Directors: William Hale, Jack Laird, Jeannot Szwarc, and Jerrold Freedman
Writers: Rod Serling, Gene Kearney, Richard Matheson, and Jack Laird
Cast: Patty Duke, Virginia Mayo, David Wayne, Cesar Romero, E.J. Peaker, John Carradine, Carl Reiner, Robert Yuro, James McCallion, Lindsay Wagner, Floy Dean, Diana Chesney, Monie Ellis, Vincent Van Patten, Marc Vahanian, Eric Chase, Johnnie Collins III, Richard Annis, Louise Lawson, and Larry Watson
Composer: Paul Glass (Uncredited)
Gallery Painter: Tom Wright
Air Date: 11/10/1971
On New Year’s Eve, mean-spirited journalist Holly Schaeffer (Patty Duke) receives a diary that contains precise details about the future. When the diary runs out of entries a few days later, Holly—fearing that her death is imminent—commits herself to a sanitarium, with an ironic outcome.
“The Diary” benefits from a satisfying twist in the final scene, which will appeal to viewers with a sense of justice. Nevertheless, this offering deserves criticism for its languid pacing and expository dialogue.
Virginia Mayo should be commended for her portrayal of Carrie Crane, an aging actress who succeeds in evoking sympathy from the audience. Specifically, despite losing her career and suffering public humiliation from an arrest, Crane—now visibly despondent and borderline suicidal—must endure the acerbic and vicious taunting of a petty gossip columnist.
“The Diary” struggles to humanize the main protagonist, who, even after losing her mind and ending up in a psych ward, fails to demonstrate the slightest remorse for her hateful and destructive behavior.
Also problematic is the drawn-out execution of this segment, which prevents an air of suspense from forming around Holly’s predicament. By focusing extensively on Holly’s relationship with a skeptical doctor, for example, “The Diary” forgoes psychological terror in favor of copious and long-winded exposition.
For its slow-moving narrative and complete lack of tension, “The Diary” may disappoint the majority of horror fans. The ending of this segment does, however, provide a fitting punishment for Patty Duke’s character.
Overall Quality: 4/10
A Matter of Semantics
While working at a blood bank one evening, a young nurse (E.J. Peaker) awaits the arrival of a “generous” guest. When Count Dracula (Cesar Romero) shows up with an odd request, however, a confusing dialogue ensues.
Combining vampire antics with a miscommunication trope, “A Matter of Semantics” is a clever and amusing blackout sketch. That being said, viewers may take issue with this segment for its brief running time and obvious twist ending.
With his cultured manner, towering height, and cheesy Hungarian accent, Cesar Romero (known for playing the Joker in the 1960s Batman show) offers a clichéd but effective portrayal of Count Dracula—here inspired by the performance of Bela Lugosi.
“A Matter of Semantics” also deserves praise for featuring a Universal Monster in an absurd, tongue-in-cheek scenario—similar to Night Gallery segments “Junior,” “The Devil Is Not Mocked,” “With Apologies to Mr. Hyde,” and “Phantom of What Opera?” from earlier in season two.
Similarly problematic is the short length of this segment, which leaves no opportunity to expand on the verbal mix-up between Dracula and an unwitting nurse.
“A Matter of Semantics” is a humorous parody of the Dracula character. Horror/comedy buffs may therefore enjoy this segment, which benefits from the presence of Romero.
Overall Quality: 7/10
Greeting three adventurous young boys outside a creepy farm, the eccentric Mr. Hawkins (John Carradine) offers a big surprise for anyone willing to dig in a pre-specified location. Friends Chris (Vincent Van Patten), Jason (Marc Vahanian), and Dan (Eric Chase) accept the challenge, giving Mr. Hawkins a chance to deliver on his promise.
Also worth noting is the suspenseful atmosphere of this segment, which builds a compelling air of mystery around the “big surprise” awaiting all three boys.
Similar to “A Matter of Semantics,” “Big Surprise” lacks a sufficient running time to explore its ironic subject matter beyond a surface level—a drawback of almost every blackout sketch featured in this series.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Though slightly unexpected, the ending of “Big Surprise” fails to satisfy from a logical perspective. Specifically, astute viewers will question how Mr. Hawkins—supposedly alone on the farm—manages to bury himself alive, secure a giant crate with his body inside, and reemerge at exactly the right moment to “surprise” his naive young friends.
Showcasing the talents of a classic horror veteran, “Big Surprise” will appeal to fans of the late Carradine. Those in search of a deep or meaningful suspense story, in contrast, should likely avoid this effort.
Overall Quality: 6/10
Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture
While giving a lecture on the “primitive” beliefs held by superstitious cultures, Professor Peabody (Carl Reiner) makes a mockery of Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and other gods from ancient mythology. Against the advice of his students, Peabody continues to provoke the deities of his choice—with a terrible outcome.
Offering a “modern” twist on weird fiction, “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” should intrigue fans of the horror/fantasy genre. Unfortunately, this segment is hampered by goofy acting and a silly ending.
Containing references to the Old Ones (primordial beings featured in “The Call of Cthulhu”) and Miskatonic University (the setting of “Herbert West—Reanimator”), “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” is an amusing tribute to the works of H. P. Lovecraft. (Fittingly, a character named Lovecraft even makes an appearance in this segment.)
Though emboldened by his atheistic worldview, Professor Peabody squirms like a trapped insect when confronted by the gods—a satisfying display of humility from a smug and pompous intellectual.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
After summoning the cosmic deities with his blasphemous lecture, Professor Peabody turns into a slimy, one-eyed monster—a ridiculous fate for the main character.
In spite of its campy execution, “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” provides a stern warning on the dangers of taking skepticism too far.
“Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” pays homage to the iconic pulp stories written by Lovecraft. However, serious viewers may condemn this segment for its exaggerated tone and laughable creature effects.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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