An ongoing series looking at the scariest moments in TV history. This round: “The Flypaper” from TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.
In the pantheon of horror TV, a show that often gets missed whilst discussing this subject in polite conversation is TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.
The series was the brainchild of revered author Roald Dahl, whose most mainstream acclaim comes from his children’s books, like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. But those works, as beloved by kids as they should be, have a very, very dark subtext and macabre sensibility coursing through them. Which makes perfect sense as Dahl’s regular beat was writing some of the nastiest and most cynical stories in horror and dark fiction history.
TALES (which ran from 1979 -1988) was originally conceived as a way to adapt Dahl’s original tales to a half hour anthology format, much like Dahl’s previous series, the Rod Serling-flavored 60s show WAY OUT. The first season of TALES featured Dahl himself hosting the series, and every story within was penned by Dahl or based on his existing work. Come season two, the series opened up to feature other writers whose work mirrored the grim yet playful tone of Dahl’s. In the US and Canada, oddly yet effectively, actor John Houseman was edited in as the narrator and the opening credits, a kind of James Bond-esque psychedelic montage, was replaced with a superior and eerie “dead” merry-go-round sequence.
But TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED was, in any edit and no matter the season, one of the greatest and scariest shows in TV history.
And one of the most unsettling episodes in its run came in the the third season’s first episode, a little story called ‘The Flypaper”.
Adapted from the shuddery story by UK author Elizabeth Taylor, “The Flypaper” is introduced by Dahl, who wryly admits that the story is so effectively grim, that he wishes he wrote it.
It certainly bears his ironic sensibility.
In it, a little girl named Sylvia (Lorna Yabsley, who is perfect here and, incidentally, went on to become a renowned photographer) lives alone with her aloof Granny in the English countryside. On her bus ride home from the piano lessons which she loathes, the girl encounters a lecherous, leering man (Alfred Burke) who tries to engage Sylvia in a rather demented strain of conversation. Sylvia is terrified and, considering the spate of child murders that are currently gripping her area, she fears for her life. But when another, kindly and elderly female passenger intervenes and tells the potential pervert off, she is somewhat relieved.
Sylvia flees the bus, with the grinning goon n pursuit, but she’s “rescued” by the woman, who takes her to her cottage to call the police and have some tea. It IS a British tale, after all. Tea solves every threat and ailment…
But all is not what it seems and very slowly, surely, Sylvia begins to suspect that this generous, caring woman may not be as lovely as she appears…
“The Flypaper” is a wonder. A lean, paranoid and gently merciless tale that will affect you and stick with you for a very, very long time.
Here…have a look at it now…
You’ve been warned…