Maybe I see the problem here. There are 100 stories in the collection I have of Ray Bradbury’s “Most Celebrated Tales.” There are 65 episodes in the Ray Bradbury Theater series; but only 14 of the episodes are included in the “Most Celebrated Tales” volume. Perhaps the other episodes were based on “Volume II: Crapped Out Facing Deadline Tales” or “Volume III: Really Only Worked on the Printed Page Tales.” Because this series is a legacy-destroyer of Phantom Menacean proportions.
Old and stunningly unattractive Matilda hears a noise downstairs and finds several men coming into her house. The small old woman winds her way around the tall black-suited men in the sole interesting shot of the episode. Only one of them, credited as “The Listener” acknowledges her, showing her a wicket casket they have brought.
He sits silently, listening to Matilda pad out the episode with tales of her grand-daughter Emily, the one man of her life (who died), and her philosophy of death. She tells him that she will not allow herself to die, will not get into that wicker basket.
He continues staring silently with a smile on his face, but she will not be seduced into giving up. She utters maybe the most horrifying words in this series: “I’m too old to be made love to. That’s all twisted dry like an old tube of paint left behind in the years.”
Despite her protestations, she drifts off to sleep. The screen takes on a golden “magic hour” hue, but it is not clear why. It is not from either character’s perspective, yet alternates with standard color palette shots. A few seconds later, the camera moves seem to suggest that it is The Listener’s POV, but this contradicts the earlier shot where he himself was bathed in the golden light.
She wakes up from resting her eyes and sees The Listener is leaving. She gloats about how he was unable to get her in the casket. Seeing the men carrying it out, she can tell that there is something weighing it down.
When she demands to see what is inside, the men stop and lower it for her — which is strange because they can’t see or hear her. To be fair, it is halfway presented as adjusting their grip and halfway as a freeze-frame moment. Either might have been OK if they had committed to it, but this is just awkward. She realizes that it is her in the casket. But she was already dead in bed upstairs, so what really has changed?
Her grand-daughter enters the house and Matilda greets her, pouring some tea. There is no way that Emily could have missed her. Yet, she casually goes to hang up her coat. Only when she enters the kitchen with Matilda, does she give a blood-curdling scream. Throughout the scene her sight-lines are bizarre as if sometimes she can see Matilda and sometimes she can’t, or is trying to avert her eyes. It’s just a mess, but the scream is pretty good.
To stop Emily’s screaming, Matilda slaps her face. But then, in the struggle, Emily discovers that she is able to pass her hand through Matilda’s stomach. So is Matilda solid or not?
She makes Emily drive her to the funeral parlor. She sees the same men carrying a wicker basket and looks inside, but it is not her. Strangely, the men can see her now as can all of the employees and mourners.
She finally finds her body being embalmed. She tries to barge in, but is restrained by a fat guy. She passes through the man’s arms, but that is done off-camera so we just cut to a goofy shot of him standing behind her with his arms in an empty circle. Again, this could have been played for low-budget laughs had they committed. Instead, they tried to obfuscate the shot and it just looks weird. She slaps him, so she is solid again — or, at least that slapping hand is firming up nicely.
She threatens to haunt the funeral parlor unless they give her the body. They remove her corpse from the slab where the autopsy had already begun with the Y incision. They then lift her into the casket with the body and somehow the two bodies merge back into her “living” self but somehow wearing the surgical garb the corpse wore on the operating table . The body in the surgical gown sits up in the coffin, to a pretty subdued crowd. The Listener literally closes the curtain on the scene.
In the epilogue, Matilda says if any one asks, she will show them the marks “where that crazy funeral autopsy man sewed me right back up.” WTF would ask?
- The Listener is played by Ronald Lacey, best known to American audiences as Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m not sure his name was ever used on screen, so he is the HNIC (Head Nazi in Charge). With the head-piece of the Staff of Ra burned into his palm. You know, with the glasses. The guy with the nunchuck coat-hanger. Right . . . .