8.02.2014

Night Gallery: The House

The TV Tomb of Mystery is an ongoing catalog of one man's attempt to stave off  acquisition of any more impulse-buy DVDs until he can take better inventory of the ones already in his possession. 

Today's excursion:

Season 1, Episode 3. Specifically:
The first part of the episode.

Night Gallery (1970-1973) probably falls on the lower side of the anthology show spectrum: not quite Freddy's Nightmares and maybe neck and neck with, if not below, Tales from the Darkside.  Nevertheless, had it been in syndication when I was growing up, I likely would have devoured it the same way I devoured Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone on Nick at Nite. Had that been the case, I'd undoubtedly have formed some kind of nostalgia bond with the material that would help me over some of the rough spots. But I only came to the show much later (2007 or 2008 via Netflix) and so, while I do enjoy it, I don't love it.

The first thing an anthology show needs is a snazzy title sequence with a memorable theme.

Check. I realize this is true of most television shows, but an anthology show's intro has to be at least twice as highly stylized and over-the-top as any other show's.
Second, it needs a kick-ass host. And he or she (or it - whatever the Cryptkeeper is) can't just be talking to the screen, they have to be employing some conceit organic to the show itself.

Check. Night Gallery deserves special praise in this category, since they actually had someone creating paintings for each and every episode. You can see them all here.
Rod Serling is the equal of Lee/ Kirby or Roddenberry/Coon (or Iron Maiden) when it comes to having ignited my adolescent imagination the most. It's kind of funny that this is the case, as all of the aforementioned (except Maiden of course) are associated with the 60s, before I was born. But, speaking broadly of course, the trickle-down effect of their work (and EC Comics, definitely) is all over the era in which I did grow up, in the work of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg, in the Marvel comics I read, etc. When I was going to school in Dayton, OH, I made frequent pilgrimages to Serling's old stomping grounds in Yellow Springs, searching many times for his initials allegedly carved on the wall at Ye Olde Trail Tavern, where he worked and taught a writing class in the banquet room upstairs. (I never found them.)

The third and probably most important thing an anthology show needs is a consistent level of quality. And this is unfortunately where Night Gallery fails to launch. The first season is relatively solid, but the quality and production value of the second and third vary widely. Rod Serling, frustrated by this and repeated producer interference, tried to get his name taken off the show, to no avail.

He died shortly after, way too young, at age 50.
But Night Gallery certainly had its high points, and among them is this gem from December 1970.

The Plot: On the day of her discharge, sanitarium patient Elaine Latimer tells her doctor of a recurring dream.

In it, she's driving along a country road that is both familiar and unfamiliar and approaches a house.
She goes to the door and knocks and when no one answers, she gets back in her car.
It's only as she is driving away that she notices that the front door is slowly opening, but she always wakes up before it can open completely. Her doctor assures her it means nothing, and she is discharged.

She finds herself driving down the same country road from her dream, leading to the very same house.
A realtor steps from the shadows and offers to show her around.
This proves unnecessary, as she discovers she knows every detail of every room.
The realtor tells her the house is priced-to-buy on account of its being haunted. She moves in immediately.

She begins to have the dream again, but this time, from the perspective of inside the house.
She arrives outside just in time to see the car pulling away.

She's awakened by the ringing of the phone. It's her doctor, checking up on her. She tells him rather matter-of-factly, that she's found the house and that it is haunted by a ghost that only comes with the sunlight.

There's an odd penultimate scene where she puts the phone down and runs out of frame, only to return and say "I just met my ghost."
I can only imagine this was some kind of mistake born of necessity, as... well, who does that? "Okay, I'm back - while you were waiting, I resolved the plot off-screen. The end." There are some odd zooms, as well, but that is a hallmark of the era and can't be lain at this episode's door.
Okay, so if you're any kind of ghost story buff, it's unsurprising to discover that she is the ghost, haunting herself. It is foreshadowed throughout in some compelling ways:

As a "sun ghost," the slow-motion, dreamlike way she is photographed while driving, with her robe and hair billowing like a shroud, is spell-binding. The first time I saw this I had these images - and the cascading strings and Pettet's upper crust narration accompanying them - in mind for days.
Black Sabbath album cover, the daylight version.
Another aspect of ghost stories is repetitive behavior on the part of the ghost. ("All ghosts have OCD" is the spook-equivalent to "All dogs go to heaven.") When we first meet the non-dream Elaine, she is working on a cross-stitch, feverishly, while she and her doctor go over her dream.

It's a nice visual motif for her repetitive behavior,
recalled in every scene she's in the house.
And then there are the not-so-subtle ones:


I don't really know Joanna Pettet's work very well.

She played Mata Bond in the troubled 1967 version of Casino Royale.
And starred with a heavily-mustached William Shatner in Pioneer Woman. (1973)
But her presence in this episode is really something. Not just the way she is photographed - though that is certainly commendable - but the way she carries herself and speaks. Everything works towards the the end of creating and sustaining a dreamlike, ghostly affair.


For a simple enough story, John Astin (yes, that John Astin) packs an awful lot into these twenty-odd minutes. Nowadays, undoubtedly, the whole thing would revolve around an awkwardly-moving girl with hair covering one eye while she crab-walks to the camera and then raises a finger to her lips to say "Shh." God, Mr. and Mrs. Nowadays: get a life.

was
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10 comments:

  1. I've got the first season of "Night Gallery" on DVD, having bought it for the two Steven Spielberg-directed episodes.

    From what I remember, this episode was one of the more memorable ones of the season. The show overall doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for me; it isn't bad, but it definitely seemed like an unfocused also-ran version of "The Twilight Zone." Which, I guess, is exactly what it is.

    I only know Pettet from this and "Casino Royale," but she seems like a pretty good actress who probably ought to have had a more notable career. I guess they can't all be Meryl Streep, though.

    What I mainly remember about this episode is doing a metaphorical spit-take when the John Astin credit came up. "Gomez?!?" I may have hollered delightedly. And from what I remember, he certainly brought some atmosphere with him.

    I got a chuckle out of the Black Sabbath link. That screencap really does sort of look like someone decided to recreate it, but only had one or two spots to choose from in terms of where to film it, and therefore had to settle big-time.

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    1. Glad someone clicked / enjoyed the Black Sabbath joke.

      Night Gallery's first season is okay; its quality is more consistent, though it never really sets the screen on fire with anything. I probably rank it higher than I should simply because the 2nd and 3rd seasons are so all over the place.The best stories, like this one, tend to be memorable for reasons other than being memorable stories and more for atmosphere or scenery, etc. (LIke "Death on a Barge" from season 3, which is a minorly compelling tale with majorly compelling Leslie Ann Warren.)

      I forget which season has the mousetraps-on-the-moon story, but that one is so remarkably dumb that I kind of love it.

      I wish there was an Anthology Show channel.

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    2. There's something to be said for atmosphere, scenery, and other such stuff. Elements like that can certainly be interesting regardless of whether the rest of the movie/show works. I think that's because film is uniquely suited to work that way. I'd rather watch a movie with great mood and an awful story than a movie with a great story and no mood at all; ideally, I'd prefer both, but given the choice I'll take the flawed movie that knows it's a movie over the movie that thinks it's a novel.

      Trying now to think of a good name for an anthology-show channel...

      ...and all I can come up with is either Compendium or Omnibus, either of which would guarantee an ongoing rating of 0.0 households.

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    3. I imagine it'd have to be the pet project of some multi-billionaire who would keep it on the air (well, "on the air" - I still refer to media delivery methods in terms as remote as telegraph cables) regardless of households. Otherwise... yeah, it'd get the ax pretty darn quick. Maybe they could work in some original content, as well, and get in on that action.

      Good point re: atmosphere's unique relationship with film. I agree completely.

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    4. I broke out my season-one DVDs and gave this one a rewatch last night to see how it held up with my memory. Not bad, as it turned out.

      Super-duper seventies . . . but I've got no problem with that. I like things that go for timelessness, but imagine how much it would suck if everything felt timeless. It's great to have movies and tv shows to look at to be able to remember (or to learn) what a specific era was like. Such is the case here.

      As for Pettet, I would say that she is playing the role very much in the vein of Tippi Hedren, which is also fine by me. Pettet would have made a good Hitchcock blonde.

      There were two stories in this particular NG episode, the other being "Certain Shadows on the Wall," which is also, in its way, about a ghost. It's a pretty good one, too.

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    5. Yeah, "Certain Shadows" is a cool one.

      "I like things that go for timelessness, but imagine how much it would suck if everything felt timeless." Absolutely, on both counts.

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  2. I've only Night Gallery in clips and pieces on either documentaries or other TV shows. I'll swear I've watched a kids show where a clip from that Giant Mouse episode is playing in the background (either that or it was a really good homage).

    I do know I've seen clips from the Spielberg episode, featuring Joan Crawford, but that' about it. However I do remember first making acquaintance with Hitchcock on Nick at Nite! I caught up with the Hitch series recently, and have made the interesting discovery that while the first few season were essentially Noir and mystery/crime oriented, the later final season introduced more supernatural elements, even a bit of dystopian sci-fi. In fact, I remember one episode as a retelling of the Monkey's Paw.

    I could be wrong, but I think this NG episode is based on an old folklore motif about the dream house that turns out to be true. I base that on what might be a variant of the tale that I heard as part of a book collection of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It was called just "The Dream".

    ChrisC

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    1. Cool stuff re: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I've got that (or a volume in that series, maybe a couple) somewhere around here. I recently re-organized my bookshelves to keep my ever-more-active little one from pulling books down and wreaking havoc, and the carefully-constructed personal-Dewey-Decibel-System I'd put together on last re-org is now out the window.

      Thank God she doesn't know about the Closet of Mystery yet! Once that happens, oy vey... I'm going to have to lock up all my books and dvds if I want to keep them organized. #TheToddlerLife

      Man, I used to love Alfred Hitchock Presents on Nick at Nite. I watched those every night for years. I netflixed what was available a couple of years ago and didn't connect with it as much, but that's one I'd love to have every episode of, regardless.

      I just found out that Roald Dahl hosted a series called Way Out - I've never seen nor heard of this before. I haven't investigated beyond the wiki, but this is what started me thinking of a catch-all Anthology Channel. Thriller, Way Out, Outer Limits (all versions), Twilight Zone (all versions), Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock (all versions), Amazing Stories, Freddy's Nightmares, Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, and anything else I'm missing. I'm sure there's some 50s stuff in some vault - we could expand the envelope a little to include mini-series of revolving content as well.

      So... who knows a billionaire I can pitch this to?

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    2. I don't know who you can take all that to. If it's not pre-aware as Hollywood defines it, it won't sell. Although I know I'll have to track that Roald Dahl series.

      Speaking of which...

      Okay, I had this waiting in the wings, yet I actually held back at first, mainly because I knew you had impressionable eyes and ears around, so I thought maybe not.

      And then after reading your comment I'm caution, and possibly everyone's sanity, to the wind. Here is the variant I heard/read from the Scary Stories collection (my EC Comics!):

      Illustrated by the seriously messed up Stephen Gammell

      Narrated by Heat-Miser from The Year without Santa Claus.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMH34FZr4gc

      The best punch line I heard came from a youtube comment:

      "When the landlady saw Lucy's car speeding away from the house, she went to the room, where the Other Woman was waiting for her.

      The Landlady took one look at the Other Woman from Lucy's dream, and said: "Remind me again why I hired you on as hostess for the new tenants?" (rimshot).

      ChrisC

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