He was a young whippersnapper … and that’s putting it mildly. He’d obviously done a lot of reading on film and the various productions that had come down through the ages. He was the kind of guy who’d always have a bit of trivia – some nugget of knowledge – about practically anything you could pull off the shelves. As you can imagine, that sometimes goes over well with customers; other times, it gets a bit grating, especially when he’d dip into those ‘I know more than you know’ waters. So far as I was concerned, I never professed to knowing much; I’ve always been the type of watcher who knows what I like, knows why I like it, and pretty much stick to the straight and narrow.
Anyway, one of the tales he loved to spin to anyone (if not everyone) trying to rent a copy of James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) always raised eyebrows: “You realize that’s just a remake of The Outer Limit’s 1964 episode ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ written by Harlan Ellison, don’t you?” Occasionally, a customer would push back, trying to get a word in the debate, only to be cut off with, “Well, you do know that James Cameron was successfully sued over stealing Harlan Ellison’s ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ from The Outer Limits, right?” As you might guess, it was always best to just surrender and let the young man go about his business.
To clarify the historical record all these years later: I knew then and I know now that, no, there was no successful lawsuit. (Mind you: I avoided debating the issue with him. I wasn’t going to get sucked down that rabbit hole.) What there was was a settlement, meaning that the issue never went to trial, meaning that no one sued anyone over the matter. The two parties got together, ironed out the relevant issues, and a check was written.
What’s always troubled me beyond that misconception is that – having seen ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ – I’ve always been of the opinion that the two properties had negligible similarities, at best; but when you combine that Ellison work with another second season installment – ‘Soldier’ – then the legal position of Cameron perhaps using both as inspiration for his contributions to The Terminator script (FYI: he didn’t write it alone) becomes maybe undeniable. Individually? Mmmm. Hard to say. Combined? Yeah … it starts to look like there may have been some – what do they call it – unintended or unconscious inspiration drawn from the series at some point along the way.
As for the story?
Here’s the plot summary as provided by IMDB.com:
“Days ago, Trent awoke with no memory of his past. Since then, sinister men have pursued him constantly. He manages to stay one step ahead of them by following the advice of his hand. Made of glass and apparently capable of speech, Trent’s hand can answer many of his questions. But it cannot tell him who he is or why his enemies seek him until he finds all of its fingers. The only trouble is that they’re in the hands of his enemies.”
The synopsis ignores perhaps the episode’s biggest narrative construct (and it’s a doozy): Trent’s enemies are not men of today but in fact are from a distant future, one cited to be a few thousand years into tomorrow when Earth has fallen to these warriors from Kyba. Though they look like Earthlings, I’ve read elsewhere that the appearance is merely a disguise: they couldn’t hunt their sole adversary in Earth’s past in their given form without corrupting the timeline, possibly risking their own place in human history. Largely, this explains why not much was invested in their costumes as the bulk of the Kyben force comes off looking like low-budget background thugs from any of the Republic (i.e. 1936’s Undersea Kingdom) or Universal serials (i.e. 1936’s Flash Gordon). Occasionally they’re sporting rubbery swim caps (with adornments) over their heads or – ahem – sheer panty hose over their faces, a development that quite possibly produced a bit of unplanned laughter from its mid-1960’s audience.
So the general thrust of ‘Demon’ is a general locked box procedural with Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery elements: Trent is directed to a downtown building wherein he unknowingly finds himself trapped with the enemy closing in, and the bulk of the episode deals with his race against time to recover the missing fingers of his glass hand, uncover the secret of his identity, or outwit the alien aggressors before they capture him.
Veteran character actor Robert Culp makes the most of this hour, though he eventually shares a good amount of screen time with Arlene Martel; as ‘Consuelo Biros,’ she kinda/sorta befriends Trent after their conflict gives way to a somewhat predictable love interest. (It’s probably the episode’s weakest and most predictable development.) They’re forced together out of sheer narrative contrivance, but they do share a telling moment in the climax that deftly underscore’s the hero’s plight of ‘forever marching on’ with little thought given to rest or recuperation. And, of course, it never hurts having the famed Bradbury Building in any production: it serves as the show’s visual centerpiece wherein all of these people inevitably collide in the race against time.
Because this is Science Fiction, after all, audiences need to have some visual confection, and nothing quite surpasses the level of greatness delivered by Trent’s glass hand. (We do so love our gadgets, don’t we? Especially the handy ones?) Though it’s gloved throughout most of the action sequences, the hour truly comes alive when the hero secludes himself into a dark corner, peels off the cloth, and talks to that wonderful, computerized gizmo. It isn’t all that big in size, but just the thought of it blinking away, robotically advising Trent what to do next, is the stuff lovers of SciFi and Fantasy show up to see. Ellison knew his audience, and he undoubtedly ‘handed’ it right to them, along with the craftsmen in the props and production department.
To say anything further would be to spoil the mix(these shows survive on their surprise twist endings), and you folks have read here long enough to know that I don't do that. I will say that, though I don’t see ‘Demon’ as the work of sheer genius most contend the episode to be (I left it with a fair number of unanswered questions regarding this world and Trent’s circumstances), it’s still easy to accept this as a highwater mark in the world of genre entertainment. Capturing a perfect fifty-one minutes will always be monumentally elusive, but if this is as close as The Outer Limits ever got then let’s all give them a hand.