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Something Weird on TV: Monsters Part Three – The Monster Within

Something Weird on TV

Last time, I wrote about “Pillow Talk,” one of two episodes of this series that I vividly remembered seeing as a kid. Tonight, we’re going to discuss the other one. “Parents from Space” traumatized me a bit when I was young because of its too-close-for-comfort depictions of child abuse. They’re not exactly subtle, but they are still a little discomfiting. I vividly remembered the foster dad killing the hamster, though in my memory, it was a bird – probably because of the cage.

I also remembered the aliens which are supposed to be rats but, again, to my memory, looked more like raccoons. That was about it, though. The episode is actually pretty cute. A young orphan girl has abusive foster parents played by an extremely game Frank Gorshin (The Riddler in TV’s Batman) and Peggy Cass – and named Ward and June, in a clever bit of cynicism. Aliens crash land in their barn and swipe the parents’ bodies, only to prove to be much better parents than the ones they’ve replaced.

One of three series episodes helmed by Gerald Cotts, who also directed a few episodes of Tales from the Darkside, “Parents from Space” is also the first of five series episodes written by Peg Haller and Bob Schneider, whose other credits include an ABC Afterschool Special about a girl who sues her date after getting stood up at prom. While I saw both this episode and “Pillow Talk” when Monsters was on TV, they were, oddly enough, also collected together onto a two-episode VHS tape back in the day.

I jumped ahead a bit in my eagerness to get to “Parents from Space,” which means I skipped over “Glim-Glim,” a Christmas episode written by F. Paul Wilson and directed by the DP of Pet Sematary and Graveyard Shift. I’m gonna mostly keep skipping, too, because I need to save some space to talk about the rest of the episodes that we have on our plate tonight.

Monsters generally does several things pretty well, but atmosphere isn’t usually one of them. There’s a decent amount of it in “The Mother Instinct,” though, despite otherwise being a fairly bog-standard cautionary tale about the dangers of greed. It doesn’t hurt that the episode boasts a few strong performances, especially from Finn Carter, who would go on to play Rhonda LeBeck in Tremors the following year. (Ironically, she’s wrangling some subterranean worms in this episode, too.)

“Their Divided Self,” meanwhile, is a better-than-average comedy episode about conjoined twins (we are stretching – and probably being quite insensitive – to classify this as a “monster”) who, naturally, are the original Odd Couple. Played by David Lander (“Squiggy” from Laverne & Shirley) and frequent Hallmark actor Keith MacKechnie, the twins are treated by a scheming shrink played by Rich Hall of Not Necessarily the News – aka, the guy who invented sniglets.

Perhaps more interesting than its cast, though, is the fact that “Their Divided Self” was written by Michael Bishop – adapted from his own short story. Longtime readers may remember Michael Bishop, as he was the person who supplied the short story that Michael McDowall adapted into “Seasons of Belief,” a standout episode in the third season of Tales from the Darkside.

“Taps” is another comedic episode, albeit one with a more-than-usually grisly logline. Co-written by legendary comedy producer Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm), this one is mostly a showcase for the comedic chops of Mary Jo Keenen, who acquits herself just fine.

When we were last together, I mentioned that we would be discussing what just might be the best episode in the entire series, and now the moment has finally arrived. Starring both Tori Spelling and Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence, “The Match Game” has a stacked cast, but lacks the behind-the-camera pedigree of some of the other episodes. So, what makes this one stand out?

Remember how I was just saying that Monsters was not great at atmosphere? This is the exception that proves the rule. Atmosphere is something that “The Match Game” has in spades, feeling like the world’s goriest episode of an R. L. Stine series. The premise is simple: Two couples gather in a spooky old abandoned house to tell ghost stories. The gimmick is that each person strikes a match and tells their part of the story until the match burns down. Then, the next person takes up the tale, round robin style.

This night, though, the story takes on a life of its own. The conceit is as brilliant as it is basic, with most of the heavy lifting being done by the actors telling stories in the dark, rather than anything requiring camera work or special effects. The house doesn’t hurt, either. It’s genuinely spooky-looking and has a lot of character from the outside, even if we only see a couple of relatively spare rooms within.

And just because they don’t need to rely on special effects to get the job done, this is the show Monsters, after all, which means there are actually a couple of quite good special effects before all is said and done, including a particularly striking monster, brought to life by veteran suit actor Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Monster Squad, among many others) and one of the goriest bits in the whole show – just wait for Tori Spelling’s particularly gruesome demise.

The episode is one of only two directing credits for actor Michael Brandon (he was in Four Flies on Grey Velvet and also in the first of the MCU Captain America movies, to name just a few). It’s from a yarn by Christopher Orville, who worked as a story assistant on much of Tales from the Darkside, with a teleplay by David Chaskin, whose other writing credits include Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Curse, and a personal favorite of mine, I, Madman.

That’s it for tonight, but join us next time as we finish out the first season of Monsters and face down demons and doppelgangers with guest appearances by the likes of Adrienne Barbeau, Billy Drago, Linda Blair, and others.