by Julian Spivey
The legendary Rod Serling was most known as creator and writer of the classic science fiction/ironic anthology series “The Twilight Zone” that aired on CBS from 1959-1964, and rightfully so as it may have been the best written and finest television series ever created. But, Serling also had an oft-forgotten anthology series in the early ‘70s on NBC called “Night Gallery” that leaned toward the more horrific and macabre and while it wasn’t nearly as great as “The Twilight Zone” and didn’t feature as much of Serling’s work, and when it did it wasn’t nearly as terrific, it did produce some gems that are still much talked about today.
Among those gems is “The Caterpillar” from the end of season two in 1972 starring Laurence Harvey. In the episode, written by Serling and which some hail as one of the finest examples of horror writing in television history, Harvey played the British civil servant Mr. Macy who is a rather prickly man in the boring and wet jungle of Borneo trapped in a home with two other Brits, the married couple of Mr. (Tom Helmore) and Mrs. Warwick (Joanna Pettet), who have about 40 years of age between the two of them.
Being bored and rather arrogant and full of himself Macy sets his eyes on the beauty that is Mrs. Warwick. He uses the wiles of the mischievous criminal Tommy Robinson (Don Knight) to help get her. Robinson knows of a local earwig which will drive a man insane and eventually to death while feasting on his brain if it wanders in his ear canal because it will be unable to work its way back out. Macy pays Robinson to have someone insert one of the earwigs into Mr. Warwick’s ear while he sleeps … except he soon realizes the person has placed the earwig into his own ear by mistake, in a classic Serling twist.
The scene where Macy realizes the earwig is actually in his ear instead is one of the ultimate scenes of horror within this terrifically macabre episode of “Night Gallery,” but, oh, it gets better.
The utter hell Macy experiences with the earwig crawling around in his head is perfectly encapsulated by the look on Harvey’s face when he’s bound to his bed to keep himself from literally killing himself to end the torture. The look of pain on Harvey’s face is one of the best portrayals of pain I’ve ever seen from an actor on television or on film. You believe him thoroughly when he says “I want to die.”
In classic Serling style things begin to look up for Mr. Macy at the episode’s end when the earwig has made its way completely through the brain and out the other ear with quite possibly little damage having been done. But, Serling has one more ironic twist and one of the most macabre twists in television history … that you’ll have to watch the episode to catch.
“The Caterpillar,” a title that literally makes no sense given that the insect in the story is an earwig, is likely one of the most memorable “Night Gallery” episodes and a must watch for anybody wanting a good horror story for Halloween.
1/7/2017 11:28:56 am
I was never a fan of Night Gallery, but this is the ONE episode of it I recall watching. Yes, utterly horrifying. For weeks I found it hard to go to sleep (I was jr. high age) fearing that an earwig might crawl into my ear canal during the night. I looked up what an actual earwig looks like, and to this day whenever I see one, THIS show comes to mind, more than FORTY years later!
3/18/2017 11:39:26 am
I was a teen when this was first aired. It did scare the hell out of me. For the few days after seeing it, I put cotton in my ears before I went to bed.
Boo Hoo MacGrew
4/22/2017 05:58:12 pm
I was 10 , 55 now , still scares the willies out of me.
5/9/2018 12:11:13 am
I still DO!
5/14/2018 10:50:15 am
I'm 58 now and still think of this episode. I was 11 then. Glad to see I"m not the only one looking this episode up... and reliving the horror.
7/14/2019 12:34:10 am
My name is Sandy too. God...you know I have been trying to find something about Earwig everywhere. Tonight I finally found something about it. I was just a kid when I seen it. I loved it. I am watching Creature Feature right now. The new one. Not as good without Bob Wilkins. I am 59 years old. I want to somehow get a DVD of Earwig to creep my husband out, ya know? Ha, ha. Does anyone happen to know how I can purchase it or find it on the internet?
7/15/2019 11:32:57 am
Sandy Silva, here you go. Did we work together at Michaels?
2/13/2020 08:56:06 pm
I saw this episode of Night Gallery in my mid teens whilst living in Australia. It terrified me so much that I bought earplugs - the type used to reduce noise levels. I am now 71 and I still wear the same type of earplugs in bed and especially when camping. I still break out in a cold sweat and get heart palpitations at the site of an earwig. Harvey's performance was superb and credible and has, as has already been mentioned here, etched itself on my brain.
4/10/2021 01:57:13 pm
OMG you and me both. I was specifically looking this up today after still having nightmares about it 40 years later.
9/12/2017 05:36:29 am
I know exactly how you feel. I was about 9 when I saw this. It frightened the living hell out of me. Im 42 now, and to this day earwigs still give me the creeps.
Jahna W Roth
1/7/2018 07:12:18 pm
I actually had a cockroach in my ear, you can hear them scratching! All I kept thinking about was this!
4/10/2019 10:16:45 pm
Oh Dudeeeeeeeee! (or dudette)
9/3/2018 02:06:45 am
It aws the best most terrifing Serling eppisode by me
7/28/2020 07:06:58 pm
4/12/2023 11:14:16 pm
Same here. I’ve never forgotten that episode. I was also Junior High age and watched after school one day. Truly horrifying. The acting was very realistic. 😳.
2/7/2017 06:26:28 pm
Yeah this was a good one.
5/15/2017 04:56:02 pm
It's amazing how, should a "creepy-crawly" situation come up, all you have to say is the word "earwig" & people automatically know what your talking about!!! How is it that late baby-boomers were watching this kind of show?! I saw it at a friend's house-their parents must have been gone!!!
10/11/2017 11:02:09 am
My wife and I were just talking about this, couldn't remember the creator's name and google led me here. We were 12 years old when we saw this episode and it scared the hell out of both of us. I couldn't sleep for a week or so without covering both ears with pillows. i'm 60 now and I still am creeped out by them. Only bug that has that effect on me. To paraphrase, the only good earwig is a dead one,
10/27/2018 07:36:17 pm
Did you know earwigs can fly? They keep their wings folded under their thorax cover. You are not safe anywhere.
1/18/2019 07:57:59 am
Deb, I did NOT need to know that!!
Serling fan forever
11/20/2022 09:12:16 am
11/16/2017 01:42:37 pm
Scariest show I ever saw. I was probably 14 or 15 and I'm now 61 and still have a clear recollection. Shared with work friends today, hope they put cotton in their ears before they go to bed tonight.
1/27/2018 10:56:36 am
Pretty scary and having to do with the supernateral and one episode There Arnt anymore McBaines has Mark Hamel as a meggenger
2/15/2018 05:09:50 pm
I was just telling an old friend about this episode during a conversation about Laurence Harvey. I still remember it vividly and I’m 70! I still shudder when I see an earwig. Ewwww.
4/29/2018 11:08:21 pm
This was one episode of Night Gallery that stands with the best of Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, or any other suspense/horror anthology show. It scared the hell out of me when I saw it at 10 years old, and it still creeped me out when I saw it tonight on one of those classic TV channels. A true classic.
6/21/2018 07:28:28 pm
Haunted me for years!!!!!! Saw it as a kid and slept with my ears plugged into my teens.
3/14/2019 10:34:21 pm
Guess I would have been about 11 if it was 72. Remember this episode vividly. First thing that ever creeped me out that much. It effected me for days as I recall.
4/16/2019 05:53:38 pm
I saw this on a first-run, in '72 and still remember it vividly. I had the same problems sleeping after seeing it until I did some research on Earwigs and learned that this was an 'old wives' tale' without real substantiation. The derivation of 'ear' in their name comes from hind wings which resemble human ears. So, I slept well (at least regarding this outcome) until seeing the episode again tonight--and totally agree about the incredible portrayal of pain by Lawrence Harvey. (Ironically, I now have a condition which is so painful that when Lilly effectively eliminates oral opioids--as generic competition to a drug they intend to charge a large fortune for, one which previous FDAs wouldn't pass due to its severe, irreversible side effects--I may not survive, so I've now become a connoisseur of intolerable pain.)
6/14/2020 10:03:43 pm
In the mid 70's I worked in a loud paper mill where they still had boxes of cotton available for ear protection and one day I got some cotton stuck way inside my ear
7/25/2020 01:50:14 pm
My recollection of seeing this for the first time is like all the other comments.
7/26/2020 03:57:23 pm
One of the two Night Gallery episodes I most vividly remember, the other being Camera Obscura.
I have been looking for this for sometime. I remember this episode so well. I saw it when I was little and it scared the heck out of me. Years later when my husband and I bought our first house we were showing people around and opened the shed door. I bunch of earwigs came running out. I didn't realize what they were until my mother in law said it. Then we used to get them in the house all the time. Scary and gross.
12/16/2020 03:06:01 pm
Fantastic episode. They just showed it on the WeTV network about a week ago, and they usually show several episodes together or in Night Gallery mini-marathons.
4/5/2021 01:49:04 am
Serling adapted it from a 1931 story by Oscar Cook.
6/25/2021 10:45:20 am
I remember this episode scared the heck out if me as a child and I just saw it again today on Comet. Rod Serling was a genius!
10/13/2021 07:36:39 pm
If I recall correctly (I'm 57 and was only about 10 when I watched the movie), on removing the earwig it was discovered it was a female that probably laid eggs in the guy's brain! I could be wrong.
10/14/2021 01:25:53 am
That is correct!
10/15/2021 03:26:37 am
10/15/2021 03:28:32 am
Always LOVED those Rod Serling "twists" at the story's end!
10/18/2021 09:01:52 pm
These comments are so fun to read.. I thought I was the only 8 year old who watched this. My older brother terrorized me further for the next few months by pretending to put earwigs in my ears. Cant look at an earwig without thinking about it.
1/1/2022 11:52:16 am
Omg.....I was 7 or 8 when this episode of Night Gallery first aired in the early 70's.
1/1/2022 07:22:29 pm
Stumbled across this one while channel hopping this morning, what a great New Year's present! Very vague memories of managing to catch the odd Night Gallery back in the late 1970s / early 1980s as a kid at a friend's house during a sleepover, but had no memories of any killer Borneo "caterpillar" -- (earwig is SO much more unpleasant). Loved all the performances and enjoyed all the comments here, too!
7/25/2022 05:21:01 pm
I'm 61 years old and I can't even know why this is always on my mind .I want to see it again cause I watched with my eyes closed .but I'm not scared anymore lol
8/7/2022 01:55:50 pm
A anti drinking message bug inside the man grows with each drink he takes results a rather grusome death
9/16/2022 04:55:33 pm
Saw this when I was 12, when it first aired. 100% horrified. Have seen it a few other times over the years and same reaction, even if the premise is an old wive's tale. Incredible cast of five Brits (yes, Pettet is a native of England!). Script has mulitple shocks: 1. Robinson first describing the wretched insect to Macy. 2. Macy agreeing to hire Robinson. 3. Macy realizing the horrible error and how his plan has backfired. 4. The doctor's horrifying description to Robinson of what Macy is going through. 5. Seeing Macy for ourselves -- so awful seeing someone suffering so horribly. 6. Macy surviving the ordeal. 7. The final horrible twist: The little beastie laid eggs inside his skull.
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