I was very recently waxing rhetorically to myself (and one or more of the black cats with whom I live) that the anthology series is perhaps the best, most interesting format for sci-fi and horror stories. We don’t really have anything like this anymore, save for the brilliant and unsettling Black Mirror (and American Horror Story), but these were all the rage during the first decades of television’s existence. We all know about The Twilight Zone, and most of us know about The Outer Limits, but there were dozens, including a particularly macabre one called ‘Way Out, presented by author Roald Dahl.
How didn’t I know about this?!?! Well, I can credit Neatorama with bringing it to my attention. Seems back in 1961, on Friday nights, the show that came on right before The Twilight Zone on CBS—a disastrously disliked talk show hosted by Jackie Gleason—was going to be cancelled, and the network needed a lead-in for its incredibly popular Rod Serling show. Hence, author Roald Dahl was given a chance to do a series based on many of his more terrifying short stories.
The resulting show—which I have no idea why but is written onscreen with the apostrophe before the title—was hosted by Dahl (just as Serling and Alfred Hitchcock did for their respective shows), though only the first episode, “William & Mary,” was written by Dahl himself. A scant 14 episodes were produced, despite being very well reviewed and quite popular in urban areas. Dahl eventually went on to write for, and host, the 1978 British anthology series Tales of the Unexpected.
While The Twilight Zone were often half-hour morality plays that used the supernatural or otherworldly to do it, ‘Way Out were meant only to terrify, and many of the images from it were truly horrific, especially for 1961. One man’s face gets half-melted; a woman with a lightbulb for a head is strapped to an electric chair; there was even a disembodied brain in a jar. These are rough images for primetime, and the fact that every episode was shot on video tape only made things creepier.
If you’ve read any of Dahl’s works, even for kids, you know that he was full of some sick and twisted fiction writing, and I like to think ‘Way Out was what he’d rather have been making — truly scary grown-up stuff. If you can get on board with the old-timey production values, and the fact that the only versions available on the internet are very washed out, ‘Way Out succeeds as being one of the trippiest horror programs of all time. You can watch more episodes here! Let us know what you think in the comments below!