Cobwebs and Canvases: A Night Gallery Tour
It’s been 40 years since the last painting was hung in the darkened display known as Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. But for those who enjoy a good campfire story — something light on gore and heavy on shivers — the doors have never closed. The cobwebbed corridors still beckon.
But be careful. You never know who might be looking over your shoulder.
So let’s take a look around. Alas, Mr. Serling can’t be here, so I hope you don’t mind if I serve as your tour guide today. I’d like to show you some of my favorites …
THE CEMETERY (pilot movie — Nov. 8, 1969)
The one that started it all. Night Gallery began as a TV movie with three chilling tales, and this one — featuring Roddy McDowell as a greedy man who hastens his rich uncle’s death to claim an inheritance — is good, creepy fun. Especially because the uncle in question won’t stay buried. Aaaaand you can track his progress through a painting of the family crypt that, um, keeps changing. Ossie Davis co-stars. Boris Sagal (father of actress Katie Sagal, and director of the Twilight Zone episode “The Silence”) directs the first in a trio of Serling originals.
A FEAR OF SPIDERS (Season 2, Episode 4 — Oct. 6, 1971)
The title says it all, really. Though I’ll add this: It stars Patrick O’Neal as a misanthropic writer who’s trying to work in peace. That’s not easy when you have to fend off the unwelcome advances of your lovestruck neighbor, as well as a few eight-legged creatures who seem to get bigger every time they show up. You’re going to need more than a can of Raid to fumigate THIS place. Especially the bedroom. Why do spiders always seem to camp out in the bedroom? John Astin (yes, TV’s Gomez Addams) directs.
A QUESTION OF FEAR (Season 2, Episode 6 — Oct. 27, 1971)
This old plot? Guy takes a $15,000 bet that he won’t spend a night in a haunted house? Ah, the plot’s familiar, but the Night Gallery twist is something you won’t see coming. Leslie Nielsen plays a tough guy who scoffs at the very idea of haunted houses. By the time his stay is over, though, he’s wishing the place was merely haunted. Fritz Weaver (the Chancellor in Twilight Zone’s “The Obsolete Man”) plays a host who plays for keeps. He doesn’t care about the money. He has a more sinister agenda in mind.
PICKMAN’S MODEL (Season 2, Episode 11– Dec. 1, 1971)
A Victorian-era artist (Bradford Dillman) becomes notorious among Boston’s blue bloods for his blood-curdling portraits of strange, feral creatures. But what of those rumors that he bases them not on an overactive imagination, but on real-life monsters? One of his art students is determined to find out. Think she’ll like what she finds when she prowls around Pickman’s dark, spooky house? An Emmy nominee for best make-up, this is one of two Night Gallery episodes that were based on short stories by the legendary H.P. Lovecraft.
THE OTHER WAY OUT (Season 3, Episode 6 — Nov. 19, 1972)
Ordinary businessman returns from vacation, rested and refreshed — only to get a disturbing communication from … the hotel where he skipped out on the bill? If only. No, it’s from someone who knows he killed a stripper. Someone who’s demanding that he bring a lot of money to a secluded country house. Someone who … well, watch and see. Twilight Zone veteran Ross Martin and Burl Ives (yes, Burl Ives!) star in a tale of revenge you might have trouble shaking.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (Season 2, Episode 2, Sept. 22, 1971)
E.G.Marshall plays an undertaker who takes special pity on the societal outcasts he’s asked to bury as charity cases. How nice. He even refuses to bury them, instead dressing them in special outfits and adopting them as members of his own unique “family.” How … strange. So you can imagine how a wounded fugitive who’s fleeing the police feels when he stumbles onto Marshall’s secret and is forced to accept the eccentric’s hospitality. Serling’s script gives this macabre tale a surprisingly humane edge.
THE DOLL (Season 1, Episode 5 — Jan. 13, 1971)
Think Talky Tina of Twilight Zone’s “Living Doll” is bad? Meet her sister. She’s just as lethal, but lacks Tina’s deceptively sweet smile. This tiny tyrant doesn’t even bother issuing silky-smooth threats; she just kills. A retired British military officer finds her an unwelcome addition to his household when an old adversary sends the doll to his niece, who happily adopts the ugly thing. But there’s a hidden objective behind that homicidal grin. John Williams (who played William Shakespeare in Twilight Zone‘s “The Bard”) stars in a tale that director Guillermo del Toro found particularly terrifying as a child.
GREEN FINGERS (Season 2, Episode 15 — Jan. 5, 1972)
Elsa Lanchester doesn’t have to be dressed up as the bride of Frankenstein to give you a good chill. Here she stars as a grandmotherly sort who has a real penchant for gardening. She also has little patience for those who cross her. So when an unscrupulous land developer tries to run her off her land, he gets a horticultural lesson he won’t soon forget. Oh, you think he’ll wind up planted in the garden? Nothing so obvious. Directed with flair by Night Gallery veteran John Badham (brother of “To Kill a Mockingbird” star Mary Badham).
THE CATERPILLAR (Season 2, Episode 22 — March 1, 1972)
Man sees woman, man wants woman, woman is married to another man. But this particular man is a British exile stuck in a manner house deep in the jungles of Borneo. With the help of a conniving local, he hits upon a unique way of dispatching his rival: an earwig. A tiny insect that can crawl in the ear while you sleep and burrow into your brain. Hey, accidents happen, right? And what could possibly go wrong? Laurence Harvey pursues the telegenic Joanna Pettit (a five-time Night Gallery star) in a wicked tale of lust, desperation and poetic justice.
THEY’RE TEARING DOWN TIM RILEY’S BAR (Season 1, Episode 6 — Jan. 20, 1971)
A lonely widower who’s spent 25 years at the same company finds himself having to fend off an ambitious young turk who’s gunning for his job. Small wonder he’s hitting the bottle a little too hard and pining for the good old days. Pining so hard, in fact, that whenever he passes his favorite hangout, the empty, soon-to-be demolished Tim Riley’s bar, he hears familiar voices from inside. The voices of his friends, his father, and his wife. He can see them, too. Can his caring secretary (Diane Baker) convince him that the present is worth living in, or will he disappear completely into the past? William Windom (the major in TZ’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”) brings one of Serling’s most touching scripts to heart-breaking life. If you’re a fan of Twilight Zone‘s “Walking Distance” or “A Stop at Willoughby”, this one is for you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this all-too-brief tour of our little museum. There are many other excellent exhibits that I haven’t shown you yet, including “Cool Air,” “Camera Obscura,” “Class of ’99,” “The Messiah on Mott Street” … the list goes on, but I’ll save those for another time. Otherwise, we’ll be here all night.
Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. This “mausoleum of the malignant,” as Serling once called it, is a unique gallery, after all. “Anyone can show you a Rembrandt or a Picasso,” he added, “but we dig much deeper with our paintings — frequently six feet underground.”
Photo illustrations by 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. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 03/15/2013, in Night Gallery, Rod Serling and tagged Bradford Dillman, Burl Ives, E.G. Marshall, Elsa Lanchester, Fritz Weaver, Guillermo del Toro, Joanna Pettit, John Astin, Laurence Harvey, Leslie Nielsen, Night Gallery, Ossie Davis, Patrick O'Neal, Rod Serling, Roddy McDowell, Ross Martin, William Windom. Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.