[31 Days of TV Anthology Terror] Circle of Fear: Doorway to Death

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To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.

Like Darkroom, Ghost Story is another NBC anthology series that didn’t last very long. The William Castle-produced show achieved low ratings, which is why it was renamed Circle of Fear. The new moniker didn’t change anything; the series was ultimately cancelled.

1x17 Circle of Fear - Doorway to Death.mp4_snapshot_04.29_[2020.07.15_14.55.41]

A major complaint about Ghost Story, or Circle of Fear, was its tedious storytelling. Spookiness aside, often nothing came of the events that transpired. Audiences were used to sizable twist endings in other anthologies, but those were rare in this particular show.

One of the standouts, however, is “Doorway to Death,” an episode from the series’ tail end. A family of four — a father (Barry Nelson), his two daughters Jane (Dawn Lyn) and Peggy (Susan Dey), and his son Robert (Leif Garrett) — moves into a new apartment in San Francisco. The younger children are convinced the empty unit above them is actually occupied. Every time they open a closet door inside the seemingly vacant apartment, they see a man on the other side, chopping wood against a wintry backdrop. They befriend the stranger (Scott Thomas) while older sister Peggy dreams of him. Eventually, the younger children try to fulfill the man’s request of meeting Peggy. Their doing so will have dangerous consequences, though.

1x17 Circle of Fear - Doorway to Death.mp4_snapshot_40.27_[2020.07.15_14.56.18]

Genre author and screenwriter Richard Matheson of Twilight Zone fame wrote the pilot as well as developed the series. Otherwise, writers like Jimmy Sangster had to do the heavier lifting. He was no slouch as he had been an important figure at Hammer Studios. His penchant for atmosphere does not go unnoticed here, either; the episode’s success stems from the quietly worrisome tone throughout. So many clues are dropped like crumbs that the actual outcome isn’t all that surprising. Yet, when the story’s climax finally emerges, audiences will feel relief. Not because they want something bad to happen to Peggy, but because the worst is behind them. Or so it seems.

“Doorway to Death” has the qualities of a good Matheson story. It focuses more on engrossing plot than characters, which is something the aforesaid author was an expert at. There is no twist ending as what you expect to happen, does happen. That doesn’t mean the episode isn’t eerie. Rather, it satisfies your morbid sense of anticipation with absolute verve.

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