Monday, July 11, 2011
The Twilight Zone: Original Series
Over the July 4th long weekend, the SyFy network (they changed it from SciFi to give it more cache with the young people…no) had the good graces to air a 48-hour-long Twilight Zone marathon. I had no plans for that weekend, so imagine my glee at the realization that I could indeed sit in my pjs in various rooms of the house, watching episode after creepy episode, taking breaks for food. Also, I had the ability to DVR the episodes that would air when I was asleep. Amazing.
I had seen most of the episodes before, but more than a couple of them rang a little too true to present time. Some things, they say, never change. Many episodes of TZ deal with mob mentality, created by members of a community turning on each other based on their fear of the unknown. Generally, it was due to the threat of nuclear war (only one small bomb shelter in a neighborhood) or of hostile visitors from outer space (your neighbor has been acting strangely, so surely must be working with the invaders). It was a crazed marriage of McCarthyism and Cold War mania. Were we to make new episodes, the same mob mentality would be present, I’m sure, but would be provoked by the threat of terrorism.
Then there are the inanimate objects that control the world stories. Talking Tina, who will put children off dolls forever is probably the most terrifying. But of course there is the camera that shows you the future, and the ring that saves a small town. Or the “tiny versions of people” stories, occasionally flipped into “giant versions of people.” And the dead people who don’t understand that they’re dead, and so on. And let me tell you, most of these are truly frightening.
One of the joys, to me at least, of watching The Twilight Zone, is getting to play the “hey, that’s (blank), from (TV show, movie, etc.)! What are they doing here???” Elizabeth Montgomery, of adorably-nosed Bewitched fame, is here playing a soldier (!) opposite a mightily young Charles Bronson. And Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird is around, disappearing into a better world beneath her swimming pool. The most fun sighting, of course, has to be the outrageously handsome young William Shatner, both when he spies “something on the wing!” and when he is learning his future from a napkin dispenser. The list is long.
Rod Serling, the creator, writer, and narrator, was a pioneer in the industry. He dared to tackle subjects that had been largely untouched by the mainstream media. Racism, deformity, paranoia, war flashbacks, and religious cults all made it into the Twilight Zone. He was also able to take some of the greatest fears of humans and turn them into a “what if” teleplay. What if you walked up the stairs to your apartment to find someone else’s name on the door? What if you were the only person alive in the world? What if you woke up in the wrong year, the wrong decade? He plugged into all of those and created sheer terror for 22 minutes.
One of Serling’s ballsier moves was writing an episode called “Death’s Head Revisited.” It is an episode that I had not seen previously, and watched almost entirely with my jaw on the floor, and with a boulder in my stomach. It was aired first in 1961, not 20 years after WWII, and deals with a former SS officer who has come to visit Dachau, where he “worked,” to admire his old surroundings. He is greeted by ghosts of his victims. To say more would be giving away too much, but I will let you know that I really felt a little ill watching it.
Every once in a while, though, Serling gives us a break and hands us a little love story. The point of the Twilight Zone is that something can be just a little bit unfamiliar, but that tiny change envelops the whole world. For example, there is the author who is having an affair…with a character from a play he wrote who came to life. Or the meek bank teller (Dick York from Bewitched) who can hear people’s thoughts and turns that ability into a first date with a cute girl. So it’s not all horror and nightmares.
So I spent an absurd number of hours making myself afraid over the course of a few days. But I have just checked, and indeed, the entirety of The Twilight Zone: The Original Series, is on Netflix Instant. So do yourself a favor and take it all
in. But feel free to take your time.
**A small but imnportant note: a few of the episodes in season 2 were shot on video, as opposed to film, for monetary purposes, but it was decided, rightly so, that it looked terrible. Just an FYI, if you're watching an episode and think it looks like a crappy daytime soap opera...it's because it does. Sadly, there are six whole episodes like this, and it's really a bummer. Totally ruins the experience. But they are very obviously different, so just skip 'em. They are not, however, consecutive. Eesh.