The episode is framed by scenes with art connoisseurs Larry Rand and Eliot Blackman. Based on their performances and the superfluousness of their parts, It is reasonable to suspect the producer of casting his relatives once again — they do have other credits, however.
In the opening scene, they are arguing over the authenticity of a Pickman painting. All but 4 of Pickman’s oil slicks mysteriously disappeared along with the artist 75 years ago. Rand observes that the signature “looks real enough.” This analysis doesn’t even rise to the level of tire-kicking when buying a used car.
Because he discovered the painting hidden in his current studio, Blackman believes the studio must have once belonged to Pickman. Fortunately, rather than filming a title search, the story quickly flashes back to Pickman picking up a few bucks by teaching a drawing class to a group of “young ladies of good families.”
He is showing the same painting — Ghoul Preparing to Die — to his class, telling them that it was the result of “drawing what he sees” and that it caused his expulsion from the Boston Art Institute, removal of two of his canvasses from the Cabot Museum, and a punch in the nose.
One of the ladies — Mavis Goldsmith — seems to have a similarly morbid style, seeing a vase of flowers and drawing them as dead and wilted. Pickman is intrigued by her drawing, but can’t resist drawing the beast’s face in the corner like a Mephistophelean Kilroy.
Mavis tracks Pickman down in a pub. She asks to go to his studio, but he refuses; no one even knows where it is. Fortuitously, the location is given away in a Pickman painting that she recently purchased. Both Pickman and Mavis’ uncle tell her of inhuman tunneling beasts that practice unspeakable acts in the area of his studio.
Mavis goes to Pickman’s studio against his wishes, and lets herself in. She wanders into his studio where she sees several paintings all depicting grotesque scenes, many with the same beast. Pickman discovers her and is in the process of throwing her out when there are noises heard in the hallway.
Pickman grabs a fireplace poker and runs out. The beast enters and begins carrying Mavis out, when Pickman attacks. There is a clue as to why Pickman always wears gloves as we glimpse that his bare hand is partially covered with scales — a product of the beast “pro-creating” with his mother. It is a very quick shot, and I suspect they realized this, so inserted the exact same piece of film a few seconds later so we get a second look.
The beast prevails and carries Pickman’s body down to the tunnels. Mavis calls her uncle to come loot the gallery. Her uncle says he must have been insane. Mavis says, “No, he just painted what he saw . . . and was.”
We return to the present day. Searching for additional paintings, the two men find a mysterious brick enclosure in the cellar. They start pounding away at it, hoping to strike it rich. The paintings are not entombed there, but something is.
The episode is so fleshed out that only the bare essentials of Lovecraft’s story remain; and one critical point is abandoned completely.
There is no Mavis in the story — her addition was necessary and welcome. In the story, the entire narrative is told by one of the dealers in the opening scene — that would have been deadly, especially with these particular actors. The two men are named Thurber and Eliot in the story (presumably after the writers) — Thurber’s name is changed for the episode. In the story, the main painting is called Ghoul Feeding, which is much more menacing than the episode’s defeatist title, Ghoul Preparing to Die.
The “Soylent Green is people” moment from the story involved Pickman taking photos and painting his backgrounds from them rather than painting them “live.” The final revelation that the beast was the subject of one photograph could have worked on TV, but I didn’t miss it.
Overall, great production and great performances from Bradford Dillman (Pickman) and Louise Sorel (Mavis). Good job on the adaptation, also.
- Twilight Zone Legacy: None.
- Lovecraft’s story was first published in Weird Tales, October 1927.
- Despite not being anything extraordinary, the Lovecraft story seems to be a favorite of many people. There have also been a number of productions of it, some switching the genders of the lead characters. And one CGI version that is like The Sims: Lovecraft.
- The only Cabot Museum in Boston is a fictitious one used by Lovecraft in other stories. Just a little harmless fan-service, I guess.