Tuesday, November 22, 2022


As stated in last year's review of Season One, 2022 was primed to be The Year of Night Gallery, with K-L scheduled to release Seasons 2 and 3 (Season 2 released in July 2022 and Season 3 just got released this week - Thanksgiving week). 'The Year of Night Gallery' proved to be even more dead on than I thought at the time - the aforementioned 'companion' book, AN AFTER HOURS TOUR is available at the end of the year in a revised/expanded version, this on the heels of the 2021 release of THE ART OF DARKNESS, a coffee-table book featuring the artwork that the show utilized. And in October 2022, Netflix dropped the anthology show GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S CABINET OF CURIOUSITIES, which is perhaps the ultimate homage to NIGHT GALLERY to date. 

Season 2 is the NIGHT GALLERY that most will remember aside from the pilot TV film; it's the first full season, divorced from the "Four-In-One" concept and when the show starts to develop its own distinct identity. The first year has a sort-of warmed over TWILIGHT ZONE vibe to most of Serling's scripts and producer Jack Laird's influence is muted. Year 2 has Laird's sensibilities brought to the foreground and Serling's influence, while still present, is backgrounded compared to Year 1. That clash results in the now classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptations of 'Cool Air' and 'Pickman's Model' as well as memorable shows 'Camera Obscura', 'Silent Snow, Secret Snow', 'The Messiah of Mott Street', 'Green Fingers', 'The Sins of the Fathers' among others. It's a good mixture of stories set in the Past and Present Day and an emphasis on settings in the UK.

It also brings forth the most reviled and ironically, probably the most influential part of the show arguably - the comedy blackouts. The show did have humorous episodes and when they worked ('The Housekeeper' in Year 1, 'Phantom of What Opera?", 'Hell's Bells') they worked really well. When they didn't ('The Funeral', 'Junior') they just sat there, leaden - much like most of the overt comedic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, though at least the NGs weren't nearly as long to suffer through. Mainly, the blackout episodes just resulted in a lot of eyerolls (and luckily, no rimshots were added to the soundtrack). But as much as people say that they hated them, they opened the door for the comedic horror that started to boom in the 80s up to present day.

Season 3 brings more changes - new theme, and the show cut down to 30 minutes from an hour, so one story per episode (excepting burning off a couple of the comedy blackouts held over from Year 2). And the mixture of Past/Present day and Gothic themed settings that were prevalent  in Year 2 is gone, as well as most of the comedy, and a good portion of Serling's influence. Despite all that, there are some gems that shine through ('Whisper', 'The Return of the Sorcerer', 'The Other Way Out', 'You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan') and even the less than stellar shows are at least entertaining - including the last episode 'Hatred Unto Death' which comes up as the most hated show of the run, but there's a fun vibe in this story of a love triangle, de-evolution and movie gorillas - and ironically, the most highly rated episode aside from the pilot TV movie.

Kino-Lorber again does the show justice - 2K scans from the interpositives makes the show look even better than it did on broadcast, and uncut - if you've only seen the show in syndicated form, you haven't really SEEN the show. Season 2 is 5 discs and has a whopping 32 audio commentaries - porting over the 6 commentaries from the DVD release (3 from AFTER HOURS/ART OF DARKNESS authors Skelton & Benson and 3 from Guillermo Del Toro [!], it quintuples the amount of new commentaries by most of the usual suspects from the previous set (Gary Gerani, Tim Lucas, David J. Schow, Stephen Jones & Kim Newman, among others) and adds a new wrinkle to the newer tracks by Benson & Skelton - incorporating interview snippets from cast & crew when researching  for the first edition of AFTER HOURS TOUR.

Also ported from the DVD are featurettes REVISITING THE GALLERY: A LOOK BACK and ART GALLERY: THE PAINTINGS and some TV spots. New for the blu-ray is THE SYNDICATION CONUNDRUM, PART 2, an in-depth look into the convoluted life of the show in syndication, which helps putting into context another bonus feature LOST TALES, a 'new' episode of the show comprised of 3 segments only seen during the syndication run and a longer version of LITTLE GIRL LOST.

Season 3 is only two discs, but no less packed - commentaries as noted from Year 2 (no Del Toro commentaries this time around, unfortunately; he was a bit busy - he does turn up in interview segments however, in the new Benson & Skelton tracks), and the last part of THE SYNDICATION CONUNDRUM unraveling the deconstruction & fusing of THE SIXTH SENSE to bulk up the sale of both shows to syndication and a special bonus - including all 25 of the intros that Serling did for those additional shows to incorporate them into NIGHT GALLERY.

In one of the commentaries, author Stephen Jones & Kim Newman make two observations about NIGHT GALLERY - that the show is the culmination of Universal Studios' history in Horror; they are the home of 'classic horror' Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolfman, after all, up through suspense creepers of the 40s, and sci-fi horrors of the 50s before Horror starts to mutate & modernize - and that it ushers in the next generation of filmmakers who will become very familiar for the next 30-40 years. And there's a solid case for both - THE NIGHT STALKER debuts midway through NGs Year 2 run and the KOLCHAK series debuts a year after the end of GALLERY; and soon to follow is the ascent of Stephen King, the debut of David Cronenberg and 'body horror'. It's also the sunset of the anthology show - GHOST STORY/CIRCLE OF FEAR never really reaches the level of NIGHT GALLERY, and who remembers QUINN MARTIN'S TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED nowadays? DARKROOM is probably the Last Gasp of studio genre anthologies - after that, the torch is carried by TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE/MONSTERS but there's nowhere near the level of production resources available on the studio shows.

NIGHT GALLERY gets a lot of flak for being perceived as "the lesser TWILIGHT ZONE" and a 'sort of' failure for Serling, which is wrong on both counts - there were rocky times before NG, of course (look up THE LONER, THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT, THE NEW PEOPLE), but that perception comes from the official title of the show, 'ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY' which implied that, like TWILIGHT ZONE, he was The Main Guy when in fact, he was A Main Guy. Jack Laird is nowhere near as well known as Serling, but he was an important TV writer as well, who settled into Universal/MCA in the early 60s - he was a producer of KOJAK after NG and had a love & knowledge of genre - prior to NG, he did a pilot with Leslie Nielson, DARK INTRUDER (also available on K-L) and after NG, he produced the mini-series THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME, based on the Thomas Tryon 'folk-horror' follow-up to THE OTHER, HARVEST HOME.  But NG will be what he'll be long remembered for.

What becomes obvious is, despite the possessory title, NIGHT GALLERY is the sum of both men's sensibilities which makes it memorable. Unfortunately due to the production situation and what I suspect to have been a lot of ego and possibly jealousy, not everyone was on the same page, creatively which did eventually undermine the show. Serling threw in the towel, with a lot of his work being rejected but was contractually bound to the show, which was all too happy to pimp his name and image if not to actually use his scripts. Obviously, this would not make him happy and was quite vocal about it in interviews and school lectures, so most of that NG flak was fed by Serling initially and got intensified after his death in 1975.

It's an interesting speculation as to what he would have thought about the show given time and distance; he was notoriously hard on his own work for TZ and he died well before TZ turned into a cultural institution & franchise asset and the influence & reappraisal of NG. Now that the entire run of GALLERY is available in HD quality, let that reappraisal bloom - for those completely new to the show and just want to get to "The Good Stuff", picking up Season 2 first might be the best introduction and then going for Seasons 1 & 3. Otherwise, pick up the seasons in order to see how the show evolved over time.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

"The M. Night Shyamalaning of Jordan Peele"

"A Real Life horror movie - Based on A True Story and Lots of Internet Experts..."

I'd been pondering this for sometime; the release and reaction to NOPE seems to be the perfect time to bring it into the light.

It appears that Jordan Peele is now 3 for 3 with GET OUT - US - NOPE, although there are those who will claim that math is faulty; that GET OUT was overrated at best, or that GET OUT was fine, but US was proof that he wasn't all that. Anyway one might feel about it, there's no doubt that as far as box-office receipts go, Everybody is onboard the Peele Train - for now at least.

But there's an active danger amidst all this success, a process I termed 'The M Night Shyamalaning of Jordan Peele', which I thought was rather clever while processing NOPE after watching it. (Apparently, I'm not the only clever person in the audience, as I came across this from an established critic.)

Everyone knows Shyamalan's story, right? The 'Twist Guy' who was on Top Of The World for a few years until his own hackery caught up with him... or at least that's the perception you'd have following fanboys and Internet critics for the past 18 years since the release of THE VILLAGE. The reality is far more interesting: Shyamalan was an established screenwriter/director when THE SIXTH SENSE hit; it's actually his third feature film - just the first to have had major box-office success and get him onto Hollywood's A-List. Then came UNBREAKABLE, SIGNS, etc. Out of all his filmography up to/including last year's OLD, there's been only one outright financial failure - LADY IN THE WATER. AFTER EARTH was a box office disappointment, but it DID make its costs back and some money.

The real Shyamalan backlash started with SIGNS, gained traction with THE VILLAGE and paid off with the hubris supper that was LADY IN THE WATER. The success of THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE led to Shyamalan being put into a box, as most successful people & things are, that box being 'The Twist Guy' - and thus 'a Known Quantity'. People would watch his films and/or projects he produced with the expectation of 'The Twist' coming in at some point, which was to the detriment of SIGNS and THE VILLAGE - both good films for a good portion of their running times, but with fatal flaws that damaged the story logic and making the films in retrospect, seem a lot less than they were seeing them the first time. LADY IN THE WATER, half-baked and rushed into production didn't connect with audiences and was embraced by the haters as irrefutable proof that Shyamalan was a hack charlatan who just got lucky with four films but whose luck had finally run out and was not to be taken seriously in any way onward - a perception that still dogs him to the present day.

Peele was hot straight out of the gate, although with some side-eye towards his directing skills and his writing something other than comedy. With the success of GET OUT (including Academy Award® nominations, which he won for Best Screenplay), the box designated for Peele was "The Woke [Horror, Comedy, etc.] Guy". Comparing how the two handle genre, Shyamalan appears to work well within the boundaries of genre parameters with rather surface stories (THE VILLAGE probably is the closest to being a statement/parable in the manner of a TZ story; SIGNS is rooted in faith & belief, but doesn't really develop that in a satisfactory way). Peele does more of a mashup of genre (marketed as 'horror' but his films are a blend of horror/sci-fi/satire) with many layers; and unlike Shyamalan who didn't seem to mind being in a box, Peele seems to revel in defying audience expectations, especially those who expect him to do endless variations of GET OUT or something Woke™®. That Peele decided to stretch himself following up with US, which didn't fit comfortably into that box - that led to some declaring 'charlatan' at that point (motivated primarily as backlash to the Oscar® win, IMO).

A cinematographer friend of mine called Peele "The Modern Mel Brooks", which although he surely meant it in full snark, actually is fitting, if you're also taking in account the Mel Brooks who also produced THE ELEPHANT MAN, THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS and THE VAGRANT. Peele's comedy background also accounts for that and there IS an element of parodying certain tropes in instances, usually in tandem with the social commentary - like Brooks, but unlike Brooks, Peele doesn't go for the vulgar to get a belly laugh.

So you have two American filmmakers with different backgrounds (Eastern Indian; African-American) who are very successful working in Hollywood Genre Cinema - other directors, such as Spielberg, Ridley Scott, John Carpenter... you can come up with your own listings - who have also had success in Genre Cinema have been actively encouraged to continue in genre, sometimes against their inclinations and in spite of their own recurring flaws (or as some might say, 'style'), like Scott's emphasis on the visual & neglecting elements of the story/script.

Shyamalan and Peele, on the other hand, have had an increasing amount of negative pushback since their initial successes, with it succeeding in hurting Shyamalan's reputation (despite his films continuing to generate successful box-office receipts). Peele has weathered that pushback so far; whereas his movie work has proven to be extremely successful, projects for television that he has executive-produced have had lukewarm reception at best (HUNTERS for Netflix and the latest revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE for CBS All Access/Paramount Plus).