Friday, September 16, 2011

Weird Tales on Film

Rod Serling's Night Gallery

Rod Serling (1924-1975) was one of the heroes of television in what some consider its Golden Age of the 1950s. His science fiction anthology, Twilight Zone, went on the air in the final television season of that golden decade and lasted five years, finally succumbing to cancellation in 1964. Six years later, Serling tried his hand at occult and weird fiction with his self-titled TV series Rod Serling's Night Gallery. As with Twilight Zone, Serling introduced each installment in the anthology. This time Serling's introductions came in his role as the curator of the eponymous gallery. The series grew out of a feature-length pilot, one segment of which was directed by a youthful Steven Spielberg.

The majority of Night Gallery episodes were Serling's work, either original or as adaptations  from magazines or anthologies. Other writers contributed teleplays as well. I have counted six episodes or installments based on stories from Weird Tales. I remember two from when I watched Night Gallery (as the show was known) as a child, "Brenda" and "Pickman's Model." I have recently started watching Rod Serling's Night Gallery again on Hulu, and I can see why "Pickman's Model," with its fight scene between Pickman and his monster, would appeal to a child. I don't remember "Death on a Barge" from the first time around, but I can recommend it for its performance by a young and very beautiful Lesley Ann Warren and for a peek at another era in television, when there was plenty of sex for the grown-ups and chills and thrills for the kids. The episode concludes with an unsubtle and wholly erotic double entendre, one that would have flown over the heads of the kids watching.

Each season of Night Gallery had a different main title sequence. Each is creepy in its own way, but the sequence from the second season has to rank as one of the best of any television series, before or since. Night Gallery was cancelled with its third season. Two years later, television fans were shocked and saddened to hear that Rod Serling had died at age fifty. Few figures in the medium's history are as well remembered.

Season 1 (1970-1971)
"The Dead Man" by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (Weird Tales, Nov. 1950), teleplay by Douglas Heyes

Season 2 (1971-1972)
"The Phantom Farmhouse" by Seabury Quinn (Weird Tales, Oct. 1923, reprinted Mar. 1929), teleplay by Halsted Welles
"Brenda" by Margaret St. Clair (Weird Tales, Mar. 1954), teleplay by Douglas Heyes
"Pickman's Model" by H.P. Lovecraft (Weird Tales, Oct. 1927, reprinted Nov. 1936), teleplay by Alvin Sapinsley
"The Dear Departed" by Alice-Mary Schnirring (Weird Tales, May 1944), teleplay by Rod Serling

Season 3 (1972-1973)
"Death on a Barge" by Everil Worrell (Weird Tales, Dec. 1927, as "The Canal," reprinted Apr. 1935), teleplay by Halsted Welles

Other Stories by Tellers of Weird Tales from
Rod Serling's Night Gallery 
"The Doll" by Algernon Blackwood (The Doll and One Other, 1946)
"The Horsehair Trunk" by Dave Grubb (Collier's, May 25, 1946, as "The Last Laurel")
"The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes" by Margaret St. Clair (McLean's, 1950)
"Death in the Family" by Miriam Allen deFord (Stories That Scared Even Me, ed. Alfred Hitchcock, 1967)
"The Devil Is Not Mocked" by Manly Wade Wellman (Unknown Worlds, June 1943)
"Big Surprise" by Richard Matheson (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1959, as "What Was in the Box")
"House--With Guest" by August Derleth (Lonesome Places, 1962, as "House--With Ghost)
"The Dark Boy" by August Derleth (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb. 1957)
"Cool Air" by H.P. Lovecraft (Tales of Magic and Mystery, Mar. 1928)
"The Painted Mirror" by Donald Wandrei (Esquire, May 1937)
"Lagoda's Head" by August Derleth (Source unknown)
"The Funeral" by Richard Matheson (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Apr. 1955)
"The Caterpillar" by Oscar Cook (Switch on the Light, 1931, as "Boomerang")
"Little Girl Lost" by E.C. Tubb (New Worlds, 1955)
"The Return of the Sorcerer" by Clark Ashton Smith (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Sept. 1931)
"The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories, 1949)
"The Ring with the Red Velvet Ropes" by Edward D. Hoch (Source unknown)

Rod Serling in his role as after-hours guide to the Night Gallery.
And Lesley Ann Warren in her role as Hyacinth in the Night Gallery episode "Death on a Barge," based on a vampire story, "The Canal" by Everil Worrell, originally published in Weird Tales magazine.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Return of the Sorcerer is pretty great. Vincent Price, Bill Bixby and Patricia Sterling a real femme fatale.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous,

    I watched the episode tonight and you're right about Patricia Sterling.

    For anyone else who watches, look for: mention of the Necronomicon, a work of art by William Blake, and an early version of Herman Cain's tax plan, quoted by Vincent Price.


    1. Just stumbled on this site searching for Night Gallery discussions. I loved the pilot & season one, both of which I've reviewed, & just started on season two. Those comedic sequences are downright embarrassing, but "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes" (which you have pictured) proves that innovation in television is possible. I'll be watching out for Price, Blake & the Necronomicon.