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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 2 E 41 The Howling Man

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Rod Serling: The prostrate form of Mr. David Ellington, scholar, seeker of truth and, regrettably, finder of truth. A man who will shortly arise from his exhaustion to confront a problem that has tormented mankind since the beginning of time. A man who knocked on a door seeking sanctuary and found instead the outer edges of the Twilight Zone.

Air date: November 4, 1960

The story is told in a flashback by an American called David Ellington. While on a walking trip through post-World War I Europe, Ellington becomes lost, is drenched by rain and seeks shelter in a nearby castle (Wolfring Castle). He is told to leave immediately, but he collapses, shivering.

Upon waking inside the castle, Ellington hears a wolf-like howl and goes to investigate. In the bowels of the castle he finds a bedraggled, but apparently cultured and intelligent man in a cell. The man claims to be a prisoner of an insane religious order, locked up because he kissed his sweetheart in public.

Ellington is seen talking to the prisoner, and is taken to a meeting with the leader of the order, Brother Jerome (John Carradine), who explains that the prisoner is not a man, but rather the devil himself. He has been locked up in the room using the "Staff of Truth" to bar the door since shortly after World War I. He came to the village to corrupt it, but Jerome recognized him for what he was and imprisoned him. His actions have given the world five years of relative peace. Ellington becomes convinced that Jerome is insane. Fearing for his safety, he pretends to believe the incredible story. Jerome is not fooled however, and assigns another brother to watch him.


Ellington waits until his guard falls asleep and creeps down to the cell. Seeing that the staff which held the door shut was easily within reach of the imprisoned man, Ellington briefly wondered why he did not remove it himself. At the man's urging, he removes the staff barring the cell door and releases the prisoner. When the prisoner exits the cell, he pins Ellington to the floor with a wave of his hand and begins to change, taking on the appearance of the devil with each step before departing the castle in a plume of smoke.

Jerome finds the collapsed Ellington and sadly explains that the inability to recognize the devil has always been Man's great weakness.

The flashback ends. Ellington explains to the hotel maid that he has spent the time since then hunting for the devil to atone for his mistake, through World War II, the Korean War, and the development of nuclear weapons. He finally succeeded; he has him locked in a closet and intends to return him to the castle and Brother Jerome's keeping. He warns the skeptical housekeeper not to remove the staff holding the door closed under any circumstances while he goes to make his final preparations.


After Ellington leaves, the curious woman, disbelieving his story, removes the Staff of Truth barring the door.

For the original short story this episode was based on see The Howling Man.

The Howling Tropes

  • Adaptation Deviation: In the short story "The Howling Man" by Charles Beamount, David Ellington was uncertain for years whether he had truly released the Devil as the brothers claimed. All doubt is eliminated when he sees photographs of "the carpenter from Braunau am Inn" in the newspapers and his invasion of Poland plunges the world into war. Although it is not specifically stated, the implication is that the Devil assumed the identity of Adolf Hitler, who was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria. The brothers eventually recapture the Devil and imprison him in the monastery once again. In the television adaptation by Beaumont himself, Ellington immediately realizes both the truth and his mistake when the prisoner transforms himself into a traditional depiction of Satan and vanishes in front of his eyes. Many years later, Ellington captures the Devil but his housekeeper releases him. Furthermore, the television adaptation gives the monastery's location as simply Central Europe whereas the short story specifically states that it is in Germany. The short story also does not include the Staff of Truth.
  • All for Nothing: What Ellington's efforts as The Atoner were reduced to due to the housekeeper removing the Staff of Truth.
  • The Atoner: After his mistake, Ellington decided to dedicate his life to recapturing the prisoner. Unfortunately, his efforts are rendered in-vain after the maid releases the prisoner again.
  • Cassandra Truth: Brother Jerome tells Ellington the absolute truth but Ellington doesn't believe him. Ellington himself gets this when he tells a housekeeper his tale.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Jerome and his followers (and eventually Ellington) captured Satan himself. Unfortunately, it's never for long.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A well-timed clap of thunder when Brother Jerome tells the real truth: "It is the devil himself!"
  • Dutch Angle: Used heavily throughout the episode, like when Ellington makes his first entrance into the castle, or when Brother Jerome tells him the true story.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Lampshaded in the closing quote.
  • False Innocence Trick: The prisoner's best trick. Brother Jerome surmises that it preys on man's greatest weakness.
  • Fatal Flaw: Brother Jerome expresses regret for humanity's greatest flaws, all of which Satan can easily exploit.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The prisoner being unable to remove the simple wooden Staff of Truth that was within arms length and the only thing holding him was a hint that Brother Jerome was telling the truth. However, when Ellington questioned the prisoner of this, the prisoner said there was no time for questions and to hurry.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: At the beginning of the episode, it looked like Ellington was telling his tale to the audience. When the flashback ends, however, it's revealed he was talking to a maid the whole time, telling her why it was important not to go near the door holding the prisoner.
  • Here We Go Again!: The episode ends with the maid releasing the prisoner once again.
  • Historical Rap Sheet: Brother Jerome tells Ellington that the Devil is responsible for the great wars, the overwhelming pestilences and the wholesale sinning that is regularly inflicted on the world. After Ellington releases him, he causes World War II, The Korean War and the development of atomic weapons.
  • History Repeats: After capturing the prisoner, Ellington unfortunately isn't savvy enough to realize the possibility of people (namely the maid) disbelieving him and setting the prisoner loose. Lo and behold, he tells his story to the maid, she doesn't believe him, and lets the prisoner free.
  • I Have Many Names: Brother Jerome says that the Devil is "otherwise known as the Dark Angel, Ahriman, Asmodeus, Belial, Diabolus..."
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ellington inadvertently released the greatest evil in the world from its imprisonment. He also breaks it again when he leaves the maid alone in the house, not considering the possibility of her actually disbelieving him, just as he did with Brother Jerome.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: When the skeptical hotel maid opens the closet door at the end, the room is filled with pure darkness.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ellington managing to capture Satan and lock him in a closet.
  • Satan: Locked up in a dungeon, it seems.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Brother Jerome kept Satan locked in a dungeon for five years, followed by Ellington containing him in a closet. Unfortunately, disbelievers keep opening the can and releasing the Devil.
  • Smoke Out: After the Devil is released from his cell, he conjures up a cloud of smoke to cover him as he disappears from sight.
  • Spanner in the Works: David Ellington's lack of trust in Brother Jerome and sympathy for the prisoner results in the Devil escaping and wrecking havoc on the world. This also applies to the maid, who foils Ellington's plan to return the Devil to the monastery when she unwittingly sets the monster loose.
  • Transformation Sequence: After being released, the prisoner undergoes one with each step until he's in his true form as Satan, or rather a depiction of him.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: When Ellington frees the prisoner, the prisoner paralyzes him with a Psychic Strangle before making his escape. Then again, the prisoner is the Devil, so it's not really much of a surprise.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Devil is held captive by a simple shepherd's rod.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Ellington tells a maid the story of his visit to Wolfring Castle and releasing the Devil from his confinement in the 1920s.

Rod Serling: Ancient folk saying: 'You can catch the Devil, but you can't hold him long.' Ask Brother Jerome. Ask David Ellington. They know, and they'll go on knowing to the end of their days and beyond—in the Twilight Zone.

Video Example(s):


Locking Up the Devil

Ancient folk saying: "You can catch the devil. But you cant' hold him long."

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Example of:

Main / SealedEvilInACan

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