I’ve changed my plans since yesterday. Instead of looking at old ancient astronaut material today, I’d like to talk instead about an episode of the Outer Limits that I just watched, “Cry of Silence,” which aired originally on October 24, 1964. This episode is seriously awesome, and it is one of the most horrific in the series’ run.
The plot weirdly anticipates by a few months star Eddie Albert’s most famous role as Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres. (In fact, the episode is the most fun if you pretend this was Oliver's first foray into farming with his first wife.) Albert plays a city dweller who has dragged his wife out to farm country to buy a farm because he wants to live his agricultural dream. On the way, the couple find themselves stranded in a canyon where they are besieged by apparently sentient tumbleweeds. They tack refuge in a farmhouse where the resident farmer, Mr. Lamont, has nearly lost his wits fending off the assault of an invisible menace. Now all three are trapped in the farmhouse, under ever worsening assault from frogs, rocks, trees, weeds, etc.
Mr. Lamont claims that a “meteor” landed two weeks earlier, causing the trouble. In an attempt to escape, a rock kills Lamont, and the invisible force tries to use his risen corpse to communicate with Albert and his wife, to no avail. Albert offers himself as the entity’s vessel, only to discover that the invisible creature can only project its communication into human minds and cannot receive messages. The alien returns to its world.
Immediately, the classic horror antecedents of the episode should be clear. There is a healthy dose of Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla,” Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” and “The Man Whom the Trees Loved,” and of course H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” The strange method the alien uses of attempting communication by projecting its consciousness into other beings recalls Lovecraft’s “Shadow Out of Time” and the Great Race, as well as “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” (Of course, countless lesser stories used many of these same themes.)
But what is most interesting is the way this episode eerily foreshadows George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). While Romero’s Night is, by his own admission, inspired by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the actual film is much closer in tone and story to “Cry of Silence.” The formal structure of the two is very similar. In both, the story kicks off when a man and woman travel along a deserted road to an empty location and encounter a monster that only slowly makes its presence known. In both the place of refuge is an eerie farmhouse where the survivors are besieged by an increasingly violent assault by growing supernatural forces. In both it is an unseen and possibly unreal infection from space that brings an invisible alien menace to earth, causing the chaos. (In a nod to 1950s and 1960s sci-fi horror, in Night the zombies were halfheartedly attributed to something brought back accidentally by a space mission.) Most interestingly, both also feature risen corpses.
In “Cry of Silence,” after Mr. Lamont is killed, his corpse is reanimated by the invisible alien and staggers into the farmhouse, moving about until rigor mortis sets in. (This parallels the rotting corpse possessed by Edward Derby in Lovecraft’s “Thing on the Doorstep.”) Eddie Albert explicitly states that the dead man “is only a zombie.” This is especially interesting since, aside from a few 1940s voodoo films, the term “zombie” was rarely used to refer to a reanimated corpse until after the wave of “ghoul” films launched by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (which never employed the term). The word also appears in Kerouac’s Subterraneans and Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but figuratively, and derived from the 1940s films’ portrayal of hypnotically-controlled slaves. The Outer Limits would never feature explicit violence (this was 1960s TV, after all), and its zombie is sedate, while Romero made his ghouls cannibals, again paralleling the corpse-eating ghouls of Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model,” derived in turn from the ghul of the novel Vathek and the corpse-eating monster ghouls of the Arabian Nights that “wander about the country making their lairs in deserted buildings and springing out upon unwary travellers whose flesh they eat” (Night 31).
Romero originally called his creatures “ghouls” rather than zombies, and there is little doubt that they take their flesh-eating inspiration, directly or not, from the Arabian Nights portrayal. And, just because my thing is ancient history, I’ll also relate this back to mythology. The Arabic word “ghoul” is said to derive from the Mesopotamian demons called gallu, who were underworld entities charged with seizing the bodies of the damned and dragging them down to hell. These creatures ripped the flesh of the shepherd god Dumuzi (Tammuz) to shreds, tearing him limb from limb as they dragged his unwilling body to hell. Perhaps the first zombie, Dumuzi rose from the dead, returning to the land of the living on an eerie funeral barge tended by the demons and spirits of the dead.
Thus again does ancient history and myth feed into the constellation of influences that yields modern horror and science fiction, our version of mythology.
Bonus link: The Outer Limits also gave us alien abductions and "the Greys." Not bad for a TV show that spent the last half century in the shadow of The Twilight Zone.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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