Made-For-TV: Twilight Zone: Essential Episodes (55th Anniversary Collection)

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WILLIAM SHATNER FROM THE “NICK OF TIME” EPISODE

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. 

I was always a bigger fan of The Outer Limits (1963-1965) than I was of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) when they were both in re-runs during my childhood (my brother liked it more than I did), nevertheless I saw enough of the series to cull a mental list of favorite episodes I never forgot about. This new collection here gathered enough of them that it attracted my attention and made me want to review it.

DISC #1:

Walking Distance: I saw this episode for the first time many years ago during SyFy’s annual July 4th marathon; it immediately became one of my favorites for I seem to relate to it so easily. Gig Young (Spectre, The Shuttered Room) plays a character desperate to step away from his life for a while by taking a drive into the country. At the local gas station he realizes he’s only walking distance away from the town he grew up in and from the fonder memories of childhood. In no time he understands he has stepped back into time to one of many summers he enjoyed as a child and wants to desperately remain, but his father realizing he’s his future grown up son makes him see you can’t go back again.

Time Enough At Last: A classic episode I saw back when I was a kid. Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bevis, a bank teller who loves to read, but for some odd reason others in his life won’t allow it, his wife is the worst, and one day while reading in the back vault nuclear holocaust comes along making him the planet’s sole survivor. Just when he’s reached the point of suicide he discovers the ruins of the local library and finally realizes he’s got all the time in the world to read… until he breaks his glasses.

The Hitch-Hiker: This was a new episode to me. I’ve never seen it before last night and found it to be a good one. Inger Stevens plays Nan Adams who as the episode opens has just escaped a serious car accident and is having her tires fixed. She’s heading across country from New York to California but soon afterwards is dogged all the way by a mysterious man (Leonard Strong) who wants her to pick him up. In a last ditch effort she calls her mother eager to hear a familiar voice but is told by the woman on the phone she’s in the hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown. Apparently, her daughter, Nan, was killed recently in a car accident.

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street:  A clever alien invasion episode that starts off with a weird sound and light being glimpsed by the denizens of Maple Street in the suburbs one summer day, then the power goes out in everyone’s house, not even the cars will start. Steve (Claude Akins) and Charlie (Jack Weston) decide to walk into town for answers but decide not to when a kid steps forth and tells them about the comics he’s read of aliens invading the Earth and this is how it generally starts, followed by the discovery that a family living within the neighborhood have been aliens all along. Paranoia and suspicion are bred easily from this boy’s statements and everyone begins accusing each other of being ETs with all the suspicion eventually being put upon one man because of his insomnia and late night stargazing. The starting of his car all by itself doesn’t help either. It all culminates in the abrupt shooting death of a neighbor who had gone a street over earlier in the day to see if power was out over there too; he came back after dark and everyone mistook his shadowed approach as that of an alien.

Once all the lights in everyone’s houses begin blinking chaos breaks out as neighbor goes after neighbor thinking each is the alien who caused it. The final scene is of two humanoid aliens upon a hill overlooking the town explaining their method of invasion. All it takes is the cutting off of the power, making a few lights blink and the earthlings do the rest, destroying themselves with suspicion.

This is one of more classic and popular episodes of the entire series and one I remember seeing during childhood. It creeped me out then and still creeps me out today.

A Stop At Willoughby: A “time travel tale” similar to “Walking Distanc,” where a man (James Daly) sick of his ad agency job and all the stress it causes dreams one night while coming home on the train that he’s in the 1800s in a small town called, Willoughby. He fails to get off the train and wakes back up. As the episode progresses we see how much he can’t stand the demands of his job and how much his wife hates him for not being able to cope with it. Two more dreams on the way home bring him back to Willoughby with the final dream giving him the courage to step off and be a part of the stress free town forever. Back in reality, his body his found in the woods with the conductor telling the men carting him away he had hollered, Willoughby, and threw himself off the train, dying instantly upon impact. Incidentally the hearse that took him away was from Willoughby And Sons Funeral Parlor.

Not a bad episode and like “Walking Distance” a relatable one.

The After Hours: This is one I distinctly recall from my first viewing, a moderately creepy episode about mannequins. Marsha White (Anne Francis) wants to find a gold thimble at her local department store, she’s ushered into an elevator and up to the 9th floor where she’s told she can find one. There is no 9th floor, but arrives there nevertheless to find the floor dark, devoid of customers and even merchandise, except for the very thing she’s looking for—a gold thimble!

She has a strange encounter with the only sales lady in sight that sells it to her. Finding the thimble damaged on her way down, the elevator attendant drops her off on a floor that takes customer complaints, but no one believes her for there is no 9th floor. She relaxes a little too long on the sofa in the office and finds she’s stuck in the store after hours.

The mannequins begin whispering to her, the lady that sold her the thimble appears and the mannequins come alive. She eventually remembers she is a mannequin and that all mannequins get one month to be among the living and then must return. Marsha was a day late.

I feel that 1987 romantic comedy, Mannequin, was at least somewhat inspired by this episode.

The Howling Man: Another favorite. The episode is a flashback. It begins with David Ellington (H.M. Wynant) looking at the camera, frantic and recounting the time when he was younger, on a trip in Europe and he had gotten lost during a storm. He seeks refuge in this monastery/castle that’s populated by monks who all look like Moses (i.e. long hair, beard, staff). Brother Jerome (John Carradine) is the head of the place and he wants Ellington out. They’re keeping a very special “man” prisoner in the place, one who howls endlessly. Eventually, Jerome confides in Ellington that the howling man is Satan and the world has been the better for it due to his imprisonment. The Howling Man, however, manages to convince David it’s the monks who are mad and once David has freed him he learns the truth. He was the Devil. Cut to present day where old man Ellington is confiding in his maid that the man imprisoned in that room over there is the Devil and not to let him out. But once he leaves, eager to make preparations to ship the Devil back to Brother Jerome, the Devil is freed once again.

The Eye Of The Beholder: Another classic episode but one that never really appealed to me beyond my initial viewing of it. In some alternate reality a woman who’s been scarred since birth with a case of the uglies is in a hospital having just gotten her 11th treatment to see if she can look as normal as everyone else. Her face and head are wrapped in bandages. It’s easy to see the twist coming because the faces of the doctors and the nurse are never shown either. The twist here is that the woman’s face is gorgeous and everyone else’s face is ugly.

.

Nick Of Time: This is the final episode on Disc #1 and another favorite of mine. William Shatner plays Don Carter and Patricia Breslin plays Pat Carter, they’re newlyweds and they’re car has broken down. While they wait for it to get fixed they kill time in a local café that has these little fortune telling devices at each booth. Pop in a penny, ask a Yes or No question, pressed down the lever and out pops a little card with a cryptic reply.

Don is a superstitious person and is immediately sucked into this “game.” Weird thing is everything he asks he gets a general answer that pretty much applies to each question. His promotion is foretold; he calls and confirms it, and the near miss by a careening car was predicted, if not precisely. Don and Pat return to the café, with Don unable to stop asking what’s coming next, but Pat and her argument save him. As they leave another couple comes into the diner and it’s clear from the looks on their faces they are enslaved by the very fortune telling machine Don was using.

DISC #2:

The Invaders: At first sight this episode appears pretty clear cut. A woman living alone in the countryside is set upon by tiny aliens whose flying saucer has crashed on the roof. It’s stated by Serling that this woman lives a rather “primitive life,” (my words not his) no electricity, no modern conveniences, nothing. These supposed aliens look like 4-inch tall robots, but it’s not till the very end, after she goes back up to the roof and smashes their saucer to pieces, that we see the ship has come from Earth and from the dying words we hear from someone in it they have encountered a planet full of hostile giants. Agnes Moorhead (Bewitched series, Dear Dead Delilah) plays the backwoods woman. Except for what we hear at the end from the dying astronaut there is no dialogue at all in this episode. This show left me tense after I saw it as a kid. Loved it too.

The Obsolete Man: Burgess Meredith stars in his second Zone episode and one I vaguely remembered but not one of my favorites. I find this episode too preachy. It’s about a future society where anyone who is deemed “obsolete” is executed. Books are banned and being a librarian as Meredith is, an obsolete profession, he’s scheduled for death. Apparently being old gets you obsolete, too, as well as any kind of religion. He tells the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) at his trial that he wants to choose his own method of execution and only he and his executioner will know what it is. As revenge against the Chancellor he invites the man to his apartment and tells him in 30 minutes a bomb will go off killing him… and the Chancellor, for he’s now locked in the room with Meredith. Executions are televised and the whole state gets a chance to see the Chancellor freak out, but at the last minute Wordsworth (Meredith) lets him out. The bomb goes off killing Wordsworth, but the Chancellor is later labeled obsolete due to his freak out on camera.

It’s A Good Life: This story was remade for the Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and I much prefer that version to this one. This one is more a-day-in-the-life-of as we’re introduced to Anthony Fremont (Bill Mumy), a six year old who has almost God-like powers. Anything he thinks can be made into reality, he can also read minds, and Anthony is a vile child. When we meet him he’s made the rest of the world disappear, only keeping his little town intact, and anyone he doesn’t like suffers his wrath, even animals. As I said this is just a slice of life episode as we see how all the adults have to think good thoughts and keep the kid appeased.

The Midnight Sun: I’ve always liked this episode. Something’s happened to the Earth that has altered its trajectory taking on a direct trip straight into the sun. Norma (Lois Nettleton) and her landlady, Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde) are the centerpieces as everyone else has moved out of the building in search of cooler surroundings. The city is vacant, the temperature keeps rising and Norma can’t stop making the sun the focus of her paintings. There is no longer any night only sun. The twist here is as Norma dies she wakes up having been in the throes of a fever. In reality the Earth is heading away from the sun turning the world into a frozen landscape of eternal night.

To Serve Man: Another good one. Aliens called, Kanamites, come to Earth offering us humans a better way to live on the planet. One of them leaves a book behind and Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) and his team are tasked with trying to decipher it. The title was a cinch—To Serve Man—but the rest of the book is harder and by the time one of Chamber’s team member, Patty (Susan Cummings), cracks some of it, humans are already traveling to their world and back. As Chambers is boarding one of the saucers, eager to have a look at their planet, Pat comes running after him, telling him it’s a cookbook, but it’s too late. He’s forced onto the saucer and whisked away. 

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Another episode that was remade for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). The remake packs more of a tense punch, but I like this episode nevertheless. William Shatner, in his second outing, plays Bob Wilson, a man who at one time had a nervous breakdown on an airplane and here he is again, 6 months later, thinking he’s all right and ready to fly again. He is actually, but this time there’s an actual “tangible, outside force” that will test his sanity this time out. It takes the form or a gremlin that is determined to screw with part of the engine and only Bob is allowed to see it. You see his seat’s window looks out on the wing, but the gremlin ducks away every time Bob alerts someone to its presence. Taking matters into his own hands, hoping to save them all from the creature’s tampering, Bob blows the window open with a gunshot and shoots the critter.

Living Doll: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Telly Savalas (Kojak, Horror Express) this young before. I was never partial to this episode, but for some reason I remember my brother liking it a lot when we first saw it. Savalas plays the “evil stepfather,” and one day he starts in on his daughter and wife for buying her yet another doll. The doll has a mind of it’s own though, and once it sees how emotionally abusive he is it sets its sights on him with murder in mind. Before that happens though it’s content to play mind games with Savalas, taunting him verbally, but never letting daughter and wife know anything of its sentient nature. It’s also “unkillable.” Savalas takes it out to the garage and tries to saw it in half, but the plastic doesn’t even scratch. Eventually, he trips one night on it and falls down the stairs to his death. Then and only then does it show the wife it’s true nature with a verbal warning that it better be nice to her.

The Masks: And in the final episode of this collection (yet another memorable one) we meet Jason Foster (Robert Keith) who’s reached the end of his life and confined to bed with hours away from death. He’s a millionaire and needs to stay alive just a little bit longer so he can get revenge upon the grown daughter he gave birth to and the morally challenged husband she married as well as the equally despicable children she birthed. Their care for Foster only extends to his money and property and he knows that. The method of his revenge? Making them all where these special masks that are meant to mold their faces into what the horrid masks look like. Designed to emulate their inner cruelty physically for all to see. Sure they get his money, but now they have to live with their new faces.

All episodes are in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with audio set at a Dolby digital mono. There are no extras. If you’re like me and happen to have only a special set of episodes you like from this series and they happen to be on this very set, well, then, your decision is already made, isn’t it?

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