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
#9 - The Small Assassins, from “The Invaders,” season two, episode 51
Written by Richard Matheson, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring Agnes Moorehead
Richard Matheson’s “The Invaders” is a masterpiece of understatement, design, and, despite Matheson’s own opinions to the contrary, pacing. More importantly, it is an episode that is not defined by its masterful twist ending, but rather by the culmination of elements which mark it as one of the defining moments of the series. Initially, it is an experimental episode, in which perhaps the most famous actress of the golden age of radio drama is cast in a role in which she utters not a single word. It is also a spellbinding thriller which is built around a fundamental premise and triumphs through innovation and design. The production crew which worked on the episode is impressive, perhaps more so than any other episode, and each creative member is working at the peak of their powers. Matheson, still wary of adapting his previously published works, turns in perhaps his finest original script for the series, which, due to a lack of dialogue, allowed for a remarkable versatility in interpretation. Director Douglas Heyes is responsible for more memorable episodes of the series than any other director and was producer Buck Hougton’s primary choice to helm technically challenging episodes. Heyes keeps the camera panning through the small set, stopping at intervals to focus on the tortured and frightened face of his actress. Composer Jerry Goldsmith provides perhaps the finest musical composition of the series with a steady, rhythmic string arrangement full of nervous energy. The special effects are pulled off convincingly and the invaders are wisely kept mostly in shadow. Of course, the entire episode depends on the performance of Agnes Moorehead and she turns in one of the most astounding performances of the series; that of a simple (and perhaps simple-minded), frightened woman battling for her life against something she doesn’t understand, acted entirely in an almost animalistic pantomime. Then there is that twist ending, which still manages to surprise first-time viewers of the episode. It is masterfully accomplished due mainly to the fact that the setting of the episode is shrouded in ambiguity. Quite simply, everything in the episode works to perfection and the result is a terrifying and timeless half hour of television.
-Richard Matheson like the idea so much he revisited the basic story elements of “The Invaders” a few years later when he published his short story, “Prey,” about a young woman who is terrorized in her apartment by a Zuni fetish doll intent on killing her. The story is regarded as one of Matheson’s finest efforts. It was first published in April, 1969 issue of Playboy and immortalized in another memorable television moment when Matheson adapted the story for the third and final segment of Dan Curtis’s 1975 television horror anthology film Trilogy of Terror. The film contained two additional segments based on Matheson stories which were adapted by Matheson’s friend and fellow writer William F. Nolan.
Read our full coverage of “The Invaders” here.