The tale of a tv series now newly alive online and hosted by Mr. Roald Dahl, and a review of its scariest episode. Hit the jump and take a journey creepier than any boat ride with Mr. Wonka.
Stop right there! We said this episode was lost, but believe it or not, “Side Show” has actually been found! It is alive and well and living on Youtube, along with other presumably lost episodes of ‘Way Out: “20/20”, “The Overnight Case,” “Hush-Hush,” and the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED “False Face”. It is my proud honor to present, for what I believe to be the first time on the internet, “Side Show”:
To user “Way Out,” thank you so much. I don’t know where you found this, how long it’ll be out there or if you are reading this, but you’ve done an amazing thing. I want everyone to know how wonderful this show is. What follows is a detailed review and summary. SPOILERS AHEAD! If you want to hear the twist ending, watch the episode while you can, come here after and PLEASE support the Paley Center!
When you hear the name Roald Dahl, what do you think of?
Odds are excellent that you know him as the guy who created Willy Wonka. And if you’re like me, you have very fond memories of the stories he created, whether from reading his books or seeing some of the films they inspired, like “Matilda” or “James and the Giant Peach.”
You might even know him as a badass pilot and secret agent from WWII, or the inventor of the Wade-Dahl Till. You might have even heard about the less pleasant aspects of his personal life- if so, trust me, they weren’t easy for me to hear either.
But very few people know about his stint as the host of a TV series called ‘Way Out, and there’s a reason for that. The same reason you won’t be able to buy Muppet Babies on DVD anytime soon: rights issues.
‘Way Out, as its name would imply, was a surreal show. It was a black-and-white anthology with an urbane host who offered up pithy observations and smoked incessantly. The stories dealt with horror, the supernatural, and speculative fiction, and there was usually a karmic twist at the end for the main character. Sound familiar? You bet your broken glasses it does- but as similar as ‘Way Out was to The Twilight Zone on the surface, it proves to be a very different animal once you watch the show. In Roald’s domain, the setups are darker from the get-go, the twists are more cruel, and the characters are less black and white.For example, Burgess Meredith’s character in TZ’s”Time Enough at Last” just wanted to get away from his wife so he could read. In ‘Way Out’s “Death Wish,” a guy is annoyed at the fact that his wife is addicted to television….so he decides to kill her.
The show premiered in 1961 on CBS and ran for a season of 14 episodes. Despite Roald hosting each episode, and these dark tales being right up his alley, the only episode he wrote was the first one, “William and Mary.” He did, however, write all of the sardonic monologues that followed his greeting (“How’re YOU?”) to the viewers at home.
There are a couple of episode guides for the show online. But today I want to talk about the 12th and most infamous episode, “Side Show”. If you look up this show on IMDB, virtually every review and message board post about it is from someone who saw “Side Show” while growing up and got the bejesus scared out of them.
Despite the show being off the air for so long, their memories of fear were still very vivid- so Joel and I had to get a look at this thing. We headed to NYC, and the one place “Side Show” could be found….at that time.
This is a tale Ray Bradbury would feel right at home in, but it was written by Elliot Baker and directed by Seymour Robbie. Our main players are Murray Hamilton, the mayor from Jaws, and Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond fame (yes, really!). They play Harold and Edna, a husband and wife stuck in an unhappy marriage.
Murray Hamilton and Doris Roberts
One day, Harold, a quiet and dreamy type, attends a local carnival. The whole setup is cheap-looking and rundown, especially the sideshow tent. The sleazy barker (Myron McCormick) presents a model of a guillotine, and he reaches into the basket and holds up a head- ostensibly a model of a head. The face is old and wrinkled with a crazed expression, and her wild white hair fans out like Medusa’s snakes. He explains that the woman the head belonged to was once beautiful, “until she lost her head! And speaking of heads, it’s time for the tent’s main attraction, Cassandra: a headless woman kept alive by electricity. She sits in a throne, wearing a flowing Greek goddess -style gown, with a bare light bulb where her head should be.
Harold and Cassandra
You’d think anyone would want to run after such creepy sights, but Harold sticks around after everyone leaves the tent. Cassandra (Margaret Phillips in a beautifully eerie performance) begins talking to him, and Harold, figuring this is the traditional “headless woman” illusion carnivals do, listens. “Is it done with mirrors?” he says, looking at the display.
“Everything’s done with mirrors,” she answers, with a suggestive wink in her voice. In the days that follow, he returns to see her and finds that he’s falling in love with Cassandra. She says she is a prisoner in the sideshow, abused by the Barker, and begs Harold to set her free. He says he’ll try and vows to return, despite the Barker’s warnings to stay away from the tent and the threats Harold overhears the Barker making to Cassandra. Meanwhile, Harold’s wife is getting suspicious about his whereabouts, and on the night he goes to free Cassandra, she decides to shadow him.
The whole time Harold and Cassandra have been interacting, she’s been speaking in a voice that’s half creepy and half seductive. It’s one the most memorable things about the episode. As Harold tries to see how Cassandra is strapped into her chair so he can free her, Cassandra really turns up both sides of her voice. For the first time, she moves, beckoning him with her hand to come closer. She croons like she’s about to make love to him, but somehow the way she says it makes your skin crawl:
“I think Harold doesn’t suit you. It’s not romantic enough…What shall I call you? Lancelot? Romeo? No…Casanova. Oh, yes…Casanova.”
Harold tries to release her, but can’t see how she’s strapped in or how her head has been hidden. He’s confused and scared, and as he touches the metal on the display, he gets an electric shock – and we fade to black.
Harold gets the shock of his life.
Shortly after we return, his wife enters the tent looking for him. “Harold?” she calls.A woman in a long, flowing gown is standing in front of the Cassandra display with her back to the camera.”His name isn’t Harold,” she says. “It’s Casanova.”
We see that there is now a headless man sitting in Cassandra’s throne. With just a lightbulb where his head should be.
The woman turns around, revealing her grotesque wrinkled face, wild hair and the stitches on her neck, then delivers the mother of all closing lines: “He used to be very handsome before he….lost his head! ”
The last shot.
This really did live up to the hype on IMDB, and its 9.1 rating there. If you are a fan of TZ, Tales from the Crypt or any other anthology horror, you will love this whole series. I don’t know if this particular episode is available at the California center, but if you have access to visit New York, please check out “Side Show”, or any other episodes (they’re streaming so I think they might be available at both locations). We highly recommend “False Face” and “Soft Focus”, also available at the Center. An image from the latter is shown below:
On Twilight Zone, this guy (Barry Morse) found a magical piano and learned some hard truths about himself. On ‘Way Out…well, it’s not an image I’ll forget anytime soon, that’s for sure.
And please, if you have not been the the Paley Center, check it out. I want to do all I can to keep this institution going for all they’ve given me. And tell your friends about all this! Maybe if we get enough buzz going, those in charge of sorting out the rights for ‘Way Out will get moving.