The Twilight Zone is an amazingly diverse program that offers stories of almost every conceivable theme and setting within the overall structure of intelligent modern fantasy. One area in which The Twilight Zone excelled was in the story of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series. -JP
#12 - Nightmare Rollercoaster, from “Perchance to Dream,” season one, episode 9
Written by Charles Beaumont, directed by Robert Florey, starring Richard Conte, John Larch, Suzanne Lloyd
Charles Beaumont’s first episode for the series is also an episode that perfectly encapsulates Beaumont’s enduring fascination with dreams and dreaming, and the ability of dreams to infect our understanding of reality with the disruptive force of a supernatural entity. “Perchance to Dream” contains enough moments of shock and horror to fill several episodes and veteran director Robert Florey stages each progressive moment in the nightmare with an assured style and visual flair. Lighting, sound, and image are all expertly used to recreate the helpless, untethered feeling many of us experience during moments of vivid dreaming. “Perchance to Dream” is also concerned with the thin line between consciousness and unconsciousness, and how that line can be blurred beyond recognition. There is a feeling of utter helplessness about the episode, as well. The conclusion to Hall’s recurring nightmare is not only inevitable but seems to be feeding off Hall’s own vivid imagination, which can be so strong in concentrated efforts that Hall’s perception of reality becomes distorted, despite the reassurances of the rational part of his mind. An unnerving moment occurs when Hall relates his imaginative ability by telling of visualizing a man in the back seat of his car, a man who creeps over the front seat with a knife in his hand. Once the idea enters his mind, it becomes an obsession, something from which he cannot mentally release himself. The longer he stays connected to an idea, an image, or a place within a dream, the more power it wields over his waking state. Charles Beaumont’s choice of an amusement park to illustrate the progression of Hall’s nightmare is an inspired choice, as it is a place typically associated with feelings of happiness and excitement. Instead, Hall finds himself in a nightmare version of an amusement park where all the attractions try to kill you. Suzanne Lloyd portrays Mya, the cat girl, a beautiful woman who quickly crosses the boundary between alluring and dangerous. She functions as a personification of the part of Hall’s mind that obsesses and desires a release from the strain of wakefulness. Richard Conte is perfect as the tortured man with a heart condition who is convinced his dreams will kill him if he sees them through to the end. Of course he’s right, and Beaumont hits the viewer with a gut wrenching twist ending that perfectly illustrates the inevitability of Hall’s fate.
-Beaumont’s original short story was first published in the October, 1958 issue of Playboy, a magazine to which Beaumont was a frequent contributor, and where he published many of his classic short stories. Beaumont wrote several additional episodes that explore the thin line between fantasy and reality, including “A Nice Place to Visit,” “Shadow Play,” “Person or Persons Unknown,” and “Miniature.”
Read our full coverage of “Perchance to Dream” here.