Tim Burton Directs Ray Bradbury’s “The Jar” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1986)

How do you fol­low up on mak­ing a children’s movie clas­sic? If you’re Tim Bur­ton, you spin a tale of sex, mur­der and con­cep­tu­al art.

On the heels of his fea­ture debut Pee-Wee’s Big Adven­ture, Tim Bur­ton adapt­ed Ray Bradbury’s “The Jar” (1944) for an episode of the ‘80s reboot of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents. In Bradbury’s sto­ry, a fail­ing farmer buys a jar with a curi­ous thing float­ing in it. It is described as “one of those pale things drift­ing in alco­hol plas­ma … with its peeled, dead eyes star­ing out at you and nev­er see­ing you.” This thing, how­ev­er, has a pecu­liar charis­ma. Peo­ple come for miles to gawk at it, strange­ly cap­ti­vat­ed by its uncan­ny charm. Well, almost every­one. The farmer’s cheat­ing wife, how­ev­er, loathes it to the pit of her mar­row and when she tries to get rid of it, things take a vio­lent turn.

Bur­ton gives the sto­ry a decid­ed­ly Rea­gan-era twist. Instead of being a down-and-out farmer, Knoll (played by Grif­fin Dunne) is a fad­ing star of the New York art scene. The episode opens with a crit­ic sav­aging Knoll’s new open­ing, which is filled with large, pre­pos­ter­ous con­cep­tu­al pieces. The artist flees the show and his belit­tling harpy of a wife in favor of the local junk­yard. There, he pries the tit­u­lar jar from the trunk of a 1938 Mer­cedes. Float­ing inside is what looks like a Dr. Seuss crea­ture drown in Windex. Knoll is both fas­ci­nat­ed and repulsed by it. So, nat­u­ral­ly, he places it at the cen­ter of his show. The results are mixed. Sure, Knoll starts to sell art again but his wife also starts to get stab­by with a kitchen knife.

The episode is deli­cious fun. From the eye-pop­ping col­or palette to the crisp, graph­ic direc­tion to the painful­ly ‘80s hair­styles, this work feels very much a part of the same world as Burton’s next movie, Beetle­juice. In fact, com­pos­er Dan­ny Elf­man and screen­writ­ers Michael McDow­ell and Lar­ry Wil­son worked on both. You can watch it above.

You can watch a more faith­ful ver­sion of Bradbury’s sto­ry, which aired in 1964 dur­ing the orig­i­nal run of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tim Burton’s Ear­ly Stu­dent Films

Vin­cent, Tim Burton’s Ear­ly Ani­mat­ed Film

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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