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Cinema as Sermons – The Outer Limits (Original Series) Demon with a Glass Hand

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

The Outer Limits

I grew up in the early 1960’s into the 1970’s.

I remember our family getting our first color TV. The beginnings of what is accepted icons of pop-culture like Star Trek or Batman, to name a few, debuted during that time.

The Outer Limits was originally broadcast between 1963 to 1965. Two seasons were produced totaling 49 episodes.

There was many notable writers involved including its creator, Leslie Stevens, Joseph Stefano ( the creative force for season 1 ), who was also the screenwriter for Psycho, and Harlan Ellison who wrote the series 2 episodes, Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier. Soldier won a Writers Guild Award – and it was this episode that Ellison insisted all the way to court was the inspiration for James Cameron’s film The Terminator.

The Outer Limits was made in the same time frame as the Twilight Zone. Both had opening and closing narration. Outer Limits episodes where darker/moodier with an almost film-noir feel to them. The Twilight Zone produced episodes were shorter and were typically moral parables.

The Outer Limits separated itself from The Twilight Zone by offering up an action-adventure science fiction concept in which each episode featured what was called a “bear.” The “bear” was a monster, or an alien that served as an antagonist or foil for the characters.

The Outer Limits presented sci-fi stories in a Gothic horror tradition, using surreal and bizarre imagery. Expressionist cinematography was used to create an eerie mood and look. The result was like nothing TV viewers had seen before. The program was unique for it’s time and required a creativeness born of necessity. Producers and cinematographers made use of techniques (lighting, camerawork, even make-up) associated with film noir or German Expressionism (see for example, "Corpus Earthling"). The sheer eeriness of each episode is Credited to the cinematographer Conrad Hall, who went on to win three Academy Awards (and many more nominations) for his work in the motion picture industry. The program's other cinematographers included John M. Nickolaus and Kenneth Peach.

In the last episode of this season another talented director Gerd Oswald directed talents like Cedric Hardwicke (The Ten Commandments), Barbara Rush and Vera Miles in ‘The Form of Things Unknown’ a brilliantly crafted and filmed story of jealousy, betrayal, and time travel.

This Outer Limits was made well before the revolution in the special effects we have become so accustomed to. Many of the effects were mechanical or implied, made with whatever they could put together. Many of you might be aware that the first Star Wars movie is considered the best for , among other things for the use of mechanical effects, as George Lucas was instrumental in creating many special effects that did not exist at the time of that movies filming.

The series was unique in that it did not pander to shallow entertainment but created stories that would provoke the audience into thinking about to the state of the world and their lives. Few TV programs today have such lofty or intellectual considerations. Black and white was used as a medium often like paint in the ways light and shadow were crafted into works of art not seen today.

Today in our product oriented film culture Black and white is a lost art form. The makers of the Outer Limits used the lack of color not as a limitation but as a different and powerful way to express ideas on film.

The many monsters, creatures/ props from the first season were developed by a group called Project Unlimited. Members included Wah Chang, Gene Warren and Jim Danforth. Makeup was executed by Fred B. Phillips along with John Chambers. Many of theses men went on to have well established careers in film and television.

Demon with a Glass Hand" (written by Harlan Ellison, directed by Byron Haskin)

Opening narration:

"Through all the legends of ancient peoples—Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian*, Semitic—runs the saga of the Eternal Man, the one who never dies, called by various names in various times, but historically known as Gilgamesh, the one who has never tasted death... the hero who strides through the centuries..."

This was The Outer Limits signature episode. Robert Culp plays Trent, a man with no memories who is being pursued by aliens from the future that want to kill him. The only way he can learn what they want, and his purpose is to find and restore three missing fingers from his left hand, which is not a hand at all, but a speaking computer made of glass.

Closing Narration:

Like the Eternal Man of Babylonian legend, like Gilgamesh, one thousand plus two hundred years stretches before Trent. Without love. Without friendship. Alone, neither man nor machine, Waiting. Waiting for the day he will be called to free the humans who gave him mobility. Movement, but not life."

Brilliantly directed by Byron Haskin (other films included 1952 classic ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ and ‘Conquest of Space.’), penned with precision and scope by Ellison and even featuring perhaps the best musical score of the entire series. Also of note is director was Gerd Oswald, who helped start the career of Robert Wagner (1956 ‘A Kiss Before Dying).’ The writing and production values of the Outer Limits was so high that theses directors took time away from movie making to participate.

Haskin’s direction is the glue that binds it all together. Haskin, teamed here with director of Photography Kenneth Peach (who turns in his finest work here), pulls off a veritable onslaught of unforgettable imagery: the minimalist German Expressionistic prologue… the overhead shot of a Kyben soldier falling to his death… the numerous close-ups of the luminous glass hand, blinking and whirring as it matter-of-factly reels off new data, the distorted funhouse visage of the time mirror… the list is extensive. “Demon” is the most visually arresting episode the second season has to offer, quite refreshing after the mundaneness we’ve seen so far.

Most of the episode was shot in the Dixon building.

The Dixon Building is of course the historic Bradbury Building on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, which was designated a National Historical Monument in 1977, and is still in use today (among its occupants is the Internal Affairs division of the LA Police Department. This was the same location used for the final scenes of the original Blade Runner movie, adding to its exalted place in genre history.

Television like many things in life is not meant to be viewed in a vacuum. It reflects the mind of the people who write and produce it and the culture from which they live in. Back in 1963, the world was facing tremendous change turmoil, and uncertainty just as we are today. Political turmoil seemed to be in the headlines constantly, nuclear war was the greatest fear in America at the time, while the space program had revived interest science and space exploration. This was a time of many restrictions in the television production, language, and intent for example. The social and moral point of view in society was still grounded in decency and personal integrity. Now of course there are few restrictions which affects the quality of programing.

So today the over sexualization of children and adults along with the measure of a person hanging on sexual preference or what your career is contributes among other factors to the breakdown we are witnessing today in our culture and the world.

Series creator Leslie Stevens and screenwriter Joseph Stefano were able to get deeply creative and thought provoking ideas and social criticism on television disguised as science fiction. It was from these clever stories that the American public first heard the ‘Control Voice’ (Vic Perrin) as he warned the audience not to try to adjust their television sets, to sit back and let them take us to the Outer Limits. His voice set up the premise of the episode and concluded with a provocative statement concerning the moral lesson presented in the story.

The stories were presented as pure entertainment, but there was deep thinking and moral integrity. This has always been the greatest qualities of the genre in this era and time entertainment

Among the many talented actors present in this first season were: Martin Sheen, David McCallum, Robert Duval, Robert Culp, and Sally Kellerman. This series gave the audience an opportunity to see some of the earliest and best work of these actors. The series was labeled and perceived only as a Sci-Fi show, yet it was clear the actors were aware of the unique status of the program. Many gave stellar performances.

So if you have time or the interest her is a link for the entire episode of The Demon with a Glass Hand

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