Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) - The Kirkwood Haunting

Spidey goes ghost hunting and finds lions, tigers, and bears instead.

The Kirkwood Haunting seems like it should have been a special Halloween episode of The Amazing Spider-Man, but it came a little late, just like this article is being posted here on Life Between Frames a little early for the Halloween season. But I celebrate the horror genre the whole year, so watching The Kirkwood Haunting in September is just as fitting for me as it would be on Halloween, or on December 30th, which is the day when the episode first aired in 1978.

The story finds The Daily Bugle newspaper journalist/photographer Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond), who the viewer knows also happens to be the amazing Spider-Man, being given a special assignment by the paper's editor J. Jonah Jameson (Robert F. Simon). Jameson was acquainted with arms manufacturer Harvey Kirkwood, who recently died in a car accident. Feeling guilty because her husband stormed out of the house and drove to his death after they had an argument, Harvey's widow Lisa (Marlyn Mason) has come to believe that his spirit now haunts their mansion. Harvey's fortune is held in a living trust, and once Lisa passes away it's supposed to be given to charity - but now she is considering signing the entire trust over to the Psychic Research Institute, which has been helping her with this haunting situation. Lisa thinks Harvey wants her to do this.

What makes her think Harvey is still hanging out? Footsteps have been heard in the house, notes have been left in his handwriting, his tidy desk has been messed up, doors slam, glasses have been broken, a light appears in a certain chair, and Lisa thinks Harvey spoke to her through a medium. The servants are convinced, half of them have quit and fled. Dr. Anthony Polarski (Peter MacLean) of the Psychic Research Institute believes the Kirkwood mansion is haunted... but he would, wouldn't he?

Jameson has a couple reasons to want this haunting debunked and the Kirkwood fortune to stay in Lisa's hands. For one thing, a charity that would benefit when Lisa passes away is one that Jameson also supports. For another, he actually likes Lisa, which is a rare thing for him. Not only is Parker a Daily Bugle employee and a secret superhero, he's also a grad student in physics, so if anyone can prove there's not really a ghost in the Kirkwood mansion it should be him.

So yes, in this episode we get to watch Peter Parker play paranormal investigator in an spooky, dark mansion. One that's surrounded by exotic animals, because Kirkwood put together his own personal zoo and let the animals run loose on part of his property. Equipped with a special film that a parapsychologist at his school has been told was useful in ghost hunts, Peter sets out to snap a shot of a ghost. Or, ideally, not snap a shot of a ghost.

You might think Spider-Man would be of no use during a ghost hunt, and you'd be right. But he gets shoehorned into the episode anyway, because he has to be. When Peter, Lisa, and Polarski hear strange noises coming from the attic, Peter says he'll go check it out... and then, for no reason at all, puts on the Spider-Man costume to crawl up the side of the house and into the attic. There's no one out there to see him climb, and even if someone did catch a glimpse it would be even more suspicious if they saw Spider-Man doing what Peter just said he was going to do than if Peter appeared to have impressive house-climbing skills. Peter doesn't want anyone to see that Spider-Man is there, he ditches the costume quick before Lisa and Polarski see him again, so why put it on? There's no logic other than the fact that the costume needs to be in every episode.

Peter gets another excuse to put on the costume when rival journalist Julie Masters (Ellen Bry) sneaks onto the Kirkwood property, unaware of the dangerous animals there. Spider-Man has to save her from a bear, so this episode does offer us the sight of Spidey tussling with a bear for a couple seconds. If not for that, and even though the shots of Spider-Man and the bear are murky in the video that's available, I would have been fine if Peter hadn't put on the costume until the climactic sequence. Where he uses a web like a whip to scare off a lion.

Julie is in the entire second season, this was her fourth episode, and I'm not quite sure why she's around. She's not an important character, she's just there to get in trouble all the time. I suppose it was easier to keep Ellen Bry on as a regular than have to cast a new damsel in distress for every episode.

Directed by Don McDougall from a script by Michael Michaelian, The Kirkwood Haunting was obviously inspired by the story of the Winchester Mystery House. It doesn't go off in any unexpected directions, I'm sure most viewers who have watched this episode over the last forty years have known exactly what's going on here from the beginning, but it's not bad. It's not often that you get to see Spider-Man share scenes with bears and lions, and it's interesting to see how Peter explains the situation.

ABC never wanted to go too far into comic book territory when they were making this show, and that is even more apparent in the second season. The Captive Tower aside, the episodes of this season haven't felt like Spider-Man adventures. They're very low-key, so low-key that it rarely makes any sense for Spider-Man to be in his own show.

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