Monday, January 24, 2011

Corpus Earthling



Production Order #16
Broadcast Order #09
Original Airdate: 11/18/63
Starring Robert Culp, Salome Jens, Barry Atwater.
Written by Orin Berston based on the novel by Louis Charbonneau.
Directed by Gerd Oswald. 

Physician Paul Cameron (Culp) literally has rocks in his head when he overhears a conversation between two chunks of British stone. Paul can't get anyone to believe that the rocks are planning a takeover of the world ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Is the exhausted doctor going crazy or are we all headed to the rock pile?

PE: My greatest fear was that, since Culp is portraying a physician, we wouldn't get to see him in his patented white dock shoes. But there they are!

JS: Holy smokes! This was almost our last episode with Robert Culp. And this was not a stuntman, ladies and gentlemen. When the doctor sees him after the explosion, he says, "Thought we fixed the oven Paul." Really? Because a foot tall flame was shooting out of it when you left the room. Clearly fire safety does not exist in this dojo.

Continuing the lessons of Low-budget Filmmaking 101: How to make your just okay monster look awesome. Before you reveal it, show it in a lesser form that looks even cheesier. Like rocks. Or in this case, a pair of jello molds. It's the jiggly twins!

PE: The rocks have a "soft look" to them (much like The Blob) when they talk and that can look a bit silly but I guess the alternatives would look sillier (one of those really bad masks with a hole cut in it?). At least the voices are much better than they've chosen in the last few episodes.

JS: I'll second that. But to be completely honest, by the time we got to the talking jello molds, I had written the episode off. Which perhaps allowed me to be completely blown away. Talk about a come from behind victory.

PE: When the "jiggle twins" morph into face huggers, they're very effective. The attack on Dr. Temple (Atwater) is the show's highlight. Rock #1 morphs in to a crab-like critter, attaches onto the doctor's hand, which is forced onto his face. As the doc goes down, Rock #2 almost seems to be watching in orgasmic pleasure (all that's missing are the pom-poms). In another nod to The Blob, Atwater lets out the same kind of moan heard from The Blob's first victim. Later Atwater re-surfaces as a pallid ghoulie with a frenzied hairdo.

JS: You're getting ahead of yourself. Let's save the best for last. It dawned on me that to the child of the 60s, these creatures could have crawled right out of their Strange-Change machine:





PE: Culp is his usual quirky, excitable self. He's often shown in close-ups. For a lesser actor that could be trouble but here, as in "The Architects of Fear," he owns every scene he's in. Take, for instance when Cameron is sitting in the dark, opposite his wife, listening to the phone ring and ring and ring.  Beautifully shot, resembling a noir film, the cigarette flame lighting the man's face as he takes a drag.  When Laurie rises to answer the phone after several rings, he nastily tells her "Forget it." When she continues her journey to the phone, he snaps "I said... don't touch the phone ...please!" I'm not going to say no other actor could have pulled this off but it sure seems that way to me when he's deep into his craft. The guy was peerless.

JS: At the start of this scene, I was screaming for someone to turn a damn light on. But as it developed, the episode began to turn around for me. Culp and Salome Jens were perfectly paired, and to be frank, Jens was well served by the chiaroscuro lighting.

PE: Jens (another in a series of "Is this actress attractive or not?") takes full advantage of having a pro like Culp in just about every one of her scenes, but ironically it's her big scene sans Culp that she fully shines. When she's confronted by the transformed Dr. Temple in the villa, watch her eyes. She effortlessly moves into first place in my Best OL Actress sweepstakes (and it helps that she looks hot in a slip).

Culp is supported by a somewhat stiff, uninterested Barry Atwater, who runs the gauntlet of unemotional (in particular the ledge scene) to downright creepy (our first glance at him in his make-up brings those old Weird Tales covers to life for me).

JS: Before seeing this episode, Atwater was locked in my mind as Janos Skorzeny from The Night Stalker. From this point on, that image has been replaced with the reanimated Dr. Temple. Falling somewhere between Herk Harvey in Carnival of Souls and Orville from Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, he has cemented his place in my favorite oncreen dead guys.


PE: Atwater's makeup (and to a lesser extent, Jens' as well) resembles the creep in Carnival of Souls and foreshadows George Romero's zombies in Night of the Living Dead. He could very easily have wandered in from the set of "The Incredible Doctor Markesan." And speaking of Thriller, the climax of "Corpus Earthling" would fit right in on that show: the desolate villa, the shadows, the monsters, the "voodoo hoodoo" man burning a circle outside the villa to ward away the evil spirits, a great score, the downbeat ending.

JS: The makeup was far less effective on Jens, and there was one shot after the initial reveal of Dead Temple that was lit so harshly it diminished the impact of the makeup (directly below). Beyond that, every time Atwater was onscreen I was captivated. The shot of him walking up to the Mexican villa is classic. If you haven't forgotten the jiggly twins by this point in the show, you're already dead. And say what you will about the fate of character relationships over the past several episodes - they all pale in comparison to what Cameron is forced to do to neutralize the alien threat in this one.


PE: In the end, the rock monsters are defeated but just before they go down for the count they can be seen eyeing those local tumbleweeds. Stay tuned!

JS RATING:






PE RATING:






David J. Schow on "Corpus Earthling":



From The Outer Limits Companion, Copyright © David J. Schow, 1986, 1998.  All Rights Reserved.  Used by permission and by special arrangement with the author.



Be sure to check back later today for Larry Blamire's Spotlight on "Corpus Earthling."

Next Up...

30 comments:

  1. The original teleplay for this episode by Orin Borsten based on a novel by Louis Carbonneau featured no talking rocks or aliens. It was a powerful drama about a man fearing himself going mad. The Culp character, having returned from the Korean War with a plate in his head was suffering from PTSD (then called shell shock), heard voices in his head, grew paranoid of what had happened between his wife and her boss while he was away and, in a frenzy of jealousy and delusion, murdered them both in the finale. It was a shocking cautionary tale of untreated PTSD, and new territory for an anthology horror series.

    Stefano loved the script but had one big problem ... no bear. The network by this time in the show's gestation, required a 'monster of the week' to maintain the demographic aimed at the younger children who had embraced the show (and brought their parents along).

    Against his better instincts, Stefano went ahead and inserted the talking alien rocks trying to take over Earth subplot to satisfy the network. He turned in the 'adjusted' script and the suits were happy. By using the rocks to take all the blame, they completely accepted the more disturbing turns in the story. The show was scheduled for production and given an airdate.

    But Stefano had second thoughts, and began to doubt his commercial cop-out and betrayal of the writer's original vision. He went back to the suits and fought for the original script to go through, arguing it was the moral thing to do not camouflaging the original story with a bunch of lame talking rocks.

    The show's numbers had started to rise and the network brass were willing to give their wunderkind showrunner Stefano the benefit of the doubt this one time, on one condition ... that he get the script past the Standards and Practices liaison hired by the network to make sure their shows met acceptable moral standards and didn't invite unwanted attention or censorship by the FCC.

    Harvey Lipshin, the ABC Standards and Practices officer was a former Korean vet MP and a tightly wound son of a bitch, as anyone would be in his position. He took one look at the rock-less script and this lascivious tale of madness, adultery, murder and disabled veteran disrespect and balked.

    Stefano implored Lipshin to consider the ground-breaking merits of the story and let them proceed minus the rocks. The episode had Emmy potential and could win the writers a Humanitas Prize.

    At this point, Lipshin, practically spitting with rage, blurted out, "You're absolutely, positively NOT getting your rocks off on this episode!"

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  2. I was getting worried because all I was doing was complaining for three episodes in a row, but this was one gets a 4 Zanti rating. In fact I was surprised at just how spooky and scary the show was; certainly the horror element must have scared the hell out of some kids. Usually the censors would have demanded cuts. Very downbeat ending without the usual moralistic upbeat message.

    Anybody else notice the similarities to Robert Heinlein's novel, THE PUPPET MASTERS? I still remember the chills I got from reading the serial in GALAXY. Excellent episode.

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  3. A very disturbing episode with that signature Oswald-Hall pall of impending doom in the set-ups and moody, unusual lighting. When we saw this as kids, no one even snickered at the starkly silly conceit of talking rocks, "a guy with rocks in his head," etc. It was just plain scary, gripping you with an uncomfortable subtext, the common nightmare of people you know and love and trust someday being turned against you by an external vector over which you have no control.

    The performances are airtight (as is the atmosphere in those claustrophobic, hunker-in-the-dark rooms), and the music is an icy hand on your spine. The ghoulish makeups, suggestive of several genre films to come, as Peter and John have aptly noted, make one mindful of a degenerative illness, every bit as disquieting as the notion of intelligent super-viruses.

    The excitable rocks and their pseudopod virus stage are superficially laughable, but one quickly gets over it when they begin their eagerly embraced nasty work. The fundamental fear of being touched and then invaded by parasites compels a more serious response.

    The dry and barren, windswept desert in the latter scenes serves as a harsh metaphor for Paul Cameron's inescapable fate. His brooding, browbeating paranoia has spiraled him into a grimly existential pit at the conclusion. He has, bottom line, murdered the people closest to him and will have no defense but to appeal to the provocation of invisible tormentors.

    The lone surviving "hero" of the alien encounter, the unsuitable "corpus Earthling," will be alone indeed and re-labeled non compos mentis.

    Walker---we have an even clearer evocation of THE PUPPET MASTERS coming not too far down the road.

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  4. Always loved this episode. It's more of a THRILLER than an OL, with Hall having a ball providing his greatest catalogue of outrageous, ingeniously textured shots to date. The talking rocks are weird in just the right way, Culp is his usual catlike self, the CARNIVAL OF SOULS-esque make-ups are pretty daring for network TV in '63, and the final Culp-Atwater slugfest is an amazingly choreographed set-piece, with lighting tricks and hand-held photography that really make you a part of the furious experience. Science Fiction? Yeah, we're talking about malevolent space aliens who can change their form... But this exceptionally dark, candle-lit episode is clearly informed by gothic horror every step of the way, reflecting producer Stefano's sensibilities. Fantastic stuff!

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  5. The only thing tougher than Paul Cameron's plight? Being the "Spotlight" guy for the day and keeping your mouth shut with an episode you feel very strongly about.

    Okay, well maybe Cameron had it a little tougher...

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  6. Knowing who had the spotlight and how much that guy loved this episode was the only reason John and I printed all the lies. We actually hated this show. Scooby-Doo is more frightening! Talking rocks, my ass.

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  7. Believe it or not I agree with you, Peter! But only the episode where Shaggy had to kill Daphne and Velma who were infected with space parasites in the form of Cinnamon Pop-Tarts.

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  8. Ah, the infamous black and white episode pulled from syndication. I thought casting Sly Stone and Lou Rawls as the Cinnamon pop-tarts was brilliant. Rumor has it Casey Kasem refused to do any voice-overs for this episode (creepily titled "Parasite Womansion") until Paramount re-upped his American Top 40 contract. Thanks for the memories, Larry.

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  9. One of my favorites, too -- lean and mean and loaded with atmosphere, "Corpus Earthling" is also a strangely welcome relief from the long run of episodes that interrogate institutional corruption and/or human moral malaise (themes that come roaring back in the next four outings). There's not a square-jawed military type or egocentric physicist in sight, and the horror is about as up close and personal as you can get.

    Speaking of which, John and Peter are right about Atwater's absorption scene being a standout, but the later one in which he forces Salome Jens' face toward the alien on the table really struck this time; it's unbelievably raw stuff for '60s primetime TV. I don't remember seeing this episode as a kid, and I wonder now if my parents wouldn't let us watch it because of the violence. Jens parading around in a slip probably didn't help, either...

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  10. Another "envelope-pusher" from the OL guys, perhaps the series' most RELENTLESS episode in terms of its high-intensity, non-stop mental and physical assault on the senses.

    A real throwback to the 50's, complete with the old rubber-rock-on-a-string routine and Barry Atwater's simplistic "Invisible Invaders"-style makeup...all of which is executed in such a dead-on, totally serious and uncomprimisingly grim manner as to (almost) totally sweep away the laughable elements of the show. It's so totally in-your-face, just as Barry A, in an unbelievably cruel scene, forces his female co-worker's face down into the pulsating glob which anxiously, gleefully awaits a new host.
    Man, THAT IS NASTY!

    Is there ANYTHING that Robert Culp would not do as an actor to enhance the emotional/physical impact of the drama? The guy was amazing, and we are extremely fortunate to have his three OL roles preserved as part of his legacy as a performer.

    In terms of settings, it's research lab, dimly -lit apartment, and primitive Mexican getaway hut...another of OL's strange juxtapositions of technological and mundane backdrops, against which the bizarre events unfold. Can super-space-age aliens in haunted houses be far ahead?

    Hat-tip to everybody's favorite TV horror series ethnic-guy KEN RENARD, having survived his two THRILLER "Jacob" roles ("Pigeons" and "Andrew Bentley") to appear here as the kindly caretaker.

    CRAZY STUFF!

    LR

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  11. I usually try not to label other genres as being 'noir.' If for no other reason then it just personally annoys me. I prefer my noir to be separate with its gangsters, P.I.'s, boxers, molls, dames, and thieves. Still, watching this ep. more then any of its predecessors, one can't view it without thinking about that certain genre.

    It's just so dark...like Mark Holcomb pointed out with Atwater shoving Jen's face into the bear, I just knew this one wasn't going to end happily.

    Gary Gerani, I couldn't agree more about the brawl between Culp and Atwater. Unlike 'Nightmare,' this action sequence was so well choreographed, I felt winded by the time it was over. 4 Zantis.....So far Mr. Culp is 2-0.

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  12. Commentary satire, I mean, who's doing that? Such an unappreciated art.

    Truth is, this episode scared the piss out of me as a kid, and continued to creep me out.

    Conrad Hall almost outdoes himself here. One of the best things you can say about his always dramatic lighting ... he wasn't afraid of the dark. The candle lights. The cigarette glow. The silhouette of Jens leaving her face pitch black foreshading her possession. This IS classic noir.

    And Salome Jens. Wow. Good thing I saw this at eight years-old instead of 15 or that slip scene might have 'raised' some embarrassing attention in the family room. And we thought the J.C. Penney nightgown ads were hot back then.

    Atwater is credited as G. B. Atwater. What does the G stand for? (well, here it was Ghoul)

    Culp says he 'phoned' this performance in according to the DJS notes. Well, there you have it. He literally COULD do the phonebook and still be fantastic.

    Finally, you're NOT really paranoid if the rocks are really after you.

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  13. The THRILLER blog had its John Williams "I'm sure you all recognize this lovely melody..." commerical ENDLESSLY boring itself into our brains; now this "STRANGE CHANGE" commercial similarly threatens our peace and harmony here. Hopefully, UNlike the ATAD site, it won't automatically activate every time we pay a visit.

    LR

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  14. Thank Peter for finding the embedded John Williams video that autoplayed on every load (or reload), LR. It was by popular demand that it became the de facto A Thriller A Day Theme Song.

    If only JW made an appearance on TOL...

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  15. UTW: Yeah, I think we can widen the "film noir" net here. More on that later.

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  16. Speaking of satire, the way "Corpus Earthling" opens always cracks me up: Hall frames Atwater and Jens, the two characters who are ultimately possessed by the creatures, within the shelf holding the rock specimens, and Atwater says, "I certainly can't identify them...." Funny. Later, there's a crack about rocks not being able to bug you at home on the telephone, and then these rocks essentially do end up calling Cameron via Atwater's corpus. OL's black humor was sporadic, but it's all over this episode -- and practically explodes in "Don't Open Till Doomsday."

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  17. Yes, I quite agree with Gary Gerani that this creepy, brooding and wind-swept masterpiece is much closer to THRILLER. Still it is what it is, and as such it's one of the series' greatest hours; in the Top 3 in my estimation in fact.

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  18. Unlike "Nightmare", most of the comments seem to be in agreement about this episode; that is, that it's fantastic. I was terrified when I saw this as a teen. The scene where Barry Atwater forces Salome Jens face into the eager alien parasite is terrifying. As Ted pointed out, what the hell can Paul Cameron do now? Often OL men and women, while they have survived something horrible, have a chance to start over. No such luck here for Culp's character. This may not be one of very favourites, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat 'til the last minute. Who would you tell if this was happening to you? Could you trust anyone? Careful picking up that rock next time...

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  19. There's a pile of stuff to love about this episode, which soars in mood, images and performances into the murky noir of an AIP 50s horror film. Culp and Atwater elevate the material with their yin-and-yang slow-boil intensity, while Ms. Jens did more than keep pace -- and looked super hot in her 1962-style undergarment! Hall gave the show the appearance of being scraped out of a german expressionist's attic. My one qualm was about the music -- at times Frontiere's attempts at firing up the moment seemed strained, like when Atwater and Culp start brawling (the music seemed a couple notes short of the Kirk-Spock death duel) and overly orchestrated.
    The makeup on Atwater in certain shots reminded me of the witch show of Thriller (ah, Ursula!), with Atwater having established a hairstyle that only Thomas Dolby would appreciate 20 years later... Eight and a half Zantis!

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  20. Unlike other great episodes from the show, there are no resonances after the final fade-out and few in between, other than to say, "beware of strange rocks". It's also very atypical in being an alien invasion story.

    What it is, is a lean, mean, no nonsense subjection of the viewer to distilled paranoia; Dutch low-camera camera angles canted to an oblique angles, cunningly mixed with hand held camera-work to throw viewers into the mix, purring voice work, a face-hugger that more chilling than Ridley Scott's 'Alien' (perhaps because it's foreshadowed and not sudden), and acting that's a treat. Culp maybe more famous for 'Demon' with it's one-note stoicism (and works well for it) than the range he has to display here.

    It's only flaw is the wires near the end. Which matters little. A digital brush stroke can remove those. What really matters is the mood of the piece.

    It grips from beginning to end. The 'Thriller' imbued essence and it's German Expressionistic leanings are just some of the sinister charm of this purring little classic of overt horror and inner turmoil.

    4 Zantis

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  21. SO why in the hell was Barry Atwater's name relegated to the final credits??! Considering the size of the role and all of the abuse he took--JEEZ! At least have the courtesy to list his name up front along with the two leads.

    LR

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  22. Maybe I've missed some, but I haven't seen any comments on the book by Louis Charbonneau. What do some of you think of it?

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  23. Grant - First off, thanks for taking the tour through The Outer Limits with us. There are still those of us following all of the comments that come in on the site.

    While I haven't read CE, I had the opportunity to meet Charbonneau last month. A heck of a nice guy. I let him know that CE was definitely a fan favorite, and he bemoaned the fact that they had changed it, and brought up his other episode, "Cry of Silence." I let him know that Eddie Albert and the tumbleweeds was one that Peter and I both enjoyed quite a bit.

    Hopefully some of the others who HAVE read the book will chime in. I think Hollywoodaholic's first comment on this post is the only one to discuss it in any detail.

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  24. I first read the book over 35 years ago, and loved it then, just as I love it now. Am re-reading at this very moment and having a grand time. As good as the OL ep may be, the book is much better. ~K

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  25. Re-watched the OL episode yesterday, and am nearly done reading the book again. Oh yes, the book is much better than the episode. MUCH MUCH better! ~K

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  26. Creepy, effective episode. I don't have it as high as you guys, still 3 Zantis. I'll never look at my rock garden the same way again. There's something Bergman-like about some of these eps in their austerity, isolation, brooding quality, etc. This kind of resembles as HG Wells story. It kinds of drags in the second half, but Salome Jens turns, its really scary. Terrific Jerry Goldmith-like score.

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  27. I never read the book till about three years ago, and I'm torn between it and the episode. Often I don't like futuristic SF stories QUITE as much as the "here and now" ones (the book is set in, I think, the ' 70s or ' 80s?), but of course the space missions in the book give a reason for the rocks to be there in the first place. You don't have to be down on religion to find the episode where the main character runs into a dead end with the religious cult kind of entertaining. And of course there's the whole business with him and the female student.
    I just wish I could find the book by Charbonneau that "Cry of Silence" is from.

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  28. Dominic Frontiere was so crucial to this first season...

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  29. Culp and Jens project real chemistry here between husband and wife; it's exceptionally believable for TV. Just watch those early scenes. That makes the destruction of their shared life all the more affecting.

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  30. Speaking of that, I didn't notice completely till the last time I saw it (which was tonight) how the struggle between Paul and Dr. Temple could give you a kind of false hope for Paul and Laurie. What I mean is, you can almost imagine some "Power of Love" kind of moment where Laurie fights off the possession and comes to Paul's rescue. Sadly for them, that doesn't happen.

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