Fueled by a creative mélange of Sunset Boulevard, ghostly curses and possible incest, the Nola Madison plot line, featuring an intensely motivated turn by Academy Award winning actress Kim Hunter, on The Edge of Night featured a cornucopia of delights for lovers of the horror genre. In 1979, faded movie queen Madison (Hunter) arrived in Monticello, the crime ridden city where this long running daytime drama (1956 – 1984) was situated. Tormented by her husband’s sudden infatuation with Deborah Saxson (Frances Fisher), a comely red haired police officer, Madison became obsessed with reviving her career via an old school terror potboiler named Mansion of the Damned. Nothing like a little star luster to ignite the passion, no? Of course, once in production, the film faced numerous gothic disasters – the withdrawal of Trent Archer (Farley Granger), its superstitious leading man, the mysterious deaths of both the production’s director and its publicity agent, various spooky apparitions and, eventually, murder.
Definitely inspired by Norma Desmond, in a fit of contrasts, the writers for the show made the alcoholic Madison more criminally motivated than Gloria Swanson’s famed delusional diva. Whether sending Saxon a box of poisoned candy, drugging the kindly town doctor (Joel Crothers), burning down the studio as a publicity stunt or impulsively killing a rival (Ann Williams) in a fit of hysterical rage, this deadly daytime dame was calculating and manipulative. Unsurprisingly, she was also superbly played by Hunter, who filled the role with subtle intensity and nicely motivated histrionics.
Adding a glimmer of scandal, Madison was also hiding the fact that her comely stepdaughter (Margaret Colin) and her son, Brian (Stephen McNaughton), weren’t biologically related as they both assumed. This tormented pair often found themselves in what they (and the audience) assumed were illicit clinches until the truth was finally revealed.
Hunter, best known for notable work as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, was perfect casting here. Her first film role was in Val Lewton’s dark scare masterpiece The Seventh Victim and she continued, throughout her almost 60-year career, to rack up credits in such genre projects as The Kindred, Two Evil Eyes, Bad Ronald and episodes of such frequently grotesque television shows as Night Gallery and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Granger also had quite the pedigree – from the sophisticated terrors of Hitchcock (Rope, Strangers on a Train) to creepy Euro terror offerings to a well-regarded slasher (The Prowler). Bringing all that history to the vain and increasingly nervous Archer provided viewers with a special treat – especially in his scenes with Hunter, wherein the two pros met each other, mightily, arched eye brow to arched eye brow.
Nicely, for the compulsory and the curious, the entirety of the plotline has been captured on the impressive YouTube channel, Mr. Edge 80s: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqc3_5bPbySszkWoSrO27zA
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!