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The Outer Limits Season One

by Glenn Erickson Mar 13, 2018

 

Wow — somebody took their sweet time about it, but we finally have a quality Blu-ray set of an entire generation’s favorite Sci-fi / monster TV show, an attraction that lit up our humdrum lives with anticipation in the Fall of ’63. Respected stars and good writers contributed to a weird-oh winner that can boast at least fifteen classic hours of Sci-fi delight, in velvety black and white. With informative new audio commentaries.

 


The Outer Limits Season One

Blu-ray
KL Studio Classics
1963-64 / B&W / 1:33 flat full frame / 1632 min. (32 episodes) / Street Date March 27, 2018 / available through Kino Lorber / 99.95
Created and produced by Leslie Stevens & Joseph Stefano

 

Talk about a release that should need no introduction: when MGM Home Video released its first DVD sets of Outer Limits sixteen years ago, we saw the pale transfers and the feeble encoding (eight hours per disc!) and immediately wished for a reissue. Syndicated TV broadcasts looked better. I remember asking about this up until 2012 or so, and nobody seemed interested. Lovers of this show ask, why wasn’t this one of the first projects to be tackled back in 2008 or so, when Blu-ray had just begun?

Most of the Sci-fi fans that can remember tuning in to the initial The Outer Limits broadcasts now have Medicare cards, although not too many of us need walkers yet. So it will be up to a new generation of addicts enthusiasts to pick up where we left off. I sampled most of the 32 episodes in this boxed set, watched nine (including one I’d never seen) and listened to four full commentaries and samples of others. Kino has taken the good advice of OL chronicler and authority David J. Schow and made this The Outer Limits Season One box quite a presentation. Remember how startlingly good old Twilight Zone episodes looked when suddenly upgraded to Blu-ray? Leslie Stevens’ series is now just as beautiful, especially the ‘artistic’ episodes photographed by the great Conrad Hall.

Forgive me, younger readers, while I recall the ‘awe and mystery’ with which American kids greeted The Outer Limits in 1963. At that time television was just plain dull for an eleven year old, especially when parents controlled the TV dial (no remotes for us). The earlier Thriller, The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Show were deemed too adult, weird or scary for Savant, ever since I’d had nightmares after seeing an episode of One Step Beyond. But at age eleven, just a few months before the Beatles crashed onto the scene, I was hypnotized by promos with a sinister metallic signature tone, and the Control Voice of Vic Perrin. Even my parents knew they’d have to let me see this Outer Limits thing.

 

The place to begin is the series’ over-achieving first episode. The weird ABC promos hinted at its content by sneaking out longer glimpses of the episode’s very original monster, which appeared to be made of chrome: I had no clue that it was a photographic negative of a scuba diver’s shiny black wet suit. A high ratio of optical effects made this trial show The Galaxy Being an expensive item for 1963. Of course, I now see the episode quite differently. After just having played John F. Kennedy on the big screen, Cliff Robertson’s very presence lent the show prestige. Actors Lee Phillips and especially Jacqueline Scott are now much more familiar talents.

Yes, part of the fun of seeing Outer Limits anew is finding out how many of the players we ignored back then, are now favorite film personalities. Four of the men on screen in the opening scene of The Invisibles come from movies as diverse as Gilda, The President’s Analyst, Bullitt and West Side Story! Stevens and Stefano reached back to hire great players of decades past — Miriam Hopkins, Ruth Roman, Gloria Grahame, Signe Hasso, Ralph Meeker — but also tapped newer, less familiar talent: Martin Sheen, Carroll O’Connor, Sally Kellerman, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Culp, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, Shirley Knight, John Marley & David McCallum.

Most of us knew very little about The Outer Limits until David J. Schow’s book Outer Limits Companion came along in 1986. The heavily researched and annotated book explained how such a ‘far-out’ series was produced at a time when the TV logs were clogged with conventional comedies and westerns. The film career of show originator Leslie Stevens had consisted almost exclusively of weird digressions from the mainstream. His well-known Incubus is a mythic horror fable that looks like an Ingmar Bergman film, with all of its dialogue in Esperanto. The long-unavailable Private Property is a potentially offensive psychodrama about two drifters that target a Hollywood Hills housewife for rape. Stevens’ partner was the prolific Joseph Stefano, screenwriter of Psycho; his taste and judgment raised the quality of OL’s scripts.

Achieving quality and an adult tone wasn’t easy. Made with care and cast with some of the best actors of its day, The Outer Limits had to follow network edicts that steered some episodes toward a juvenile ‘monster of the week’ format. But even the rubber-faced ‘things’ maintained a high level of serious intent. The tone was just as moralistic as Rod Serling’s series. In the place of an on-screen host like the always-insinuating Serling or the creepy-calm John Newland, OL’s ‘The Control Voice’ was a font of reason from some other dimension, lecturing on the shortcomings of fallable humans when faced with the unknown.

The Outer Limits maintained a higher-than-average number of good shows, and more than a handful of classics. A few episodes (like Nightmare) noodled about like one-act plays, staged on blank sets swamped with fog machines. It wasn’t just because the season’s budget had already been spent on other shows. Thanks to David J. Schow’s career-length inquiry, we now know that story executive Joseph Stefano was in a panic because the network censors were rejecting so many of his proposed scripts. Daystar Productions wasn’t sure it could get a new show out every week. Yet we still received The Architects of Fear and The Man Who Was Never Born, gems that yielded concepts far more sophisticated than what feature Sci-Fi was doing at the time. Actually, this first season has the lion’s share of the classic episodes. Only fans of Harlan Ellison will be disappointed, as his memorable Demon With a Glass Hand and Soldier would debut in the Fall of 1964.

 

The series shapes up as a classic pulp Science Fiction omnibus. Themes from pulp Sci-fi fiction and ’50s monster pix rub up against prime ’60s political paranoia, all softened for family consumption. We were too young for The Manchurian Candidate or Philip K. Dick’s multiple-dimension thrillers, yet we fully understood OL’s complicated stories of time travel and paranoid politics. A snoop through the one-sentence story capsules below reveals a range of subject matter much wider than the previous ten years’ worth of Sci-fi features. True, the monsters dominate, but still at a higher level than something like, say, The Monster of Piedras Blancas. The episode ‘Fun and Games’ was mostly monster combat, yet it was likely the show I re-watched the most. And hey, it probably represents Nick Adams’ most effective performance ever.

Most of the episodes generate a consistent tension of noirish mystery. The production talent was topnotch: Unit manager Robert H. Justman was a film noir veteran who would later help launch Star Trek. Although plenty of other talent did some of the best shows, everyone remembers the input of name directors Gerd Oswald and Byron Haskin. Many episodes were shot by the incredibly creative Conrad Hall and his assistant, William A. Fraker. Hall balanced moody low-key interiors with wonderfully back-lit and filtered exterior shots that gave an ordinary woods a spectral quality. Luscious Shirley Knight has literal stars in her eyes! Add a touch of soft focus, and the style soon bcame ubiquitous on hair spray and perfume ads.

The special effects were, for their time, almost lavish, with optical magic by Ray Mercer and rubber monsters provided by the company Project Unlimited. Following the edict that a ray gun seen in Act 1 needs to be fired in Act 3, Sci-fi fans were rewarded with occasional disintegrations and transformations more graphic than big-budget film fare. A young Jim Danforth created the disturbing insect monsters of The Zanti Misfits, creepy little buggers that scared the heck out of us. (Wrong: he did not, corrects David J. Schow) I mean, really: for an 11 year-old, those nasty little demon faces re-ignited 5-year-old nightmares.

Of course, they couldn’t all be winners — sometimes the dice came up cartoon overlays, tin-pot spacecraft, and yet another plastic blob that glows. Yet the show exhibits a basic craftsmanship that makes the occasional weak visual irrelevant: as with the Golden Age TV of a few years before, what’s important are the stories, and the people.

Somebody correct me, but I found no easy-to-read guide in the set to explain which specific show is on which disc. So I’ve listed them here, if only to help me when I want to dig into the box for a favorite.

 


Disc One:

1. The Galaxy Being
Director: Leslie Stevens Writer: Leslie Stevens Starring: Cliff Robertson, Jacqueline Scott, Lee Philips
A scientist steals power from a radio station to help him contact an alien in the Andromeda Galaxy, who, being made of energy, is accidentally radio-ported to Earth.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

2. The Hundred Days of the Dragon
Director: Byron Haskin Writer: Allan Balter and Robert Mintz Starring: Sidney Blackmer, Phillip Pine, Mark Roberts
Perfectly-disguised duplicates are used to take over the government.
(commentary: Dr. Reba Wissner)

3. The Architects of Fear
Director: Byron Haskin Writer: Meyer Dolinsky Starring: Robert Culp, Geraldine Brooks, Leonard Stone, Martin Wolfson
Pacifist scientists plan to scare humnaity into peaceful cooperation by faking an invader from Outer Space.
(commentary: Gary Gerani)

4. The Man with the Power
Director: Laslo Benedek Writer: Jerome Ross Starring: Donald Pleasance, Priscilla Morrill, Fred Beir, Frank Maxwell, John Marley
An implant in the brain of a meek college professor gives his unconscious will terrible powers.

5. The Sixth Finger
Director: James Goldstone Writer: Ellis St. John Starring: David McCallum, Jill Haworth, Edward Mulhare
An intelligence-boosting machine turns a laborer into a calculating braniac.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

Disc Two:

6. The Man Who Was Never Born
Director: Leonard Horn Writer: Anthony Lawrence Starring: Martin Landau, Shirley Knight
A mutant of a biologically destroyed future returns to kill the mother of the man who set loose the apocalypse.
(commentary: Gary Gerani)

7. O.B.I.T.
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Meyer Dolinsky Starring: Peter Breck, Jeff Corey, Joanne Gilbert
An all seeing, all recording surveillance system threatens the world.
(commentary: Craig Beam)

8. The Human Factor
Director: Abner Biberman Writer: David Duncan Starring: Gary Merrill, Harry Guardino, Sally Kellerman
‘Crazed army majors’ and a machine that creates phantoms … this one I never saw!

9. Corpus Earthling
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Orin Borsten Starring: Robert Culp, Salome Jens
Because of a steel plate in his head, a scientist can hear two rocks talking – conspiring to conquer the Earth.
(commentary: Craig Beam)

10. Nightmare
Director: John Erman Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: James Shigeta, Ed Nelson, Martin Sheen, Bill Gunn, David Frankham, John Anderson
In a futuristic conflict with alien Ebonites, human prisoners of war undergo sophisticated brainwashing.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

Disc Three:

12. It Crawled Out of the Woodwork
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Scott Marlowe, Kent Smith, Barbara Luna, Michael Forest, Joan Camden, Edward Asner
A deadly energy creature looks like a harmless piece of vaccum lint.

12. The Borderland
Director: Leslie Stevens Writer: Leslie Stevens Starring: Philip Abbott, Gladys Cooper, Nina Foch, Barry Jones, Gene Raymond, Mark Richman, Alfred Ryder
Scientists attempt to create a connection to the spirit world through technology.

13. Tourist Attraction
Director: Laslo Benedek Writer: Dean Riesner Starring: Janet Blair, Henry Silva, Ralph Meeker
In a banana republic, the dictator and a businessman exploit a weird creature, but its amphibious friends have other ideas.

14. The Zanti Misfits
Director: Leonard Horn Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Michael Tolan, Olive Deering
Aliens talk Earth into accepting and maintaining a prison for their lawbreakers.
(commentary: Tim Lucas; Gary Gerani, Steve Mitchell)

15. The Mice
Director: Alan Crosland, R. Writer: Bill S. Ballinger and Joseph Stefano Starring: Henry Silva, Diana Sands, Michael Higgins
A convict volunteers to be beamed to a far away world in exchange for an alien prisoner, who will come here.
(commentary: Dr. Reba Wissner)

Disc Four:

16. Controlled Experiment
Director: Leslie Stevens Writer: Leslie Stevens Starring: Barry Morse, Carroll O’Connor, Grace Lee Whitney, Robert Fortier
In this comedy episode, Martians slow down, speed up and reverse time to study the human phenomenon of murder.
(commentary: Dr. Reba Wissner)

17. Don’t Open Till Doomsday
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Miriam Hopkins, John Hoyt, Russell Collins, Buck Taylor, Nellie Burt
A woman trapped by an alien in the 1920s seeks a way out through a modern couple’s curiosity.
(commentary: Dr.Reba Wissner)

18. ZZZZZ
Director: John Brahm Writer: Meyer Dolinsky Starring: Philip Abbott, Marsha Hunt, Joanna Frank
A queen bee turns human, and enforces her desire for a married man with a hive of killer bees.
(commentary: Tim Lucas)

19. The Invisibles
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Don Gordon, George Macready, Dee Hartford, Walter Burke
A political conspiracy uses ‘puppet master-‘ like alien parasites to control human beings.
(commentary: Tim Lucas)

20. The Bellero Shield
Director: John Brahm Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Sally Kellerman, Martin Landau, Neil Hamilton, Chita Rivera
A scientist’s ambitious wife tries to steal an impenetrable force field from an alien accidentally brought to Earth.
(commentary: Tim Lucas)

Disc Five:

21. The Children of Spider County
Director: Leonard Horn Writer: Anthony Lawrence Starring: Lee Kinsolving, Kent Smith, John Milford, Crahan Denton, Bennye Gatteys
Youth are offered the opportunity to live on an alien world.

22. Specimen: Unknown
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Stephen Lord Starring: Stephen McNally, Richard Jaeckel
Alien flowers invade a spaceship, and eventually threaten the Earth, Triffid-style.
(commentary: Craig Beam)

23. Second Chance
Director: Paul Stanley Writer: Lin Dane and Lou Morheim Starring: Simon Oakland, Janet de Gore, Don Gordon
People on a carnival ride are transported into space.

24. Moonstone
Director: Robert Florey Writers: William Bast, story by Lou Morheim. Starring: Ruth Roman, Alex Nicol, Tim O’Connor
A sphere found on the moon turns out to be a spaceship bearing fugitive aliens.

25. The Mutant
Director: Alan Crosland, Jr. Writer: Alan Balter and Robert Mintz, Story by Jerome B. Thomas Starring: Warren Oates, Larry Pennell, Walter Burke
Colonists on another planet are menaced by one of their own, who has mutated into a new state.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

Disc Six:

26. The Guests
Director: Paul Stanley Writer: Donald S. Sanford Starring: Gloria Grahame, Geoffrey Horne, Luana Anders, Vaughn Taylor
A haunted house harbors an alien brain in the attic.
(commentary: Craig Beam and David J. Schow)

27. Fun and Games
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Robert Specht and Joseph Stefano Starring: Nick Adamns, Nancy Malone
Two humans are spirited to a far planet to fight an alien couple in a survival game.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

28. The Special One
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Oliver Crawford Starring: MacDonald Carey, Richard Ney, Flip Mark
A gifted child’s ‘special studies’ are cultivated not by the government, but by a charming alien with malevolent intentions.
(commentary: Gary Gerani, Michael Hyatt)

29. A Feasibility Study
Director: Byron Haskin Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Sam Wanamaker, Phyllis Love, Joyce Van Patten, David Opatashu
A group of Earthlings are kidnapped by aliens, who seek the answers to a few questions about our race.
(commentary: David J. Schow)

30. Production and Decay of Strange Particles
Director: Leslie Stevens Writer: Leslie Stevens Starring: George Macready, Rudy Solari, Joseph Ruskin, Leonard Nimoy
An out of control reactor replaces workers with atomic monsters.
(commentary: Tim Lucas)

Disc Seven:

31. The Chameleon
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Robert Towne Starring: Robert Duvall
An assassin is transformed to look like an alien, to aid his mission to infiltrate a suspicious alien spacecraft.

32. The Forms of Things Unknown
Director: Gerd Oswald Writer: Joseph Stefano Starring: Vera Miles, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Scott Marlowe, David McCallum
A scientist brings a murdered blackmailer back to life, in a bizarre room filled with clocks.
(commentary: Tim Lucas)


 

As can be seen, the talent on display is pretty impressive. We’ve got Robert Towne writing for Robert Duvall, name genre writers like David Duncan and Dean Riesner, and the noted directors Laslo Benedek, Robert Florey and John Brahm. After writing and directing the monster-oriented first episode, Leslie Stevens performed double duty on several more. There was variety to be had: one or two shows are as abstract as narrative television ever got. The comedy item Controlled Experiment now plays a tad slowly, but we thought its manipulation of film time was marvelous — just stopping the image and winding it backward seemed hilarious at the time. Almost all the directors were given multiple assignments and turned in at least one winner. Everyone remembers consistent contributors Gerd Oswald and Byron Haskin, but the excellent The Man Who Was Never Born was directed by Leonard Horn, who remained in TV except for the odd feature The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart. Horn’s episode, along with two second season shows written by Harlan Ellison, are often cited as a conceptual source for the Terminator films.

Perhaps the most topical episode today is Haskin and Dolinsky’s The Architects of Fear, with its blend of monsters, emotion and misguided pacifism. It became a major source (dutifully acknowledged, this time) in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen. Even Donald Trump watched this one . . . in a serious speech about the threat of nuclear war, I believe I heard him spin off on a one-sentence tangent about world peace being do-able, if only aliens from outer space would attack us. Or maybe I just thought I heard him say that.


 

The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray of The Outer Limits Season One corrects the issues with that old DVD set from way back. I remember advising buyers to hang on to their old laserdiscs, which looked better (but cost a fortune and took up a couple of feet of shelf space). The transfers on these remastered episodes, picture and sound, are just what we want.

The rendition of the original photography is so sharp that the close-ups let us see actors’ micro-pores. The subtle blurring and ‘sparkly light’ feel of Conrad Hall’s filtered scenes looks more artistic than ever. All Hall needed was a canopy of trees above to scatter dappled light on his actors, and he was in business. In some episodes we can better evaluate the excellent audio mixes, identifying sound effects from earlier Sci-fi pix. The Dominic Frontiere music cues also stand out better.

We notice stock shots more — all those fleeing citizens in Architects of Fear were gathered from ’50s classics, and the establishing prison shots in The Mice look like they’re from the old noir Brute Force. I didn’t watch all of every episode, so I can’t say that there are no isolated flaws. The only slightly sub-optimum shots I saw were an optical blow-up or two, a stock shot, and some title sequences that looked like 2nd generation dupes. These images are so clean, we see things we never noticed before. In Architects of Fear a street scene angle on Robert Culp tilts up, revealing where the backlot city building set ends, and ragged wooden scaffolding begins. Oops. Remember that we’re seeing more image around the edges than was normally seen in 1963. Maybe they expected normal broadcast overscanning to crop it away?

 

When I first heard about this release I asked David J. Schow if The Outer Limits was one of those shows formatted for later possible theatrical use — in other words, composed so that a 1:85 cut-off would still look acceptable. I believe this was done with The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Nope, OL was filmed to fit the entire flat frame. That’s good — we won’t have any aspect ratio battles over which way it looks best.

Kino has produced a tall stack of audio commentaries for the boxed set, covering more than two thirds of the episodes. Unchallenged OL master David J. Schow takes on many of the top titles, and gives us authoritative reportage on the careers of Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano. Tim Lucas adds his brand of analysis and insight to other well-known hits, often citing surprising sources of inspiration for episodes, and connecting OL shows to later classic works. The other commentators range from knowledgeable authors, to specialists in TV music and art direction, to a super-fan blogger who knows his territory as well as anybody.

Capping the set is a booklet with a chapter-length essay by David J. Schow, plus a directory with stats and credits for the 32 separate episodes. They’re not numbered, making it difficult to quickly determine which show is on which disc. I’ve already marked up my booklet, nullifying its value as a collector’s item!

Hopefully this release and the Season 2 box expected this Summer will give a healthy boost to The Outer Limits’ cultural visibility; the references I remember from the last twenty years mainly cited the series as the place where James Cameron went to get his ideas. In fairness, OL did more than its share of cherry-picking from previous Sci-fi films and literature.

I also have to laugh at some online demands that the disc set should be priced much lower, to match single seasons of newer TV series. First, Kino had to remaster the whole thing — unlike a disc release for a new show, it couldn’t just take possession of print-ready masters. Secondly, the season is 32 full hours of entertainment, which is twice as much content as most modern network and cable shows. I bear my occasional grudges against disc companies, but pricing isn’t part of it — home video is cheaper than ever. I remember renting the old Laserdiscs, a few at at time. They cost a fortune, especially if one figures price inflation into the equation.

So get ready for the ‘Control Voice,’ a great joke from a time when we had no control over TV viewing whatsoever!

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Outer Limits Season One
Blu-ray
rates:
TV Shows: Good + with many Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio commentaries by David J. Schow and Tim Lucas, Reba Wissner, Craig Beam, Gary Gerani, Michael Hyatt and Steve Mitchell. Fort-page illustrated booklet with an essay by David J. Schow.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: Seven discs in folding card and plastic disc holder with booklet in card box
Reviewed: March 11, 2018
(5672oute)
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.