Rod Serling’s Night Gallery 9 Terrifying Halloween Treats!

*THE CEMETERY -PILOT TV movie AIR DATE NOV.8, 1969
*THE DEAD MAN-AIR DATE DEC. 16, 1970
*CERTAIN SHADOWS ON THE WALL-DEC.30, 1970
*THE DOLL-AIR DATE JAN.13, 1971
*A FEAR OF SPIDERS -AIR DATE OCT. 6, 1971
*COOL AIR-AIR DATE DEC.8, 1971
*GREEN FINGERS-AIR DATE JAN.8, 1972
*GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES AIR DATE OCT.1, 1972
*SOMETHING IN THE WOODWORK AIR DATE JAN.14, 1973

Next time up, The Tune in Dan’s Cafe, Lindenmann’s Catch, A Question of Fear, The Sins of the Father, Fright Night and There Aren’t Any More McBanes.

Available on dvd: with Season 2 Audio Commentary from Guillermo Del Toro and from historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson and Season 3 aslo with Audio Commentary from historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson

There will be no need for spoilers, I will not give away the endings …

The way the studio wants to do it, a character won’t be able to walk by a graveyard, he’ll have to be chased. They’re trying to turn it into a Mannix in a shroud.—Creator Rod Serling

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collectors’ item in its own way – not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, and suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”-Rod Serling Host

With the major success of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), after it was cancelled in 1964, Rod Serling continued to work on various projects. He wrote the screenplays for the movie versions of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes and The Man based on the novel by Irving Wallace. In 1970 he created a new series, Night Gallery which were tales of the macabre based on various mystery/horror/fantasy writers, H.P Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood and even Serling himself. The show was produced by Jack Laird and Rod Serling. The show that ran six episodes each, part of four dramatic series under the umbrella title Four-In-One. In 1971, it appeared with it’s own vignettes on NBC opposite Mannix. In 1971 the Pilot for the show had three of the most powerful of the series. The Cemetery starring Ossie Davis, Roddy McDowall, and George Macready. Eyes stars Hollywood legend Joan Crawford who plays an unpleasant tyrant who is blind and is willing to rob the sight of another man in order to see for a short period of time. The segment was directed by Steven Spielberg. The last playlet starred Norma Crane and Richard Kiley as a Nazi who is hiding out in a South American country who dreams of losing himself in a little boat on a quiet lake depicted in a painting at the local art museum.

Then Night Gallery showcased an initial six segments and the hour long series consisted of several different mini teleplays. In its last season from 1972-1973 the show was reduced to only a half hour.
Night Gallery differed from The Twilight Zone which were comprised of science fiction and fantasy narratives as it delved more into the supernatural and occult themes. The show has a unique flavor in the same way Boris Karloff introduced each one of Thriller’s divergent stories, Rod Serling would introduce each episode surrounded by his gallery of macabre and morbid paintings by artist Gallery Painter: Tom Wright Serling would open his show with a little soliloquy about life, irony and the upcoming tale of ghoulish delights.

Rod Serling was not a fan of Night Gallery and did not have the revelatory passion and inducement to plug the show the way he did for The Twilight Zone, in fact the series was panned by the critics. Two of the shows Serling wrote were nominated for Emmy’s, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” starring William Windom and Diane Baker and The Messiah of Mott Street “ starring Edward G. Robinson.

From Gary Gerani-Fantastic Television: A Pictorial History of Sci-Fi, the Unusual and The Fantastic
“No stranger to the interference of sponsors, networks and censors, Serling once again found himself locked by contact into an untenable situation..{…}… He owned Night Gallery, created it and it was sold to network and audience on his reputation . The competitor on CBS was Mannix, a formula private-eye shoot-and rough-‘em up. Serling felt that NBC and Universal were doing their best to imitate Mannix, with an emphasis on monsters, chases and fights. They turned down many of his scripts as “too thoughtful” Serling lamented. “They don’t want to compete against Mannix in terms of contrast, but similarity.” Not only was Serling unable to sell them scripts he was also barred from casting sessions, and couldn’t make decisions about his show—he had signed away creative control. As a result he tried to have his name removed from the title, but NBC had him contract-bound to play host and cordially to introduce the parasite to the TV audience.”

 

Continue reading “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery 9 Terrifying Halloween Treats!”

MonsterGirl’s – Sunday Nite Surreal: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) “You can’t see me but I can see you”

“The mansion… the madness… the maniac… no escape.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Alternative title “Night of the Dark Full Moon”

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This is perhaps one of my favorite classic horror films of the 70s– A gloomy tale of incest, madness, depravity and revenge. I’ve chosen not to give away any of the plot twists or uncover the secrets of the story. I will not spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen this obscurely surreal gem.

Though the film is considered a cult hit by many of us, it’s still obscure and deserves a first look for those who might be interested in seeing it, or because they are drawn to the newly discovered beautiful moments that occur in such a low budget horror film.

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Directed by Theodore Gershuny (Sugar Cookies 1973) Silent Night Bloody Night was actually filmed in 1970 but not released until ’72. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, SNBN predates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas by 4 years. Silent Night Bloody Night plays like an eerie and odd nightmare. I know It gets compared to Clark’s Black Christmas which is an undisputed masterpiece but SNBN was filmed in 1970 and came out two years before. And has it’s own very unique story to tell.

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Woronov acts as a sort of tour guide/witness narrating the opening sequence, telling of Butlers death on the day before Christmas 1950 to the gruesome story that unfolds surrounding the Butler house and it’s legacy.
“One last time I’ve got to see this ground one last time…. it’s beautiful now as if nothing had happened here.{…}For twenty years that house lay empty, exactly as Wilfred had left it”

Based on Jeffrey Konvitz’s story. Konvitz wrote yet another of my top favorite horror classics of the 70s The Sentinel starring the superb Burgess Meredith as a very cheeky devil. I read both books which were equally chilling as they were enthralling, back when reading the novel was as thrilling as then going to see it on the big screen.. Silent Night, Bloody Night is being re-released on DVD on December 10th restored from 35mm. This excites me indeed! My copy has already been pre-ordered.

IMDb touts a remake to be released in the US in February. The film will be called Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming. This I am not so excited about. I love this particular original too much to want it re-envisioned with the current careless and gory lens. NOTE: There are exceptions to remakes… I won’t get into that here and now.

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What made SNBN so richly evocative for me was it’s uniquely creepy un-selfconsciousness. Dealing with heavy themes, it managed to come across as a startling fairy tale ‘like’ bit of blood letting with an authentic 70s flare. I don’t need a more hideous version of this movie with hacked body parts as a way to reintroduce this story. This does not frighten me, nor disturb in a good way. I imagine it might become like every other violent blood show with effects and body violation that will detract from the moodiness of the original.

Patrick O’Neal opens the original film playing a brief role as a big shot realtor John Carter who gets axed to pieces in bed with his lover. Cult film star Mary Woronov plays Diane Adams daughter of the Mayor. Walter Klavun is the town Sheriff, Bill Mason.

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John Carradine plays mute curmudgeon Charlie Towman who publishes the weekly newspaper. Apparently his croaks and grunts were dubbed in afterwards. Walter Abel (Fury 1936, Mr Skeffington 1944) plays Mayor Adams. And Fran Stevens plays Tess Howard who operates the switchboard.

Plus, the film is back-dropped with an assortment from Andy Warhol’s acting “Factory.’ Mary Woronov was at one time married to director Theodore Gershuny), supporting players Ondine, Candy Darling, Kristen Steen, Tally Brown, Lewis Love, filmmaker Jack Smith, and artist Susan Rothenberg. And character actor Philip Bruns plays the patriarch of the estate now deceased, the eccentric Wilfred Butler.

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James Patterson  who plays Grandson Jeff Butler (Lillith 1964, In The Heat of The Night 1967) died of cancer shortly after principle shooting was completed. They substituted Patterson’s voice with another actor. Grandson Jeff played by Patterson has a sort of veiled flirtation with Woronov who is the mayor’s daughter.

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Henry Shrady’s  art direction was responsible for the wonderful sense of claustrophobic ambiance that becomes part of the pervasive madness as he created later on with Jack Palance’s and Martin Landau’s hilariously frightening performances in Alone In The Dark in 1982. Shrady also did (Cry Uncle 1971 and Squirm 1976)

In a small rural New England town, (I recently lived in New England for two years and can tell you that writer Stephen King has his pulse on a very real provincial and closed society that keeps it’s secrets and it’s turmoil quietly buried underneath the pristine beauty of the landscape) Wilfred Butler, played by Philip Bruns, is the patriarch who reigns over his mansion secluded away from the small town and then dies on Christmas Eve 1950 as he runs from the place set on fire.

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The film’s prologue shows Wilfred Butler running from the mansion enveloped by flames, Then we are dropped into the present day when realtor John Carter (O’Neal) arrives at the house with his gorgeous lover Ingrid (Astrid Heeren). Carter comes to finalize the sale of the house with the town elders. who are four sullen and a strangely nervous bunch. The excellent casting and presence of these somewhat distressed characters add a nice layer to the creepiness that builds. Fran Stevens as Tess Howard is perfect. Abel as the Mayor, the ubiquitous Carradine as the mute Towman and Walter Klavun as Sheriff Mason are equally well suited to play this strange and secretive quartet.

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“Tess…. I’ve come back” says the creepy whispering voice on the phone

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The Butler house once opulent, inhabited by Wilfred and his young daughter sits for years uninhabited and abandoned. The current horrible events unfold during the Christmas season twenty years later. Grandson Jeffrey inherits the creepy place, but someone deadly and deranged is lurking within the mansion and around town. As Christmas draws near, the four members of the town are lured to the old house and butchered.

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Although the film has the appearance of that 70s ‘low budget’ feature, what has emerged for me as I revisit these films with a sense of nostalgia and the clarity of retrospection I find that many obscure films like this one can be considered classical masterpieces because of their sparsely framed environments, authentically offbeat characters and a realism that doesn’t get covered up by opulent set pieces and star billing.

The scratchy gritty low lighting that creates an eerie darkness, presents it’s own unease for us. It will be fantastic to sit and re-experience the film without some of the poor quality of the print hindering the scenes.

Still, SNBN is undoubtedly one of the most atmospheric horrors of the 70s. Like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. It’s a self contained world of distorted truths, hysteria and a claustrophobic bit of vintage nihilism and yet again a distorted tone of American values.

We aren’t thinking “will the characters survive?” as it is not a linear story in the sense that we follow along and grow frightened for the protagonists on their journey through the plot. Because every aspect of the story sort of lies within the looming darkness, we’re left to be frightened for ourselves. The question of escape doesn’t enter into it. The question of ‘what is really going on here?’ does…. and it becomes progressively disturbing.

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Which leads perhaps to one of the most memorable flashbacks of 70s horror films for me. Performed in murky sepia and wide angle lens to add to it a sickly decrepit tone of the archaic mournfulness of a disturbing past. As it shows us what happened long ago at the Butler Estate in the 1930s, it’s one grotesque fête. A creepy sequence that for me is unforgettable and for po-mo junkies it’s filled with Warhol minions.

The one plot setback that I read by critics more often than not is that it takes a while for the excellent story to finally unfold. Well I think there’s too much atmosphere for me to need constant movement or disclosure at every frame. It lends to the claustrophobic vibe.

Patrick O’Neal, who plays lawyer/real estate agent Jack Carter, comes to the small town of East Willard in order to sell the Butler house. He reeks of sophistication and arrogance as he carries on with his girlfriend while spending the night in the house, ultimately getting themselves hacked up. Grandson Jeffrey Butler comes to town as well to sell off the estate. The locals begin to appear agitated and to make the story a bit edgier there’s a nearby insane asylum inmate who has escaped and is on the prowl.

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Gershuny and Adam Giffard frame the plot at times from the POV of the mysterious killer stalking the house and the town folk. Once again SNBN predates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas point-of-view of the killer, and the freakishly terrifying voice on the phone and of course the grisly murders.

Patterson who plays grandson Jeff Butler was dying of cancer at the time. He has an interesting defined face, like Tommy Lee Jones, partially sensuous and just a bit menacing.

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The film possesses some truly effective grisly death scenes. Axe murders and uncomfortable themes. I won’t call this film a slasher flick, though it is referred to as such at times. This underrated film that was released before Black Christmas or Halloween is not a slasher film. What it is, is characteristic of 70s atmospheric horror stories that emerge more potent in retrospect than when they are initially viewed. I credit this to a sense of unselfconscious film making. Some low budget horror films gain a natural eeriness that is allowed to come to the surface. Thus forms an organic horrifying realism. or sense of surreal dread.

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As promised I won’t give away the story, I will say that the town folk have a secret. They are not the upstanding citizens they pretend to be. They want to purchase the house so they can rid themselves of the history of the house. The various grisly scenes of murder are frighteningly tense and creepy. Tess Howard being summoned to the house by the eerie caller. John Carradine’s character Towman who constantly rings a bell and although doesn’t utter a word exudes a cantankerousness. It’s all gruesome and opaque in a way that makes this film a uniquely satisfying chiller.

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Merry Bloody Christmas from your ever lovin’ 70s MonsterGirl!