If I’d thought about this a little longer, we probably should have watched a Hardy Boys segment called “The House on Possessed Hill” after sundown for maximum creepiness effect instead of in the early evening before supper. But perhaps this was for the best. Michael Sloan’s story is a delightfully classic haunted house adventure, using the facade of the Bates House from Psycho on the Universal lot, and even with the sun baking our living room and counteracting the attempts of the air conditioner to keep us cool, our kid still stayed very creeped out and hid. “If we had watched that after dark, I’d have stayed behind the sofa all night,” he protested.
I haven’t seen Psycho since I was in college, but of course I recognized the house immediately in the pre-credits scenes from the episode. However, I didn’t recognize Melanie Griffith, who plays the main guest star, until her name popped on screen. Lloyd Bochner is also in this one, playing her character’s doctor. I’ve seen Melanie Griffith in a dozen or more movies, and only seen Psycho and one of its sequels maybe twice. I guess sometimes houses are even more iconic than people!
I have to give all credit to Universal on a couple of points here. First, as anybody who’s followed this category has realized by now, they were insanely good at picking future Hollywood superstars for guest star parts in this series. And second, we all know that house is an empty facade on a backlot that can only be shot from a couple of positions without spoiling the illusion, but their dressers did an amazing job making it look like the creepiest, most lonely and isolated old haunted house for ten miles.
Griffith plays a girl with psychic powers. Frank’s able to find rational explanations for just about everything that happens in the episode, but not quite all of them, and once again, Joe sees something supernatural and bizarre right at the end that his brother misses. I enjoy the reverse symmetry with Universal’s Six Million Dollar Man, where all the ghosts and witches were hoaxes and the aliens and UFOs were genuine, while here it’s the flying saucers that are fake but the vampires and parapsychology are real.
This morning’s episode was written by Howard Berk, who also wrote two of my favorite episodes of Columbo. It features guest stars Rosemary Forsyth and Lloyd Bochner, but, as the title gives away, it doesn’t feature Jesse James, though we’re meant to believe it does.
A few minutes into watching this story, it suddenly occurred to me that our son has no idea who Jesse James is. I seem to remember mentioning before, ages ago, that Kids These Days have virtually no exposure to western lore. In the seventies, I would watch western repeats when there was nothing I liked better on, and I heard a fact here or there on the omnipresent commercials for those Time-Life books about gunslingers “with the look and feel of real hand-tooled leather.”
A quick check confirmed he didn’t know who Billy the Kid or John Wesley Harding were, either. He could tell you all sorts of facts about animals, because when he does want to watch TV, he’s mainly parked in front of one of the National Geographic channels watching sharks or something. The old west is confined to Dad’s Old Shows, although he does say that he enjoyed this one, too. It had a very fun bar fight.
You might ask yourself, wasn’t our son a little young to start watching The Twilight Zone? And honestly, there have been times that the cultural divide of nearly sixty years has seemed awfully vast for such a small boy, but I wanted to get started when he was six because the twist of “To Serve Man” is one of those that just about everybody learns before they actually see the story.
I’m genuinely curious, readers. If you’re in your forties or younger, did you ever get to see this unspoiled? It’s like the end of Citizen Kane. If you didn’t see this in the sixties, you heard the twist before you could see it.
And so I thought I was able to sneak this under the bar and apparently I failed. Our son exclaimed “I knew it! I knew it!” And this is not how he responds to the devilish twists of The Twilight Zone. He insisted that he knew where this one was going as soon as he heard the title. So this morning, I was looking over a gargantuan list of movies and TV shows that have referenced the Kanamits’ cookbook. It’s in Madagascar. Madafreakinggascar! My wife was hurrying to finish making her lunch and get out the door. “Has he seen Madagascar in afterschool care?!” I grumbled. “That would explain it,” she said. “He did seen very sincere last night.”
And to think I gave that dumb movie a pass for the wonderful gag about flinging poo at Tom Wolfe!
Anyway, the surprisingly large cast of “To Serve Man” includes Lloyd Bochner and Susan Cummings, with Richard Kiel as the main Kanamit and Joseph Ruskin, uncredited, as the alien’s voice. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling from a story by Damon Knight. Some of the special effects were repurposed from Ray Harryhausen’s 1956 movie Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, which is a much better movie than you’d expect from one with a name that silly. It’s a pretty good episode.
You know, I’ve held off showing him Planet of the Apes because the gorillas are so amazingly cruel. I’ll try to accept the probability that some fool cartoon with breakdancing pigs or linedancing antelopes has referenced the end of that one as well.