Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: A Case of the Stubborns

"A Case of the Stubborns," based on a story by Psycho author Robert Bloch, is a ghoulish comedy of manners in which it's rude not to stay dead. It's the story of an old man, Titus Tolliver (Eddie Bracken), who dies one night, but the next day, he gets up as if nothing is wrong, too stubborn to admit he's admit he's shuffled off this mortal coil. The doctor is baffled. The preacher (Brent Spiner) thinks Titus is selfishly refusing God's call to return to Him. Meanwhile, Titus's daughter and grandson (a young Christian Slater) try their best to convince dear old grandpa he really is dead - after all, the county health inspector is threatening to quarantine them because of the smell.

This episode is as silly as it sounds. The characters are nothing more than one-note Southern stereotypes - the zealous preacher, the kooky Voodoo woman, the befuddled doctor, the well-meaning homemaker - and they speak with heavy accents - all y'alls and lawds and jumpin' Jehoshaphat. It's not particularly deep or complicated, but in this short format, it works pretty well. It's not the least bit frightening, although the progressively decayed makeup on Titus is impressively gross. Titus is back not to eat brains or haunt people; he just won't admit he's dead.

More on that makeup job. When we first see Titus, he looks more or less alive, if slightly rubbery, as if the undertaker has made him up. Each time we see him, he's further and further decayed until his skin is waxy yellow and covered with sores, pustules, and bruised. Realistic? Hardly, but it works. By the end, he looks like Grandpa Sawyer from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, albeit more lively and animated (ironic considering he's dead and Grandpa Sawyer is supposedly alive).

The humor of the episode arrives both from Titus's steadfast insistence to carry on as if things are normal and the reactions of the people who encounter him. In a scene reminiscent of The Return of the Living Dead, the good doctor uses his stethoscope and a mirror but can't detect a heartbeat or observe any breath; Titus insists the doc's equipment is bad, content to rock back and forth in his porch chair while the doctor tries not to have a fit. The preacher warns Titus he's going against God and nature and missing out on an eternity of heavenly splendor, to which Titus says he sees no reason to go along without any solid evidence.

Eventually, the grandson turns to the Voodoo woman for a solution, and she gives him one: pepper. Titus is eventually convinced once evidence is right in front of his nose or, more accurately, his nose becomes the evidence when he sneeze it right off into his napkin.

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