Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Children of Spider County

Production Order #25
Broadcast Order #21
Original Airdate: 2/17/64
Starring Lee Kinsolving, Kent Smith, William O. Douglas, Jr.
Written by Anthony Lawrence.
Directed by Leonard Horn.

Spider County was hotbed for alien spawning a few decades back, and an extraterrestrial papa (Smith) is back to collect his sons to bring them home to planet Eros. What he didn't consider was that his Earhbound offspring might not be thrilled about having to attend an off-planet family reunion.

JS: Finally, a well-dressed alien (Douglas)! And not a moment too soon, following Leisure Suit Laser-boy from "The Bellero Shield." Normally when you see an alien in human street clothes, you automatically assume they could only afford to make a mask, hands and feet. Second only to the alien costume primarily built around a gorilla suit. But for some reason, it works here.

PE: This is what you get when you cross The Monster From Green Hell with Men in Black. But where were all the giant spiders?

JS: Wasn't the guy in the suit Spider-Man? I just kind of took that for granted. "Giant Spiders from Eros" sounds like a good pulp title to me. I love the Space Scientist who is familiar with the obscure planet Eros from which our alien daddy hails.

PE: My L-OL moment for the show as a matter of fact. These guys are worried about the four "greatest minds on Earth" disappearing when, right in their midst, they've got a genius who can tie together the middle names of the MIA guys with an "obscure planet in the galaxy Kreg (sp?)." (Did you notice they managed to get snapshots of all those brightest minds with the same backdrop? Must be a popular outdoor bar for braniacs they all hung out at. -JS) Forget the brainboys, give this guy a grant. He may invent Google someday. My second L-OL scene would have to be the magic bracelet. Do backwoods sheriffs rely on handcuffs that can just be taken off without a key?

JS: For a second, I thought the jail where Ethan (Kinsolving) was being held on murder charges was run by shadow people. Again, coming off of what I think has been the best shot episode thus far, this was a bit of a disappointment. I should have known I'd miss Conrad Hall as soon as he was gone.

PE: That has got to be the most caffeinated sheriff in the history of mankind.  A lot of these OL episodes bring to mind some of the fun late 50s-early 60s low budget AIP sf/horror flicks. The quality of acting in "Spider County" is akin to that in Larry Buchanan's better work. Full of long, boring speeches and dopey dialogue that may have worked on paper but come across as wooden when spoken. In particular, the dialogue is no friend to Kent Smith (so delightfully evil and over-the-top in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork") and Lee Kinsolving (who may not have been a very good actor in the first place), who spout lines like: "What in this hating, barking world could hold you?" and "Would my father want me to break her heart as well as my own?" And is this a good time to bring up the horrid soundtrack? Usually pretty reliable, Frontiere's  score this time out is filled with cliched monster movie riffs and bits inappropriate for the scene (more than likely borrowed from Frontiere's other work).

JS: Nice to hear the War of the Worlds Martian death-ray sound effect when our alien's eyes light up during the 'uncreation' process. Unfortunately there was no other articulation of the alien face,  which could have gone a long way to helping sell the bear. Still, there's something to be said about a sharp dressed bug. And just curious, will Ethan at some point assume his father's good looks? And by that I mean alien good looks, not Kent Smith good looks.

PE: When bug-face causes the sheriff's car to overturn (in a nail-biting stunt), he approaches Ethan, still in the car, and says "Are you alright? Hurry, we must leave before someone comes by!" The two then flee off into the forest. Don't know about you, but I'd spend a few minutes asking questions of the elderly well-dressed man who happens upon my accident and then suggests that jogging through the forest with a suspected murderer is his cup of tea.

JS: Can you check me on this—did we actually get a happy ending out of The Outer Limits?

PE: I was just happy it ended.

JS: While I realize she probably doesn't stand a chance going up against Joanna Frank in the Babe of the Week voting, I'm casting my vote for the lovely Bennye Gatteys (whose most notable other roles may be playing four different characters on the TV series Emergency) as Ethan's girlfriend.

PE: Well, she might look good but she shore can't act. Her reaction to her father's death is a bit perplexing, like she got to a word in a book she didn't understand. Since I always like to end these things on a positive note, I was excited to see Dabbs Greer, a great character actor who has appeared in every TV show ever produced. Always dependable, Greer is probably best known to genre fans as a cop in House of Wax (1954) and smart-alecky Royce in It, The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). Perhaps even more interesting is that IMDB (always the place to go for reliable information) lists Joey Tata as The Alien Bastard. This coupled with the rumored "Chicks on Eros" scene makes me crave a director's cut.



David J. Schow on "The Children of Spider County":

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 Ted Rypel's Spotlight on "The Children of Spider County."

Next Up...

Look Out!  Here comes ...

Our radioactive pal, Reese,
Just wished that his torment would cease.
    He didn’t sleep much
    And could kill just by touch
In a place where there ain’t no police.

Getting eyeballs that looked kind of fried,
Mind-reading each cohort who lied,
    On this Annex One ‘toid,
    His grin unalloyed,
Reese always looks to sunny-side.


  1. I suppose this is where I must confess my Kent Smith phobia. I have always had a problem taking his over seriousness seriously. Where was his Leslie Nielsen career reinvention as a straight man in goofball comedies? He was ripe. But every time he turns up on TOL or The Invaders or Night Gallery or The Cat People or anywhere else, I am lulled into a delta brainwave state of deep unconsciousness, which is not conducive for watching television. Perhaps he should have just stuck to hypnotic sessions on audio tape for quitting cigarettes or hair highlighting. He could have even recorded them in that godawful Bela Lugosi dialect he attempted on “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork.” But please … cut the cardboard and spare me any more KS syndrome. Okay, it’s finally out there. I feel much better now. Breathe deeply.

  2. Another sensitive alien, who kindly leaves and doesn't zap everyone. I want a bug-eyed monster who will happily kill earthlings. What's with all the boring running through the woods? This one was not impressive at all, nothing much happens.

  3. This episode is a definite drop-off, though I don't think so much visually (I actually think Peach shot this pretty dynamically). The mask design isn't bad but that immobility is just not worthy of OL and we end up with, literally, a BEM.

    I don't like the scoring either, but for a different reason than Peter; here the recycling Frontiere so often did ends up reminding us of better episodes. The WAR OF THE WORLDS sound effect is so recognizable it only seems to cheapen things further. And boy does that same stretch of road get old.

    "Pigeons From Hell" sheriff Crahan Denton has a lot less sheriffin' to do in this one.

    I think the middle name thing might have worked better if Aabel had been from the planet "Buddy".

  4. This one simply hasn't worn well over time. It's revealing to me to see how I feel about it now, in my Spotlight later today, as compared to my recorded comments over thirty years ago.

    You want to like the episode for its snuggly, pro-human, embrace-that-treasured-geekiness sentiments. But following on the heels of the brilliant "The Bellero Shield," it just doesn't play like the sort of prodigy it celebrates.

  5. Larry B--- Yeah, or "Arrogant." "Eros" is just a pipe dream.

    I also thought Peach did a decent job of segueing out of the Hall era here, too. At least he tried copying some of his predecessor's impressive tricks.

    The Aabel mask's lack of articulative parts is what done it in, I reckon. You're too aware of looking at a staring mask.

  6. Aside from the immobility of the mask, I always liked the way this alien looked in the suit and tie, I guess because of the incongruity. For some reason, Aabel also sort of became emblematic for me of a kind of OL look--the close-up of some alien, surrounded by leaves and bushes, with ultra-bright sunlight behind him--you see similar poses in a few other episodes, and in marketing for the show, and that always said "OL" to me. That said, I'm not a fan at all of this episode. I agree with Ted and Larry B. that Peach's work isn't TOO bad--I like the from-the-ground-up shots of Kent Smith, and some of the work up inside the barn (although why they're up there, who knows?). And call-out to Larry--right on about that roadway--I think some of those cops are still out there looking for the Chromoite, right? And Gwyllm's going to pop out of the woods any second now!

    One of the things that really kills it for me is Kinsolving's flat, unconnected line readings. Totally wrong guy to center this whole thing on. The story has some potential, but it's handled so ham-handedly that it just isn't compelling, and you don't really have empathy for any of the characters, although you should have been feeling the pain of the young guy who just found out he's the son of a bug monster and maybe he's one too. Oh well, . . .

    (BTW, the preview limerick of Mutant is hysterical! Gee, I kind of liked that one as a kid--tomorrow should be interesting!)

  7. Another OUTER LIMITS that stands out as something that would, today, automatically be considered as a pilot for an entire series.

    I never warmed up to this episode. For some reason — mostly the locations — it strikes me as a dopey step-brother to "The Mice." I also disliked the whole Kountry Kousins vibe: too many "normal" people, I guess, in an OUTER LIMITS for my taste. My version would have Earth scientists isolating the prodigy-kids for cruel study, and Aabel butting in to mix up the status quo as a "purebred" alien, the Earth docs being rather like adopted parents confronted by a birth-father.

    As for Kent Smith's aborted career as a wacky comic, I think Ted Knight scooped him (just wait for Knight's "serious" turn in "The Invisible Enemy"!)

    Actor alert! I did get to meet Dabbs Greer, on the set of THE GREEN MILE. Yep, that's him as the older iteration of Tom Hanks. He barely recalled "Spider County" and remembered "The Inheritors" a bit more fondly. Who can blame him?

  8. As Ted points out, it's interesting to observe how Ken Peach is trying to imitate Conrad Hall's very specific lighting and compositional "gimmicks" (Hall's word, not mine), suggesting that this "look" was indeed the OL house style, rather than simply experimental frivolity on Hall's part. The most amusing example of 'parallel creativity' is when Kent Smith gestures to his son in extreme wide angle, so that his hand appears quite large in the frame... echoing an extremely similar bravura shot of Smith gesturing with "that big hand" in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork." As for the episode itself, it's clearly a lesser entry with some pleasing textural details here and there, typical of where OL was in general at this stage of the game.

  9. Gary G.--- I forgot about Kent Smith's signature "big hand" parallel! I like the one in "Woodwork" better, though, in that he practically cups the lens, as if he were--I dunno---adjusting the focus to a soft blur?

  10. Ha, right! And cutting off the energy for his staff of zombies in the process. Not content with one "big hand" moment in "Woodwork," Hall draws attention to Smith's dramatically-pointing finger a few seconds later. This exaggerated look was probably presented to Peach as OL's trademark visual style, something to be adhered to, and with the same actor once again delivering flowery dialogue, how could he resist a parallel creative set-up? "Children" is actually overflowing with arty visual "gimmicks," which, while overdone, do ultimately provide the tale with some much-needed texture.

  11. If Greer with his 400 miles of credits had remembered ANYTHING about "Spider" I would have been floored--a true speck in that talented guy's long career.

    David H., I like that monster-in-suit incongruity too, something nicely strange about it (John mentioned it also). And you are right on about that "signature" OL look: soft bright sunlight, leaves, monster--so evocative.

    Shoulda named that road Daystar Drive!

  12. When I watched OL growing up, because we had no choice but to watch them in broadcast order, I subconsciously divided the seasons into my own sections. "Spider County" was the start of the "late" first season (The Galaxy Being to It Crawled Out Of The Woodwork were "early", The Borderland to Moonstone were "mid"; no logical reason, just how the episodes felt to me). Maybe the departure of Conrad Hall, ushering in Kenneth Peach, helped form that impression. Personally, I always thought Peach was capable of some interesting work, like the shadows and angles in the jail scenes, or Ethan's nightmare, which were quite effective. Anthony Lawrence's dialogue is lyrical and thoughtful. The theme is interesting; gifted people often make us average people feel inferior, so we get to see the perspective from Ethan's point of view. It's up tough following recent episodes, but considering this, it still offers food for thought on what hopes may carried by the things we have in common rather than our differences.

  13. This one had potential. Backwoods hillbillys, jailbreaks, forbidden love, and a bear that looked decent.....he even killed a couple of people. The intro was one of the best I've seen so far, unfortunately that's where most of the fun ended.

    Maybe it would have been better off as a half hour show. After all, I don't think it was necessary to have 'two' confrontations between the alien and the redneck father.

    The ending climax where the nerdy sons attempt to take down the alien father was kind of neat to behold, in a weird way. 2 Zantis

  14. The writing seemed to want the conflict between father-son as obscure as possible, which killed my enjoyment. If you've got a father returning to his son after virtually no involvement in his life, I'd say the central conflict would have been anger, resentment. Instead, we get poetic musings, meandering mutterings and non-sensical soliloquies. There was more running around to nowhere than a Three Stooges short, and the presentation likely would have made Corman shake his head. Kent Smith is always enjoyable, at least for me, but the speeches he was given sucked all the energy from this one. I think Kinsolving probably had some major issues with the script, as he didn't emote much more than stale resignation throughout. Shame, because the story concept was intriguing, but the useless stalking scientist character was completely unnecessary as he added nothing to the mix.
    One Zantis, but dapperly dressed in a Brook brothers suit.

  15. There are weaknesses in this one, as others have pick over. But there is also, one of the show's most inventive directors pushing his new cinematographer to be inventive. And the match cuts, from the transitory dream state to the cell mate and the change from lizard to Kent Smith as he is turning around (how much easier it would have been to repeat himself from 'The Man Who Was Never Born'). And the alien with his suit does cut a surreal image.

    Two zantis.

  16. to PE : Don't blame Dominic Frontiere for the "horrid soundtrack" on this episode, since it was NOT his work but that of Robert Van Eps (Frontiere's former teacher, according to the liner notes of the 3CD LaLaLand compilation). All these "horrible" tracks had in fact been used before in the episode TOURIST ATTRACTION (also clearly indicated in the liner notes) and were only ever used again on SPIDER COUNTY. I'll agree with you with the "horridness" of most of Van Eps' tracks, EXCEPT for the haunting piece called "Dive 2/Capturing the creature" on the compilation, which in SPIDER COUNTY is heard right before Aabel shows up at the jail to free Ethan.

  17. 1. You are mostly right, I disliked it even more than you did. Its tedious, with rather wooden acting, and it just goes on and on. It bears similarites to Village of the Damned. Conrad Hall is sorely missed, but at least they're mostly outdoors. What an idiotic message- its better to be executed for crimes you didn't commit because then the execution will be 'neat and legal'. That and something about the power of dreams.

  18. 1 Zanti. I liked it even less than you did. Its tedious with wooden acting, it just goes on and on. It bears similarities to Village of the Damned. Conrad Hall is sorely missed in this one, although at least they shot outdoors. What an idiotic final message- its better to be executed for crimes you didn't commit beacuse thaen the exectuion will be 'neat and legal'. That and something about the power of dreams.

    1. One interesting thing to watch is the deputy who enjoys making things bad for Ethan in SMALL ways, like deliberately shaking him out of his little nap in the police car. If you know the general idea of the story, he's one of those characters with "VICTIM" stamped all over them.

  19. This always struck me as a really weird episode of "THE FUGITIVE".

    Not a big fan of "Kent Smith", but one of my favoritye actors also shares trhat name-- Scotsman "Percy James Patrick Kent Smith". But most people know him as "Sylvester McCoy".

  20. I think that one of Kent Smith's "speeches" definitely works, the one about how the quality of Eros fell apart, especially one line - "They gathered lush riches and splendid pains, but they took no time out for dreaming."
    It sounds almost like a line out of a Lovecraft story, especially one of his all-out fantasy ones.


    2. About not anout typen on phone.

  21. Man, what a waste of a first season episode. The script just doesn't hold together at all. They burn time by putting all this obvious filler in. This is one of the few 1st seasons eps I try not to watch again, and lately, I've been binge watching ALL the first 2 seasons over and over. But not this one. Bad...

  22. I may not consider it one of THE BEST episodes, but I've always been fond of it. So either way, Titan has my sympathy.

  23. Great premise, if one that’s been used before (aliens breed with earthlings to improve their dying race). But the execution is lacking here. Man, this one drags on and on; if all the padding were cut, this would have been a half-hour episode. And it just fizzles out at the end; what was the point of it all, really? None of the alien children choose to go back to their patriarchal planet---but then, we don’t get to see what happens to them next, either.

    Lee Kingsolving, in the lead, is less than dynamic; really, I didn’t think it was a very good performance at all. So that didn’t help either.

    In other casting… I thought I recognized Anna’s father---that was Dabbs Greer, who played the parson on “Little House on the Prairie.”

    The basic design of the alien mask is okay, I suppose, but it does not look the least bit convincing during dialogue scenes, when the actor wearing it is trying to speak.

    Hmmm, a question---what happened to the missing man, the fellow Ethan was accused of killing? The story never said.

    We get to hear that famous sound effect again, when the alien is vaporizing humans---I remember it from War of the Worlds. I wonder how many films and television shows have used that sound, over the years?

    So, not horrible, but sadly not very good either; strictly mediocre this time around.


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