Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Evil Touch: "Dear Beloved Monster"

In "Dear Beloved Monster," an arrogant geneticist, Jonathan Slater (Ray Walson) sees a water-skier killed in the nearby lake.  He is tortured by this murder, and other deaths in the lake as well, because of his work. 

Slater actually created a plesiosaur in the laboratory, and it escaped from captivity. Now, other scientists and government officials want him to help destroy his creation before it kills again.

Slater works another scientist to create poison that will kill the beast, but can't bring himself to destroy the monster, which he views as his child...

Well, there's an old saying: "be careful what you wish for." 

For weeks, I've been writing in this spot about The Evil Touch (1973-1974) and its obsession with telling stories about little old ladies and the men who try to kill them for their inheritance. 

Now for something completely different: "Dear Beloved Monster."  

This is an entirely different kind of narrative; one about a scientist creating a monster in a lake, and it is absolutely dreadful. Its the lousiest episode of The Evil Touch thus far.

Part of the problem is surely budgetary. This is an inexpensively produced series, and the production company clearly couldn't afford any decent special effects to depict the titular creature. Accordingly, the audience never sees the plesiosaur in this episode, only something that looks like a piece of gray tin, skimming the surface of the lake.  It's a terrible effect, and since this is our monster of the week, the episode fails to impress.  Never for a moment do we believe that a monster inhabits the placid waters.

The teleplay is no great shakes, either. Slater declares "I created it. It's not for someone else to destroy." In other words, he wants to take responsibility for what he made.  However, the rest of the episode is literally about him not taking responsibility for his jurassic fish, and in essence, protecting it because he sees it not as a dinosaur "just as an innocent child," at least according to Quayle's closing narration.

Slater's (entirely predictable) comeuppance comes at the end of the episode as he dashes into the water, and the episode ends.  We are meant to understand that his own creation kills him; that his love for the creature (and the pride/hubris involved in its creation), blinds him to the danger it presents.  Again, the episode couldn't afford to dramatize this moment, so the episode ends with Walston splashing into the surf, and a freeze frame.

So basically, we have no real narrative, with no real ending in "Dear Beloved Monster." A scientist creates a monster, loves the monster, and the episode culminates with the suggestion the monster will kill him.  This is a Frankenstein story, for sure, or a metaphor for parenting, even, but nothing really happens, beyond a free trips to the lake, and a few poorly dramatized murders.  There's a lot of talk, to fill up the running time, but very little of it is meaningful, or illuminates Slater's personality in a way that makes him anything other than a two-dimensional mad scientist.

"Dear Beloved Monster" is such an underwhelming, poorly produced half-hour of horror television that it makes one wish, unbelievably, that The Evil Touch would go back to scaring little old ladies.

Next week: "Campaign '20."

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