Monday, October 31, 2005

Macabre TV

Saw most of a bio of Rod Serling on TV over the weekend that included many things I never knew, which is sometimes the mark of a good production, but more likely means that I never bothered to learn much about the subject. (Both, in this case.) It was filmed in black and white, a wise choice, since it would have been jarring to go back and forth from b&w to color, considering that the many Twilight Zone clips were in b&w.

There were a few omissions. No mention was made of one critical element of that show’s presence — good episodes or bad, the Twilight Zone had a presence — namely Serling’s voice. A sonorous voice with a slightly sinister edge. If you doubt its importance in the scheme of the drama, imagine if he’d introduced the episodes with a voice like Wally Cox’s.

A more important omission was the bio’s gliding over Night Gallery, which Serling hosted in the early 1970s. He also wrote about a third of the episodes. I haven’t seen any of them since they were new, and I’m not sure I really need to, but it included some of the most frightening television I’ve ever seen. Of course I was nine or ten at the time, but still the effect was there, and probably not only because I was a kid. There must have been macabre merit to some of them.

There was one Night Gallery episode so unnerving that I’m certain I would never want to see it again (like the movie Eraserhead), namely “The Caterpillar,” though I’m grown now and sure — well, reasonably sure — that the entomology of the story is bogus. Internet sources tell me it originally aired on March 1, 1972, and I might have seen it then or during a rerun.

It involved explorers or colonists in some tropical location, one of whom wanted to murder a rival. His weapon of choice: a flesh-eating caterpillar deposited at night in the rival’s ear by a native accomplice. The native goes into the wrong room and the creature is put in the would-be murderer’s ear. After inflicting terrible agony, the worm emerges from his other ear, and then there was the kicker: “… it was a female. Females lay eggs…”



At 10:14 PM, Blogger e. Readicker-Henderson said...

When Burton and Speake were headed for the source of the Nile, one night, they pitched their tents, blew out the lights. A few minutes later, the place was alive with some kind of beetle.

One of which crawled into Speake's ear. They tried getting it out with a knife, which didn't work, and finally ended up pouring hot wax into his ear, which deafened him and killed the bug.

Speake said the last bits of it came out when he was taking a bath, six months or so later.


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