Life in early 1960s America was a weird and wonderful combination of Cold War-era tension and congenial baby boomer Utopia. Our fractious, fun-loving state of mind allowed Pat Boone, Rat Fink, Connie Francis and Alfred Hitchcock to co-exist very comfortably, and a significant chunk of this pop culture was ruled by a horde of aliens and monsters.
On the small screen, no series better captured America’s shadowy side then science fiction anthology “The Outer Limits,” which literally took over one’s TV set every week. As your screen went black, the sinister “control voice” intoned: “There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission...”
The classic ABC series, created by writer-director Leslie Stevens, is focal point for a 50th anniversary celebration at Burbank’s Creature Features this weekend, and it promises to be a gloriously horrific affair. With an exhibition of original “Outer Limits” inspired art work, a display of vintage series memorabilia and production still, it’s anchored by an appearance from OL authority David J. Schow, who will sign and discuss his just published “The Outer Limits at 50” and 1999’s definitive “The Outer Limits Companion.”
“The Outer Limits was a turning point for Baby Boomer kids who had become obsessed with 1950s monster movies — monsters now literally invaded home TV on a weekly basis, which had never been attempted before,” Schow said. “Many of those kids grew up to become mainstays of the film industry, and as they reflected fondly on the series, they discovered deeper qualities to hold their interest as adults.”
The series’ impact was significant, serving as a bridge between “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” and despite their common humble origins as oft-lampooned thriller throwaways, time has proven each to be a major cultural force, with an ongoing hold on successive generations.
“The Outer Limits was extremely cinematic visually, and very downbeat emotionally, both powerful innovations for mere television in the 1960s. If ‘The Twilight Zone’ was O. Henry with a snap-in-the-tail moral, ‘The Outer Limits’ was practically Kafka.”
Saturday’s reception, organized by Creature Features mad professor Taylor White, will showcase a full gallery of works by several dozen artists, including veteran horror comic illustrator Steve Bissette (“Swamp Thing”), the prolific character designer-artist Bob Lizarraga and British rockabilly revivalist Tim Polecat. Considering the grotesque, colorful fiends who rampaged through the series’ 49 episodes, these renderings will definitely be memorable.
“Taylor originally suggested a gallery show to commemorate the series’ 50th anniversary, and we talked about doing a souvenir book for the show,” Schow said. “In the process we chanced upon a huge trove of publicity photos that had never been published before; just wonderful crystal-clear, time-capsule shots, and a lot of behind-the-scenes photos, which is one thing both editions of my previous book had lacked. So, over most of 2013, the book grew from being essentially a pamphlet or catalog to a full-fledged book on its own, plus we’ve still got the gallery show to contend with.”
Whether a die-hard fan or novice, the “Outer Limits” exhibit, which runs through April 12, will serve as a portal to a lurid, entirely different plane of existence, one where low-brow exploitation art and sophisticated sci-fi philosophizing collide with spectacular results.
For Schow, “The Outer Limits” has become a near obsession, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve been doing it for most of my adult life,” he said. “And if it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t keep doing it.”
Where: Creature Features, 2904 W Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; (818) 842-8665.
When: Saturday, March 22, 6 to 10 p.m. (and Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday. 11 a.m.- to 4 p.m., through April 12)
More info: www.creaturefeatures.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”