On 22 September 1971 and 24 September 1972, Vincent Price guest-starred in two episodes of Rod Serling’s classic anthology series, Night Gallery, entitled Class of 99 and The Return of the Sorcerer. Here’s a look back at them.
Class of ’99
Originally screened on NBC in the US on 22 September 1971, Class of ’99 was included in the third episode in the second season of Night Gallery and was directed by Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Supergirl).
Set in a university classroom in a futuristic 1999, it follows an oral final exam given by a professor (Vincent Price) who pits his students against each other over a range of subjects, including the sciences and behaviour. But to what end?
Written by Rod Serling, this cerebral and politically-charged, sci-fi tale benefits hugely from Price’s icy performance as the professor who, it turns out, is a cyborg programmed to maintain mankind’s legacy for racial, religious and social intolerance. Given the state of the world today, it remains a chilling comment on how academia and other institutions can be used as a breeding ground for racial, class, and religious prejudice.
According to the review of this episode on the brilliant Rod Serling’s Night Gallery site, Price was as charming as his character was forbidding. ‘He was very accessible,’ recalls actor Frank Hotchkiss, who plays Clinton in the episode. ‘He was quite the opposite of what I expected, and I was thrilled to have the chance to meet him. He opened that show beautifully with that minute monologue, which sets the whole thing in his inimitable fashion.’
The Return of the Sorcerer
‘Good evening. We’re delighted that all of you could make it this evening because we have something special on tap. In the area of the occult, it’s customary to preoccupy ourselves with witches, and too infrequently we dabble on the male side of that time-honoured profession, the sorcerer. On display here is a painting showing the natural habitat of this species of black art practitioner: dark alley, murky light, a few sundry skulls, and the gentleman himself on the right of the picture with the upraised hand and the funny little goat horns. Yes indeed, this is a sorcerer, and for those of you who disbelieve his existence, we invite you to check this out for a little while. Our painting is called The Return of the Sorcerer, and where better place for him to return than right here in the Night Gallery.‘
The third and final season of Rod Serling’s anthology series kicked off on 24 September 1972 with this satanic tale (actually the fourth produced), again directed by Jeannot Szwarc and starring Bill Bixby, Vincent Price and Tisha Sterling.
Adapted from the 1931 short story by Clark Ashton Smith, who was inspired by his friend HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology, it involves a reclusive academic, John Carnby (Price), who hires Arabic translator Noel Evans (Bixby) to divine an obscure passage from the infamous Necronomicon, which may help him fathom the mysterious death of his twin brother and fellow sorcerer, Helman.
But a monstrous curse of fire and dismemberment is attached to anyone who attempts to do so, which is why the two previous translators quit before finishing the job. To make matters worse, there’s something slithering and scuttling about in the shadows – and they may not be rats, after all…
A dark, fantastique atmosphere pervades this richly-visual episode, helped greatly by the mystical paintings of William Blake that decorate the mist-filled sets dripping in blood reds and deep shadow blacks, and littered with genuine black magic ornamental trappings and Jean Cocteau-inspired human arm candles.
Add in a black mass featuring actual incantations (that creeped out Sterling), a sinister eye-rolling turn from Price, and some severed limbs crawling about, and you have an episode that’s guaranteed to make your skin crawl.
It’s also one that will have you checking out the original story by Clark Ashton Smith (I know I certainly did). But this being for TV meant some few alterations, like the introduction of Sterling’s seductive hippie assistant Fern and a bizarre scene involving a horned goat who is supposed to be Carnby’s father. Then there’s that deeply unsettling ending…
Night Gallery is available in the 10-disc Complete Collection DVD box-set from Fabulous Films in the UK