Monday, May 30, 2011
Fredric Brown on TV Part Seven - Tales from the Darkside: The Geezenstacks
by Jack Seabrook
“The Geezenstacks” was the first of three Fredric Brown stories to appear in Weird Tales (September 1943). The others were “Come and Go Mad” (July 1949) and “The Last Train” (January 1950). In “The Geezenstacks,” nine-year-old Aubrey Walters is a normal little girl whose Uncle Richard gives her a box of four dolls that he found on the sidewalk after they seemed to have fallen from nowhere.
Aubrey names the dolls The Geezenstacks, the four of them corresponding to herself, her parents, and her uncle. Her parents buy her a doll house, and all is well until Sam, her father, begins to notice that what happens to The Geezenstacks happens to his real family soon after. Sam wonders if his daughter is clairvoyant, but as the coincidences begin to pile up, he becomes obsessed with the dolls, alarming his wife and her brother.
Edith, his wife, decides to give the dolls away, and Sam panics when Aubrey decides to play funeral. The family decides on an evening out, and Edith gives the dolls to an old woman who happens to pass by in the back hall—the old woman “looked like a witch.” The family takes a taxi, enveloped in fog, and the driver goes too fast. The driver is a woman, and when she turns, Edith screams.
The story ends there, on a note of weird menace. Was the taxi driver the woman who received the dolls? Was she a witch? It’s not clear, but what is clear is that the end is not a good one for Sam’s family.
“The Geezenstacks” has been collected many times, including in Nightmares and Geezenstacks (1961), The Best of Fredric Brown (1976), And the Gods Laughed (1987), and From These Ashes (2000). It was adapted for television as the October 26, 1986 episode of the anthology series Tales From the Darkside, which ran in syndication from 1984-1988.
The TV adaptation is faithful to the story up to a point. Rather than finding the dolls in a box that mysteriously fell on the sidewalk, Uncle Richard finds them in an empty house that he is showing in his job as a real estate agent. The house had been vacated suddenly and mysteriously, and all that remained inside was the large dollhouse with the spooky, old-fashioned dolls.
Aubrey in the story becomes Audrey on TV, but Sam, Edith and Richard are much the same. On being viewed today, the show suffers from the 1980s hairstyles and clothes, as well as from what appears to be low-budget, videotape production. However, scenes end with interesting blackouts, and the score is unnerving, alternating between pizzicato plucking of violin strings and a more lush string arrangement toward the end. The direction features many close-ups and successfully establishes a feeling of claustrophobia in the family’s home, as if they are in a doll house all along.
The ending of the story is changed, and it actually works better on TV than does the ambiguous ending of the story. In the show, the family awakens one morning to discover that they are now miniature dolls inside the doll house and that their home is otherwise empty. Uncle Richard finds them, to his horror. A second twist occurs when another real estate agent arrives on the scene to find a doll of Uncle Richard lying dead inside the doll house, next to another, even smaller doll house, which contains The Geezenstacks.
“The Geezenstacks” stars Craig Wasson as Sam, looking exactly the same as he did in his starring role in Brian DePalma’s Body Double, two years before. His wife is played by Tandy Cronyn, the unfortunately-named daughter of movie stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The teleplay is by Nancy Doyne, and the episode is directed by Bill Travis, who directed three other episodes of this series. The evocative score is by Charlie Morrow, who now creates “sound design environments,” according to his website.
Brown, Fredric. "The Geezenstacks." And the Gods Laughed. W. Bloomfield, MI: Phantasia, 1987. 421-30.
"The Geezenstacks." Tales From the Darkside. DVD. 2010.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 29 May 2011.
Wikipedia. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://www.wikipedia.org>.