Whenever a show trots out a special Halloween episode, the writers pile on the creepshow iconography and Things That Go Bump, but with rare exceptions, TV follows the advice of Joseph Stefano, a writer-producer who put the following in a memo to the staff of The Outer Limits, back when the show was going to be called Please Stand By:
There must be terror. The viewer must know the delicious and consciously desired element of terror. Enlightenment, Education, Provocation, and Soul-moving are the end-game of all Drama, but to these must be added, for the purposes of PLEASE STAND BY, the experience of terror. It must, however, be TOLERABLE TERROR. It must remain in the realm of fiction, of unreality. When the play is ended, when the Control Voice has returned to the viewer the use of his television set, the viewer, that willing victim of the terror, must be able to relax and know self-amusement and realize that what he feared during the telling of the story could not materialize and need not be feared should he walk out of his house and stroll a night street.
Yet whatever Stefano’s intentions, The Outer Limits—like the similar ’60s anthology series The Twilight Zone—was capable of piercing to the bone. Ask most television buffs to name when they’ve felt the most frightened while watching TV, and chances are they’ll name a moment or image from The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, even though the latter was pitched primarily as a science-fiction show. And chances are, those same viewers haven’t been able to “relax and know self-amusement” in the years since they saw it. (At least not in the way Stefano meant the phrase.) It’s a marvel: Almost 50 years ago, a handful of smart show-business types staged these elaborate pieces of make-believe, and decades later, their audience is still haunted. [Noel Murray]