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You’re inside an old building, in black and white. You hear unsettling electronic music, sound effects, and a toneless, robotic voice say,
“The Dixon Building—once the most exclusive office building in the city, now it houses cut-rate garment-piece goods offices, passport photographers, and the like…”
The dialogue is delivered by a glass hand, surgically attached to Robert Culp’s wrist. If it sounds like a Star Trek computer reading a Bernard Malamud short story, there’s a reason for that—it was written by Harlan Ellison, the prolific master of short genre fiction who just published his 114th book and is recovering from a recent stroke.
Ellison’s style—literary seriousness meets the scrappy narrative drive of pulp fiction—is perfectly captured in this Trunkworthy 1964 episode of The Outer Limits.
TV icon Culp follows his hand’s advice, using jiu-jitsu (à la I Spy) to protect himself and a poor garment shop owner from murderous future thugs the Kyben. It’s sort of like Isaac Bashevis Singer plus robots, time travel, and guns.
Despite public speculation that James Cameron borrowed from this episode when he wrote The Terminator (Ellison says his other Outer Limits script “Soldier” is the one with the similarities), the link to Blade Runner is arguably more compelling. Much of “Demon With a Glass Hand” was filmed in the Bradbury Building, where the last scenes of Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie were shot. There are harrowing moments on a window ledge that will remind you of the later film, as will the mixture of noir backdrop and electronic music. Harry Lubin’s score shifts easily between the urban melancholy of European classical music and the electronic sounds of science fiction. It’s a perfect match for Ellison’s blend of literature and the pulps.