Ring of Terror (1961, directed by Clark L. Paylow)

Whilst stumbling around his office in a drunken daze, graveyard keeper R.J. Dobson (Joseph Conway) accidentally steps on his cat’s tail.  The cat runs out of the office.  Dobson stumbles after it.  Dobson eventually finds the cat sitting by a grave in the cemetery.  Dobson picks the cat up and starts to tell it (or maybe the people watching at home), the story behind the tombstone.

Lewis B. Moffit (George E. Mather) was a med student who had a reputation for not being scared of anything.  He killed a rattlesnake without a second’s hesitation.  He didn’t flinch while watching an autopsy.  For some reason, this upsets his frat brothers so they decide to pull a prank on him to see how brave he really is.  As a part of his initiation, Lewis has to break into the mortuary and retrieve a gold ring off of a corpse’s finger.  Of course, the prank goes wrong and there are serious consequences to Lewis’s sanity.

Ring of Terror is based on the old urban legend in which a promising but tightly wound college student is either killed or driven mad by a thoughtless fraternity prank.  Ring of Terror doesn’t really add anything to the basic story.  The only thing that distinguishes it is that all of the college students are played by middle-aged actors so they all seem as if they should have graduated from college and outgrown the frat life a long time ago.  George E. Mather was in his 40s when he starred in this film so even if the prank hadn’t broken his mind and he had graduated from medical school, he wouldn’t have had a very long practice.

The story would feel slight for even a 30-minute episode of The Twilight Zone so the director tries to pad out Ring of Terror with a visit to a “swinging” jazz club (and I use the term swinging loosely because there ain’t swinging about that joint), an autopsy, and, of course, those scenes in the cemetery with RJ and his cat.  The padding doesn’t help make the story any more intersting but the autopsy scene is at least amusing.  Because all of the college students are played by middle-aged actors and are wearing suits, the scene really does look as if a group of wall street brokers decided to spend their lunch hour in the hospital basement.  It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and Kramer observe an operation and accidentally drop a junior mint in the patient’s chest cavity.

Today, Ring of Terror is best known for being featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  (It was actually such a short movie that it had to be paired up with the third chapter of The Phantom Creeps serial.)  I’ve seen both the original version and the version with Joel and the Bots and the MST 3K way is the best way to watch this movie.  Without Joel and the Bots, it’s so slow and poorly acted that it is nearly unwatchable.  With Joel and the Bots, there’s at least a few laughs to be found.

One response to “Ring of Terror (1961, directed by Clark L. Paylow)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 1/10/22 — 1/16/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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