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Is the Outer Limits Better Than the Twilight Zone?

There I was, scrolling along social media, when a headline jumped out at me: “The Outer Limits Was Better Than The Twilight Zone”.

Whoa, now. Back up the space ship. What’s that again? Perhaps Talky Tina was pulling my leg.

But no. There was a picture of Robert Culp, in one of his OL appearances, adorning a Nerdist article that dared to assert a preposterous second-place finish for Serling’s brainchild. I was aghast.

Okay, I’m playing up my reaction a bit. I don’t really tie myself in knots when I read an opinion I disagree with. It’s a big world, and lots of people like different things. But I was naturally intrigued by writer Kyle Anderson’s claim, and as an Outer Limits fan myself, I had to find out: Does he make a compelling case?

No, he doesn’t. But before you assume that’s simply my natural bias speaking, let me explain why I think so. Anderson actually makes some interesting points. I just don’t think they prove his premise.

Mind you, Anderson doesn’t dislike TZ. “I would never be so foolish as to say The Twilight Zone wasn’t great television, nor that The Outer Limits‘ 49 episodes were better across the board than the 156 made for Twilight“, he writes, then adds: Read the rest of this entry

The Twilight Zone’s Dirty Dozen

“We had some real turkeys, some fair ones, and some shows I’m really proud to have been a part of. I can walk away from this series unbowed.” — Rod Serling

Turkeys? Serling may have been his own harshest critic, but he wasn’t entirely wrong here. Even a series as distinguished as The Twilight Zone, with a hit-to-miss ratio that most TV producers would kill for, had a few misfires along the way.

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But which ones missed the mark? It’s entirely subjective. One man’s gem is another man’s junk. Bring up “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” and you’ll hear from people who consider it a delightful fantasy, and others who think it’s a clunker. Many people findOne for the Angelssweet and charming; others can’t get past the fact that Ed Wynn is hardly convincing as a fast-talking pitchman.

I even spoke to a man once who’d been going through TZ in order and said he had finally hit a dud. Curious, I asked which one. His reply: “The Invaders,” which nearly everyone hails as a Zone classic.

But these debates are part of the fun. It’s interesting to compare notes, as we do with our favorite TZs, and discuss what we don’t like — and why.

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Here are the 12 episodes you’ll find at the bottom of my list. Now, I’m not saying every one is an irredeemable time-waster. Even the worst TZ is better than much of what you’ll find on TV; they fall short mainly when measured against TZ’s routine excellence. And there are some aspects of nearly every episode below that I do like.

But for my money, the fifth-dimensional flops include: Read the rest of this entry

Finding Fright in the Fifth Dimension: Some TZs That Are Perfect for Halloween

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?

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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:

LIVING DOLL

Season 5, Episode 6 — November 1, 1963

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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

Matheson: In the Zone

Out of the 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone‘s original run, Rod Serling wrote a staggering 92 scripts. But even a prolific genius like him couldn’t write them all.

So over the course of the show’s five-year run, he turned to several talented writers whose imaginative stories helped explore some of the most fascinating corners of the fifth dimension.

Men like Charles Beaumont. George Clayton Johnson. Montgomery Pittman. Earl Hamner. And a man who crafted some of the Zone‘s most legendary episodes: Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson 1926-2013

Richard Matheson
1926-2013

The gremlin on the wing? Matheson. The devil’s-head fortune-teller? Matheson. Agnes Moorehead trying to fend off two tiny home invaders from another planet? Matheson. Two guys trying to patch up a broken-down robot boxer? You guessed it. Read the rest of this entry

A War Without Words

Think, for a moment, about your favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. Perhaps it’s “The Howling Man,” which offers a profound look at the art of temptation. It might be “Eye of the Beholder,” with its searing meditations on beauty and forced conformity. Or it could be the hair-raising descent into schizophrenic madness that marks “The Dummy.”

Whatever your favorite, it almost surely has one key ingredient: ear-catching dialogue. Rod Serling and the other writers who spun their unforgettable tales all specialized in the art of not only telling a good story, but of writing memorable words for their characters to speak.

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Ask yourself: What’s one of the most pleasurable facets of watching George Clayton Johnson’s “A Game of Pool”? Listening to Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman volley back and forth, trading great line after great line. It’s a clinic in well-honed dialogue that advances the story — and is a pleasure to hear.

So it’s all the more remarkable that one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone features almost no spoken lines whatsoever: Richard Matheson’s “The Invaders,” which first aired on Jan. 27, 1961.

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The story couldn’t be more straightforward: a woman living alone in a farmhouse has some unexpected visitors who are out of this world — literally. Two tiny “aliens” land a spaceship on her roof and immediately begin to stalk her with what appears to be hostile intent.

Read the rest of this entry