Sunday, January 19, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Don't Open Till Doomsday" (1/20/1964)


On The Outer Limits fifty years ago tonight, shit got weird. Like, real weird. Like fuck-with-young-minds weird.

The year is 1929. A strange man delivers a package to Harvey Kry's wedding, which a servant dutifully places on a table with the rest of the gifts in the bridal suite. Alone in the room, Kry hears a strange humming sound emanating from the package, attached to which is a card reading "Don't Open Till Doomsday." His curiosity piqued, he opens the box .

Inside the box is another box with no apparent seams and a single round hole. He peers inside the inner box, sees a hideous orbicular creature, and screams.

Fast forward 35 years: using a forged marriage license, underage lovers Gard Hayden and Vivia Balfour are pronounced man and wife by the local Justice of the Peace. The Justice's wife places a clandestine telephone call and directs the newlyweds to Mrs. Kry's house for lodging. Mrs. Kry, a relic from the Roaring Twenties, has kept her bridal suite intact and undisturbed since her wedding night, right down to the table of unopened giftsincluding the Doomsday box which, as we see, contains a miniaturized (and unaged) Harvey Kry. It's also worth mentioning that Mrs. Kry's lack of deflowering has left her quite out of her mind.

Mrs. Kry (over) eagerly offers the newlyweds her unused bridal suite, telling them that her groom vanished on their wedding night, and that she's spent the last 35 years faithfully awaiting his return. leaves Vivia alone for a moment while he goes to park the car in a more discrete spot (it seems Emmett Balfour, Vivia's father and well-known political figure, is trying to track them down) and, while alone, she's drawn to the strange humming of the Doomsday boxand is sucked inside of it.

Gard is devastated to find Vivia gone and, assuming she's lost her nerve and returned to her daddy's disapproving arms, leaves in a dejected huff (much to Mrs. Kry's chagrin; who clearly intended Vivia's fate for him). Meanwhile, Balfour tracks the couple to the Kry residence. Mrs. Kry directs him to the bridal suite, where he too is sucked into the box.

The alien explains all to Balfour: it was part of an alien plot to destroy the universe (starting with Earth for some unspecified reason), a plot which hasn't been completed because the alien was accidentally separated from its comrades and needs help finding them, so they can "blend frequencies" (apparently their weapon is sonic in nature and won't work with a missing component), which Kry has steadfastly refused to do for 35 years while the alien has held him prisoner. Vivia has also refused to help itbut her father agrees, on the condition that he and Vivia are released.

The alien complies, and both are teleported out of the box. Gard arrives just in time to get Vivia out of harm's way as the alien recognizes Balfour's ruse. It sucks Balfour back into the box and then, realizing that mankind will never assist it, destroys itself and the Kry house, obliterating Balfour and both Krys in the process.


Got all that? Yeah, it's a pretty zany reverse-Pandora's Box tale, which only starts to make sense in the final few minutes of the show, as the alien (a.k.a. the Box Demon) explains everything to Balfour (and, perhaps more importantly, us). Up till then, the uninitiated viewer will have no clue what the hell is happening. It's actually a bit jarring, after 45 minutes of near-impenetrable weirdness, to receive such a sharp jolt of clarity (like M. Night Shyamalan's early films, it almost demands an immediate second viewing). In his awe-inspiring Outer Limits Companion, DAVID J. SCHOW relays the episode's storyline in a manner that lays out the alien's plot first, which helps immeasurably to distill the story into a clear narrative. I opted to reel it off in a linear fashion, in the hopes that I might capture at least a bit of the confounding nature of the story as it unfolds. Did I succeed? I'll probably never know, because anyone who reads this will have most likely already seen the damn thing.

If you start peeling back layers, it becomes evident very quickly that the whole thing is about sex. Like, all of it, every bit of it, in one way or another. I'm not going to dissect all the sexual angles and how they interconnect because, frankly, it's been done, and pretty damned thoroughly at that. In writing this blog, I'm constantly wary of hashing over ground already covered --- brilliantly covered at that --- in Schow's book (by contrast, I rarely have this problem in my because, frankly, Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion is a pretty cursory affair, sometimes infuriatingly so). I've been dreading this episode for exactly this reason. Do I have anything of value to say? Or will I just throw up some mildly inappropriate memes?

"Don't Open Till Doomsday" is another JOSEPH STEFANO original, so we get another group psychologically unbalanced characters wandering around in an unconventional narrative structure with (seemingly) random, atypical tension points (his script could easily be adapted for the stage, like his earlier and the forthcoming "The Bellero Shield"). Said narrative structure seems to mirror the events that comprise the loss of virginity: awkward and frustrating lurches forward, underlying emotional turmoil, and a climax that arrives suddenly and terminates too abruptly. I don't know if Stefano intentionally erected (heh heh) his story in this way, but

What was Stefano's overarching message here (if any)? Perhaps this was his love letter to all those poor guys out there, trying like hell to hook up with the fairer sex, by subliminally showing female viewers the end result of not putting out. It could be argued that Mrs. Kry is a living breathing cautionary tale against abstinence, so....c'mon ladies, drop the frigid routine. Fine, I'm a dog, whatever.

"Don't Open Till Doomsday" is directed by GERD OSWALD and captured by DOP CONRAD HALL. When this dynamic duo brings a Stefano script to life (as they did with and will do again with "The Invisibles" and "The Forms of Things Unknown"), the result is something too big for television, too grand. The little boxes of 1963 couldn't possibly contain such a flood of multi-layered ideas and brilliant visuals (the bigger high-def sets of today really can't either, come to think of it)... their work is nothing if not pure cinema.

The time lapse from 1929 to 1964 is simple and effective: a gust of wind and a swarm of autumn leaves transition us from a shot of the newly-built Kry mansion to the shabby husk that 35 years of disuse reduces it to. The empty house, and the dusty bridal suite within it, is a potent physical manifestation of Mrs. Kry's untapped and wilted sexuality (just as Andro was a living embodiment of the ruined and sterile future he came from in ). The shot of Balfour ascending the stairs at the end of act three looks like something out of 1947's The Uninvited. The shots of Vivia and Balfour after their respective absorptions into the box are nightmarish and surreal; their reduced size somehow makes the terror bigger.

In fact, there's lots of surreal imagery on display here; most notably the floating eyeballs seen from inside the box, evoking Salvador Dali's The Eye (1945) as well as Dali's work on Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound that same year.

"Don't Open Till Doomsday" is actually the second half of a much larger story. The tale actually begins with scientist Dr. Mordecai Spazman, who is denounced as crazy for announcing that an alien invasion is in progress, which he has clear and obvious proof of (the box and its globular inhabitant). Rather than produce his proof and regain his credibility, he uses it for revenge against his nemesis, the man who made a public laughing stock of him: Harvey Kry Senior (this all kinda sounds like a Weird Science comic plot, doesn't it?). The episode opens with Spazman delivering the box, disguised as a gift, to Kry Junior's wedding party, and away we go. Interestingly, when all is said and done, Spazman emerges as something of a hero, since his revenge ploy keeps the Box Demon, well, boxedultimately preventing the earth's destruction.

The single biggest lingering mystery (for me, anyway) centers around the Justice's wife. First of all, she's just plain creepy, but what is her connection to Mrs. Kry, and how much does she know about the whole Box Demon situation? She's very obviously directing male traffic to the Kry house, so she's either in on the whole hostage-trading scheme or she's just trying to get poor Mrs. Kry, that eternal virgin, laid. Either way: man, what a friend.

I was pretty hard (heh heh) on the 's design a couple of weeks ago, but compared with the Box Demonhoo boy. If that thing was wacky, then this critter iswell, ber-wacky. There are some pretty goofy aliens and monsters still to come before we get to the end of the series a year from now (I'm looking at you, Megasoid), but they can't touch this. The Box Demon --- sometimes derisively referred to as "Turdo" for obvious reasons --- is the series' single goofiest creature. By far.

I can see how the script breezed past the censors, since all its gooey squirmy adult themes brim and bubble just beneath the surface and are therefore easily missed by pencil pushers trained to screen for profanity and explicitly sexual contentbut how the hell did the Box Demon squeak by? Look at it! In plain sight we have a very obvious penile tip (making Turdo an actual dickhead), bisected by a big labial mouth and, further down, a pair of saggy breasts and what looks like a pig's nose at the base (okay, that last one's not sexualat least it fucking shouldn't be). It's like a copulating couple was transported to the Enterprise and their patterns were accidentally merged (my god, does my Trek nerdiness know no limits?).

And that eye. That single terrible eye, rolling around in that ugly head. So it's a variation on a Cyclops-type monster too. Jeez, this thing just gets uglier and uglier. We get a brief overhead shot of it, in which it appears to be propping itself up with one of its hands. It's somewhat mobile, but we never learn how it moves around (is it like a slug in that regard? If so, it's even more disgusting, impossible as that may seem).

So what exactly is the box that houses this lumpy beast? It seems to be a shell of sorts for the pocket of negative space that fills itwas it originally part of the Demon's spaceship? Or did Spazman construct it?And how does it move back and forth on the table in the bridal suite? Does it contain some sort of motorized mechanism, controlled by the Demon, or is the Demon endowed (heh heh) with some sort of telekinesis?

As presented, the Box Demon is pure evil, bent on galactic destruction for no apparent reason; however, in Stefano's original script, there's a very definite reason given: it seems our universe "intrudes" on the void that it and its kind hail from (this line was deleted before shooting for some unknown reason). If we opt to accept the deleted line as canonical (which I'm inclined to do, since I feel compelled to reconcile everything; it's kind of a curse, actually), then we achieve at least some measure of clarity as to the aliens' origin: their universe is the negative equivalent of ours, coexisting in the same space but constituting an opposing dimension. From there, we (okay, I) begin to wonder how they reached their fateful conclusion in the first place: what happened to convince them that our entire universe had to go?

In last week's Phobos-One outlined the danger of negative matter being released into our universe if a section of the space-time continuum were to become worn out. Might this sort of catastrophe have prompted the Box Demons to lash out? Did some careless Martian over-examine a piece of history and rupture the cosmic barrier between our positive reality and its negative counterpart? Could it be that they're only trying to protect themselves?


The episode's teaser is short and sweet (a mere 40 seconds in length) but, even in that tiny window of time, we get exclusive footage not seen in the episode proper. We see Balfour hesitantly approach the Doomsday Box and reluctantly peer inside (in the episode, we cut in on a shot of him already looking inside). It's nothing substantial, I grant you, but it's a nice little detail for obsessive fans like yours truly.


"Don't Open Till Doomsday" features a dark and intense original score by DOMINIC FRONTIERE, with a couple of ragtime jazz pieces by ROBERT VAN EPS (who scored last month's ) thrown in as source music (wedding band, Victrola records, etc). For me, the Eps bits are a huge distraction in an otherwise brilliant Frontiere score (one of his best for the series), but I suppose they're relevant to the period (and Mrs. Kry's unwavering adherence to said period). The score includes cues that we'll hear regularly for the rest of the season (starting with next week's "ZZZZZ"), most notably "A Father's Search," "Upstairs," and "Zapped Into Box" (all three occur sequentially in the episode, incidentally).

Special note on "A Father's Search": In his Outer Limits Companion, Schow refers to this cue as "Laying the Green," which strengthens a suspicion I've been having for a while now: the cue titles used for La La Land's soundtrack are not always the actual cue titles. For a film/TV music buff like me (who, oddly enough, is endlessly fascinated with TV library music and its associated uses and reuses across multiple episodes and even different series; Christ, talk about a sub-category of a sub-category), this iswell, pretty damned frustrating. MAESTRO LAWRENCE RAPCHAK, Music Director for Chicago's Northbrook Symphony Orchestra, at one time had (and maybe still has?) access to all of Frontiere's TOL scores, and wrote about the score for the blog (2010-2011). If I'm being perfectly honest, wellI seethe with jealousy. I'm not proud of it, but I do. Seriously, this is something that I obsess over. I'm probably the only person in the world who fervently wishes to catalog every single cue from the entire series (and do it accurately and correctly), and I don't have the access and means to do so.

If you're a fan of great film and television music, you really need to own a copy ' wonderful three-disc Outer Limits soundtrack collection, released in 2008 (which includes the "Don't Open Till Doomsday" score, complete with those distracting Dixieland pieces). It's still available on their website, and it's now been permanently marked down from the ridiculously low price of $19.95 to the OBSCENELY LOW PRICE of . Don't delay, order today!


MIRIAM HOPKINS (Mrs. Kry) has an impressive resume from the early decades of film, but nothing really of genre interestwith one notable exception: she played the ill-fated Ivy in 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

JOHN HOYT (Emmett Balfour) is much easier to find genre connections for. First and foremost, he'll return to The Outer Limits later this season ("The Bellero Shield") and next season too ("I, Robot"). He also played Dr. Phillip Boyce, the original chief medical officer on the USS Enterprise ("Bones" McCoy's predecessor) on TV's Star Trek, in that series' pilot episode "The Cage." He also crossed over into The Twilight Zone twice: he played android creator Dr. Loren in and the titular Martian (with three arms!) in (perhaps he knows Phobos-One and Diemos ?).

Gard Hayden, that dreamy hunk of Mid-American young manhood, is played by BUCK TAYLOR in his only TOL appearance, but this wasn't his first Daystar rodeo by a longshot: he appeared in three different episodes of their pre-TOL series Stoney Burke ("The Mob Riders", "Gold-Plated Maverick", and "Kincaid").

Of course we recognize DAVID FRANKHAM (Harvey Kry Jr.) from his role as Captain Terry Brookman in earlier this season. Star Trek fans will also recall his appearance as Larry Marvick in "Is There No Truth in Beauty?"

NELLIE BURT (the Justice's wife) will be back in March, playing another shrewish and domineering wife in "The Guests." She'd cross paths with Joseph Stefano again in 1964 when she appeared in the pilot episode of The Haunted ("The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre"), a series starring TOL alum Martin Landau which was never picked up. The pilot was subsequently released theatrically oversees, and is a real rarity here (I've never seen it myself; how 'bout a DVD release? Please?). Meanwhile, RUSSELL COLLINS (the Justice of the Peace) was also seen in a whopping nine episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one Twilight Zone ().

ANTHONY JOCHIM (Dr. Mordecai Spazman) would cross paths with John Hoyt again in 1966 in the first Star Trek pilot "The Cage" as an unnamed Talos IV crash survivor. He also put in time on Thriller, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond.


The episode first appeared on home video in the late 80's and, like many Outer Limits VHS tapes, was graced with a stunning cover (it's probably one of my favorites). In the early 90's, Columbia House offered the entire series in a subscription-club format, each volume containing two episodes ("Don't Open Till Doomsday" was paired with "A Feasibility Study," which is an odd coupling (heh heh); if anything they should've put it with "ZZZZZ" (for reasons we'll discuss next week). I should mention that, while the retail tapes each had unique, episode-specific covers, the Columbia House tapes had one unifying cover which incorporated imagery from four different episodes, one of which was "Don't Open Till Doomsday."

LaserDisc collectors had to wait until 1994 to see the Box Demon on the (then) superior digital format, when the episode appeared on the third (out of a total four) Outer Limits collection. LaserDisc collectors also had to deal with an incomplete collection when the LD flow stopped in favor of the next big deal in home video .

...DVD! MGM released the entire first season in one big boxed set in 2002 (season two followed in 2003), immediately rendering all previous releases obsolete (of course there was resistance, but eventually everyone gave in to DVD's seductive siren song; seriously, do you know one single person who never upgraded, and stuck with their VCRs and/or LD players?). MGM released the series on DVD two more times (in 2007, then again in 2008) and, as of this writing, apparently has no intention of taking The Outer Limits to the next logical platform: blu-ray.

If you're sitting at your computer (which you probably are, if you're reading this), and you've got a hankering to watch "Don't Open Till Doomsday" right this very minute, point your browser toward , where the entire series is available for viewing via streaming . for free. Damn... one of the greatest television series ever, and they're just giving it away! You kids today don't know how good you have it.


Topps included the Box Demon in their 1964 trading card series Monsters from Outer Limits, dubbing it "The Brainless Glob" (that ugly sumbitch hasn't suffered enough, apparently).


Like most Outer Limits monsters and aliens, the Box Demon was immortalized in a 1/8 scale resin model kit by John Garcia for (DD/OL/BD-11). Want it? and you'll have your own mini-Turdo to assemble, paint, and gaze lovingly at while you squirm uncomfortably for reasons you can't readily explain.

Artiste extraordinaire (and friend of this blog)recently laid down a pretty awesome acrylics-on-canvas rendering of the Box Demon, complete with a human eye peeping in on its private negative space domain. This is one of five Welch originals commissioned for the upcoming at in Burbank, CA (date and time to be announced). We'll see another one next week for "ZZZZZ," but as for the other three . they remain a mystery as of this writing.


One of the most subversive (and hysterically strange) things to ever air on network television, "Don't Open Till Doomsday" is yet another high point for The Outer Limits. As season one wears on, things will (sadly) get a bit more pedestrian, but fear not! There's still plenty of weirdness to come.

This week's entry was brought to you by . Pick up a bottle for your next social gathering andyeah, bust that cherry!

...goddamn it, I'm despicable.
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