Premonitions

One of the best things about the craze of DVD Box Sets containing entire seasons of TV series is the ability to sit down with old friends and get acquainted again. In this particular case I’m talking about the original Outer Limits series, which is available in two boxes from MGM. When I’ve been working late and feel the need to unwind in front of the tube, but a movie would take too long, an episode of OL is perfect at about 48 minutes in length. The show had some glorious high notes; it also had some dismal failures. I find myself revisiting the oddest entries…

You see, I was only a child when the series first ran, and the series generally terrified me, especially in the grim, darker first season. I rediscovered it as a teenager in south Texas when the CBS affiliate in Corpus Christi started showing it on weekend afternoons. It would crop up occasionally in syndication through the 80s, then a black-and-white anthology series suddenly became the kiss of death for programming. Somewhere in there, the infomercial was invented, too, but we are not here to discuss Satanic activity today.

So, now having access to all those episodes, instead of hoping and waiting for broadcast schedules and free time to coincide, do I visit award-winning stories, like Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand”? Do I visit the surreal, elegaic “Shape of Things Unknown” episode/pilot film? Do I once again watch Macbeth in sci-fi drag as “The Bellero Shield”? Do I bupkiss. I watch the episodes that scared me as a kid.

Robert Duvall as a government agent disguised as a crash-landed alien in “The Chamelion” (still pretty freaky). “Fun and Games”, starring Nick Adams and those freaky boar-faced aliens with the saw-toothed boomerang(ditto). And the terrifying beastie in “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”, now revealed as a simple three-frame animation with a hell of a freaky sound design. Given the relatively harmless things that scared me as a kid, I guess I should be thankful I didn’t see “The Zanti Misfits” back then – I might not have survived.

One episode that didn’t send me screaming to the next room was from the second season – “The Premonition” – and it was with some interest that I sat down and watched it for the first time in – what? Forty years, at least?

It held up better than others, which is not to say there weren’t holes my older, weaker eyes discovered. The story concerns a test pilot who flies an experimental rocket plane at Mach 6, somehow breaking the time barrier and creating a chronal sonic boom that projects himself and his wife – so startled by the incipient crash of his plane, that she was in the process of smashing their car into a boulder – into a limbo state 10 seconds into the future. Everything seems to them frozen in place (as if they were photos, hmmmm…). Investigation proves that everything else around them is moving, just very slowly, at the rate of an hour (to them) for every second passed.

It’s here that the “bear” – the mandatory monster of the week, the basis for the network picking up the series – shows up. Filmed in negative, it’s merely a man, another person unstuck in time, who didn’t get back in place when time caught up with him. He intends to take the place of either the pilot or the wife and escape his prison of “endless nothingness”. One of the problems with the script is that this menace is dealt with very quickly, and never shows up again. Most of the tension in the episode derives from their daughter, left at the Air Force base’s nursery, who has slipped from her keeper and is now in imminent danger of being killed by a runaway truck when time snaps back into place.

The series’ low budget is in very sharp focus through much of the episode – the obvious photographs, the entire teaser before the opening credits and much of the first ten minutes is stock footage… and time is eaten up as the pilot and wife run back and forth between the crash site and the base, over and maddeningly over again. The wife’s character is in keeping with the era, alas, having to be slapped out of a panic, deferring to her husband when she’s not imploring him to do something. There were a number of strong female characters in the series, but she, unfortunately, is not one of them.

Still, it’s a very novel concept, and one which stayed with me for years and years; characters having to puzzle out an incomprehensible situation crops up over and over again in my writing. I’m glad I finally got to see it again, and am intrigued by the possibility that it had much more to do with shaping my creative endeavors than I had originally thought.

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