The old television series, “Night Gallery”, featured an episode I have seen several times since it aired in 1971. Though the series as a whole was hit-and-miss, I have always liked this particular episode; always found it to be spooky, and even sad. It’s about a psychiatrist, played by David McCallum, falling in love with a woman who happens to be a werewolf (or a variation thereof). I recently decided to look at the original source of this “Night Gallery” episode: a short story called “The Phantom Farmhouse”, written by Seabury Quinn and published in 1923.
The protagonist is a minister named John Weatherby who has been recuperating from some sort of temporary paralysis in a sanitarium in Maine. During his stay, he spends his time imagining an idyllic house and small family hidden among the trees of a nearby forest. One evening, after recovering his ability to walk, he takes a stroll outside the sanitarium and discovers that the house he had imagined is real. Though some apprehension accompanies his wonder, he is too intrigued not to pursue this discovery further. Later, he meets the house’s occupants: a middle-aged, kindly-seeming couple whose grown daughter is ‘as slender and lovely as a Rossetti saint; as wonderful to the eye as a medieval poet’s vision of his lost love in paradise’. The woman and her parents welcome him into their home and a friendship commences.
But a number of foreboding elements trouble Weatherby’s fulfilled daydream. For one thing, the existence of the house in the woods is denied by other people at the sanitarium. Plus, the family itself possesses a number of oddities: misshapen and red-stained fingers, hands frigid to the touch, and even some not-so-subtle canine traits, all of which the protagonist is willing to overlook. His attraction to Mildred, the young woman, outweighs all other concerns.
Within the horror and paranormal elements, a romance develops. Weatherby is in love with Mildred, and she with him; but her accursed condition presents an insurmountable obstacle to the fulfillment of this love. Readers should discover for themselves how all of this works out, but I found the ending to be haunting and touching.
The “Night Gallery” episode modernized much of the original material. But it did so in such a way that it remained faithful to the spirit of the short story. Still, the latter is for me more satisfying than the television program. I would not call Seabury Quinn’s “The Phantom Farmhouse” a great work of literature; but it is good, and well worth reading—especially for fans of the horror genre that do not require high doses of violence and sex in their fictional products.