Surviving the Twilight Zone Marathon: My Thoughts and 12 Favorite Episodes

Posted: July 26, 2017 in Memories, Opinion, The Supernatural, The Unknown, Things I Love, TV
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Before we begin, let us simply recall the iconic opening to every episode of one of the most amazing TV shows of all-time, The Twilight Zone . . .

Yes, there were variations of the same opening, but you get the gist.

I recorded the Twilight Zone Marathon recently, and I just finished watching nearly 70-episodes. There were 156 total, but these were deemed some of the best. I learned a few things while watching, and the most striking of these was that Rod Serling got away with a lot of crazy and outrageous stuff.  More on that later.

I also learned that lots of stars and future stars were on the show. People like Mickey Rooney, William Shatner, Ron Howard, Burt Reynolds, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Leonard Nimoy, Lee Marvin, and Don Rickles all guest starred. The décor – early 60’s Mad Men style.

Another aspect that stood out was the introductions and closing remarks by Serling. Just incredible writing. Here’s a sample:

Nobody else, and I mean nobody, could pull that off like Serling. Love it. Here’s a sample of one of his closing monologues:

Again, so well done.

It was also amazing how Serling touched on political issues of the day. Some episodes even touched on World War II and the treatment of Jews.  This was just 15-18 years after the war, and the scenes were brutal. They spoke of the experiments done on prisoners and everything. Pretty incredible for such a conservative era.

That said, I’ll now give you my 12 favorite Twilight Zone episodes. Let us commence . . .

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

William Shatner (later to become Captain Kirk in Star Trek) stars in what might be the most famous and revered of all Twilight Zone episodes. He plays a man traveling aboard a commercial flight with his wife. He spots a monster on the wing, trying to damage it. He tries to alert the crew and other passengers to the potential danger lurking just outside his window seat. However, the clever being makes sure to fly out of view every time someone else peers through the glass, leaving Shatner to look foolish and delusional. In typical Twilight Zone fashion, the final shot is the killer. As Shatner is taken away on a stretcher, the camera pans away showing actual damage the monster has done to the wing. Awesome. On a related note, the shot where Shatner has closed the window, only to open it to see the monster’s face pressed against the window scared the bejesus out of me.

Note- Watching it now, the “monster” appears to have been created by a 5th grade art class. Still a classic episode.

Living Doll

This episode is always referred to as “Talking Tina” and it was the single scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life. Trust me, as a 6-year old this was just petrifying and life-altering to witness. I still hate dolls to this day because of this show. In this one Telly Savalas plays a man who isn’t a fan of his stepdaughter’s new “Talky Tina” doll, especially after the doll starts telling him she’s going to kill him. What follows is a twisted domestic drama powered by the actions of an evil toy. There have been dozens of TV shows and movies that have told stories about talking dolls since, but Rod Serling’s take is still the best by far. Believe me, I haven’t looked at a doll the same since.

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street

Ah, another great one that asks the viewers to decide who the real monsters are, the alien invaders or their very own friends and neighbors? “Monsters” finds the residents of an unnamed town in a panic when they conclude an alien invasion is afoot, and it began because of a loud noise and a power outage. Rather than team up to combat the terror from beyond the stars, they succumb to paranoia and vigilante-like behavior, leading their invaders to conclude that the best way to destroy mankind is to let us do the deed ourselves. Rod Serling, who wrote the episode, summed it up best in the closing narration, making a social point as he often did:

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own – for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, that these things cannot be confined . . . to the Twilight Zone.”

Wow.

The Invaders

In this one, a poor impoverished woman (Agnes Moorehead, who went on to play the mother on Bewitched) lives alone in a rustic cabin. She is dressed shabbily, and there are no modern conveniences in evidence. After hearing a strange noise above her kitchen roof, she is attacked by small intruders that come from a miniature flying saucer that has landed on her rooftop. Two tiny figures about 6-inches high, which may be robots or beings wearing pressure suits, emerge from the craft. As a kid this was creepy as hell. Anyway, the small figures attack the woman, using small, pistol-like weapons that leave radiation burns on her skin, and, after following her into her cabin, slashing her ankle and hand with her own kitchen knife. The suspense builds as the woman searches for the invaders. She eventually destroys one, wrapping it in a blanket and beating it until it is still, then throwing it into the burning fireplace. She follows the other to the saucer-ship on her roof, which she proceeds to attack with a hatchet. From within the craft, she hears a voice speaking in English. These are the first words we’ve heard the whole episode, and the intruder knows he’s about to die. He then proceeds to frantically warn other potential visitors that the planet is inhabited by giants and they are impossible to defeat. Then comes the kicker. The camera pans slowly away to reveal the markings on the side of the ship, which reads U.S. Air Force Space Probe No. 1. You see, the invaders were human astronauts from Earth, and the woman in the small farmhouse belongs to a race of giant humanoids native to another planet. Another shocking ending.

The Bewitchin’ Pool

In my mind, one of most unforgettable of all the Twilight Zone episodes. A young girl and her little brother live in a beautiful suburban home, complete with a large swimming pool. Their parents are cold, short tempered, and forever fighting in front of their children. One day, a boy pops up from the deep end of their pool and invites them to follow him. Wait. What? The children then follow by diving underwater and surface in a beautiful countryside. It is simple and plain, and unlike their spectacular home. There are no adults except for a kindly woman who bakes desserts and offers kind words. The children go back home through the swimming pool because they’re worried that their parents have missed them. They break through the water to find that their neglectful parents haven’t even noticed that they were gone. The children return again to the idyllic countryside by diving through the pool, and this time, they stay. Their parents search for them in the pool, but never find them. The children remain happily ever after, cared for and loved, in this paradise. It wasn’t until I watched this episode as an adult that I saw that it could be perceived as legitimizing childhood suicide in response to bad parenting, and a child’s simple wish to get the hell away. No way this would be broadcast today.

The Hitch-Hiker

Another terrifying example of the plot twists Twilight Zone was known for. We begin with a young woman traveling alone cross country trip. She blows a tire and when she takes her car in for repairs, we get a hint that something is amiss when the mechanic tells her she should have called a hearse, not a car repair service. She drives on, but keeps seeing a man hitchhiking no matter how far she drives. Shaken, she finally stops and calls her mother, only to be told that her mother had a nervous breakdown when her daughter was killed in a car accident 6-days ago. She is in disbelief, but returns to her car, where the hitchhiker awaits her. She ultimately realizes that the hitchhiker is death, patiently waiting for her. What I see now that I didn’t see then is that you can’t outrun fate. In the unforgettable final scene, Nan returns to the car and looks in the vanity mirror on the visor. Instead of her reflection, she sees the hitchhiker. He looks at her and asks, “I believe you’re going my way?” Jeebus.

After Hours

There is another episode I can directly blame for one of my phobias and that is my fear of mannequins. In a department store, there is a 9th floor for no one else but the store’s mannequins. Once a month, they take turns living as humans in the real world. When their time is up, they return to the 9th floor, except for the day that Mannequin Marcy decides she likes being human too much and is not going back. My older and wiser take on it now? Serling was telling us that, sometimes, a small taste of honey is worse than none at all.

Time Enough at Last

What a great, great episode that is often ranked as the best Twilight Zone ever. Burgess Meredith stars as Henry Bemis — a man who just wants to get away from the everyday world and bury his nose in a good book. Henry gets his wish one day when the rest of humanity is wiped out in a nuclear attack. He soon discovers an untouched library — a place where he can read in peace for the rest of his existence. Thrilled with his discovery, Bemis settles in. As he gets ready to crack open his first book, the worst happens – he breaks his glasses. Virtually blind, Bemis is now stuck in a world with all the time and books he could ever want and no way to enjoy them. Damn you Rod Serling!

To Serve Man

Another classic. In this episode, mankind has seemingly found a kindly alien savior in the form of the Kanamits — a race of towering space travelers who are all too willing to help Earth get rid of the problems of hunger and war. But their personal manifesto, a book entitled To Serve Man, isn’t the guide for peace that everyone thought it to be. As the woman who figured it all out yells at the end of the episode, “It’s a cookbook! IT’S A COOKBOOK!” Ah, to serve man. It all made chilling sense in the end.

It’s a Good Life

Bill Mumy was absolutely terrifying as the 6-year-old Anthony Freemont, a boy with incredible psychic powers who holds everyone around him under his power. Little Anthony could simply think you out of existence for displeasing him. He was some sort of godlike child with the ability to read minds, make people disappear, mutate other living beings, and control the weather. The adults obviously tiptoe around the temperamental kid, but it never really matters, because he’s six, and six-year-olds aren’t particularly rational in the first place, amirite? Here’s Serling closing quote:

No comment here, no comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special citizens, little Anthony Fremont, age 6, who lives in a village called Peaksville in a place that used to be Ohio. And if by some strange chance you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk, because if you do meet Anthony, you can be sure of one thing – You have entered The Twilight Zone.”

The Eye of the Beholder

I watched this as a kid and it terrified me for weeks. A young woman undergoes surgery to improve her appearance and look like everyone else. She spends most of the episode swathed in head bandages as shadowy doctors and nurses talk around her. She’s terrified they won’t be able to make her beautiful. When the wraps are removed, the doctors proclaim the procedure a complete failure — but the audience sees the lovely Donna Douglas and wonders what the holy hell they’re talking about. It all becomes clear when the doctors and nurses are revealed. In one of the most memorable Twilight Zone endings of all time, the docs and nurses all look like some sort of mutant pigs. “Eye of the Beholder” indeed.

Long Distance Call

This episode frightened me so much that I promised myself I would never see it again. I lied. After his grandmother dies, a little boy is mysteriously given a phone. On this phone, only calls from his deceased grandmother can come through. Grandma then tries to convince Little Billy to kill himself to join her. And so he tries, several times in several ways. I can say without a doubt that today, this storyline encouraging childhood suicide would never be allowed to be aired. Just normal prime time entertainment for the Twilight Zone, though.

So there ya go, my personal favorite Twilight Zone episodes. What are yours? Let’s hear it!

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