The unconvincing gorilla suit was a staple of stage and screen dating back to at least the late 19th Century.
Need an exotic menace for an old dark house? Someone to send a slapstick ensemble into a state of comedic terror? A zany bit of zest for a struggling sitcom? Just throw someone with the right dimensions and pantomime chops into a tatty looking ensemble of faux fur, visible eyeholes, and disturbing pleather plates representing the chest and abs of the Grade Z ape.
That such a sorry assemblage could be a thing of wonder of menace might seem like a mystery, but the short answer is “because audiences were acclimated towards accepting it,” — at least up until the second half of the 1960s, when the astounding practical effects in Planet of the Apes and 2001 brought the simulated ape game to a whole new level.
Old school gorilla suits hung on in comedic circles for a while longer, though even those had embraced the new technology by the dawn of the 1980 outside everything except low grade kiddie fare and the deliberate affectations of Jim Henson’s workshop.
That’s why I was both delighted and surprised to discover that “Hatred Unto Death,” the main segment of the final Night Gallery episode, served up a classic simulated simian in May 1973.
Because nothing screams “terror” like a creature you’d normally see swooning over Mrs. Howell’s perfume, chasing around the crew of the Seaview, or trying to talk Serena into changing him back into Darrin Stephens again before Samantha gets home from shopping.