Nelson Orion (Martin Landau) is an architect who specializes in restoring old buildings. He is also a paranormal investigator who is hired to research haunted places and find ghosts. Henry Mandore (Tom Simcox) believes he is being haunted by his mother. His mother had a fear of being buried alive. When she died, her will instructed that her casket not be closed and that a telephone be placed in her crypt within reach of her coffin. The phone had a dedicated line that would ring in Henry’s bedroom. The number was only known by the late Mrs. Mandore. A year after the death of his mother, the phone begins to ring. Henry has been blind since birth. He has his wife, Vivia (Diane Baker) contact Nelson to see if he will investigate.
As Nelson investigates, he learns that there is more going on than just a prank telephone call. Nelson comes to believe that there is a real spirit amongst them, but it isn’t haunting Henry, it’s haunting Vivia. And the couple’s new housekeeper, Paulina (Dame Judith Anderson), is more than she appears to be. Her past is connected to Nelson and a supposed ghost that haunted a mission in a town called Sierra de Cobre.
“The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre” was released in 1964 and was written and directed by Joseph Stefano. It is an American made-for-television horror film. The movie was originally planned as a pilot for a television series similar to “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”. The show was conceived by Stefano and Martin Landau for CBS and was called “The Haunting”. The focus was to be mostly horror stories.
The movie is slightly involved, but each thread is woven nicely together making an intriguing story. In addition, the breathtaking cinematography of Conrad Hall is creepy and full of gothic atmosphere that punctuates the desolate and otherworldly location. The special effects for the ghost are better than expected for a television pilot. Every box for a satisfying creepy horror story is checked. Altogether it is a great movie and well worth finding.
There are several stories surrounding the pilot and why the series never materialized. The first was that when CBS executives viewed it, they deemed it too scary for television and the idea was scrapped. As Martin Landau put it, when seeing it “the executives soiled themselves”. Whether or not the pilot was ever aired is still being debated. The second story says it was aired and that there were complaints received by the viewing audience saying that it was too disturbing for television, which resulted in the series being cancelled. A third story says that the series was picked up but when the president of CBS, James T. Aubrey, was fired everything he had worked on was rejected, including “The Haunting”. Whichever story is true; the pilot was then expanded to a full-length film and released theatrically.
In 2018 a restoration was done and released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber. As an extra, the DVD also contains the original pilot, as well as extras that contain commentary for both.
The architect’s cliff house in the movie is actually a matte painting.