Ways of seeing: the fearful role of art in Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY

Ways of seeing: the fearful role of art in Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY

Rod Serling television post-Twilight Zone adventure, Night Gallery, is revolutionary in its usage of art (paintings, sculpture, and art-informed language) as the portal from which its frightful narrative emerges. With each introduction our curator (Serling) shows the audience an artwork that contains, reveals, and is born from the horror story we are about to witness. Here, artwork functions as a way to tell the kinds of stories deemed “unbelievable” or “unreal” – what Night Gallery proposes is that the real is elastic, subjective to our supernatural experiences, and housed within artworks.

Culling often from H.P. Lovecraft (in fact, many episodes are direct visualizations of his stories), Night Gallery shows a speculative reality that places imagined horrors into the realm of the real. Particularly in the beginning of the series, before Serling’s control over production waned, the episodes were present-day narratives in which past actions have otherworldly consequences. In this way Night Gallery is a clear extension of The Twilight Zone, its younger sister functioning as an unfolding morality play to reflect that what we do, the choices we make, matter and affect. It is a fantastical mode of expression for an popular-culture entertainment vehicle such as a television series to ground itself within visual art and to have artwork speak to its viewer. It is a statement that art has the potential for substantive power. Therefore, Night Gallery challenges a notion of how we see, not just artworks or television, but the world around us.

Night Gallery launched as a television movie on November 8, 1969 telling three tales of horror: The Cemetery, Eyes, and The Escape Route. Below I will discuss how each episode embodies the role of artworks and viewership in its depiction of social, political, and personal terrors.

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The Art of Fear – an introduction

The Art of Fear is a writing series on horror cinema’s prolific usage of art as the focal point of fear.

I’m happy to announce the launch of a new writing feature on The Girl Who Knew Too Much called The Art of Fear. Titled in homage to Vincent Price’s BBC radio programme The Price of Fear and subsequent biography, The Art of Fear focuses on horror cinema’s prolific usage of art as the focal point of fear. Below is an introduction, in the very simplest of terms, to what I hope will become a lively, thought-provoking, and entertaining discussion on two of my favorite things: art and horror.

That horror films frequently feature artwork is not a startling revelation but this noticing this brought my individual obsessions with horror and art together, kick-starting my research on horror’s influence on contemporary artists. Now, by delving into arts role in horror I can further map out connections between the two. It also raises significant questions: Why is it that painting and sculpture can easily incorporate into horror narratives? What is it about art and artists that adapt so readily into the horrific? And since visual art and cinema are two different ways in which to tell a story, how can the collation of the two in the context of the horror genre, establish a more in-depth visual and narrative experience?

Here I’ll address these questions through a discussion of films such as Picture of Dorian Gray, House of Usher, Daughters of Satan as well as the television series Night Gallery in the terms of how artwork is used as the motivating force of horror. I’ll also be looking at how the conservation and preservation of art is an integral part of apocalyptic films like The Omega Man, I am Legend, and Children of Men. This ongoing process becomes more profound and fun with each new discovery I make and I hope it’ll be the same for you!

The plan is to publish an entry for The Art of Fear each week until the series concludes (if it ever does) but, of course, this may vary from time-to-time. First up will be… Albert Lewin’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1945).

Featured so far:

The Art of Fear: Picture of Dorian Gray
The Art of Fear: The Fall of the House of Usher

Image: Rod Serling introducing an episode of Night Gallery where the artwork told the story.