The director filmed a different scene than the one that was in the script. Robin Hughes, as the prisoner, was supposed to make a wild escape from the castle and the camera was supposed to catch a glimpse of a cloven hoof jumping over the wall. That was to suggest the prisoner was the Devil himself. There was some argument about it, and they spent considerable time making the Devil more traditional than myth. But the film turned out nicely and few people suspect the difference.
That’s the recollection of actor H.M. Wynant, who played the weary traveller, David Ellington, in my favourite Twilight Zone episode “The Howling Man“, which first aired 54 years ago today.
There was much debate about the episode’s famous Devil scene. In writer Charles Beaumont’s original short story, we don’t get any description of the devil as he makes his escape. Ellington and the Howling Man escape the monastery together, but when Ellington grows increasingly ill, loses pace and cries out for help, the Devil replies, “Help you?” He laughed once, a high-pitched sound more awful than the screams had been; and then he turned and vanished in the moonless night.” The reason there’s no description is because unlike the episode, in the original, Ellington doesn’t know for sure whether his visit to the Hermitage even happened or if it was all a delusion.
When Beaumont adapted his short story for the Twilight Zone, he had a very specific “reveal” in mind. I came across this fantastic old document in Stewart T. Stanyard’s book, “Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone”.
It’s a letter from Charles Beaumont to Rod Serling and others involved in the episode’s development. It seems that he was asked to incorporate some changes — many of which he did — but one that he tried to stick to his guns on was the Devil’s transformation. Said Beaumont:
I have retained the
originalmethod of discovering the Prisoner’s cloven hoof. I tried it Doug’s way, but either I don’t see it or I am right in believing mythis way better. The “Help me!” — “Help you!” dialogue, the scramble up the wall, the sulphurous figure of the prisoner etched against the night as he stands atop the wall and then vanishes in smoke… all this strikes me as wonderful stuff. The cloven hoof coming down on Ellington’s laced hands is, of course, Rod’s idea, but I’ll fight for it anyway.
The “Doug” he’s referring to is director Douglas Heyes. It was his idea to nix the subtle mystery of the cloven hoof and go right for a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am “Oh, my God, he’s the Devil!” reveal.
And there’s no denying that the reveal scene in the final cut of the episode is impressive and highly effective. While I can appreciate the approach Beaumont wanted to take, I’ll admit that I enjoy Heyes’ interpretation a heck of a lot more. Robin Hughes was absolute perfection in the role, and watching him transform step-by-step into the Devil is an image that was seared into my mind many, many years ago.
So where did Heyes get his inspiration for this clever moving transformation? Heyes explains in Martin Grams’s book, “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”:
“When I was a young kid I was very influenced by films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932). I loved Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931). One that influenced me on ‘Howling Man’ was the Werewolf of London (1935), with Henry Hull. In that, he did a slow, moving transition into the werewolf, which I had never seen before. He was walking up a staircase, and as he would move behind pieces of the set, he would come out from behind the next piece of set looking slightly more advanced in his transformation. I’d seen that as a kid, and I always said, “That’s the way to do it.”
— “Werewolf of London” (1935) The transformation scene is the first 10 seconds of the video. You can definitely see the similarity between this and Heyes’ work in “The Howling Man”
“I had [the Devil] walking very fast down a corridor in the old monastery,” continued Heyes. “The cameras were on the outside of the columns and arches along the corridor, and I had him make the entire walk at the same dolly speed every time there was a makeup change. In editing, we could cut from one makeup change to the next in the middle part of each column, where it would be dark. At the end of the corridor he went out the window with a big puff of smoke.”
— “The Howling Man” transformation scene
I still get chills every time I see that. This will be my fourth Howling Man post, and I can well imagine I’ll do another one next year. It’s just so good that I’ll never stop talking about it.
There were many conflicting ideas when it came to “The Howling Man”, but obviously it’s because everyone involved was so passionate about it. And why not? As Ellington says, it’s an “incredible story”, one that pokes at your mind and leaves you with a very uneasy feeling.
And that’s what The Twilight Zone was about. Pushing the boundaries and breaking some rules in the name of awareness. It was always about the greater good. Charles Beaumont may not have been happy with the end result in this case, but I can’t imagine a better outcome for my favourite episode. The devil is in the details, and for me, all is as it should be.