Night Gallery: Season 1
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Prepare for the chill of a lifetime as the master of suspense, Rod Serling, hosts over 20 episodes of terror in this classic series, featuring the original pilot movie and every spine-tingling episode from the complete first season of Night Gallery.Thrill to stories adapted from short story legends such as H. P. Lovecraft and Conrad Aiken, performed by Hollywood greats including Diane Keaton, Joan Crawford and Roddy McDowall, and directed by cinematic masters like Steven Spielberg in this unforgettable series - now available on DVD for the first time!
- All 13 episodes from the 1970-71 season plus the original pilot movie
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I'm going to take a bit of exception to the majority who appear to be panning this DVD set and acknowledge that yes, there are only six episodes in the first season; yes, there are no extras; no, the shows haven't been restored. But the inclusion of the pilot movie and a few second- and third-season episodes makes up for a lot of that, as does the aforementioned opportunity to see the episodes in the form in which they originally aired.
You never see the pilot movie on TV anymore, so it's a joy to behold here. The format is only slightly different from what TV fans remember, with a different theme and score by Billy Goldenberg, who did not go on to do the series. It's unfortunate, because his music works well here. Also, the opening credits are quite literally sketchy, which is different from how they appeared on the TV series.
Also slightly changed: the paintings are on easels, covered with red drop-cloths until Rod Serling lifts them to introduce each story. And -- this is important -- the paintings literally figure into the stories. Presumably this motif was not continued throughout the series (with a few exceptions) for obvious reasons: every episode can't somehow involve a work of art.
As for the stories themselves, they are very good. The first one, "The Cemetery", is a sort of a modern ghost story, with murderous Roddy McDowell being spooked by a painting which keeps changing. The denouement is slightly cheesy in a Tales from the Crypt sort of way, and if anyone can't identify the person walking through the house at the end of the story, he's got to be blind.
Much praise has already been heaped on "Eyes", the second story, so I won't even go there, although I will say that the story's "twist" is a little hard to swallow. No situation such as the one depicted could realistically pass for blindness. More than that I will not say, since I'd spoil the ending for you.
The final story returns to one of Rod Serling's favorite themes: Jews and the Holocaust. "Escape Route" features an ex-Nazi looking for a place to hide from the Israeli secret police, and, unfortunately for him, he finds it.
Then we move on to the series proper, and the introductory painting, "The Dead Man", gets the series off to a whiz-bang start. Based on a story by Fritz Lieber, it's a tale in which an audacious scientific experiment falls prey to base human emotion. Some may guess what the twist ending will be, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining or scary.
Season 1, of course, also features the more familiar theme by Gil Melle, as well as some of the entire series' best episodes, including "The Doll" (a precursor to Chucky, and arguably scarier); "Certain Shadows on the Wall", a ghost story with a different kind of ghost; "The Lone Survivor", a new take on an old legend; "Pamela's Voice", a macabre/wry short story about murder and just desserts; and of course "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar", which was yet another one of Serling's whimsical fantasies about a man yearning to return to his past. Robert Prince's music underscores the episodes perfectly, though this music seemed to vanish with the advent of season 2.
Overall, season 1 was the high point for the series. Season 2 had many of its own charms, but it was also more uneven, with a greater quantity of mediocre stories and, need we mention it, the much-derided comedy blackouts.
Rounding out the DVD is a season 2 episode which has a decent assortment of spooky tales. Leaving out the silly "A Matter of Semantics", two others, "The Diary" and "Big Surprise", generate some nice surprises and shivers. The last story, "Prof. Peabody's Last Lecture", unfortunately falls on its face, wasting a great performance by Carl Reiner in what is essentially an extended comedy blackout. It's a shame to see such a nice buildup leading to an ending which would look more at home on a bad episode of Lost in Space.
Finally, there are two episodes from season 3, "The Return of the Sorcerer" and "Whisper". The latter is entirely forgettable, with Dean Stockwell breaking the fourth wall to give the audience a languid narrative performance that just doesn't work. Nor is the tale particularly original.
"Sorcerer", on the other hand, is a corker. Based on a short story by Clark Ashton Smith, it tells the tale of a young man hired to translate Arabic for a practitioner of the black arts, only to be terrified when he finds out exactly what it is he's translating. Scripter Halsted Welles added a new character, Fern, a woman who is a lot more "complicated" than she at first appears to be, and for once, such a brazen departure from the original story actually pays off handsomely, enriching the tale by adding new layers and texture without changing its intent. The final scene, a black Mass, is a series high point in its staging, acting and music (by Eddie Sauter). Even Vincent Price's slightly hammy acting works here, and with the exception of a couple of unnecessary dubs ("For power!"; "The woman is insatiable!"), everything clicks on every level to make this story wonderfully creepy, as well as one of the best realizations of Lovecraftian horror done on either the big or small screens.
Unhappily, this was also a high point for season 3, which quickly became moribund and directionless. Interestingly, the composer of the raucous, discordant third season theme song is mentioned nowhere...possibly at the composer's request. (It may have been Sauter, but it doesn't specifically say so.) At any rate, it's a shrill piece that is a disappointing departure from the more subtle theme of seasons 1 & 2.
Overall, what you have here is a nice, albeit short, introduction to the series, featuring some of the best stories it ever told. The only thing I would really complain about is that even with the pilot and a few bonus episodes, the DVD set is not worth the roughly $50-60 asking price. The set is more reasonably priced in the $35-40 range, so if you find it new or used at that price point, grab it, and enjoy once again the image and voice of Rod Serling leading you through his dark museum.
The design of the show has never been one that usually works. Two or sometimes 3 stories in an hour program is often not what people want to see. I do feel that one hour story is sufficient, just make it a good story. On this series are some very good stories. What's nice is that you get the pilot movie as well as some bonus episodes from future seasons 1 & 2. The paintings in the series are interesting to see as well.
I would simply say that if you are Serling fan then you obviously would want this in your video library. Many of the stories are written by Mr Serling himself and he still hasn't lost his touch in being a great host. I am looking forward to purchasing the second and (hopefully) third seasons.