It’s funny because when I played Westmark Manor, something about it seemed familiar. I admit, I thought little of it at the time, figuring the horror setting of an old house and twisting hallways was just a trope. But when I started watching The Outer Limits episode The Guests, I found myself recognizing so much of the game in the episode. Surely it was an inspiration! Long dark hallways seemingly doubling back on one another, columns standing at odd angles and doors leading nowhere with the exception of one that leads to an outside area with a cemetery, and a mysterious power controlling everything. I’m often amazed at how many genre ideas get repeated. This story is fascinating but hinges on a premise that I find hard to accept. In fact, let’s be honest: the story should be fascinating, offering a chance to consider the essence of humanity, but instead, falls short and nearly has me asleep on my couch!
The story starts with a drifter, Wade Norton, who nearly runs over an old man. The old man is the oldest he’s ever seen. “Was he a very old man?” YES, the oldest ever! What Wade does is “goes for help” which does not entail driving the old man to a hospital, but instead leaving him on the side of the road and walking off into the woods in the hopes that the nearest hospital might be found in the forest. I don’t know about you, but I never found one on any of my camping trips. Maybe I haven’t walked the right path… Anyway, he finds a giant brain that masquerades as a house, walks in and finds The Sour Grapes Family. When he tries to leave, he is pulled upstairs by Euclid the Gelatinous Mass (with a laugh that is totally incongruous with a gelatinous mass). Euclid is working out a formula for why mankind doesn’t destroy itself. He hasn’t figure it out yet, so he’s going to hold everyone captive until he does. But, predictably, Wade might yet hold the answer. It’s this “solution” that loses me…
I mean, look, I wanted to like it! I really, really did! I think the preview that shows us what’s coming is really derailing me right from the outset. Then “Three Times” Ethel is an obnoxious bore, bore, bore, her husband Randall “Carter” is a dreamer and Florida (!) is a self-centered actress who doesn’t have a true feeling in her body. Not a great cast of characters! Then there’s Simply Tess who “can’t be more than 18”. Now here’s the thing: as the viewer we know the people in this house are way older than they look. We’ve all seen enough of this style story to know the trope but remember, this was 1964! Maybe people then didn’t put it together but now it’s an old idea. Still, Tess says the old man was her dad and he’s been dead a long time. (Not that I believe that; I think it’s her husband, but whatever… dad, husband… all will become clear in a moment…) The problem is this: Euclid is going to find that the magic equation is solved by LOVE. Saw that coming from miles away. But dad (or husband) didn’t love his daughter (or wife)? I mean, maybe a spouse would start to lose the love they have for one another but a father with his daughter? Let’s review: Ethel is with her husband. Even if by the time Euclid captured them, they had stopped loving each other, surely in the midst of their captivity (since 1928), they would have remembered their love, no? Florida is an actress; could she not fake it? She tries to fake it at least once with Wade! And Tess with her dad… surely they loved one another??? Or is it a different, more wholesome love? I mean it took Drifter Norton to force himself on an 18 year old he just met to let Euclid know what love was? “You wanted me to kiss you, you know!” You sure? I didn’t get that from her actions, but I wasn’t around in 1964…
To compound matters, he falls so madly in love with her in a day, he’s willing to stay Euclid’s prisoner forever. So therefore Tess steps outside as he watches her disintegrate. Does he make a move to pull her back? No. His love was so deep, he watched her commit suicide in front of him. “Nice going Wade. Since you proved you can love, take that love out there and be free…” I thought “self-sacrifice” might have been the answer we were going for but no, it was a false love! But then it hit me! Maybe Euclid was trying to figure out how to destroy mankind! Love is a powerful emotion and makes us do dopey things but what Wade had for Tess wasn’t really love. It was an infatuation at best. Euclid the Gelatinous Mass didn’t know that and thinks: “Ah-ha! That’s the ticket. This ‘love’ thing will help me subjugate the planet! Go, Wade… go ‘love’ more people!” (I’m hoping the off-screen epilogue has him pull into a bar, get into a fight for his latest “love” interest and get killed, so Euclid bails on this planet in favor of other planets with more sensible people on it!)
That might not have been the real intent, but I needed something to entertain me, because this episode failed to. This is down there near the bottom of the 49 episodes of The Outer Limits. The best moment really was the different reactions as Euclid makes the house disappear: Ethel laughs at everyone’s terror because she’s a jerk. Randall cries, probably tears of joy to finally be done with this dream. Florida screams because there was no camera on her any more. The reactions are a bit chilling. The most understandable reaction came from outside the fourth wall: mine. I was so happy to be done with this episode, I leapt off the couch and hit stop before the control voice finished giving control of my television set back to me. “Sweet dreams within dreams” indeed!!! ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Fair enough, but I can’t even find it at the moment. It’s supposed to be in the living room, which is through this door, but wait… that’s just a door with nothing behind it. How about this door? Nope. This one?
Within the first few minutes of this episode a giant brain has turned into a house and an old man has collapsed and then turned to dust. Now that’s got my attention. Most Outer Limits episodes tend to be fairly linear, in that they show us a situation, drag it out for half and hour or so, and then resolve it. There is rarely much mystery about them, but this is very different, with weird, unexplained things going on.
If we thought the goings on outside the house were strange, the inside is something else. Everyone who lives there seems to be completely mad. When Wade goes there looking for a phone to get help for the old man who has collapsed (how we forget what life used to be like before mobiles!) the residents of the house ask him odd questions like “was he very old?” and then start going on about how Wade must have some kind of special skills, and how his kindness will not be repaid. The one thing I found hard to believe about all that is the length of time Wade hangs around chatting, before he actually tries to leave. We are nearly 15 minutes into the episode before that happens, and I just didn’t get why anybody in that situation wouldn’t conclude very quickly that they are all a bunch of nutters, with no phone there anyway, so why not get a move on and go back to help the old guy?
That’s the big problem with this episode. Never for one moment does Wade react in a realistic way to events. Even when he finally gets outside into the graveyard he shows little excitement at the prospect of escaping (or even just enjoying some fresh air!) and stands around for ages philosophising with Tess. If that weren’t silly enough, he then follows her back in! Now, I’m all for a soppy romance, but let’s be realistic here. He’s just met the girl. He’s in a life or death situation, and he has just seen her choose to go back into the house. Not even a halfwit would walk back into his prison. And then later he tries to make the choice to live with her forever in the house rather than escape, saying “I want to love you.” Nope. Love conquers all… except being confined for all eternity in an old house with mad people and a blob. Love doesn’t conquer that, especially not an infatuation that only began a few hours ago.
If you can stomach that very fundamental flaw in the episode, then you’ll still find loads to enjoy here. The house itself is like another character in the story, all creaky doors and shadows. The first interior shot is from high up above the chandelier, which is very impressive, but not half as impressive as the surreal maze of corridors of light, columns and doors. The residents of the house are all memorable: the browbeaten old husband who always looks like life has defeated him; the young woman who is really an old lady clinging on to life and experiencing love for one last time; the failed actress who has delusions of actually being a person of some significance rather than an old relic in a cage; and best of all there’s Ethel, whose every line drips malice and insanity, and who laughs hysterically at her own destruction while the others scream. What an episode.
Less successful is the alien, which is just a bit of the alien costume from The Mice reused. Maybe all the money went on the wonderful gothic house set, and so it should. Don’t try to think too hard about his motivations or even the riddle he is trying to solve, and the missing factor in his equation is blindingly obvious. In any case, his equation only works by ignoring the fact that every one of those qualities has it’s own antonym. Let’s have a bit of fun with those:
- Procreation (“destruction” balances quite well with this.)
- Work (why not say “laziness” as a negative?)
- Faith (if that’s a positive then why isn’t Mr Blob classing atheism as a negative?)
- Art (erm… modern art as a negative?)
- Destruction (that goes well enough with “procreation”, or just “creation” or “invention” would do.)
- Fear (well, come on now… where’s “bravery” then?)
- Hopelessness (in which case “hope” must surely be a positive.)
…and that last one of course spells out the solution for us, loud and clear. If only the episode had actually showed us a realistic portrayal of love. Once again, The Outer Limits was one good rewrite away from greatness. Perhaps the writers were in need of just one more “positive” in their equation… perseverance.
We now return control of your computer, until the next time we visit the outer limits of the Junkyard… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Fun and Games