Original Air Date: April 4, 1963
Writer: Charles Beaumont/Jerry Sohl
Director: John Brahm
“Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of the man standing next to you…”
We open with a shot of Ferguson’s Wax Museum. Martin Lombard Senescu (played by the great Martin Balsam) is delivering an eerie tour of the Murderer’s Row section which features lifelike wax figures of Albert Hicks (Bob Mitchell), Henri Landru (Milton Parsons), Burke and Hare (Robert L. McCord and Billy Beck), and Jack the Ripper (David Bond). While he presents alluring tales of terror, he uses a mechanical trick which shows Jack the Ripper suddenly swinging a knife which shocks his audience of young museum-goers.
“Martin Lombard Senescu, a gentle man, the dedicated curator of murderers’ row in Ferguson’s Wax Museum. He ponders the reasons why ordinary men are driven to commit mass murder. What Mr. Senescu does not know is that the groundwork has already been laid for his own special kind of madness and torment found only in the Twilight Zone.”
Later that evening Martin’s boss Mr. Ernest Ferguson (Will Kuluva) pulls him aside with some unfortunate news. He is being forced to sell the museum in order to make way for a supermarket, but this decision is coupled by the fact that people simply are not scared by wax museums anymore, especially after the atrocities at Dachau and Belsen. In a moment of panic, Martin offers to buy the museum or at least to buy the wax figures. He promises to care for them. Eventually, Mr. Ferguson relents and Martin has the figures delivered to his house where he keeps them in a climate-controlled basement while he obsessively dotes on them all day as his family slowly goes bankrupt.
Martin’s wife Emma (Maggie Mahoney) grows concerned. She borrows money from her brother Dave (William Mims) and soon asks Martin to dispose of the wax figures, but he refuses. One night after Martin has fallen asleep Emma creeps down to the basement to unplug the air conditioner in the hopes of melting the wax, but in the process Jack the Ripper’s knife suddenly swings outward and stabs Emma instantly killing her. Was it a mechanical accident? Are the wax figures actually alive? Either way, when Martin awakens he decides to cover for the figure’s misdeed (he refers to the figures as his “friends”). He buries his wife’s body in the basement.
People stop by and Martin awkwardly covers for his wife’s absence, including to her brother Dave. After a nervous exchange with Martin that ends with Dave leaving in a huff, Dave returns later that evening to destroy the figures but he is suddenly killed, as well. Lastly, when Mr. Ferguson arrives to deliver a bit of good news to Martin –that Marchand’s museum has made an offer to purchase the wax figures for a hefty sum– Martin makes tea while Mr. Ferguson takes certain requested measurements of the figures when he is too suddenly killed. This is the last straw for Martin. He yells in a rage at the figures for killing his “best friend” and he picks up a crowbar to fight them, but all of a sudden they all come to life and advance on Martin telling him that it was in fact Martin who was the true killer.
In the end, we see a tour being led through Marchand’s museum where Jack the Ripper now stands on display, but he is followed by a far more terrifying wax figure –a man named Martin Lombard Senescu, a fanatical madman infamous for killing his wife, brother-in-law, and boss before burying them in his basement.
“The new exhibit became very popular at Marchand’s, but of all the figures none was ever regarded with more dread than that of Martin Lombard Senescu. It was something about the eyes, people said. It’s the look that one often gets after taking a quick walk through the Twilight Zone.”
“The New Exhibit” offers us a Hitchock-esque horror tale of the macabre (appropriate for Psycho star Martin Balsam) in which the truth is never fully revealed as to whether or not Martin was the true killer or if indeed a strange supernatural force possessed the wax figures. The only character we actually see being killed is Emma, but we already saw there is a secret button on the floor making the Jack the Ripper wax figure swing his arm in a stabbing motion which could have been triggered by Emma. Either way, we are not permitted to finish the episode with a secure or comforting rationale explanation, and thus the episode leaves us in a state of shock and wonder. In The Twilight Zone, mystery is often unsettling.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- As revealed in Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, scriptwriter Jerry Sohl, a writer for many classic shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek, actually ghostwrote three episodes of The Twilight Zone under the byline of Charles Beaumont in order to help support the Beaumont family through his rapidly advancing disease. The first of these three episodes was season 4’s “The New Exhibit,” a script by Sohl that was based on a Beaumont story idea. Beaumont’s initial story idea was about a wax figure of Albert Hicks which comes to life in order to kill and then promptly returns to its pedestal, befuddling police.
- Rod Serling nearly returned to the wax museum theme after The Twilight Zone ended. ABC pitched an idea which would showcase Rod walking through a wax museum stopping to highlight various stories. The show never gained traction but the concept was essentially replicated with Night Gallery.
- There are a couple moments in this episode when the actors portraying wax figures can clearly be seen blinking or swallowing.
- Director John Brahm previously made a feature film about Jack The Ripper entitled The Lodger (1944) –a remake of Hitchcock’s earlier 1927 film The Lodger.