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           

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Twilight Zone in Four Colors

A History of The Twilight Zone Comic Books

         
From the inception of the original television show through today, The Twilight Zone has been adapted for radio, a theatrical movie, a theme park thrill ride, board games, toys, books, and countless novelty items. It has inspired documentary films on the lives of its principle creators and been released on numerous high production home video packages from VHS tapes to Blu Ray discs. It has been endlessly imitated and parodied and has been the subject of untold number of nonfiction books, articles, and online resources. It should then come as no surprise that The Twilight Zone has also been adapted multiple times in illustrated editions, as two series of monthly comic books from now-defunct publishers and as a line of graphic novels from a preeminent American college of art and design. Like the show itself, The Twilight Zone in comic book form appeared in three different incarnations, each a product of its own time, displaying its own trends, and each illustrating the versatility with which the fantasy show could lend itself to a visual literary format.
            The landscape of the comic book in American in the early 1960s was one dominated by factors which occurred during the previous decade. In the now famous hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, itself a product of the outcry of parents and religious organizations brought about by psychologist Fredric Wertham's ludicrous book, Seduction of the Innocent, which put forth the idea that comic books, especially horror and crime comic books, were the root cause of the rising problem of juvenile delinquency in the country. William M. Gaines, publisher of infamous E.C. Comics, purveyors of gruesome, yet incredibly rendered and surprisingly well written, horror, crime, and science fiction comics (Tales From the Crypt, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science, etc.), was made an example of by Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver as a publisher, among others, who was rotting the minds of the day's youth.
            The pressure from the "moral majority" forced Gaines and other publishers of horror and crime comic books (there were many which followed closely in Gaines's wake, as Gaines's books sold millions on a much imitated but never duplicated formula) to develop a self-policing agency among comic book publishers which became known as the Comics Code Authority. The subsequent policy formed by the Authority rendered it virtually impossible to publish a crime or horror comic book as it effectively banned any words or situations which depicted terror or violence. Without compliance to the code there would be no stamp of approval on the cover of a publisher's books. Without the stamp of approval on the books no distributor would touch them. Without a distributor, Gaines and other publishers could not get their books to the buying public and, as a result, either ended their questionable titles altogether or changed formats to either suit the new rules imposed by the Authority or escape it altogether. Some publishers, most notably Warren Publishing and Marvel Comics (under the Curtis label) would eschew the comic book format entirely and produce some of the finest material available to the adult comic book consumer of the 1960s. These magazine-sized, black and white comics were not subject to the Comics Code and therefore operated virtually free of rules or restrictions. A few of the classic titles in this vein were Creepy, Vampirella, Bizarre Adventures, Vampire Tales, and Tomb of Dracula Magazine. Fortunately for William Gaines at E.C., who was forced to end nearly his entire line of titles, he had an ace in the hole with Mad, soon to also change to a magazine format on its way to becoming a cultural institution.  It would take over a decade for the comic book industry to again change and relax the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority and continue into the greatest period of critical and commercial success the field has ever experienced.
            The reverberations of the Senate hearings were felt across the entire comic book industry. Even those publishers which did not specialize in horror or crime comics were so terribly afraid of not falling within the guidelines established by the Comics Code Authority (or, even worse, drawing the sort of negative attention which Gaines had at E.C.) that the industry saw a widespread "softening" of comic books in both subject matter and execution. Publishers were told that children were their target audience and most comic books were thereafter written and drawn safe enough for toddlers. Even Batman, the Dark Knight Avenger, perhaps the most mature and complex of superheroes, was toned down, given an extended family of squeaky clean crime fighters including "Bat-Mite" and "Bat-Dog." Batman's iconic villain, the homicidal criminal mastermind the Joker, was relegated to playing a bumbling fool, a situation with would have certainly been greeted with a knowing laugh from the character himself as he was now a walking punch line. A logical extension of this, or a solution if taken from the publishers’ viewpoint, was to begin licensing properties from television.
            By the 1960s science fiction was well established on television, from the early serials (Buck Rogers, Space Patrol) to the early anthology shows specializing in fantasy and science fiction (Tales of Tomorrow, Science Fiction Theater). Every home in America equipped with a television could be invaded by aliens or travel back in time on a weekly basis. It wasn't long before comic book publishers began to consider science fiction programs to adapt for their line of books. The decade would see a boom in science fiction properties adapted for four colors from The Outer Limits to Star Trek. The one that started it all, however, was The Twilight Zone.
            In late 1960 Dell Comics, printed and distributed by Western Publishing, acquired the rights from Rod Serling's Cayuga Productions to create a Twilight Zone comic book. The comic book would not directly adapt the episodes of the show but would take an original material format (though there are instances of the comic book reprinting Rod Serling's opening introductions almost verbatim from episodes of the show).   
          Four issues after The Twilight Zone comic began its run under the Dell Comics imprint, Dell and Western Publishing had a falling out and Western decided to continue most of the Dell titles, as well as create new titles, under their own imprint, Gold Key Comics. It is under the Gold Key Comics imprint that The Twilight Zone remained for the bulk of its run. Gold Key Comics became a haven in the sixties for fantasy, science fiction, and horror properties with titles including Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery, Grimm's Ghost Stories, and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. Late in its run The Twilight Zone comic switched imprints again to the Whitman line of Western's comic books and the quality of the book suffered considerably thereafter. The publication schedule was shortened and sometimes erratic, and reprints (sometimes comprising full issues) became common. The Dell comic was incorporated into an existing series and therefore numbered in a preexisting pattern (1173, 1288, etc.). With the move to Gold Key, the series began marked issue #1 and ran to issue #92 with no change in numbering occurring with the move to the Whitman imprint.
             The difference in design elements for each imprint can be seen in the production side of the books. Each issue featured between 2 -4 illustrated stories and occasionally incorporated short-short text stories (1 page) as a buffer between illustrated stories. As a bonus, the first eight issues of the Gold Key comic featured a pin-up reproduction of the front cover illustration on the back cover, sans logo and text. Artist George Wilson contributed many of the eye catching covers to the Gold Key comic. Other notable artists that worked on the book during its long run include a virtual who's who of exceptional comic book artists of the era: Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Alex Toth, Jerry Robinson, Mike Roy, Angelo Torres, Frank Miller (making his professional debut), Russ Jones, Bob Jenny, Mike Vosburg, Walter Simonson, and Alex Nino. Several stories in the issues of the early 1970s were contributed by writer/editor Len Wein, creator of Wolverine and (with Bernie Wrightson) Swamp Thing. The first incarnation of The Twilight Zone comic finally folded in May, 1982, 94 issues and nearly 18 years of (almost) uninterrupted publication after the cessation of the show upon which it was based.
            The Twilight Zone returned to newsstands less than a decade later when the first issue of the second incarnation of the comic book was released, dated November, 1990. The new book was decidedly different than its predecessor. The second series of Twilight Zone comic books were a natural off shoot of another boom in science fiction and fantasy films and television programs adapted as comic books.          
             NOW Comics was founded in late 1985 by Anthony Caputo during an industry wide movement to independent publishing and a rise in creator owned properties. Though NOW began as a sole proprietorship Caputo was soon bought out and the company began growing at an increased rate, becoming one of the top five producers of comic books in America by 1990. Much of NOW's success came from their line of franchised properties, producing titles such as The Real Ghostbusters, Fright Night, The Green Hornet, Married. . . with Children, The Original Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Mr. T and the Force, Terminator: The Burning Earth, and The Twilight Zone.  
            Much like the second incarnation of The Twilight Zone on television, for which the second series of comic books owes its genesis but not its continued identity, Rod Serling wasn’t anywhere to be found. Two covers were sometimes produced for one issue and covers were either drawn in a mature, hard science fiction style, often imitative of superior fantasy artists Richard Corben or Michael Whelan or as illustrations which, ironically, harkened back in style to the pre-60s science fiction and horror comics brought to its zenith by William Gaines and crew at E.C. When introductions were used they were iterated by a disembodied narrator unseen in the story. As was the publishing trend in comic books at the time, special issues were frequent and included a double-sized "science fiction" issue, a 3-D issue, an "all computer" issue, and a double sized annual issue. The most notable issue is the landmark series debut issue featuring Harlan Ellison's script "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich" illustrated by artist Neal Adams, who redefined Batman in look and style in the mid-1970s. Ellison, who acted as Creative Consultant for a portion of the second Twilight Zone television series, provides an incisive essay preceding the story proper detailing his experiences working on the show. The NOW series ceased publication in late 1993, an early casualty of the over-publication crash which negatively affected the entire comic book industry by the end of the decade.
            The third and final incarnation for The Twilight Zone in comic book format was a series of graphic novels produced in 2008 and 2009 by Walker & Company in conjunction with the Rod Serling Trust as overseen by Serling's widow, Carol. Eight graphic novels adapted eight Rod Serling-penned episodes from the original television show. All scripts were adapted by Marc Kneece and art duties were handled by the artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design including Dove McHargue, Rebekah Issacs, Robert Grabe, Rich Ellis, Anthony Spay, and Chris Lie. The episodes adapted are, in order of publication: "Walking Distance," "The After Hours," The Odyssey of Flight 33," The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," "The Midnight Sun," "Deaths-head Revisited," "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," and "The Big Tall Wish." Though the volumes are handsomely designed, the quality of the productions leaves something to be desired. Yet, it is apparent that the creators are having a good time with the material and care about the storytelling legacy of Rod Serling. Each volume includes an introductory essay and a biographical essay on Rod Serling.
         It's unlikely that we have seen the end of The Twilight Zone in comic book form as the show has proven itself time and again to be imminently adaptable to a number of mediums. It is a tribute to the creators of the show (the writers, the directors, the actors, the artists) that each new generation rediscovers the show and re-imagines it in an interesting and wholly unique way.

--Jordan Prejean

Monday, January 14, 2013

"A Thing About Machines"

Richard Haydn as bitter Barlett Finchley battling an electric razor intent on killing him.
"A Thing About Machines"
Season Two, Episode 40
Original Air Date: October 28, 1960

Cast:
Bartlett Finchley: Richard Haydn
Edith (the secretary): Barbara Stuart
TV Repairman: Barney Phillips
Intern: Jay Overholts
Policeman: Henry Beckman
Girl on TV: Margarita Cordova

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: David Orrick McDearmon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"These are familiar items, I'm sure. Television set, electric razor, clock, typewriter, the normal, everyday accouterment that are part and parcel of twentieth century progress. But next week you'll see them under different circumstances and in a totally dissimilar guise. They'll be machines, but they'll also be monsters. Our story is called 'A Thing About Machines' and it'll be here waiting for you in The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"This is Mr. Bartlett Finchley, age forty-eight, a practicing sophisticate who writes very special and very precious things for gourmet magazines and the like. He's a bachelor and a recluse with few friends, only devotees and adherents to the cause of tart sophistry. He has no interests save whatever current annoyances he can put his mind to. He has no purpose to his life except the formulation of day-to-day opportunities to vent his wrath on mechanical contrivances of an age he abhors. In short, Mr. Bartlett Finchley is a malcontent, born either too late or too early in the century and who in just a moment will enter a realm where muscles and the will to fight back are not limited to human beings. Next stop for Mr. Bartlett Finchley. . . The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            The opening scene immediately establishes what the remainder of the episode repeatedly hammers home: Bartlett Finchley, a wealthy, reclusive bachelor whose occupation involves some sort of regular commentary on high culture, is an unmitigated and unrepentant snob prone to sudden and outrageous bursts of violent anger. Finchley exchanges barbed witticisms with the television repairman, a familiar figure in the large, solitary home as Finchley repeatedly assaults his television when it does not work according to the standards which he has set forth for the electrical and mechanical appliances and contraptions in his home. After the television repairman has left his home, Finchley smashes a tolling clock with a fireplace poker to drive the point home.
            Finchley's next vicious human encounter, this time with his personal secretary, who promptly quits on him after suffering one too many insults from his tongue, reveals Finchley's true dilemma. Not only has Finchley had a lifelong inability to properly use machines, he now believes that the machines have gained sentient life and are conspiring not only to malfunction and frustrate him but to cause him bodily harm. After an angry outburst when she suggest Finchley see a doctor, the secretary storms off angrily but not before telling Finchley that he is mentally sick and that his paranoid fears about machines are all in his head. We quickly learn that the secretary is indeed wrong and the machines are out to get Finchley.
            Then the fun begins. Finchley's typewriter writes on its own: GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY, over and over. His television turns itself on and displayed on the screen is a strange dancing woman alone on a stage who looks straight out at him and utters the same threatening message. In a panic, and not wanting to be alone, Finchley attempts to call old friends from his little black book. None, however, have time for the old curmudgeon. Blaming the telephone itself for this embarrassment, Finchley tears it from the wall. That does not, however, stop the phone from working. It screams at him to get out, over and over. The sound of police sirens outside calls Finchley to the end of his driveway where a policeman and a crowd have gathered because Finchley's car has rolled itself out into the street, almost hitting passersby. It seems Finchley's car, too, has been causing trouble as only a few days before the car's steering wheel turned itself in Finchley's hands as he was pulling the vehicle into the driveway and a headlight was broken as a result. It hit Finchley where it hurts most, his wallet. After resolving the issue of the car, while spewing insults and threats to the people gathered near his home, Finchley decides the only logical thing to do is to drink himself into a stupor.
            He awakens hours later. Rising groggily and going upstairs to his bedroom, Finchley is greeting with a frightening adversary, his electric razor gained life of its own and attacking him. The razor chases Finchley downstairs and out of the house where the car takes its turn tormenting the man, chasing him up and down the street and through backyards where it eventually knocks Finchley into a swimming pool and drowns him. When the ambulance and the police finally arrive to retrieve the dead man, they wonder why Finchley's body stayed on the bottom of the pool instead of floating up. It seems as though something were holding him down.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Yes, it could be. It could just be that Mr. Bartlett Finchley succumbed from a heart attack and a set of delusions. It could just be that he was tormented by an imagination as sharp as his wit and as pointed as his dislikes. But as perceived by those attending, this is one explanation that has left the premises with the deceased. Look for it filed under M for machines, in the Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            Author Marc Scott Zicree, in his Twilight Zone Companion (second ed., Silman-James, 1992), was atypically short and sharp in his review of "A Thing About Machines": "Although the concept of 'A Thing About Machines' is a clever one and some of the effects are fun (who couldn't help but love the image of an electric shaver slithering down a flight of stairs?), neither the writing, direction, nor performances are able to give the show any real vitality." And in this one Mr. Zicree is right on the money.
            The problems with the episode are many but unfortunately for series creator and chief writer Rod Serling, this one appears to be mostly his fault. Many of Serling's scripts can be extremely "talky" and "A Thing About Machines" is no exception. Only problem is that the talking, after the first scene, does little to nothing to forward the plot other than pad out the time limit required for a half hour show. For a show like The Twilight Zone, a show that thrived and the "simple," fable-like quality of its scripts, the script for "A Thing About Machines" is especially threadbare and struggles to remain interesting for more than ten minutes. Like Zicree states, the main interest in the episode after the first few minutes are the effects of the machines coming to life to attack Finchley and these are reasonably well done. Unfortunately, on the higher resolution of today's home videos, the fish line attached to the electric razor can clearly be seen holding the razor upright and pulling it down the stairs.
            Also, as with some of Serling's other scripts, the characters are too one-dimensional and even worse, with "A Thing About Machines," is that the viewer doesn't even like Finchley. Unlike some of Serling's other so-called "beautiful loser" characters, Finchley starts as a unlikable character and doesn’t change or transform from the results of his trip into the Twilight Zone other than to go from living to dead. It renders the episode not only thin on plot and construction but also thin on character and asks the viewer to remain tuned into this drama for the sole reason of seeing what everyone knew was coming all along: the machines kill Finchley. Few if any viewers can relate to Finchley nor is there any semblance of humanity about the man to elicit viewer sympathy. If anything, we want to see Finchley hurt and punished. Unlike other episodes which generate a similar response in the viewer, think "Death's-head Revisited" or "What You Need,"the effect simply doesn't come off and the viewer is left feeling bored with the whole thing.
            Serling didn't even feel it necessary to tack on one of his twist endings, which even by this point in the show’s history had become the defining characteristic of the show. I've always felt the one truly effective and unnerving effect in the episode was Margarita Cordova dancing on the television and stopping to look straight out at Finchley and tell him to "get out of here." I find it an effectively bizarre choice for the television scene and the one truly imaginative spot in an otherwise predictable and rehashed episode.
            It is interesting to note that this episode resembles a story written by another of the show's frequent contributing writers, Richard Matheson. Matheson published a story titled "Mad House" about a (much more relatable) aspiring writer and college professor who is victimized by steadily progressing and nearly uncontrollable bouts of rage that not only lose him his job and destroy his marriage but imbue the everyday objects in his home with a malevolence aimed at first hurting and then destroying him. In Matheson's story, not only do machines attempt to inflict pain, though there is a grisly scene of a typewriter shredding the character's fingers with its metal keys, but so do simple, inanimate objects, including a pencil that breaks and stabs and a deadly straight shaving razor (similar to the electric one in Serling's script) that ends the character's life in a gut-wrenching moment of pain, regret, and helplessness. Matheson's story had seen three printings before Serling brought his vision of killer household machines to the show. "Mad House" was originally published in the January/February, 1953 issue of Fantastic. It was reprinted twice, in Matheson's first hardcover book, a collection of stories titled Born of Man and Woman (Chamberlain Press, March, 1954) and the paperback reprint of the same collection, Third from the Sun (Bantam, February, 1955). Though Serling certainly took his vision in a different direction for the show (albeit a duller direction, both less horrifying and less emotionally engaging) it is reasonable to assume that Serling had at least read the Matheson story if not consciously borrowed the germ of the story altogether. The genius and horror of the Matheson story is that the malevolent objects are not the scorned avengers of Serling's version but are products of the character's own rage and negative energy. The resulting death is a literal result of being consumed by one's own hatred.
            The only other interesting aspect of the episode is an ending which confused some viewers upon initial telecast. As written, Finchley is knocked into the swimming pool and the car enters the pool on top of Finchley to hold him down until he is drowned. As filmed, it is a tad confusing as the viewer never sees the car enter the pool after knocking Finchley in. It simply stops on the edge. A subtle hint is given when Finchley's body is found and the water is shown to be pouring out of the car as though it had recently been submerged. Perhaps it was a bit too subtle and probably a bit too clever on top of the already predictable and meaningless drama beforehand.
            Though author Marc Scott Zicree bemoans the direction of the episode, it must be admitted that David Orrick McDearmon was basically attempting to spin straw into gold with this assignment. The director turned in two other fine episodes for the show, the previous season’s "Execution" and the following season two episode "Back There." The actors do as well as they can with Serling's too talky and too witty script (who consistently talks like these people?). British born actor Richard Haydn plays it way over the top but that is exactly how the character is written as Finchley never seems to have a moment when he lets that high cultured, snobbish exterior down, even in moments when he is alone. Hadyn’s nasally, fussy, and high mannerisms found early success on radio and later became a fixture in anthology television, appearing in Playhouse 90, Lux Playhouse, and G.E. True Theater, as well as finding roles in popular television shows Burke's Law, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Bewitched, and Bonanza. He found occasional supporting roles in impressive films ranging from Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951), voicing the Caterpillar, to Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965). He sat in the director's chair for three features in the late '40s and early '50s, including the Bing Crosby vehicle Mr. Music (1950). Hadyn died on April 25, 1985.
            Barbara Stuart is suitably waspish as the independent working woman who's finally had enough of Finchley's condescending remarks. The talented character actress amassed over a hundred television credits from the early '50s until 2004. Her other genre credits besides The Twilight Zone include appearances on One Step Beyond and the ‘60s Batman show. She died on May 15, 2011.
            Neither actor would work again on The Twilight Zone.
            The one familiar face in the cast is that of Barney Phillips as the television repairman. Phillips appeared in four episodes of The Twilight Zone and "A Thing About Machines" is certainly the worst of the lot. He also appeared in the first season's "The Purple Testament,"season four's excellent "Miniature," and, most memorably, in the second season's fan favorite "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" as a alien from Venus moonlighting as a short order cook in a remote diner and revealing himself as such by displaying a third eye imbedded in his forehead.
            In all, it seems that "A Thing About Machines" got the short end from the start. The stock music cues are uninspired and unremarkable except for the fact that they are used as predictably as suits the episode. Like all of producer Buck Houghton's episodes, its looks great and the wonderful old MGM back lot is in fine form. The episode, however, lacks the complexity or the simple moral nature of Serling's best scripts. If Serling's creative muscles weren't seen to be stretched too thin before they certainly were showing the symptoms now and the second season would see more of the same from Serling's pen with talky, convoluted episodes like "The Mirror," "The Lateness of the Hour," and "Dust." However, Serling had amassed an extremely talented supporting crew of writers (Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) and which would add another to the stable in young writer George Clayton Johnson, soon to make his script writing debut in season two's "A Penny for Your Thoughts" after previously selling a couple of short stories that Serling adapted into season one’s "The Four of Us Are Dying" and the aforementioned "Execution." Serling, too, was too talented a writer to produce only disposable fodder for the show and he would turn in one of his finest efforts in "Eye of the Beholder" just two broadcasts later.

Grade: D

Notes:
-Director David Orrick McDearmon also directed season one's "Execution" and season two's "Back There."
-Actor Barney Phillips also appeared in season one's "The Purple Testament," season two's "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and season four's "Miniature."
-"A Thing about Machines" was adapted as a The Twilight Radio Drama starring Mike Starr.
Jan/Feb 1953 issue of Fantastic, first appearance of Richard Matheson's "Mad House"
-Rod Serling adapted his teleplay into prose for More Stories from the Twilight Zone, Bantam Pathfinder, April, 1961.

--Jordan Prejean