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The Outer Limits: The Invisible Enemy (1964)   7 comments


The rocket M-1 lands on Mars. Its crew of two congratulate each other on a flawless landing and a start to their alien expedition.

“Phew! We made it. It’s all smooth sailing now.”

Lieutenant Bowman (Anthony Costello) admonishes Captain Thomas (Michael Mikler) to “stay in touch at all times.” With that, Thomas heads to the surface of the planet to check the place out. Seconds later we hear a bloodcurdling scream and Bowman runs out of the capsule to rescue his comrade. Soon another scream pierces the silence, then nothing. Since communications are delayed by three and a half minutes, we get to hear the entire exchange again as ground control listens to the two doomed men.


Cut to three years later. It’s 2014 and the four-man M-2 land on Mars to explore and to find out what happened to the M-1. I can’t help thinking about the old joke. Q: “Why does the new Navy sail on glass-bottomed boats?” A: “To look for the old Navy.” Anyway, Major Merritt (Adam West) leads the M-2 and orders Captain Lazzari (Peter Marko) and Lieutenant Johnson (Robert DoQui) to go out and do some exploring. He too orders the men to stay in contact with the ship at all times. There are screams and men not staying in contact with the ship and bazookas and pretty soon, it’s a two man expedition.

“This looks friendly.”

Merritt and Captain Buckley (Rudy Solari) are ordered by their bosses on the ground to stay put and, you guessed it, stay in contact at all times. Merritt’s had a tough mission, so he takes a nap. This gives Buckley the ideal opportunity to, um, tool outside and not stay in contact and stuff. You see, Buckley has a theory (ahem ahem) and he’s just itching to try it out. Merritt wakes up to find Buckley gone (no comment) so he blows off his orders to go look for the captain. Martian hijinks ensue.

adam chat
“You didn’t even leave a note.”

I don’t want to give away the entire plot here, but I will say this is the only television show, film, or toothpaste commercial that scared me as a kid. The episode aired first on Halloween 1964. I watched it and most of the Outer Limits episodes as reruns in the 1970s. I remember sitting, mesmerized, on the floor watching the famous opening segment narrated by Vic Perrin. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. we are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits.” Yes! I’m ready, Vic!

Isn’t that the coolest?

As much as I enjoy The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I’ve always considered The Outer Limits darker, edgier, and weirder. Like Serling’s and Hitchcock’s shows, Outer Limits starred a ton of film and television actors I knew. Robert Culp, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Bruce Dern, James Shigeta, Vera Miles, Ivan Dixon, Ted Knight, and Leonard Nimoy all starred in episodes.

adam west
…and Adam West!

Written for the magazine Imaginative Tales in 1955 by Jerry Sohl, The Invisible Enemy went through a few rewrites before filming began. Director Byron Haskin (Arsenic and Old Lace, War of the Worlds), producer Ben Brady, and the fabulously named Seeleg Lester also touched up the script.

So far I’ve mentioned everything but the thing that really scared me as a kid. It was a combination of the ominous music by Harry Lubin, cinematography by Kenneth Peach, who worked on the original King Kong, and special effects by Pat Dinga, who also worked on Bride of the Monster. The creatures in The Invisible Enemy were downright scary. They looked something like this.

open mouth outer
See! I told you.

piranha shark

These sand-loving piranha sharks move fast and have a great roar. They don’t seem to displace much of their odd, sparkly quicksand either which makes them hard to see coming. They’re also smart and a tiny bit territorial. This is their crap end of the universe and they’ll be damned if any buttoned-up astronaut types are going to swim in their pool. “Batman Shmatman!”, quoth the evil fish dudes. Well, maybe they don’t actually say that, but it’s implied.

“Dammit! I should have brought my utility belt.”

I love The Invisible Enemy for the cool story, well-done effects, original creatures, and because it brings back great memories of sitting, cross-legged on my living room floor getting scared. Fun stuff.

I wrote this for the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by the lovely and talented Terence Towles Canote on his blog @mercurie80

Fun idea, Terry!


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