A grotesque life-size statuary wreaks havoc on a young couple’s seemingly idyllic suburban life in the Night Gallery story “Last Rites for a Dead Druid,” reviewed here.
“Last Rites for a Dead Druid” ***
Written by Alvin Sapinsley (loosely based on “Out of the Eons” by Hazel Heald)
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Bill Bixby as Bruce Tarraday
Carol Lynley as Jenny Tarraday
Donna Douglas as Mildred McVane
Ned Glass as Mr. Bernstein
Janya Brannt as Marta
Friends Jenny Tarraday (Carol Lynley) and Mildred McVane (Donna Douglas) peruse an antique shop when Mildred spots a statue and suggests that Jenny purchase it. It’s a life-size realization of an ancient man grimacing in anger or perhaps pain, brandishing a weapon. Jenny buys it, partly because she thinks it looks like her husband, Bruce (Bill Bixby). I have to disagree; it doesn’t look much like Bixby to me. Bruce doesn’t think it looks like him either, after she returns home with it.
Bruce complains to his wife about the influence of her friend Mildred, whom he finds extremely annoying. They put the statue in their back yard. That night, Bruce has a nightmare in which the statue appears in their bedroom doorway, then when he looks away and back again, it appears closer, nearly upon him at his bed.
In the morning, he goes outside and finds foot-sized burn marks in the grass leading from the statue’s supposedly immobile spot. He goes to visit the antique shop’s owner, Bernstein (Ned Glass in a tired “old Jewish guy” stereotypical performance) to inquire about the statue’s history.
Bernstein tells him that after his wife departed, he discovered some paperwork on the statue suggesting that it’s a Druid or pre-Druid piece depicting a sorcerer who was a particularly nasty fellow: a rapist, debaucher and sacrificer of beings both animal and human. His name? Bruce the Black. Could he be an ancient relation of this Bruce, a mild-mannered California suburbanite lawyer?
A few days later, Jenny has invited Mildred over for dinner. While Bruce is preparing the grill, he is alone outside with Mildred and the two of them begin arguing after she asks him to introduce her to his ancestor. Suddenly, the fire on the grill erupts and something seems to possess Bruce and he takes Mildred into his arms and passionately kisses her.
The feeling quickly passes but Mildred lets him know that she wouldn’t mind if it came again. She goes inside and Bruce goes back to tending to the grill, disturbed by this inexplicable burst of lust for Mildred, whom he supposedly can’t stand. Hey, she’s played by Donna Douglas (Ellie Mae from The Beverly Hillbillies) so we the viewer can certainly understand.
As he tries to focus on food preparation, the neighbor’s cat comes walking into his yard. In the flames of the grill, he sees a bearded version of himself in ancient garb. Enraged, he picks up the cat, holds it over the grill’s flames and begins to lower it down when his housekeeper sees what he’s doing and screams, breaking this latest spell.
Stunned by what he began to do, Bruce stalks off into the house. That night, he has another nightmare where the statue is not only in his room, but is verbally commanding him to kill his wife so that he can be with Mildred. He comes close to carrying out this act but fights it off, and, determined to end this, marches out into the yard, grabs a mallet and is about to smash the statue to bits when he screams and…is found by his wife transformed into a statue (this one really does look like him). On the ground lies a man who resembles the original statue depiction, apparently Bruce the Black released from his statue prison, but dead nonetheless.
The next day, Mildred brings the new statue of Bruce the Lawyer to Bernstein’s antique shop, hoping to sell it. Bernstein remarks that it’s a pity she isn’t selling the pair. Mildred, with a knowing smile, agrees that it indeed is a great pity.
This is a fine, chilling story, with a strong cast, but the role of Mildred in this is frustratingly not explained. She suggests that Jenny buy the statue and bring it home, she seems to be pleased when Bruce wants her and she wryly agrees that it’s a pity both statues can’t be sold back to Bernstein. But if she is somehow the catalyst to these events, it remains incredibly unclear as to what her motivations were. Still and all, this is an enjoyable story, directed as usual, with a sure hand by Jeannot Szwarc.