The most famous writer of The Twilight Zone? Rod Serling, obviously. Besides creating, producing, and hosting the series, he penned no fewer than 92 scripts for it. But after him?
Most fans, I think, would pick Richard Matheson. And who could blame them? The legendary author’s contributions to the Zone include some truly iconic episodes, such as “Little Girl Lost,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
Few fans would name Charles Beaumont. And that’s a shame. Not only was he the most prolific Zone writer after Serling — logging 22 scripts to Matheson’s 14 — but his fertile imagination created some of the most mind-bending tales in the fifth dimension.
So I thought it might be fun to give fans a chance to select their favorite Beaumont episode, the same way I did with Matheson back in 2013. In fact, I was thinking about doing a new Matheson poll post when it occurred to me to finally do one for Beaumont. I’ll circle back to Matheson soon enough, but let’s give Beaumont some much-deserved attention.Read the rest of this entry
Opinions about Twilight Zone‘s fourth season, when Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series expanded to an hour, vary widely. Some fans really enjoy it. Others? Not so much.
But even the biggest cheerleaders for Season 4 will admit that Serling and his fellow scribes were much more in the Zone, shall we say, when their stories clocked in at 25 minutes, not 50.
“Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” Serling said at one of several points when talk of an hour-long version came up. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch 15 minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”
There’s a little Zone-like foreshadowing. Serling’s foray into the fifth dimension soon became an hour-long jaunt, and his warning about “fleshening” would prove prophetic. You’ve heard of doing more with less; this was a case of doing less with more.
That’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have some good episodes. We got, for example, “He’s Alive” (with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being coached by Adolf Hitler’s ghost), “The New Exhibit” (Martin Balsam as the curator of some homicidal wax figures), “Printer’s Devil” (Burgess Meredith as a diabolically talented journalist), and “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (James Whitmore as the power-hungry leader of a barren space colony).
I could name others, and perhaps you could too. As Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, wrote: “The series had not disgraced itself.”
Far from it, in fact. Still, it was wise to go back to the half-hour slot for Season 5. As Buck Houghton, TZ’s producer through its first three seasons, later pointed out, the extra length made it very tough to do the kind of surprise endings that Serling and the other Zone writers specialized in throughout most of the show’s run.Read the rest of this entry
There are times when watching The Twilight Zone is something of a Twilight Zone experience itself.
Actually, it’s not the watching that does that. For me, it’s apt to happen when I’m discussing an episode with other fans, and I find that their explanation of an episode differs completely from mine.
Take Season 1’s “A World of Difference”, which stars Howard Duff. I recently took note on my Twitter page of its March 11 anniversary. As always, I gave a brief synopsis: “An actor whose real life is a mess decides that the idyllic role he’s playing is reality.”
I’m used to hearing people say they like or don’t like an episode. But this time, I also got reactions like this:
- “Wait, he’s the actor? I thought the real guy just fell into the Zone and had to get out.”
- “I still don’t know how to interpret the ending.”
- “It always made me unsure which was real and which wasn’t, but I suppose he was only playing the role he believed to be his real life.”
- “Wait…for real?! He was really the actor all along? I’m so confused!”
At this point, they weren’t the only ones! It honestly never occurred to me before that the episode could be viewed in any other way. Read the rest of this entry
No matter how disorienting or even frightening a Twilight Zone episode is, we can always comfort ourselves with a simple thought: It’s not real. The stories are all made up.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter some real-life horror stories via the fifth dimension. Take the homicidal wax figures in “The New Exhibit,” all of whom were modeled on actual killers, as I detailed in this blog post last year.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to learn more about one of those killers: Albert W. Hicks. The hatchet-wielding sailor is the subject of a fascinating new book called “The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, A Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation“. If you like a mix of true crime and a good detective story, I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Mind you, it’s a macabre tale — at least the crime itself. Just reading about how Hicks hacked up his crew mates (and all just to rob them) is bad enough. To have actually seen the aftermath must have been truly horrifying.
Fortunately, most of the book focuses on the aftermath of the murders: the discovery of the boat and how a dogged detective methodically tracked Hicks down through the streets of 1860’s New York City. We meet his wife and child. We’re there throughout his trial, sentencing, and execution. Read the rest of this entry
Ah, Halloween. Could there be a more ideal time to watch one of my favorite episodes from Twilight Zone’s fourth season: “The New Exhibit”?
If you aren’t familiar with it, I have three words for you: murderous wax figures. Yes, this is definitely one you should watch in the dark.
Or rewatch. After all, this is the fifth dimension, where one viewing is never enough. And I think I have a way to make the experience a bit creepier. (You’re welcome.)
One thing I wondered about when I first watched “The New Exhibit” is the backstory behind the five wax figures. Were these all real-life murderers, or were they made up for Charles Beaumont’s script?
I say “all” because one of them is the very famous Jack the Ripper. His reign of terror in the Whitechapel area of London in the late 1880s is so legendary that hardly anyone hasn’t at least heard of him. I certainly knew HE was real.
But what about the other four? Maybe there are some crime buffs out there who watched this episode and immediately recognized Albert W. Hicks, Burke & Hare, and Henri Landru. But not me.
And not, I think, most other viewers. So although ill-fated museum curator Martin Senescu gives us a brief introduction to each of these notorious criminals at the episode’s start, I thought I’d provide a little more info about this infamous rogues’ gallery. (Warning: Some grisly details ahead.) Read the rest of this entry
What would The Twilight Zone be without its twist endings? Still one of the most well-written, thoughtful series that ever aired, of course! But Rod Serling and company obviously made their points more effectively by using irony and surprise.
So I always try to give spoiler warnings when I write about the endings to certain episodes. I know — it’s a legendary series that debuted over 50 years ago, so who doesn’t know how they end?
Actually, a lot of people. Think about it — new fans are born all the time. I came along well after “Psycho” was a new movie, but I would have enjoyed seeing it without the ending spoiled. It must have been fun to see it when you didn’t know.
All of which is a slightly long-winded way of saying “spoiler alert”! Especially because I want to discuss, briefly, the ending to “The New Exhibit”, which aired during TZ’s lesser-known 4th season (the one with the hour-long episodes) — and ask you to vote on it. Read the rest of this entry