Season 1, Episode 9
Originally aired 11/18/1963
Fifty years ago tonight, an innocent man found himself between a rock and a hard place. No? Okay, how about a stone’s throw from imminent danger? Still no? Fine. Agate it. Man, you guys are sure hard to please. I’m feeling a bit taken for granite right now.
Surgeon Paul Cameron stops by Dr. Jonas Temple’s geology laboratory to pick up his wife Laurie (Temple’s assistant) for lunch. An incident with a faulty kiln blasts him across the room and jars the metal plate in his skull, causing him to hear two disembodied voices discussing a plan to invade and take over the world through parasitic possession. A CAT scan reveals no damage but, upon returning to the lab, Paul hears the voices again.
Paranoid by nature, Paul holes up at home in the dark until Laurie suggests an impromptu second honeymoon in Mexico. Meanwhile at the lab, Temple is attacked by a parasitic alien organism (one of two who have been masquerading as rock specimens, and are the source of the voices in Paul’s head).
Temple, under the control of the parasite, follows the couple to a rental house in Mexico and, while Paul is out getting supplies, exposes Laurie to the other parasite. Upon his return, Paul is horrified to discover his wife in her possessed state and flees. The caretaker of the rental house finds him in a Tijuana hotel and implores him to return, stating that Laurie is sick and near death.
Paul returns to the house to find Temple waiting for him, gun in hand. Paul gets a bullet in the arm in the ensuing struggle, but he manages to kill Temple. Laurie then moves in for the attack, forcing Paul to use Temple’s gun on her. The parasites leave their dead hosts and converge on Paul, who prevails by tipping an oil stove over onto them. His dead wife’s body in his arms, Paul walks away from the burning house and into the night.
Adapting Louis Charbonneau’s 1960 novel was writer Orin Borsten’s only Outer Limits assignment (he had some help from Lou Morheim and series producer Joseph Stefano). The IMDB lists a meager four writing credits for Borsten; interestingly, one of them is the 1961 film Angel Baby (which costars this episode’s Salome Jens). Gerd Oswald is back in the director’s chair who, along with Director of Photography Conrad Hall, provides more of that beautiful, shadow-laden imagery we've come to expect when they team up.
Unrelentingly grim and unapologetically creepy, “Corpus Earthling” is easily the single most disturbing episode in the series’ entire run. It’s the first time (but certainly not the last) that the show will present a tale rooted in science fiction but, for all intents and purposes, is actually a horror story. The fact that the parasites are alien in origin is incidental; their possession of Laurie and Temple could just as easily be demonic in nature, and said possessions are nothing if not horrific (the change in their appearance reminds me a bit of The Man, the pasty-faced harbinger of death, in 1962’s Carnival of Souls).
Comparisons to 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers are unavoidable. Both feature extraterrestrial parasites out to conquer and colonize earth, both are studies in paranoia, and both end with the male protagonist ultimately losing the woman he loves to the parasitic threat. But Invasion never quite feels like a horror movie; as effective as it is, it never reaches the desolate terror that “Corpus Earthling” achieves. Invasion ends on a semi-hopeful note, offering at least the possibility of containing and defeating the alien threat; “Corpus Earthling,” meanwhile, ends on a bleak, ambiguous note. Paul survives, but by no means does that survival feel like a victory.
I say ‘ambiguous’ because, really, we have no reason to think that the two crystalline parasites depicted here are the only two on the earth. It’s implied that they are part of an invasion force, so there are likely lots more of them around. I think it’s safe to assume that Paul’s dispatching of these two won’t make a damn bit of difference in the end.
We see the parasitic aliens in two forms; first under the guise of obsidian-like rocks, which throb while “speaking.” Later, we are shown their true, larger and bulbous forms… which are unfortunately pretty silly, and sure to disappoint after the amazing aliens the series has shown us thus far. In The Outer Limits Companion, David J. Schow describes them as “spider-like,” but I just don’t see it (unless “spider-like” is code for “melted licorice blobs”). They’re vague and sloppy looking, lacking the intricate detail of, say, the similar parasitic aliens in the upcoming “The Invisibles”; something sleeker and more explicitly arachnid in nature would've been much more effective. It’s hard to believe, but these invaders are actually more threatening in their rock disguises. Watching them wriggle slowly across the floor in the show’s climax is hilarious, which I’m sure wasn’t the intent.
I want so badly to call “Corpus Earthling” a perfect episode, but I've gotta dock it a point for this. I’m reminded of The “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of The Twilight Zone (which, coincidentally enough, just turned 50 too), a tense and thrilling episode whose effectiveness is also undermined by a goofy creature: the notorious Gremlin, which looks like a mentally challenged teddy bear and isn’t scary in the least. The crystalline parasites aren't anywhere that level of ridiculousness (thankfully!), but it’s really frustrating to imagine what might have been.
Ridley Scott showed us just how terrifying (and beautifully designed) such a creature could look with his face-hugger in 1979’s Alien. Of course a 1963 television series couldn't possibly have put together something on that level, but an alien with a name as cool as “Crystalline Parasite” should’ve looked at least somewhat frightening.
Now, having said all that, the parasites' modus operandi is gruesome and shocking. While the parasites of “The Invisibles” possess their victims through the back, the crystalline parasites here do it through the face, and it’s not a gentle process either. The sight of Temple writhing in pain is a bit unnerving; however, the sound of Laurie’s anguished screams, coupled with the abject terror on her face, is absolutely chilling.
The Tijuana hotel room in which Paul hides out at the top of act four looks familiar. I think it’s the same set as Andro’s boarding house room in “The Man Who Was Never Born.” The light fixture by the front door is the giveaway (though here it’s reduced from a double fixture to a single); also, the placement of the vanity near the window is roughly the same in both (different vanities, though).
Paul's accident in Temple's lab is impressively staged and, if it was faked, I can't tell. Kudos to Robert Culp for having the stones to do his own stunt work.
If you wanted to make a crystalline parasite of your own (but lack the skills or materials to fabricate silicon molds), all you’d really need is a pair of black rubber gloves and a couple of LED bulbs, and maybe hidden wheels to give it mobility. Uh-oh, I’m getting that tingly feeling, which usually means… that’s right kids, it’s Project Limited, Ltd. time!
This started as a joke. In fact, I considered finding a little kid to do it, but exposing a child to "Corpus Earthling" would probably be irresponsible on my part, so it fell on me to somehow render the Crystalline Parasite in three dimensions. It was never my intent to fixate on accuracy, or to capture their soulless evil.... which is a good thing, because what resulted from my increasingly-drunk efforts is anything but accurate or evil.
God, it looks like a Crystalline Parasite back in its kindergarten days. It doesn't want to highjack human bodies; it just wants to chase butterflies and play with its friends. It's, well... kinda adorable, actually.
“Corpus Earthling” sports a stock score, which means Dominic Frontiere didn't compose any new music for it; instead, pre-existing music from other episodes was used. This time around he mined material from no less than five different episodes! Here are the notables:
Point of No Return, Double Vision, Madness, Aborted Phone Call, Scarecrows.
The Outer Limits Signature Loop (aka I Was Never Born!), The Big Chase.
It’s Here, Building Terror, Struggle and Gunshot.
The City #2.
The Big Finish.
I also heard a couple that I didn't recognize, so they must’ve come from Frontiere’s compositions for Daystar’s previous series Stony Burke (1962-63), which will hopefully see a soundtrack release one day. Anyway, those cues listed above (and so, so much more) can be found on the 3-disc soundtrack release from La La Land Records, which is shockingly still available as of this writing for the criminally-low price of $19.95.
Connection time! Dominic Frontiere composed the score for the 1971 film A Name for Evil, which starred… Robert Culp! The soundtrack is available from La La Land Records, who were kind enough to include Frontiere’s score for The Unknown (an intended pilot for a new Daystar series that aired as the Outer Limits episode “The Forms of Things Unknown,” which we’ll get to in May). The disc is sold out according to their website (glad I snagged my copy while it was still in print!), but I’m sure one could find it second hand if one were so inclined.
Robert Culp is fevered and intense as Dr. Paul Cameron in this, his second Outer Limits stint (we last saw him in “The Architects of Fear,” and we’ll see him again next season in “Demon With a Glass Hand”). Culp went on to starring roles on I Spy (1965-1968) and The Greatest American Hero (1981-1986, which is where I first became a fan). All three of his TOL episodes are top notch; it’s a shame he didn't do a few more.
Salome Jens makes her only TOL appearance as Laurie Hendricks-Cameron, but she worked for Daystar Productions before (in the “Spin a Golden Web” episode of Stoney Burke). She’d cross paths with Robert Culp again when she appeared in the “A Room With a Rack” episode of I Spy in 1967. And speaking of racks….
Effective March 23, 2015, Blogger will disallow all sexually explicit or graphic nude images. Therefore, Salome's ample bosom must be concealed. Sorry, gang.
Barry Atwater (Dr. Jonas Temple) is no stranger to the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. He was suspected of being an alien invader in The Twilight Zone’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” in 1960. In 1969, he dropped some serious logic as the Vulcan Surak in “The Savage Curtain” episode of Star Trek, which also featured TOL alums Phillip Pine (“The Hundred Days of the Dragon”) and Janos Prohaska (“The Architects of Fear”). 1972 found him spilling blood as the vampire Janos Skorzeny in the TV movie The Night Stalker (which led to the Kolchak: The Night Stalker series).
HOME VIDEO RELEASES
“Corpus Earthling” was made available on VHS in two flavors: first, the standard retail release (above), and a mail-order edition exclusive to Columbia House (paired with “Tourist Attraction”; below). In the UK, it was paired with “O.B.I.T.” for a double-feature paranoia fest (right).
As I recall, “Corpus Earthling” was released fairly early in the eight years it took MGM/UA to release all 49 episodes on tape (I had it, which means it hit no later than 1990; see here for details); however, it didn't get the laserdisc treatment until 1994, as part of the third (of a total four) volume.
Those VHS and laserdisc were rendered obsolete with the series’ bow on the superior DVD format in 2002, 2007 and 2008. You could assume that each release represented incremental improvements in image and sound quality… but you’d be wrong. The same exact discs were released three different times with different packaging. I’d be willing to forgive this crass attempt to triple-dip unsuspecting fans if they’d just get a blu-ray release in the pipeline.
Hello? MGM? Hello??? *crickets*
Since the series seems destined to be forever frozen at DVD resolution, you might as well skip the arduous physical task of loading up the DVD and just stream “Corpus Earthling” (or any other episode) on Hulu. It’s free and, as long as you've got a decent internet connection, it looks just as good as DVD anyway.
TRADING CARD CORNER
Nope, nada, zip. Nothing to see here, folks.
Dimensional Designs appears to have at least planned a model kit to commemorate “Corpus Earthling,” but I’m guessing it was cancelled since there’s no photo in their listing (DD/OL/CP-36) and no option to order. The listing does credit Danny Soracco as the sculptor, so who knows? They won’t return my emails, so I’m guessing they don’t want my money.
I can’t confirm this, but I half-heartedly suspect that this episode directly inspired the Pet Rock craze of the 70’s. Shit, wouldn't that have been the perfect cover for an invasion of Crystalline Parasites?
Goofy aliens notwithstanding, “Corpus Earthling” is yet another outstanding Outer Limits offering, effectively clearing the slate after last week’s disappointment. Seriously, I really lava it (of quartz I do). Simply put, it rocks.