I just finished watching the episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller TV series called “The Weird Tailor” (1961) scripted by Robert Bloch from his own short story. By today’s standards the episode is a bit slow and drags in the middle; it could work better with a half hour cut out of it. But it is interesting for being one of the rare instances of Lovecraftian elements used in early TV.
The story concerns a rich man who is working on some kind of occult incantation within a pentagram when the spell kills his drunk son, who had wandered into the pentagram. The rich man visits a used car salesman who owns one of the last copies of De Vermis Mysteriis and buys the book to pursue its resurrection spell, against the dire warnings of his blind psychic advisor. He hires a tailor to create suit of cloth “woven not on this world” that would bring the dead back to life. The interesting Lovecraftian elements of the story are just window-dressing, though, for the show’s real interest, a pseudo-social-realism psychological study of the tailor’s abused wife and her morbid obsession with a cracked-up clothes dummy and his hideously ugly mustache.
Bloch’s interest in the psychological over the cosmic in his midcentury horror is obvious here; the way the story played out clearly owed much to Bloch’s novel Psycho (1959), which also used the old trappings of Lovecraftian horror as tossed aside props for an exploration of psychological issues. In “Weird,” it is the social issue of domestic violence that interests Bloch, though the final scene shows that the spell from De Vermis Mysteriis worked, and the dummy comes to life to free the wife from her abusive spouse.
“The Weird Tailor” was remade in 1972 as one of the episodes of the British horror compendium movie Asylum. In this incarnation, though, the story is condensed radically (though weirdly maintaining the Thriller dummy’s bizarre mustache), cutting out much of the Lovecraftian and nearly all the occult. The rich man is not developed except as a weird character descending at random into the tailor’s life. The domestic violence angle is much curtailed so the tailor can be seen as a more sympathetic character, and the wife’s morbid relationship with the dummy is all but absent, making her rescue by the dummy ineffective. Finally, to fit the conceit of the film (that each episode is the story of one asylum patient), the tailor lives, rendering the whole story moot. None of this is really an improvement.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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