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Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Life in the Glow of The Outer Limits

The following was originally posted on 3/19/2011 over at my Twilight Zone blog (My Life in the Shadow of The Twilight Zone). As you'll read, the concept of THIS blog had started brewing up in the ol' noggin, and that post seems a fitting jumping-off point for the proceedings here.

I love The Twilight Zone. If this blog is proof of nothing else, let it stand as a digital testament to my undying love for the series. However, my lifelong relationship with TZ is by no means monogamous. I’ve been known to step out, as it were. It’s what you might call an open relationship. In other words, I love other shows too. However, no matter how far I stray, in the end I always come home to the old girl.

Today, I’d like to turn the spotlight away from my immortal beloved for a change and focus on one of my televisual mistresses. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… The Outer Limits.

The Outer Limits was an hour-long anthology series that aired on ABC for a scant season-and-a-half (1963-1965). While The Twilight Zone typically presented morality plays wrapped in science fiction or fantasy stylings, TOL concerned itself with straight science fiction wrapped in monster movie and/or gothic horror stylings. Both series deviated from their respective formulas numerous times, of course, but while TZ kept a fairly cool, urbane head most of the time, TOL took some pretty deep swerves into absolute batshit oblivion. Episodes like “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” and “The Guests,” drenched in psychosexual angst and disturbing alien imagery, were probably the weirdest things to hit the airwaves up to that point in time. “ZZZZZ,” about a queen bee who takes human form and becomes entangled in an entomologist’s family affairs, is one of the most overtly sexual things I’ve ever seen on television, and not just because of Joanna Frank’s astounding, uh, attributes.

There are a few Outer Limits offerings that I’d rank among the finest things EVER presented on television: “The Architects of Fear,” “The Man Who Was Never Born,” “Corpus Earthling,” “Demon With a Glass Hand” and “The Inheritors” are absolutely brilliant (three of those star Robert Culp, a favorite actor of mine who passed away recently). There are many others beyond those that range from good to really great. Episode-for-episode, I’d say The Outer Limits achieved a much higher quality-to-crap ratio than even my beloved Twilight Zone. Of its 49 episodes, there are probably only 1 or 2 TOL episodes (at most) that I absolutely hate. By contrast, TZ has at least a dozen dismal failures in its 156-episode run. Do the math.

I first discovered The Outer Limits in 1984 through my old friend, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. They ran a multiple-issue overview of the series, complete with an episode guide, written by David J. Schow. He later expanded his work and published it in book form as The Outer Limits: The Official Companion, which is an absolute must-have for fans of the show. The book has been offered in two distinct editions, and both are way out print (I still have the original, and my friend Bill Huelbig has the second, much more valuable edition). Resourceful internet users may manage to track down a PDF version of the second edition (which I did a few months back).

Sometime in 1985 (I think), a local channel (KPDX-49) started airing The Outer Limits five nights a week in syndication. I couldn’t tape them, as the VCR was already busy recording The Twilight Zone every night over on KPTV-12, so I caught as many of them as I could (“The Sixth Finger” was the first episode I ever saw). Starting in 1987, MGM/UA started releasing individual episodes on VHS, so I started buying them as they were released (three episodes at a time). I never did collect the entire series on tape, but I did pretty well…. about half, if memory serves.

The VHS boxes were just plain gorgeous. In fact, the basic design has continued to pop up over the ensuing years… first in the packaging of the (wonderful) Sideshow Collectibles deluxe action figures, then in the DVD sets from MGM (whose enclosed episode guides feature several of the episode-specific artwork created for the VHS releases). I’ve actually considered re-collecting the tapes with the express purpose of acquiring high-quality scans of all 49 boxes. Yeah, they’re that gorgeous (and I’m that obsessive-compulsive).

Anyway, the entire series was also available on VHS through Columbia House, and select episodes were made available on laserdisc too. And then the entire series was released on DVD (in two sets, one for each season), effectively rendering the earlier VHS and laserdisc offerings obsolete. The DVDs have been re-released at least twice in different packaging, but the actual discs are identical to the original release… which is unfortunate, since the discs are DVD-18s (double-sided) and are prone to failing (my copy of season two glitches up on “Behold, Eck!” and “The Premonition”). A blu-ray release would be MOST welcome, but I doubt it’ll happen any time soon.

The Outer Limits will turn 50 in September 2013. I was seriously considering starting a blog similar to this one, in which I’d celebrate each episode on the 50th anniversary of its original broadcast… until I became aware of the following:

It’s not an anniversary project like mine, but it’s a similar concept…. in a compressed time frame. Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri (co-editors of The Scream Factory: The Magazine of Horrors Past, Present and Future) are watching an episode every day and publishing their thoughts in a conversational format. Peppered between the daily episode reviews are spotlights and essays by such luminaries as Gary Gerani (author of Fantastic Television and frequent commentator on The Twilight Zone blu-rays) and David J. Schow, author of the aforementioned The Outer Limits: The Official Companion (large chunks of which are being published on the blog in the form of scanned pages… right-click-save, baby!). It’s a truly great blog, and reading it every day these past few months has been a real treat. One truly inspired touch --- they’ve embedded Hulu links for all 49 episodes, so you’re one click away from watching every single episode. I imagine the links will eventually expire, but for now they work.*

Unfortunately, I’m plugging WACT right at the end: as I type these words, they’ve finished reviewing the series and have just posted what appear to be their final entries. Fortunately, internet content doesn’t go out of print, so the blog should be around for a long, long time (just like this blog… I hope…).

So anyway, I’m torn. I was really excited about the prospect of doing an Outer Limits blog, but will I really cover any ground not already traversed? By TOL experts, no less?

I dunno. I’ve just become aware that there are multiple other Twilight Zone blogs out there, chronicling the series an episode at a time just like me, so maybe there’s room. The internet is pretty big, after all.

* Side rant: I can watch The Outer Limits for free on Hulu’s website, but the show ISN’T available through Hulu Plus (which I’m a paying member of)? What the hell?


  1. Hey Greg -

    Thanks for your kind words about WACT. We're looking forward to your exploration of TOL, and mentioned your blog on our new Facebook page:

  2. John - thanks for the shout out! I'm a huge fan of the TOL blog you and Peter Enfantino did. I particularly love the two-person format...

  3. Hi Craig,

    I just wanted to let you know how much I like your blog! I think you're doing a great job with it.

    After I read your initial post on your Twilight Zone blog, I was inspired to comment. I fondly remember staying up late at night on Friday and Saturdays, sometimes until 2:00 am or later so that I could watch and videotape The Outer Limits. My old videotapes are long gone, so I think it's cool you still have your Twilight Zone tapes.

    The Outer Limits has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old, in 1982. I truly love all of the episodes and enjoy watching all of them to this day.

    I am not sure if you've read Chris Knowles Secret Sun blog before, but he has done some really interesting posts about The Outer Limits, delving into some interesting behind the scenes information. If you get a chance you might want to check it out!

    Take care and keep up the great work!


  4. Craig, I just discovered your blog this evening, after purchasing 2 copies of David Schow's new book, and just when I thought I knew everything about TOL, I find you! Hilarious! Insightful! Delightful! I'm a book guy, and I like paper, but I have to admit, this blog is absolutely incredible. I love TZ as well and haven't checked your site there. I'll be spending a long time sorting through this one first. But God bless you for this great work. I wish you could put it on a disc or something so it will never be lost. Fantastic. Thank you so so much.

  5. As a kid i loved the twilight zone but nothing cheeped me out and scared the crap out of me more then the outer limits.. oh the wonderful nightmares i had ..HA