[31 Days of TV Anthology Terror] The Ray Bradbury Theater: The Lonely One

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To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.

Famed genre author Ray Bradbury was given an opportunity that other writers could only dream of. His extensive body of work was adapted into a six-season television anthology aptly called The Ray Bradbury Theater. Like The Hitchhhiker, it originated on HBO before being moved to USA Network for its last four seasons. Every episode is either adapted from an existing story or, as in many cases, was written exclusively for the series.

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Bradbury warns of stranger danger in Season Six’s “The Lonely One.” Taken from the author’s novel Dandelion Wine, the episode trims out the book’s fat and focuses on a subplot about the small town’s local serial killer. Two women have recently died at the hands of the story’s namesake. The culprit has yet to be caught, and every woman — except for foolishly brave Lavinia (Joanna Cassidy) — is on edge.

Regardless, Lavinia convinces her two friends to go see a scary movie at the theater one night. Against their better judgment and at Lavinia’s behest, they take a shortcut through the unlit ravine. To their shock, they stumble upon a townsperson’s dead body. To keep their minds off the murder, the three ladies go to the movie anyway. After, they part ways until Lavinia is left alone. To prove the Lonely One has been sated for the time being, she goes through the same ravine on her way home. While she would like to believe she’s safe, Lavinia eventually succumbs to her own delayed paranoia.

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The flippancy Lavinia boasts in “The Lonely One” even after discovering an acquaintance’s corpse is as strange as it is misleading. One might think this is a clue in regards to the killer’s identity, but, alas, the episode never reveals who the Lonely One really is. Of the three women, Lavinia is the most fearless; she is morbid beyond repair. It would appear her all but quiet curiosity over having a serial killer nearby transcends her sense of self-preservation.

Two thirds of the script is about a quaint town being hit with scandal — one that brings fervor to a place where thrills are rare, to begin with. The last act depicts someone getting a taste of their own medicine. A Chekhov’s gun moment is established early on, and it’s reintroduced in an incredibly creepy way at the end. There is no actual conclusion here, but that is something the series is known to do. Our imagination has to fill in the blanks once the Lonely One chooses their next victim.

Season Six is a mix of so-so episodes, but “The Lonely One” is a taut thriller topped off with a frightful finish.

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