The Vine: June 1, 2012
I've written this email and erased it a handful of times for reasons I can't completely explain. Maybe I really don't want to know the answer to the question, or that this show scarred me so badly that I don't want to put a name to it, but after reading so many posts of people in similar positions, I think I'll finally go for it.
It was a TV show on PBS (I believe) in the late '80s, early '90s (again, I believe). I think there was a fairytale or folktale bent to the episodes. I think I remember three or four episodes, but there is one episode that sticks in my memory and when I think about it, it really freaks me right out.
The premise of the episode is that a decently well-to-do man makes a pact with the devil in which he becomes a foul beast for seven years. If he lasts seven years without a) killing himself and b) finds someone to marry him in this hideous state, the devil will pay him a bunch of money. If he kills himself or doesn’t find someone to marry him, the devil wins his soul. It was basically a "Beauty and the Beast" allegory, but I believe this version was either with Southern Belles or in Victorian garb (I'm leaning towards Southern Belles for some reason).
Three things that stick out the most for me:
1. The process of making this man a beast and then unmaking him a beast at the end felt very graphic. The devil put these animal pelts on his skin, but the story made it seem that the pelts had fused with his skin in a very painful manner so that he couldn’t pretend to be human in any way. Close to the end, the process of de-peltifying him was just as graphic. There's also a pitchfork-y scene where he's being run out of town by the townsfolk pelting him with rocks and and he's all stumbly.
2. He saves a man who has three daughters, and asks the man in repayment for saving his life if he can marry one of the three. The man brings him home and introduces the beast to his daughters. Two of them are so repulsed they won’t even think of accepting the beast’s hand. The third one (the bookish, studious one, GAH!) accepts his hand in marriage. The beast leaves the woman a piece of his fingernail (I know!) and shows that another piece slots into it to form a ring. Once he’s completed his little task, he’ll come back for her and present her with the other half so that she knows he’s the one.
3. He finishes his seven-year term without dying and he is betrothed, so he beat the devil and the devil begrudgingly pays up. After the before-mentioned graphic de-peltifying process, that somehow the devil has to participate in (I know! Don’t you have minions for that? Even if you’re like a lesser crossroads demon, shouldn’t you be outsourcing that job? Send that crap downstream. I’m just saying). The devil tries to trick the beast/guy out of the fingernail clipping that fits into the other fingernail clipping he gave the girl. But he gets it and his handsome reward and heads back to the girl's house.
He shows up in the parlor and her two sisters are trying to court him and are flirting with him pretty unapologetically and he brushes them off rather brusquely. He talks to the bookish sister alone, presents her with the fingernail clipping of destiny and they go off to live happily ever after. There was a side note that creeped me right out, though. The end shows the two sisters who had blown the beast off jumping and/or hanging themselves and then the devil comes into frame, looking directly into the camera all mustache-twirling (and honestly, my memory is so bad I don’t know if that was metaphorical or if he was literally twirling a piece of handlebar mustache) and says all menacingly, "Two souls for the price of one." That screwed with me hard for going on decades now. I could get into the internal feminist debate about why two girls would commit suicide over a wealthy suitor that I’ve had with myself for years now, but I’ll save it.
If the incredible Tomato Nation could name the show and the episode of which I’m speaking I would be eternally grateful.
The Bloody Munchkin
Tags: Ask The Readers popcult