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Honored Horror: 'Night Gallery: Pickman's Model'

October 27, 2009 | 10:06 am

NightGallery2Story A special series for Halloween on award-winning and nominated horror and suspense films and television programs:

Acres of trees have been felled to make the paper that has been devoted to the high points and shortcomings of "Night Gallery," Rod Serling's post-"Twilight Zone" anthology series (and for those curious, may I direct you to the best and most comprehensive examination of the series, "Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour," which can be purchased here), but let's focus on one of the best episodes from its three-season stint: "Pickman's Model," which aired on NBC on Dec. 1, 1971, and earned the program both an enduring reputation and its second Emmy nomination (its first came for "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar" in 1971). 

Adapted from a 1927 short story by H.P. Lovecraft, the episode -- directed by series producer Jack Laird -- concerns a young art student (theater and TV vet Louise Sorel) whose crush on her dissolute art teacher, Richard Pickman (Emmy and Golden Globe winner Bradford Dillman, who also shared Best Actor with Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell for "Compulsion" at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival) leads to a horrible discovery: His paintings, which depict loathsome monsters feeding on corpses, are in fact drawn from life. 

Though well-acted by its capable cast, and steeped in atmosphere thanks to impressive art direction and photography by Oscar nominee Joseph Alves ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and Leonard J. South (camera operator on numerous Alfred Hitchcock thrillers), respectively, the show's chief selling point is its monster, a full body suit designed and created by series makeup artist Leonard Engelman and department head Nick Marcellino with John Chambers, an Oscar winner for "Planet of the Apes." As portrayed by stuntman Janos Prohaska, Pickman's ghoul is genuinely frightening (for a series known for its less-than-stellar creature effects), and generated more audience mail than any other episode. It also earned all three artists a 1972 Emmy nod for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup, but lost to Frank Westmore's efforts on "Kung Fu." It remains, however, one of the most indelible images from this underrated program. 

As Mr. Serling himself might say: submitted for your approval, please find "Pickman's Model" in its entirety, along with its episode companion segments: the Serling-penned "Dearly Departed," with Steve Lawrence and Harvey Lembeck, and a "comic" short by Laird, "An Act of Chivarly," starring future "Days of Our Lives" star Deidre Hall. 

-- Paul Gaita

Photos: Handout