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Traumafessions :: Reader David O. on Night Gallery Pilot Tale “The Cemetery”

April 12th, 2011 by aunt john · 12 Comments

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…


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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for the traumafession David! I’m so into Night Gallery right now! In fact, it’s the subject of tomorrow’s post too! All of the episodes are on Hulu except this pilot movie though I did find it in parts on Youtube. Great show!

  • 2 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Yes! “The Cemetery” was absolutely terrific. The “seen but unseen” aspect of the terror was just so palpable. Heck, the painting with graves plus one would have sent me packing. My only issue was with the feasibility of the scam – Seems like Ossie would have had to scramble pretty darned fast to do some of those last switcheroos – and where was he keeping them all? Still, really great and creepy.

  • 3 micksterNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    I love that one! It is so great! Roddy plays such a terrific a-hole! I love it when he gets his via Ossie.

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I just figured out that the pilot is on the dvd set that I have. How did I miss that? there is a great shot in this one of the old man sitting in a chair and the wind blows open the drapes and you just see the graveyard outside in front of him.

    No lie, my Grandma had a graveyard basically in her backyard when I was a kid. We used to love to play there!

  • 5 Will ErricksonNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Ah, remember this one well! Didn’t realize it was part of the pilot, however.

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 8:40 pm


    It seems all the episodes were ripped apart to make half hour segments for syndication! Apparently, they even added episodes of a short lived series called the “Sixth Sense” with newly filmed openings by Serling to the syndication package. I grew up with the half hour version so it’s amazing seeing them again in their proper form (and not on a 10 inch B&W TV screen!)

  • 7 godmonsterNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    I was 9 years old when this came out, but I was familiar with Twilight Zone and was dying to see it. The Joan Crawford bit was sad and ironic like a typical Twilight Zone episode, but this one really gave me nightmares. Honestly I can’t remember the third bit, although I do remember there being one… That is part of the fun of Kindertrauma, is to remind each other of things that happened when we were young. I also played in the graveyard when I was young, but it wasn’t in my back yard. I’m so jealous.

  • 8 EshbaalNo Gravatar // Apr 13, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Gah, I REALLY need to get my Serling on. I still have only watched a select few Twilight Zone episodes and NONE of Night Gallery. But this sounds absolutely terrific! I am definetely gonna at least check this pilot movie out in the near future.

  • 9 hostelNo Gravatar // Apr 13, 2011 at 3:10 am

    this is realy horrific Trauma!!!

  • 10 RATSAWGODNo Gravatar // Apr 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Gah! This episode freaked, FREAKED my shit when I was a kid. I had totally forgotten about it, too. Now I’m going to HAVE to see this episode again. Those paintings! *shudder*

  • 11 DavidNo Gravatar // Apr 13, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Godmonster, the third scene was where the guy wanted to be in the painting of the fisherman, but when he finally was able to attain his goal it tuned out the painting had been replaced with one of Jesus on a cross, so the dude ended up being crucified! It was pretty hideous as well. I recommend watching it.

  • 12 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Apr 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    @David – that’s right! He was a Nazi if I recall and after having spent some time in the boat painting was attempting to flee back into it after murdering a Jewish man – only to discover all too late that it had been swapped out with that crucifiction scene. Grim!

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