Filmed in Wilmington, N.C., by O’Hara-Horowitz Prods. Executive producers, Michael O’Hara, Lawrence Horowitz; supervising producer, Carol Serling; producer , S. Bryan Hickox; director, Robert Markowitz; THE THEATER
WHERE THE DEAD ARE
Cast: Jack Palance, Patrick Bergin, Jenna Stern, Julia Campbell, Peter McRobbie, Bill Bolender, Malachy McCourt, J. Michael Hunter, Stan Kelly, Tony Pender, Hank Troscianiec, Mark Joy, Richard K. Olsen, Chris O’Neill.
Pair of unproduced Rod Serling dramas — one from a Serling treatment, the other a Serling script — make it to the screen thanks to the late writer’s widow, Carol Serling. Richard Matheson, who penned many of the early “Twilight Zones,” has adapted Serling’s “The Theater” concept, and Serling’s own script has been used for “Where the Dead Are.” Neither’s top-drawer Serling, and the second, longer effort plays more like bottom-of-the-trunk material.
Opening 30-minute opus, “The Theater,” working with hallucinations and forecasting, has Amy Irving turning down a marriage proposal from a doctor (Gary Cole). She heads for a movie theater, and Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are replaced onscreen by a rerun of Irving’s confab with Cole, followed by a look at upcoming violence in which she’s involved. Cole tries reassuring her, but she insists on enduring her destiny, and Cole learns a minor philosophical point.
Concept works OK. Matheson, knowing a thing or five about the scare genre, intelligently builds his script. Once he’s reached the denouement of Serling’s concept, though, the drama falters. The smooth production, acting and direction are admirable, Christiaan Wagener’s production design’s smart, with Jacek Laskus’ lensing flirting with German expressionism. But the outcome is inconclusive no matter what host James Earl Jones’ voiceover opines.
“Dead,” 90-minute period piece about surgeon Patrick Bergin visiting retired pharmacist Jack Palance on sinister, isolated Shadow Island, goes for Gothic horror and creeks badly. Production’s first two-thirds, filmed in sepia tones, revels in 19th century excesses; final third picks up momentarily as the meller turns into a zombierama.
Badly in need of rewriting, Serling’s teleplay uses overripe dialogue, shopworn characters and amusingly horrific situations. The writing and Robert Markowitz’s unrestrained direction beg for Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn.
Bergin makes his way to Palance’s isolated house, where he lives with his niece (Jenna Stern). Palance, confined to a wheelchair, sits awaiting his own doom after giving a life-saving berry concoction to three-quarters of the islanders. Chewing considerable scenery, Palance without coaxing tells Bergin a terrible secret.
Neither Bergin nor Stern delivers much credibility, while Palance whacks relentlessly away at the tortured ex-druggist. Secondary cast members have to cope with tough-to-play, overblown material; not many manage. Julia Campbell’s suggestive barmaid went out with silent pix. But toward the end of the vidpic, Chris O’Neill as a desperate Bainbridge punches life into the exercise.
Wagener’s production design is, if familiar, appropriate. Patrick Williams’ somber score tries bolstering the telepic, and Laskus’ lensing reaches for eerie. Though filmed in North Carolina, “Dead” looks like Universal’s 1930s backlot.
Looks like Serling was using his head when he left these two in the trunk.