Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Howling Man"

Howling Man Robin Hughes pleads for his freedom with
stranded traveler David Ellington (H.M. Wynant)
"The Howling Man"
Season 2, Episode 41
Original Air Date: November 4, 1960

Cast:
David Ellington: H.M. Wynant
Brother Jerome: John Carradine
The Howling Man: Robin Hughes
Brother Christophorus: Frederic Ledebur
Housekeeper: Ezelle Poule

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his story published in Rogue magazine, November, 1959)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Makeup: William Tuttle
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"Down this hall is a very strange individual locked in a room. He's known by various names and by various forms and next week on The Twilight Zone you'll be close to the elbow of the people who let him out. Our story is called 'The Howling Man' by Mr. Charles Beaumont. It's designed for the young in heart but strong in nerve. I hope we'll see you next week along with 'The Howling Man.' Thank you and good night."

 Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"The prostrate form of Mr. David Ellington, scholar, seeker of truth, and, regrettably, finder of truth. A man who will shortly arise from his exhaustion to confront a problem that has tormented mankind since the beginning of time. A man who knocked on a door seeking sanctuary and found instead the outer edges of The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            "It's an incredible story. I of all people know this. And you won't believe me. No, not at first. But I'm gonna tell you the whole thing. Then you will believe because you must. You must believe."
So begins David Ellington's story of how, after the first World War, he became lost in a storm during a walking tour of central Europe. Coming upon a remote hermitage he begs entry and is allowed to see Brother Jerome, the leader of an order of monks which reside within the hermitage. Ellington is alarmed as he hears the first strange howling sounds which will repeat periodically throughout his stay at the hermitage. When confronted with Brother Jerome, Ellington attempts to explain his situation and asks for shelter and food. Jerome firmly tells him that the brotherhood cannot help him and Ellington will have to leave the hermitage immediately. Shocked by Jerome's words, Ellington slowly makes his leave but is unable to reach the door before collapsing unconscious upon the floor.
            Upon waking, Ellington again hears the strange howling and tracks the sound to a small cell with a barred door. Behind it is a young, thin, bearded, and kindly seeming man who begs Ellington for help in releasing him. The prisoner tells Ellington that Brother Jerome and the others in the hermitage are mad, insane, and imprisoned him here against his will. Ellington tells the prisoner that he will speak about this with Jerome and this only sends the prisoner into panic. "Jerome," he says, "is the maddest one of all."
            When Ellington confronts Brother Jerome, the old monk attempts to convince Ellington that he has not seen or spoken to a man at all. The howling which Ellington hears again and again Brother Jerome pretends not to hear at all. It is only when Ellington threatens to involve the authorities in the matter that Jerome relents and tells Ellington the truth. The man in the cell is not man at all. It is the Devil, himself!
            Ellington is reluctant to believe the incredible story but tells Jerome that he does believe. Jerome sees through the lie and attempts to explain to Ellington how he and the brotherhood came to be the guardians of the Devil in a prison cell. The herding staff which all the members of the order carry represent "truth," which is, in Jerome's words, the greatest weapon against the Devil. It is but a meager wooden staff which holds closed the door of the Devil's cell. Jerome pursued the Devil across the world and finally managed to trap him. Ellington again tells Jerome that he believes. This time, unfortunately, Jerome believes him.
            Later in the night, however, Ellington leaves his room against Jerome's orders by stealing the key to the locked bedroom door from about the neck of sleeping Brother Christophus. Ellington rushes to the prison cell to free the howling man. In a moment before he frees the prisoner, Ellington notices that it is only a thin piece of wood, the staff of truth, which holds the door closed. It is something which can be easily removed by the prisoner himself. It is the last questioning moment that Ellington will have and to remove the staff seems to be a difficult act. Once the staff is removed, Ellington learns the terrible truth. The man in the cell really is the Devil and he quickly escapes from the hermitage.
            It is years later, after the second World War and the Korean War and the development of the new mass weapons of war, that Ellington manages to recapture the Devil in a room in his home, barred only by a small wooden staff. He plans on shipping the Devil back to Brother Jerome at the hermitage. It is not to be. Though the whole tale has been a tale of warning to Elllington's housekeeper, whom he will leave in charge of his home while he is off making arrangements to move the Devil back to Brother Jerome, the housekeeper, upon hearing the howling from behind the closed door, cannot resist removing the staff once Ellington has left. The door opens to darkness but we know what waits there in the dark.

 Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Ancient folk saying: 'You can catch the Devil but you can't hold him long.' Ask Brother Jerome. Ask David Ellington. They know, and they'll go on knowing to the end of their days and beyond, in The Twilight Zone."

 Commentary:
            With "The Howling Man," The Twilight Zone ventured into its single, unforgettable foray into Gothic horror in the style of the first great cycle of American horror films in the 1930s and 1940s. It is a production that succeeds on virtually every level, from script, direction, and casting to makeup and set design. Even the stock music soundtrack, which includes pieces from regular Zone contributors Marius Constant, Jerry Goldsmith, and Bernard Herrmann, is used to startling effect. It is one of the most frequently broadcast episodes in The Twilight Zone syndication package and one of the crowning achievements of the entire show. It is a triumph for writer Charles Beaumont and director Douglas Heyes and proved definitively, with its early second season broadcast, that Rod Serling's fantasy show was capable of not only producing great television outside the confines of genre, but lasting works of art in a still relatively young medium attempting to find its dramatic identity in the American cultural landscape. The episode is by no means a flawless one but it is one of a handful that give the show a strong cultural identity among even those who have never seen an episode.
            The genesis of the episode lies in writer Charles Beaumont's original short story, published in the November, 1959 issue of Rogue magazine, a slick men's magazine (one of many which cropped up in the wake of Hugh Hefner's hugely successful Playboy) which was fortunate enough to briefly have as its editors two of the most talented American fantasy and science fiction writers of the latter half of the 20th century, Harlan Ellison and Frank Robinson. The story was later reprinted in the Beaumont’s collection Night Ride and Other Journeys. The story, along with the author's "Black Country," "Free Dirt," and "Place of Meeting," has become a classic of its type, no doubt its influence boosted by its adaptation on The Twilight Zone, reprinted often and used as the title of the paperback edition of Beaumont's career retrospective from Tor Books in 1992. It is a core work in Beaumont's relatively small but highly influential body of work.
            At the time, Beaumont was on a monthly retainer from Playboy and was therefore contractually denied the opportunity to submit his work to competing periodicals. This didn't stop the writer from selling much of his work to other markets under pseudonyms. At Rogue Beaumont had already sold several nonfiction pieces under house pseudonyms Michael Phillips and Robert Courtney. "The Howling Man" was first submitted to Playboy but Hefner turned down the chance to publish the story and Beaumont took it across town to the Chicago offices of Rogue. Editors Ellison and Robinson knew they had a gem and published the story under the originally conceived author name "C.B. Lovehill," a play on Beaumont's name. The story, according to Ellison, drew great amounts of laudatory mail.
            Though the original plot is retained for the dramatic adaptation on The Twilight Zone, the differences between the two versions are numerous. Generally speaking, Beaumont, and the production crew, improved upon the already impressive short story with nearly every change incorporated for the dramatic adaptation. There are subtle changes, such as Father Jerome in the story becoming Brother Jerome in the episode. The staffs which the inhabitants of the hermitage carry do not exist in the story. The door to the prisoner's cell is therefore locked with a simple lock and not the "staff of truth" which is the one barrier the Devil cannot pass. According to Beaumont's script, the members of the hermitage were to carry large crosses but Douglas Heyes as weary of using this device because he did not think it wise to use a distinct religious symbol for fear of a backlash among viewers. Therefore, the versatile image of the staff was wisely and effectively substituted for the cross. The sounds which the Howling Man makes are referred to as screams in the short story and, because of the nature of the literary medium, a reader need not dwell on the specific nature of the sound as that aspect is left purely to the imagination. The Howling Man is, in fact, seen howling, or screaming, in the short story and director Douglas Heyes wisely avoided showing Robin Hughes making the howling noises in the episode as this would have not only been incredibly difficult to convincingly pull off but would certainly have destroyed the carefully built up tension and atmosphere. 
            Other changes are more significant. As originally written, the true nature of the prisoner in the cell is all but ambiguous. Beaumont chose to reveal the Devil as a single cloven hoof descending over the abbey wall as the Devil makes his escape. Even with this approach it is never clear, even at the end of the story, whether Ellington has truly released the Devil upon the world or been the victim of strong suggestion by the religious fanatics in Father Jerome and the other hermits at the Abbey. It is, however, suggested that Ellington did indeed release the Devil as what follows is World War II and all the horrors resultant of that terrible conflict. The ending of the short story, equally ambiguous, concludes with Ellington receiving a postcard from Brother Christophorus which reads "Rest now, my son. We have him back with us again." Elllington, as filmed for The Twilight Zone, becomes obsessed with recapturing the Devil and getting him back to Brother Jerome.
            For The Twilight Zone, Beaumont wanted, with the appearance and escape of the Devil, to retain the original story's version. He wanted the glimpse of a cloven hoof descending over the wall and the look upon Ellington's face to be confirmation enough for the audience. Director Douglas Heyes felt this wasn't enough. Heyes began his career while still a teenager working as an artist for Walt Disney. As an artist he wanted to show and not simply suggest what the entire episode has been building toward. The result was a literal transformation of actor Robin Hughes into the archetypal Christian image of the Devil using makeup and photographic techniques culled from two films from the aforementioned first cycle of American horror films. The result has split most viewers, many of whom do not like the literal transformation. Though most viewers agree, including us here in the Vortex, that a transformation needed to happen and not simply be suggested, some writers have criticized the makeup as too literal and unimaginative. It's really a pointless argument as the entire episode is filmed and acted in hyperbole and if one is to accept John Carradine's wonderful, yet extremely over-the-top, performance as a staff wielding, white bearded, bass toned Moses, then one is simply being petty in not accepting the literal version of the Devil.

            Though the makeup is a bit pedestrian, the transformation of Robin Hughes into the Devil is a master stroke and the finest technical achievement of the episode. Though Douglas Heyes has been interviewed on the subject more than once, his version of the design and genesis of the effect varied. In an early interview with Marc Scott Zicree, while the author was researching his essential work, The Twilight Zone Companion, Heyes does not credit any major film source for the technique though it is obvious to those well versed in the genre to pinpoint which films the director and his crew borrowed from. Heyes would amend his statements on the effects for "The Howling Man" in later interviews and would rightly credit the two films from which the techniques were derived, though Heyes does make two errors as he states that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's transformation (in the 1931 version) was a stationary, lap dissolve in the mold of Universal's The Wolf Man (it was not) and that Henry Hull walks up a staircase for his transformation in 1935's Werewolf of London (he begins on a staircase but the transformation occurs while the actor walks through a garden, concealed and then revealed by a line a trees). Heyes does not take credit for the idea to use these specific techniques, however, and credits the idea to either photographer George T. Clemens or makeup supervisor William Tuttle.
            The effects for the episode were achieved two-fold. The first part of the transformation occurs immediately after Ellington has released the Devil from his cell. A subtle but distinct change comes over Robin Hughes's features and this effect was achieved using the same method that changed Kevin McCarthy, as Walter Jameson, from young man to old in a matter of seconds in "Long Live Walter Jameson." This is a process by which makeup is applied to the actor is a specific hue. In this case, red makeup was applied to Hughes's face. A red filter over the camera conceals the makeup until the transformation is scripted to happen. The filter is then removed, thus revealing the makeup, and the transformation appears to occur. This allows the actor to be in motion at the time of the transformation and does not require the usual technique of lap dissolve photographic editing which was commonly used at the time in films which required a transformation. This process was perfected by makeup artist Bud Westmore, photographer Karl Struss, and director Rouben Mamoulian for Paramount's 1931 horror classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The transformation of Fredric March (winner of a Best Actor Academy Award for his work in the film) from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is still one of the most impressive and recognizable transformations and makeups in the history of film.
            The second portion of the transformation was a technique taken from another horror film of the 1930s, a production from the preeminent horror film studio, Universal Studios, and their 1935 film Werewolf of London. The film featured pretty low-key werewolf makeup designed by head of the Universal makeup department Jack Pierce (the reason for this being explained two different ways. One explanation is that actor Henry Hull was not a willing participant for heavy makeup and Pierce was forced to alter his version of the werewolf, not unveiling his full version for another six years, in 1941, with The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney, Jr. The other explanation is that Hull's character was supposed to be recognized by other characters in the film when he was in werewolf form and Pierce's heavy wolf makeup would have made that recognition all but impossible) but displayed an innovative transformation sequence designed by special effects photographer John P. Fulton. As actor Henry Hull begins his first transformation into a werewolf, he exits his home and begins to make his way to his private laboratory across a wide garden. As the actor's image is first concealed and then revealed as he moves across a line of trees, the transformation occurs. It is achieved by photographing the actor in progressing stages of makeup while walking the same path and using the same camera speed for multiple takes. The effect is achieved by editing the footage together to create the appearance of one continuous take, thus creating the transformation. Director Heyes and photographer George T. Clemens did the same thing for "The Howling Man." Actor Robin Hughes walked down the abbey corridor behind a line of pillars, first concealed and then revealed. Heyes and Clemens's version is much faster and cleanly edited but they had nearly thirty years on Fulton's work for Werewolf of London. John P. Fulton would go on to create the astounding effects for Universal's The Invisible Man series of films. Jack Pierce created numerous recognizable makeups for Universal in the 1930s and 1940s, including Boris Karloff's makeup for Frankenstein and The Mummy, and Lon Chaney, Jr.'s makeup for the aforementioned The Wolf Man. Pierce was unceremoniously fired by Universal in the late 1940s and replaced with Bud Westmoore as head of the makeup department. This was primarily because Pierce held onto the technique of using outmoded methods of makeup appliance and displayed a general reluctance to use innovations such as foam rubber appliances.
            One final note on the makeup. William Tuttle's aging makeup on actor H.M. Wynant was exceptional. Though Tuttle will always be remembered for his grotesque makeups for episodes of The Twilight Zone ("Eye of the Beholder," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," etc.) and his Academy Award winning makeup for The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Tuttle was also very skilled in subtle makeups and his work on aging H.M. Wynant is a notable example.
            Douglas Heyes appears to be the director that producer Buck Houghton sought most often during the show's first two seasons for episodes which required more than the usual technical requirements and Heyes would direct some of the show's most impressively technical episodes, including "The After Hours," "Eyes of the Beholder," "The Invaders," and, of course, "The Howling Man." Heyes and photographer George T. Clemens decided to use very expressionistic camera work for the episode and the effects are impressive. From the beginning sequence, in which the camera zooms out of the window, through the pounding storm, and backwards in time for a rain-drenched view of exterior of the partially ruined abbey (a miniature), the camera never seems to stand still or straight for the entire episode. It is especially frenetic in the early portion of the episode as Heyes attempts to use the camera to convey the disoriented mindset of H.M. Wynant's character, David Ellington, who arrives sick and weak at the hermitage.
            Another effect which was integral to the show's success was the sound of the howling made by the prisoner. Though Heyes and the crew decided on what sounds like a traditional wolf or dog howl, the process for selecting the sound was apparently a dilemma. William F. Nolan, a close friend of Charles Beaumont and a fine fantasy and mystery writer, accompanied Beaumont to the set of "The Howling Man" while filming commenced. Nolan relates the story of the crew spending a lot of time listening to recordings of different screams and howls trying to settle on the proper sound. The sound settled upon is certainly generic but it seems inconceivable that any sound would have sufficed when the readers of the original story could simply rely on their imagination to conjure the proper sound. In adaptation it was a difficult effect to achieve and, as noted before, Heyes wisely chose not to show Robin Hughes actually making the howling sound.         
            As with any of the episodes with a small cast (for “The Howling Man,” only five principle characters and four speaking parts), the casting for was very important to the success of the show. Heyes had previously worked with John Carradine and knew that the actor's range could extend from extremely reserved to extremely over-the-top. Heyes gave Carradine the go ahead to let loose with the character of Brother Jerome and Carradine turns in a commanding performance, moving from reserved, holy-father figure to raving religious fanatic and back again. It has become one of the most memorable and recognizable performances in the show's entire run. Though Carradine starred in several highly regarded American films, most memorably John Ford's films, Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) (for which he would be typecast as a rugged, western type and find dozens of roles in western films and television series), and racked up some 340 film and television credits, he will be remembered by horror and science fiction fans for his roles in Universal's horror films of the 1940s including Captive Wild Woman (1943), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and memorable turns as Dracula in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). Carradine also turned up as Dracula in the camp western/horror film Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). He was also a familiar face in the Poverty Row horror films from the 1940s, finding roles (and paychecks) in Revenge of the Zombies (1943), Voodoo Man (1944), Return of the Ape Man (1944), and as the title character in cult director Edgar G. Ulmer's Bluebeard (1944). The actor was also all over television from the mediums earliest days right up until the end of the actor's career. His genre television credits include Lights Out, Suspense, Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Munsters, Lost in Space, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, and the 1980s The Twilight Zone revival for the episode "Still Life." John Carradine died in Milan on November 27, 1988.
            H.M. Wyant was born February 12, 1927, began acting at age 19, and has amassed over 140 film and television credits in his long career. Wynant began in television and worked virtually nonstop on numerous series before getting occasional roles in films in the late 1960s, finding a memorable role in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). His genre credits include Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond, Thriller, and Batman.
             Robin Hughes, the Howling Man, was born in Buenos Aires in 1920 and died in Hollywood in 1989. He worked until the early 1970s in both film and television. Genre credits include The Mole People (1956), The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958), and on television in Thriller and One Step Beyond.
            "The Howling Man" remains one of the finest episodes produced for The Twilight Zone. Though it does not conform to the standard formula which the show was, unfortunately, beginning to exhibit in its less successful episodes, it displays a range of exceptional and innovative technical effects and shows the care and attention with which the talented crew afforded scripts and productions they warranted were worthy of such preparation and careful execution. It displays the thematic range the show could attain, from far flung science fiction to classic Gothic horror, and remains arguably the most famous show to emerge from the typewriter of Charles Beaumont, the series writer that created some of the most complex and innovative scripts of the show's run and whose career was sadly cut short from the abnormally early onset of a mentally debilitating disease.

Grade: A+


Notes:
--Charles Beaumont originally published his short story “The Howling Man” in the November, 1959 issue of Rogue Magazine. It has been reprinted in the author's collection, Night Ride and Other Journeys and Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (The Howling Man in paperback) (Dark Harvest, 1988/Tor Books, 1992).

--Jordan Prejean           

2 comments:

  1. Wow! An A+ from the Vortex! I completely agree with the grade for this wonderful episode. The commentary gets an A+ as well. Nicely done!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Jack. Glad you agree with the grade. "The Howling Man" is my personal favorite episode and it's also an episode that easily lends itself to commentary. We have a handful more A+ grades to give so keep an eye out and, as always, thanks for reading.

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