Monday, October 25, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Sedgewick Curse"

The Wild Wild West takes its first turn with horror in the fourth season with “The Night of the Sedgewick Curse.” The series id often hit and miss with darer stories, but this time around, it is a bulls eye.

Jim plays courier between Ulysses S. Grant and a high ranking government official who is vacationing at a health spa to treat a blood disorder. The official disappears from his hotel room moments after jim leaves. Our heroes are on the case.

The only weak point of the episode is the freak accident way in which Jim stumbles across the true plot. He winds up saving young Lavinia Sedgewick from crashing her stagecoach and is invited to dinner as a reward. The Sedgewick’s are Lavinia and her grandfather. They live in a creepy old mansion with both of them seemingly under the undue influence of Dr. Maitland.

The Sedgewick family, with the apparent exception of her grandfather, has a tradition of dying young. Lavinia’s brother, a biochemist, died a few months ago. In her family’s history, several generations have dabbled in witchcraft, the occult, and bona fide Satanism with local torch and pitchfork carrying villagers bringing forth their predictable end.

It is not revealed until the fourth act they were all in pursuit of eternal youth. Lavinia’s brother switched from magic to science and was on the verge of discovering it, but his formula caused rapid aging instead. He did not die months ago, but is being passed off as the very old, senile grandfather. Lavnia has roped Dr. Maitland into continuing her brother’s research. He has been using the local spa to kidnap clients with certain blood disorders for further research. Jim discovers the failed patients in the dungeon including the government official he is looking for, all dying of advanced age.

Artie, posing a someone with a blood disorder, tricks Lavinia into thinking the formula now works. It does not, so her worst fear comes true as she rapidly ages after injecting herself. The limits of the era’s special effects keep that from happening on screen a la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the final reveal of her looking 100+ years old was still startling now and probably even more so when the episode first aired.The rapid aging process turned her eyes brown, too. Scary.

“The Night of the Sedgewick Curse” is a very good, very creepy episode. The show is at it best when it flirts with high concepts, yet does not resort to camp in order to pull it off. The episode feels like one of the best Hammer Films of the day to me. I would give it four tars, save for the too convenient way Jim ad the Sedgewickses meet.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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