10-year old Tom is excited to receive a box of mushrooms in the mail from the Great Bayou Novelty Greenhouse.  He hasn’t been this wound up since the Spinach Telegram of ’56. These are Sylvan Glade Jumbo Giant mushrooms that can be raised in your basement for fun and profit.
Tom’s father Bill is flagged down by his neighbor Roger. He asks if Bill has noticed that people are disappearing. Roger says, “Something strange is going on in the world. Something terrible has happened.” Bill recalls Mrs. Goodbody said something about flying saucers.
What the . . . Mrs. Goodbody was just mentioned three posts ago in The Screaming Woman. That was a reference to the Ray Bradbury Theater episode Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar! This AHP episode was adapted from the same short story, 30 years earlier. Mrs. Goodbody does not actually appear in this episode, so viewers and readers had to wait three decades to be disappointed. By the 1980s, TV technology had advanced so far that RBT could disappoint viewers on a weekly basis.
Tom tells Bill he is “afraid for me, my family and even right now for you. And your friends, and your friends’ friends” although their friends can go f*** themselves. He advises Bill to keep his eyes open for the next few days. He predicts something terrible is going to happen.
Tom’s mushroom crop is, er . . . mushrooming. They give his mother the willies, but she wouldn’t know a toadstool from a toad’s tool. Roger’s wife Dorothy calls and tells Bill that Roger, “vanished, disappeared, dropped out of sight.”
Bill goes to Roger’s house to interrogate his 10-year old son Joe. The boy says he didn’t see or hear anything. His dad’s closets were just empty, and he was gone. As Dorothy begins speaking, Joe turns and stares directly into the camera. This might be the single creepiest image I’ve seen so far for this blog. Dorothy says there was no history of insanity in Roger’s family . . . that maybe he was kidnapped. Bill snaps at her about why the kidnappers would take all his clothes. Dude, she just lost her husband and is left with a demon child — give her a break! Joe turns away from the camera and goes down to their cellar.
Bill goes home and tells Cynthia, “He’s gone all right.” She says, “Doesn’t this kind of thing happen to a lot of men in their 40s?” They get a telegram from Roger: TRAVELING [SIC] NEW ORLEANS. THIS TELEGRAM POSSIBLE [SIC] OFF-GUARD MOMENT. REFUSE ALL SPECIAL DELIVERY PACKAGES — ROGER.
Bill gets a call from the police. Roger was just picked up on a south-bound train in Green City. The police say “he was polite, cheerful and in good spirits” and denied sending a telegram. The only special delivery package they received was Tom’s mushrooms. Bill calls Dorothy to see if they received any packages. She says, like all the boys on the block, Joe has taken up mushroom farming.
Bill ponders whether Roger was right. Maybe the earth is being invaded by things from other worlds. “How could creatures from outer space invade us without us noticing?” He realizes it could be done by dust, spores, fungi, mushrooms. And the swamps of Louisiana would be a great places for them to take root. Bill stares directly onto the camera and asks “Tonight. In this very minute. In how many homes all over the USA are billions of mushrooms being grown by innocent boys in their cellars?”
Seeing Tom has stored some mushrooms in the refrigerator, Bill conjectures that the alien species would propagate by people eating the mushrooms and being controlled. Bill opens the cellar door. Tom tells him to not turn on the light because it is bad for the mushrooms. There is a very tense confrontation and an ending that that leaves just the right amount to the imagination.
It is strange that AHP let Bradbury get away with sci-fi stories like this and Design for Loving. I can think of only one other sci-fi / fantasy episode in the 4 1/2 seasons I’ve watched. On the other hand, they seemed to have an excellent system of vetting stories. This episode is so good that I’m surprised it is not as iconic as Lamb to the Slaughter or Man from the South. It certainly isn’t representative of AHP, but is one of their most effective episodes.
Since the RBT version was not as good, I have to wonder how much of the success is due to Norman Lloyd’s direction. The episode was filled with great moments such as two characters addressing the camera (and I think the kid was going for 4th wall breakage), the glowy white mushrooms at the bottom of the stairs, and Bill almost being hit by a car. The ending becomes more like Thriller as Bill realizes what is happening, yet is drawn into the conspiracy.
-  The return address is 713 Canal Street — a McDonald’s. I might have known.
- Cheers that I’ve actually eaten there. Jeers that I was in New Orleans and ate at freakin’ McDonald’s. C’mon, it was just breakfast.
- AHP Deathwatch: Roger’s family — Dorothy and Joe — is still with us. I must say, though, Joe’s photo on IMDb might be even creepier than when he stared into the camera. It looks like he has just wrapped up a porn shoot. He is naked, daintily holding a towel over his junk.
- [UPDATE] I somehow missed that this was covered in depth over at bare*bones ezine. Interesting and well-written as always.
- [UPDTE 2] Another blog reminds me that this is suspiciously similar to Bradbury’s Zero Hour. Both feature aliens taking over the world by using children to carry out seemingly innocuous tasks that are baffling to their parents.
Completely off-topic, but this story of the nurse being arrested is burning me up. As a supporter of the police, the first shorter video is infuriating. The longer second video makes me question my beliefs. A cop, with other officers standing by, explains to the nurse why this is her fault like every guy who ever slugged his wife.