Night Gallery Episode 8: Death in the Family/The Merciful/Class of ’99/Witches’ Feast

General Information

Directors: Jeannot Szwarc and Jerrold Freedman

Writers: Rod Serling, Jack Laird, and Gene Kearney

Cast: E.G. Marshall, Desi Arnaz Jr., Imogene Coca, King Donovan, Vincent Price, Brandon de Wilde, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Buzzi, Noam Pitlik, James B. Sikking, John Williams Evans, Bill Elliot, Bud Walls, Randolph Mantooth, Frank Hotchkiss, Hilly Hicks, Suzanne Cohane, Barbara Shannon, Richard Doyle, Hunter von Leer, John Davey, Lenore Kasdorf, Allison McKay, and Fran Ryan

Composer: None (Stock Music)

Gallery Painter: Tom Wright

Air Date: 9/22/1971

 

Death in the Family

Overview

Night Gallery Death in the FamilyWounded by a gunshot, an escaped killer named Doran (Desi Arnaz Jr.) takes refuge in the home of funeral director Jared Soames (E.G. Marshall). In spite of his benevolent character, Jared soon reveals a horrifying secret to his young guest.

“Death in the Family” may evoke praise for combining horror tropes with a poignant message on human relationships. This segment also benefits from topnotch acting, morbid images, and a serious execution.

 

Pros

E.G. Marshall deserves commendation for his portrayal of Jared Soames, who, despite initially presenting himself as a kind, compassionate funeral director whose empathyNight Gallery Death in the Family extends toward both the living and the dead, reveals a disturbing truth about his “family” when confronted with a dying criminal—a character twist that, though extraordinary, maintains an air of credibility due to the tragic pathos exhibited by Marshall.

Also worth praising are the cadaverous members of Jared’s “family,” who appear realistic (even creepily so) when meticulously arranged at a dining room table.

 

Cons

Night Gallery Death in the FamilyCertain viewers may take issue with this segment for its downbeat ending, which makes death seem like a suitable alternative to perpetual loneliness.

 

Analysis

“Death in the Family” examines how abuse, neglect, and limited contact with other people can severely affect those of a vulnerable disposition.

 

Concluding Comments

Rod Serling enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate this segment, which contains insightful commentary on the human condition. Horror fans may also enjoy “Death in the Family” for its macabre subject matter, including a bloody and depressing twist in the final scene.

 

Overall Quality: 8/10

 

The Merciful

Overview

Night Gallery The MercifulHoping to end the misery of her husband (King Donovan), a wife (Imogene Coca) builds a brick wall between herself and her spouse—with an unexpected outcome.

“The Merciful” provides a clever spin on a classic tale by Edgar Allan Poe. Therefore, those who enjoy Night Gallery for its absurd blackout sketches will undoubtedly appreciate this segment.

 

Pros

While laying bricks in a secluded basement, the wife succeeds in eliciting sympathy for the husband played by King Donovan—known to classic science fiction fansNight Gallery The Merciful for his portrayal of Jack Belicec in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version). Specifically, Donovan embodies the tormented emotions of a man supposedly facing the most horrible fate imaginable (i.e. being buried alive while conscious and alert)—a reaction that, when complemented by visual trickery and a deceptively solemn atmosphere, strengthens the impact of an amusing twist in the final moments of this segment.

 

Cons

Night Gallery The Merciful“The Merciful” is hampered by a one-note premise and a predictable, albeit humorous, ending.

 

Analysis

The misleading nature of this segment reveals that, by withholding important details from an observer, one can easily skew the perception of another person.

 

Concluding Comments

A dark but entertaining filler segment, “The Merciful” may appeal to fans of the black comedy genre. Horror buffs of a serious inclination, however, should likely avoid this offering for its silly concept and lack of substance.

 

Overall Quality: 7/10

 

Class of ’99

Overview

Night Gallery Class of 99In the year 1999, a professor (Vincent Price) administers a final exam in oral format. After several minutes of routine questions, however, the professor instructs his students to behave in a brutal, uncivilized manner toward each other.

Reminiscent of 1984 and Brave New World, “Class of ’99” offers a dystopian/totalitarian glimpse at a futuristic society. In addition, this segment features a twist ending that may appeal to fans of the science fiction genre.

 

Pros

Exhibiting the stern gravitas of an old-fashioned professor, Vincent Price should be commended for his intimidating performance. Having finished humiliating one studentNight Gallery Class of 99 for his “incompetent” response to a four-part question, for example, the professor then requires many of his pupils to commit violent acts based on class, racial, and physical differences of a superficial variety—an authoritarian setting made especially unpleasant by the cold, intolerant demeanor exemplified by Price (known for The Fly, House of Wax, The Last Man on Earth, and other classic films within the horror and sci-fi genres).

 

Cons

Night Gallery Class of 99In spite of its thought-provoking subject matter, “Class of ’99” suffers from heavy-handed moralizing and misanthropic undertones—typical of many stories authored by Serling.

 

Analysis

Similar to several episodes of The Twilight Zone, “Class of ’99” employs science fiction as a vehicle to explore the prejudiced, irrational, and emotional proclivities that prevent humans from advancing into a bright and utopian future.

 

Concluding Comments

“Class of ’99” is an engrossing and well-acted Night Gallery segment. Especially compelling is the message at the heart of this offering, which suffers only from a minor lack of subtlety.

 

Overall Quality: 9/10

 

Witches’ Feast

Overview

Residing in a dark and creepy dungeon, a head witch (Agnes Moorehead) and her two sisters (Ruth Buzzi and Fran Ryan) prepare a nasty dish inside a smoldering blackNight Gallery Witches Feast cauldron. Following a brief period of preparation, a fourth witch (Allison McKay) arrives with a special delivery for her companions.

Removed from syndication after its initial airing, “Witches’ Feast” is a silly and ridiculous Night Gallery installment. Worth criticizing in particular are the antics of all three witches, which often border on the obnoxious.

 

Pros

Taking place within a simple but spooky setting, “Witches’ Feast” may intrigue horror movie buffs and Halloween fans alike.

 

Cons

By cackling, screeching, and howling incessantly at one another, the eponymous witches may prevent the audience from understanding or caring about their conversation. Night Gallery Witches Feast(It should be noted, of course, that the characters communicate nothing of value throughout this segment.)

(Spoilers beyond this point)

After several minutes, a fourth witch appears in the lair and delivers a ham sandwich to her “ravenous” sister—a pointless and unfunny conclusion to an already weak story.

 

Analysis

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Concluding Comments

Night Gallery Witches FeastShowcasing cobwebs, skeletons, and witches’ brew, this segment contains all the ingredients (no pun intended) for a classic and engaging horror tale. That being said, “Witches’ Feast” is marred by horrid makeup effects, cringe-worthy performances, and a lack of imagination concerning its ultimate plot twist.

 

Overall Quality: 1/10

 

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