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31 Days of Creepy – The Outer Limits

TheOuterLimits-Screenshot-oldOne of my clearest memories from my childhood is of coming home from trick-or-treating and finding my dad sitting in the dark, watching THE OUTER LIMITS on our old black-and-white TV. Back then (1964), I thought the show was weird and scary – lots of strange, eerie music. And lots of monsters.

outer_limits_architects_of_fear_9212The show reflects all the sensibilities of that time — fear of alien invasions, fear of atomic weapons, fear of things we can’t control. It’s humorous now that the monster in “The Architects of Fear,” clearly an actor in a bug-eyed rubber suit, was deemed so terrifying that some of the ABC affiliates refused to air the episode, and others blanked out the offensive scenes. Most of the special effects are primitive, and there’s a lot of melodrama lurking throughout (not to mention the female characters — a lot of devoted wives and girlfriends — who do little more than shriek and cower), but if you dig a little deeper and let go of your 21st century mindset, there’s a lot of great, scary storytelling going on. How far do we dare go to prove a point? When do we reach the point of learning too much? Is knowledge worth losing our humanity?

14789946The show was revived in 1995, and there’s some fine storytelling there as well. My particular favorite episode is “Inconstant Moon,” which stars Family Ties‘ Michael Gross as a lonely physics professor who realizes to his horror that the sun has gone nova and he has only a few hours left to live. (Ignore the incorrect description at Amazon; it’s the correct episode.) If you’re looking for something new to stream, both the 1963 original and the 1995 reboot are well worth your time… especially if you watch in the dark!

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31 Days of Creepy – A Little Peace and Quiet

logoI bet you’ve been expecting me to talk about THE TWILIGHT ZONE – meaning the original Rod Serling classic. And I will… but right now I’m thinking about the 1985 reboot, in particular part 2 of the first episode. “A Little Peace and Quiet” stars ET’s Melinda Dillon as a harried suburban mom who’s desperate for a break from her noisy, stressful life – and finds it in the form of an odd amulet she unearths in her garden. At first she thinks it’s just a pretty necklace, but when she’s pushed to her limit and screams “SHUT UP!!!!” … that’s exactly what happens. Everyone around her freezes. Time stands still, something that’s at first amusing and useful. But when international tensions reach the breaking point…

4978536391_79140ca6d1This episode sticks with me 30 years after its premiere because the 1980s were a time of incredible stress around the globe. The U.S. and the Soviet Union had amassed a spectacular number of nuclear weapons that might be launched at any time. (“Well, we aren’t that close to anything…” I said to a co-worker. His response? “We’re a couple of miles from the arsenal. If they launch, you can kiss your butt goodbye.” Nope, not the response I’d been hoping for.) So housewife Penny’s dilemma in “Peace and Quiet” resonated with me. She’s got a solution, but it’s a horribly imperfect one, and the final scenes are chilling.

You can find the episode on the DVD set, and on YouTube.

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31 Days of Creepy: One Step Beyond

newland1Even people much younger than I am know about The Twilight Zone. Some genre fans have probably heard about The Outer Limits. But there was another series on TV at around the same time – the supremely creepy One Step Beyond, hosted by John Newland.

Like its TV siblings, OSB was a black-and-white anthology series with a different cast and a different story in each episode. Unlike the other two shows, though, its host claimed that the stories being told had actually happened.  Combine that with eerie music and a lot of characters terrified by hauntings, precognition, astral projection, and mysterious disappearances and you have a show that scared the bejeebers out of little grade-school me.

Nicely written and directed, featuring a roster of fine performers, the show holds up well 55 years after its initial run. Some of the episodes are more eerie than others, and the anecdotes the episodes are based on date back a long time – but if you’re intrigued by a man predicting the 1906 San Francisco earthquake the day before it happened, a house from which a number of people mysteriously vanished, a little girl who’s apparently possessed by the spirit of a dead neighbor, and a lonely woman who’s befriended by a man who died long before she was born, then the inexpensive DVD sets of this terrific series are a great investment for you! (There are a number of different collections available at Amazon – click the photo to see one of them – and you can also find the individual episodes on YouTube.)

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at one of my favorite scary books!