Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 5 (The Howling Man)

The original Twilight Zone had a very stripped-down feel to it.  Granted, this was out of necessity, as the network often didn’t want to spend a lot of money on any given episode.  This meant just a few actors and usually one or two sets per story.   Some were effective.  Others, not so much.  The Howling Man was one of the better episodes.  It has only five main characters and gets its point across effectively.

It’s told in retrospect about (and by) a man named David Ellington.  He was walking across Europe shortly after World War I.  Trapped in a rainstorm, he sought shelter in a sanctuary that tried desperately to turn him away.  As David started to leave, he collapsed from exhaustion.

You might ask why the brothers at the sanctuary were so desperate to be rid of visitors.  The reason is the character credited as The Howling Man.  Brother Jerome tells David that this is no ordinary man and that his imprisonment is necessary for the benefit of all mankind.  David is just as suspicious as you or I might be, and with good reason.  The prisoner appears to be just an ordinary man.  Maybe a little crazy, but that’s to be expected. He comes across as desperate to get out of his cell.

Well, David makes the mistake of releasing the prisoner only to find out that he’s made a huge mistake.  The episode ends with David telling his housekeeper that he’s captured the prisoner and is going to make arrangements to have him transported back to Brother Jerome.  No amount of narration of warning is enough to prevent the prisoner from being released again.

The reason that the episode is so effective is that we get just enough details to tell us what’s going on.  The presence of two brothers means that the prisoner is a serious threat.  The fact that David is on a walking tour of Europe tells you that he’s not far from civilization.  The fact that a religious order would send a stranger back into the rain is telling.  Even the fact that the prisoner is held in by little more than a long stick is suspicious.

And yet, it packs that punch.  As soon as the prisoner leaves, you know it’s a mistake.  Any one of us would probably do the same thing.  Yes, the prisoner is dangerous.  We get that because we’re the audience.  However, what would you do if you found someone being held in a neighbor’s house?  Even though the story, itself, is implausible, the reactions are very much understandable.

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