Night Gallery [Season One]

Jan 04, 2022
Web Exclusive

By Austin Trunick

Five years after the end of his seminal speculative fiction anthology series, The Twilight Zone, creator Rod Serling launched the pilot for a new series in a very similar vein. The pilot aired on NBC at the tail end of 1969, and the first of three seasons began the following year. Night Gallery felt like a continuation of the already-classic Twilight Zone, save for a few key differences, the most obvious being that it was in color; the show had an updated, almost psychedelic or “druggy” aesthetic that matched the time period; each episode featured multiple, stand-alone segments of varying lengths; and a more heavy lean towards the horror genre.

Every Night Gallery segment opens with an introduction from Serling, who usually stands in a surreal gallery where paintings hang from the ceiling, only drawn from the black shadows around them by eerie spotlights. Each story has a painting that goes along with it, relating to its theme, often in an abstract fashion. Where The Twilight Zone often ended on a moral note, Night Gallery more consistently tries to scare its audience—and was often quite successful.

The 95-minute pilot—which opens this new Blu-ray set—is a great encapsulation of the series. The first segment, “The Cemetery,” stars Roddy McDowall as the greedy, estranged nephew of a millionaire hermit. His uncle is in poor health, living in a mansion with his loyal butler (Ossie Davis) as his only companion. The young man arrives in town when he finds a loophole in his uncle’s will, which would name him the sole heir to his fortune. But once he sets about ridding himself of the old man, he becomes disturbed by a macabre painting a cemetery hanging in the main stairwell—one that seems to change each time he looks at it. On close inspection of the artwork, a grave has opened, and a casket has risen from it; a figure emerges, getting closer, and closer to the front door of the home…

“Eyes” is directed by a very young Steven Spielberg (!) in his directorial debut, and stars Joan Crawford—Night Gallery was able to attract a who’s who of film and television stars during its run. The segment focuses on a wicked, wealthy woman, blind since birth, who purchases the eyes of a drunken gambler so that she can see for just twenty-four hours. This one closes with the sort of ironic, moralistic twist that Twilight Zone was famous for.

Kino Lorber’s Season One Blu-ray set includes the pilot and all six episodes of the show’s first season. There are plenty of recognizable stars to be seen among them, including Burgess Meredith, Joseph Wiseman, Diane Keaton, Angel Tompkins, Michael Blodgett, Larry Hagman, Agnes Moorehead, Phyllis Diller, and John Astin. A number of classic Night Gallery segments came from this season, too—the chilling “The Dead Man” and “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” among them, the latter being perhaps the biggest tearjerker of Serling’s writing career.

Here’s a kicker for you. Even if you consider yourself familiar with Night Gallery—perhaps you’ve watched re-runs dozens of times on Comet TV or another retro television network—you may haven’t ever have seen *proper* Night Gallery, unless you purchased the VHS tapes in the late ‘90s or the DVD sets the following decade. When the show was cancelled mid-third season and sold for syndication, it was almost 30 episodes too short of the number typically need for re-run rotation. Universal thought to solve this issue by chopping down the early-run, hour-long episodes down to half an hour each, which wasn’t a terrible idea in theory—this was an anthology series, after all, with distinct stand-alone segments—except that there was never any consistent pattern to each story’s length. The ones that ran longer than 24 minutes were simply cut down to fit into the programming block; the ones that were shorter were padded out with re-used footage from Universal’s film catalog. (Episodes from an unrelated psychic-themed TV show were also shoehorned in as Night Gallery episodes, with newly-recorded intros from Serling.) In any case, these bizarre hack jobs somewhat tainted the legacy of the series, as the cuts and filler footage severely hampered the pacing and storytelling in many of the episodes. For almost three decades, these altered versions were the only ones available—and they’re still the ones being shown during TV broadcasts to this day.

Thus, Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of the series offers a great opportunity for Twilight Zone fans to finally see Night Gallery as it was intended to be viewed, and as it was presented in its original 1969-1971 broadcast run. Not only does this set include all six episodes of season one in beautiful HD, but new commentaries on all from a variety of critics and historians. Also included is a fantastic featurette breaking down the differences between the broadcast and syndication versions of each episode, which also includes a side-by-side comparison of both versions of “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” which had nearly a third of its runtime slashed to fit inside its half-hour time block. All in all, this is an easy set to whole-heartedly recommend to both Twilight Zone and anthology horror fans—we’ll be looking forward to Kino’s upcoming releases of the next two seasons.


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