Halloween 2020 has already come and gone; however, given that I believe the holiday should be celebrated throughout the entirety of the fall season and since we desperately need a distraction from the horrors of today’s world, I think it’s time to discuss some underrated horror gems that you most likely have never seen. This week, I’d like to draw attention to an episode of the classic anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled “An Unlocked Window.”
Everybody recognizes the name Alfred Hitchcock; in fact, he’s one of the few filmmakers whose name has become synonymous with the suspense genre. While most audience members are familiar with his contributions to cinema, fewer modern viewers are aware of his television work. Alfred Hitchcock created and hosted a show known as Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955 to 1962, before the program was upgraded from its usual half-hour runtime to an hour-long format and rebranded as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour — which ran from 1962 to 1965.
The series was an anthology, much in the same vein as The Twilight Zone, only with a crime/thriller emphasis rather than science-fiction. While the quality of the program notably suffered after adopting the hour-long length, one episode stood handily above the rest in terms of eliciting pure terror.
I remember watching this episode for the first time at a sleepover when I was around twelve years old — unlike most kids my age, I had developed quite an intense obsession with the show. I had heard all sorts of whispers and rumors on various internet forums pertaining to how scary this particular episode was. Sure enough, the episode scarred my young mind, and I had trouble sleeping for weeks after watching it. Yet still, it was an episode I returned to again and again, forcing new friends to undergo the initiation of watching it late at night.
“An Unlocked Window,” which originally aired in February of 1965 and was adapted from a short story written by suspense icon Ethel Lina White, begins by informing the audience that a serial killer is on the loose in a small, rural town. He’s killed several young women, who each shared one obvious similarity: they were all nurses. Naturally, this story follows two nurses as they spend one terrifying night in a creepy, old house out in the middle of nowhere, braving a vicious thunderstorm while armed with the knowledge that a killer may be lurking just outside. Our two heroes, Miss Stella (Dana Wynter) and Miss Ames (T.C. Jones) begins the story already on high alert, locking up every door and window…except, as the title suggests, for one window which remains forgotten.
As the night progresses, just about every classic horror trope is utilized: the aforementioned massive thunderstorm rolls in, strange noises are heard and the housekeeper, Maude (Louise Latham), swears she just saw the shape of a man standing outside the window. However, rather than feeling cliche, these elements have a strange and fun earnestness to them. The fact that this episode aired in 1965 and is shot entirely in black and white causes these tropes to come across as more original and less contrived, making it feel like the great-grandparent to modern television horror rather than a blatant rip-off.
Additionally, the way this episode was shot adds to its authentic, classical horror charm. The exterior of the house is the same building that was used as the Bates’ house in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The cinematography is effectively chilling, with the screen constantly covered in long shadows cast by the trees outside the windows, swaying in the violent wind. The musical score, written by the legendary Bernard Herrman, is utterly chill-inducing. And the plot develops in a way that, despite the genre conventions, still leaves the audience guessing at every turn.
As the night of horror wears on for Miss Stella and Miss Ames, they soon find their companions inside the house drawn away one by one. Their patient, Mr. Baker (John Kerr), is in and out of consciousness, the cook, Sam (E.J. Andre), is forced to drive into town to pick up a new oxygen tank, and the aforementioned housekeeper, Maude, progressively drinks herself into oblivion. Soon, it’s only Stella and Ames, alone in the terrifying web of the house’s creaking hallways, the thunder and lightning bearing down on them, and the unlocked window swaying open in the wind. And that is when the horrifying phone calls begin.
To say any more would spoil the story, which ends on a totally unexpected twist which cursed my twelve-year-old self with nightmares. Don’t spoil this one for yourselves — the finale is haunting. The shadowy cinematography, creepy images, eerie soundtrack and fantastic story all combine to make this the essential Halloween watch. I mean come on, it’s two women stuck in the Psycho house during a thunderstorm while a serial killer stalks them and makes unnerving phone calls, and it’s all in black and white. How more “classical horror” can you possibly get?
I highly suggest cuddling in front of a warm fire with a warm blanket and cup of apple cider and watching this episode of Hitchcock’s classic show for the ultimate Halloween experience. Additionally, I feel the need to warn readers that this episode was remade in the ‘80s as part of a revival of the show. As is the case with most remakes, I recommend skipping it and sticking with the original.
An Unlocked Window is available to watch on PeacockTV.
By Graham Burrell