Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halloween Picks: Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 1

 While catching up recently on episodes of Night Gallery, unseen since the early 1970's, I was surprised how few of the them I actually remember watching.  I think as a kid I was completely captivated by the familiar opening blurb--the short, ominous Night Gallery theme accompanied by overlapping images of horrible distorted faces and creepy works of art--but by the time Rod Serling's eerie exposition gave way to the subject of that week's morbid masterpiece, my youthful disinclination to follow storylines more complex than Scooby Doo must have generally driven me to whatever else was competing for my attention that evening. Or maybe I was just too terrified to go on watching those less familiar episodes. Actually, that might have been the case with some of the episodes, seeing them today. All I can be sure of is that the original pilot episode's first segment, The Cemetery, is one episode that was burned into my memory exactly because it was so freaky.

The Cemetery (1.1.1) involves a scheming wastrel, played with a wonderful villainous zeal by Roddy McDowell, who bumps off his ailing millionaire uncle for the inheritance, only to find his sanity threatened by his uncle's seemingly haunted painting of the nearby family cemetery--a changing canvas which promises a hideous retribution from the grave. (7/10)

 Frantic with terror, the evil nephew rips the phantom painting from the wall and stumbles down the staircase, breaking his neck. It turns out that the rich uncle's faithful butler Portifoy (played by Ossie Davis) arranged for an artist to make several copies of the painting which progressively showed the uncle emerging from his grave and coming to the front door. No sooner than Portifoy--who is the old man's alternate heir in case of the nephew's untimely demise, naturally--can drink to his ill-gotten fortune than the painting begins to change for him, this time for real. This strange turn--that the nephews undead vengeance should be genuine while the uncle's had to be fabricated-- deepens the the absurdity of the plot, but I don't suppose I gave that much thought as a kid.

The second and third segments of the Night Gallery pilot are memorable, too, but a little depressing for Halloween viewing, in my opinion. In fact, I'm going to skip ahead to the far superior season 2 for my next pick, which happens to be the four-part first episode: The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes/Miss Lovecraft Sent Me/The Hand of Borgus Weems/Phantom of What Opera?


wicKED said...

I remember this particular episode from my childhood. Totally cheeped me out! I was afraid of the large painting my grandmother had in her dinning room after that. Thanks for the post!

Steve said...

A pleasure! Thanks for the response! Yeah, know what you mean. I never looked at paintings of cemeteries the same way, again. :)

Anonymous said...

How wonderful of you to bring this to people who haven't seen it. Bravo!