Sunday, October 5, 2014

Third Annual October Scares, Week One: Journeys Into The Twilight Zone

The 3rd annual Eclectic Avenue October Scares-fest begins with a look at some creepy episodes of the television classic The Twilight Zone (1959-64). Much has been written about creator Rod Serling’s groundbreaking anthology series, and it’s unquestionably one of the greatest shows ever to grace the small screen. For our first entry in this year’s festival, here’s a selection of episodes (one from each season of the show) you can program for a night of old school thrills:

The Hitch-Hiker – From the series’ first season, the story concerns Nan Adams, who’s driving cross-country from New York City to Los Angeles. She has a minor accident during the trip, and stops for repairs. As she gets underway again, a man keeps appearing and attempts to hitch a ride with her, repeatedly saying, “I believe you’re going my way?” The tension mounts and Nan becomes more terrified of the strange hitchhiker, who seems to be everywhere she goes. It all leads to one of those twist endings that the series is well remembered for. Based on a radio play & story by Lucille Fletcher, the episode was scripted by Serling, and stars Inger Stevens and Leonard Strong. Eerie & atmospheric, it’s one of the series best early episodes. Fans of the cult classic film, Carnival of Souls (1962) may also get a kick out of this one.

Twenty-Two – From season 2: Liz Powell, a dancer who’s been hospitalized for exhaustion, has a recurring dream where she follows a nurse down to the morgue, who leads her in and says “Room for one more, honey…” Liz thinks it’s really happening, but no one believes her, including her doctor, played by the one & only Jonathan Harris, before he became Lost in Space’s Dr. Smith. It all leads to a startling conclusion that makes this episode feel like it could have aired on another classic series of the period, One Step Beyond. Written by Serling & directed by Jack Smight, this is one of six second season entries that were shot on videotape rather than film in order to save costs, which accounts for its vintage "taped for TV" look. 

The Grave – A season 3 ghost story: Lee Marvin guest stars as gun for hire Conny Miller, who shows up in a in a small town to collect his money for killing outlaw Pinto Sykes. But he’s a bit late, as Sykes is already dead; he was killed by the townspeople. On his deathbed, Sykes swears to reach up & grab the cowardly Miller from his grave if he ever came near it. The townsfolk promise to give Miller his money if he can last a night in the cemetery near Sykes’ grave, which leads to a terrifying climax. This otherworldly Western was written & directed by Montgomery Pittman, and also features Lee Van Cleef & Strother Martin.

The New Exhibit – A chilling tale from year 4: Martin Senescu, an employee at a wax museum, is upset to learn the exhibits will be discarded, and the museum closed. He decides to take home several figures of notorious killers such as Jack The Ripper and grave robbers Burke & Hare. His wife isn’t very happy to learn about this, and wants the figures out of her house. When she decides to take matters into her own hands, the terror begins. One of the best episodes of the series’ abbreviated hour long season, it stars Martin Balsam, and was written by Jerry Sohl and directed by John Brahm, who was also behind the camera for another Jack The Ripper related tale, the 1944 film version of The Lodger.

 Night Call – From the series’ fifth & final season, this one’s about Elva Keene, an elderly woman who keeps getting odd phone calls, first with only static on the line, then with a distant voice she can barely hear. When others pick up the phone, no one is there. Finally, the phone company traces the line, which has fallen during a storm and is on the ground in the cemetery….so who’s calling? Written by Richard Matheson, this eerie episode is based on his short story “Long Distance Call” and has a neat twist at the end. It’s directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also helmed several classic horror films for producer Val Lewton, including the original Cat People (1942).

That's just a small helping of spooky episodes from the show. I tried to pick a couple that may not be as well-known to casual fans, but of course, you can't go wrong with other classics like Nightmare At 20, 000 Feet, Living Doll, Eye of The Beholder and countless other installments. Episodes from seasons 1,2,3 and 5 are available on Netflix, and other services. The hour-long episodes from season 4 are unavailable on Netflix but can be found on Hulu. The entire series is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and I highly recommend the Blu-ray editions, which have an amazing amount of extras, including commentaries, rare "next week" previews featuring Serling, and other cool stuff. However you view the series, enjoy your visits to The Twilight Zone. 

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