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
Wounded 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.
E.G. Marshall deserves commendation for his portrayal of Jared Soames, who, despite initially presenting himself as a kind, compassionate funeral director whose empathy 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.
“Death in the Family” examines how abuse, neglect, and limited contact with other people can severely affect those of a vulnerable disposition.
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” 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.
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 fans 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.
The misleading nature of this segment reveals that, by withholding important details from an observer, one can easily skew the perception of another person.
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
In 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.
Exhibiting the stern gravitas of an old-fashioned professor, Vincent Price should be commended for his intimidating performance. Having finished humiliating one student 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).
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.
“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
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 black 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.
Taking place within a simple but spooky setting, “Witches’ Feast” may intrigue horror movie buffs and Halloween fans alike.
By cackling, screeching, and howling incessantly at one another, the eponymous witches may prevent the audience from understanding or caring about their conversation. (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.
Showcasing 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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