Watching The Twilight Zone can sometimes seem like a Rorschach test. What seems obvious to you may not even occur to someone else — and what they see can leave you scratching your head.
Case in point: “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”. This Season 5 episode deals with a future society in which everyone must undergo a “transformation” when they reach a certain age. They browse a set of pre-arranged body types, select one of these attractive models by number, and one painless operation later, presto, they look like all the other people with that number (hence the title). Ugliness is a thing of the past.
In the episode, however, one rather plain-looking girl, Marilyn, rebels. She doesn’t want a new face, a new body — or the transformed mind that goes with it. But her mother, her friends, and the others in her social circle will have none of it. They cheerfully keep chipping away at her resolve. In the end, she’s simply forced into it, but now she doesn’t mind. She’s last glimpsed excitedly admiring the fact that now looks just like her friend Valerie. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve written about Twilight Zone’s writers. I’ve written about its directors. So how about TZ’s only writer-director?
I’m referring to Montgomery Pittman. Don’t know him? I can guarantee you know his work. That is, if you’ve heard of a TZ episode called “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
No, Pittman didn’t write that one. Everyone’s favorite extra-terrestrial whodunit was penned by the incomparable Rod Serling, of course. Pittman also directed one other TZ ep scripted by a writer other than himself (Charles Beaumont’s “Dead Man’s Shoes”).
But the other three episodes he helmed were his own stories — memorable tales that many TZ fans list among their all-time favorites:
Season 3, Episode 1 – September 15, 1961
At a time when TV scripts tended to be pretty talky (many early TV writers, after all, had gotten their start in radio, Serling included), this near-silent look at the aftermath of what appears to have been an all-out nuclear war shows the power of pictures. An American male soldier and a female Russian one somehow manage to put aside their suspicions and find peace amid the rubble.
For anyone who thinks of Charles Bronson only as a violent vigilante in “Death Wish”, or of Elizabeth Montgomery as a button-cute witch in “Bewitched”, this episode is an eye-opener. Pittman showed they were capable of much more.
If the Devil were trapped and asked you to set him free, would you do it? Of course not, you reply.
We all like to think we would. But if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, and you’ve watched the classic episode “The Howling Man,” you may not be so sure. Get too cocky, and you could wind up sprawled on the floor, watching him escape through the nearest window.
That was Mr. Ellington’s fate. He didn’t believe Brother Jerome, who insisted that the prisoner was a liar. He probably thought, like any of us would, that he was too smart to be deceived.
So what did he do wrong? Having watched the episode
more than a dozen times once or twice, I think I know. And I have Marc Scott Zicree to thank for it. Read the rest of this entry
“Where am I? What is this, some kind of a joke or something? I don’t know you. I don’t know any of you!” — TZ’s “A World of Difference”
Such confusion can be fun when we’re enjoying a story from the fifth dimension. After all, reality can be boring … except, of course, when it comes to behind-the-scenes info about The Twilight Zone itself. Not all surprises took place in front of the camera.
Ring in the new year without The Twilight Zone? Most fans of the fifth dimension would sooner think a bad thought around Anthony Fremont.
No, we were all there, and fortunately, the Syfy channel didn’t disappoint. They ran a terrific slate of episodes this time. Sure, Season 4 was largely neglected, but the 87 episodes that DID make it were well-chosen. (Of course, it helps that TZ has so few duds.)
But even so, there were some solid episodes that didn’t make this year’s marathon. I’ve highlighted a few of them below. You can click on any of the titles to watch the episode in question on free Hulu.
Season 1, Episode 20 – February 19, 1960
If you were an astronaut who discovered people frozen like statues on some far-flung planet, how would you explain it? The trio of explorers who star in Charles Beaumont’s “Elegy” come up with quite a few theories, but it takes the only person who does move around — a 200-year-old robot caretaker, to be precise — to reveal the startling truth. Read the rest of this entry
To say it takes a writer with a fertile imagination to write a Twilight Zone is an understatement. Rod Serling and others could spin a spellbinding story from remarkably ordinary circumstances.
Take a trip to a funhouse. Ever been through one? Nearly everyone has. But for Charles Beaumont, the writer of nearly two dozen Twilight Zone episodes, it wasn’t the same experience it is for the rest of us.
I’ve always loved Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream”. It’s such an enjoyably frightening TZ that I’ve written not one, but two previous blog posts about it. And with Halloween approaching, I wanted share one of my favorite behind-the-scenes stories about Beaumont, as related by Marc Scott Zicree: Read the rest of this entry
“This is the way the world ends,” T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem The Hollow Men. “Not with a bang but a whimper.” Surely, though, the same fate should not befall The Twilight Zone?
Alas. 50 years ago today, on June 19, 1964, the last episode of the fifth season aired: “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” Even fans of this episode (and my most recent post showed that I’m not one) wouldn’t call this one a bang. Sorry, but this was no way for Rod Serling’s ground-breaking foray into the fifth dimension to conclude.
But that’s the thing: It wasn’t supposed to end at that point. At least not as far as Serling was concerned. He’d already been mapping out plans for a sixth season, and I can’t help but feel that the way he talked about it suggested an awareness that TZ needed a return to form of sorts after an interesting but uneven Season 5.
On February 5, 1964, at the mid-point of Season 5, Serling wrote to Aldon Schwimmer of Ashley Steiner, the talent agency that represented him, with what he planned to do for the new season. According to author Martin Grams: Read the rest of this entry
Henry Bemis and his all-too-breakable eyeglasses? Check. Talky Tina? She was there. Agnes Moorehead, battling two tiny aliens who crash-land on her roof? Front and center. A gremlin on an airplane wing? He flew in just for the occasion.
Yes, the roster of fifth-dimension All-Stars was long at the Syfy channel’s annual two-day Twilight Zone marathon this New Year’s. From the tension-filled houses on Maple Street to the lush cornfields of Peaksville, Ohio, hardly anyone missed the festivities.
But although the schedule was packed with fan favorites, a few gems were conspicuously absent. We all would have been better served if replacements for clunkers such as “What’s in the Box” and “Caesar and Me” had been pulled from the following list:
Season 1, Episode 21 – February 26, 1960
Parallel planes. Disappearing doppelgängers. It’s a metaphysical mind-trip of the first order, one that definitely deserved a spot on Syfy’s schedule. I’m blaming Vera Miles’s wily twin for making this classic vanish from the marathon. Read the rest of this entry
Recently I was contacted by a reporter working on an article about the latest release of The Twilight Zone on DVD. We talked about many aspects of the show, but the first thing he asked was why I thought it continues to have such lasting appeal.
It’s a fair question. I mean, it’s been 50 years! TV shows come and go by the truckload. In an age of digital streaming and CGI wonders, what accounts for the popularity of some black-and-white series that premiered back when Dwight Eisenhower was president?
There are many ingredients you can point to: the acting, the photography, the twist endings. And quite rightly; TZ was a first-class affair from top to bottom. Read the rest of this entry
It’s a Halloween staple that ranks right up there with spooking trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and wearing outlandish costumes: watching a scary-movie marathon.
But in an age of digital streaming and high-quality DVDs and Blu-rays, why limit yourself to movies? Why not program a few chills right from the fifth dimension?
True, The Twilight Zone is generally considered a science-fiction series (although I think it’s so unique that it defies easy classification). And yes, the stories dreamed up by Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and other TZ writers were usually designed more to intrigue and edify than to disorient or frighten viewers.
But every now and then, the series gave us some old-fashioned scary moments that might cause even your favorite vampire to glance over his shoulder. So here, in the spirit of October 31st, are 13 Twilight Zones that may make you think twice about turning out the light (click any title to go to the Hulu link and watch it):
Season 5, Episode 6 — November 1, 1963
Some tips for those who find themselves near Talky Tina: If she says she hates you, don’t laugh at her. If she threatens you, don’t mock her. Erich Streator (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) did, only to discover that Tina is very serious about protecting her young owner. DEADLY serious. Beaumont (aided by an uncredited Jerry Sohl) gives us a creepy tale that does to dolls what Hitchcock did to birds. Read the rest of this entry