Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween Picks: Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 5

In all fairness, there isn't much of anything about the 4th episode of Night Gallery's superior Second Season, Fear of Spiders/Junior/Marmalade Wine/The Academy. for me to recommend it for Halloween viewing, so I'll be brief.

Fear of Spiders involves an aging gourmet food critic (Patrick O'Neal) who finds himself plagued by phantom spiders, as well as an old, one-night stand. (2.5/10)  The very short Junior wastes Wally Cox (Mister Peepers!) as a weary father who has to get out of bed to bring his familiar-looking offspring a glass of water. Completely worthless. (0/10)  Marmalade Wine has Robert Morse (The Loved One) as a lost wanderer who finds shelter in a castle and boasts to his surgeon host--a little too persuasively--that he has psychic powers. The most remarkable thing about this segment is the strangely ornate minimalist set. (4/10) The Academy presents crooner Pat Boone as a wealthy and ruthless businessman who visits an exclusive military school to determine if it's the right one for his troublesome progeny. Not scary, just kind of sad. (2.5/10)

The next episode, The Phantom Farmhouse/Silent Snow, Secret Snow is another story. The famous Silent Snow, Secret Snow, I can say without reservation, is not a Halloween segment. It is recommended, though, for the story and the narration by Orson Welles. It describes the private thoughts of a boy as he progressively shuts out the reality around him in favor of an imagined world of freshly fallen snow. (8.5/10)

 In The Phantom Farmhouse, the investigation of a mental patient's grisly murder at an exclusive sanitarium leads a psychiatrist (David McCallum of The Man from UNCLE) to a mysterious farmhouse that seems to belong to another time. David Carradine plays a patient that knows the secret of the farmhouse and it's strange denizens. Regrettably, many of the stylistic choices by director Gene R. Kearney ground the segment visually in the 70's, detracting somewhat from the Gothic atmosphere intended by the classic source. Still, it delivers a suitable climax. (7/10)

Next, in The Question of Fear (2.6.1), Leslie Nielsen (Airplane!) plays a pompous adventurer who accepts an adversary's wager to spend the night in an extremely haunted house, apparently inhabited by a Nazi ghost! This segment is a better than average spend-the-night-in-a-haunted-house story up until a little after the midpoint when it begins to lurch toward a screamingly idiotic, wasted, non-supernatural twist-ending. Nazis are the protagonists in this one, it turns out. (4/10)

Interestingly, the next segment of the same episode, The Devil is not Mocked (2.6.2), also involves Nazis, though in this case they aren't meant to be the *ahem* good guys.  Let me just say that this is a good segment for Halloween, that features Francis Lederer as a character quite familiar to lovers of the holiday--and not spoil what is a very simple plot. (7/10)

Skipping ahead a bit, Brenda (2.7.2), involves an unruly young girl who befriends a bizarre, hulking, rather mossy monster while on vacation on a tropical island with her parents. I initially thought the squeaky-voiced actress who played the weird little girl several years younger than her true age (Laurie Prange) was going to grate on my nerves, but she really ended up selling the role well and the story is oddly touching. (6.5/10)

Skipping ahead, again, A Matter of Semantics (2.8.2) is another pointless "comedy blackout" with a wasted Cesar Romero as Dracula, trying to make a withdrawal from a blood bank. (3/10)

John Carradine makes a welcome appearance in Big Surprise (2.8.3) as a creepy old codger who promises some local boys that a big surprise awaits them if they have to courage to excavate a box buried under a certain local oak tree. (7/10)

In Professor Peabody's Last Lecture (2.8.4), Carl Reiner plays an intrepid anthropology teacher who dares to read from the dreaded Necronomicon for his aghast class. It goes on a bit long toward a predictable conclusion, but it's nice to see some Lovecraft appreciation in the mix. (6.5/10)

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