Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Devil's Deceptions

"The Devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. I had seen him before, in all parts of the world. In all forms and guises. Wherever there was sin. Wherever there was strife. Wherever there was corruption. And persecution. There he was also. Sometimes he was only a spectator, a face in the crowd. But, always, he was there."

Brother Jerome (John Carradine)

"The Howling Man," the episode of the Twilight Zone that made its debut on this night in 1960, has always been one of my favorite episodes — but for a long time, I'll be damned if I could explain why.

I suppose "I'll be damned" is an appropriate way to phrase it because the episode dealt with the Devil.

You see, an American hiking through central Europe after World War I (H.M. Wynant) got lost in a storm and sought shelter in a castle. He was urged to leave — but not before he heard a spine–tingling howl. He insisted on knowing more but was told it was merely the wind and was taken to meet the leader of the castle's religious order, Brother Jerome (John Carradine).

Jerome asked what he wanted, and the man said he only wanted shelter from the storm, perhaps some food, but Jerome refused. The man, apparently suffering ill effects from the storm, began coughing and collapsed. When he came to, he heard the howling again and went to investigate.

In the bowels of the castle, he found a man, disheveled but lucid, locked in a cell, who offered a simple explanation for his imprisonment: Brother Jerome and his followers were mad.

"I don't say they are evil," the prisoner said. "They're mad." And he proceeded to tell what seemed to be a plausible story about how he came to be where he was: He had been seen kissing his sweetheart in public.

Brother Jerome interrupted and took the visitor back to his study, where he proceeded to tell him the whole story. The man in the cell was really the Devil. He had been imprisoned there for five years since the end of the war — a period marked by the general absence of unnatural catastrophes, the kind of thing that is usually blamed on the Devil. He was kept in his cell by the "Staff of Truth," Jerome said, the one thing the Devil cannot manipulate, and the visitor pretended to believe him.

But after their conversation, he returned to the cell and freed the prisoner — who was, in fact, the Devil. The visitor discovered that a bit too late; to atone for what he had done, he tracked and finally recaptured the Devil.

He decided to send the Devil back to Brother Jerome. Before going out to make the arrangements, he left his apartment and the locked–away Devil in the custody of a housekeeper. He explained the situation to her (the episode was told in a flashback style, which was apparently his explanation) and warned her to keep the door to the Devil's room locked.

But, of course, once he left, the housekeeper was drawn to the door ... and, as she reached to unlock it, Rod Serling could be heard quoting an old saying: "You can catch the Devil, but you can't hold him long."

I'm still not certain why I like that episode so much.