One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
“You enter a
strange room for the first time, yet you know you’ve been there before. You dream about an event that happens some
days later…A coincidence? Maybe. But
more than likely, it is extrasensory perception, a sixth sense that many
scientists believe we all possess, but rarely use.”
Sixth Sense Press Kit, published in Senior
Scholastic: “The Sixth Sense,” September 18, 1972, page 22).
a week ago, I made the unexpected discovery that Amazon.com is streaming
episodes of the 1972 sci-fi/horror/paranormal series The Sixth Sense, starring
Gary Collins for $1.99 apiece. This is a
major discovery because of the sad and bizarre fate the Anthony Lawrence-created
TV series has endured across the long decades.
originally airing for two seasons on ABC in the early 1970s, this hour-long
series was brutally cut-down to a half-hour length so as to be syndicated along
with the episode catalogue of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Mr. Serling even filmed new introductions in the
famous black gallery for the re-crafted The Sixth Sense episodes.
Sixth Sense’s “Night Gallery” stories, if you ever saw them, were
always nonsensical, in part because they were trimmed down literally fifty-percent from their original running
time. It was this abbreviated, hacked-up
Sixth Sense that aired on The Sci Fi Channel in the 1990s, for
instance. In 2007, Chiller ran episodes of The Sixth Sense, but I'm not certain if it was the chopped-up version, or the original.
in syndicated format, The Sixth Sense episodes are almost unwatchable. Characters appear without introduction or
preamble, and allude to events that are no longer depicted. Characters are alive in one scene and dead the
next, with no explanation for how, why or when, their demise occurred. The
series in this corrupted format is baffling and incoherent, to put it mildly.
Sixth Sense is still joined at the hip with Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
But for the first time since 1973, a curious watcher can actually see a handful
of full-length, hour long episodes
under the title Night Gallery Season One on Amazon. I’ve watched a couple already, and though
they are slow-paced, some episodes are pretty intriguing and even visually
don’t mean to suggest The Sixth Sense is some kind of
unexcavated genre masterpiece, only that it hasn’t been granted a hearing by
genre fans in an uncorrupted form for literally forty years. No series deserves such a fate, frankly.
how well Star Trek would play cut down to a half-hour, or Kolchak,
or Mission: Impossible.
Anthony Lawrence originally created The Sixth Sense after the success of
a 1971 TV movie titled Sweet, Sweet Rachel, which involved
a parapsychology expert, Lucas Darrow (Alex Dreier) protecting two women from
psychic assassins. When the television
movie proved successful in terms of ratings, ABC wanted a quick follow-up. Lawrence and developer Stan Shpetner thus crafted
Sixth Sense, a series which would follow the adventures of another
parapsychology expert, Dr. Michael Rhodes (Gary Collins).
every episode of The Sixth Sense the preternaturally patient and calm Dr. Rhodes
would investigate a complex mystery featuring psychic overtones. That case might involve astral projection (“Face
of Ice”), premonitions (“If I Should Die Before I Wake,”) automatic writing (“I
Do Not Belong to the Human World,”) aura photography (“The Man Who Died at Three
and Nine”), witchcraft (“Witch, Witch, Burning Bright”), apparitions (“Echo of
a Distant Scream”), spiritual possession (“With Affection, Jack the Ripper)
cryogenics (“Once Upon a Chilling”) or even organ transplant (“The Eyes That
Would Not Die.” Usually Rhodes solved the mystery at hand by working closely
with a beautiful woman in jeopardy.
damsel-in-distress role was played, in various installments, by beloved genre
actresses such as Mariette Hartley (“Eye of the Haunted”), Pamela Franklin (“I
Did Not Mean to Slay Thee”), Stefanie Powers (“Echo of a Distant Scream”),
Tiffany Bolling (“Witch, Witch, Burning Bright), Lucie Arnaz (“With This Ring I
thee Kill), Mary Ann Mobley (“Shadow in the Well), Carol Lynley (“The House
that Cried Murder) and Anne Archer (“Can a Dead Man Strike from Beyond the
among those talents working behind-the-scenes on The Sixth Sense -- at least
for a time -- were Gene Coon, Harlan Ellison and D.C. Fontana. I had the opportunity to interview Ms.
Fontana in 2001, and our conversation veered briefly to The Sixth Sense. She recalled to me that in her opinion,
developer Shpetner was difficult to work with because he had so many story
“He didn’t like children. He didn’t like women. He didn’t like men…He didn’t like stories
about sick people, or emotionally ill people.
He didn’t like stories about poor people. He didn’t like stories about ethnic
people. Essentially it came down to us
doing stories about rich white people who didn’t have any problems. And that was a problem for me.”
tenure on the show was, perhaps not surprisingly, short-lived: “I left
one day, and Harlan Ellison left either the day before me or the day after
me. It all happened in fast succession,
I can tell you that much…It’s too bad, because the potential for stories about
extra sensory perception and abilities was great.”
abundant flaws of The Sixth Sense are apparent today, even with restored episodes
to view. For one thing, Dr. Rhodes always helped beautiful, young (25 – 35)
white women, but never actively romanced any of them. He just seemed to inhabit a white, upper-class
world of beautiful, psychically gifted females.
secondly, as a character Rhodes was not permitted to grow or show much by way
of passionate emotion. Collins’
performance on the series is actually kind of brilliant in a weird way,
simultaneously minimalist and intense.
the writing never ascribes much by way of humor or personal life to the man. As a lead character, Rhodes is certainly
dedicated and helpful -- and physically
capable – but we know precisely nothing about him save for his unwavering
support for ESP and parapsychology studies. It would have been great if the
series had more fully explored his background, including his childhood and the
development of his abilities as a “sensitive.”
the other hand, The Sixth Sense triumphed in two notable areas. In the first, it features some great guest
appearances by the likes of Joan Crawford (“Dear Joan: We Are Going to Scare
You To Death”), William Shatner (“Can a Dead Man Strike from Beyond the Grave”),
and Lee Majors (“With This Ring, I Thee Kill.”). Today, it’s a thrill to see Cloris Leachman,
Patty Duke, Sandra Dee, Henry Silva, June Allyson and Sharon Gless, among
others, get menaced by strange paranormal “phenomena.”
more legitimate interest is the series’ second strength: jarring and disturbing visuals and special effects. Some of the imagery in the series remains
downright haunting. In “The Heart that
Wouldn’t Stay Buried” a man is attacked by the statue of a bird, and it’s a
trippy moment. In “Witness Within,”
jump-cuts, slow-motion photography and a nice eerie blend of light and shadow
make a nocturnal attack almost pulse-pounding.
Likewise, in “Lady, Lady, Take My Life,” an insufferable bureaucrat is
murdered by a psychic “cathexis, and the
he screen goes blood red (with terror) as the poor man suffers twin
one of my favorite episodes, the bizarre “Once Upon a Chilling” a man’s spirit
is projected outside of his cryogenic chamber and his spectral face is coated
in dripping, cracked ice…an image which terrifies rather than informs. In moments such as these you can sense a real
imagination in the visual presentation of the stories. If the stories were all up to snuff, and not
so predictable in terms of character, The Sixth Sense would have been a
of the more intriguing episodes in the series include the one starring Shatner
and Anne Archer (“Can a Dead Man Strike from Beyond the Grave”), written by
Gene Coon. And “With this Ring I Thee
Kill,” starring Lee Majors and Lucie Arnaz proves a weird call back to Faustian
legends and stories. The episode featuring Joan Crawford (and directed by John Newland) is also a humdinger, since it pits the Hollywood legend against Mansonite cult member crazies.
spite of flaws, The Sixth Sense must be viewed as something of a pioneer in terms
of horror television programming. It is
the first horror-oriented series, for instance, to feature continuing
characters rather than an anthology format.
It pre-dates Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) by two years, in this
regard. Considering that place of
importance in the horror genre, the series certainly merits a better fate than
to be cut to ribbons and offered only in a corrupt format.
only a handful of season one episodes of The Sixth Sense are currently
available on Amazon streaming, my hope is that this will soon change. Failures and all, The Sixth Sense deserves
a full DVD release with all twenty-five episodes restored to original