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
#26 - A Voice in the Night, from “Night Call,” season five, episode 139
Written by Richard Matheson, directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Gladys Cooper, Nora Marlowe
Richard Matheson’s story of an elderly woman being terrorized by nightly phone calls from the beyond is a terrifying concept and, as Matheson proves with his adaptation here, also a versatile one. As originally written, Matheson’s story was a short horror shocker that built to an unforgettable final line which signified the chilling gravity of Miss Elva Keene’s situation. It is a gruesome tour de force that nevertheless would have proved difficult to adapt for the series without significant embellishment. Matheson’s original story appeared in 1953 and by the time he revisited the story a decade later, he was prepared to approach the material in a different, albeit equally effective, way. Matheson chose to use the skeleton of his original story to construct a tale of heartbreak, sadness, and regret. It is another masterpiece from the show’s most consistent storyteller. Matheson did not cast off the chilling quality of his original story, however, and the moments in which Elva Keene is awakened by phone calls in the middle of the night, with a thunderstorm raging outside her bedroom window, remain some of the most unnerving and atmospheric moments from the series. Much of the credit for the effectiveness of these scenes belongs to director Jacques Tourneur, whom Matheson had worked with on A Comedy of Terrors (1964) immediately before their collaboration on “Night Call.” Matheson lobbied to have Tourneur hired to helm “Night Call” and the results are exemplary, with Tourneur’s shadowy, noir style nicely suited to the story. Gladys Cooper turns in a perfectly pitched performance and, along with her performance in the third season episode “Nothing in the Dark,” solidified her place in the front rank of performers to appear on the series.
-Matheson’s original short story appeared twice under its original title, “Sorry, Right Number,” before appearing in his 1961 Shock! collection under the title “Long Distance Call.” It appeared as “Sorry, Right Number” in the November, 1953 issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction, and again in 1960 in the paperback horror anthology Zacherley’s Midnight Snacks (Ballantine).