I think one of my favorite YouTube videos is the 1990’s VHS version of the title credits of Game of Thrones. It’s pure silliness, electronic synthesizer sound, 90’s style, and cheesy title graphics take the amazing cinematic experience that is Game of Thrones and reduces it to a far tamer product. I tell you about this so you can understand my frame of reference for what scared me as a child growing up in the 1970s. If you could transport a show like Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story to the 1970s like that Game of Thrones YouTube video, it would have been a program like Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
Rod Serling, the legendary creator of The Twilight Zone, returned to television in 1969 to create Night Gallery, an anthology series based on the premise that we, the audience, were in a museum somewhere in the void. Just as he had appeared in The Twilight Zone, Sterling acts as our host and tour guide, introducing each episode by leading us to a painting in the gallery.
For me, the pilot episode was one of the scariest things I had ever seen as a child. “The Cemetery” presents a greedy nephew (played by Roddy McDowell fresh off his success in The Planet of The Apes) who murders his uncle to claim his inheritance, only to be haunted by the painting of the cemetery next to the house where the dead and buried uncle, played by George MacReady, seems to be emerging from the grave and moving towards the house for his revenge. Driven to madness, the nephew finally sees himself in the grave before he dies.
Night Gallery was quite a strange concoction: Hollywood celebrities appearing in overly melodramatic horror stories written by some of the more ground breaking horror writers of the time at the height of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. It was quite a mix. And compared to the high production values of today’s modern horror fare, Night Gallery reminds us of monster movies with guys in rubber suits wiping out models of Japanese pagodas or alien spaceships where if you look long and hard enough you can see the strings. But for the kid growing up in the suburbs who first saw the series when it debuted, it was truly frightening to behold.
Chip Garrison can be found regularly contributing to The Think Tank with articles about TV shows, movies, and sports. He also knows a thing or two about theater.