As it's October and coming up on Halloween, it seems the right time to turn my thoughts to an old TV favorite, The Night Gallery.
People seemed to be polarized about the show: they think it's dated and hokey or they remember being terrified, years earlier, by a particular episode or two, like The Caterpillar or The Cemetery.
What it is that I love so much about this show? I love the opening credits that set the mood: creepy and bizarre with a strong sense of foreboding.
Then there's the framework for each episode--the art gallery: a dark and moody, menacing and creepy place with paintings that hint at humanity's inner, dark fears. And the art itself...wow! There are a couple I'd love to have around the house!
The Night Gallery being a Rod Serling project is of course about twists and surprises, how could it not? The Night Gallery, as opposed to The Twilight Zone, is much more concerned with the retribution for evil deeds. Like the obsession with the vigilante in the 1970s (an extension of the DIY movement of the period?), The Night Gallery is about just, if cruel, punishment by supernatural "vigilante" forces for those who would have otherwise "gotten away with it;" those who have escaped earth-bound human law and justice.
One of my favorite moments, I won't give away in which of the 44 episodes, is about a man's Sartre-style hell. The devil points out that his particular version of hell, in all its details, also exists in heaven. He further explains to the confused and condemned man that the very place this man finds an absolute hell is in fact another person's perfect heaven, "Think about that." Another wonderful episode deals with the tragic outcome of man, in this case a psychiatrist, toying with life and death for no other reason than to be its master (without an altruistic goal).
I adore the Gothic images and mood.
And I adore the sometimes goofy outfits and costumes. In the case of the vignette Hell's Bells in episode 15 (air date 10/17/71), I think the silliness makes the concept of an eternity in hell that much more effective -- but it could just be me. Who doesn't love John Astin (of Addam's Family fame) dressed up as a...what is he exactly? A Hollywood brand of hippie? And that devil...love the glittery pitchfork!
That said, the show's quality is less consistent than that of the The Twilight Zone and the very short humorous vignettes are generally terrible. The idea of humorous vignettes is straight from the Grand Guignol tradition, although it doesn't work here with a few exceptions (The Merciful, Phantom of What Opera?). They could have benefitted from a talented comedy writer with a dark side. These vignettes are so bad, I'm shocked they aired at all and they illustrate the lack of care and dedication of the producer (who was not Serling). The website www.TheoFantastique.com contains an article that explains that Serling lost control of the show by the second season primarily to producer Jack Laird. Most of the blame for inconsistent quality and the poor comedy shorts is placed at Laird's feet.
For its occasional short-comings, the show holds a special place in the dark recesses of my heart. If you love the dark and bizzare and love seeing murderers, Nazis, and generally evil people get their comeuppance at the hands of supernatural forces than this show's for you. Ignore the dated clothing, or love it, either way relax and enjoy the art in The Night Gallery.