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Something Weird on TV: Monsters Part Five – Familiar Monsters

The second season of Monsters kicks off with “The Face,” the only other episode helmed by Allen Coulter, who also directed “All in a Day’s Work,” which we discussed last time. This one features a guest appearance by none other than Imogene Coca, playing… mostly a face that appears in a guy’s hand after he gets bitten by an old woman (also Coca) during a botched home invasion.

The teleplay comes from series regular Neal Marshall Stevens, who also wrote the very first episode of the show. While Monsters was Stevens’ first writing credit, it was far from his last. He has penned screenplays for countless Full Moon features, starting as far back as Head of the Family and Zarkorr! The Invader in 1996. He’s also one of a handful of screenwriters attached to the 2001 remake of Thirteen Ghosts, as well as the seventh Hellraiser film.

In spite of that pedigree, however, “Portrait of the Artist” is really a more interesting episode than “The Face,” thanks in no small part to the presence of Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin. Holding his own opposite McGavin is Beeson Carroll, who was also in Werewolf of Washington, among others. While the episode eventually ends on what has by now become a standard “oh, it was an alien” note, it’s a fun – if not particularly frightful – lead-up, thanks mostly to their two performances. It’s also one of the few directorial credits of cinematographer Gerald Cotts, who also helmed “Parents from Space” last season.

From the same writer as “Rain Dance,” the next episode, “Bond of Silk,” would probably be another forgettable installment were it not for its monster. The second of four series episodes directed by special effects maven Ernest Farino, who previously helmed “Mannikins of Horror,” this segment features a nicely-realized giant spider, brought to life once again via stop motion. Giant spiders may not be the most novel of monsters, but as a sucker for stop motion, the effect is always welcome and helps make this episode considerably more memorable.

“Rerun” features a college girl who is obsessed with the star of her favorite TV show, Rebel Angel. Unfortunately, he has recently passed away – but that doesn’t stop him from showing up in her dorm room with some less-than-savory plans. Directed by the writer of Stepfather 2 and written by Peg Haller and Bob Schneider, who previously penned the “Parents from Space” episode last season, this is one of the few comedy episodes of the series that actually works, both as comedy and as extremely light horror.

One can chalk a lot of that up to the script, but it doesn’t hurt that the episode features plenty of stage talent on screen, including a “Special Guest Star” appearance by “singing funny girl” (from her IMDb bio) Kay Ballard, and a starring turn by Tony Award-winning actress Rachel Bay Jones, who at that time hadn’t won much of anything. Also, jokes about the hollowness of showbiz usually land, and showbiz types love telling them, so the ultimate gag that the “rebel angel” isn’t all he’s cracked up to be works more than it doesn’t.

Helmed by Dr. Giggles director and frequent TV writer Manny Coto, whose credits have most recently shown up in the American Horror Story franchise, “Love Hurts” is one of a handful of Monsters episodes to feature a nearly all-Black cast. In this case, it’s the story of a woman who meets a married man who is working at the DMV. While the two strike up an affair, he is unwilling to leave his wife – who is also the daughter of his boss. Unfortunately for all involved, the woman is willing to use supernatural means to get her way, culminating in a classic EC Comics-style ending.

We’ll be wrapping up tonight’s coverage with a variation on the old “farmer’s daughter” story, in this case, from the pen of none other than prolific actor Bob Balaban, who was in several of Christopher Guest’s films, among many others. The episode stars venerable comedian Soupy Sales – by this time 63 years old – as a traveling salesman who must spend the night in the same room as a seductive farmer’s daughter. Of course, this being an episode of Monsters, the daughter isn’t quite all that she appears to be…

Look on Wikipedia, and you’ll learn that “farmer’s daughter jokes” are a tradition that goes back quite a long time – at least as long as medieval France. They were particularly popular in the American Ozarks, where the jokes often introduce the element of the itinerant peddler. Or, in more modern parlance, a traveling salesman. (Although even that is outdated by now.)

There are innumerable variations on these jokes, and this episode utilizes several of their common themes as its jumping-off point. Specifically, most of the jokes involve the traveler having to spend the night in the same room, sometimes even the same bed, as the daughter in question, but being cautioned not to “touch her,” usually by her father and under threat of violence.

In some instances, a “modesty screen” or bundling board of some kind is introduced to help keep the two bedmates “honest,” though, in most iterations of the joke, it doesn’t do the job. You can see elements of both these tropes here. There’s the “modesty screen” behind which the farmer’s daughter spends most of the episode, and then there’s the prohibition not to touch her. In this case, however, that prohibition has a different motive, and much grislier-than-usual repercussions when it is broken…

That’s it for tonight, but join us next time for more aliens, demons, bog mummies, mandrake roots, deals with Death, and more, including another story by Robert Bloch and starring turns by Gina Gershon, Fritz Weaver, Richard Moll, Barbara Billingsley, Frankie Faison, Leif Garrett, and others.