Twilight Zone – The Hellgramite Method (11/05/88)

A dude is lighting another dude’s cigarette in a bar, and his name is Timothy Bottoms.  Thank God I’m woke enough not to make anything of that.

The older man tells Miley Judson to keep the box of matches which says Hellgramite Method and has a red slash over a liquor bottle which I interpret as “say no to blended Scotch.”  The back of the box promises “a cure for the problem drinker” although a better ad for a matchbox would  be “a cure for the modern smoker.”  When he turns to the man, he is gone.  So Miley orders another drink.

He wakes up hours later with his head on the bar.  It’s bad to fall asleep at a bar, but it’s worse to be a bar that allows a dude to fall asleep there for hours.  He asks for another drink, but the bartender tells him to go home.  He grabs a pizza box that has been sitting on the bar beside him for 5 hours and heads home.  There is no ad on the pizza box to “cure the problem eater.”  At home, his wife is not pleased to have him coming home drunk yet again.

The ad said they were open 24 hours, so that night Miley goes to see Dr. Eugene Murrich at the sprawling medical campus of Hellgramite Method (i.e. Murrich’s living room).  After offering Miley a drink, which he happily accepts, Murrich offers him a red pill.  Like Morpheus, Murrich warns him that if he takes the red pill “there’s no turning back.”  Like Neo, Miley takes the pill.

The next morning, his wife is still pissed in the American sense, and he is probably still pissed in the British sense.  She is hostile and not supportive at all, but she’s probably seen this 100 times.  He says this time is different, and goes to work.

Naturally, he heads back to the same bar again.  He slams back his usual mass quantity of booze.  This time, however, he feels no effect from it.  He perspicaciously thinks, hey, maybe it has something to do with that red pill I took from an unlicensed practitioner working out of his living room at 3 am last night.  So he goes back to see Murrich.

Murrich explains that just like Agent Smith did to Neo, he put a disgusting squid-like bug inside Miley.  There was a hellgramite tapeworm larvae inside the red pill.  He explains, “By now, the worm [1] has attached itself to your stomach, and the drinking has stimulated its growth.  From now on the hellgramite will absorb all the liquor you can consume.  You won’t feel any effect from drinking.”  Miley is understandably doubtful.  Then Murrich shows him one of the slimy bastards in a glass jar.

Murrich helpfully waits until after the commercial to further explain the rules.  “No matter how much you drink, the worm will not be satisfied.  If ever you stop drinking, the pain will be excruciating . . . it’s dangerous.  You might not live through it.  And even if you succeed, the worm will always be waiting for you to drink again.  Every time the hellgramite is awakened from its dormant state, it comes back stronger.  Eventually, strong enough to kill you.”

Back at home, he once again tells his wife this time will be different; then kicks her and his son out.  He pours all the liquor in the house down the drain.  He then goes through the excruciating withdrawal phase.  While in agony, he goes back to see Murrich.  We finally get Murrich’s motivation, which is that he lost his family to a drunk driver.

But I’m still not entirely understanding Murrich’ motivation.  Is he interested in solving a problem or just wreaking vengeance on other alcoholics?  Taking the pill neutralizes the intake of liquor — great!  But why the agonizing pain?  And the only way to stop the pain is to drink more?  Isn’t that counter-productive?  Sure, the continued drinking will be fatal eventually, but how many more lives will be at risk until that time?

Back at home, Miley continues suffering through the withdrawals.  He is in such pain that he begins searching for any leftover alcohol.  He finally finds a small bottle in his luggage.  We next see him clean and sober handing a Hellgramite Method matchbox to another alchie.  But what does this mean?  Did he find temporary relief from the pain by drinking the little bottle?  Or did he persevere through the pain and is now free (as long as he doesn’t take another drink)?  The scene isn’t played to make that ambiguity interesting, so I guess it is the latter.  But what is his motivation to lure more drunks into the painful, potentially deadly, scheme?

A fine episode, but it could have been tightened up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m no entomologist, but how is this thing a worm?  It has at least 6 appendages and a definable head and abdomen.  Probably a thorax back there somewhere, too.
  • Hey, Miley, how about calling the cops or a good gastroenterologist?

Twilight Zone – Memories (10/29/88)

Mary McNeal is a regression therapist or, as they are more accurately known, a fraud.  The exploration of past lives seems to be a real thing in this world, so I am happy to go along with it.

Mary McNeal asks her very old patient to recall “the most significant memory of your past lives.”  She describes being a seamstress during the Revolutionary War, although that might just be a regular memory.  Some British soldiers accused her of hiding soldiers, and burned her shop down with her in it.  She begins to panic, but Mary brings her back.  The woman is happy to have learned the reason for her fear of fire, men in uniforms, and taxation without representation.  Mary opines that if everyone could recall their past lives, we’d be kinder to each other because we could remember being poor or hungry.

In her office, Mary uses a small tape recorder to play herself leading a regression session to lull herself into remembering a past life.  When she awakens, as always, she has been unable to recall any past lives.  She has overslept, and wants to apologize to her next patient for missing her appointment.  Rather than just pick up a phone, she goes to the patient’s house.  But the woman answering the door is not her patient.  Stranger, the woman has perfect recall of all her past lives; as do all the inhabitants of this world.

Mary returns to her office and finds another business operating there.  OK, classic TZ, she has slipped into another world.  Great, I always dig these stories; but when did she enter this world?  Wouldn’t the logical point have been when she hypnotized herself?  But that sure looked like her office that she woke up in — same blue walls and white sofa.  But somehow the world changed after she left the office, and before she visited her patient.  No matter.

Ironically, this new business helps people adjust to their new lives.  Mr. Sinclair gives Mary a form to fill out.  He asks her what a Regression Therapist is; for the first time ever, she tells the truth and answers, “Nothing.”  However, he is impressed with her history of counseling and helping people.  He says “I see you didn’t list anything from your previous lives.”  He asks her to describe the jobs she had in her last three or four lives.  When she can’t give any details, she leaves and the man ominously picks up the phone.  He describes Mary and says, “She may be the one we’re looking for.”

Mary walks through the town which is has many homeless people, dilapidated buildings, sirens and arguing people.  She sees a woman living in the back of a beat-up station wagon with no tires and asks if she is OK.  The woman wants to die because she is so much worse off in this life than in her previous life; although she is better off than the guy in the Mini-Cooper.  She wants to spin the wheel again.  Mary ignores her wishes, which seem to be culturally acceptable in this world, and goes to get help for her.  Unfortunately for Mary — and probably fortunately for the woman — Sinclair and his goons dope Mary up and stick her in a van.

She wakes up in a warehouse and is questioned by Sinclair and another man who I assume is the one credited as Vigilante on IMDb.  Vigilante says it is “utterly unheard of” for a person not to remember their past lives.  Wait, Sinclair said just a minute ago that “new souls” with no memories do exist.  Anyhoo, Mary is even more suspect because she doesn’t even have a current life — there is no record of her existence.  Vigilante menacingly tells her that means no one will miss her.

Vigilante grills her about what she is trying to hide.  “What names did you go by in your past lives?  The Borgias, Attila the Hun, Lady Macbeth?”  Really, he suspects her of being all the Borgias?  And does he know Lady Macbeth was a fictional character? [1]  After an intense interrogation, they finally believe Mary.  The bad guys are actually the good guys and offer Mary job.  They want her to use her mad counseling skillz to do un-regression therapy — to help people forget their previous lives.

Vigilante tells her that society has gone mad and is getting worse with each generation.  Wait, did she flip back to our world?  Rather than making people more empathetic, the recollection of past lives has caused people to “be so busy avenging the past, that we lose the present.”  Grudges go on for centuries, people long for past lives, the pain of birth is recalled in detail (I assume they mean by the baby, not the mother).  They want Mary to teach people to forget.

This is more like it.  The 1980s TZ could have used a lot more stories like this.  Sure, it checks some familiar boxes, but they are welcome tropes — inexplicably finding yourself in another world, having no identity, being menaced for unknown reasons.  Even better, this wasn’t a morality play beating us over the head with a message.  It put forth an original premise and explored how this might affect society.

Good stuff.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The was a real Lady Macbeth, but surely it is not who Vigilante referred to.
  • Title Analysis:  IMDb’s increasing useless Trivia section tells us the “The title comes [from] the song “Memory” from the musical “Cats” written by Andrew Lloyd Webber”.  First, the episode is called “Memories”, not “Memory”.  And I’m pretty certain both words were in common usage before “Cats”.  Hey, IMDb, you got rid of the Message Boards to make room for this?

Twilight Zone – Dream Me a Life (10/22/88)

Retirement home resident Roger Leads is having another one of his nightmares.  He is in a dark room lit only by many candelabras.  An old woman is crouched in the corner, terrified of what is trying to get in the door.  She pleads with him to help.  This is too much for Roger and he wakes up shivering, although that might be because the staff turns the thermostat down to a chilly 85 at night.

The narrator tells us that since the death of his wife three years ago, he leads a life where “he touches no one and no one touches him.”  That is about to change as his pal Frank says the room next door to him is getting a new resident.  I wonder what happened to the old res . . . oh, right.

A nurse wheels in his new neighbor — it is the woman from his dream.  Unfortunately, his dream about the frightened old woman, not the other one about Angie Dickinson.  Roger’s pal Frank says she hasn’t spoken a word in 10 years, so she really is the girl of his dreams.

Later, Roger’s pals are passing the time playing cards.  He sees the new gal, Laura Kincaid, has her chair parked across the room.  She is catatonic, also silent and unmoving, as she has been since her husband died.  Roger recalls his dead wife and realizes how much he needed her.

That night, Roger again dreams of being with Laura in the dark room.  She is begging him to help her again.  When he accidentally burns his hand on a candle, he wakes up.  He is stunned to see his hand actually is burned.

The next day, he sees her sitting outside.  He asks her some questions, but the woman seems to take no notice of him.  Join the club, pal.  He asks, “That is you, isn’t it?  In my dream?  Even before you got here, you were there!”  He asks how she picked him, and pleads with her to pick some else.  He feels unworthy because he couldn’t save his wife.  He shouts at her to “get out of my head!  Leave me alone!”

That night, he has the same dream again. As always, Laura is begging him to save her from the thing behind the door.  Roger has the revelation that “you’re not keeping someone out, you’re keeping someone in!”  Roger opens the door and a respectable looking old gentleman enters.  It is Laura’s dead husband.  He tells her she has got to let go.  And so on . . .

This is yet another episode where I think it is fine, just not what I’m looking for from a series called The Twilight Zone.  I know the original series had its share of sentimental episodes, but the 1980s reboot feels like I’m watching Kick the Can every other week.

Taken on its own, there is a lot to like here.  There is a lot of yakking, but well-done for a change.  It is not the printed prose torturously forced into a screenplay like Ray Bradbury Theatre, nor is in the nonsensical padding of The Hitchhiker.  I appreciated that it was natural dialogue which brought depth to both the story and the characters.  Eddie Albert, who seemed so feeble just 2 years later on RBT, carries most of the episode.  Whether he is angry, scared, or just curmudgeonly, he nails it throughout.

Other Stuff:

  • Holy crap, Laura was only 61!  That seems pretty young for these shenanigans.

Twilight Zone – The Hunters (10/15/88)

A kid wearing a red beret and an ascot saunters across an open field.  Either he is intended to be a generic Boy Scout knock-off, or he’s just a real dandy.  He falls through a hole into a pretty nice multi-level set which conveniently has a raised area under the hole so he was’t sent to the final Jamboree.  This scout is preparedness incarnate — despite the fact that he is crossing an open field at high noon, he has a fleshlight flashlight on him.  When he sees something moving around, he goes to get the sheriff.

The sheriff shines his bigger light around and sees paintings on the walls of the cave.  He calls in Dr. Cline from the local college to check it out.  She says the paintings are 12,000 years old.  There are buffalo depicted, and hunters stalking them.  Another item is just a blob which Cline suggests might be spiritual doorway or a circle where they all got together for protection.  It looks more like the space shuttle to me, but I might be watching too much Ancient Aliens.

Sometime later, topside, Cline tells the sheriff she needs the site guarded because there have been some disturbances.  The sheriff suggests it might just be raccoons.  Cline persuasively disagrees by showing a huge sheep carcass literally two feet from where they were standing.  They had just had a little walk & talk, so this could have been blocked much more effectively.

The sheriff goes about his sheriff business.  The developer who owns the land goes full Murray Hamilton, only with a bolo tie rather than that wacky anchor jacket.  The sheriff tries to calm him down, but I must say Dr. Cline is no help.  It’s admirable that she wants to protect the old artifacts, but she callously mocks the developer’s financial situation.  I’ve never seen a college professor so full of contempt unless someone was trying to exercise free speech on their campus.  The sheriff is also tracking some missing animals.  They appear to have been dragged to the excavation and cooked.

The sheriff spends the night in his car at the cave.  Dr. Cline hears noises and sees shadows darting around in the cave.  When she screams, the sheriff goes down to check things out.  He finds her lying on the ground with a spear in her back.  He too begins seeing shadows.  As he chases them around, he turns to see Cline’s body is gone.

He looks at the paintings on the wall and sees one is moving — a stick figure dragging Cline’s body away.  He gets a brush and starts scrubbing the other paintings from the wall.  And just in time — an Indian is about to spear him in the back.  As the sheriff erases the figure, the Indian fades away.

Can something be less than the sum of its parts?  That’s what we have here.  Louise Fletcher and Michael Hogan are recognizable faces.  The set was intriguing with both outdoor and subterranean areas.  I’m sure it’s racist in ways I can’t even imagine, but the idea of the ancient Indians coming back had great potential.  The idea of the paintings changing, especially when we actually see the animation, was fun.  They even had an experienced director.

And yet, it was something of a slog.  The feeling started early as Hogan seemed a little hammy and Fletcher just seemed miscast.  The episode really took a wrong turn killing off Dr. Cline so brutally.  I like a nice undeserved murder as much as the next guy, but TZ has always been more about just deserts and comeuppance.  This is just gratuitous.  Worse, it is almost amusing due to the sudden exposition — she was killed off-camera — and that giant spear sticking up particularly perpendicularly.

The final scene also bugged me for the most nit-picky of reasons.  I doubt either an archaeologist or a sheriff packs cleaning products.  So the sheriff had to go buy some and come back.  Or even if he or the doctor did have them, he had to get the bucket, some water, a brush, etc.  Yet the Indian stood around until he was actually erasing the figure to hurl a spear at him?  I know, drama.

As illogical as it sounds, it also bugged me that the sheriff started erasing the cave paintings.  Sure, it saved his life, but only because he stuck around to scrub the wall.  This is like idiots who leave graffiti in parks, or topple ancient precariously stacked rocks.

And what brought the Indians back anyway?  At least there was no cliched burial ground.  The doctor was not desecrating the area, although, the sheriff did almost trip over a bone.  I say almost, there was nothing going on here to warrant a murder. There was also no effort made to tie the drawings to the Indians.  Why were their movements reflected on the wall?  Compare this to a better episode in this TZ series, Still Life.  That also involved ancient tribesmen returning.  There, however, their return was explained by the developing of photographs which had stolen their souls.  Neat.

This is more like a Hitchhiker episode where they throw a bit of weirdness on the screen with no context or motive and think they have accomplished something.

It could have been great.

Other Stuff:

  • Classic TZ Connection:  None that I see, but strangely, in addition to Still Life, the changing picture reminded me of The Cemetery from Night Gallery.
  • The kid who fell in the hole was Charlie from RBT’s The Playground.

Twilight Zone – The Crossing (10/08/88)

Following yesterday’s Tales of Tomorrow is like getting the slot after Spiderman at the dance contest.  Making the comparison even worse for TZ, this is a really mediocre episode.

Boring Father Mark Cassidy is working obsessively to raise funds for a new children’s hospital.  His boring assistant brings him some boring tea, but the coffee and cigarettes probably have him wired enough already.  Coming out of the rectory (hee hee), he sees an old family truckster passing by.  It disappears around the bend on a dirt road.  He hears a crash and runs down the road.  At the bottom of a hill, he sees the car in flames.  When his assistant arrives, she thinks he’s gone around the bend because she sees nothing.

As Cassidy is updating the fund-raising graph, Monsignor Perot [1] drops by.  He says, “I remember when that children’s wing was just a dream.”  That’s nothing, I remember 2 minutes ago when it was a whole hospital.

These are literally the most boring characters I have seen this year.  Both are soft spoken old white men.  The Monsignor is a geezer who, at least, is puffing on a meerschaum to give him a little character. [2]  Cassidy is just a tall, blonde, angular non-entity.  Both speak somberly and slowly as if to add some gravitas to the scene.  The new announcer ain’t working for me either, but that can come later.

During a class about Father Damien and the lepers, he spots the family truckster through the window.  He runs outside, and after the car.  It again goes around the bend just out of budget range, and he hears the sound of a crash.  His mob of students chase him down like they just found out he believes in the 1st amendment.  He looks down the hill and sees the car on fire again — this time with a woman he recognizes inside.  Again the kids see nothing.

That night, staring at a fire — a real one, in a fireplace — Cassidy looks through some pictures.  He and the woman are in the same car, surrounded by kids.  It is never made clear what their relationship is.  At first, I though it was his family, but the kids are never mentioned.  Maybe they were camp counselors.  They are wearing camp tee-shirts and Cassidy has a whistle among his keepsakes; there is a lanyard, but that is inconclusive as there is no clipboard.

The next day, the Monsignor announces that after Cassidy’s years of hard work raising $2 million, the children’s wing can be built.  Not only that, it will be named after Father Mark.  He takes this news very somberly.  Later the Monsignor tells him to take some time off, but he is worried about the clothing drive, the pageant, the operating costs.  He is clearly driven, but it is the dullest drive I have ever seen.  Worse than Alligator Alley.

Cassidy spills his guts in the confessional.  He describes the actual accident from his youth when he looked exactly as he does now.  He was able to hear the girl call him for help as she burned alive.  He asks why he was thrown from the car and not her.  He asks if all his works have not atoned for his cowardice at not fighting the flames to rescue her.  He begs forgiveness at leaving her to die while he lawyered up with the family fixers, and wearing a fake neck-brace to her funeral in a laughably transparent ploy for sympathy.  No, wait, that was Ted Kennedy.

The confessional is a great made-for-TV location for exposition.  However, isn’t there supposed to be someone listening?  I’m not up on the rules, but isn’t that the point?  Isn’t the priest supposed to absolve you of your sins?  Cassidy spends a couple of minutes talking to the screen partition — there is no one on the other side.  I guess you could argue that he was talking to God, but that could be done anywhere.

He later sees the car outside again.  This time, he gets into the car beside the woman and they drive around the bend.  The screen goes black and we hear the same crash again.  If this episode were not so deadly dull and dreary, I would have thought they were going for a joke.  Actually, it is a pretty good joke, though unintentional.

However, the real joke is on the viewer as the episode continues at the funeral of Father Cassidy.  As his casket passes by, the woman who had appeared burning in the car places a rose on it.  She watches it be loaded into the hearse, then walks away.  That’s it.  Seriously, that’s it.

The script was nonsensical on a Hitchhikerian level.  As a full stand-alone 30 minute episode, there was no excuse for this.  Was the original crash his fault?  Who was the woman?  What was their relationship?  Why was he confessing to an empty chair?  How did he die? [3] How was the dead woman able to attend his funeral?  She left a rose — does she forgive him?  Shouldn’t she have faded away as she walked down the road?  Or maybe at the end, they could have both driven safely around the bend?  My only explanation is that the pace is so lethargic that scenes had to be cut for time.

The performances were so flat as to be tiresome.  This includes the new announcer.  I had hoped the person following the avuncular Charles Aidman would have a little more menace in his voice.  Unfortunately, it sounds like they just went for a younger Aidman.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Also boring.
  • [2] OK, it’s just a boring regular pipe.
  • [3] When he got into the ghost car and rode away, his assistant should have seen him hovering down the road in a sitting position.  To be fair, I’m willing to accept that anything in the car moved to a different dimension.
  • Title Analysis:  No idea what they were going for.  Yeah, Cassidy crossed over at the end, but I don’t think that’s it.  The car accident was not at a railroad crossing.