Sunday, October 9, 2011

Halloween Picks: Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 2

 Aside from The Cemetery, and a few other segments (The Eyes, The Dead Man, The Doll), the short season one (only six episodes) of Night Gallery did little to arouse my vague sense of nostalgia for the show. The more celebrated season 2 fared better, though I don't seem to clearly recollect most of them, either. Indeed, The Painted Mirror and Green Fingers are the only two segments of the second season that I have unshakeable memories of. Still, the difference in quality between the two seasons was already apparent to me with this episode, The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes/Miss Lovecraft Sent Me/The Hand of Borgus Weems/Phantom of What Opera?--even if this was the first episode to feature the infamous "comedy blackout" segments so hated by Rod Serling and derided by fans and critics alike.

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes was probably a good choice to launch the first true season of the anthology series. It was one of a handful of Night Gallery segments actually written by Rod Serling (whose actual creative contribution to the show was contractually limited by Universal) and it was similar in tone and plot--more than most of Night Gallery--to Serling's legendary Twilight Zone. The segment involves a boy (Clint Howard, brother of Ron) who seems gifted with extraordinary prophetic powers. When his prediction of a Los Angeles earthquake proves exactly accurate, he is given his own television show with an audience that grows with each amazing prognostication--until a final, dire prediction leaves him with a difficult choice.

One could be forgiven for not seeing this as much of a Halloween episode, per se, but there is an appropriately gloomy sci-fi atmosphere during the conclusion. I don't seem to remember seeing this one as a kid, though, so I can't say if it lived up to my expectations. (7/10)

 Miss Lovecraft Sent Me is a bit of fluff about a bubble-headed babysitter, played by Sue Lyon (Lolita!), who arrives at the creepy abode of her new client (a decidedly Lugosi-esque Joe Campanella), but begins to have second thoughts when the perilous nature of the assignment is made all too obvious.

Not much thought was spared for this lame one-liner of an episode but I kind of like it. I like to think it fits in better when you consider the fact that this was 1971, the same year The Groovie Goolies was on Saturday morning television. Anyway, it's too short to be very objectionable. (5.5/10)

 The third segment, The Hand of Borgus Weems, is a bit more substantive. A sort of reverse variation of The Hands of Orlac, it concerns a seemingly sane man who goes to a surgeon (Ray Milland) with the request that his right hand be surgically removed, it having fallen under the control of a mysterious--and murderous--power.

Of course any story about a person losing control of a limb to supernatural forces has the potential to descend into parody, and this one skirts the line of camp, certainly. But I think it works on kind of a light-weight 70s acid-trip level. (6.5/10)

Comedy Black-out #2, Phantom of What Opera?, comes off as kind of an homage to the famous unmasking scene in Lon Chaney's 1925 Phantom of the Opera with a screwball twist at the climax. But who is that under the phantom make-up? None other than Leslie "don't call me Shirley"/Frank Drebbin Nielsen in an early comic role! (4.5/10)

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