After Sterling's introduction into the episode, it begins with Bostonians Eliot Blackman (Joshua Bryant, 'Salem's Lot' 1979) and Larry Rand (Jock Livingston, 'The Devil's Daughter' 1973) discussing the possible authenticity of a painting (above) discovered by Eliot in the cheap, North End studio that he had started rented. As the men speculate, they start to suspect that this may also be the very apartment that was used by the painter in question, Richard Upton Pickman (Bradford Dillman, 'Piranha' 1978). Cue the flashback, we're taken to a classroom where Pickman teaches a still life session to his current pupils, daughters from well-to-do families. One young lady in particular has her eye on the professor, charmed by a combination of Pickman's dark mood and handsome looks. Yes, unfortunately, this adaptation adds a romantic air where none should be found. Still, this is the only particular point that dramatically diverges from the original.
During the lecture, Pickman not only catches Miss Goldsmith (Louise Sorel, 'The Curse of Dracula' 1979) sketching the artificial flowers in their still life as wilted, but also himself. It's quite obvious that she is infatuated with him, though his half of the conversation is cold as he draws over the partial portrait, changing it into a bestial face. "Beware of self-portraits, ladies. At the least you may lose an ear [like Van Gogh], while at the worst you run the danger of revealing... your soul," warns Pickman as he finishes discussing his own self-discovery, which drastically changed the subject matter of his artwork and ultimately resulted in his expulsion from the Boston Art Institute. To keep afloat Pickman had taken on pupils. But a lady from the Institute, which funds these lessons and supplies the students, arrives after the session to inform him that his services are no longer required due to parental disapproval.
Miss Goldsmith overhears the conversation and follows Pickman to a pub in Canbury Lane, a less than genteel part of Boston, and confronts him again. Brashly she sits down at the table with Pickman, despite his disapproval, and gleans that the rumors are true, that he is infact working on a sequence of horrifying paintings. Eagerly she presses him for more about it. Defeated by Miss Goldsmith's enthusiasm, he describes the inspiration, a legend "that tells of an eldritch race more foul and loathsome than the putrid slime that clings to the walls of Hell. Twisted creatures... half men, half beast. They move with the rostering sound of predatory rats, carrying with them the stench of the charnel house. Wretched mutations that live deep beneath the earth in dark tunnels, surfacing in the dead of night and returning before dawn. Practice their unspeakable acts... breed their filthy spawn... until the day arrives when their swollen numbers will finally emerge and ravish the earth like a noxious plague."
After this haunting telling, which has chilled even her normally sunny demeanor, Miss Goldsmith insists on accompanying Pickman to his studio and seeing his work. Even a confession of love, which does take him somewhat off guard, is not enough to to sway Pickman and promptly leaves the pub. However, in his haste Pickman accidentally leaves behind his painting "Ghoul Preparing to Dine". Back home, Miss Goldsmith talks with her Uncle George (Donald Moffat, 'The Thing' 1982), who relates a near century old myth circulating around about North End, about an alleged breed of creatures that had tunneled beneath that part of Boston, linking them with the burial grounds and the sea from whence they came. "To some," Uncle George adds, "it became a fanatical obsession [to prove that these creatures existed], particularly to those whose womenfolk had disappeared in the dead of night. It was believed that these creatures had carried them off to their subterranean dwellings for purposes of... erm, procreation." Traps failed as did attempts to smoke them out. In desperation, they sealed off every underground opening that they could find.
Using the painting depicting North End that Miss Goldsmith had purchased, she deduces that it is from the vantage point of Pickman's studio and tracks it down. Meaning to return his other painting, she calls and knocks at the dilapidated building's door only to receive no answer. Inside though, a clawed hand gently pulls a curtain aside to view Miss Goldsmith, unnoticed. Something in the shadows quickly scurries up the stairs when Miss Goldsmith enters, again eluding her detection. A little frightened when the gas lights inside snuff out, she hastens herself upstairs, still calling for Richard to no avail as a pair of red eyes watch from the dark. Miss Goldsmith rushes into a room and closes the door behind. There she finds Pickman's ghastly drawings with both incomplete and completed paintings of these "ghouls".
In timely fashion, Pickman arrives at his studio apartment and is surprised to find Miss Goldsmith in it. Despite her protests, Richard pleads with her to leave immediately and never to return. However their argument is interrupted when a scratching sound is heard coming from outside. "Oh my God, it's too late..." Richard gasps breathlessly, then retreats to the back of his studio to fetch an iron poker. "Wait here. Do not leave this room..." he instructs, then adds when Miss Goldsmith persists, "Did you not hear me when I said I had no need of human company?! And could you not understand why?!" Shut in the room, Miss Goldsmith glances down at the painting (above) in her hand, the truth finally dawning on her as a guttural growl is heard beyond the door. She finds another painting (below) and props it up on an easel, the words her uncle spoke about these beasts breeding with human women echoing in her head as she looks in horror.
behind the boy, whose facial features are slightly feral, is a ghoul -- this impliesOnly Richard's cry draws her from the terrible reverie, his voice commanding some unseen thing back down to the cellar. A crash from the hallway, the studio gas light goes out, then the door slowly creaks open, revealing a clawed hand. Miss Goldsmith runs in terror from the ghoul that chases her through the small studio, faints, and is carried out. Richard, though wounded, leaps to her rescue and struggles with the ghoul as a revived Miss Goldsmith watches, frozen in fear. Amidst the fight, Richard's glove is removed, exposing a clawed, grayed hand similar to the ghoul's. Pickman is revealed to be an offspring of human and ghoul breeding.
that the boy is their combined offspring, and possibly a portrait of Pickman himself
that the boy is their combined offspring, and possibly a portrait of Pickman himself
The fight grows so violent that Richard and the ghoul both fall over the railing along the second floor, landing hard on the first. Knocked unconscious, Richard is carried down into the cellar as Miss Goldsmith flees North End. Later, dressed in mourning, Miss Goldsmith returns to the studio with her uncle to collect Richard's work. Remarking that Pickman must have been mad as they leave, she corrects her uncle, saying, "No... He painted what he saw... and what he was."
Fading back to the present time, Larry asks if they might look around, hoping to unearth another lost Pickman painting. Their search leads Eliot and Larry down into the cellar where they find a large, cylindrical object protruding from the floor. Possibly a large sewer pipe from their guess with a brick covering. Eliot expresses a lighthearted concern that something might be down there, but Larry encourages him. After all, there might be more paintings sealed away. Using a nearby pickax, Eliot chips away at the brickwork. As the sound of the pickax reverberates, a pair of red eyes glimmer in the gloom beneath.
Maybe it's just my own affinity for art, but I found this to be a remarkable episode. You can rest assured that I will watch more of the 'Night Gallery' series. Even the romantic spiel, which I am generally disdainful of, was done well and did not conflict with the overall macabre theme. As I understand it, there are a handful of other "Pickman's Model" film adaptations. But I will be surprised if any of these are executed nearly as well as this one was. I give it four-and-a-half out of five painted ghouls.
On a side note, if anyone can tell me the name of the artist who painted these, I would be grateful. Most likely these were done by Tom Wright, the series artist, but I'm not certain. But more than that, I would be very, very grateful if someone was able to help me ascertain either information about the original's owner, acquiring a physical print, or at the very least a high-resolution digital image of the last painting (mother, son, and ghoul portrait). I would love to feature it in the Darkley comic as part of storyteller Damien's collection.