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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 episode is presented largely as a flashback by David Ellington. While on a hiking trip through post-World War I Europe, Ellington becomes lost, and seeks shelter from the pouring rain in a nearby castle dubbed "the Hermitage". He is told by a monk at the door to leave immediately, but he collapses, shivering. Upon waking inside the Hermitage, Ellington hears a wolf-like howl and decides to investigate. In the bowels of the castle, he finds a bedraggled man in a cell. The man claims to be a prisoner of the monks, who he paints as an insane religious order, locked up because he kissed his sweetheart in public.

As Ellington is seen talking to the prisoner, he is taken to Brother Jerome (John Carradine), the leader of the order, who explains that their prisoner is not a man, but the Devil himself. He has been locked in the room since the end of World War I, when he came to the local village to corrupt it. Jerome recognized him for what he was and imprisoned him, using what he calls the "Staff of Truth" to bar the door. Jerome claims that his actions have given the world five years of relative peace, but Ellington becomes convinced Jerome is insane. Fearing for his safety, he pretends to believe the old monk's incredible story. Jerome is not fooled, and assigns another brother to watch him.

Ellington waits until his guard falls asleep and creeps down to the dungeon. Seeing that the staff holding the door shut is easily within reach of the imprisoned man, Ellington briefly wonders why he didn't remove it himself. At the man's urging, he removes the staff from cell door and releases the prisoner. When the prisoner exits the cell, he immedieately 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 realizes what Ellington has done, explaining that the inability to recognize the devil has always been Man's great weakness.

As the flashback ends, we see Ellington explaining to a hotel maid that he has spent all the time since that day hunting the Devil down to atone for his mistake, throughout World War II, the Korean War, and the development of nuclear weapons. Now he has finally succeeded, having locked him in a closet and intending to return him to Brother Jerome's keeping. He warns the skeptical maid 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, which opens only to reveal darkness.

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

The Howling Tropes

  • Adaptational Modesty: The titular howling man is described as naked and hairy in the original story. Obviously, Standards and Practices of the 60s would've took issue with this.
  • 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 monksclaimed. 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, David immediately realizes both the truth and his mistake when the prisoner transforms himself into a traditional depiction of Satan and vanishes before his eyes. Many years later, Ellington captures the Devil, but his housekeeper stupidly 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: Ellington's efforts as The Atoner are reduced to ashes thanks to his disbelieving housekeeper, who removes the Staff of Truth and releases the Devil again.
  • The Atoner: After his mistake, David dedicated his life to finding the Devil and recapturing him. Unfortunately, his efforts are rendered moot when the maid releases Satan again.
  • Cassandra Truth: Brother Jerome tells Ellington the absolute truth, but Ellington doesn't believe him. Ellington himself gets this when he tells his housekeeper his tale.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Jerome and his followers (and eventually Ellington himself) managed to capture and imprison Satan himself. Unfortunately, he's never held for long.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A well-timed clap of thunder strikes when Brother Jerome tells David the truth about his prisoner.
  • Dutch Angle: Used heavily throughout the episode, such as when Ellington makes his first entrance into the Hermitage, and when Brother Jerome tells him the story of his order's prisoner.
  • Easily Forgiven: Brother Jerome doesn't punish Ellington for freeing Satan, instead offering him comfort and sympathy. It's justified since he clearly believes Ellington's guilt is punishment enough.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Lampshaded in the closing narration.
  • False Innocence Trick: The Devil's best trick is making himself seem like a helpless prisoner. Brother Jerome surmises that he always preys on man's greatest weakness.
  • Fatal Flaw: Brother Jerome expresses regret for humanity's greatest flaws, all of which Satan can easily exploit.
  • Faux Affably Evil: In true form, Satan is very persuasive, and is able to make himself seem sympathetic to those who don't know his true nature, dropping the facade the second he can.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The Devil 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 seems like Ellington is telling his tale to the audience. When the flashback ends, however, it's revealed he was talking to his hotel room maid the whole time, telling her why it was so important not to go near the door barred by the Staff of Truth.
  • Haunted Castle: The monks' castle, which they call the Hermitage, is dark and spooky, emphasized by the stormy weather in the episode, and the fact that Satan himself is imprisoned within it.
  • Here We Go Again!: The episode ends with the maid releasing the Devil once again, leaving him free to unleash hell upon mankind again.
  • Historical Rap Sheet: Brother Jerome tells Ellington that the Devil is responsible for the Great War, the overwhelming pestilences, and the wholesale sin that is regularly inflicted upon 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 Devil, David unfortunately isn't savvy enough to realize the possibility of people (namely the maid) disbelieving him and setting Satan loose. Lo and behold, after he tells his story to the maid, she doesn't believe him and lets Satan go free.
  • I Have Many Names: Brother Jerome says to David that the Devil is "otherwise known as the Dark Angel, Ahriman, Asmodeus, Belial, Diabolus..."
  • In-Camera Effects: A version of the filter technique is employed to depict the Devil's transformation.
  • Large Ham: Brother Jerome is played by John Carradine, a man who wouldn't know the word "subtle" if it was the password to get out of his own house.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ellington inadvertently releases the Devil, the greatest evil in the world, from his imprisonment. He also leaves the maid alone in his room, 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 the Devil is locked inside at the end, the Devil himself isn't in the room, only pure darkness.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ellington manages to capture Satan and lock him in a closet deacades after he freed him.
  • Satan: The howling man's identity, locked up in a dungeon by Brother Jerome and his monks.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Brother Jerome kept Satan locked in a dungeon for five years, and Ellington contains him in a closet after tracking him down. Unfortunately, disbelievers keep releasing him.
  • Smoke Out: After the Devil is released from his cell, he conjures up a cloud of smoke to cover himself as he disappears from sight.
  • Spanner in the Works: David's lack of trust in Brother Jerome and his sympathy for the prisoner results in the Devil escaping and wrecking havoc on the world. This also applies to the maid, who foils David's plan to return the Devil to the monastery when she unwittingly sets him loose.
  • Transformation Sequence: After being released, Brother Jerome's 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 guy 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 able to be held captive by the Staff of Truth, a simple shepherd's rod.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Ellington tells his maid the story of his visit to the Hermitage 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."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SealedEvilInACan

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