Monday, October 31, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #1: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

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

Happy Halloween! Here's our top moment of terror from the series!


#1 - There’s Something on the Wing, from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” season five, episode 123
Written by Richard Matheson, directed by Richard Donner, starring William Shatner, Christine White, Nick Cravat

The most frightening and unsettling moment of The Twilight Zone occurs in Richard Matheson’s fifth season masterpiece, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which finds William Shatner playing Bob Wilson, an air passenger recovering from a mental breakdown who has the misfortune of witnessing a gremlin tampering with an engine of the airplane. Of course, no one onboard believes there really is a gremlin on the wing of the airplane and Wilson is forced to take desperate measures to ensure the safety of the passengers. Over and again, the series presented stories in which individuals are isolated due to their experience of a supernatural event and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is perhaps the finest example of this type of episode. The dynamic which propels the story forward is similar that found in “Living Doll.” It is the psychological element which contrasts the manner in which other characters perceive Wilson’s mental state against what is actually happening. Also like “Living Doll,” Matheson includes the character of a wife (missing from Matheson’s original short story) who seems to exist in the story only to look incredulous at each progressive moment. To the credit of actress Christine White, she uses very expressive body language to expertly convey the dilemma in which she finds herself entangled. The words she speaks do not match the language she conveys to the viewer with her expressive face. William Shatner’s performance may well be the finest ever showcased on the series. Because of the extreme nature of the character, it is a performance easily parodied, and the episode itself has served as comedic fuel for countless films and television series. William Tuttle’s makeup design was a rush job and has greatly lost its effectiveness yet remains an iconic image from the series. Though the episode shows some frayed edges (the fifth season was not as well produced as the earlier seasons when Buck Houghton in charge) Richard Donner’s camera work is exceptional here, especially the framing shot capturing the horrified expressions on the faces of Wilson’s wife and others crowded in the aisle after Wilson shoots out his window to get at the gremlin. The episode is crowned with a clever ending that finds Wilson, in a very rare moment for the series, breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience. When this episode was reimagined for the 1983 feature film Twilight Zone: The Movie, so much of the subtlety of character and story was lost as to make it nearly a parody of the original story itself. The original series episode remains the definitive treatment of Matheson’s ingenious story.

Trivia:
           
-Matheson’s original story appeared in the paperback anthology Alone by Night: Tales of Unlimited Horror (Ballantine, Jan, 1962). Matheson placed a second story in the anthology, “The Likeness of Julie,” under the pseudonym Logan Swanson. “The Likeness of Julie” was later adapted by Matheson’s friend William F. Nolan as the first of three segments in Dan Curtis’s 1975 horror anthology television film Trilogy of Terror. Alone by Night was edited by Michael and Don Congdon, the latter of whom was Matheson’s literary agent at the time.
           
-“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was reimagined for the 1983 feature film Twilight Zone: The Movie, written by Richard Matheson (with additional material by George Miller), directed by George Miller, starring John Lithgow.
           
-“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is perhaps the most parodied of any episode of the series. A long list of instances of parody can be found at the episode’s Wikipedia page.

-If that’s not enough spooky Twilight Zone for you, here are a few more unsettling episodes we really enjoy which just missed out on the countdown. 

“Where is Everybody?”
“The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”
“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”
“A World of Difference”
“Shadow Play”
“Deaths-head Revisited”
“Spur of the Moment”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #2: "Living Doll"

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


#2 - Talky Tina Kills, from “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126
Written by Jerry Sohl (credited to Charles Beaumont), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Telly Savalas, Mary LaRoche, Tracy Stratford, June Foray (voice of Talky Tina)

“Living Doll” is the perfect embodiment of the type of grim fantasy the series predominantly turned to during its fifth and final season. And though tales of terrible dolls were prominent by the time “Living Doll” was broadcast (Fitz-James O’Brien’s “The Wondersmith” and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Doll” are just two examples among many), Jerry Sohl’s story of an insecure man’s feelings of inferiority mirrored in a malevolent doll set the standard from which nearly every subsequent effort in a similar mold would originate. The devastating and effective measure used by Sohl in his script is that each seemingly irrational action taken by Erich Streator to rid himself of the terrible toy appears to his wife as an action of deliberate hate for his stepdaughter. The series was always interested in using fantasy to examine the construct of a marriage (“A Piano in the House” and “Young Man’s Fancy” are two episodes that spring immediately to mind) but here Sohl takes it a step further by placing a child at the center of the conflict. The child is not a malicious child in the least, and we can be sure that the malevolent doll does not originate as an element of the child’s psyche. If anything, the child seems largely oblivious to, or willingly ignorant of, the conflict around her. Even though the toy masquerades as a protector, it is clear that it is either a purely malignant influence which happens by pure chance to have landed in the lives of the family or it is a supernatural reflection of the marital and familial strife within the household. Of course, all of this conjecture is left unexplored in the twenty-six minute play, which only succeeds in making the episode stronger. It presents itself as a simple story and yet can be interpreted and explored in myriad ways. Perhaps the episode functions best as the simple story of supernatural persecution it presents itself to be, although many elements of the episode remain disturbingly ambiguous, such as the fact that Erich Streator, though a bad stepfather, is surely undeserving of such a horrible fate. Sohl seems to hint that it was never only about punishing Streator when the doll threatens the mother at the close of the episode, leaving the viewer to wonder where the family goes from there and if they are forced to live with the entity that calls itself a Talky Tina doll for the rest of their days. The addition of Bernard Herrmann’s exceptional original score ensures “Living Doll” a very high place among the most memorable and exceptional episodes of the series.  

Trivia:
           
-This is one of three episodes written by Jerry Sohl and credited to Charles Beaumont. Sohl wrote the scripts to help Beaumont honor his writing commitments to the series.
           
-Talky Tina was modified version of the Vogue Doll Company’s Brikette line of dolls. It was modeled on Mattel’s Chatty Cathy line of dolls which could speak a set of phrases when a string on the doll’s back was pulled. June Foray, who voice Talky Tina in the episode, was also the original voice of the Chatty Cathy dolls. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #3: "The Howling Man"

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


#3 - The Devil is Released, from “The Howling Man,” season two, episode 41
Written by Charles Beaumont, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring H.M. Wynant, John Carradine, Robin Hughes

“The Howling Man” is Charles Beaumont’s masterpiece, a well-designed, exquisitely directed, character driven tale that manages to encompass the type of moralizing monster story common to the series while feeling entirely different from any other episode. Beaumont’s story of a lost traveler who unwittingly unleashes the Devil from a remote monastery to usher in the horrors of the Second World War is as close to the traditional tale of horror as the series ever came. Everything about the episode is unusual and compelling. Its unique narrative structure sees H.M. Wynant, in convincing aging makeup, tell his terrible story as a flashback, thus subjecting the story to the type of exaggeration common to the oral folklore tradition to which it is an homage. The episode is drenched in a Gothic atmosphere typified by 19th century supernatural literature, complete with a raging thunderstorm in a remote quarter of Eastern Europe, though the actual location of the story is only suggested. It also features three compelling central performances from H.M. Wynant as the doubting traveler, John Carradine in a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the elderly leader of the monastic order, and Robin Hughes, whose devilish features are expertly used to create ambiguity as to the true nature of the imprisoned man. Of course, the episode also features a fantastic monster, revealed in a flourish of special effects shots, and a unique circular narrative structure which sees the monster released yet again at the close of the episode. Director Douglas Heyes’s camera seems never to sit still and the viewer is subjected to a number of tilting, turning, off-center camera shots which effectively mirror not only the mindset of the confused, disoriented protagonist but the dreamlike nature of the narrative itself. In all, “The Howling” man is a suspenseful, technically challenging episode that is magnificently pulled off by everyone involved and remains a high mark of the entire series.

Trivia:
           
-Beaumont’s original short story was rejected for publication in Playboy magazine, a publication which at the time was paying Beaumont a sizable retainer for first refusal rights to his fiction. Beaumont sold the story to the rival men’s magazine Rouge, which published the story in its November, 1959 issue. Harlan Ellison, a personal friend of Beaumont, was an assistant fiction editor at Rouge and was excited to publish the clearly exceptional story. However, Beaumont could not publish the story under his own name for a rival publication and Ellison devised a pseudonym based loosely on Beaumont’s surname. The story was published under the name C.B. Lovehill. This is, by necessity, a simplified version of the publication of the story. As such, I highly recommend Harlan Ellison’s essay on the publication of the story, which is included with the story in Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (Dark Harvest, 1988, reprinted in paperback as The Howling Man, Tor, 1992).  

Read our full coverage of “The Howling Man” here.  

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.

Trivia:
           
-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. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #5: "The Dummy"

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

We move into our top 5 most frightening moments!


#5 - Willy Takes Over, from “The Dummy,” season three, episode 98
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Abner Biberman, starring Cliff Robertson

Rod Serling’s “The Dummy” is a slice of pure horror modeled on one of the most frequently used motifs of horror literature and film during the first half of the 20th century: the ventriloquist’s dummy. Before sound film and the advent of television, live performance was the preferred method of entertainment available to Americans. Among live performers, ventriloquists were some of the more popular attractions. Writers were quick to capitalize on the inherent creepiness of a man throwing his voice to imbue a wise-cracking wooden dummy with life. Serling’s take on the theme follows an already established formula: the tortured performer who believes his dummy is alive and wants to harm him. What elevates “The Dummy” above other fare of the type is the manic performance of Cliff Robertson, the disorienting, dreamlike camera work of director Abner Biberman and photographer George T. Clemens, and, of course, the harrowing ending sequence. Serling’s principle model of influence was the final segment of the formative 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night, from Britain’s Ealing Studio. In this segment, titled “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” Michael Redgrave stars as a man whose malevolent dummy, Hugo, manages to take over his body (or perhaps remains only as a distinct personality in the mind of the ventriloquist, the film leaves the truth ambiguous). Serling takes this concept a step further and delivers one of the most disturbing ending in the entire series as Willy, the evil dummy, assumes human form and Jerry, the ventriloquist, is transformed into a wooden dummy. The effect is a startling one as makeup transforms actor George Murdock into Willy and a dummy is created bearing a caricature of Cliff Robertson’s face. The flourishing reveal of the horrible switch is another moment of uniformly excellent camera work in the episode, which perfectly captures the loneliness of the grimy nightclub world of stage lights, cocktails, and cigarette smoke.

Trivia:
           
-“The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” segment of Dead of Night, the film that inspired “The Dummy,” was itself inspired by two sources: the 1929 film The Great Gabbo, starring Eric von Stroheim, based on Ben Hecht’s 1928 short story “The Rival Dummy,” and Gerald Kersh’s 1939 short story “The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy.” Read our full coverage of Dead of Night here.
           
-According to Wikipedia, both the original Willy dummy (created in the 1940s by puppeteer Revello Petee) and the Cliff Robertson dummy created for the episode are housed in magician David Copperfield’s private collection of literature and artifacts related to magic known as the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, though (appropriately enough considering the clandestine nature of performance magic and conjuring arts) there is no citation of the source for this information and access to Copperfield’s museum of over 80,000 items is only available to scholars of the conjuring arts through a written application to the Archivist. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #6: "It's a Good Life"

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


#6 - Jack in the Box, from “It’s a Good Life,” season three, episode 73
Written by Rod Serling (from the Jerome Bixby story), directed by James Sheldon, starring Bill Mumy, John Larch, Cloris Leachman, Don Keefer, Alice Frost

Rod Serling’s adaptation of Jerome Bixby’s disturbing short story is chock full of unsettling moments, none more so than when the character Dan Hollis (Don Keefer), reinforced with liquor, decides to take a stand against the omnipotent child monster Anthony Freemont (Bill Mumy) during one of the strangest and most tension-filled birthday party ever presented on television. Hollis is betting on help from the final small group of townspeople Anthony has allowed to live in a closed off world, which includes Anthony’s own parents and his lobotomized Aunt Amy. Hollis quickly realizes, to his utter horror, that there will be no help. Anthony’s reign of terror has completely negated any chance that someone will step up and attempt to kill the monstrous child. In a horrible instant, the viewer can see the moment of decision go against Hollis in the faces of the others. Hollis’s reward for his attempted uprising is to be transformed into a grotesque jack in the box, with his dead face springing out at the others, mockingly topped with a conical birthday hat. “It’s a Good Life” is a masterpiece of tension and terror. Bill Mumy is resplendently terrifying in his iconic role as Anthony but everyone in the episode is undeniably convincing. In a fantastic adaptation by Serling, he removed all of Anthony’s inner monologues from the story and focused the narrative on those around Anthony. These terrified people quickly become stand-ins for the viewer and we can easily visualize ourselves trapped in that nightmare world. The interesting philosophical question which arises from the episode is whether Anthony was born a monster or whether he was unable to properly mature psychologically and emotionally because of his terrible power. Whatever the case, “It’s a Good Life” remains one of the most potently terrifying moments from the series and an enduring piece of American television.

Trivia:

-Jerome Bixby’s original short story, properly titled “It’s a Good Life,” was first published in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2 (Ballantine, 1953), edited by Frederick Pohl.
           
-A sequel to “It’s a Good Life” was produced for the third incarnation of the series, which aired on UPN from 2002-2003, titled “It’s Still a Good Life,” starring Bill Mumy as an adult Anthony Freemont and Mumy’s daughter Liliana Mumy portraying Anthony’s daughter Audrey Freemont.

Read our full coverage of “It’s a Good Life” here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #7: "The Hitch-Hiker"

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


#7 - Going My Way, from “The Hitch-Hiker,” season one, episode 16
Written by Rod Serling (from the radio play by Lucille Fletcher), directed by Alvin Ganzer, starring Inger Stevens, Leonard Strong, Adam Williams

Rod Serling’s adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s popular radio play is an engaging and atmospheric episode propelled by Inger Steven’s excellent performance as a woman on the run from a ghostly hitchhiker that only she can see. Serling changed very little in his adaptation other than the gender of the protagonist. The role was originated on radio by Orson Welles and Serling chose to make the character a young woman whom he named after his daughter Anne (Nan was her nickname). The episode is cleverly structured, with the story leaving little hints along the way as to Nan’s ultimate fate; even moments of dark humor, as when the tow truck driver tells Nan she’s lucky to be alive. Everything in the episode progresses in a manner reflecting Nan’s growing panic. The camera begins unobtrusively and slowly becomes more frantic with several perspective shots, giving the viewer a glimpse from Nan’s eyes. As the setting moves from day to night, so too does the increasing pitch of tension until Nan becomes completely unraveled. The episode is also surprising heavy on action, including a nerve-wracking scene in which Nan barely escapes an oncoming train when her car stalls on the railroad tracks. Another curious aspect of the story is the off-duty sailor to whom Nan gives a lift. The traditional form of this story would typically follow the sailor and function solely on the twist ending that the sailor had hitched a ride with a ghost. Lucille Fletcher decided instead on following the ghost to see where she ended up. It is an interesting variation that gives the story much more depth once the viewer has seen or intuited the ending. Leonard Strong give a memorable performance as the ghostly hitchhiker, as he refrains from any ghoulish action to instead remain a character whose intentions are shrouded in calm yet persistent behavior. The final sequence in which Nan calls home to discover the truth of her fate remains one of the most atmospherically staged and spooky moments from entire series.

Trivia:

-Composer and frequent Twilight Zone contributor Bernard Herrmann was married to Lucille Fletcher at the time Fletcher wrote “The Hitch-Hiker.” Herrmann provided a memorable score for the radio play, portions of which were reused for the Twilight Zone adaptation.
           
-Alfred Hitchcock attempted to purchase the rights to adapt “The Hitch-Hiker” for his television series but Fletcher declined the offer. She later sold the rights to Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions for the exact same amount previously offered by Hitchcock.
           
-Atlas Comics (now known as Marvel Comics) produced an unauthorized adaptation of Fletcher’s story for Marvel Tales #107 (June, 1952), titled “Going My Way?” In it, the character of the hitchhiker is portrayed as a grinning skeleton in a top hat, dispelling any mystery as to the ending of the story. The story was adapted by Stan Lee and illustrated by Bernard Krigstein.

Read our full coverage of “The Hitch-Hiker” here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #8: "The After Hours"

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


#8 - Voices in the Dark, from “The After Hours,” season one, episode 34
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring Anne Francis, Elizabeth Allen, John Conwell

Rod Serling’s “The After Hours” is a rarity among the episodes of the fifty-plus year old series; it still largely retains its power to frighten the viewer. This is chiefly due to the excellent use of setting, as being locked inside an empty department store after closing hours is something nearly every viewer can imagine with clarity. It is the feeling of being lost, alone, afraid, disoriented, with the added horror of life-like mannequins looming over every darkened aisle from high pedestals. And when those mannequins begin to speak, to move, one can easily imagine their own level of terror and helplessness. Though the episode is seen largely through the eyes of an unreliable character, Serling is not content to present a one-dimensional thriller or even the type of psychological horror story he favored in which a young woman slowly loses her mind under the strain of some psycho/supernatural element. Instead, Serling gives us perhaps his most bizarre fantasy of the series, in which department store mannequins assume living, breathing form for a limited period of time in order to experience life as do those whom they watch bustle through the store every day. The episode is director Douglas Heyes’s earliest masterpiece on the series and contains many of the hallmarks of the Rod Serling’s classic episodes: a young woman in danger, an isolated, atmospheric set, a strong central performance, and a technically challenging element, being in this case the mannequin images of the principle actors created by chief MGM makeup artist William Tuttle and Tuttle’s colleague Charles Schram. After a first season spent searching for a unifying theme among the show’s output, “The After Hours” heralds the arrival of the show’s principle identity: serious, character-based dark fantasy with a strong psychological slant.

Trivia:

-MGM makeup artist William Tuttle, with the assistance of Charles Schram, created sculpted life masks from the faces of Anne Francis and Elizabeth Allen in order to create their lifelike mannequin counterparts for the episode. These life masks are housed alongside a number of Tuttle’s other creations for the film and television industries in the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California.

Read our full coverage of “The After Hours” here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #9: "The Invaders"

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.

Trivia:

-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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #10: "To Serve Man"

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

We're moving into the top 10 most frightening moments!


#10 - It’s a Cookbook, from “To Serve Man,” season three, episode 24
Written by Rod Serling (from Damon Knight’s story), directed by Richard L. Bare, starring Lloyd Bochner, Susan Cummings, Richard Kiel

“To Serve Man” is easily one of the most popular, recognizable, parodied, and beloved episode of the entire series, and justifiably so, as it contains many of the elements which seem to remain with viewers, particularly the excellent twist ending. Though Rod Serling wrote a number of fantastic original teleplays for the series, one could argue that his true genius was in the adaptation of the works of others. Serling was never content to simply transpose a story into a teleplay. He always added nuances of character and setting, and expertly adapted the material for the unique narrative structure of half-hour television. “To Serve Man” is perhaps Serling’s finest adaptation (though one could argue for “Time Enough at Last” and “It’s a Good Life”) and features a number of unique touches not seen in other episodes. The episode features the uncommon use of a voice-over narration (by someone other than Serling) and even features a character breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, all to the benefit of the episode’s overall effectiveness. The ending, of course, is what every viewer of the episode remembers, that and the towering figure of Richard Kiel as a morose, telepathic alien with an oversized head. The ending, and all that it implies, is truly one of the more imaginatively gruesome and unsettling moments of the series, all the more so because nothing explicit or violent is ever seen; all is left to the imagination of the audience. The Kanamits, a powerful alien race who deliver world peace in order to cultivate humans like cattle, are presented as benign, even gentle, beings, drawing more than one frightening parallel to our own relationship to the animals which we choose to eat.

Trivia:

-Damon Knight’s short story originally appeared in the November, 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. In Knight’s story, the Kanamits appear as pig-like creatures, drawing an even more horrible parallel to their intentions, as they closely resemble an animal frequently eaten by humans. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #11: "Eye of the Beholder"

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


#11 - A Beautiful Outcast, from “Eye of the Beholder,” season two, episode 42
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring Maxine Stuart, Donna Douglas, William Gordon, Edson Stroll

Rod Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder,” which he originally composed under the evocative title, “The Private World of Darkness,” is perhaps his finest episode of the series. The episode perfectly captures Serling's primary concerns as a writer: the horrors of injustice, intolerance, and the erosion of individuality in the face of mindless conformity. The episode also happens to be a terrifying vision of a nightmare world ruled by an intolerant, hideous governing class that suppresses all forms of beauty because it is different. Serling doesn’t allow the story be one-dimensional, however, and the overall effect is one of sorrow and empathy, unlike more extreme episodes on a similar subject (“The Obsolete Man,” “The Shelter”). “Eye of the Beholder” also happens to showcase the horrifying makeup creations of William Tuttle, then head of the MGM makeup department, whose unique style has become a trademark of the series. There is a distinct shift in the episode once we leave the dark confines of the hospital room and are thrust into a brightly lit world filled with monsters. The raging dictator who follows us through the hospital on television screens is particularly effective. The episode is notable for keeping everything in shadow, both literally and figuratively. For reasons which become obvious, the faces of all the actors are shrouded in low lighting. Serling also gives us only glimpses of the society we find ourselves in. We know that it is populated by a hideously deformed majority and we also know it is under an oppressive ruling party. Serling was making obvious connections to the political climate of the Cold War era but leaves much to the imagination of the viewer. The episode also contains a melancholy score by Bernard Herrmann which progressively increases to a frantic pitch as our heroine attempts to make her escape. “Eye of the Beholder” is one of the more memorably frightening episodes and rightly regarded as one of the finest moments in television history.

Trivia:

- The production crew on “Eye of the Beholder” is truly remarkable, as it is the only episode to involve the team of Rod Serling (w), Douglas Heyes (dir), George T. Clemens (dop), William Tuttle (fx), and Bernard Herrman (mus) working together on a single episode. Which begs the question: Is this the finest crew ever to work on a single episode? The series had a steady group of crew members that only occasionally changed from episode to episode (in areas such as set design, editing, sound, production assistants, etc.) but some creators (typically in music, makeup, writing, directing, photography, and, of course, acting capacities) worked only occasionally for the show and it was unique for an episode to contain the work of creators who could each be argued as the finest at their craft among the show’s many participants. “Perchance to Dream” (Charles Beaumont (w), Robert Florey (dir), George T. Clemens (dop), Van Cleve (mus), with Richard Conte and John Larch) and “The Invaders” (Richard Matheson (w), Douglas Heyes (dir), George T. Clemens (dop), Jerry Goldsmith (mus), with Agnes Moorehead) come immediately to mind as having an exceptional collection of cast and crew.
           
-“Eye of the Beholder” was remade as an episode of the third incarnation of the series, which ran on UPN from 2002-2003, and starred Molly Sims.

Read our full coverage of “Eye of the Beholder” here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #12: "Perchance to Dream"

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.

Trivia:

-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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #13: "Long Distance Call"

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


13. Grandma’s Calling, from “Long Distance Call,” season two, episode 58
Written by Charles Beaumont and William Idelson, directed by James Sheldon, starring Philip Abbott, Patricia Smith, Lili Darvas, Bill Mumy

“Long Distance Call” is high in the running as the most unsettling episode of the entire series. The idea of a toy telephone as a conduit for a loving grandmother to call her young grandson from beyond the grave and attempt to coerce the child to kill himself so that they may be reunited in the afterlife is both heartbreakingly sad and undeniably disturbing. The series rarely ventured into such emotionally jarring content. The overall effect is a suspenseful and almost unbearably tense episode which seems to benefit from the otherwise unappealing videotape format, which lends a disquieting and intimate feeling to the proceedings, giving the viewer an uncomfortable fly-on-the-wall perspective to a family tragedy. The scenes in which the young boy speaks to the dead grandmother through the toy telephone remain some of the creepiest moments from the series. The episode is not unrelentingly bleak, however, and the ending manages to resolve the horrible plight of the family without relieving the carefully built tension. Strong performances abound in this one, particularly from Lil Darvas, as the grandmother, and Philip Abbott as the desperate father. The episode also marks the first of three appearances from young actor Bill Mumy, who soon makes an unforgettable appearance on the series and earns him a high spot on this countdown.

Trivia:

-Charles Beaumont and William Idelson were on-set during the filming the episode and were asked to write a new version of the father’s monologue at the end of the episode. In the original version, the father begs for the life of his son by bringing up his own relationship to his mother. After trying the scene and finding it flat, the production crew felt it would work much better if the father concentrated on the young boy’s relationship to the grandmother, focusing on how little of life the boy would be allowed if he were to die so young. Beaumont and Idelson obliged and rewrote the scene on-set.

Read our full coverage of “Long Distance Call” here. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #14: "The New Exhibit"

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


#14 - Nightmares in Wax, from “The New Exhibit,” season four, episode 115
Written by Jerry Sohl (credited to Charles Beaumont), directed by John Brahm, starring Martin Balsam

“The New Exhibit” is another grim offering on the series that walks the tightrope between supernatural and psychological horror. The story is cloaked in just enough ambiguity to conceal the true nature of the narrative and works equally well as a story of murderous wax figures imbued with life or as a story of a man in the middle of a homicidal breakdown unable to accept his horrid deeds. Horror stories revolving around wax effigies, particularly the effigies of famous murderers, was a well-worn theme by the time the series approached the material for an hour-long episode of the fourth season (see A.M. Burrage’s oft-adapted 1931 story “The Waxwork,” and the silent film Waxworks (1924)). There are some motifs of the horror story, ventriloquist dummies being another example, which are both enduring and versatile. “The New Exhibit” is one of the most evenly paced offerings from a generally uneven fourth season and consistent director John Brahm handles the proceedings effectively and without distracting flourishes. Brahm’s use of a perspective framing shot for the climactic moment in which the wax figures slowly come alive and move off their pedestals is brilliantly staged, giving the sequence the feeling of a picture coming horribly to life. Though some commentators have suggested “The New Exhibit” would be more appropriate for a series such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or Thriller (series which frequently presented stories of supernatural suspense), this notion flies in the face of the fact that The Twilight Zone frequently traveled along the paths of the horror story. One could argue that more horror stories were presented on the series than were science fiction stories, considering that the series rarely concerned itself with scientific inquiry and typically used the fantasy construct inherent in the science fiction story for its own purposes. One need only look to episodes such as “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The Howling Man,” “The Dummy,” or “The Masks” (or any others on this countdown) to see that the series was equally adept at the tale of supernatural terror as with any other type of tale, and perhaps more so.

Trivia:

-“The New Exhibit” is the first of three episodes of the series which were ghost-written by science fiction author Jerry Sohl and presented as the work of regular series writer Charles Beaumont. Beaumont became very ill from an aggressive form of mental degeneration that has been attributed to everything from early onset Alzheimer’s to lead poisoning. Beaumont soon lost his ability to write but had acquired numerous writing assignments including work for The Twilight Zone. In an effort to honor his commitments and continue to provide for his family, Beaumont entered into an agreement with his friend Jerry Sohl in which Sohl would provide scripts for The Twilight Zone under Beaumont’s name for fifty percent of the payment. Sohl, himself an accomplished writer for television, agreed to this arrangement largely because the Beaumont household had begun to struggle financially under the burden of Beaumont’s debilitating illness. What remains unclear, even at this late a date, is what, if anything, Beaumont contributed to the three teleplays, which also included the fifth season episodes “Living Doll” and “Queen of the Nile,” this latter episode a virtual remake of Beaumont’s first season episode, “Long Live Walter Jameson.” 

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #15: "Twenty Two"

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


15. Room for One More, from “Twenty Two,” season two, episode 53
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Jack Smight, starring Barbara Nichols, Fredd Wayne, Jonathan Harris

Rod Serling’s “Twenty Two” is an episode which relies on the haunting refrain “room for one more,” along with moments of striking visual imagery, to deliver a compact and haunting story of premonition. Like Serling’s other stories of women on the verge of breakdowns being haunted and pursued, “Twenty Two” forms around a familiar motif, a recurring dream, to engage the viewer in piecing together clues to reveal a larger picture of the woman’s plight. The most effective scenes in the episode are those within the dream, in which a woman finds herself in a cavernous lower floor of a hospital. There she finds herself before the doors to the hospital’s morgue unit. The nurse that emerges from the doors to ominously intone “room for one more” is played to chilling perfection by Arline Sax (better known as Arlene Martel). Though “Twenty Two” is one of six episodes shot on videotape (a largely disastrous attempt to lower production costs), little of that format detracts from the episodes effectiveness. A unique twist on this familiar story type is that, in “Twenty Two,” the woman survives through the ordeal relatively unscathed, unlike similar characters in “The After Hours” (reverted back to a mannequin), “The Hitch-Hiker” (recognition of death), or “Mirror Image” (committed to an insane asylum). “Twenty Two,” though widely familiar as a story by the time Serling adapted it for the series, still manages to provide the eerie thrills of a traditional ghost story.

Trivia:

-“Twenty Two” is credited as being based upon an anecdote in Bennett Cerf’s 1944 anthology Famous Ghost Stories (Modern Library). The true source is the 1906 short story “The Bus-Conductor” by E.F. Benson. Benson wrote numerous ghost stories, a handful of which are acknowledged classics. To cause further confusion, “The Bus-Conductor” is not included in the Cerf anthology. The Benson story which is included is the 1904 story “The Man Who Went Too Far.” “The Bus-Conductor” has been reprinted and adapted so often since its initial publication (it has appeared in virtually every fictional medium) that the source of the story often becomes lost on those adapting it. Benson’s story was adapted for the excellent 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night, as well as included, sans credit, as a story in Alvin Schwartz’s popular 1981 collection of folktales, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Read our full coverage of “Twenty Two” here.