“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”
Season 1, Episode 11
Originally aired 12/09/1963
Scientist Stu Peters arrives at NORCO for his first day of work and, during his initial orientation, is forcibly exposed to --- and frightened to death by--- the Energy Being, a deadly mass of undulating power that was accidentally created by a freak vacuum cleaner/dust bunny accident (no, I’m serious). He is promptly reanimated and outfitted with a pacemaker to keep him ambulatory, then assigned to the impossible task of finding a way to create new energy from nothingness to feed the insatiable Being. Stu’s younger brother Jory smells a rat and, during an argument, is horrified to watch Stu stumble into a bathtub and die by electrocution.
The coroner indicates that Stu’s pacemaker was faulty; that the water shouldn’t have caused the short. Jory goes to NORCO to demand answers, his new girlfriend Gabby in tow, and is brushed off by the security guard who also sports a pacemaker. When Sergeant Siroleo, the detective investigating Stu’s death, questions NORCO employee Professor Linden (who also wears a pacemaker), she attempts to expose him to the Energy Being (as she did previously to Stu) but has a last minute change of heart.
Doctor Bloch, the head of NORCO, show up with a gun and, like all great mad scientists, provides some detailed exposition about the Energy Being and his efforts to study and preserve it by murdering, reanimating and enslaving his employees. Siroleo grapples with him; Linden gets ahold of the gun and shoots Bloch. As he dies, Bloch opens the double doors that keep the Being penned up. The Being goes on the expected rampage, killing the entire NORCO staff by sucking the power from their pacemakers. As she dies, Linden suggests a power outage to force the Being back into his cage. Siroleo makes a phone call, the lights go down, and the Being slinks back into captivity without further incident. Jory arrives (again) to demand answers about his brother’s death and finds a shell-shocked Siroleo, who delivers the final line: “It’s under control… for the moment.”
After last week’s brilliant “Nightmare,” we have another original teleplay by series producer Joseph Stefano. Is this one equally brilliant? I dunno. It’s certainly entertaining, and there’s some choice dialogue to be found (a hallmark of Stefano’s scripts), but overall “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” lacks the cohesion of last week’s offering. Maybe that’s the wrong word. “Woodwork” is just as densely packed with character moments as “Nightmare” was, but the narrative structure here is much less formal. Things just sorta happen, without clear arcs or tight story structure, and the monster-on-the-loose crisis is over way too quickly to end things with a sufficient bang. Or is that the whole point...? Is the story supposed to mirror the pulsating chaos of the Energy Being? I dunno. I'm not going to call it brilliant, but it’s still a helluva lot of fun, and it helps immeasurably that every other aspect of the production shines so brightly.
Director Gerd Oswald and Director of Photography Conrad Hall are a force to be reckoned with, as they've already proven with “O.B.I.T.” and “Corpus Earthling,” and “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” represents another triumph. The Energy Being’s attacks (the cleaning woman, Morley the security guard, Stu) are wonderfully and dynamically staged, and NORCO is the spookiest, darkest lab we've seen on the series to date.
We get a proper prologue this week (the creation of the Energy Being), instead of the customary quickie preview that became the standard just a few weeks after the series premiered. Both “ZZZZZ” (January) and “The Special One” (April) will also feature actual prologues but, otherwise, the rest of season one will go the teaser route.
The Energy Being isn’t a new concept to The Outer Limits. Just two months ago, we saw a similar creature in “The Man With the Power,” only that one (which we’ll call Finley’s Cloud to differentiate it) was fueled by cosmic radiant energy and needed a conduit (Finley) to manifest and wreak havoc. The Energy Being this time around needs no such conduit to exist, but it does need regular meals of electricity to survive. But really, they both serve the same basic story function: they scare the hell out of their victims, then fry ‘em and eat ‘em.
It’s interesting to compare the two visually. Finley’s Cloud is a slow-moving, almost languid, roiling mass with minimal streaks of lightning dancing about. The Energy Being, on the other hand, is a frenetic and bold shock-‘n-awe type.
But… what exactly is it? It starts as big ugly dust bunny in the lab which, when sucked into a vacuum cleaner, transmogrifies into a pulsating, highly volatile cloud-like creature with an insatiable hunger for energy, whether it’s electrical or bioelectrical (I assume solar energy does nothing for it, otherwise it would have an endless supply of nourishment there in SoCal). I’m not clear how this could’ve happened, since the worst that could happen if you sucked up a fat chunk of dust would maybe be a burst of static electricity, or maybe a short if there was enough moisture involved.
Let’s turn the mic over to Dr. Bloch for a moment: “Think of it: a small lifeless thing, like a black ball of dust, huddled against the baseboard in a dustless corner. What is it? Where does it come from? Why does it suddenly live when it is fed common energy?” So Bloch clearly believes that it was more than just a dust bunny that mated with that vacuum cleaner to produce his beloved Energy Being. Is it some kind of organic matter? Is it some heretofore undiscovered (and highly unstable) chemical element? Might it even be extraterrestrial in origin (like the basis for Cabot Jr.’s pathogen in “The Man Who Was Never Born”)? If it’s none of the above, and it’s really just a giant lint ball outta somebody’s pocket… well, I’m gonna have to call bullshit on this critter.
Now, having said all that, I must concede that the Energy Being is rendered quite beautifully, with its constantly shifting size and the frequent explosions of light within it… it’s a creature in a constant state of flux, mesmerizing in its chaotic deadliness. It almost appears to have arms at times (the Dimensional Designs model kit emphasizes this feature; we’ll have a look at it further down). There’s something almost Harryhausenesque about its movements as it “walks” through the lab upon its release. Have a look:
I’m reminded of Andy the Andromedan’s rampage through town in “The Galaxy Being”: lights flashing, the howling sound of radiating energy (might even be the same sound effects in both episodes, actually), papers flying around, et cetera; y’now, your general monster-on-the-loose mayhem. And I love the choice to show glimpses of the Energy Being’s victims within its chaotic mass during the Control Voice’s closing narration. It implies that they still exist, on some level, after being consumed by the creature (kinda like Jedi Knights joining with The Force when they die, only here it’s not a desirable afterlife).
The Energy Being, monstrous though it may be, isn’t really the true antagonist of the episode. That dubious honor belongs to the nefarious Dr. Bloch, who has somehow figured out a way to reanimate the dead, a monumental scientific achievement which he is misusing and abusing to keep his employees in line. NORCO’s mission is to find a way to create new energy from nothingness, supposedly to solve the world’s energy shortage, but Bloch’s apparent true goal is to find a way to perpetually feed his pet Energy Being, which acts as his henchman whenever somebody gets out of line. So this whole thing is really about a megalomaniac zealously perpetuating his own control? The whole thing is just a closed loop?
As Professor Linden articulates after she shoots Dr. Bloch, it’s a matter of strict control that keeps the Energy Being at bay. We've seen that it’s holding place (“the pit”) is secured by two doors (something of an airlock approach) and, when it gets loose late in act four, the only way they lure it back into captivity is to create an artificial power outage. How, then, is it able to saunter outside --- in broad daylight --- and murder the security guard in act one (who, oddly enough, isn't sporting a pacemaker)?
About the EB’s temporary escape late in the episode: Bloch frees it in a sort of mad-scientist-throwing-open-the-gates-of-hell-last-dying-act move. Siroleo is standing very close to the door controls, which are clearly marked. Why the hell doesn’t he just push the fucking button and close the door? A full thirty seconds elapse before the Being makes it out into the lab, and Siroleo spends that entire time backing away slowly. Wotta chump.
Note the painting behind Bloch’s desk. It’s a generic picture of a cloudy sky (with something resembling a mushroom cloud in the middle), but am I the only one who sees the Energy Being in there too? I hope that was intentional, as it’s a great touch.
The pacemakers are actually fairly accurate in their design for the time period (the one pictured above is a 1958 model). But why the hell are they strapped outside of the wearer’s shirts (but barely concealed under jackets and lab smocks)? I was trying to think of a practical reason for this, and then I realized that it’s probably the same reason we didn't see naked bodies on the O.B.I.T. screen: this is 1960’s television, so skin was kept to a minimum. Plus they’re much easier to see this way, so I guess it makes sense from a dramatic standpoint.
The coroner assumes Stu’s “mechanism was defective” and that the water shouldn’t have caused the short circuit. Thanks to the wonders of frame-by-frame film analysis, we can see that the short begins before the water even touches Stu’s pacemaker. It’s difficult to tell if the explosion effect was added as an optical effect in postproduction, but it looks pretty damned real either way (and pretty graphic for 1960’s TV). Here's the shot in full motion:
The pacemakers aren't the magic behind the NORCO zombies’ existence, as they’re just keeping the hearts beating. The real question is: how the hell is Bloch reanimating his dead employees in the first place? You can’t just strap a pacemaker onto a dead person and bring ‘em back (the world’s overpopulation problem would be much bigger were this the case). Suspension of disbelief works once, but twice in the same episode? We've already had to accept this nonsensical Energy Being at face value, and now this?
What really saves the day and keeps things interesting despite the, um, questionable science are the great characters (and the great actors inhabiting them). The NORCO zombies behave mostly normally except for a curious touch of languor (most pronounced in Professor Linden). Stu’s demeanor isn’t radically different after his zombification, but it’s different enough to tip Jory off that something’s amiss. The NORCO gate guards are humorously humorless, and Dr. Bloch is probably the maddest mad scientist in the entire series. Siroleo is played by Lou Grant himself, Ed Asner, so he's impossible not to love. Gabby is sexy as hell and charming to boot, and Jory… well, Jory’s an annoying man child with a complex (or several), but Scott Marlowe somehow makes us like him anyway.
Speaking of something being amiss… what the hell is the deal with Jory fondling that toy bunny? He's completely and infuriatingly oblivious to the impossibly hot Gabby is sitting right there, smoking in the dark and clearly available for some earth-shattering sex. I don't scream at the TV often, but this was one of those times.
The musical landscape of “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” is comprised of familiar stock cues, but they fit the action nicely. The mysterious “The Lottery” sets a nice ominous mood during the prologue, then “Alien on the Loose” sounds whenever the Energy Being gets frisky (both from “The Architects of Fear”). The ubiquitous “Outer Limits Signature Loop” (from “The Man Who Was Never Born”) is heard briefly a couple of times. “The Human Factor” provides the usual “It’s Here” and “The Monster Appears” cues, as well as “Struggle and Gunshot” in act four during Siroleo’s struggle with Dr. Bloch and Bloch’s subsequent shooting (very appropriate!). Speaking of appropriate cue placement, “The Big Finish” (from next week’s “The Borderland”) bombastically finishes things up.
The mysterious Stoney Burke cue (which we first heard in “O.B.I.T.” and detailed here) is heard again, at the 4:41 mark). There’s no dialogue this time and only a minimum of sound effects, so I snagged it for my (and your) listening pleasure:
A longer version of the cue appears at the 13:40 mark, when Professor Linden locks Stuart in The Pit. Man, I really want this cue, along with everything else Dominic Frontiere composed for Stoney Burke, to round out my Outer Limits soundtrack collection. Help me, La La Land Records, you’re my only hope…!
Scott Marlowe (Jory Peters) will return as Andre in the season one closer “The Forms of Things Unknown.” He’d worked for Daystar Productions before on their pre-TOL series Stoney Burke (“Point of Honor”). Is it just me, or does he look a lot like Tony Shalhoub?
Professor Stuart Peters is played by Michael Forrest in his only TOL appearance. He also showed up on The Twilight Zone as a leather-clad biker/alien invader (no, really) in “Black Leather Jackets” (which turns 50 next month), and as the god Apollo (no, really) in Star Trek’s “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
Kent Smith is marvelously creepy as Dr. Bloch in the first of two Outer Limits roles (he’ll also play the alien Aabel in “The Children of Spider County” in February. Genre fans may know him best from his starring roles in the Val Lewton classic Cat People (1942) and its sequel Curse of the Cat People (1944).
Ed Asner is gruff-yet-cuddly (something of a proto-Lou Grant) as Detective Sgt. Thomas Siroleo in his sole TOL stint. Daystar utilized his services previously on Stoney Burke (“Tigress by the Tail”).
Joan Camden (Prof. Stephanie Linden) returns to The Outer Limits for her second and last appearance (we saw her previously in “The Hundred Days of the Dragon”). Curiously, this is her last acting credit which, given her fate in this episode, is a bit creepy (she actually didn't pass away until 2000, so I guess it was only her Hollywood career that died).
TOL Babe alert! Barbara Luna is s-s-s-smokin’ hot as Gabby Christian (sorry, she makes my stutter come back). Horny genre fans are probably more familiar with her work as the midriff-baring Marlena in Star Trek’s “Mirror Mirror.” Luna is 74 years old, and she's still a knockout.
Barbara Luna in 2013. No, that's not a typo.
The coroner who explains Stu’s cardiac pacemaker to Jory is played by Tom Palmer, who also appeared in the “Color Him Lucky” episode of Stoney Burke as well as The Twilight Zone’s “The Lateness of the Hour” (in which he played Robert, the android butler; pictured below). And finally, the ill-fated cleaning woman is played by Lea Marmer, who enjoyed an uncredited role as an unnamed woman in the Twilight Zone episode “The Gift.”
HOME VIDEO RELEASES
Like all 49 Outer Limits episodes, “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” was released on VHS by MGM/UA at some point between 1987 and 1991 and, since I vividly recall having it in my collection, it must have been released fairly early on (see here to decode what the hell I’m talking about). That cover is awesome, and it quite effectively evokes the episode without even showing the Energy Being.
Columbia House, that hallowed mail-order home video club of old, offered the entire series on VHS as well; each tape contained two episodes (“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” was paired with “The Human Factor”) but, since I wasn’t a member, I couldn't tell you if it was a better deal versus buying the individual episodes at retail. All 24 volumes had the same cover, which featured images from four pretty arbitrarily-chosen episodes; “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” was one of them. Across the pond in the UK, eight 2-episode VHS volumes were released; “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” shared tape space with “Production and Decay of Strange Particles,” which is actually a pretty smart pairing.
28 of the series’ 49 episodes were released on the (at the time) premium Laserdisc format in four boxed sets. “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” can be found on the second volume, which was released in 1992.
“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” crawled onto DVD three different times, thanks to MGM’s persistent insistence on re-releasing the same damn product in different packaging. The series’ entire first season was released on September 2, 2002 (a release which I eagerly bought the day it came out). Five years later (2007, if you don’t feel like doing the math) MGM split the season in half and released two separate volumes (the discs were identical to those previously released). The following year, the series’ 45th anniversary, found the entire series finally released together in one box… but the discs were again the exact same ones as the previous releases. This is the 50th anniversary of the series, and I’m shocked as hell that they didn't attempt a quadruple-dip ploy. Given their tendency to disrespect their customer base, I guess hoping for a blu-ray release to commemorate the show’s golden anniversary was completely crazy on my part.
You say don’t have a DVD player or a TV, but you do have a computer? You can still get your TOL fix by pointing your browser to Hulu, where you can stream the entire series free of charge.
TRADING CARD CORNER
The Energy Being was unjustly excluded from Topps’ classic Monsters from Outer Limits card series; however, Rittenhouse picked up the slack in 2002 and chose it, along with seven other episodes, to spotlight in their TOL trading card series (cards 37-45).
Rittenhouse allotted 9 cards for each episode and, throughout the course of those 9 cards, the episode’s plot is serialized on the backsides. But of course the main draw of any trading card is the picture on the front. Now, I've complained about Rittenhouse’s efforts in the past, mostly because their cards lean toward boring human character shots rather than playing up the glorious monsters and aliens the show has to offer (example: in their nine “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” cards, they never ONCE show the Venusian alien; WTF?). For “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork,” they manage to show the Energy Being twice, along with Stu getting barbecued in the bathtub, so they did okay here. However, they only show the gorgeous Barbara Luna one time, and it’s on the BACK of a card, so they lose a point). The 72-card base set can be found pretty cheap these days (the chase and autograph cards are a different story, however), so hit eBay if you’re interested.
Dimensional Designs made quite a few Outer Limits model kits available (before apparently giving up entirely), and the Energy Being is one of them (DD/OL/EB-34). It’s a great sculpt, perfectly capturing the creature despite its inherent indistinctness; they even incorporated the explosion effect at its center, which goes off every few seconds in the episode (almost like a heartbeat). There’s no face, but it’s got personality nonetheless (it appears to be moving forward, ready to attack). Of the model kits we've glanced at so far, it’s one of my favorites. Want it? Go here and prepare to pony up $59.95 plus shipping.
Thanks to Google Images, I stumbled across an impressive archive of assembled and painted TOL models by someone calling himself “Mr. Enamel.” Mr. Enamel, whoever you are, please accept my compliments on your skills (and my apologies for stealing your images, which I’ll be doing regularly in these pages).
"It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" features a pretty awesome monster (dodgy origin notwithstanding), interesting characters, and some great effects (Stu's bathtub death is, um, shockingly realistic). What's not to love? It doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of the best that The Outer Limits has to offer, but it's definitely way above average.