The Twilight Zone Never Goes Out of Style
By Kristin Battestella
Every once in awhile, you get that itch. That bizarre feeling that can only be quenched by Rod Serling’s classic paranormal anthology series The Twilight Zone. Growing up, I had a ten inch black and white television in my room. Late at night, when the other networks shut off (my sister called me on the phone one day to corroborate her story to my nieces-yes, television networks signed off in those days!) the only thing left on my TV was PBS and The Twilight Zone. This probably explains a lot about me, I know.
Several compilation videos and DVDs of The Twilight Zone have been released in recent years, as well as individual season series and sets. Here’s an analysis of my recent marathon from Volumes 1 and 2 of The Twilight Zone.
Volume 1 begins with the classic ‘The Invaders’. I remember this one from being a kid, and thinking I was so cool and special that I found this rare and genius television. Well, obviously everyone loves Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) and this episode about a lone old woman tormented by tiny space invaders. Today it’s a big deal if someone can pull off one person television or present a program without dialogue or sound. ‘The Invaders’, however, is typical of the Twilight Zone’s vibe. You can’t take your eyes of the screen, no matter how silly or bizarre things get, and you are always bemiffed by the episode’s end.
‘The Night of the Meek’ is a fine Christmas tale as only Rod Serling can present. Art Carney (The Honeymooners) plays a down and out store Santa who finds a very special sack of presents. This episode is a bit more bittersweet than the series’ usually twisted self, but there’s still plenty of veiled commentary on alcoholism and charity.
Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) fans will of course enjoy ‘Nothing in the Dark’. The very young
Redford plays a wounded policeman rescued by the very old and fearful Gladys Cooper (My Fair Lady). Some of the twists in The Twilight Zone are no longer so shocking, due to constant repeats on television, remakes, and parodies. Frequent Zone writer George Clayton Johnson ( ’s Run) keeps the material here so crisp and tight, that it isn’t even the big end that’s what special. It’s the getting there that counts. Spoiled CGI fans of today may not realize that you can put two people in a room with a camera and great things can happen. The Twilight Zone is the proof. Logan
The Twilight Zone: Volume 2 continues the greatness with Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Grumpy Old Men) and ‘Time Enough At Last’. If our current digital society someday looses books as we know it, I imagine this tale of a man who can’t get enough to read will be even more ironic and bizarre than it already is. Serling again gives us social analysis by packing literacy, materialism, and the atomic bomb all in one episode. I know I’d be up the creek without a paddle if it were me in this episode!
‘The Monster Are Due on
Maple Street’ continues the social commentary. Offbeat as it is, The Twilight Zone is just as well know for its allegory and issues. When the families of Maple Street loose power, cars, and technology, they quickly revert to angry and fearful mobs, despite level headed Claude Atkins’ ( Rio Bravo) attempts to stop the finger pointing. I always think of this episode when I see the very similar episode from the Sci Fi Channel’s short lived First Wave. Often imitated, never equaled!
We make fun of William Shatner (Star Trek), his stilted delivery, and goofy facial expressions, but everyone knows ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’. Richard Matheson’s (I am Legend) story about a man who may or may be seeing gremlins out his airplane window is one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes. So often the series blurred the line between the mind and reality, and Nightmare does a great job of giving us disbelief, confusion, and good old fashioned claustrophobia.
Lastly on Volume 2 is ‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’. Perhaps not as famous as its predecessor on this disc, but John Anderson’s (Macguver) missing airplane is just as creepy. Back in the day, aviation was a relatively new thing, and this fear of technology gone awry can still give us the wiggins. Are the effects hokey? Yes, but dated graphics should be a given when watching a fifty year old show. If you are looking for state of the art visuals in The Twilight Zone, I do feel that is missing the point. Serling’s speculative stories and bizarre twists make me feel more intelligent, more cultured for having watched. When was the last time you said that about some run of the mill reality series?
Although completists would prefer the season sets in the order that the series was intended or the complete collection, these compilation volumes are a great way to introduce non fans to The Twilight Zone. When you have that hankering for classic genre food for thought television, pick and choose your favorite Twilight Zone episodes today. When in doubt, check out a rerun on TV or sample free video online.