Crowhaven Farm: Made for TV Horror Classic

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Welcome to day three in the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing the supernatural made-for television movie Crowhaven Farm. Forget the reality and slasher shows of contemporary horror television because this is the show that taught children of the 70s the meaning of fear. Creepy neighbors, dark forests, sounds of children crying in the night, rumors of witchcraft–this show has it all, and had it all long before these iconic horror film ingredients became cliches.

The writers of this show clearly understood horror, they understood that fear is in the mind and that nothing terrifies people more than their own imaginations. Contemporary television shows too much, it tells too much. Crowhaven Farm is spooky, scary, downright terrifying, simply because it makes you think.

The Plot

Evelyn Carey has died and at the reading of her will she leaves her brooch and collector dishes to her cousin, Margaret Carey Porter (Hope Lange) or “Maggie.” Maggie seems perfectly content with her inheritance. Carey has left her farm, Crowhaven Farm, its outbuildings, contents, and 80 acres, to another cousin, Harvey Carey, on the condition that he take possession of the property within 30 days. Carey leaves that weekend for Crowhaven Farm, which is located in Essex County, Massachusetts. Late in the evening, he drives over a wooden bridge. I think wooden bridges are spooky. They are dark, enclosed–great imagery. Carey then sees a young girl standing in the middle of the road. He swerves to avoid hitting her and hits a tree instead. His car explodes. The young girl smiles. Maggie inherits the farm.

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Wooden Bridge. Image by Poldek_Tedy.

When Maggie and her husband, Ben (Paul Burke), drive out to visit the farm with Maggie’s friend, Felicia (Patricia Barry), there are signs, hints that all is not well on Crowhaven Farm. They are greeted by crows–never a good sign in a supernatural film–and discover a secret room with strange equipment. It is odd that Maggie knows precisely how to enter the room–by lifting a coat hook. Felicia asks how she knew the room was there, but Maggie has no answer. Felicia suggests that Maggie has lived a past life. This is called foreshadowing for the novice film watcher–of course she’s lived a past life! It’s a witch movie!

Maggie tries to convince her husband that the farm is too far away from “civilization,” but her husband wants the farm. He wants to get away from the city and raise a family. Ben wins out, telling Maggie if she agrees she can ask him for anything. He makes a desperate promise to give her anything if they agree to keep the farm. She agrees. As he walks away, Maggie has a vision of Puritans in a field piling rocks onto the ground. She tries to explain what she’s seen in the meadow to her husband, but she is hysterical and he thinks she’s overheated by the sun.

Maggie and Ben move into the farmhouse. While they are moving in the entire neighborhood arrives at their door with food and wine to welcome the couple. They point out an obvious plot clue–the couple does not have a phone. Neighbor Harold Dane (Cyril Delevanti), the local historian, explains that the house is from the Puritan era and compares the nearby town, Frampton, established in 1650, to Salem, “including witches and witch trials.” He tells the story of witchcraft and a woman, Martha Slawson, who didn’t love her husband. Divorce was illegal. A friendly witch suggested she remove her wedding ring and give it to the coven. Her husband died and his soul was delivered to the devil. He then explains that eventually eight residents of the town were executed–seven were hanged and one was pressed to death when the townspeople covered her with planks and piled rocks on top of the planks. This is what Maggie had seen in the meadow! This technique is generally used to obtain a confession, but in this case the accused was crushed to death. When she hears this story, Maggie is clearly disconcerted.

Ben is an artist, but Maggie is a former legal secretary. Kevin Pierce tells her about an opening in a local law firm. Her husband reacts with jealousy, but Maggie insists that she return to work, and she does. She works late, and Kevin gives her a lift home. Her husband accuses her of finally finding a man who can give her everything he cannot, including a child–more foreshadowing. That night, Maggie has a nightmare about being covered in stones. Ben wakes her up to apologize, but she is sobbing about the dream.

Local History

Maggie meets with Harold Dane at her home to learn more about the history of Crowhaven Farm. Apparently this is on the urging of Dane who believes that descendants of the Carey family should know their ancestors. That night, Maggie is awakened by the sound of a child crying. Maggie follows the sounds into the forest. Suddenly, the cries of the child become a witch’s cackle and Maggie collapses in fear.

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Actress Hope Lange. Trailer/Screenshot.

The next day, Maggie visits her Dr. Terminer (Milton Seltzer), tells him about what she heard the night before and tells him she is convinced something is going to happen to her. The doctor makes an odd segue into a discussion about the fact that Maggie and Ben have no children. Maggie explains that they have tried for seven years and cannot afford alternative treatments to encourage pregnancy. The doctor suggests that her frustration over the pregnancy issue might be causing the dreams, the inability to conceive, and even a hallucination about a crying child.

The next day a woman arrives at Crowhaven Farm. Mercy Lewis (note the name: Mercy was a common name among Puritans) was sent by Dr. Terminer and has a child, her ten-year-old niece–who is available for adoption. The couple seem reluctant. They want a baby. Lewis explains that Dr. Terminer has informed her that her illness is incurable. She tells them that Jennifer was orphaned when she was two and she needs to find a good home for her. Suddenly, the child steps into the barn. It is the same mysterious girl who was standing by the wooden bridge, the child who caused the death of Maggie’s cousin!

Maggie and Ben introduce themselves to Jennifer who tells them they have nice names. She tells Ben his painting is so pretty it makes her want to cry. Jennifer asks if she can stay with the couple while her aunt is in Boston and they agree on  ”a trial visit.” Ben comments that Jennifer is a beautiful child, and she is beautiful. In fact, Jennifer is played by Cindy Eilbacher, sister of Lisa Eilbacher, who stars in the Twilight Zone episode “Nightsong.

The next day, Maggie arrives home to find a police car in her driveway. Lewis has committed suicide. Jennifer apparently took the news remarkably well and Dr. Terminer suggests they keep her as a child. Maggie discusses Lewis’s death that night as she helps Jennifer prepare for bed. That’s when she notices Jennifer has a bite on her shoulder. Jennifer claims it has always been on her shoulder.

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Rod Taylor and Lloyd Bochner (behind). 

The next day, at work, Maggie receives a phone call from Kevin Pierce. There is a terrible storm outside and Pierce claims stretches of road are under three feet of water–she cannot drive home. He suggests she stay at his apartment. She reluctantly agrees, but cannot tell her husband–they have no phone, remember?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jennifer in her cute white nightgown is making the rounds of the house via secret rooms that she mysteriously knows all about. Hmm. She enters the bedroom and tells Ben she is lonely. She asks if she can sleep with him. He agrees and returns to his book, but before she falls asleep she gives him a mysterious smile.

And to Make Matters Worse…

Kevin Pierce arrives for a visit and accuses Maggie of avoiding him. He accuses her of lying to her jealous husband and Maggie admits that she told Ben she stayed at a hotel. Suddenly, they both notice Jennifer standing in the room. She is dressed as a Puritan. She tells them she wants to show them her costume. Maggie asks how long she’s been listening and Jennifer replies, “a little while.”

The next scene is in the doctor’s office. Dr. Terminer informs her she is pregnant. They agree to wait to tell Ben for a month until the test is 100% sure so it can be a New Year’s gift. The couple has a New Year’s party in their home. At midnight, the devious Pierce grabs Maggie and forces her into an intimate kiss. She pushes him away, but when she approaches her husband he grabs the nearest neighbor and kisses her passionately, too. Later, in the bedroom, Maggie tells Ben she is pregnant. “This was the only thing missing, our own baby,” Ben says. Jennifer is seen in her own bed, smiling that mysterious smile.

The Tension is Rising

Maggie is working in the kitchen when the handyman, Nate Cheever (the great John Carradine) brings up a door from the cellar. There are marks on the door that appear to be made by stones. Maggie has a flashback and hysterically demands that he burn the door. The tension is rising…

Harold Dane, the historian, has returned to town and tries to visit Maggie, but Jennifer tells him the couple are both gone. She promises to tell them he has stopped by. He notices his cane is missing and Jennifer claims she didn’t see it. Dane leaves, and Jennifer carries the cane out to the handyman who is working in the garden. Later, the mailman tells Maggie Mr. Dane fell down the stairs at his home and died. Jennifer is playing with a string at the table. The mailman tells her Dane came to visit her the day before. When he leaves, Maggie asks Jennifer if Mr. Dane came to the house. Jennifer denies seeing anyone and leaves the room.

Return of the Witches

Maggie walks to the bookcase and picks up a book. It is a history of Crowhaven Farm. It explains that in 1692, Daniel Carey and his wife Margaret, or Meg Carey, were living at the farm. They had no children and it was acknowledged that Meg was barren. Then suddenly, she became pregnant. Although the couple was believed to be “God-fearing.” Maggie has another flashback where she is accused of conceiving a child with the “evil one.” She visits the family cemetery and finds the tombstones for Margaret Carey and Maggie Carey.

She returns to the book, which explains that a cousin held witch sacrifices of sheep, goats, and larger animals in the stone quarry on the farm. She has another flashback. A tortured woman named a child, Jennifer, who was brought before the court. It was revealed that she had a bite on her shoulder, the bite of Satan–the same bite as Jennifer, the child in Maggie’s home!

It is the late in the evening, but Maggie hears voices outside and follows them to the stone quarry where she witnesses a witch ceremony. Suddenly, while she is standing there, it is morning again. She walks into the quarry and finds fresh blood. She returns home. Ben has been looking for her. She is hysterical again, mumbling about sacrifices and blood. She tries to show him, but there is no longer any blood on her hand. She screams at him to stay away. Ben calls out to Jenny to find Dr. Terminer fast. (Now, how does she do this if they have no phone?)

A Child is Born

Dr. Terminer is working on her. She mumbles that she will do anything to have a child. She is still hallucinating, making promises in order to have a child. She is dreaming that she is lying on the ground with a board on her chest while people pile rocks on top of her. When she awakens she is looking into the eyes of the doctor. A nurse and Ben are standing beside the bed. Maggie has given birth to a son.

It is night. Maggie is sleeping in her own bed. The nurse is still caring for her (Oh, those were the days!). She asks how Brian is and Ben says he is small, but healthy. Jennifer enters the room to check on her, but Maggie seems uncomfortable with her presence. Ben sends her to bed. Maggie sends Ben for the books downstairs. She tells him that Jennifer is in the book, and tells him about the teeth marks on her shoulder. She tells him about a woman, Meg Carey, who made a pact with Jennifer. She agreed to her terms in order to have a child. She believes history is repeating itself. Ben tells her she has dreamed the whole thing. Maggie tells him Mr. Dane came to warn them, but Ben will not listen. She tries to tell him it was all arranged, including Mercy Lewis’s death. She begs him to take her away from Crowhaven Farm. He tells her she is tired, but agrees to read the book.

Ben is next seen talking to the doctor downstairs. The doctor tells him there never were any books. Ben asks the doctor to watch over Maggie so he can attend a one man art show in Boston in a first class gallery. Ben tells Maggie and she begs him not to go. She reminds him of his promise, to give her anything she wants if she stays at the farm and she wants that promise, she wants him to stay at the farm. Ben tells her Dr. Terminer does not believe she is in her “right mind,” and he is leaving.

But Maggie is in her “right” mind! 

Maggie sneaks out of bed to check on the baby. She wraps up the baby and tries to sneak out of the house, then notices the handyman, Cheever, in front of the house with the door with the rock marks on it. She turns around and find Jennifer and two women from town standing in the room in puritan clothing. “What have I done to you?” she asks. “You’ve betrayed us,” they reply. “I died at ten because you betrayed me,” Jennifer tells her. “We’ve waited for our souls to return to this world for our revenge.”

Maggie tries to run, but the follow her. Suddenly, Maggie’s best friend, Felicia arrives. Maggie climbs into the car and tells her to drive away. “Thank God it was you,” she says. She starts to explain the story, then realized Felicia has driven her to the field. “Felicia, no, not you!” Maggie cries. Felicia tells her to get out. She demands the baby. They take the child. They force Maggie to lie down in the field and cover her with the board. They slowly cover her in rocks. Dr. Terminer gives a speech about closing the circle, explaining it is the anniversary of Jennifer’s cruel death. Maggie cries out for Ben and Jennifer offers to take Ben in her place. Maggie asks what will happen to her baby. Jennifer tells her again to give her Ben. She tells her to give her the wedding ring and she can have her baby returned. Maggie gives her the ring, just like in the story in the history book.

Maggie wakes up in the field. The townspeople are gone and her baby is beside her. Back at the house, Ben comes home to find Jennifer waiting. She tells Ben Maggie left him for Mr. Pierce, that Maggie said that was where they both belonged. Ben recalls that he told her once to go to him. Jennifer reveals that Maggie spent the night at Mr. Pierce’s apartment during the storm. Ben suddenly assumes the child is Pierce’s child.

Death comes to Crowhaven Farm

Jennifer goes to her room. She is twisting Maggie’s ring on her finger. Ben goes to Pierce’s apartment and shoots him, then discovers it is not his wife in Pierce’s bed, but the neighbor Ben kissed on New Year’s Eve.

Maggie arrives home, searching for her husband. Ben is at the quarry, climbing the rocks. He sees Jennifer, who tells him she’s been waiting for him. He follows her through the trees. They arrive at the top of a cliff. Below, there is a witch’s ceremony taking place. The next scene shows Ben dead on the rocks and the police retrieving his body. Dr. Terminer declares cause of death a broken neck. A police officer points out teeth marks on Ben’s shoulder and Dr. Terminer laughs. 

Maggie returns to the city. She is walking the baby in a pram through the park. An officer arrives on horseback and stops to talk. He admires the baby and comments on the baby’s father. Maggie tells him she is a widow. The police officer ties a bow for the baby in an odd way, the same way Ben used to tie bows. The officer tells her that from now on he’ll keep an eye on her, and her little boy. He gets back on his horse and rides away, and Maggie realizes she will never escape the coven.

While it is true that the film was shown during prime time on the ABC Movie of the Week, but I am still surprised to this day by the number of adults I know who watched this show as children. When you read about this film on internet forums it is always adults who remember Crowhaven Farm, and they remember it well. They remember watching it as children, and being very afraid…

 Sources: 

  • Crowhaven Farm. Dir. Walter Grauman. Perf. Hope Lange, Paul Burke, Lloyd Bochner, John Carradine. Aaron Spelling Productions., 1970. Running Time: 74 min.
  • There is a video of this film currently available on You Tube. Videos come and go on You Tube, but the film is available, in its entirety, at the time of this posting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj8-JFphNOs

Bewitched: The Sexiest Nose Twitch on Television

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Welcome to day two of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing the supernatural family show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens, the suburban housewife with the cutest nose twitch on television! Contrary to other supernatural television characters, Samantha was uncomfortable with her witchy abilities. She wanted the life of a traditional housewife with two children–a boy and a girl, of course–a station wagon, a dog, and a house in a quiet neighborhood where friends could stop by on occasion for a cup of tea and gossip. Instead of cleaning up after her children, Samantha was forced to use her supernatural abilities to clean up the messes created by her meddling mother, Endora, and other various nuisance relatives.

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Publicity photo of Elizabeth Montgomery. Montgomery played the lovely mother, housewife, and secret witch in the supernatural sitcom Bewitched, which of course was released in the magic year of 1968.

It’s not that Samantha is ashamed of her family or her supernatural ancestry. The problem is that her husband is a traditionalist, a corporate fanny-kisser, and Samantha, though she lives in the 1960s, prefers the happy homemaker image of the 1950s, which includes remaining faithful to her husband’s ideals, which include not cheating–and by cheating I do not mean infidelity.

The business ethics of Darrin Stephens include honesty, hard work, and acquiring wealth and achieving success only if it is earned. This list, of course, does not include the use of magic spells or nose twitches. Darrin is proud of his wife for her beauty and dedication to their family, but he is embarrassed by her family, and the fact that his daughter is a witch, and his son is a warlock.

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Dick York as Darrin Stephens and Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched.

When you think about it, although this sitcom was exceptionally popular–it ran from September of 1964 to July of 1972 and ranked in the Top 25 five times during its run–it was shocking sexist for the times. Samantha’s appeal is sexual–she is alluring, bewitching, enticing, charming, and although her husband often ends up looking like a fool in his efforts to prevent his wife from exposing her supernatural abilities, Samantha always remains calm, cool, and silky smooth.

The Cast of Bewitched

Samantha Stephens is played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery. Robert Montgomery was nominated for two Oscars and believed to be the best dressed man in Hollywood, which may explain what appears to be an almost instinctive sex appeal in the performances of his daughter, Elizabeth–she had a great teacher. Elizabeth surprised her father when she enrolled in the Academy of Dramatic Arts, then shocked him again when he was told of her success with her first audition–Elizabeth had landed a role in the show Top Secret, and her father was the show’s star. Elizabeth met television producer William Asher and the two fell madly in love. The two searched for a script  for a show she could star in so they could spend more time together, and discovered Bewitched. Elizabeth designed her own costumes for the show, which were so popular that she eventually created her own clothing line.

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Dick York as Darrin Stephens in Bewitched. Dick York played the role from 1964 to 1969.

Dick York played Darrin Stephens in Bewitched, an executive with the New York advertising firm of McMann and Tate. York was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. In short, he was hysterically funny! Unfortunately, he also had a degenerative spine injury and was forced to leave the show in 1969. He actually tore all the muscles in his back in 1959 while working on a film with Gary Cooper and never recovered. The pain was unbearable for York, and in 1969 he had a seizure on the set of Bewitched. He was taken to the hospital and never returned to the set. Bewitched continued with Dick Sargent playing the role of Darrin and the show’s ratings dropped immediately and drastically–apparently, the audience loved the wimpy character played by Dick York!

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Agnes Moorehead starred as Samantha’s mother, Endora, in Bewitched.

The Most Dangerous Mother-In-Law in Sitcom History

Samantha’s mother was clearly the greatest source of conflict in this family sitcom. She was more than a meddler, she was a witch in every sense of the word. She did not like her son-in-law and did everything she could to interfere in her daughter’s relationship, inspiring television historian John Javna to refer to her as “The most dangerous mother-in-law in sitcom history!” In fact, Agnes Moorehead was a bit uncomfortable with the role. She was 57 when Bewitched started filming with a 50 year successful acting career that began with the American Mercury Theater starring alongside Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. She won an Emmy, was nominated for five Oscars, and appeared in over 100 films before Bewitched. The audience would never have guessed that she was uncomfortable with the role, though. Agnes Moorehead was a professional in every sense of the word and her performance as the meddling mother-in-law was outstanding.

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The Stephens family in 1971 screenshot for Bewitched. At this point, Dick Sargent had replaced Dick York as Darrin Stephens. Erin Murphy played young Tabitha and David Lawrence played Adam Stephens. Both children inherited their mother’s supernatural powers in the show.  

Bewitched is still believed to be one of the most popular supernatural sitcoms in television history. Although Elizabeth Montgomery had bit parts in films and television shows before Bewitched, this was the show that truly made her famous. The show also won three Emmys, a testament to its popularity. Samantha Stephens was the first “witch” to star in a television show. When Dick York left the show, his disappearance was also a first–it was the first time a lead character left a show without an explanation. Nevertheless, the show continued for three more years in spite of the drop in ratings, due primarily to the popularity of Elizabeth Montgomery.

Little Tabitha (Erin Murphy) also contributed to the show’s popularity. In fact, ABC gave Tabitha her own sitcom in 1977. Tabitha was played by Lisa Hartman who was an adult employed by a television station. The show only lasted a year.

When Tabitha first appeared on the show as a baby she was played by three sets of twins until the producers finally settled on the adorable Erin Murphy. The fans loved the name Tabitha, though. After her first appearance, thousands of babies were named in her honor in the US.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

The Addams Family: The Dysfunctional Family Cult Classic

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Welcome to day one of the A to Z Blogger Challenge! Today’s topic is The Addam’s Family, the supernatural, happily dysfunctional family based on a classic cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine. The Addams Family ran on prime time television from 1964 to 1966, but remains a cult favorite for many reasons discussed below. The show was introduced at a time when the networks was inundated with quirky families, like The Munsters and Bewitched. According to Michael Winship, author of Television, the public was tired of the perfect families found in the 1950s sitcoms, so the networks responded with a monster explosion in the 60s. Though it only ran for two years, The Addams Family ranked #23 in the Top 25 Television Shows, but more importantly, it became a supernatural cult classic favorite. However, today, we will discuss this well-loved family because it’s one of my childhood favorites, and because…A is for Addams! 

Meet the Addams Family, their Family and Friends

One of the definitions of the word supernatural is “weird, unearthly, and beyond scientific understanding.” This is precisely what makes the Addams Family so charming. They are strange, goofy, and some members of the family are most definitely beyond scientific understanding. They have an octopus for a pet, and Thing T. Thing, a disembodied hand that fetches the mail and lights cigars for Gomez Addams. The daughter of the family, Wednesday Friday Addams, has a pet spider collection and Pugsley, her brother, spends much of his play time using his toy guillotine on Wednesday’s doll. The family pet, though, is a man-eating plant named Cleopatra.

Some viewers may consider this family a bit weird, they are definitely “supernatural,” and may even fit the definition of dysfunctional in the minds of contemporary family therapists, but they are also lovable, simply because they do not see themselves as strange, and they rarely judge others as strange, either. To the Addams, their way of life is quite normal and they seem to be completely oblivious to the opinions of others and the fact that other people think they’re “different.” I like this.

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The Addams Family, from left to right: Gomez Addams (John Astin); Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring); Morticia Frump Addams (Carolyn Jones); Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax); and standing behind Morticia’s chair is Lurch the Butler, played by Ted Cassidy, who also played Thing T. Thing. 

The head of the Addam’s clan is Gomez Addams (John Astin). Gomez is a lawyer who dresses like a gangster–not contemporary gangsters, but the 1940s gangster style. He is intelligent and charming, and often completes complicated mathematical calculations in his head. He has a magic cigar that lights when he removes it from his jacket pocket and extinguishes itself when replaced. According to John Javna’s Cult TV, when John Astin first auditioned for a role on this show he was turned down, but he auditioned for the position of Lurch! Instead, of hiring Astin to play Lurch, Executive Producer David Levy offered him the role of Gomez on one condition, that he grow a mustache. That mustache must have felt like a caterpillar on the skin of Carolyn Jones as Gomez spent most of his time at home kissing the hand, wrist, and arm of his lovely wife, Morticia! True story–according to John Javna, when Ringo Starr met John Astin he greeted him by grasping Astin’s hand and kissing him all the way up his arm just as Gomez does to his wife.

Morticia is one of my favorite characters in the show. She has white skin, long black hair, and is always dressed in a long, tight, black wedding gown. She lights candles with the touch of her finger. Morticia is sexy and spooky at the same time. Morticia is played by Carolyn Jones, who also plays Morticia’s sister, Ophelia, in the show. Carolyn Jones was cast because Levy was looking for an actress with a “name,” and she was the only well-known actress who auditioned. Her previous roles, though, were bit parts in House of Wax and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but they were supernatural films and she was able to show that she could play the part. Jones spent two hours each day dressing for the role. Her makeup was meticulous, and her wig was made of real human hair. Punk rocker Siouxsie of Siouxsie and the Banshees (am I revealing my age here?) bragged that she used Morticia as her costume and makeup role model.

Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring) were inseparable siblings (no, I do not mean this literally!). They are always seen together, but rarely featured in an episode. They look and dress like normal children in the television show with Wednesday’s long, dark hair woven into two braids and Pugsley in the popular striped shirts. The children do not have friends on the show for obvious reasons–not many young girls would appreciate the joys of playing with a spider collection. They do have special talents, though. Puglsey hangs from tree branches by his teeth and Wednesday is a Judo expert. They appear to be home-schooled by their grandmother, though in the contemporary film versions their roles are much larger and Uncle Fester appears to be their tutor. The Addams Family was the only television show or film that Ken Weatherwax appeared in, though he did make an occasional guest appearance on talk shows. Lisa Loring is still acting in soap operas, films, and television shows.

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Famous child actor Jackie Coogan played Uncle Fester in the original television series.

Uncle Fester is shaped like a long box, has dark, sunken eyes and pale skin, and dresses like a monk. He also sleeps on a bed of nails. He has the personality of a child at times, but is well-loved by the family. In the television show he is Morticia’s Uncle. His most famous trick on the show is electrifying a light bulb by sticking it in his mouth. He also plays records using his finger for a needle. Uncle Fester is played by the adult child star Jackie Coogan. Coogan came from a famous Vaudeville family and made his first film with Charlie Chaplin. He made hundreds of appearances in films and television shows, from The Love Boat to I Dream of Jeannie. He even played Oliver in one of the first film versions of Oliver Twist made in 1922. Coogan made his first film, The Kid, at the age of four and was still making films right up to the year that he died, in 1984.

Grandmama Addams (Marie Blake) was a bona fide witch who flies on a broom and is constantly working on her special brews. She is such a fun character with her witchy laugh and her hexes and spells. She always wore a shawl like all good grandmammas do, and her hair was frizzy as if she’d stuck her finger in the socket after Fester removed the light bulb. Grandmama was Morticia’s mother.

Lurch (Ted Cassidy) is the butler, but clearly a member of the family, which is shown in his careful attention to the children (and the fact that he waxes Uncle Fester’s head.) Although Ted Cassidy was a well-established, handsome actor, he was rather ghoulish and a bit scary in the show. He was expected to perform a variety of tasks on the show, but often found them difficult to accomplish due to his great height, something that strangers and neighbors often found terrifying when they dared to knock at the door.

Thing T. Thing is also played by Ted Cassidy, but when Thing and Lurch appeared on screen at the same time, Thing was played by the hand of Associate Producer Jack Vogelin. Thing is generally Cassidy’s right hand, but Cassidy sometimes switched hands to fool the viewing audience. Thing had his own house inside the house inside the upstairs closet of the Addam’s residence. He generally made his appearance at the most inopportune moments, such as when a visitor was alone in the room. Thing does fall in love in one episode, “Morticia Meets Royalty,” when the Princess Millicent von Schlepp visits with a female “thing,” the hand of Carolyn Jones, which is kept inside of an ornate box. She was called “Lady Fingers.”

Although there are many other notable characters in the family, Cousin Itt (Felix Silla and later, Anthony Magro) is probably one of the most popular. He is, well, a hairy It. Itt is about four feet tall and covered head to toe with long, thick hair. He doesn’t speak, he mumbles. He does, however, drive a three-wheeled car.

The New Yorker Cartoon created by Charles Addams

The Addams Family was the creative inspiration of Charles Addams and based on a popular cartoon Addams wrote for The New Yorker. The family had a cult following before it was introduced to television. In fact, David Levy noticed a book collection of the cartoons in a bookstore and as soon as he opened the book he realized the Addams family was perfect for the 1960s monster obsession. Addams had rejected numerous offers in the past to turn the cartoon into a television show, but when he met with Levy the two men seemed to understand what Charles Addams had in mind when he created the family, so Addams agreed to the transformation of his characters from cartoon figures to television actors.

The House is a Museum…

The Addams Family theme song claims, “Their house is a museum, when people come to see ‘em they really are a screa-um. The Addams Family.” And the house truly is a cluttered, dusty museum. The house has a growling bearskin rug; a giant stuffed Polar Bear; a noose hanging from the ceiling (nice touch); and an Eskimo Totem Pole. There is also a rack, iron maiden and stocks. My favorite, though, is the suit of armor that coughs whenever Gomez Addams flicks his cigar ashes.

The Addams Family on Film

The Addams Family was revived in 1991 with a feature film by Orion Pictures who sold the film to Paramount. I love this film. At first, I didn’t think it was possible to replace the original cast, but it was! The film stars Raul Julia, one of my all-time favorite actors, as Gomez, and Angelica Huston as the perfect Morticia. Christopher Lloyd surprised me with his excellent portrayal of Uncle Fester, but Christina Ricci steals the show as the morbid mini-Morticia, Wednesday Friday. In this show, Uncle Fester is the older brother of Gomez. He has amnesia and is hoodwinked by a shady lawyer (Dan Hedaya) and his loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). In the end, though, the family joyfully reunited.

Addams Family Values was released in 1993 with the wonderful Carol Kane playing “Granny.” Uncle Fester is again the star of the show as the husband of evil nurse Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who tries desperately to murder Fester. She convinces the Addams parents to send the older children to summer camp to protect the third addition to the family, baby boy Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper) who Wednesday and Pugsley are constantly trying to kill through various means, such as dropping him from the top of the stairs. At summer camp, the two are tortured by two over-zealous camp counselors (Christine Branski and Peter MacNicol) and forced to watch family films, but Wednesday meets her first boyfriend, Joel (David Krumholtz). Jellinsky fails in her murder attempts, so she finally resorts to attempted murder of the entire family. The family is saved by baby boy Pubert, of course! The film ends with a touching scene between Wednesday and Joel in the family cemetery.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without! St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

 

 

 

 

A to Z Challenge!

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A Note from Darla Sue Dollman:

Dear Friends:

During the month of April I will participate in the A to Z Bloggers Challenge on three of my blogs. I will post every day except Sunday and the topic of each day’s post will begin with the next letter in the alphabet. For instance, my first topic, on April 1, will be on The Addams Family–A for Addams–see how it works? Fun!

The challenge was started by blogger Arlee Bird, whose blog is titled Tossing it Out! There are over 1500 blogs signed up this year so it should be an exciting challenge!

Some of my posts may be shorter, but I’ve planned fun topics in advance so I hope you enjoy them. I will be posting daily on my Wild West History Blog, as well as Classic Television Shows and Supernatural Television. I will post on the weekends on my other blogs listed below. Please leave comments, share your thoughts, and enjoy!

Thank you for reading my blogs!

Darla Sue Dollman

Read more:

Darla Sue Dollman on Wild West Weather

Blessed Little Creatures

Alfred Hitchcock: Everything Alfred

Darla Sue Dollman: Darla’s Book Reviews

Compassion, Kindness, and Love

Classic Films and Actors

 

The Twilight Zone: “Nightsong”

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by  Gérard Delafond.

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by Gérard Delafond.

 

Love unrequited, or so she thinks. Andy Fields is a woman with a broken heart. She believes she was abandoned by her childhood sweetheart and appears to be doomed to spend the rest of her life alone, playing records late at night as a DJ in The Twilight Zone episode “Nightsong.”

The Revival of The Twilight Zone, and Andy’s Lover 

Rod Serling was the creator of the original The Twilight Zone and writer of most of its scripts. “Nightsong,” however, was created for the revised series of The Twilight Zone, which made its appearance in the 1980s. The show aired on October 11, 1986, and stars Lisa Eilbacher, Kenneth David Gilman and Antony Hamilton. This episode was written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Michael Reeves. Serling is listed on IMDb as a contributor, though he had died 11 years earlier. The show was produced by Philip DeGuere.

In the opening scene we find the 96.3 KGRR night DJ, Ace Campbell, saying goodbye to his listeners. (Ace is played by Kenneth “Kip” David Gilman, who not only has an extensive list of television appearances on his resume, but is also known as “one of theater’s most important actors,” due to his versatility and talent, according to his IMDb bio.) Ace introduces the midnight D.J., Andrea Fields, or “Andy,” played by the beautiful Lisa Eilbacher. Lisa Eilbacher became famous through her early appearances on Western television shows, such as GunsmokeBonanza, and Wagon Train. In 1984 she starred as Jenny Summers, who assists her friend, Eddie Murphy, in his investigation of a murdered friend in Beverly Hills Cop.

Back in the DJ booth, as Ace Campbell rises from his seat to leave, Andy (Eilbacher) enters the room and prepares for her shift. Of course, the first thing the viewer should notice is the floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with record albums–this is truly a classic show! As Andy sorts through the albums, Ace Campbell flirtatiously asks her why they are no longer dating, Andy doesn’t have an answer. “I guess I’m just not ready for more than a few laughs,” she replies. Ace, now a compassionate friend, advises her that she needs someone in her life besides herself.

The Campbell walks out the door at the same moment Andy finds an album by her former boyfriend. Andy follows Campbell out the door and asks how the album appeared in the studio. Campbell, confused, explains he found it in a dumpster. Andy mumbles that she promised herself she would never listen to the album.

Apparently Andy changes her mind. She returns to the broadcast room and places the record on the turntable then introduces “Nightsong” by Simon Locke. As she is listening to the music she suddenly notices a shadow on the wall. A man appears in the room. The man is Simon Locke, (played by Antony Hamilton, who also played Max Harte in the 1990 revised television version of Mission Impossible.) Andy, shocked, approaches him slowly, then slaps him. Locke begs her not to be angry. “After five years, isn’t it a little late?” she asks. Locke patiently explains that he needs to speak to her. Andy screams at him to get out, holding her face in her hands, sobbing. When she looks up, he has disappeared.

Andy is distracted when she leaves her shift and is almost hit by a motorcyclist, then Locke appears out of nowhere to save her. Her car is dead and he offers to help, but she angrily slaps him away. As they walk down the street, arguing, Andy confronts him with her knowledge of his many affairs. Locke has no excuse for his behavior or treatment of her. “I just got lost,” he says quietly.

In the next scene, we see the two of them in an all-night diner discussing his two cancelled record contracts and his failed band. As they talk, we realize they not only dated, but grew up together. She reminds him of how he once wanted to be a comic book hero, the Golden Condor. (The Golden Condor could be a reference to a 1980s cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold and film remake starring Tyrone Power.)

Once again, Locke and Andy argue and he leaves the diner. Later, when she’s lying in bed and listening to his album, she calls out his name and he suddenly appears by the window in her bedroom. By this time the audience is clear that they are witnessing the appearance of a ghost, but Andy seems oblivious to this detail. She tells Locke she realizes all of his songs were about them and they start to dance.

This time, it’s Locke who pulls away as he tries to explain that he can no longer have a relationship with her. Andy begs him to try. “Maybe it will work this time,” she says.

He shakes his head. “This time there’s no coming back,” he replies, but Andy shouts at him, refusing to allow him to explain what the audience already knows. “There’s something you just don’t understand,” he tells her, then asks her to follow him.

They drive out to the desert on his motorcycle. Locke explains that this is where he went to run away from life. He is speeding on a dirt road and Andy is frightened and tells him so, but Locke drives faster. He shouts back to her that he was afraid of failure, that he panicked, just took off, but he is not slowing the motorcycle. They finally reach the top of a cliff and Simon takes her hand, then drags her down, past the rocks and tall grasses, to the bottom of the cliff.

“All this time, that one obscure album that no one heard. No one cared. Then you played that album. I felt stronger and came back,” Locke explains as they continue to climb down. He also tells her that he was the man on the bike that almost killed her at the station. Then he tells her to forget Simon Locke, that she can do better.

“I never stopped loving you,” Andy replies.

“Well you can stop now,” Locke explains. “You can start living again,” he tells her. He moves some brush aside and exposes a crumpled motorcycle with a skeleton tangled in the twisted metal. Yes, Simon Locke is a ghost. “Forgive me,” he whispers. “Forgive me, please,” and just as suddenly as he appeared in the studio, he has now disappeared.

In the next scene, Andy is back at the station taking requests when a young woman calls and asks for Simon Locke’s “Nightsong.” Andy complies and dedicates the song “from Andrea to Simon, with love.”

The Problem

This episode seems to represent the problem with the revised version of The Twilight Zone. The original Twilight Zone was often intense, spooky. The shows are cautionary tales, warning us that everything is important, and nothing is as it seems. Later versions seemed to lose that focus. They were often well-written, but lacked the eeriness of Serling’s stories, something Serling took great pride in with his original series. Supernatural television had changed. Along with horror films, directors suddenly decided that more was better, and audiences felt that more was too much. Instead of leaving the horrific details to the imagination, they often treated audiences as if they lacked the intelligence to understand the subtleties of plot and dialogue and spelled it out. In this particular episode, it wasn’t enough to show a mangle motorcycle, they had to show Simon Locke’s skeleton, as well.

Serling is credited with introducing the paranormal to family viewers in an acceptable manner, making it clear to viewers that what they may consider to be strange and abnormal is actually a common and accepted part of their lives, and they would know this if they paid closer attention. In this respect, “Nightsong” stays true to Serling’s goal. Although it is clear to the audience that Simon Locke is a ghost, Andy doesn’t see it until the end of the show. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the start that this show lacks the skillful touch of Rod Serling.

Resource:

  • “Nightsong.” The Twilight Zone. Original air date: October 11, 1986. Season 2, Episode 27b. Dir. Bradford May. Writer: Michael Reaves. Players: Lisa Eilbacher, Antony Hamilton, Kip Gilman

The Twilight Zone: Supernatural Television Masterpiece

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens. Stevens starred in The Twilight Zone episode "The Hitchhiker."

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens. Stevens starred in The Twilight Zone episode “The Hitchhiker.”

 

It was the late 50s, and the Golden Age of live television drama was drawing to an end. The use of videotaping provided increased opportunities for special effects, but also ended the spontaneity of the popular live dramas. Vietnam made its shocking appearance on the nightly news and the television viewing audience seemed to change. They wanted action and adventure, just as before, but they also desired a distraction from the painful reality of their world.

This is precisely what Rod Serling provided with his stories.  By the late 1950s, Serling was already a veteran of anthology television and had a keen sense of the needs of his audience, which he proved with one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction anthologies ever created for television–The Twilight Zone. He questioned reality. He questioned dreams. He introduced the viewing audience to the supernatural, to possibilities that were beyond scientific understanding, and he asked: “What if…?” It was genius.

Supernatural Themes and Unexplainable Circumstances

The Twilight Zone set the standard for explorations into the odd and unexplainable world of supernatural television in the late 1950s and early 60s. Serling’s stories focused on many popular 1950s fiction themes, including space travel, aliens, and ghosts, but they often had more serious underlying themes, such as the effects of alcoholism and mental illness. His ability to please his audience was undeniable. His stories won three Emmys and numerous other awards.

The original version of The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964 with 155 episodes. Some biographers include the first Desilu Productions show for a total of 156. It was an instant hit–apparently, Americans love strange, odd, unexplainable circumstances and as fans of the writings of Rod Serling know very well, anything can happen in the “Twilight Zone.”

In spite of the ongoing argument against time travel, Serling seemed particularly fond of the subject and was capable of skillfully, briefly, suspending the disbelief of his audience long enough to convince them that time travel is possible. For instance, in the 1960 production of “The Last Flight” a pilot lands his 1917 biplane at a modern Air Force base and slowly, gradually, realizes there is a reason he is there, and a reason he must return to 1917. In “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” Cliff Robertson plays a pioneer in 1847 who suddenly finds himself in 1961 New Mexico searching for a cure for his son’s illness. In the 1962 production of “Kick the Can” a group of friends living in a senior’s home discover a way to return to their childhood. Each of these shows has that magic ingredient that attracts and holds the attention of the viewing audience from beginning to end, leaving them with a sense that they have just experienced something quite strange and impossible to explain. That magic ingredient is the writing of Rod Serling.

Perfect Timing

In addition to his skill and choice of topics, there was another reason why Serling’s stories were so popular–his writing was familiar. Rod Serling wrote for many anthology programs during the 1950s, including Kraft TheatreThe U.S. Steel Hour; and Playhouse 90. Most anthology serials in the early 50s were filmed live, but Serling introduced The Twilight Zone at just the right time when television was moving toward filmed anthologies. This gave Serling more freedom with his set designs.

It also allowed him a bit more freedom with plot. As with most television writers, Serling was tired of the influence of the sponsors on theme and plot and filming shows in advance gave him the opportunity to explore themes of fantasy, experiences that might happen “in another dimension,” ideas that sponsors really could not argue as being unrealistic because the entire idea was to take a different look at what is considered “real.”

The idea for The Twilight Zone began in 1957 as Serling became increasingly annoyed by changes sponsors insisted on making to his Playhouse 90 scripts. Serling was so frustrated he finally quit his writing position and shocked the world of television with the announcement that he intended to write and produce his own fantasy show.

Of course, they could not have been too shocked. If there was any writer in the business at that time who knew television, it was Serling. According to Michael Winship’s Television, Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” the second script Serling wrote for Playhouse 90, is still considered the best television program ever written.

When The Twilight Zone was still in the dream stage, a show without a script, Serling decided to revise a story he wrote for a Cincinnati radio station years before and approached CBS, but the script was rejected. Instead, it aired as an episode on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, another anthology series produced by husband and wife team Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The show was “The Time Element,” and starred William Bendix. According to Cult TV, that one episode generated more viewer response than any other aired that season and once again attracted the attention of CBS. After three attempted scripts, CBS decided to pick up the show in February of 1959 and The Twilight Zone pilot “Where is Everybody” aired on October 2, 1959.

 

Rod Serling, creator and writer of The Twilight Zone supernatural anthology and Night Gallery.

Rod Serling, creator and writer of The Twilight Zone supernatural anthology and Night Gallery.

 

Anatomy of a Ground-Breaking Anthology

The Twilight Zone generally begins with a visual introduction to the theme of the supernatural, weird, some force beyond current scientific understanding or acceptance, with spooky background images and occasionally an appearance by Serling, or more often a voice-over of Serling introducing the show.

There is actually a wide variety of introductions. The 1960s show “The Hitchhiker,” stars Inger Stevens as Nan Adams, a cross-country traveler troubled by a persistent hitchhiker. The show begins with, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man and is timeless as infinity as it exists in shadow between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

The show was filmed at the MGM studios, using standard sets and the back lot. It was close enough to the city to provide use of New York street scenes, but also had forest and lake settings. However, the setting was undoubtedly far less important than the plot itself.

The shows are also known for having “that one line,” the line that pulls the story together as the characters, and the audience, realize at the same time what the story is about. For instance, in the 1960s performance “A Passage for Trumpet,” an intriguing show with an underlying theme of the afterlife and subtle discussion of angels starring Jack Klugman as Joey Crown. Crown has lost his career as a professional trumpet player due to his alcoholism, but he has not lost his love for music. In a final act of desperation he steps in front of a truck. It is unclear if this is an act of suicide or desperate confusion, but when he rises from the street the confusion takes center stage as no one seems to be able to see or hear him.

Joey hears music coming from a nearby nightclub. He wanders inside and finds a man playing the trumpet. The man mysteriously knows Joey’s name. He offers to let Joey play a song on his trumpet. Joey begins to play, then pauses to ask how the man knows his name. “Am I dead? Are you a ghost?” Joey asks. The man laughs and shakes his head. “Oh I’m not dead,” the stranger replies. “And neither are you, Joey.” The man explains that the other people who did not speak to Joey on the street are ghosts and just don’t know it, that sometimes, “to make it easier, we let them go on in a life that they’re familiar with.”

Joey is still confused and wants answers. The stranger explains that Joey is in limbo, a shadow, then he asks Joey a very important question: Which does he prefer, his life, or limbo? The man is clearly offering Joey the chance to return to his former life, which Joey readily accepts. As the man is leaving, Joey shouts, “Hey Mister, I didn’t get your name!” The man turns around. “My name?” he asks. “Call me Gabe. Short for Gabriel.” That is the line that pulls the story together. “Call me Gabe.” Joey has just had a conversation with the Angel Gabriel, and Gabriel has given Joey a second chance at life.

Serling again appears in the conclusion, generally in a voice-over that summarizes the moral of the story in a way that is often quite poetic. In “A Passage for Trumpet,” for instance, Serling says, “Joey Crown who makes music, and who discovered something about life, that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look, and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.”

What’s in a Name?

The name of the show also holds an interesting bit of trivia. Apparently, Rod Serling believed he invented the term “The Twilight Zone,” but later learned that Air Force pilots used the same phrase when describing the moment when their planes were descending and the pilot was no long able to see the horizon, an apt metaphor.

Serling also mistakenly believed there were five dimensions and often referred to a mysterious “sixth dimension” in his show until someone respectfully informed him (most likely the same Air Force pilot) that there are only four dimensions used to determine a object’s location in space–width, height, depth, and time.

Early Star Appearances

The Twilight Zone was not popular with sponsors. Many of them complained that they “didn’t get it” and some would call the studio on a regular basis, insisting on an explanation of the show that aired the night before. The show was, however, popular with actors. In addition to the already named Jack Klugman and Inger Stevens, other famous actors made appearances on the early shows, such as Roddy McDowell; Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery who later appeared as husband and wife on Bewitched, and Agnew Moorehead who played Montgomery’s mother; William Shatner who also broke ground in the science fiction field and now has his own Star Trek fan club; Art Carney; Claude Akins; Earl Holliman who starred in the pilot show and later became famous as Lt. Bill Crowley in Police Woman; Cliff Robertson; and even Robert Redford, who made numerous appearances in television anthologies before breaking into film.

Legacy

The list of stars goes on, along with the popularity of the show. It’s been 53 years since the show first aired and the reruns are as popular with fans today as they were in the beginning due to the creative imagination, the genius, of Rod Serling. There were attempts to revive the show in the 1980s, and again in 2002, which still appear as reruns on occassion, but these shows, although attempting to remain true to the original, lacked the critical ingredient present in the early version: the writing of Rod Serling.

Sources:

  • Blake, John. The Twilight Zone Companion.
  • Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without! St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

 

Monsters: Classic Supernatural Television Anthology

Each Monsters episode begins with the monster family gathered around the television, waiting for their favorite show.

Each Monsters episode begins with the monster family gathered around the television, waiting for their favorite show.

 

We begin with a view of earth from the sky and move in closer to a small, suburban town with carefully plotted streets and homes that all resemble each other, typical of a 1950s neighborhood. The camera focuses on one home, then moves into the living room as Mom comes from the kitchen with a bowl of snacks in her hands. “Honey, it’s family hour. There must be something on,” she says as her husband tosses the television guide behind his chair in an act of frustration.

It appears to be a typical weeknight in an average American home, but Mom does not look as typical as she sounds. She only has one eye, and it is in the center of her forehead. She also has two short horns protruding from her forehead alongside the eye. Her young child, wearing a cute set of overalls and sitting in front of the television leaps to her feet and turns around to exclaim, “Oh wow! Candy Critters!” as she lifts the lid from the snack dish. She also has one eye and a small growth of horns. Mom sits down in her rocking chair. The child sits on the floor at the feet of her parents. Dad, seated in the chair beside the his wife, has control of the remote. He is wearing a suit and tie and has a head that resembles a vomitous green version of the creature from the classic horror film, “The Blob.”

Dad changes the channel. “Oh great!” Mom exclaims. “It’s Monsters, our favorite show. “The eerie opening music comes to an end with the sinister laughter of the father, and the show begins.

Monsters for Every Taste

Monsters was a production of Laurel Entertainment, Inc. and ran for three seasons, from 1988 to 1990 for a total of 72 episodes, 24 per season. This half hour anthology series offered a wide variety of creatures and the shows are generally categorized as either horror or science fiction.

The show was produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, who also produced Tales from the Darkside, and like Tales from the Darkside, some of the shows are spectacular, and others are simply mediocre, though they did attract many popular writers of the time, including Stephen King. There were numerous writers who produced works for this show, though, including Edith Swensen who wrote six scripts and the team of Peg Haller and Bob Schneider who wrote five episodes.

Unlike Tales from the Darkside, the shows on Monsters focus on one fantastic fantasy creation–the monster. In fact, the focus is completely on the monster. There is some action, interesting plots, and ironic endings, but the monster is definitely the focus of the show. There is also a generous mix of humor with horror in the shows, particularly obvious in some performances, such as “Small Blessings,” which is about a beastly baby who is so ferocious that his parents suspect he is committing crimes in the neighborhood.

Obviously, there was extensive use of makeup, wild costumes and theatrical effects used on the shows to create the monsters, and there was a wide range of monsters, from fantastical creations to aliens, vampires, ghosts, witches, and zombies. Some of the shows, such as “Jar,” which has a hint of film noir, also include sexually explicit scenes, as well, and some shows expose bare breasts, so the intended audience is clearly adults.

Actors Love Monsters, Too!

The list of actors appearing on the show is impressive, and include Lili Taylor who appeared on Monsters early in her career; David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Julie Brown, former cast members on Saturday Night Live; Tony Shalhoub who co-starred in the popular television shows Wings and Monk; Gina Gershon who co-starred in the popular film Face/Off; rock star Deborah Harry; and Steve Buscemi, who has won numerous acting awards including a Golden Globe and has also appeared in over 126 films.

This show has two consistent characteristics to watch for–the monster, of course, and the ironic ending. A few of the more popular shows in this series include “Jar,” with its unique country farm style version of film noir; “Small Blessings,” which has a great example of the ironic twist ending; “Leavings,” with its fine acting by Tony Shalhoub; and Stephen Kings’ “The Moving Finger.”

Although re-runs still occasionally appear on the SyFy channel, Monsters is currently appearing on the cable channel Chiller TV.  Since this show is also an anthology, the episodes will be discussed individually on this blog. Stay tuned…

The Outer Limits: Science Fiction for Monster Fans!

Purported UFO. Photo taken in New Jersey, 2008. Space, aliens, and UFOs were the major focus of the revived version of The Outer Limits.

Purported UFO. Photo taken in New Jersey, 2008. Space, aliens, and UFOs were the major focus of the revived version of The Outer Limits.

 

It’s time for me to admit the truth: I am a cult fan of The Outer Limits. I watched it as a child and love it just as much, if not more, as an adult. For some odd reason, the show was not popular with sponsors, but children of the 60s loved it. Monsters, aliens, UFOs–The Outer Limits had it all, including a young audience eager to meet the show’s monster-of-the-week.

Monsters were popular in the 60s–trust me, I was there. Children of the 60s were raised on black and white versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, and a very young Michael Landon who revealed to the world in 1957 that he was a teenage werewolf. We hid beneath our desks at school during bomb drills. We understood the fear of the unknown. The creator of The Outer Limits also knew that fear, and he knew how to use it.

The Outer Limits premiered on ABC on September 16, 1963. It was an anthology show. Each episode was referred to as a separate “play” and often based on short stories or novellas. The Outer Limits lasted two years and never ranked in the top 25 shows, but like Star Trek, which ran for three years and never ranked in the top 25, The Outer Limits became a part of cult television history.

Every week, The Outer Limits brought a new, freaky creature into the living rooms of America. It didn’t matter if they were insects, reptilian, alien, or humans replicated through time travel, Americans loved their freaky creatures. In fact, according to John Javna’s Cult TV, writers were specifically instructed to include in each play, “one splendid, staggering, shuddering effect that induces awe, wonder, tolerable terror, or even merely conversation and argument.” (Future articles on this blog will discuss the specifics of the monster in each play and what it represents.)

Leslie Stevens and the Show’s Conception

The Outer Limits was the creation of child prodigy Leslie Stevens who sold his first screenplay to Orson Welles when he was 15 years old. Stevens wrote most of the early episodes with Joseph Stephano, who was also the screenwriter of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Stevens referred to the monsters on the show as “bears.” As he explained, during the Vaudeville years (1880s-1930s) when a performance was going badly and the audience was bored, the stage director would send out a comedian dressed as a bear. Thus Stevens referred to his monsters as “bears.” The monsters, or bears, were important to the show, but not as important as the metaphor, the life lesson they represented.  Monsters were cool, but The Outer Limits had something even better–monsters with a message.

The show was conceived by Stevens in 1961 as a science fiction show, a show that would inspire awe in the audience as they explored the mysteries of the universe. Stevens proposed the show to television promoter Dan Melnick, who agreed to promote the show as long as Stevens could guarantee each show had a monster to meet the demands of children in the 60s. The show also had to be low on the horror scale and high on the science fiction aspects.

The original title was Please Stand by, which was eventually replaced, but this phrase was incorporated into the famous introduction. Why? Because America was staggering beneath the stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis and ABC thought the title “Please Stand By” might inspire another Orson-Wellesian-panic with listeners jumping from windows during the broadcast of “War of the Worlds” because they feared the planet was taken over by aliens.

The Monsters

The original monsters were not particularly impressive due to budget constraints–$10,000 to $40,000 is an awfully tight budget when creating a believable beast from space–and some of the creatures are downright funny. In the 1964 play “Specimen: Unknown,” written by Stephen Lord and directed by Gerd Oswald, a member of a team of astronaut scientists find mushroom-shaped organisms attached to their space station. The organism, exposed to light, becomes a flower, which emits deadly spores. Naturally, when the space team returns to earth for help they accidentally bring the spores with them. This episode had the highest Nielsen rating in the first season, and ironically, the terrifying deadly spores were made from…puffed wheat.

Many fans of the show believe the most ridiculous monster appeared in the play “The Duplicate Man,” which aired on December 19, 1964. In this show, academic researcher Henderson James convinces Captain Karl Emmet to smuggle a Megasoid to Earth. The Megasoid must be brought to earth illegally because it is a dangerous killer. At one point the Megasoid escapes and hides among the stuffed animals at a zoo exhibit. This disguise was easily accomplished because the terrifying beast was actually a man dressed in a flimsy gorilla costume made from velour and a recycled bird mask, with the recording of a growling German shepherd for his voice.

One of the audience favorites in the monster category was the Chromoite in the play “The Mice,” which aired on January 6, 1964. I am watching this show as I write. In this show, a scientific mission to exchange a human for an alien is exposed as a secret alien plan to invade earth. The opening scene shows a lovely young woman walking through the woods. She hears what sounds like bees to me, and of course decides to step off the path and investigate in her tight skirt and high-heeled shoes. She sees a monster, the Chromoite monster, which resembles a flabby Portuguese man-of-war. She runs to a nearby building and the beast rises to follow–clearly, it is a man in a costume.  When it enters the building, it appears to be as tall as the ceiling. It has shiny legs, crab claws, and several mouths dripping with drool. Yummy.

The monsters were not supposed to be horrifying according to the contemporary definition of horror. The monsters are metaphors, generally representing the folly of humankind, or humans trying to play God, or conversely, the instinctive fear of technology.

The premiere episode aired on September 16, 1963, and was titled “The Galaxy Being.” In this play, Cliff Robertson stars as Allan Maxwell, a radio station engineer who makes contact with an alien creature, the show’s first “monster.” The alien is accidentally transported to earth. The monster in this show represents our fear of the unknown as local residents and authorities react to the presence of the monster with hysteria and violence.

The Voices of The Outer Limits

The voices of the monsters were generally the voice of singer Robert Johnson. Listen closely–does it sound familiar? Johnson’s voice was so captivating that he was hired by Bruce Geller, creator of the original Mission Impossible series, as the tape recorder voice. “This tape will self-destruct…”

When Stevens conceived the show he did not want The Outer Limits to appear to be competing with Rod Serling’s popular The Twilight Zone, so he did not want a speaker who appeared out of nowhere to introduce the show. Instead, his introduction appropriately came through a computer-like “control” voice.

The control voice introduces the show with: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to — The Outer Limits.”

Following the commercial break, the control voice introduces the characters and the play. At the end of the show, the control voice states, “We now return control of your television set to you, until next week at the same time, when the Control Voice will take you to…The Outer Limits.”

The Outer Limits Revived

The Outer Limits was revived in 1995 and ran another seven years, until 2002, on the Sci Fi Channel. Later episodes of The Outer Limits brought the humans-playing-God theme home in a more solid, meaningful way that seemed to resonate with viewers entering a new millennium.  Both versions of the show are also highly atmospheric. The first versions, in black and white, are eerie, very much “out of this world,” often with rain, dark clouds, intensely atmospheric.

The later versions focus more on the science fiction, and the atmosphere in these shows are high-tech. In 1999, Frankenstein’s monster became a computer, a space ship, a time travel machine. This blog will explore important episodes from both the early and later plays, their monsters, and the metaphors. Please stand by…

Resources:

  • Javna, James. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without!. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Schow, David J., Frentzen, Jeffrey. The Official Outer Limits Companion. Ace Books. New York: 1986.
  • “Specimen Unknown.” The Outer Limits. First aired February 4, 1964. Season 1, Episode 22. Dir. Gerd Oswald. Players: Stephen McNally, Richard Jaeckel, Russell Johnson. Running time: 52 min.
  • “The Galaxy Being.” The Outer Limits. First aired September 16, 1963. Season 1, Episode 1. Dir. Leslie Stevens. Players: Lee Philips, Jacqueline Scott, Cliff Robertson.
  • “The Duplicate Man.” The Outer Limits. First aired December 19, 1964. Season 2, Episode 13. Dir. Gerd Oswald. Players: Ron Randell, Constance Towers.
  • “The Mice.” The Outer Limits. First aired January 6, 1964. Season 1, Episode 15. Dir. Alan Crosland, Jr. Players: Henry Silva, Diana Sands, Michael Higgins, Francis De Sales, Ron Foster.
  • Winship, Michael. Television: Companion to the PBS Series. Random House. New York: 1988.