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Thursday, January 12, 2006

1.33 --- Still Life

Directed by : Peter Medak
Written by : Gerrit Graham & Chris Hubbell
Starring : Robert Carradine, Marylin Jones, John Carradine
First aired : 3rd of January, 1986.

Daniel (Robert Carradine, The Big Red One, Revenge of the Nerds) is a young photographer, who one day buys an old trunk full of vintage photo equipment. His wife Becky (Marylin Jones) is less than impressed, however, her mood changes when Daniel discovers that the trunk has a false bottom, where an old film camera is hidden.

Driven by curiosity, Daniel develops the pictures, which are, amazingly enough, from a scientific expedition back in 1913. - showing a south American indian tribe and some explorers visiting. He inquires about those with a retired professor Alex Stottel (John Carradine, too many significant credits to single out only two), who is adamant that there were no photos from that expedition - he, himself, was there as a 13-year old, and barely escaped death. The indian tribe they were researching was not fond of photos, so they hunted them down and killed almost all of them, including the photographer. Daniel takes out his freshly developed photos in order to disprove him, but when they both realize there are suddenly no indians on them, Daniel realizes something is awfully wrong.

He quickly returns to his place, where his fears are justified - Becky is gone. After meeting face-to-face with one of the tribesmen who is unexplicably in his living room, Daniel finds Becky upstairs, but is ambushed by one indian who clearly intends to make him his lunch. At the edge of his wits, he snaps the old photo camera at him - and the indian disappears ! Armed with that, he makes way to his porch, snapping-and-disintegrating remaining indians, until his film runs out just as the very last one of them jumps at him. A struggle ensues and the tribesman is ready to kill Daniel with a barbecue fork, but Becky saves the day - she photographs him with her cheap pocket camera, and finishes this little nightmare.

***

Still Life is a classic example of how format restrictions can undermine a potentially interesting story. The premise delivered by Gerrit Graham & Chris Hubbell, who previously brought us Children's Zoo and Opening Day, is an interesting one, but hacked down to 17 minutes of actual running time it's just too jumpy and disjointed to make a lot of sense.

Luckily, helmer Peter Medak saves this episode with some skilful direction, packing as much suspense as humanly possible within a limited framework. Still Life is Medak's third TZ entry, after Ye Gods and Dead Woman's Shoes, and probably the most demanding one as well - good half of the episode is dedicated to Daniel playing hide & seek with the amazonians around his house. The actors do their job, but there's nothing much given to them here to excel - even John Carradine comes across flat in his role, which is in reality a glorified cameo.

And yes, in case you didn't know, John and Robert are father and son. The other Carradines roaming around Hollywood - Keith and David - are also John's offsprings.

TZ Trivia : John Carradine is a returning TZoner, appearing previously in The Howling Man (4th of November 1960.). And just for good measure, he appears in one Night Gallery episode as well - Big Surprise.

Almost TZ Trivia : in his closing narration, Charles Aidman says "ancient maps included unknown lands, named "Terra Incognita", and warnings like, "here there be tygers" ". If this was a planned reference I'm not sure, but Here There Be Tygers is the title of a story Ray Bradbury adapted for the Twilight Zone, per Rod Serling's request (Serling and Buck Houghton envisioned Bradbury as a regular TZ writer prior to production). The episode, alas, never got made, destined to be only mentioned as neat little trivia on pages like these.

Odd Trivia : you don't even want to know how many tries it took me to take that perfect snap up there...

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