It Came from the Devil Box


I was hoping that “Bitter Harvest” (NIGHT VISIONS, S1x15) would stick to its brutal course until the end but, like a legless foal, it flails helplessly about in its closing moments. A conte cruel from the American heartland (filmed in Canada), Julie Siege’s tale deals with a troublemaking youth (Brendan Fletcher, looking like the poster image for red-headead, sullen-faced stepchildren everywhere) who causes an accident that handicaps resident crotchety farmer Jack Palance, setting the stage for payback. Palance works well in the Creepy Old Man tradition of John Carradine (himself in a similar role from NIGHT GALLERY’s “Big Surprise”), his gritty voice sounding like hard living and cold weather. After some tense set-ups and a well-paced confrontation, the script is derailed in the final act by a mandated twist ending that comes out of left field and makes no sense whatsoever. It’s utterly useless as a climax and even wimpy when compared to a truly queasy scene that has Fletcher feeding Palance pork and beans. Yech.

You wouldn’t think that plots involving mannequins coming to life would prove a succulent source of goosebumps, but then you wouldn’t have seen “The Afer Hours” from THE TWILIGHT ZONE. But for my money “Everybody Needs a Little Love” (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, S3x17) is even better. John Harrison ably directs and adapts Robert Bloch’s story of automaton affection, creating one of the few episodes that feels both eerie and mature. Old pros Jerry Orbach (LAW AND ORDER) and Richard Portnow (GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM) fit into their roles of two post-war, post-divorce schlubs with grace and ease, letting Bloch’s hardboiled patter roll on their tongues like good scotch. Though the brief cuts of “Estelle’s” watchful eyes and smiling lips laced with sultry saxophone notes are subtle enough to induce a sensual thrill, the story is most emotionally affecting when detailing the loneliness of the two characters. This is noir, so our heroes are doomed to fall from the start, but the glimpse we get of Portnow’s fridge in the beginning–containing nothing but booze and a sandwich–is enough to realize that he isn’t far from the bottom of the pit.

No frills and no fun,”The Lake” (THE EVIL TOUCH, S1x01) is just the kind of safe-bet, cookie-cutter campfire yarn that a horror program would naturally set for its premiere foray to test the waters and gauge how much gruesomeness its audience could handle. If this episode is any indication, then it ain’t much because the “spouse-also-rises” run-around that we’re treated to here was old hat by the standards of 1940s radio. (Host Anthony Quayle even cops an Inner Sanctum-esque “Pleasant dreams” farewell in the closing narration). Director/producer Mende Brown creates some compositions in the finale reminiscent of John D. Hancock’s LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971), but at the end of the day this slice of stale bread can’t hold a candle to that atmospheric banquet.

By its very nature, network television isn’t generally the haven of auteurs, and though “The Sins of the Fathers” (NIGHT GALLERY, S2x21) isn’t high art it’s probably the closest the medium ever came to replicating the fog-shrouded Gothicism of European horror, at least in the seventies. The main narrative has good ideas about necessary evils and how we use–and thanklessly discard–them to our own ends, but the real reason to watch here is the performance of returning guest star Geraldine Page as Richard Thomas’ silver-eyed mother. That’s saying a lot with no less than Barbara Steele and Michael Dunn on hand, but Page litterally overshadows all from her bundle of filthy rags, each of her enunciations lashed with pain. The beliefs of the viewer matter not in the end. The characters believe in the sin-eater and it is that which makes Page’s last request to her son so terrifying. She consigns her own flesh and blood to Hell, and I defy anyone to repress a shudder when she attempts to comfort him by saying “Don’t worry. You’ll have a son.”

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