Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Picks: Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 6

As I breeze through the last of my Night Gallery Halloween picks I should stress that Night Gallery isn't for everyone. Probably a third of them I won't bother to watch ever again. Like most all anthology shows, I find, the quality of production and tenor of story can vary significantly from episode to episode (or in Night Gallery's case, from segment to segment). Issues of time and budget cause many bits to fall short of the sources they are adapted from. Forty years of overlying artistic strata have rendered most of Night Gallery's scares into schlock and it's technically and stylistically quite dated. More is the charm, for some, but not for those strictly accustomed to the gore-fueled excesses of the intervening decades.

Mostly it's up to people who are interested in the place of shows like Night Gallery in horror history to carry it's cult forward. And for those, like me, who have a true nostalgia for the show--based on faded memories--and now have the luxury of being able to reevaluate them in their pristine, commercial-free digital form.

Still, there are several segments that are indisputably quite atmospheric, and others that are fun or noteworthy because of who is cast in them or because the effects were more striking than the norm. The ones that still live in my memory tell me something about my fascination with horror. Or that was my theory. Really, aside from the immortal Night Gallery intro, it was chiefly the (Hammer, and the like) horror movies I saw on Shock Theater (as well as my integral love of Halloween) that seems to have influenced my awe of the horror genre. But I can believe that some of these segments should have scared the devil out of me forty years ago, except that I apparently missed them or was too scared to watch them in the first place.

There's nothing to inspire much terror in episode 2.9, though. The first story is a comedic offing called House--with Ghost (2.9.1), that is only creepy if you consider the fact that the lurid secret life of it's star, Bob Crane (Hogan's Heroes), would come to light when he was bludgeoned to death seven years later. That, and the fact that his wife in House--with Ghost was Joanne Worley, who made a career typed as an uncommonly unappealing woman, a la Phyllis Diller and Ruth Buzzi. Crane's character plans to bump off his wealthy spouse but dithers on the treacherous act until a ghost in their ritzy London flat (Bernard Fox) intervenes in a most unexpected way. (3.5/10)

In another silly tale, Hells Bells (2.9.4), John Astin (Gomez on the original The Addams Family) plays a reckless hippie who, after a fatal car-accident, finds himself plunging into hell while anticipating the infernally groovy sights that await him--only to find that he will there be punished with eternal boredom. Cute, but unfortunately a story about how boring hell is is destined to quickly become...boring. (4.5/10)

2.11.1, Pickman's Model, is based on a short H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name. In this adaptation, Pickman is the name of an ill-reputed painting instructor at an exclusive school who attracts the admiration of a lovely female student. When the wealthy female suitor boldly seeks out the source of his ghastly inspiration she finds more than she bargained for. One curious aspect of this version of the story is that it surrounds a female protagonist, wheras Lovecraft rarely had sympathetic female characters in his stories. The original story was mostly eerie speculations surrounding an artist's paintings, which are populated with loathsome humanoid creatures too uncanny to come from a human imagination. The inclusion of a romantic interest adds dimension to the story and broadens it's appeal. And the monstrous conclusion makes this one of the most memorable episodes of Night Gallery. Regrettably, I don't seem to remember actually seeing it before. (7/10)

 Segment 2.12.1, Cool Air, is also a Lovecraft story and also introduces a love interest to flesh it out a little--though, in my view, to less successful ends. Cool Air concerns a scientist who seeks the secret of eternal life, yet depends on a forbiddingly frigid environment to maintain his own. (5/10)

In Camera Obscura, Rene Ouberjonois plays a cold-hearted debt-collector who is subjected to the gnarly nether-worldly torments of the diabolical optical device by it's designer, mad-scientist Ross Martin (The Wild Wild West). The rather perfunctory set-up is, at least, redeemed by a suitably atmospheric climax. (6.5/10)

Interestingly, one of the best-remembered (for me) episodes, The Painted Mirror (2.13.2), is a little lacking in horror, although it does involve Zsa Zsa Gabor chasing a her toy dog into a mirror-universe, where she is presumably gobbled up by prehistoric stop-motion creatures. Pretty cool as a kid. Not so cool now, though. Zsa Zsa is scarier than the dinosaurs. (5.5/10)

In Episode 15 we come to another segment I remember very well--and which fans of the show seem to remember to a remarkable degree--Green Fingers. This slightly warped moral tale involves an eccentric old lady with a particular talent for growing things (Elsa Lanchester, most famous as the Bride of Frankenstein), who stubbornly refuses to sell her lushly gardened cottage to ruthless industrialist Mitchell Cameron. After finally bumping the old biddy off, the triumphant villain finds that vengeance from the grave is his only harvest. Hooboy this one has a loopy ending. That's probably why I remember it so well. Not as scary now as it must have been then, though. (6.5/10)

Speaking of Bob Crane, the next segment, The Funeral (2.15.2), stars his captor in Hogan's Heroes, Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) as a vampire who, with help of funeral director Joe Flynn (McCale's Navy), arranges to have a late funeral, with all of his monster-buddies in attendance. Hilarity ensues. This is technically a "comedy blackout", but it's got enough of a fun, Groovy Goolies vibe to be mildly diverting. (5.5/10)

No comments: