The episodes on our tour come from the first two seasons of the series. It’s my understanding that a complete DVD collection of all three seasons has lately been released, but to acquire the third season I’d have to purchase the first two again as part of the set. This is because the merchandisers of television’s past are what would in the vernacular be called a pack of greedy bastards; they’ve done the same thing with the entirety of Mary Tyler Moore after previously releasing only the first four seasons as discrete sets. To obtain all seven seasons I would have to buy seasons 1-4 a second time. For that reason alone, they should all be permanent exhibits in the Night Gallery, if you take my meaning, but I digress. Now, on with the tour.
I’ll go back to being myself for the rest of this.
”Eyes” by Rod Serling. In the Night Gallery pilot, a young director named Steven Spielberg who never amounted to much (ahem) directed Joan Crawford for his first professional job in a story about a callous, selfish, mean-spirited, but very wealthy woman who buys a destitute man’s eyes for temporary sight, and gets what’s coming to her in proper Serling fashion.
”The Dead Man” by Douglas Heyes. This one sports one of Night Gallery’s most chilling endings. A doctor, through hypnosis, is able to induce his hunky young test subject to simulate any illness, or even death itself. But his suspicions about the hottie and the doctor’s wife get the better of him when he causes the lad to “die” and for some reason can’t bring him back--until the wife figures out what he did wrong. The result will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
”Make Me Laugh” by Rod Serling stars Godfrey Cambridge and Jackie Vernon (the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the perennial holiday cartoon) in the story of a pitifully unfunny comedian and an incompetent genie. When the genie grants the comic the ability to make anyone crack up any time he opens his mouth, it’s a lesson in being careful what you wish for.
”They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” is an Emmy-nominated classic in the best Rod Serling style. A middle-aged widower on the brink of being discarded at work has more of a life in his memories of former happy times at a closed-up old tavern than in reality. When the demolition crews come for Tim Riley’s bar, they’re tearing down our sad man’s world.
”The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” by Rod Serling has another of those heart-stopping endings. A young boy has precognitive powers that make him a TV star--until one day he doesn’t want to do the show any more. Why? The reason is one you won’t soon forget.
”Class of ’99” is another Serling shocker that he would never have been able to to on The Twilight Zone just a few years earlier. Honestly, when I watched this again on the DVD after not having seen it in years, I couldn’t believe it! It stars Vincent Price as the professor of a graduating college class, giving a final oral exam that will have your jaws dropping to a student body that will startle you. This detour into science fiction one is among Rod’s most profoundly troubling works.
”A Fear of Spiders” by Rod Serling. I must admit I personally relate to this episode. If I see anything with eight legs, it had better be on stage singing harmony or broiled on my plate with melted butter! An insensitive writer who keeps brushing off his infatuated lady neighbor wishes he had treated her better when he finds an uninvited eight-legged visitor in his apartment--one that not only won’t go away, but keeps growing bigger and bigger! You’ll be shuddering.
”Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” by Gene Kearney from the story by Conrad Aiken, has the customary Serling intro and an internal narration by Orson Welles. It tells of a young boy being engulfed by schizophrenia as the snow becomes a living entity, calling him into its world and freezing him out of this one until no one can reach him. The boy, incidentally, is played by Radames Pera, a child star best remembered as young Grasshopper in the original Kung Fu series.
”Brenda” by Matthew Howard. Even by Night Gallery standards, this one is just plain weird. A little girl who doesn’t play well with other kids finds an unlikely friend in a mossy, hulking monster that lives in the forest. What ends up happening to a girl who can’t relate to anything human?
”Pickman’s Model,” by Alvin Sapinsley from the story by H.P. Lovecraft, is a perfect story for a series arranged around paintings. A young painter teaches art to society girls by day and does canvases of grotesque monsters by night--but where is he finding his subjects, and what happens to the pupil who’s falling for him? Rod may not have cared for monster stories, but this is one of the more entertaining exhibits in the Gallery.
”The Messiah on Mott Street” is everything you love about the work of Rod Serling, and a story that I’ll be adding to my annual Christmas Eve viewing tradition from now on. An impoverished, dying old Jewish man doesn’t fear death so much as leaving his sweet young grandson to foster care. The little boy goes desperately seeking the Messiah to save his grandfather, and thinks he’s found him--but has he? As an old show tune had it, "And tell me what street compares with Mott Street!" This Emmy nominee is the perfect bookend to The Twilight Zone’s “Night of the Meek”. (1960s or 1980s version.)
”The Different Ones” by Rod Serling. And speaking of bookends, this science fiction piece is the thematic twin of The Twilight Zone’s “The Eye of the Beholder”. Standing the premise of that story on its head, this one has a heartsick father sending his grotesquely deformed son to live on another planet. What awaits him there will remind you of what happened to Donna Douglas in the Zone classic.
”Lindenmann’s Catch” by Rod Serling tells of a fisherman who hauls up a mermaid in his net. He wants to care for the creature, but this yarn is nothing like that of Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in Splash! In fact, it comes to a truly bizarre and stomach-churning end.
”You Can’t Get Help Like That Any More,” starring Cloris Leachman (moonlighting from Mary Tyler Moore, where she was playing Phyllis at the time) is another Serling companion to one of his Twilight Zone tales, this one harking back to “A Thing About Machines”. In a world of lifelike android servants, the help is more human than you’d expect--especially for a decadent rich couple that abuses the mechanical maid. This one strikes a blow for good relations with workers--literally!
”The Caterpillar” by Rod Serling is the first story in the last episode of Season 2, and takes the prize for the all-time most horrifying ending in the entire series. For the record, the idea that the earwig, a type of insect, actually crawls into the human ear and eats into the brain is an urban myth. It is not real; it does not happen. Someone made it up. Really. But what happens to the lecherous would-be seducer of another man’s beautiful wife when he tries to eliminate the husband with an earwig and takes the insect up the ear himself comes to an ending that will leave you squirming for life. I kid you not; this is one that I never forgot!
Night Gallery ironically saw its ratings spike in its third season--this, after NBC cut it back to half an hour and one story a week and dumped it in a time slot after the Mystery Movie on Sunday nights, but NBC cancelled it anyway. Go figure. The workings of TV network minds can be more spooky than anything hanging on the walls of the Night Gallery, as Rod would have attested. At some point I’ll rent the Netflix disks for the third season, so I expect we’ll be visiting Rod Serling’s Night Gallery here on The Quantum Blog again some time in the future.
Now we’ve finished our tour, I encourage you again to surf over to www.nightgallery.net. The official Night Gallery site contains most of the paintings from the series. These are the work of an amazing artist named Tom Wright, who somehow managed to vary his styles and techniques so much that it seems that the works were created by dozens of different artists. You’ll also find lots of background info on the series, some reviews of the show, and even some actual Night Gallery scripts including Rod’s teleplays for “Class of 99” and “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar!” I hope you’ve enjoyed--and survived--your visit to the Night Gallery. As dawn approaches, the exhibit is now closed. And...pleasant dreams!