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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to an exhibit of the eerie and the oddball."
DVD ReviewRod Serling's Night Gallery popped up at a key time in my life in 1969, and as a horror-addicted ten-year-old, the promise of a weekly series full of dark and creepy chills and thrills was pretty close to nirvana. Serling's endearing and long-standing success with The Twilight Zone gave Night Gallery somewhat big shoes to fill, and over the course of three seasons the show was often hit-or-miss, though there were, without a doubt, a number of episodes that became indelibly laser-burned into my brain.
The ability to look back at these episodes today still reveals glimmers of greatness, though overall the series has not, unfortunately, visually aged as gracefully or as well as I had hoped. This has something to do with the whole indelible 1970s look of the show, something that black-and-white was, and still is, kinder to the whole stage-play look of The Twilight Zone. This three-disc set from Universal has all six 60-minute first season broadcasts (which consist of 14 separate stories), plus the three from the original 1969 pilot, making this collection, if nothing else, an interesting cross-section of good, bad, and mediocre creepiness.
Whereas in The Twilight Zone, where Serling would slide in from the shadows to intro each tale, the setting for Night Gallery is, you guessed it, a dark and spooky art gallery. To intro each little teleplay, most of which were written or adapted by Serling, the grim host would stand before a painting that was thematically tied in with the plot, give a bit of backstory in that unique delivery of his, and then we were off on some uncharted avenue of dark fantasy. There is noticeably less humor in the writing of this first season, something that Serling fought hard to keep out in the two remaining years of the series' run.
Of the episodes in this first season, there are still a number of good ones—despite the overall aging process of the show's "look"—including the Steven Spielberg-directed Eyes, featuring Joan Crawford as a blind woman desperate to see no matter what the cost (part of the original pilot) that remains one of the most memorable of the entire series. Likewise with the vibe exuded by Certain Shadows on the Wall, about a crotchety old woman whose untimely death and persistent shadow made me want to sleep with the lights on as a kid. The Emmy-nominated They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar, with William Windom kicking dramatic ass as a 40-something guy stuck in a dead-end sales job yearning for the good times of the past; this one probably bored me to tears as a 10-year-old, but watching it today I found it to be a marvelous piece of introspective writing, at least up until to the pat payoff.
Serling oozed macabre like most of us sweat, and even on a bad day he was all about going against the grain of what passes for entertainment on typical broadcast television. A set like this is interesting for a chance to the early work of a Spielberg, or catch big stars of the day in dark storylines, and while Serling can't go back in time (if he was alive, that is) to change the dated look of the show, the writing more often than not is on its game.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: All episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullframe, and though the transfers are not perfect by any means, they're not altogether awful. Specking is the real bugaboo across episodes here, making it pretty clear that Universal didn't go to any great lengths remastering Night Gallery. Still, colors are surprisingly evenly saturated, looking brighter and deeper than one might expect from an episodic television series from 1970. I've seen far worse, and to be honest, I was expecting much worse based on initial reports.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing fancy with the audio, but the 2.0 mono provides acceptable and clean presentation of television dialogue from back in the day when mono was de rigueur. A bit of hiss from time to time, but overall a tolerable mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Each episode gets its own single chapter, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsNight Gallery has maybe not aged nearly as well as the original The Twilight Zone, which I chalk up to many of the episodes looking like the cheesy late '60s/early '70s television that they were. There's a Quinn Martin feel to the whole affair, and if that name doesn't ring a bell it just means you're not old enough. It was an especially bad time for fashion and hair, a fact that dates much of this with a strangely distracting air.
But if you sift through the wide collars and garish furnishings, some of the stories still echo with a creepy charm, but I may be looking at this Season One set through nostalgic rose-colored glasses.
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