Armagideon Time

I’ve been filling out my October smörgåsbord of spooky fare with selected episodes of Night Gallery, thus triggering my umpteenth reassessment of that three-season and oh-so-early-1970s attempt to recapture some of that ol’ Twilight Zone magic.

Was it a supernatural counterpart to Love American Style‘s mix of celebrity guest stars and cornball black-out gags? Was it a vessel for some interesting — if not always successful — adaptations of pulp mag masterpieces by Derleth, Lovecraft, and the like? Was it plagued by a backlot-confined staginess and boilerplate TV production values? Did it incorporate some fairly innovative audio and visual tricks from the then cutting edge of the cinema realm?

The answer to all of these is “yes.”

The individual story segments run the gamut from genuinely chilling to pure cheese, which is the nature of anthology series. A lot of Night Gallery‘s charm for me — even through the more excruciating bits — is how the show exists within a very specific liminal moment. The concept of “liminality” has been mishandled quite a bit in recent times, but it does apply in this case — Night Gallery is the product of a transitional moment and would not have existed in as does if it had been made a couple years earlier in the late 1960s or a couple of years later in the mid-1970s.

What you’ve got is the results of a uneven paradigm shift in progress. Night Gallery‘s three season run overlapped the last years of Laugh in and the first season of MASH — and it reflects that shift from sound stage artificiality to a more “naturalistic” and grainy approach, and that’s even before adding in the conscious or subconscious efforts to force an aesthetic change because the last digit of the year happened to change from a “9” to a “0.”

This odd aura exists independently of the strangeness of the actual story segments. In some cases it enhances the eerie vibe, while working against it in others. It always feels weirdly unique, however, as if I was watching some broadcast from a short-lived pocket universe.

(I suspect a big part of this has to do with the fact that the show didn’t hit the syndicated repeat circuit in my region until the mid-1980s, and even then only as 3:00 AM filler fare. That meant I didn’t have years of acculturation I had with similar era-straddling shows such as The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, which are even more bizarre to behold than Night Gallery if you can succeed in looking at them without the filters of nostalgic familiarity.)

Recommended listening:

3 Responses to “Halloween Countdown: Day 15 – Eye of the beholder”

  1. SJB

    +1 on the desire to own some original Night Gallery art!!

  2. SJB

    And some links of note – but not for sale at the gift

    Did find it on eBay –

  3. Juan Escondido

    People let me tell you ’bout my entheogen
    He’s a cold-blooded reptile for whom I’ve got a yen
    People let me tell you ’bout my entheogen
    He’s a one-toad psychic trip, my high, my low, against my lip


    People let me tell you ’bout him, he’s so much fun
    Whether we’re stalking Kukulkan, whether we’re flying to the sun
    ‘Cause he’s my entheogen
    Yeah he’s my entheogen

    [Scatting and gratuitous trombone as the walls vibrate, melt, and explode into a million singing prismatic diamonds]

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