John Carradine is a scary old farmer who promises three boys a “Big Surprise” if they dig up something buried in this Night Gallery review.

“Big Surprise” **1/2
Written by Richard Matheson
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
John Carradine as Mr. Hawkins
Vincent Van Patten as Chris
Marc Vahanian as Jason
Eric Chase as Dan

Three boys walk home from school each day near the run-down farmhouse of Mr. Hawkins, who is one of those people kids have likely never seen but whose legend precedes him as a crazy person to be feared and avoided.

One afternoon as the boys near his house, discussing him, the grizzled old man appears on his front porch. All are afraid to get close but Hawkins seems to gesture to one of them, Chris (Vincent Van Patten), who tentatively approaches the man. Finally, he gets close enough for the man to speak to him.

Hawkins describes an area near a particular oak tree where he says that if the boys go there, “walk ten paces, dig down four feet. There you’ll find a big surprise!”

This is classic late-period John Carradine, with the craggy face, stubble beard, creaky voice, leering, insinuating look.

The older boy, Jason (Marc Vahanian) scoffs at this, but Chris and Dan (Eric Chase) think there could be buried treasure there and so the three of them set off for the location specified by the old coot.

They find some shovels, get to the spot and begin digging. The dig and dig and dig and eventually Jason and Dan decide to leave since they have yet to find anything. Chris continues on, still believing strongly that there will be a payoff for his efforts.

Finally, his shovel hits something hard. He brushes off dirt and sees that a large wooden box is buried there. Suddenly, there is a creaking sounds and the top of the box begins to slowly open. This moment is directed well for maximum suspense by longtime Night Gallery director Jeannot Szwarc.

A figure starts to rise up from the box and to Chris’ shock, it is the aged, bony figure of Mr. Hawkins who, with a twinkling smile, says “Surprise!”

Yes, this was indeed a surprise, but frankly the ending fell completely flat for me. Is Hawkins a ghost? An illusion? What is he? Also, Chris was the one of the three who most believed what Hawkins told him, so why punish him with such a fright? Decent segment, dumb ending.

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