The Outer Limits: Corpus Earthling

A man overhears two rocks discussing their upcoming takeover of the earth, and things do not go well.

I found myself reluctant to write about this episode. I kept postponing the actual writing as I perused IMDb for the actors' other credits and searched for episode photos, while humming the gospel song, "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" and thinking about Lord Refa running for his life. Which would imply that the unfortunate Paul Cameron was fleeing from some sort of Biblical justice. Which he was not. Unless there was an entire subplot to this story that I missed.

Brief recap, for those of you who have never seen the episode. Paul Cameron, a surgeon, stops by to pick up his wife Laurie for lunch. She works for a geologist named Dr. Temple, who has two interesting new rocks to study. When Temple and Laurie conveniently leave the room, Paul has an accident with a kiln and that, combined with the presence of a plate in his head from an injury he received in the war, allows him to overhear those two new rocks talking about their plans for world domination.

It's really too bad that we didn't get more details about the actual world takeover plot. I mean, were the two rocks planning to go it alone? If so, they were pretty easily distracted from their initial cause by their brand new quest to possess Temple and Laurie in order to murder Paul. I can only assume that those two rocks weren't acting alone and there are alien rocks everywhere, and that in the end, the only possible defense against their takeover is to sit in a very Supernatural-like circle of fire to keep them out, like the old man did.

"Corpus Earthling" gets points for moody psychological horror very much in line with the classic fifties movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Although, instead of trying desperately to get others to believe him, Paul Cameron turned it all inward and decided that he was losing his mind. Robert Culp gave an excellent performance of a man in serious emotional pain, thinking himself defective because of his war injury ("I equate brain injury with insanity. It's childish, but I can't help it"). He joked with his wife about paranoia while trying to explain and normalize, although, hey, you're not paranoid if homicidal rocks really are out to get you. I particularly liked the scene in the Cameron apartment where Paul wouldn't allow Laurie to answer the phone, his face cycling through light and darkness as he smoked and brooded. The photography in this show is often amazing. Look at how this shot is composed, with the foreshadowing of the soon-dead Laurie sitting in the dark and the ominous ringing phone dominating the foreground.


Of course, Paul was right not to answer the phone (and no voice mail back then – it was disturbing how that phone just kept ringing and ringing) since it was the now possessed Dr. Temple calling. Temple's physical transformation was pretty darned zombie-like cool, with the skull make-up and the hair mousse, although I don't think they called it mousse in 1963. Temple told Paul in the opening scene that he preferred working with rocks because unlike Paul's patients, they didn't call him in the middle of the night. Guess he was wrong about that.

Supportive wife Laurie (nice performance by Salome Jens), thinking that a change of scenery would help, talked Paul into going on the honeymoon they never had. Not even stopping to pack or call in sick (did Paul have patients scheduled for surgery, perhaps?) the two ran away and rented a ramshackle house near Tijuana (loved the tumbleweeds), but clearly left a credit card trail or something behind them because "sane people always leave tracks when they run away."

This episode isn't so much science fiction as horror, and the scariest moments were absolutely when the alien rocks covered their victims' faces. Did Ridley Scott watch The Outer Limits when he was a young man? Poor Paul. His beautiful wife was waiting in bed for him, but she wasn't beautiful any more. A little bit of sexual creepout there. What if he hadn't been able to see her face?


I only wish the special effects had been better. The rocks seemed to transform into rubber turtles with extra legs that walked very slowly, certainly slowly enough anyone to elude. Maybe some sort of formless slime rolling across the floor would have been more effective. (Like The Blob!) And the end was depressing, as well as non-specific. World domination was probably coming. I think.

Maybe a treatment of the rocks that was more ambiguous would have been better. Perhaps an exploration of the thin line between sanity and insanity, with an ending suggesting that Paul really was mentally ill. I don't know. There was something about this episode that didn't work for me at all, and it wasn't just the silly rubber turtles.

Bits and quotes:

— Despite the fact that Robert Culp's performance is a highlight, this is my least favorite of his three appearances on The Outer Limits. The others were "The Architects of Fear" and the not yet reviewed "Demon With a Glass Hand."

— Barry Atwater (Dr. Temple) played Surak the famous Vulcan in the original Star Trek episode, "The Savage Curtain." An episode that, interestingly, also featured talking rocks. What are the odds?

— This episode was based on a book by the same name by Louis Charbonneau.

— Guns again. Both the possessed Dr. Temple and the possessed Laurie went for a gun. This is a repeating Outer Limits motif.

Laurie: "Paul, there are only rocks here. Look around. Igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks, sedimentary rock. And rocks don't talk."
Dr. Temple: "If these should hold their peace, the stones would suddenly cry out. That's from the Bible. Luke, I think."




The verdict? Maybe three out of four talking rocks for facehuggers, zombie make-up and Robert Culp, and one out of four talking rocks for the rubber turtles and the depressing ending. Two, perhaps?

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I should probably add a little about what that clip is and where it came from. Babylon 5, which was about an interplanetary space station with ambassadors from many species, was having a conference about religions. The running guy with hair had been actively involved in the oppression and genocide of the snakey-looking people, and he finally got what was coming to him. In context, it was an exceptionally powerful scene.