DVD Review: The Outer Limits Season 1 Takes Over Your Television Set

by Rachel Bellwoar

“There is nothing wrong with your television set,” and there is nothing wrong with Kino Lorber’s new DVD and Blu-Ray release of The Outer Limits Season 1.

Created by Leslie Stevens and produced by Joseph Stefano, The Outer Limits was a sci-fi anthology series that ran for two seasons in the 1960s. Each episode tells a standalone story, with no sequels or recurring characters (though the occasional cast member returns in a different role).

The series holds up incredibly well, and even the weaker episodes have redeeming aspects (the googles in “The Mutant”), or ideas that didn’t reach their full potential. Many shows have picked up where Outer Limits left off (computers translating alien languages, (or bees, in the episode “Zzzzz”); haunted space suits) and it’s easy to see the show’s influence on modern television.

At the end of his booklet essay, which offers capsule reviews of every season one episode in the order they were produced, film historian, David J. Schow (The Outer Limits Companion and The Outer Limits At 50) talks about previous efforts to release Outer Limits on disc. Kino’s is the first time the series has been remastered in HD (I can’t speak to how it looked before, but you can tell the quality is crisp, black and white) and the first set to include bonus features.

Schow gets the commentaries rolling, with “The Galaxy Being.” One of 24 commentaries (there are 32 episodes), there really are some interesting tidbits to pick up though listening. My favorite is Craig Beams’ for “O.B.I.T.,” which looks at the shadows and cinematography work of Conrad Hall, paired with the direction of Gerd Oswald.

Schow often includes quotes from interviews he’s done with the cast and crew, and it keeps conversations tailored to the episode at hand. That might sound like a given (and since The Outer Limits is an anthology series, there’s less repetition, anyway) but if you’ve ever listened to a commentary that mostly restates what’s happening onscreen, or lists IMDB credits, Schow avoids these tactics and draws attention to himself whenever he makes an exception. Another great thing about these commentaries is it feels like a team effort, with commentators referencing the work of other commentators on the set. Film historians involved include Gary Gerani, Reba Wissner, and Tim Lucas.

New to Outer Limits? Here are my picks for the top ten episodes of Season 1:

“Nightmare” – Set in a prisoner of war camp, this episode includes a young Martin Sheen and a surprising, final act twist.

“The Hundred Days of the Dragon” – Face molds are used to steal the identity of the presidential candidate, in a political horror story.

“The Architects of Fear” – The first of three appearances by Robert Culp on Outer Limits, a man is turned into an alien to stop a war but it doesn’t go according to plan.

“O.B.I.T.” – Courtroom dramas have never looked this visually stunning in an episode that taps into the fear of being watched that modern technology has made all too real.

“The Zanti Misfits” – Guest starring Bruce Dern, this is the episode to watch if you’re only looking to watch one. The show’s best monster ends up being a stop motion animated ant.

“The Human Factor” – A “Freaky Friday” episode made more complicated when one of the body swappers sees a ghost.

“The Bellero Shield” – Sally Kellerman from “The Human Factor” is joined by Martin Landau for a sci-fi Macbeth that brings a terrific, karmic punch. Chita Rivera’s house keeper is one of the series’ most memorable characters and an extremely well-written part.

“The Borderland” – Not all the romances on Outer Limits are believable but the Frasers (Peter Mark Richman and Nina Foch) represent one of the better marriages on the show as they attempt to open a doorway to another dimension. The hour is stolen, however, by supporting players Gladys Cooper and Alfred Ryder, a psychic and her devoted believer, respectfully.

“The Guests” – A haunted house thriller with hints of Dead Like Me, where a young man gets trapped inside and Nellie Burt steals every scene.

“Second Chance” – Ever wonder what would happen if the flying saucer ride at the carnival was turned into a real, flying saucer? Reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode, “Midnight,” the ending is abrupt but offers interesting reflection on how the riders respond to their abduction.

The Outer Limits Season 1 is available now from Kino Lorber.