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Senior Shackster
792 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Is there anything more disturbing than not being in control of your own destiny
or what happens to you? Even if that tends to be the situation throughout
history, it's a difficult thing to come to terms with.

We did have a brief decade of "Pax Americana" from 1991 (the collapse
of the Soviet Empire) to 2001 when the war with fundimentalist Islam (or generic 'terrorists' in
PC language) commenced. Whether this religion/worldview can be modernized and reformed as ancient
Judaism and Christianity was over the centuries is unknown. So we live in a 'state of fear' before the next bomb goes off in Iraq, Israel, England, Spain or the US.

While this may seem very strange and unsettling to the current generation,
living in a state of fear was nothing new to Baby Boomers like myself.
In the fifties and sixties, we had the Cold War which heated up to the level of a possible nuclear confronation with the Russians in 1962. We survived but it left a lasting impression on our culture as reflected in the films and television shows of the era.

"The Outer Limits" is one of those shows. It was a two season anthology
series that was broadcast from 1963-1965. That places it in the aftermath of the Cuban
Missle Crisis, less than a year from the first show. Extreme paranoia is a theme throughout the episodes which makes it timely today. The idea that no one is really safe and stability is an
illusion is another.

Each show starts with a disturbing introduction that may be
the creepiest in television history. Probably influenced by the Orson Welles' "War
of the Worlds" broadcast, an announcer tells the
viewer that they are not in control of their television set. For the next hour 'they'
will control the horizontal, the vertical, the focus and the content of what you'll see.
The fact that you never know who 'they' are is part of what makes it scary.
The series was created and produced by Joseph Stefano.

I never saw the show in it's first run. I was an adolescent and my parents would'nt
let me. I recall the show in syndication and I found it quite interesting although the
16mm prints were dark and murky and it didn't look that good on our television set.
Still, the writing, acting and themes were the stuff that nightmares are made out of
back then. This offset the primitive special effects and bug eyed monsters that popped
up in a number of episodes.

The two volume standard DVD release by MGM in 2002 is a revelation. You can still order
it on line. Mastered from original
35mm elements, the visual quality is outstanding as is the black and white cinematography
primarily by Conrad Hall. The 'noir' style of lighting was quite daring and innovative for
TV at the time. Most shows tended to be overlit with flat lighting since that
looked better on the lower end sets. Syndicated stations broadcast 16mm which further degraded
the image. It's almost as if Stefano anticipated some future venue to show off the
dark and stylish 35mm photography other than the monitors of the time. I screened most of the
shows on my DLP and they look better than many of the fifties sci fi pictures like "Invasion
of the Body Snatchers" and "Them". The razor sharp, creatively lit sets combined
with bizarre compositions are a major attribute to the show's eerieness. Some resemble
German Expressionist silent films. The only thing that's distracting is the grainy and
scratchy stock footage which should've been digitally cleaned up. Otherwise, it's the best
presentation of the show I've experienced.

Like any anthology series, not every episode is good. Some are rediculous and campy. However,
when they're good, they're really good. Topnotch sci-fi/horror/noir of it's day.

Some of my favorite episodes are...

"The Man with the Power". A college professor has an experimental brain operation which enables him
to channel his electronic thought waves into a weapon. However, he cannot control his human
emotions and people he dislikes are destroyed. A very paranoid entry and it makes you wonder
what might happen if your thought waves were used in this fashion.

"The Man Who Was Never Born" has a deformed mutant man from the future traveling through a time
warp to the present (mid-twentieth century) to prevent the birth of a scientist responsible for the
virus that destroyed most of mankind. Alas, he falls in love with the mother of the unborn child. "The Terminator" was probably inspired by this show.

"ZZZZZ" was one of the wildest. A bee mutates into an incredibly sexy woman with the goal of seducing a scientiest who will be used as a drone for a new species. One of the most overtly sexual episodes and pretty daring content for primetime.

"Galaxy Being" A radio station owner accidently contacts an alien being while expanding the power
in his microwave signal.

"The Architects of Fear" is a Cold War story about scientists who artificially create an alien
through chemistry with the hope of unifying the East and West in defense of the planet from
the alien invader. This has obvious linkage to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"The Borderland" has some of the most disturbing imagery. Using electromagnetic energy,
a group of scientists try to 'cross over' into another dimension. One of them gets stuck
in a void and shouts for his wive 'Eva' as he's caught between the two worlds. This one
is like a live action nightmare and has interesting sets.

"The Premonition" Test pilots go through some sort of time/space warp so that when they
return to the base, everyone is moving at a much slower pace than they are. They are
moving faster than time.

Let me emphasize again that the special effects and alien creatures in this show are quite
primitive by modern standards, not much better than what you'd see in a "Lost in Space"
episode. However, the photography, teleplays and acting are so good you can accept
them and on some level they're also disturbing.

Another major attribute of this series are the 'whos who' of veteran character actors and
upcoming TV and movie stars who got their first breaks on this series. You'll be surprised
who pops up in each episode. Donald Pleasance, Sally Kellerman and Martin Landau are just
a few of them. If fact, Landau's episodes are among the best and he's very good in them.
Since the show was an hour long, characterization is more nuanced and detailed than in
the "Twilight Zone" which was the other topnotch anthology of the time. In fact, an hour
was just the right length for these types of stories. A better running time than the padded
sci fi pictures of the fifties like "Them" which needed an extra twenty minutes to justify
'feature length" for theatrical bookings.

There are even a few surprises that I had to research to find out who they were. The
sexy actress who plays the human bee woman in "ZZZZZ" is Joanna Frank who was 22 at
the time. I couldn't help feeling that I had seen her before. Turns out she is Alan Rachins
wife and played his wife in the "LA Law" series, as a middle aged woman of course.

The menu on the discs is very clever and a variation of the opening of the show.
An announcer says "There is nothing wrong with your DVD player" and continues
the warning.

In summary, if you want to go into a time warp and experience mid-century cultural paranoia
within the sci fi/noir genre, check out the series. Make sure you watch them with the lights
out. They'll be more effective that way.
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