John Bruni reviews Night Gallery – Episode 028a – The Caterpillar

Night Gallery - Episode 028a - The Caterpillar 50 min., 1972
Written by Rod Serling/Oscar Cook
Directed by Jean Szwarc
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★★

“The longest three weeks a man could ever spend.”

* * *

When one thinks of Rod Serling, NIGHT GALLERY isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, which is unfortunate. Sure, THE TWILIGHT ZONE was an amazing show, but NIGHT GALLERY had a lot of good episodes, too. Some of them were even great, like “The Caterpillar.”

Based on a story by Oscar Cook, adapted by Serling himself, it tells the story of an Englishman, Steven Macy (Laurence Harvey), who has contracted himself out to a tobacco company operating in the jungles of Borneo. He thinks he’s doing this for adventure and excitement, as he considers boredom to be the bane of his existence. Things don’t turn out the way he expected.

Instead of adventure, he finds himself secluded to the house of his boss, an old man named John Warwick (Tom Helmore) and his significantly younger wife Rhona (Joanna Pettet). You see, Macy has arrived in the rainy season, and the foul weather is so overwhelming that no one can move around in it. He finds himself spending lonely nights inside, sitting around, and doing nothing except for talking about the day’s work. He yearns for his contract to be up so he can go back to the UK.

He doesn’t see how anyone can survive out here without going mad, especially Rhona Warwick. In fact, he’s grown very attracted to her, as she is the only woman around, and he tries to seduce her behind her husband’s back. The thing is, she really loves John, so she literally tells Macy to take a cold bath.

This infuriates him, but he doesn’t know what he can do about it until he meets Tommy Robinson (Don Knight), the local scumbag and fetch-it man. Very subtly, he suggests to Macy that it’s easy to get what he wants. During a late-night meeting at the local watering hole, Macy learns about something called an earwig.

What is an earwig? It’s a nasty little creature akin to a caterpillar. It’s attracted to people’s ears, which they enter and then eat everything in sight. Sadly for the occupant, it can’t turn around once it’s in. The only thing it can do is eat its way out the other end. Naturally, this causes the most intense agony a human being can endure, and it lasts two, sometimes three, weeks. It is always fatal in the end.

Macy pays Robinson 100 pounds to have one of his men sneak an earwig into John’s ear. Unfortunately for Macy, Robinson hires a moron, and the earwig ends up in the wrong ear. The next day at breakfast, Macy is horrified to find his own ear bleeding, and he freaks out in such a way as to alert Mr. and Mrs. Warwick as to the real assassination plot. Poor, foolish Macy spends the next two weeks of his life in incredible pain with his hands tied to his bedposts so he won’t rip his own face off.

But that’s not the end of it. No, his punishment goes much deeper than that. The twist at the end of this tale is worthy of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, it is that ghastly.

This wonderfully nasty story is perfectly accompanied by a very unobtrusive soundtrack. For the most part, there is no soundtrack, just the incessant downpour of rain. It only enhances the maddening feeling of seclusion and repetition one feels while watching this episode. There are a few moments where music is used, like the Gramophone in the beginning, but it never gets in the way, except at the very end, when it goes just a bit too much over the top.

The actors are all well chosen, too. Laurence Harvey portrays Macy quite well. When he stares after Rhona, it is very creepy. He boils over with sexual tension. It seems he’s just one bad decision away from raping her. And then later, when he’s strapped down on his bed, he is the perfect embodiment of a man who has been driven insane by his suffering. He falters a bit with some of the goofy faces he makes, but otherwise, he nails it spot on.

The other star is Don Knight as Robinson. He oozes drunken, slimy scumbaggery. His East End accent only enhances his sweaty, disgusting manner. His assassination speech in the bar is one of the most remarkable moments in this episode, truly something to behold.

Joanna Pettet is the only weak link. There are a few moments when she gets it right—like when she plays Macy a little before telling him to take a cold bath—but for the most part, she’s cardboard. Very pretty cardboard, but cardboard nonetheless, especially in the scene where she puts two and two together and realizes that the earwig was meant for her husband. The plastic bag in AMERICAN BEAUTY could have done better in that scene.

Director Jean Szwarc brings all of these fabulous ingredients together into the perfect stew of a story. This will make you feel claustrophobic. You will feel desperate. You will grimace along with Macy as he suffers in his bed, and you will be horrified by his ultimate fate, which is worse than being flayed alive, burned at the stake, or even hanged, as both he and John say near the end.

This episode can definitely hold its own when put up against THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Watch it and see why.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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