Off Kilter TV: Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television
Reviewed by Anthony Servante
“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale….” You know the words. They introduce twenty five minutes of comedy from Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, Tina Louise, and the rest (Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells).
With the pariah Gilligan finding new ways to inadvertently sabotage rescue every week, it is no wonder that one of the castaways didn’t slit his throat while he slept. I guess they didn’t want to be rescued as much as they let on. And that was funny. You could count on merriment each week. Well, the laughter was set aside for a few minutes on one of the shows, that Off Kilter episode titled THE HUNTER. Here Gilligan’s antics are to keep from getting killed by a human predator.
Rory Calhoun stars as the hunter Jonathan Kincaid who visits the island with his manservant/bodyguard Ramoo, played by Harold Sakata, the unforgettable Oddjob from the James Bond film, Goldfinger (1964). He seeks game to hunt but finds only the castaways. In a sadistically calm moment of realization, Kincaid decides to hunt one of the shipwrecked bunch. By a process of elimination, he selects Gilligan as the most worthy prey. Nothing funny so far, thanks to the stoically solid acting from Calhoun. He plays his part for dramatic effect. Somebody didn’t tell him he was in a comedy. Better for us Off Kilter TV fans.
Of course the GI episode is a parody of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), a film based on the The Hounds of Zaroff by Richard Connell, a short story published in 1924.
The “most dangerous game” refers to man as prey. What is portrayed as suspense and drama in the movie is played for laughs on GI but with little success. For the first half of the episode, note that the comedy rolls off Rory Calhoun. As Gilligan evades the fatal bullets of Kincaid’s rifle, the rest of the castaways are captive in a bamboo cage, so the focus stays on the hunt and some suspense is generated. The hunter is menacing.
But someone noticed that they needed to add more laughs, thus slapstick enters late in the episode as if the writers were told to lighten things up: the castaways escape their captor; the hunter squirts water from his rifle; Gilligan hides in a hollow tree, while Kincaid uses the tree for target practice. But, through it all, Calhoun stays pitch-perfect in his serious role, even to the end when he betrays the Gilligan gang and breaks his promise, abandoning them to the island—as if they weren’t used to it by now. In this episode, there never was a prospect of rescue, as the majority of previous shows relied upon. Here the goal was for Gilligan to stay alive.