Original Air Date: February 22, 1974
Adapted by: Sam Dann
Starring: Paul Hecht, Dan Ocko, Bryna Raeburn, Robert Dryden
This is the first adaptation of a classic work in the CBSRMT series. They'd go on to do a lot of them. This is adapted from an 1887 story by Guy de Maupassant, a French writer of horror short stories who ultimately died, as E.G. Marshall stentorially intones, "broke, insane and alone."
The basic story is that de Maupassant, who is working on a story called "Le Horla" about someone going insane, has been having nightmares in which he feels someone is watching him and kneeling on his chest and doing other unpleasant things to him. He goes to a local doctor -- Dr. Cartier -- who is unable to diagnose anything physically wrong, but helpfully points out a lovely three-masted ship in the harbor.
Turns out that the ship is also called Le Horla, has recently arrived from Brazil, and hasn't put off any crew, taken on any visitors, unloaded any cargo, or loaded any cargo the whole time it has sat in port. Guy starts to get a baaaadd feeling about it, particularly when he realizes the name of the ship matching the title of his short story, which he thought he dreamed up out of whole cloth.
The remainder of the story involves Guy's attempts to convince everyone that he's not going crazy, while simultaneously acting pretty freaking crazy about whatever might be going on in the Brazillian ship. Guy is convinced that something is aboard that ship that wants to hurt him, or all of mankind and is invading his dreams. His suspicions are . . . uh . . . confirmed? I guess? when he hears of some kind of plague of insanity going on in Brazil, and further when he meets the captain of the ship in town, and the captain angrily tells him to stay away. Guy eventually decides that he has to board the ship and find out what's going on for himself.
Once aboard, the captain of the ship basically confirms to him that yes, the ship is "possessed" by some kind of being that can't be seen or fought, and that chooses its victims based on its own needs. It needed a ship, so it possessed Le Horla and its crew. It wants . . . I don't know? publishing rights to creepy short stories? So it has been trying to possess Guy. The captain advises Guy that "it" is sleeping at the moment, and that Guy should leave. Guy decides instead to set fire to and destroy the ship while he can, hoping to destroy whatever "it" is. The final scene involves Guy being carted off to a lovely, restful asylum, knowing in his heart that even blowing up Le Horla had failed to destroy "it".
The story is decent enough -- one of those horror stories where the horror comes from the overall creepy sense of impending doom and dread rather than from, say, vampires that sparkle in the daylight. It's not quite as narratively coherent as the actual story, since they made de Maupassant an actual character in it. In the story, the narrator (Not Maupassant) waves to the Brazillian ship and thereby invites it in. Nothing really that similar is done here -- the character de Maupassant says that maybe by writing his story "Le Horla", he "invited" the being in, but that's putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. The acting is fine enough, though Hecht, who plays de Maupassant, is the only one in the script who doesn't even try a French accent, which ends up sounding just sort of odd.
The narration by E.G. Marshall lays a kind of evolutionary spin over the whole thing that may or may not have been what de Maupassant intended. He keeps saying stuff to the effect of: "we had our turn, and it will be someone else's turn eventually." My sense was that the story was more psychological and emotional than that.