Charles Beaumont, the third great Zone writer after Rod Serling and Richard Matheson, adapted “Howling Man” from his own short story—and he has been ripped off several times since (most notably by I Trapped the Devil). During the aftermath of WWI, David Ellington commenced a walking tour of southern Europe in search of meaning. Caught in a freak deluge, he tries to take refuge in an austere abbey, but the rustic brothers try to turn him away. It is only when he collapses from weakness that they relent. However, when he comes to, he confronts Brother Jerome, demanding to know why they imprisoned the bearded man wailing in a dungeon cell. Of course, the monk tries to convince him that is not a man, but rather someone much more sinister.
Tightly helmed by veteran TV director Douglas Heyes, “The Howling Man” has lost none of its power in sixty years. It is scary, but it is even more disturbing on a philosophical and metaphysical level. It is easy for viewers to place themselves in Ellington’s position and imagine the resulting guilt and torment. Technically, it is also a great TV production, featuring sets worthy of the old Universal monster movies and cinematographer George T. Clemens’ surprisingly dramatic angles and framing.
We are in the era critics have dubbed “Peak TV,” but the span of 1959-1965 had to be “Peak Anthology TV,” when the Zone was on the air, along with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and the Karloff shows. “The Howling Man” is a highlight episode of an undeniably classic series. The only slight disappointment is Serling’s opening appearance is merely superimposed over the scene, rather than one of those cool pan shots, where he is suddenly standing there unnoticed on-set. Oh well, can’t have everything. Serling, Beaumont, and Carradine are still an awful lot for genre fans. Highly recommended for fans of classic genre storytelling, “The Howling Man” airs Monday morning (8/10), on Syfy—and it also currently streams on Netflix.