Why is this movie only 59 minutes long? That’s because it was a failed pilot for a TV series that would have been called The Black Cloak. The series would have been produced by Alfred Hitchcock’s television company, Shamley Productions, but it was considered too scary and violent for TV.
NBC sold it to Universal Pictures, where Hitchcock was under contract, and it played on double bills with William Castle’s I Saw What You Did.
Written by Barré Lyndon (The Lodger, George Pal’s The War of the Worlds) and directed by Harvey Hart (The Pyx), this opens with a caped killer — I love that Wikipedia refers to him as a “hump-backed, long-fingernailed, black hat-wearing, caped and demonically-growling figure” — murdering a woman before introducing us to Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen!). He’s a supernatural detective with a dwarf sidekick named Nikola who is on the trail of a Summarian demon that wants a body of its own.
That sentence alone should make you want to watch this.
That Summarian demon is using a series of Jack the Ripper inspired murders in San Francisco to enter our world. At each murder scene, police find an ivory statue that has a demon coming out of a man. With each new killing, the statue changes more and more.
As if things can’t get any stranger, an antique dealer just happens to have a mummified creature with a seven-spoked wheel, with each of the parts of the wheel representing a different murder that will happen. And before long, that killer is going to be coming for our hero.
Look for Peter Mark Richman (the annoying heel Charles McCulloch from that time Jason went to New York City), Judi Meredith (Jack the Giant Killer), Werner Klemperer (forever Colonel Klink), Bill Quinn (Dead and Buried), Vaughn Taylor (Psycho) and Peter Brocco (What’s the Matter with Helen?).
Jack Laird, who produced this, would go on to create Night Gallery with Rod Serling. Any of the silly parts of that show — like the ones starring Nielsen — can be blamed on him.
You can get this on blu ray from Kino Lorber, who continue to put out some really interesting movies.