October 22, 2021

Hammer's Journey to the Unknown

Hammer TV series Journey to the Unknown title screen
This post is part of The Third Annual Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, co-hosted by Barry at his Cinematic Catharsis blog and Gill at RealWeegieMidget Reviews. Don't forget to check their sites for many more reviews of thrilling works by Hammer Films and Amicus Productions.

Hammer Films will always be fondly remembered for its revival of the classic monsters starting in the late 1950s, and for launching Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into superstardom.

Less well known are the company’s forays into television, with the anthology series Journey to the Unknown leading the way in 1968, followed by Hammer House of Horror (1980) and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984).

House of Horror is probably most familiar to the casual fan, being available on both DVD and Blu-ray as well as several streaming channels. House of Mystery and Suspense is out of print, and doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere in the U.S. And then there’s Journey to the Unknown, which, as a complete series, never saw a good home video release.

That’s a shame, because in its 17 episode run, Journey to the Unknown presented a great mix of psychological suspense and supernatural horror in contemporary settings. Several of the episodes were based on stories by acclaimed writers, including Robert Bloch, Cornel Woolrich, Donald E. Westlake and Charles Beaumont (of Twilight Zone fame), and the talented casts were headed by name actors such as Joseph Cotten, Julie Harris, Vera Miles, Patty Duke and Roddy McDowall, among others.

The series was co-produced by Hammer and 20th Century Fox Television for broadcast in the U.S. on ABC-TV; it later aired in the UK on the ITV network. American actors were featured prominently in order to make it more attractive for the U.S. market (more on the production backstory later). 

Journey to the Unknown debuted on ABC on September 26, 1968, with the last episode airing in January of 1969. Wanting to get the most out of their investment, the network repackaged eight of the episodes into four TV movies (Journey into Darkness, Journey to the Unknown, Journey to Murder and Journey to Midnight), adding hosts Patrick McGoohan, Joan Crawford and Sebastian Cabot to introduce the segments. These aired between 1969 and 1971. 

Being a lifelong horror fan, I was fortunate to catch Journey to the Unknown when it originally aired. I was immediately intrigued by (or should I say spooked by) the show’s eerie title sequence, with its whistled theme music (composed by Harry Robinson) and nighttime shots of a rider-less roller coaster in an abandoned amusement park.

I recently revisited the series. Most of the episodes live up to the uncanny atmosphere of the title sequence, with only a couple of clunkers that are dead on delivery (inevitable even in the best anthology shows). The episode that made the biggest impression on me the first time around, and that still holds up very well, is "Poor Butterfly," with American Chad Everett headlining the cast.

“Poor Butterfly,” original airdate Jan. 9, 1969

Have you ever had a dream where you were a fish out of water, finding yourself in some unknown place with people you don’t know, maybe inappropriately dressed (or not dressed at all!), and clueless as to how you got there and where to go?

Such is Chad Everett’s situation in “Poor Butterfly” (except for the not dressed part). Steven Miller (Everett), a wealthy American working in London, gets an invitation to a formal costume party from a person he can’t remember ever meeting. After conferring with colleagues, his curiosity gets the better of him, and he sets out in his vintage 1929 Bugatti motorcar (!!) to the countryside location.

Miller gets lost on the winding country roads, and when he flags down a local man to inquire about the way to Measham house, he only gets an uncomprehending stare for his troubles. He finally locates a sign pointing the way, and when he rolls up in front of the country estate, he finds a number of other antique cars parked outside.

He walks into a bustling, elegant costume party, with most of the partygoers dressed in costumes from various periods of British history. American to the core, Miller changes into his Jesse James costume, further marking him as the proverbial fish out of water. The place seems to be suspended in time, with the antique cars filling the driveway, and partiers dancing the Charleston as if it was still the 1920s.

Chad Everett as Steven Miller, "Poor Butterfly," Journey to the Unknown, 1969
Dressed up as Jesse James, Steven is ready to steal some hearts.

Still mystified that he doesn’t know anyone, Miller tries to talk to the host, Sir Robert “Bobby” Sawyer (Edward Fox), who acts as if he knows the American. But talk is difficult in the tumult of the party, and Sawyer’s answers are evasive.

Another partier who seems to know Miller is an ethereal beauty, dressed in a butterfly costume, who catches Steven’s eye from across the room. As the group begins a round dance, she whispers to Miller that she hoped he would come. After the dance, when Miller asks her how she could anticipate the arrival of someone she doesn’t even know, she coyly explains that she was simply hoping he would come around to her during the dance.

The “poor butterfly,” Rose Parkington (Susan Brodick), cousin to Bobby and seemingly at home among the effete revelers, is nonetheless wistful in the midst of all the gaiety, and as vulnerable as the creature that her costume mimics.

She has a fiance, John, an eminent London surgeon who is too busy to make it to the party. Regardless, she attaches herself to the handsome American stranger as if he was her last chance at happiness.

The atmosphere turns darker and more threatening as Rose’s friends notice how much time she is spending with Steven. Costumed guests that seemed jovial and charming at the beginning turn menacing as Rose starts pleading with Steven to take her to London.

As a storm approaches, with thunder rumbling in the distance, Rose becomes increasingly anxious. Steven suspects he’s being used merely as a chauffeur to take Rose to her precious fiance, but in the face of her desperation he agrees to give her a ride. But first he has to get more gas from a reserve pump located a few miles from the estate.

Susan Brodick and Chad Everett in "Poor Butterfly," Journey to the Unknown, 1969
Rose is deathly afraid of storms.

As Miller is trying to unlock the gas pump, the storm hits full force, and he’s forced to wait it out in the car. Unaccountably, he has trouble again finding the house, but when he meets up again with the local villager who was so unhelpful, what he learns from the old man and his wife has him questioning his senses.

Masquerades in the movies have a high weirdness quotient. People in costumes and masks are figuratively not themselves, and each one is a potential mystery, possibly even a threat. Much of the cast in “Poor Butterfly” is credited not by their characters’ names, but by their costumes: Queen Victoria, Admiral Nelson, Friar Tuck, Aviator, Red Queen, and March Hare.

Add to this the disquieting idea that they seem to know all about you, but you know nothing about them, and you have the makings of a simmering nightmare. Steven and Rose stand out like sore thumbs, he in his old west costume, and she in her delicate butterfly costume.

As Steven complains about his being out of place, Rose shoots back, “Is it so important to know why you’re here? Can’t you just enjoy yourself?”

Except that Rose is clearly not enjoying herself, and has an agenda that is causing concern among the other guests, who slowly but surely tighten a disapproving web around her.

In a bit of foreshadowing, Steven comments on Rose’s costume: “Why the butterfly?... they’re such sad creatures, butterflies, especially the rare ones. You see them for a minute, then [snapping his fingers] they’re gone.”

Susan Brodick in "Poor Butterfly," Journey to the Unknown, 1969
Rose is an especially rare species of butterfly.

Little does he know that he won’t be able to help this poor butterfly. Based on a story by actor and writer William Abney, Jeremy Paul’s script masterfully intersperses the building suspense with poignant moments, culminating in a resolution that, even as it unravels the mystery, leaves a lingering feeling of dread.

Chad Everett is well cast, with his all-American accent and demeanor serving to set him distinctly apart from the cold, upper-crust gentility of the other party-goers. The same year that “Poor Butterfly” was broadcast, he began the role for which he’s best remembered, that of Dr. Joe Gannon in CBS’ long running series Medical Center (1969-76).

Susan Brodick (Rose) has only a relative smattering of acting credits, but after “Poor Butterfly” she managed to secure parts in two other Hammer horrors, Countess Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (both 1971).

Fans of action-adventure may appreciate the presence of Edward Fox as “Bobby” Sawyer and Bernard Lee as the crusty old villager. Fox was the stealthy assassin in The Day of the Jackal (1973) and specialized in playing military officers in dozens of films. James Bond fans know Lee as the original “M,” who gave orders to three different Bonds (Connery, Lazenby and Moore), finally wrapping up the role with Moonraker in 1981.

Bonus episode: "Matakitas is Coming," original airdate Nov. 28, 1968

Most people don’t normally associate libraries with murders and hauntings, but every relatively large library building has its share of lonely, shadowy corners that, under the right circumstances, can send a chill down the spine.

Besides Vera Miles, the star of "Matakitas is Coming" is a cavernous old library full of shadowy spaces, dusty statuary, and the malevolent spirit of at least one long-dead serial killer.

Miles plays June Wiley, a hard-working crime writer for a popular London magazine. Her colleagues, and even her fiance, wonder what a nice person like June is doing writing about grisly murders.

When a co-worker manages to reserve some precious time for June on the microfilm machine at the local library, she has to delay her date, telling her fiance that she’ll meet him later at the movie theater. (Yes Virginia, you used to have to crank through miles of microfilm to research old newspaper stories.) He jokes sourly that the only way to spend any time with her is to commit murder.

June is researching unusual murders of the past for an article, and one of the more horrifying examples she comes across is that of a librarian some forty odd years ago in the very building she’s using. It was the last in a series of ritual murders committed by the library’s own caretaker, an extremely sketchy chap by the name of Matakitas.

June discovers that Matakitas boasted at his trial that he murdered the women to provide brides for his master, the Devil, and that as a reward for his service, he’d receive a special diabolical dispensation. She’s so engrossed in her work that she forgets the time, and finds to her chagrin that the place is empty and she’s been locked inside.

Gay Hamilton and Vera Miles in "Matakitas is Coming," Journey to the Unknown, 1968
June discusses her library fines with the librarian.

She’s relieved to find that a young library clerk (Gay Hamilton) is also inside, but the woman is nervous, doesn’t have a key to get out, and is of little help. When June finds a phone and calls for help, she’s taken aback when the operator insists the number she is trying to call doesn’t exist. When she manages to get a hold of the police station, the duty officer berates her for making a crank call when she explains that her 1968 model car is parked outside the building she’s trapped in.

It begins to dawn on her that something’s not right, and, with a growing sense of dread, she asks the exasperated operator to tell her what the date is. Somehow, June is not only trapped in a spooky old library, she’s also trapped in the past. It’s September 19, 1927, the day when Matakitas murdered the librarian, and the exact time when he committed the heinous act is fast approaching.

"Matakitas is Coming" is the highest rated episode of the series on IMDb, and it’s easy to see why. It takes one of the stronger lead actors of the series, Vera Miles, places her into what ordinarily would be a nice, safe setting, a library, and proceeds to tighten a noose of diabolical evil around her.

However, If there is anyone who can meet the challenge of being trapped in a dark, foreboding building with supernatural evil afoot, it’s June Wiley. She is smart, resourceful, and loves a good mystery (although perhaps not under these particular circumstances).

In countless horror movies, the telephone is that everyday convenience that never works when it’s needed -- the line is always dead (or there’s no cell service). It’s a nice touch that while the library’s telephone seems to be in perfect working order, it might as well be dead, as the outside world of 1927 can’t understand what June Wiley from 1968 is trying to tell them.

Vera Miles on the phone in "Matakitas is Coming," Journey to the Unknown, 1968
June has a direct line to 1927.

Fully cognizant that she’s not in Kansas anymore, June becomes a psychic sleuth, sensing that the spirit of the murdered librarian is trying to communicate with her, first through a record playing by itself in a deserted room, then through books that are pushed one by one off the shelves by an unseen hand.

There’s a lot going on in just an hour-long episode -- ritual murders, devil worship, time travel, spooky sounds, unseen spirits, and clocks ticking toward apparent doom -- but the various elements combine like pieces in a big, eerie puzzle as the story, and June, wend their inexorable way to a fateful conclusion.

Vera Miles, with over 160 acting credits, was always a welcome and classy addition to any movie or TV show she starred in. Her greatest contribution to the horror genre was in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), where she played Lila Crane, sister to the unfortunate Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and a dogged sleuth who solves the mystery of the Bates Motel. She reprised the role in Psycho II (1983).

Leon Lissek as the creepy Devil’s servant Matakitas makes the most of a brief flashback scene in which he lectures the court that is about to condemn him to death: “I did nothing but obey the commands of my mighty protector! My master has spoken and I… I am his instrument on earth!” In his perverse earnestness, he looks and sounds like a young Peter Lorre.

Matakitas: the Devil's wedding coordinator.

And then there’s the third star, the library. Interior shots of "Matakitas" were filmed at the City of Westminster’s Mayfair Library, a charming old world building located in the heart of London. The Library retired from show business with just the one credit, but remains a popular wedding venue (and not only for disciples of the Devil).

Behind-the-scenes: Hammer’s Journey to Unraveling Work Relationships

Hammer got the ball rolling on its first TV series in the spring of 1967 when Hammer co-founder James Carreras teamed up with counterparts at 20th Century Fox television to develop an hour-long horror series provisionally titled Fright Hour.

The ABC TV network agreed to broadcast the series in the U.S., and Fox appointed Joan Harrison, screenwriter, former assistant to Alfred Hitchcock, and the renowned producer of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to oversee the project as executive producer.

But the series ended up being costly to Hammer in more ways than one. According to Hammer historians Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes, the series’ arduous post-production process “lead long-term supervising editor James Needs to quit, [and] it was also a contributory factor in Anthony Hinds’ later decision to resign his directorship.” [Hearn and Barnes, The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films, Titan Books, 2007, p. 125]

Although Hinds thought well of Harrison, he chafed at being “demoted” to a line producer:

“I was miserable in the role of producer with an all-powerful executive producer from ABC over me. I had been my own boss too long. Jim Carreras ‘sold’ me as a package to make the series. ABC in America decided that as I’d had no experience in television, they ought to send over a representative, who was Joan Harrison -- with whom I got on very well. But I found myself doing a production manager’s job because she had to take over, and I hated that. I hated being demoted. But I had to do it. I had to stay with it, all the way through, hating every minute of it.” [Chris Fellner, The Encyclopedia of Hammer Films, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, p. 224]

Where to find it: Watchable episodes are available on YouTube, and on DVD from specialists in rare TV. 


  1. I discovered this series recently with the Dennis Waterman and Carol Lynley mannequin story then saw Matakitas is Coming. They certainly seem more suspense ridden than the likes of Thriller which sometimes can be disappointing. Thanks for joining the blogathon!

    1. Hi Gill! "Eve" with Dennis Waterman and Carol Lynley was the first episode broadcast in 1968 -- it was a very creepy choice to start off the series. When I watched it recently, I was thinking the lead actor looked familiar, and then realized it was a young Dennis Waterman, who's in one of my all-time favorite crime shows, New Tricks.
      Thanks for hosting the blogathon!

  2. I've heard of journey to the unknown, but I've never seen it. Your review makes me think I need to seek it out.

    1. I've been alternating watching episodes of Journey and Hammer's House of Horror, which I haven't seen in years. Throw in some classic episodes of Boris Karloff's and Brian Clemens' Thriller series, and you've got some really good Halloween TV going! :)

  3. Wow, I haven't heard of this series, but it sounds terrific, and both the stories you describe are especially creepy. The first one, "Poor Butterfly," in the way it mixes a costume party with a guest who had no idea what it's about, sounds a bit like one of Robert Aickman's strange tales, that often emphasize disorienting situations and inexplicable events. 1960s TV seems to have been a great era for horror anthology shows; in the US we had Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and Boris Karloff's Thriller. A golden age!

    1. Agreed! It's great that all those other series are easily available. Most of the Journey episodes are available (for now) on YouTube, but the uploads aren't great, which is a shame. I really don't get tired of returning to these series again and again.

  4. How did this series elude me for so long? The two episodes you described seem especially up my alley, and I love the carnival intro (I want to ride that rollercoaster!). Great write-up, Brian! Thanks a bunch for joining our blogathon!

    1. Thanks so much Barry! Your Hammer-Amicus blogathon adds something special to the Halloween season. That title sequence has haunted me for years, and I very much enjoyed revisiting the series. Do look it up at some point, I think you'll get a kick out of it!

  5. As a Night Gallery aficionado, I look forward to delving into Journey to the Unknown. Love these wonderful actors and the whole late 60s early 70s horror and paranormal oeuvre. This will be a great Halloween weekend treat for me.
    - Chris

    1. And around the same time there was a burst of made-for-TV movie creativity with things like Daughter of the Mind, Duel, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and many others. A great time for TV!

  6. This is new to me and I am quite excited about the discovery. Thank you.

    1. I'm very happy to be able to introduce this great series to new fans. I just wish the YouTube uploads were better!

  7. I watched Journey to the Unknown when it aired on ABC. Other than the title sequence (who can forget that rollercoaster?), I don’t remember it very well. I see that several episodes are on YouTube, so perhaps I’ll revisit it.

    1. Indeed, the series' biggest claim to fame is that title sequence! As I mention in the review, Poor Butterfly made quite an impression the first time, and it didn't disappoint when I watched it again recently. Overall, I think Journey is just as good as Hammer House of Horror, but the latter is of course much better known due to its availability. Journey should have gotten better treatment, but fan recordings from broadcasts on YouTube are better than nothing.

  8. Since I'm not familiar with Journey to the Unknown, I greatly appreciate your review.

    1. Thank you! The great thing about blogathons like this is that you're always running into interesting films and shows that you've never seen, or sometimes even heard of. The downside is that there's never enough time to get to everything! :)

  9. I've watched a couple episodes of Hammer's House of Horror but have yet to see any Journey to the Unknown yet. As you suggest, this is largely to to its lack of availability (I'll watch poor quality YouTube uploads if I have to but tend to hold off in the hopes of a decent release).

    The two episodes you describe are intriguing. They remind me a bit of the latter anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater. Bradbury was an old soul so it is not surprising that his series from the 80s/90s would have a bit of a 60s feel.

    1. The comparison to The Ray Bradbury Theater is apt, as both series are about ordinary people who find themselves in situations of high strangeness. Bradbury was a master of that sort of tale.

      I agree with you about using YouTube as a last resort, but often my curiosity gets the better of me and I end up with a headache and eyestrain after watching a blurry, muffled-sounding upload. :)