The Outer Limits: The Forms of Things Unknown

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalI came into the final episode of season one of The Outer Limits with fond memories but find these days, that preview scene really works against the episodes.  In this preview, David McCullum takes Barbara Rush down a creepy hallway and opens a door.  She screams at the sight within and runs off.  All I could think was what she must have had running through her mind: “God, not another sci-fi fan! I thought he was different!?” These preview scenes really do more harm than good considering I was laughing at what would turn out to be a very freaky moment when put into context.  Luckily, the episode makes sense of that sequence and what transpires is a masterpiece of artistic design.

The story is a bit Frankenstein, with a doctor resurrecting a monster and regretting his choice later, realizing science can go astray.  Andre is a totally loathsome creature who delights in making people suffer.  His death is wonderful and couldn’t come quickly enough.  Leonora suffers throughout the episode; a woman on the brink of a breakdown for the horrible act she committed.  The out-of-focus camera images around her give the illusion that she’s slightly unhinged.  Kassia is by far the more cold hearted, calculating member of the triumvirate.  She has a matter-of-factness that just gets on with things, no matter how bad.  But the story fails in a number of ways.  The best possible thing Kassia could have done was to leave the dead Andre in the water.  An autopsy, whenever he were found, would have shown he died of poisoning, but if Kassia and Leonora left on foot, there would be nearly no way to connect them with a murder.  It might have looked like he was making himself a drink and thought the plant would add flavor, like a mint.    There’s so much more Leonora and Kassia could have done to protect themselves but instead they opt to put the corpse in the trunk!  Now, even if they had an accident, they have a murder victim in their car!  You really can’t explain that away as easily as, say, “the car broke down so we were walking to get help.  He was staying with the car and was having a drink!”  No one can prove they gave Andre the drink at that point.  But find his body in the trunk and that’s a different matter altogether!  Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible for his murder to have been premeditated since Andre was driving like a maniac and seems to just stop at a random place for his drink.  So the foundation of the episode is weak but even later, when Tone (McCullum) realizes he has made a mistake bringing Andre back to life, he laments his choice.  Colas says “You couldn’t have known!”  No?  Are you sure?  The two girls were telling both men all about how evil he was.  Typically murderers don’t confess so readily if they are the evil ones!  So if we can get past all of that, which frankly would make  for a pretty easy case for Columbo, we end up with a really special episode that could feature as a Masterclass example of how to make a creepy story for television.

The episode relies on the use of shadows and weird camera angles to create an air of wrongness.  The music is better than what we’ve heard in most episodes and some of the props enhance the unease exponentially.  The ballerina of hypnosis and the broken clown-faced clock, the howling wind and the pouring rain, the shadowy house and the blind “servant”, the string of lightbulbs and the room of a thousand timepieces… they all contribute to create terror out of some very mundane things. There’s even a brief scene of pall bearers walking with a coffin that sent a chill through me!  McCullum at the window was also an unnerving sight!  Some of the lines are outstanding too.  “Nobody ever helps a grave digger.”  (Kassia)   “Who was it?”  “Who could it have been?” (Leonora and Colas).  Tone seems to drift off into a daze and even when he’s loading a gun, he seems to be almost childlike in his actions.   Nothing about what is going on in the house offers comfort.  The acting is great and Colas adds such character to the story; the episode moves at pace!  I am not sure I took my eyes off the screen!  Even with the mistakes of the premise, the artistry was too good to ignore.

“I imagine hell would be glad to take you back!”  Season One of The Outer Limits has some real ups and downs, but what show doesn’t?  This episode may be flawed, but it’s visually stunning.  McCullum uses his weird time machine to go back in time, to the quiet past where he was dead.  But in some ways, that ending reminded me of The Time Machine where the mysterious “traveler” vanishes with an expletive and is never heard from again.  Did Tone die?  Did he go some-when else?  Or is he still out there trying to define the form of things unknown?  I look forward to coming back to The Outer Limits for Season Two.  But  first, it’s time to boldly go back to where we’ve been before for Season Two of Star Trek, The Original Series!  ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

So why is it showing me a completely different series to the one I was expecting? Seriously, this is the second time this has happened. Once again the makers of The Outer Limits were making use of one of the episodes to create a pilot for a different series. How about concentrating on what you’re making before you start worrying about the next thing?

This is a much better fit for The Outer Limits than the previous weird pilot episode comedy thing, but it still has the feel of a completely different series about it. It’s still sci-fi, but it’s slightly more… shall we say… domestic sci-fi. No alien menace, no monsters, just somebody tinkering with time, and even that is relatively incidental to most of the episode. Instead the focus is on the murder of André and the aftermath of that. The alternate version of the episode was entirely about that, without the sci-fi element, so that does end up feeling a bit tacked on in order to fulfil the OL remit, leaving the episode frustratingly lacking in a coherent backstory for Tone and Colas. It’s a compromise that goes both ways, because we also don’t get much context for the relationship between André, Kassia and Leonora, but it’s clearly such a nasty dynamic that maybe it’s for the best.

So this is not very OL in script or execution, and that’s a bit frustrating for a series finale to say the least. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good television. For a start it’s the best looking episode of the whole series, with inspired direction, packed with disconcerting camera angles and gorgeously shadowy and dark. This is the kind of episode that makes me just a little bit sad that colour television was ever invented. Nothing can ever look quite like this any more. Tone’s room of clocks and wires is a work of art, which put me in mind of how Metropolis made technology beautiful. The episode tries hard to be frightening, and I’m not sure it quite achieves that (apart from that clown clock, which horrified me), but it’s certainly compelling viewing and a treat for the eyes.

As for the characters, André is clearly an absolute monster, bullying the two women horribly and presumably using them in mercifully unspoken ways. They are clearly terrified of him, and it’s a relief when he takes the poisoned drink. What follows defies logic and is really where the script could have done with another rewrite. I realise people wouldn’t necessarily think clearly in that situation, but Kassia is remarkably cool-headed, so it makes for an annoying viewing experience to see her making decisions that make no sense at all. They are already in what appears to be a remote location, and André is fish food. Why move him at all? Kassia makes a fair point when she says “he would have floated into someone’s life”, but a heavy weight would have sorted that problem, and how long would it be before anyone found the body of somebody at the bottom of a remote lake, considering that presumably nobody is going to care that he’s gone missing enough to report it to the police? Even if she wanted to bury him, why not do it right there? Taking him off in the boot to some unfamiliar location where they can be spotted doing the deed just beggars belief.

I liked all the paranoia about the body moving, as irritating as Leonora was, and it worked very well when the body actually did move, as by that point we had been conditioned to expect paranoia and nothing more. As for the others, David McCallum does the best he can with Tone, considering he’s such a sketchily drawn character, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke is brilliant as Colas. I didn’t see the twist coming about him not being the servant but the owner of the house, but in the end it was a meaningless twist because it didn’t actually have any bearing on anything at all, and only served to make the story a little less believable. Oh, and I couldn’t help but find the sight of Kassia heading off to dig a grave with a couple of pokers absolutely hilarious. Good luck with that.

But I’m sure you know what my summary will be, because it’s probably the same thing everyone has said about this episode for 55 years: it’s the ultimate example of the triumph of style over substance. Turn off your brain for 50 minutes, and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Then again, maybe that sums up The Outer Limits anyway.

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: Soldier

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Outer Limits and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Outer Limits: The Forms of Things Unknown

  1. DrAcrossthePond says:

    It amazes me that you made the comment you did about black and white television, because this is the very episode I use when making that same claim. This episode uses shadow to stunning effect! ML

    Liked by 2 people

  2. scifimike70 says:

    This was another of the very first Outer Limits classics I saw. Good performances by Vera Miles, Barbara Rush and especially David McCallum, with the most distinguished Sir Cedric Hardwicke making another great SF contribution (after The Ghost Of Frankenstein, The War Of The Worlds, The Twilight Zone). For an OL episode that deals with a common SF theme about the dangerous consequences of cheating death, this one was handled most uniquely, with McCallum’s quote: “I thank God that kindness is blind.” summing up what truly matters about life.

    Thank you both for all your reviews on S1 of The Outer Limits.

    Liked by 2 people

    • scifimike70 says:

      Scott Marlowe who plays the murdered and resurrected blackmailer has guest starred in so many TV shows, from Bonanza and Mission Impossible to Murder She Wrote and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Surprisingly, speaking as someone who became very good at noticing and recognizing TV guest stars in many things very early on (both names and faces), this OL is where I had finally took enough notice of Marlowe.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to scifimike70 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s