Being a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s I was raised on T.V., so plopping down in front of the tube for hours on end was nothing out of the ordinary for me. One afternoon I noticed there was a rerun of a scary movie called NIGHT GALLERY scheduled in the T.V. Guide. This was the original pilot movie, featuring one of the last performances by JOAN CRAWFORD and STEVEN SPIELBERG‘s directorial debut. From the get-go I knew it was possibly going to be a bit much for my seven-year-old eyes to take; the opening music, ROD SERLING‘s creepy voice, the paintings. But I was intrigued so I continued to watch it.
All three vignettes were outstanding but one in particular creeped me out and stuck with me through adulthood. It was entitled “The Cemetery” and featured RODDY McDOWALL as a scheming, lying, all-around loser of a nephew wanting his uncle’s fortune all to himself. RODDY ends up speeding his uncle’s death and ensures that he is the sole heir to the fortune, while the faithful butler (played by OSSIE DAVIS) is retained for a measly amount of cash. While enjoying his new wealth, RODDY realizes that one of the paintings on the wall of the entry hall has changed – the painting of the cemetery adjacent to the mansion. A new grave appears on the ground, which of course befuddles poor RODDY, but he proceeds to bask in his new wealth while continuing his asshole-ish ways.
But RODDY continues to see the painting change: The grave now appears disturbed, then a coffin is seen sticking out of it, then the coffin lid opens to reveal his uncle. This goes on for a while, driving poor RODDY to the brink of insanity, until he sees that the painting now shows his uncle approaching the front porch, then he’s on the steps, then he’s at the door. Suddenly, he hears someone -or something- knocking on the front door, wanting in.
In his freakoutedness he runs to the top of the stairs and pulls down another painting of his uncle, tripping and killing himself on the stairs. The front door finally opens, and standing there is… OSSIE DAVIS. He was responsible for the paintings changing and for driving RODDY insane. Turns out the estate would be left to him should there be no surviving heirs, and since RODDY is now worm food, it turns out to be a pretty sweet deal for OSSIE, who goes from respectable, clean-cut working man to swarthy, debonair nouveau riche HUGH HEFNER-ish cat.
However, before he can sit back and finish his brandy OSSIE notices the painting on the wall has returned. But this time it changes right before his eyes, and it’s RODDY heading for revenge, not the uncle. A new grave, a coffin, RODDY‘s corpse, at the steps, at the door… By this time I’m nearly peeing my pants and preparing to run out of the room, just in case. As OSSIE is left screaming we see the front door open slowly to reveal… no one. The ghost of RODDY gets his revenge!
I love NIGHT GALLERY and found myself watching it often after that. All three stories in the pilot movie are quite good and worth a look, especially the one titled “The Escape Route,” which deserves its own confession. After having settled down from the scare, I found myself often checking paintings throughout the house to be sure they weren’t changing. But the effect this gem had on my psyche still holds solid to this day, and for that I thank Mr. SERLING. The NIGHT GALLERY pilot show is definitely worth a visit…