It’s hard (and also a bit intriguing) to imagine a show like Faerie Tale Theatre being made today. The brainchild of actress Shelley Duvall, who would also host, produce, and occasionally act in the show, ran for 6 seasons between 1982 – 1987. Each episode was a 50 minute long live action telling of a different fairy tale acted out by some of the most popular actors (Christopher Reeve, Jeff Goldblum), singers (Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli), and comedians (Robin Williams, Billy Crystal) of the time. Before Disney took on Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid, Faerie Tale Theatre did. But they also explored some deeper, darker tales that even Disney wouldn’t dare dip a toe into. One of these was a favorite as a child, the not terribly melodic, but pointedly named “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.”
The story was based on a German folktale titled “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” and was included in Grimms’ Fairy Tales Volume 1.
Martin (Peter MacNicol) is unlike anyone else in his town, including his father and brother. While they are superstitious and frightened of their own shadows, Martin has never once felt fear. Because of this, he’s treated as an oddity and an outsider. He leaves home on a quest to find out “about the shivers.” While on his trek, he comes across a notice posted to a tree, declaring that any young man who can get rid of the evil spirits who haunt King Vladimir’s castle will be rewarded and to inquire at the local inn for more information. Martin hopes this will be his ticket to find out about the shivers so he goes to the inn and meets the Innkeeper (David Warner) and King Vladimir (Christopher Lee) himself. They tell Martin that if he can survive three nights in the haunted castle and rid it of the spirits, he will win treasure, marry the king’s daughter, and inherit the kingdom. However, Martin is warned that no man has ever made it out alive…
This doesn’t frighten him and he happily accepts the challenge. Before he is set to go to the castle the next evening, he meets Attilla (Frank Zappa), a mute hunchback with a penchant for eye rolling, and Amanda (Dana Hill), King Vladimir’s sheltered and rebellious daughter who Martin mistakes for the night clerk and she doesn’t correct him. They do a little flirting and before she leaves she tells him to ask the king for 3 things to take with him to the castle.
Martin picks his 3 things and spends his first two nights in the castle, experiencing horrors that would terrify other men but leave Martin either amused or plain bored. In between evenings, he spends time at the inn talking to Amanda and becoming closer to her. Finally, the third night comes and the evil sorcerer himself plans to make an appearance…
Will Martin survive and, if he does, will he finally find out about the shivers?
Martin’s is not the typical hero. At times he is so fearless, that he appears stupidly naive. His lack of fear comes off as ignorance more than it does bravery, but in a way that makes him more endearing. He is a man who, above all, is curious, determined, and will stop at nothing to understand something.
The music is gothic and eery, helped along by the narration of none other than the Prince of Horror himself, Vincent Price. This would be the second episode Price would appear in, the first being in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” where he played the Magic Mirror. Both episodes aired in 1984.
I have always appreciated the set design Faerie Tale Theatre came up with for their episodes, but this one is particularly interesting and impressive, especially the inside of the haunted castle. It appears cavernous, filled with echoes and bathed in gloom. The episode is incredibly spooky and dark, yet balances that with a good deal of comedic moments and characters.
As scary as I can imagine it being for a kid, I don’t remember it scaring me when I was one. Unlike some of the other episodes, which still creep me out to this day (see “The Nightengale,” “Rumplestiltzken,” “The Pied Piper of Hamlin,” etc.), I was completely intrigued by “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.” It was exciting, interesting, and funny. Now as an adult, I appreciate it not only for those qualities (which hold up), but also because of how unique it really was. The episode aired in 1984, at which time TV shows that reigned supremes were primarily soapy dramas like Dynasty, Dallas, and Falcon Crest or homey comedies like The Cosby Show and Family Ties. This was a bold choice, especially for a show geared towards children. Faerie Tale Theatre fully embraced the truly disturbing essence of the Brothers Grimm’s stories, but added a good helping of fun. It remains one of my favorite TV shows to this day and “The Boy Who Left Home to Find out About the Shivers” stands out among countless of extraordinary and well made episodes as one that is truly special.
The episode is available to watch on Youtube.
This entry is part of the 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.