“Denizens of the Darkness”
If you’re a fan of Night Gallery, it’s hard not to feel a sense of irony while reading the introduction to Rod Serling’s 1967 paperback anthology, “Devils and Demons.” He begins it this way:
There is a disturbing tendency on the part of motion pictures to update what used to be the relatively sacrosanct area of the “horror story.” The venerable Dracula still searches for corpusuled canapes, but often we find him on a beach with bikinis. Frankenstein’s monster still stalks the scene with stiff-legged singularity of purpose, but his quarry is no longer the frightened villager. It is Abbott and Costello.
All of the denizens of the darkness — the devils, the demons, the forces of evil — are being put in modern dress, with the net result that the whole rally is more of a teenagers’ Halloween show than the once-chilling province of timeless fear.
The irony comes from the fact that, years later, Night Gallery producer Jack Laird — much to Serling’s displeasure — would be putting short comic blackout sketches in between tales of more serious horror. And more than a few of these sketches committed the very offense that Serling had complained about in his “Devils and Demons” anthology.
Now, when you think about the audience that a show like Night Gallery was bound to attract, why would anyone think they wanted to see vampires, witches, mad scientists, and Frankenstein monsters used in “humorous” ways? Even when the comedy worked (which was seldom the case), such moments could be a mood killer.
Take one of Night Gallery‘s strongest episodes: the one with “Cool Air” (scripted by Serling from an H.P. Lovecraft story) and “Camera Obscura.” Both are good, solid segments with some genuine chills. So why finish the hour with the two-minute segment “Quoth the Raven”? In it, Edgar Allan Poe is shown composing “The Raven,” only to find himself unable to come up with a key word (“weary”) — which is then supplied by a noisy raven — voiced by Mel “Bugs Bunny” Blanc, no less.
Had Laird avoided the tendency to “update” and subvert classic horror forms, Night Gallery might have enjoyed a longer run. (Oddly, he directed some of the scarier segments, such as “A Question of Fear” and “Pickman’s Model.”) Fortunately, the “denizens of the darkness” receive a much more respectful treatment in the scripts penned by Serling and other, wiser writers.
Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!