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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

3.13 --- There was an Old Woman

Directed by : Otta Hanus
Written by : Tom J. Astle
Starring : Colleen Dewhurst, Zachary Bennett
First aired : 17th of December, 1988.

Hallie Parker (Colleen Dewhurst, The Cowboys, Annie Hall) is an aging children's book writer, ready to leave her home and move to Arizona. On her last day at the local library, where she signs books, she laments the fact that children are too reliant on videogames and TV nowadays, and that there is a lack of young readers. As she readies herself to leave, a young mother visits and asks an autograph for her ill son, Brian. Hallie, moved by her plight, asks if she could visit Brian and deliver him the signed book in person, a proposal which is warmly welcomed.

Brian (Zachary Bennett, Cube Zero) is overjoyed when he sees his favourite writer in flesh, and asks her if she could read him a story from his favourite book, "Creatures in the closet". The old woman and the dying boy share an emotional moment while reading, but Brian seems to be upset with the fact Hallie is moving away to Arizona, as he would like her to come visit again.

After this experience, Hallie's life takes a turn for the weird. At night, she starts hearing children's voices in her house, and keeps finding loose toys scattered around - a thing which seriously hampers her prospects of selling her house. To top it off, doors start to open and close at random, and other eerie things spring about.

After failing to impress a couple of buyers, who feel that the neighbourhood children are too much of a problem, Hallie decides to confront the voices, and starts looking around the house for them. What she finds is the signed copy of the "Creatures" book she gifted to Brian, lying in a rocking chair in her living room. She immediately phones Brian's parents, thinking that someone stole it from him, but hears the sad news instead - Brian passed away, and was buried that morning...along with his favourite book.

Realizing some other forces are at work here, Hallie follows the laughter of children to her study on the first floor...where she finds the ghost of Brian, who is surrounded with other prematurely deceased children. Brian implores her to stay, as they need her stories. Hallie agrees, and starts reading them her stories, relieved that there still is an audience for the fruits of her imagination.

***

I hate to repeat myself, but we've seen this one before yet again. This time around, the direct ancestor seems to be an old TZ episode called The Changing of the Guard, in which the late, great Donald Pleasance plays an aging professor who fears that his work was all for naught, only to be convinced by the ghosts of his students that he's worth something after all. Colleen Dewhurst, who starred with John Wayne in a couple of his latter-day vehicles, does a credible job as the retiring storyteller, but this is such a bland episode that nothing possibly could make it stand out. The blandness is reaffirmed by the direction of Zone newcomer Otta Hanus, who had the great opportunity to make the episode at least a bit spooky with those children voices - instead, he fluffed it up and we wound up with a something best described as a "family fairytale".

Not that I have something against rehashes and updates (see The Call, for example), but if you're gonna tread familiar grounds, you might as well try and better the previous efforts. There was an Old Woman does not, and as such, is rather...average.

TZ Trivia : Alf Humphreys, who plays Brian's dad here, returned to the Zone fourteen years after this episode, appearing in the UPN episode Found and Lost.

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