One of the greatest days in my life came in September of 1963 with the introduction of a new and startling television show. Let's face it, many of us were too scared to try and adjust our television sets. We did not try to control the volume, or sharpen anything to crystal clarity. The control voice told us clearly that they control the volume, the television, and basically us for the next hour.
Clearly, The Outer Limits was the most innovative and serious sci-fi/horror television program of its kind. Probably ever, in fact. The stories and themes were sophisticated, more on an adult level which only augmented the shows mystique. So many of its themes which incorporated hard science, astronomy, and time-warp continuum were so far above my young head that I found myself just going along for the ride! The theme song was just as intense as any could be. It announced itself hard with powerful crescendos softening to a wierd electronic cold shrill. In my opinion, the theme song for the second season was quite corny, and destroyed the overall effect of the opening.
Indeed, once The Outer Limits got into my head, it was hard to get rid of it. The program embedded itself into my brain, and once an episode played out, it was with me until the next week. The Outer Limits aired on ABC Television, and I believe, if memory serves correctly, the slotted time was Monday evening at eight o'clock. Each week, as we sat huddled on the floor in front of the TV, the control voice was telling us that we no longer had control over the TV, let alone our lives.
The Outer Limits suffered only one thing: a true lack of realistic looking monsters due to budget and time constraints. Plus, at the time, it was difficult to turn out realism even with all the money in the world as special effects just weren't quite up to par back then. However, expert camera operators and art directors helped quite a bit. Speading vaseline over a camera lens to create strange softness was a beautiful technique. The stories were by far superior to even most movies released in theaters. The writers were imaginative and seemed to want only one thing: the most outstanding program ever. As a kid, I never truly appreciated the power of the written script. I was only in it for the monsters. Little did I know that a well-written script built up the monster, and the tighter the detail in the story line, the better the monster appeared on screen. The Outer Limits took the time to build up their frightening stars with the introduction of hard sceince blended with bizarre "what if" scenarios, and the slow tension of one person "knowing what nobody else knows."
Conversely, many of the episode's monsters were featured in broad daylight! This told us kids that we were not safe in the sunlit hours. It told us that monsters do indeed come out in the daylight, in fact they flourish there, and live amongst us in many shapes and forms. Aside from wandering about in broad daylight, many of the creatures moved quickly! They moved at people speed, and gave us all a terrifying run for our money.
When I was watching this show in the 60's, I had no idea that all of these elements combined were what scared me. I had no idea that I was actually stopping to think about things like interplanetary exchanges, evil formations from the earth, alien prison colonies exiled to our planet, or the effects of natural forces to produce highly unusual aural and visual effects. Time travel, replication, mutation, and intelligent human-alien communication were all central themes of this show. ObviouslyThe Outer Limits was treading new ground. The show was re-exploring previously trampled territories of horror and sci-fi while providing us with a clear and fresh look at what seemed highly possible and ultimately probable. I could watch horror movies back then, and laugh them off later. With The Outer Limits, I had to take a moment, reflect, and think about the possibilies. This was the huge difference between the two: monster movies scared me a little. The Outer Limits scared me a lot!
THE BEST MONSTERS
Okay, picking the best Outer Limits Monsters was an easy task. I loved all the monsters, all the creatures, all the aliens, but some were just better than others. Though the Outer Limits was one of my favorite shows, it had its visible flaws. The main flaw was its repeated use of the same monster. First, we had "The Galaxy Being","Nightmare", and finally the evil gamer in "Fun and Games". Note that all of these masks are just variations of each other. My vote for scariest of these three was "Nightmare". One unbelievably strange and ugly creature would have to be the Chromoite extraterrestrial from the episode "The Mice." Again, this great creature was replicated as the control being in "The Guests". Truly hideous and inventive were the mutant slaves from "A Feasibility Study". Some of the Outer Limits' best ambiances weren't always the monsters. Sometimes they were sets and locations. In "Don't Open til Doomsday" we have the dilapidated mansion and creepy interiors; in "Fun and Games" we have the river of fast water with boiling, bubbling fire pits on the surface; "The Human Factor" offered up arctic regions of claustrophic snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Often, the sets that offered the most simplicity had profoundly frightening effects. Such is the case for "Nightmare" and styrofoam rock formations with a gray screen in the background. The horrid sense of isolation it creates is meted out in equal measure with the horror of captivity and the terrifying Ebonites.
THE SCARIEST EPISODES
These were what I, as a third grader, considered to be the "all-time scariest episodes that left me a damaged human being for life." Though I'm not listing them in the order in which they were originally aired, here goes:
This episode scared me the most out of any of them. It was the fact that those weird rocks could spread out like jelly, and take on a spider-like form, then attach themselves to people. In one scene, the lovely Salome Jens is forced face-first into these ugly crawlies. Upon my seeing this episode on television, I was literally terrified and thought perhaps that the show had crossed the line between fun and genuine horror. From the book "Outer Limits, the Official Companion", OL producer Joseph Stefano states about the episode: "When 'Corpus Earthling' was finished and the music added, I sat there wishing I could say 'don't air this.' I had never thought it could be that scary, and I was horrified. It hit me in a disturbing way that I never wanted our shows to hit people."
I had to agree with Joe, for this one terrified me to a point where I was too scared to go to bed. I was thinking that those rocks could be under the covers waiting to stick themselves to my face. I can easily say that even to this day few movies or shows have had such a pronounced effect on me.
I can still see this episode in my head presenting itself on our black and white television screen. There was this constant foghorn-like sound in the background, and the creatures were terrifying to me. The long-faced Ebonites with their bizarre wands that broke peoples' bones, blinded them, and made them mute, were ultimately scary to me. Looking back on this episode, I can see a dash of "Manchurian Candidate" and a touch of The Twilight Zone's "Is Anybody There?". Galactic prisoners of war by the terrifying and mysterious "Ebonites", a group of Americans- ethnically diverse by the way-end up interrogated one-by-one until one of them "cracks" under the interrogation and spills military secrets. Eventually, the men begin finger-pointing their blame until they find whom they deem to be the guilty party, and decide on a group execution. Look for a very young Martin Sheen. This was, in my opinion, one of the greatest OL episodes of all time, very scary, but not nightmare inducing.
"The Zanti Misfits"
I started off okay with this episode, but when those ants with humanoid faces started arriving en massé, that's when the old fear level kicked in. Like "Corpus Earthling", I was sure those ants were in my bed, and I could just feel them crawling all over me when the lights went out! The story was great; a colony of alien prisoners exiled to earth effect their own release by the actions of none other than an earthling criminal! Movie baddie Bruce Dern gets his in grotesque fashion, and the massive invasion-attack sequence is forever haunting and memorable. I would hazard a guess to say that this is probably one of the most popular episodes ever.
Aside from the creepy, large and lumbering slime monster, one thing that struck me as being odd, even as a kid, was the casting of the female lead. Though gorgeous, Diana Sands was a black actress and casting her in the part just didn't seem like a sign of the times. Perhaps it really was. Anyway, the plot was intriguing and the "garbage eater" with the giant crab claws scooping up slime from the swamps was one freaky monster! Again, he moved fast, and within the daylight hours. I consider this episode to be one of OL's greatest even though it probably wouldn't rank as one the classics.
"The Sixth Finger"
I was as fascinated with this episode as I was scared by it. At least, they brought on the changes slowly, bit by bit as Gwyllum began morphing into a "man of the future". I can still hear his words "The whole town must be utterly destroyed. An example must be made" in such cold-blooded tones that it chilled me. His slow transformations were quite unnerving, and in the process, provided us with a complete series of monsters, each one a little worse than the one before.
"The Man Who Was Never Born"
This one started off strong-with a monster! The creepy, deformed title character was the first to greet an astral traveller from earth, only to
teach warn him of man's future, and the havoc that his own son would wreak upon the planet. This episode scared me pretty good because he could hypnotize people into thinking he was normal while he creeped about in reality as a monster. Though his mission was pure and good, he was still scary.
Lesson 1: never believe in innocent things like amusement park joy rides. If anything, this episode taught me never to believe what was on the surface, for something evil always lurks beneath. Another scary monster, though kind of a weird bird-like guy, suckered a good number of people into taking his "free" space ride. This character had particular menace because he was tall, big, and moved fast. He didn't creep, or drag a limp leg, he was a true alien, and moved about forcefully.
I was eight years old watching this episode which featured the very best of horror imaginable. Again, a seriously realistic premise of a secret society of human-to-robot "invisibles" fueled by a ghastly parasitical-crablike creature placed on the naked back of the victim was a bit much. The program shows a concentration camp like compound with horrifying human screams coming from within. One of the most frightening elements of all was the ending which showed our hero with an injured leg, struggling to crawl away from one of the creatures. This was what true horror was all about.
"Don't Open til Doomsday"
The whole idea of someone being vacuum-sucked into a box was ultimately disturbing. Then, once inside the box, they encounter other victims who haven't a clue as to what just happened to them. This was the prelude to one freaky episode. I don't have much of a memory of this episode, except for the cobwebbed room where the box was stored and the creepy old house.
"A Feasibility Study"
This is probably one of the creepiest and most dreary episodes ever to be filmed. The monsters were great and the whole idea was superb. To imagine an entire neighborhood being abducted and taken to another planet was fantastic! Nothing could be scarier because if offers up the question: if that can happen, anything can happen. Plus, adding more interest to the mix, the infection that plagues the alien planet spreads to humans rendering them as useless as their own "slaves".
And so, in conclusion, I have both of these seasons of OL on DVD, so the memories are forever preserved. I was a bit disappointed in the packaging though. I feel that it lacks that 60's era class of black and white sci-fi and horror. There's too much "now" and not enough "noir".
Wasn't it fun?...
- ...to be scared to death in front of the old black and white TV?
- ...when your brother jabbed you in the ribs from behind during the scariest part?
- ...waiting in almost horrified anticipation of what this week's episode was going to be about?
- ...talking about last night's show in school the next day during class?
- ...trying to figure out how to play Outer Limits outside?