hammer film Lust for a Vampire (1971). George Maharis, who had been a star of the popular US TV series Route 66 (1960 – 1964), was the American audience draw. As a child, Charles Beaumont had been dressed in girls’ clothes by his mother and he drew upon this experience when writing his short story.

Paper Dolls

The fifth episode was Paper Dolls (7th November 1968) and it was directed by James Hill who had overseen instalments of The Avengers and The Saint as well as the feature films Born Free (1966) and A Study in Terror (1965). The script was sourced from the 1964 novel by Leslie P Davies, and adapted by Oscar Millard. Teachers Craig (Michael Tolan) and Jill (Nannette Newman) discover that four boys are telepathically linked after one of the psychically attacks a tormenting boy in class. 

As the teachers dig deeper they uncover the boys are all offspring of parents who were victims of Nazi experimentation. All the children were not raised by their natural parents but by adoptive ones. Each child has a unique talent and is able to telepathically link together in order to control others and drive them to suicide. The storyline is reminiscent of John Wyndham’s story The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) and the film version Village of the Damned (1960). The quads were played by twins Barnaby and Roderick Shaw who would both later feature in the Hammer film Vampire Circus (1972). Ubiquitous Hammer actor Michael Ripper supplied another variation of his bartender character in a cameo role in the episode.

paper dolls 1

The New People

Oscar Millard, in conjunction with John Gould, also adapted The New People (14th November 1968) based on the 1958 short story by Charles Beaumont. The episode marked the first time director Peter Sasdy worked for Hammer having been a freelance director with episodes of Out of the Unknown to his credit. He would go on to direct the film version of Doomwatch (1972) and Nigel Kneale’s chilling BBC play The Stone Tape (1972). The plot sees Hank Prentiss (Robert Reed) and wife Anne (Jennifer Hilary) move to a house in the country where they are quickly befriended by neighbours. They meet Luther (Patrick Allen) who they suspect is the leader of some local ‘swingers’ club. 

However, he is in fact something much more deadly and sinister. The sacrificial ending of the episode is grim and downbeat with a drugged Hank unable to move or look away as his wife is sacrificed. A disturbing watch. Robert Reed was the star draw for US audiences though he would become better known as the head of the family in the US TV series The Brady Bunch (1969 – 1974). Allen plays the role of the amoral Luther with relish, particularly when dressed as the Devil in a fancy dress party sequence, whilst further down the cast list are Adrienne Corri, Melissa Stribling and Milo O’Shea.

One On An Island

One On An Island (21st November 1968) sported extensive location shooting in Malta to tell the story of a pompous young man, Alec (Brandon De Wilde), who sets off sailing to celebrate inheriting a considerable sum of money. He becomes shipwrecked on an island before he is joined by another survivor in the form of an attractive young woman (Suzanna Leigh). They are later joined by another survivor (Bob Sessions) and it is not long before jealously leads to murder. Adapted from a 1959 short story by Donald E Westlake, whose novel The Hunter had been filmed as Point Blank (1967), the episode shares certain themes with the earlier story, Eve, with both featuring an imaginary female lead. 

Director Noel Howard was a distinguished second unit director on such films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Brandon De Wilde had found fame as a child actor in the film Shane (1953) which had led to an Oscar nomination for his role. Sadly a flourishing career was cut short when De Wilde died in a car crash only a few years later. Suzanna Leigh had appeared in the Amicus effort The Deadly Bees (1967) and Hammer’s The Lost Continent (1968).

Matakitas is Coming

The next episode, Matakitas is Coming [8] (28th November 1968), told the story of June Wiley (Vera Miles) a writer who is researching the murder of a librarian that occurred in 1927. As it happens she is conducting research in the exact same library and at the exact same time when the crime was committed. Engrossed in her work she does not realise the library has closed and she is locked in with no way out. She meets a young librarian, Tracy, who has also become locked in the building. 

The pair start to hear loud footsteps echoing around the building and then Tracy disappears and reappears! June comes to the conclusion that they have been transported back in time to the night of the murder and Tracy is about to become the victim. Vera Miles had played Lila Crane in Psycho (1960) as well as guesting in the Twilight Zone episode Mirror Image and episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who would later direct the 1981 TV series Brideshead Revisited, makes great use of darkness and light and uses several jump scares, before the episode ends in another downbeat manner.

Girl of My Dreams

Robert Bloch wrote the original story outline for Girl of My Dreams (5th December 1968) with Michael J Bird polishing the script adapted from a 1963 story by Richard Matheson. Peter Sasdy was back for a second crack at directing for the series. Despite these strong production credentials, the episode is one of the least successful of the series. Michael Callan, the obligatory US star, played Greg, an opportunist young man who meets Carrie (Zena Walker). She is a kind-hearted, naïve young girl who has the ability to predict the future. Greg realises he can make a small fortune by exploiting this talent and so he proposes marriage. 

Callan was a popular guest star in American TV series who had found fame in the sitcom Occasional Wife (1966 – 1967). Birmingham born Zena Walker was an established stage and screen actor who had appeared in The Prisoner episode Do Not Forsake Oh My Darling. Girl of My Dreams has few elements of the supernatural and plays more like a straight drama with a twist in the tale akin to anthology series such as One Step Beyond and Tales of the Unexpected. Walker brings a vulnerability to her role against a one-note performance by Callan.

Somewhere in the Crowd

In startling contrast was Somewhere in the Crowd (12th December 1968), based on Ray Bradbury’s 1948 short story The Crowd, which was one of the better episodes of the series though oddly the source story and writer are not credited on the screen. Michael J Bird provided the script with Alan Gibson directing American lead actor David Hedison as the news anchorman William Searle who has started to notice the same faces in crowds that gather at fatal accidents. Searle’s wife Ruth, played by Ann Bell, eventually convinces him to see a psychiatrist, Dr Baillie, played in a lovely cameo by Tenniel Evans. Searle meets a mysterious girl, Marielle (Jane Asher), and has a brief affair with her. Dr Baillie shows Searle photos of people who have died in accidents and Searle recognises several faces as being regular members of the ghoulish crowds that gather at accidents. 

The sublime and creepy conclusion sees Hedison die in an accident and become one of the faces in the crowd… The story would later also form an episode of the anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theatre. Jane Asher genre credits stretch as far back as the Hammer film version of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) where she had an uncredited role as a little girl. After appearing in Journey to the Unknown she would play the central role of Jill Greeley in Nigel Kneale’s seminal TV play The Stone Tape (1972).

Do Me A Favour and Kill Me

Do Me A Favour and Kill Me (19th December 1968) featured Joseph Cotton, soon to face off against Vincent Price in the film The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971), playing the once-great actor Jeff Wheeler who is reaching rock bottom. With a drinking problem, Wheeler is becoming increasingly difficult to work with. On his latest movie, Wheeler punches the director (Douglas Wilmer) and walks off set. He asks his agent (Kenneth Haigh) to kill him in order that his wife (Judy Parfitt) will benefit from his life insurance. He instructs his agent not to tell him where or how he will be killed, but Wheeler eventually changes his mind and is unable to stop the attempts on his life. Cotton had appeared in Citizen Kane (1941) and is excellent in the role of Wheeler, possibly drawing upon an affinity Cotton may have shared with the role at this stage of his life. 

Further down the cast list was David Warbeck who popped up in the Hammer film Twins of Evil (1971) before establishing himself as an action hero in 1980s Italian exploitation films. Overseeing them was Gerry O’Hara, a respected second unit film director, who jumped to full director for TV. Stanley Miller furnished a screenplay which was based on a short story by Frederick Rawlings and it is a straight forward psychological drama with no hints of the supernatural.

Critic Marjorie Bilbow was not impressed with the episode “To review a production such as “Do Me a Favour and Kill Me” presents a particular kind of problem, for how does one comment either favourably or unfavourably on a product so bland, so innocuously tepid? Like Brown Windsor Soup, it has its place on the menu. It doesn’t titillate the taste buds, nor does it offend them. It is simply there, to be swallowed down as part of a set meal…All in all, there was nothing particularly wrong with the play; nor was there anything particularly right. It was just there.[9]”

The Beckoning Fair One

The Beckoning Fair One (26th December 1968) was based on a 1911 short story by Oliver Onions with a screenplay by John Gould and William Woods. The director was Don Chaffey who had worked with animator Ray Harryhausen on Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and One Million Years BC (1967) as well as several episodes of the TV series The Prisoner though he would end his days on the US TV treadmill dealing with series such as TJ Hooker and Airwolf. US TV star Robert Lansing played Jon Holden, an obsessive artist, who moves into a house in Chelsea which is occupied by the spirit of a woman who died in the war. He becomes fixated, to the point of insanity, with the dead woman and starts to ignore his girlfriend (Gabrielle Blake). Lansing gives a fantastic performance as Holden descends into madness whilst director Chaffey imbues subtlety into a low key, but none the less effective episode.

the beckoning

The Last Visitor

Chaffey also directed the episode The Last Visitor (2nd January 1969) which starred Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke [10] playing Barbara King. She is a young woman recovering from a breakdown who takes a rented room at a seaside boarding house. The landlady, Mrs Walker, is a former actress who is played by Kay Walsh a veteran British actor with credits going as far back as the 1930s. One of her other roles included the little known Hammer film The Witches (1966) written by Nigel Kneale. Geoffrey Bayldon and Joan Newell played the next-door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Plimmer, and the sharp-eyed could spot former Doctor Who companion Michael Craze and future Tiswas presenter Sally James. Barbara attempts to settle into the guest house, but she becomes convinced someone is out to get her…

The cast and atmosphere in this episode are excellent with full plaudits gong to Kay Walsh for her performance of the twist ending which is an inversion of Norman Bates’ dressing as his mother in Psycho. This sinister episode was written by Alfred Shaugnessy who would later create the drama series Upstairs, Downstairs and was succinctly summarised as “a kind of demented Terry and June with a liberal dose of Pinter thrown in for good measure.[11]”

Poor Butterfly

Alan Gibson directed Poor Butterfly (9th January 1969) written by Jeremy Paul from an original story by actor William Abney. Chad Everett played Steven Miller who is invited to a costume ball at a stately home where he meets a young woman (Susan Broderick) in fancy dress as a butterfly. She pleads with Steven to leave before something terrible happens. He leaves, but returns the next day and finds only a ruined building, the result of a fire some years beforehand. The party was populated by ghosts… The cast also featured Bernard Lee and Edward Fox, with Lee playing a similar role – the head of a rural household complete with flat cap – to the one he had in Nigel Kneale’s television play Murrain (1975). An odd episode with an abrupt ending that just tails off without any real conclusion.

Stranger in the Family

Stranger in the Family (16th January 1969) was written by David Campton who had previously written the Mystery and Imagination episode The Fall of the House of Usher (1968) and the Late Night Horror episode The Triumph of Death (1968). Stranger on the Family had previously been filmed as an episode of Out of the Unknown in 1965. Peter Duffell oversaw the latest iteration of the script casting Anthony Coulan as a young man simply called Boy. He was born without fingernails and is mutant who possesses mind control powers that enable him to order others to do his bidding. He is on the run, hunted by men who want to experiment on him to learn about his powers. The episode had a powerful opening with Boy being chased and confronting his pursuer who immediately drops down dead in the unmistakable location of London’s South Bank.

The Madison Equations

The penultimate episode was The Madison Equations (23rd January 1969) written by Michael J Bird with direction by TV veteran Rex Firkin. The episode gave character actor Allan Cuthbertson a rare lead role playing a computer scientist along with Barbara Bel Geddes. Cutherbertson was seemingly ubiquitous in British film and television appearing in everything from Hammer films to Edge of Darkness (1985) via Fawlty Towers (1975 / 1979). Bel Geddes had appeared in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and would become a household name with her final role as Miss Ellie in Dallas (1978 – 1991). The couple are co-creators of Computex, a self-reasoning computer. Allan expects his wife is having an affair and in a fit of pique he reprograms the computer to short circuit and electrocute her. However, the plan backfires and Cuthbertson becomes the victim and dies. Jack Hedley plays an insurance investigator who uncovers the plot – the computer had fallen in love with Bel Geddes and is responsible for the plan backfiring.

The Killing Bottle

The episode was actually shot last in production order and can be seen as part of a collection of works of the period that cast computers in a negative light – 2001: A Space Oddyesy (1968), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)and TV play A.D.A.M. (1973).
The Killing Bottle (30th January 1969), based on L.P. Hartley’s 1951 short story of the same name, was the final episode in the original transmission order. The episode was written by Julien Bond and directed by John Gibson with Roddy McDowell as the US guest star for the episode. Barry Evans played a man who tries to have his brother declared insane in order to access the family inheritance. Evans had a tragic ending. By 1997 he had retired from acting and was working as a taxi driver when he was found dead in his home. He may have been the victim of criminal activity but no conclusion to his death was ever recorded. An inquest recorded an open verdict.

US television compiled eight episodes from the series into four TV movies each with two stories together with a newly filmed segment introduction the stories. Patrick McGoohan was the presenter for Journey into Darkness (1969) which compiled The New People and Paper Dolls and Sebastian Cabot performed similar duties for Journey to Midnight (1971) made up of the episodes Poor Butterfly and Indian Spirit Guide. Joan Crawford presented two; Journey to the Unknown (1970) containing Matakitas is Coming and The Last Visitor and Journey to Murder (1971) with Do Me a Favour and Kill Me merged with The Killing Bottle.

As with all anthology series the quality of the stories is variable though there are far worse anthology horror series out there held in favourable esteem. The production has been deprived of a wider appreciation due to copyright issues preventing any commercial release and this is a shame as when the series is good, it is very good at what it does. It lacks the Hammer Gothic “feel” due to compromising for the American TV audiences but has solid stories, technicians and acting to hold the attention. It’s a curate’s egg of a series and if you’re a Hammer fan or just want to track it down then a quick online search will show you where to point your browsers to view episodes.

 

Sources:
[1] Harrison had been Alfred Hitchcock’s personal secretary and script assistant and had first worked with him on his The Thirty Nine Steps (1935)

[2] “Anglo-American Tie-Up For Colour Film Series”, The Stage and Television Today, 4th April 1968, page 11

[3] Quoted in “Journey to the Unknown: A Traveller’s Tale” by Allan Brown, Timescreen issue 8, December 1986, page 31

[4] Born as Henry Macleod Robertson he would go on to score the British horror films The Oblong Box (1969), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Countess Dracula (1971), Lust For A Vampire (1971), Fright (1971), Demons of the Mind (1972), Twins of Evil (1972), The House in Nightmare Park (1973), Legend of the Werewolf (1975) and The Ghoul (1975).

[5] “Problems in Making a Series in Britain – By An American”, The Stage and Television Today, 10th October, 1968, page 10

[6] Transmission dates are for the first American broadcast. The series was shown on ITV in 1969, but became increasingly erratic.

[7] Canadian Alan Gibson would later direct the film Crescendo (1970) for Hammer which also starred Stefanie Powers.

[8] The script was written by Robert Heverley with Michael J Bird performing an uncredited rewrite of the material.

[9] “So Bland and So Innocuously Tepid by Marjorie Bilbow”, The Stage and Television Today, 12th December 1968, page 12

[10] She won the award for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker

[11] “Journey to the Unknown: A Traveller’s Tale” by Allan Brown, Timescreen issue 8, December 1986, page 31

Images:
IMDB and Classic TV Archiv

Andrew Screen

Andrew Screen

Writer on things film & TV by night, author of The Book of Beasts, an official guide to the Nigel Kneale series, ETA Winter 2020. SEN practitioner by day.

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