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.