Original Source: The Haunt of Fear
Directed by: Richard Donner
Ulric the Undying (Pantoliano), a circus performer who has the ability to resurrect from death, is laying in a coffin, buried six feet underground, and is reflecting on who he is and how he got to where he is. Ulric was a homeless bum who went nowhere in life, fast. He gets approached by a scientist (Vintas) who makes him a deal: one thousand dollars for the chance to experiment on him by transferring a gland from a cat’s brain to fuse with Ulric’s brain. The idea is that the gland holds a cat’s “nine lives” and if fused with a human, will give that person nine lives and will allow him to resurrect from any death. Ulric agrees and the doctor successfully transmits the gland to Ulric’s brain. Ulric doesn’t know if it works, so the scientist shoots Ulric in the head.
Ulric comes back to life and sees the potential of his ability. They go to the local carnival and make a deal with the ringmaster (Wuhl). The ringmaster can kill Ulric in any way imaginable and he guarantees that he will be brought back to life. The ringmaster accepts and gives the two a shot. At the first show, Ulric is placed in a water tank and drowns. At first he doesn’t come back to life right away, so the crowd turns on them and leaves. The ringmaster does everything in his power to bring them back, but the crowd thinks that they have been swindled. Suddenly, Ulric resurrects and the crowd goes back into the tent, amazed with what they just saw. Ulric the Undying becomes a big hit and makes all parties involved rich. However,the scientist takes a 60% cut of his earnings to help fund his research on cats.
Along the way the beautiful assistant (York) to the ringmaster begins to date Ulric and they fall in love. For Ulric’s second death, he is placed in a noose and is hung. The crowd goes wild and more people are going to watch him perform, making the circus richer and ultimately, the scientist and Ulric get richer as a result.
Ulric feels that it’s time to cut the scientist out of the deal and wants to take all of the profits for himself. On a rainy night, Ulric is driving the scientist into the city to conduct more research. Ulric goes over 100 mph and crashes into a brick wall, killing both of them. Ulric comes back to life and is delighted because he now has the chance to keep all the profits for himself, but it came at a cost of one of his lives.
Ulric’s next death is by electrocution via an electric chair. Ulric has become a media sensation and is now demanding 80% profits from the ringmaster, who begrudgingly accepts the offer.
For his next act, Ulric gets shot through the heart by an arrow.
As Ulric makes more money, he decides that he might retire and go live in Florida with his girlfriend, the ringmaster’s assistant. She doesn’t agree and blinded over greed, she stabs Ulric in the back with a knife, killing him and costing him another life. She takes most of his earnings and leaves town.
Ulric realizes that he has only one life left to spare before his ultimate death, so he decides to do one final act, but demands that he gets 100% of the profits from the show. Again, the ringmaster has no other choice but to accept Ulric’s offer because he is the reason his circus is profitable again. This leads us back to Ulric buried in the coffin.
As Ulric reflects on his life, he has a deadly realization: when the scientist originally killed the cat to experiment on, he took away one of the lives from the cat. That means Ulric has miscalculated how many lives he actually has and is at his 9th and final life. Ulric begs and screams for anyone to let him out, but no one can hear him and is left in his final resting place to die, for one final time.
Solid episode that dips its toes in the world of horror but still remains in the noir/thriller category. With two great character actors in the lead, this story goes down in my personal top 10 list of best episodes ever (I’d say it’s 7, maybe, MAYBE 6). Joe Pantoliano, a favorite character actor of mine, is fantastic as Ulric the Undying, a man destined for greatness but is overthrown by his greed. Robert Wuhl, another fantastic character actor, really eats up the scenery like a fat kid at an all you can eat buffet. His character seems like the template that would later be used in HBO’s criminally underrated series, which also starred Robert Wuhl, Arliss.
Each death Ulric receives gets zanier and zanier as the show progresses, so much so that you think to your self “really, really? Shooting him in the heart with an arrow behind a moving bear?” But it works.
The cheesiness of the storyline, deaths, and the twist is what really makes this a personal favorite of mine and an underrated episode that very few know about.