Friday, October 28, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #4: "The Masks"

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

#4 - The Masks are Removed, from “The Masks,” season five, episode 145
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Ida Lupino, starring Robert Keith, Milton Selzer, Virginia Gregg, Brooke Hayward, Alan Sues

“The Masks” is not only Rod Serling’s final masterpiece for the series but stands in the absolute top rank of not only Serling’s episodes but of the series entire. It is an episode whose fable-like quality seems never to age and it remains a wonderfully macabre, fantastically directed and acted episode which contains all the hallmarks of the finest episodes of the series. Within an evocative, isolated set, Serling presents to us the story of a wealthy, dying old man who, in his final attempt to expose their ugly traits, subjects the members of his greedy family to a bit of Cajun magic when he forces them to wear grotesque festival masks until the hour of midnight if they ever hope to get their hands on his money. The old man himself wears the death mask of a skull. “The Masks” is a typical dialogue heavy episode as Serling had fallen to dictating his late season episodes with a result that was a naturally talky style. Yet, while most of these late season episodes suffered under the weight of all this dialogue, “The Masks” seems the stronger for it. The dialogue adds weight and tension to the characters and events, and benefits from being delivered by a marvelous group of actors that are a triumph of casting for an episode of the program. The dialogue also possesses a natural progression, beginning as a series of exchanges shrouded in ambiguity and double talk only to descend into direct, focused attacks of a confrontational nature as the night wears on. Director Ida Lupino keeps the camera pulled in close in a series of tight framing shots that constricts the setting just as the masks constrict the patience of the family members beginning to break down under the strain of the passing hours. The episode also features perhaps William Tuttle’s most triumphant makeup designs in the both the masks themselves and in the physical transformations they conjure. Even the subtle use of sound is highly evocative in the episode, as the viewer can hear the muted sounds of the Mardi Gras without the closed setting. All in all, “The Masks” is a flawlessly executed work of imaginative dark fantasy with manages to combine elements of fable, Southern Gothic, and Serling’s inimitable moralistic style to create an enduring masterpiece. It is a perfect episode for first time viewer of the program as well an episode that rewards repeat viewings.

-Director Ida Lupino is in the distinctive position of being the only performer of an episode (season one’s “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”) to also direct an episode. Lupino is also the only female director of an episode on the series. 

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