It’s Horror Anthology Week on Hatched, where we’ll talk about some of our favorite horror anthologies to lead up to the Nitehawk premiere of V/H/S on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
You don’t find a Monet in a mausoleum…
The first episode of the Rod Serling’s brilliant, daring, and startling Night Gallery aired on television in 1970. The “television movie” pilot launched the forthcoming series onto the air, where it would be for be for the next three years. Night Gallery is, by far, the most unique manifestation of horror anthology, morality, cultural study ever produced. One would not expect any less from Serling, the man who inverted the ugliness of society back onto the culture in his game-changing series The Twilight Zone. But here, he does it through culture itself – art.
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Night Gallery is simply its premise – telling tales of terror through artwork. Here, artworks (mostly paintings by artist Tom Wright) function as the vehicle for fear. Particularly in the movie version, artworks and ways-of-seeing are at the very crucial core and essence of the narrative. Whereas the t.v. series would go on to lesson art’s role in the actual stories, it would go on to do some of the better H.P. Lovecraft adaptations as well as deal with more sinister topics like Satanism and voodoo dolls on a mission to kill. Nearly perfect in its three-story package, the Night Gallery movie proposes a very new (at the time and even now) way to consider what horror might mean.
The Cemetary – directed by Boris Sagal
The first episode of Night Gallery depicts an elderly rich man who is murdered by his greedy nephew Jeremy (played by Roddy McDowall). Barely after his uncle is dead and buried, the young man galavants around town in a flush-spree but then something strange starts to happen; the painting at the end of the stairs seems to come to life by showing the dead uncle slowly rising from the grave. Literally horrified to death, Jeremy receives his punishment for his evil deeds but not from whom you’d expect. Turns out, his uncle’s trusty servant Portifoy (Ossie Davis) has been up to no good too.
Eyes – directed by Steven Spielberg
In what is nearly unimaginable today, Night Gallery‘s second episode featured the debut of Steven Spielberg who had to direct the legendary Joan Crawford no less. And what we get is nothing short of brilliant. Spielberg experiments with color, multiple imagery, inventive angles in an episode that is fundamentally about the ability to see (both literally and figuratively). Crawford plays a rich blind woman who blackmails her doctor into giving her an eye-transplant with eyes she procured from a man (Tom Bosley) down on his luck. The deed is performed and is successful in more ways that simply seeing her sculptures. It’s the ultimate revelation about power, greed, and sacrifice.
Escape Route – directed by Barry Shear
When a Nazi war criminal on the lamb in South America realizes that the only thing that quiets his mind in a certain painting located in the local museum. The particular work features a man fishing, he is quiet and at peace. More and more often, he sees himself becoming one with this painting and he becomes obsessed. Ultimately, as we know, such demons of the past are never easily erased and he is eventually discovered by the authorities. Unable to escape himself or them his wishes to be forever in that painted landscape but where he winds up is more more befitting his stature.
Not before nor since has there been such a smart and engaged approach to horror anthologies either on television or in film. Serling stands alone in his achievement of mixing literature, visual art, television and film formats with horror into an enduring piece of art.