If you have “A Fear of Spiders,” this Night Gallery tale may a bit much for you. And, as always, it’s reviewed here.
Season 2 Episode 4—aired 10/6/71
“A Fear of Spiders” ***1/2
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story “The Spider” by Elizabeth Walter
Directed by John Astin
Patrick O’Neal as Justus Walters
Kim Stanley as Elizabeth Croft
Tom Pedi as Mr. Boucher
Two wonderful performances, from Patrick O’Neal and Kim Stanley, in a fine adapted script by Rod Serling and directed by last-minute replacement John Astin (yes, the actor, and in his second Night Gallery assignment) combine to produce an excellent segment to kick off Season Two’s fourth episode.
O’Neal plays Justus Walters, a food critic trying to finish some articles before deadline. He gets a phone call from his upstairs neighbor, Elizabeth Croft (Stanley), to whom he shouts “leave me in peace.”
Undeterred, she comes down and rings his doorbell. They’ve had a few dinner dates, he’s no longer interested, and he dismisses her, even more rudely and cruelly than on the phone, slamming the door on her. From outside the door, she says she prays that someday he’ll be helpless and need someone.
She trips and falls on her way up the stairs. He opens the door and to her request for help, he smirks and slams the door once more. Not the world’s nicest guy.
Back inside his apartment, he goes into the kitchen and sees a fairly large spider in the sink. He flushes it down but we can see a crack in his tough-guy demeanor as the presence of the spider has shaken him.
Going back to his typewriter, he hears a drip, returns to the kitchen and sees a spider crawling out of the drain, this one larger than the one previously seen. He flushes this one down as well, after some battling by the spider at the edge of the drain.
The building super then arrives, responding to Justus’ previous call about thermostat issues. Tom Pedi plays this as a stereotypical blue collar “dese, dem and dose” kind of guy. For what it is, it’s a bit of comic relief, but not necessary and it somewhat temporarily breaks the building mood of fear.
Justus then takes the opportunity to complain about the spiders, admitting that he has a deathly fear of them, and the super somewhat mocks him (there is a dimension of prissy femininity to O’Neal’s portrayal of Justus) in an oft-seen clash between an “old-school” man and a “modern” one.
The super leaves dismissively and unable to secure continued protection from the man, Justus then is startled by a screeching noise coming from his bedroom. He opens the door and looks in and we get a quick glimpse of a comically gigantic spider on his bed. This takes us right out of things and one can’t help but laugh. Hey, tight budgets and early ‘70s effects took their toll on projects such as this.
He runs to the super who has no interest in investigating a spider “the size of a dog” as described by Justus (it really is, a large, fake, stuffed spider, moved no doubt by someone pulling a string) and so the critic swallows his pride and seeks out the only person interested in his welfare, Elizabeth one floor up.
He needs a drink and quickly downs two brandys served by Elizabeth and confesses to her, too, his fear of spiders. She laughs when she hears his description of what’s in his bedroom. She’s read many books and has never found a description of so large a spider anywhere in literature. He wants to call the police; she says they’ll call Bellevue.
Finishing his brandy, she asks him to leave and he practically begs her to accompany him. They enter his apartment (she first). No spiders.
He asks her to check his bedroom. She looks in and sees/says it’s empty. She leads him by the hand into his room, pulls the door shut and locks him in. It’s not clear whether or not she saw the (giant) spider. She laughs. He panics. She tells him women “need a little kindness. A little love,” and says she’ll let him out at breakfast.
He hears squeaking, becomes hysterical, shouting “It’s in here!” Outside his room, Elizabeth looks non-plussed. We then hear a thud against the door and our play is at its end. A frightening ending to a fine segment.