A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
And so we're back with another episode, recommended to me by @vicbjones. I'm sticking with the first (and arguably better) season of the two for the original for now. There were several choices for me, and probably I'll watch if not review "The Sixth Finger" and "The Man Who Was Never Born". But for now, here's "Corpus Earthling".

"Corpus Earthling" is another reason to remember why Outer Limits and Twilight Zone aren't particularly similar, even though some people confuse them. Not every episode of Outer Limits was horror, even in the first season. But it's far more a horror show than Twilight Zone ever was except in a handful of episodes. "Corpus Earthling" is essentially a horror story. It's not fantasy or SF, although it has the trappings of SF. But other than a few nods to alien planets and aliens and telepathy, the aliens could be magical golems or somesuch.

What do you want to do tonight?
Sit around and get stoned.

Let's recap. Geologist Dr. Jonas Temple and his lab assistant Laurie are working in a geology lab apparently at a university. They're examining two rock samples that neither one of them can identify. Laurie's husband, surgeon Paul Cameron, comes in and while Jonas and Laurie go out to do something or another, the rock oven goes out and Paul lights it. It explodes and knocks Paul back, and he gets concussed. As he wakes up, he hears the two rock samples--black obsidian that pulse and sound like the IMF Guy on Tape from Mission: Impossible because they're both voiced by Bob Johnson--telepathically discussing their plans to conquer Earth. They're making snide remarks about how frail humans like Paul are, and realize that Paul can hear them. Ruh-roh!

Some undetermined time passes, and we cut to a doctor's office. The doctor, Ralph, tells Paul that he's fine and shows him an x-ray of the big honking meal plate that they've put in Paul's head. The Camerons go back to the lab and Paul tells Laurie and Jonah what he heard. Jonah in particular seems sympathetic, and neither he nor Laurie dismiss the idea of alien telepathic rocks out of hand. Then the rocks telepathically control Paul into trying to throw himself out the window. Jonah and Laurie stop him, and Laurie takes her husband home. Paul sits in the dark and smokes, and refuses to answer the phone. Laurie assures him that he has nothing to worry about, and they decide to take a belated honeymoon to Mexico. They leave as the phone rings again.

Little do the Camerons know that Jonas has picked up one of the rock samples, and it's turned into an octopus-like creature that makes phone calls. It forces him to slap it on his face, and he's turned into the creepy guy from the opening of Night of the Living Dead. Barry Atwater, (sometimes G.B. Atwater early in his career) who plays Jonas, is one of those HITGs of the 60s and 70s, who was in about everything. Trek fans know him as Surak from "The Savage Curtain", but I'll always remember him as the non-speaking Janos Skorzeny from the TV movie The Night Stalker.

Atwater has never looked creepier than he does here, with white hair and made-up cheekbones to make him look like a living cadaver. When Jackie calls Paul's hospital to tell him that he's going AWOL, Jonas somehow finds out about the call and heads to Mexico.

The Camerons have rented a rundown house near Tijuana, which is run by a Caretaker who lights burning tumbleweeds in the front yard to keep away evil spirits that possess people. Maybe he saw "Cry of Silence" from the second season, and just hates tumbleweeds. Because his fires sure don't keep Possessed Jonas away, although the rocks do prove susceptible to fire at the end.

Anyway, when Paul goes into town, Possessed Jonas shows up and slaps Laurie around a bit, then has the second rock possess her. When Paul comes back, he finds the white-haired creepified Laurie waiting for him, runs away (Brave Brave Sir Paul?), and... takes a hotel room in Tijuana.

The Caretaker later comes to get him, saying that Laurie has a fever and is dying. And that he's seen similar symptoms before. Later, the rocks will suggest that they've been stopped before, so apparently the aliens have tried to conquer Earth before. Anyhoo, Paul comes back, tends to Laurie, and Jonas attacks him. He shoots but only manages to hit Paul in the shoulder because I guess alien-possessed Jonas is a lousy shot. Paul kills him with a scalpel, and Possessed Laurie grabs the gun and prepares to shoot Paul. Because the aliens fear that Paul will eventually realize that he's not insane and warn somebody. Paul jumps Laurie and ends up shooting her dead.

The alien rocks emerge from their host bodies and try to mentally take control of Paul. He burns his hand on a stove, breaking their control, and dumps the stove on the aliens. Paul then grabs Laurie's corpse and drives off, as the Caretaker looks after them and wonders if he'll get to keep their deposit on the place.

Like I said, "Corpus Earthling" is an out-and-out horror story. It moves the actual story along at a brisk place, stopping for long gaps to build characterization and/or atmosphere. There's more focus on where the Camerons will go for their belated honeymoon than what the aliens are up to. Robert Culp is great in anything he does, and this is the second of his three OL performances. Salome Jens as Laurie cavorts around in a white slip for about ten minutes, has a female intuition that they should go to Mexico which gets her killed (take that, female intuition!), and is basically another of Stefano's endlessly-supportive wives. Atwater makes more of an impression when he's alien-possessed than when he's plain ole Geology Professor Jonas.

The plot doesn't make much sense, but that's pretty typical for OL episodes. The rocks apparently can only telepathically control Paul because of his head injury, because they make no effort to mentally control Laurie or the Caretaker. But they don't act surprised that they can mentally dominate humans, and for Jonas and Laurie they have to physically jump on their faces to possess them. A student brings in the rock samples to Jonas, but if the rocks are so afraid of discovery than why do they just lie around in the desert or wherever to be picked up? They mention that they've tried conquering Earth before, but why and how did they fail? Telepathically controlling humans and/or physically possessing them seems like a pretty hard invasion to thwart.

But most of that is tossed overboard and instead we get lots and lots of Acting! Primarily Robert Culp, who portrays a man who has to overcome what he think is a mental breakdown. I mentioned much earlier about how OL is more of a downer show than TZ, and "Corpus" is a good example. Jonas is dead, Laurie is dead, Paul killed both of them, and he's lugging his dead wife's corpse around in his car. Fortunately OL is an anthology series, because otherwise they'd have to tell you what happened next. The whole thing seems a little like a pilot for a TV show: a rock-based Invaders as it were, with Robert Culp instead of Ray Thinnes.

But the episode is very very creepy: just not Atwater as Zombie Jonas but Paul finding Laurie in bed similarly transformed. It's not something I'd want to wake up. The scenes of Jonas and Laurie writhing in pain as the twitchy rocks take them over is unpleasant in a body-horror 60s kind of way. There's a few scenes at the end when the puppetry fails the concept: the rocks "crawl" across the floor with glowing eyes and non-moving limbs as someone pulls them on strings. But otherwise they make a nice cheap monster.

The Dutch tilts add disorientation to a number of scenes, and OL never quite went for the directorial flourishes of many TZ episodes. However, it's clear that the director and director of photography are putting in a lot of work on this and other episodes. DoP Conrad Hall was a big shadow/light noir guy.

So overall, "Corpus" is a solid episode that hits the right buttons for horror and characterization. If it's not as SF-ish as one might expected... well, that's your problems. One gets the impression creators Joseph Stefano and Leslie Stevens didn't know much more about SF than Rod Serling did.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (3)
Jan 13, 2018
I'm surprised you didn't mention that Salome Jens played the leader of the Founders on Deep Space Nine. For me, this is probably the most quotable episode of the Outer Limits: "Listener, go to the window." "Uselessness must not be allowed to roam free." One thing I particularly like about black-and-white productions from the early '60s is the look of rooms where you can the lights in the ceiling. I also like how Paul's cigarette is used to light the scene when he's when he's sitting in the dark.
Jan 13, 2018
I knew about the DS9 thing, but it's beyond my usual 60s-70s periods. And she isn't a HITG that I recall.
Follow this Show