Thursday, October 13, 2011

Halloween Picks: Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 4

 While it may not be the absolute summit of Night Gallery, the opening segment of Episode 3 of Season 2 certainly satisfies the premise of the show. It was really a pleasure to be re-introduced to it after all these years. It's one of those episodes I don't have a solid recollection of, yet is tantalizingly familiar. In terms of good old-fashioned horror, it's hard to beat Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.

In this first of three segments, James Farentino plays a professor of the scientific method who is forced to grapple with implications of the supernatural when his wife's weird old Aunt Ada comes to their happy home, presumably to live out her final years. The teacher quickly becomes wary of the old biddy, who seems to have a penchant for vanishing into thin air, killing off vegetation and pushing her special brand of tea on the Mrs, to "calm her nerves". After bringing a sample of the suspect tea to the university for chemical analysis, he is told that it's a seaweed and is referred to a colleague, the Professor of Metaphysics (Jonathan Harris, best known as Dr. Smith on Lost in Space) for information about the alleged medicinal uses of the plant. The eccentric old metaphysician informs him that the substance is known as "witches' weed" and is used to prepare a chosen victim to be possessed by the witch's spirit. And the coming midnight of the full moon, as it turns out, is the optimum time for the ritual possession to take place. Somewhere in here he finds out that Aunt Ada is an imposter, yadda, yadda, yadda, some other spooky stuff happens and let me just conclude by saying that green carnations figure prominently into the plot. (8/10)

Inspired directing from Jerrold Freedman keeps things interesting on the visual front, and best of all veteran actress Jeanette Nolan plays the role she seems ideally suited for: the old witch posing as Aunt Ada. Nolan was so good at playing witches she played them in two great episodes of Boris Karloff's Thriller, Parasite Mansion ( which also stars my good friend Beverly Washburn of Spider Baby) and, a title I'll be looking at later, La Strega. As to the strangely abrupt way in which this episode ends, if anyone knows what the story behind that is, I'd be interested in finding out. It seems like this segment could have been extended if only they'd thought better of including the next one, the mostly worthless "comedy blackout" With Apologies to Mr. Hyde.

There seems to be the potential of something happening in this stale little misfire--it stars Batman's Adam West as Jekyll and Hyde and Executive Producer Jack Laird as his hunchback assistant, and the laboratory setpiece is pretty cool--but it's all for a Laugh-In- quality pun that only wastes a couple of minutes, regardless. (3/10)

Speaking of Laugh-In, the final segment, The Flip Side of Satan stars a regular face on the 1970's variety show, Arte Johnson, as a disreputable disc-jockey who finds his misdeeds rewarded with a graveyard gig at a radio station of the damned. A classic story, this segment isn't bad at all, allowing the actor to exhibit his talents in an exclusively one-man show. On the down side, the shoe-string budget of the short is all too apparent in the rather unspectacular climax. (6.5/10)

No comments: