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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Submitted For Your Perusal: The Best, Worst & Favorite Twilight Zone Episodes Part 1


INTRO AND THE BEST & SELECTED FAVORITES OF SEASON 1


Ever since I was old enough to remember watching television, I have been a huge fan of Rod Serling's groundbreakingly phenomenal and enduring television series which ran for 5 seasons from 1959 to 1964. One of the most thought provoking, terrifying and whimsical programs, Serling's series specialized in fear, fantasy and the fantastic. THE TWILIGHT ZONE was most often science fiction fashioned tales, or horror stories that were expertly scribed morality fables, numerous "Reap What You Sow" stories and tales about going back to a better time, living the good life, or comical ventures that were a unique departure from the more prominent and popular spook shows that personified the ZONE. This awe inspiring program had various styles in which to tell its amazing stories. Below are lists of some of them with corresponding episodes that reflect that particular methodology. Some elements are interchangeable from one form to the next, but most are exclusive to their category.


THE DUMMY season 3

One of the most, if not the most popular were the tales that threw the audience a curve ball by the end--a visual, or revelatory shock that leaves the viewer with both their eyes and mouth wide open in surprise. For the most part, these were horror stories, or science fiction fables that took a last minute sharp turn into macabre territory. Examples of this are--

TO SERVE MAN
THIRD FROM THE SUN

I SHOT AN ARROW INTO THE AIR

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

PERSON, OR PERSONS UNKNOWN

THE HITCH-HIKER

THE DUMMY

THE INVADERS

THE MIDNIGHT SUN

THE FEAR

STOPOVER IN A QUIET TOWN



Above: WHAT YOU NEED season 1; Insert: A NICE PLACE TO VISIT season 1

THE TWILIGHT ZONE was also well known for its many tales of 'Poetic Justice' and 'Careful What You Wish For' scenarios. This is possibly the most popular and well remembered style of the TZ format. Often times we are presented with some slimy character who gets his, or her just desserts by episodes end and other times, it's a life lesson that ultimately sees the character discovering the err of their ways and learning something about themselves in the process. But that, too, offers good and bad consequences--

THE MAN IN THE BOTTLE
THE MASKS

ESCAPE CLAUSE

THE FOUR OF US ARE DYING

UNCLE SIMON

WHAT YOU NEED

A NICE PLACE TO VISIT

THE CHASER

THE PRIME MOVER

A MOST UNUSUAL CAMERA

THE RIP VAN WINKLE CAPER

THE SILENCE

WHAT'S IN THE BOX

A PIANO IN THE HOUSE



A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY season 1

Others touch an audience on a much more personable level, one that seemed to intrigue series creator, Rod Serling and an area that speaks to the young at heart and those with a fondness for nostalgia. The central theme of these shows involved the fanciful notion of going back, returning to a better time and place, facing the past, escaping a troubled time, or discovering the humanity within ones self. These episodes predominantly featured no scares, shocks, or spooky elements, save for a few exceptions--

WALKING DISTANCE
KICK THE CAN

YOUNG MAN'S FANCY

NIGHT OF THE MEEK
A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD

MINIATURE

THE BEWITCHIN' POOL

A PASSAGE FOR TRUMPET

OF LATE I THINK OF CLIFFORDVILLE


THE ODYSSEY OF FLIGHT 33 season 2

Some others offered a curious bridge between the past and the present and where the twain shall meet. Sometimes the past, present and future collide serving up some striking, engrossing and sometimes creepy results.

A HUNDRED YARDS OVER THE RIM
THE 16 MILLIMETER SHRINE
STATIC

BACK THERE

THE LAST FLIGHT

JUDGMENT NIGHT

EXECUTION

NO TIME LIKE THE PAST

THE 7TH IS MADE UP OF PHANTOMS

THE ODYSSEY OF FLIGHT 33



Above: EYE OF THE BEHOLDER season 2; Insert: NUMBER 12 LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU season 5

A handful of stories dealt with vanity in its most ugly form. Some of these are terribly prophetic with a resonance far more profound today than yesterday in regards to how people perceive themselves about their "Beauty" and the lengths they go to attain it. Others explored the true nature of beauty, living forever, or the notion of never truly growing old. These shows alternated between horror, "Careful What You Wish For" stories and lighter fare that acted as a tool for personal and social values--

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
THE TRADE-INS

NUMBER 12 LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU

QUEEN OF THE NILE

A SHORT DRINK FROM A CERTAIN FOUNTAIN



NICK OF TIME season 2

Some shows spoke on America's growing curiosity and continued dependence on machines and how they help us as well as their potential to hinder and possibly destroy us. Yet again, Serling's series serves strangely prophetic, frightfully so in some instances, as per the subject matter presented here--

I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
NICK OF TIME

THE LATENESS OF THE HOUR

UNCLE SIMON

THE LONELY

THE BRAIN CENTER AT WHIPPLE'S

FROM AGNES WITH LOVE

A THING ABOUT MACHINES



THE INVADERS season 2

One of the most striking aspects of THE TWILIGHT ZONE was its ability to tell a cohesive story with merely one, or two characters and sometimes with very limited dialog (sometimes no dialog at all) and often in, or on a single location. All of these feature a surprise finale, or a revelation that promises a better possible outcome for those involved. Some, of course, have no happy ending.

WHERE IS EVERYBODY?
THE INVADERS

KING NINE WILL NOT RETURN

TWO

LAST NIGHT OF A JOCKEY

THE ENCOUNTER

PROBE 7, OVER & OUT

NERVOUS MAN IN A FOUR DOLLAR ROOM



THE AFTER HOURS season 1

Surrealism, the inexplicable and downright bizarre situations occupy the TWILIGHT ZONE universe as well as episodes that, by the final scene, prove that things are not always as they seem--

FIVE CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN EXIT
THE OBSOLETE MAN

SHADOW PLAY

TWENTY TWO

LITTLE GIRL LOST

THE HITCH-HIKER

THE AFTER HOURS

ONE MORE PALLBEARER



TO SERVE MAN season 3

Considering the time in which it was made, it's no surprise that a fair number of ZONE's revolved around aliens of one kind, or another, or space travel in general. For many of these programs, footage from FORBIDDEN PLANET and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (both 1956) are sparingly used. Some of these are Cold War paranoia scenarios, others are more fanciful fare and others are morality tales with most having the ever popular shock twist at the end.

THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET
TO SERVE MAN

THE LITTLE PEOPLE

DEATH SHIP

THE FUGITIVE

BLACK LEATHER JACKETS

HOCUS POCUS & FRISBY

PEOPLE ARE ALIKE ALL OVER

WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP?



THE LAST RITES OF JEFF MYRTLEBANK season 3

Whereas so many TZ episodes take place in modern cities, surrounded by the hustle and bustle and bright lights engulfing everything around them, there are a nice sampling of shows that take place in an old country setting far from the concrete cathedrals of modernity and sharply dressed individuals shuttling from one place to another. These ZONE's showed a simpler place in time and most always had witchcraft, religion, or even fantasy elements at the heart of the tale--

THE HUNT
JESS-BELLE

STILL VALLEY

MR. DENTON ON DOOMSDAY

DUST

THE LAST RITES OF JEFF MYRTLEBANK



I AM THE NIGHT-COLOR ME BLACK season 5

One subject that obviously fascinated Rod Serling was racism and his science fiction fantasy series explored this dark and troubling subject matter in a variety of ways transposed to various time frames and with almost always provocative results that leave the viewer with something to ponder about their own existence, their inner most feelings and prejudices. Some of these episodes are some of the strongest of the entire series.

THE SHELTER
I AM THE NIGHT-COLOR ME BLACK

THE PASSERSBY

STILL VALLEY

DEATH'S HEAD REVISITED

A QUALITY OF MERCY

THE ENCOUNTER

FOUR O'CLOCK

THE OLD MAN IN THE CAVE



CAVENDER IS COMING season 3

TZ was a show that explored all avenue of expression, both emotional and physical and did so in the form of horror, fantasy and science fiction. The ZONE occasionally adopted a comical slant whose results were not always successful, but still displayed the diversity with which Serling's series became famous for. TZ's comedy endeavors took its usual fantasy and spooky trappings and built silly situations around them with relatively few of these being popular with fans.

MR. BEVIS
CAVENDER IS COMING

ONCE UPON A TIME

MR. GARRITY & THE GRAVES

SHOWDOWN WITH RANCE MCGREW

MR. DINGLE, THE STRONG

THE MIGHTY CASEY



Above: NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET; Insert: THE MASKS both season 5

Paranoia and straight up horror were also popular topics among some of the best and most influential TZ programmers. Some of these are based on old ghost stories, the type you'd tell around the campfire. Others are legends told over the years, or have their basis in ancient curses from Cajun justice, or revenge from the other side of the world. Others are pure horror, or terror born from unexplainable situations leading to hysteria. A few of these no doubt end up on many peoples 'Favorites' list--

THE GRAVE
NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET

AND THEN THE SKY WAS OPENED

IT'S A GOOD LIFE

NIGHT CALL

PERCHANCE TO DREAM

THE HOWLING MAN

THE JUNGLE

LIVING DOLL

MIRROR IMAGE



Above: EXECUTION; Insert: PEOPLE ARE ALIKE ALL OVER both season 1

Over the course of its five season run, Serling's series had many, many memorable episodes. All five seasons had their share of highs and lows, more the former than the latter, thankfully. Season four is, by the general consensus, to be the black sheep of the ZONE since that season daringly abandoned the 30 minute format stretching the tales to an hour in length. Aside from that, the fourth round of shows have a few good programs, but it was obvious TZ just didn't work as an hour long showcase. Season One started strong enough and improved, but faltered a bit for its series finale. The following are my own opinion of the BEST season one shows, not necessarily my favorites. Below that is a small list of shows from the first season that are also well worth watching in my opinion.


Submitted for your perusal are a gaggle of ghosts, giggles and good times. Your journey will take you to places where things are never quite as what they seem-- The real is unreal, truth a deception, dreams are in fact nightmares and there's often much to fear in the dark. Here, the light at the end of the tunnel leads to the Twilight Zone.

SEASON 1


Episode 2: ONE FOR THE ANGELS


Lou Bookman is a kindly old pitchman whose time has come when death comes calling. But Lou doesn't wanna go proclaiming he'd like to make that "one big pitch, One For the Angels". Using chicanery, the wily Lou manages to pull one over on death. However, once death calls, someone must go back with him and the reaper sets his sights on a little girl named Maggie, a friend of the aging salesman. Not about to let the child die, Lou sets out on outsmarting death once more with his pitch for the ages. Murray Hamilton plays death and fans will recognize him as the mayor from JAWS (1975). This endearingly tender-hearted episode was one of a handful of (less popular) TZ shows that weren't morality tales, or relied on shock endings. Ed Wynn is a lovable oaf as the delightfully deceptive Lou Bookman.


Episode 5: WALKING DISTANCE


One of the best, most renowned TZ episodes brilliantly written by series creator Rod Serling. Martin Sloan, late 30s, stops at a service station and notices the town of Homewood. Remembering this place as his childhood home, he decides to take a brief visit there to take a walk down memory lane. Once he's there, he quickly realizes that he has somehow went back in time some 25 years earlier and meets himself as an 11 year old boy. Sloan wants to relive his younger days but soon comes to the realization that he can't go back. Sloan returns to the gas station, now in the right era, taking his memories with him. It's not a favorite, but there's no denying the sheer wonder of this magical episode from Robert Stevens who directs with a Spielbergian verve.


Episode 8: TIME ENOUGH AT LAST


Henpecked Henry Bemis loves to read. He's an obsessive reader and sadly, he gets bullied and chastised for his love of the written word. One day he takes a paper and sets down inside the bank vault on his lunch break when suddenly, the ground shakes violently and the sound of a great explosion is heard outside. Exiting the vault, Henry discovers that civilization has been wiped out and now he will have all the time in the world to read to his heart's content and as much as his thick rimmed glasses will allow. Burgess Meredith did a few more ZONE's, but this is likely his most well known and best loved. It also sports one of the most mean-spirited finales of the entire series run and a true shock ending.


Episode 9: PERCHANCE TO DREAM


Edward Hall enters a psychiatrist office in a nervous and noticeably fatigued fashion. He explains to the doctor that he has a heart condition and hasn't slept in close to 90 hours. He details a terrifying nightmare of a strange woman, a sexy and dangerous carnival dancer named Mya, haunting his dreams trying to kill him. Richard Conte is excellent as the frightened Edward and Suzanne Lloyd is sultry and menacing as the malevolent Mya. Charles Beaumont's tales were generally on the spooky side and this torrid tale personifies the fear factor particularly in its nightmarish carnival trappings. Mya is the late 50s female Freddy Krueger. A highly underrated episode.


Episode 14: THIRD FROM THE SUN


Two suburban families who work for the government decide to steal a top secret aircraft to escape an impending war that threatens to destroy the planet. This simple premise is one of the signature TZ shows that possesses one of the ultimate shock endings of the series. It was later copied in Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965). The episode alludes to the notion that something is not quite right with its abstract, peculiar camera angles and use of shadow. Richard L. Bare helmed a variety of TZ styles in his seven directed shows. When fans discuss Serling's show, this episode generally comes up in the conversation. Written by Richard Matheson.


Episode 15: I SHOT AN ARROW INTO THE AIR


A group of astronauts who have crash landed on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabitable asteroid attempt to survive the desert heat and each other once their water and other supplies begin to run dry. Madelon Champion wrote the story adapted by Rod Serling for television. This is another incredibly simple premise that culminates with a big finish. The shocking denouement was again recycled by Serling for 1968s PLANET OF THE APES. The title more or less gives the ending away if you think about it.


Episode 22: THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET


A normal suburban neighborhood is turned horribly upside down after bizarre happenings cause individuals to begin suspecting their neighbors of being not of this world. Fingers are pointed and tempers flair leading to hysteria and murder. Another fan favorite from the pen of Rod Serling; this one playing on the paranoia of the day fitting in snugly with any number of 50s science fiction. Simply one of the best, although it likely holds the record for the most times the words "or something" is heard in a TV program.


Episode 32: A PASSAGE FOR TRUMPET


Joey Crown is a down on his luck, unemployed and suicidal trumpet player who's had enough. He sells his prized instrument and decides to end it all by stepping in front of a truck. He awakens from his accident and finds that no one can see, or hear him save for Gabe, a mysterious man who is also a trumpet player. Joey and Gabe gab about life and the importance of living it to the fullest. Taking his angelic friends advice, Joey is given a second chance and picks up where he left off filled with a new-found enthusiasm. Another big winner from Serling is this humanistic ZONE with a bravura performance by Jack Klugman, who would appear in a few TZ shows.

Other episodes from Season One worthy of note:

THE LONELY
AND WHEN THE SKY WAS OPENED
THE HITCH-HIKER
THE PURPLE TESTAMENT
MIRROR IMAGE
PEOPLE ARE ALIKE ALL OVER
EXECUTION

You've just been on a journey to a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. This excursion into the unknown continues at the signpost up ahead...


7 comments:

KaBluie said...

My 12 Favorite Twilight Zone Episodes
Walking Distance
Time Enough At Last
The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
A Stop At Willoughby
The Eye Of The Beholder
Nick Of Time
The Invaders
Two
The Midnight Sun
To Serve Man
Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
Living Doll

My 6 Least Favorite Twilight Zone Episodes
Static
The Brain Center At Whipple's
A Kind Of Stopwatch
One More Pallbearer
The Silence
The Mirror

The Film Connoisseur said...

I've never had a chance to explore this show, but I like the idea behind it. The idea of criticizing and commenting on society through sci-fi and fantasy stories. I wish they had shows like these today, where each show was a different story. I have seen films that were influenced by the show though, and of course, I saw the Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, which I loved.

I did get a chance to check out Tales from the Darkside when I was a kid though, which was similar in nature.

Im would love to get this show on a collected DVD pack, though Im sure it costs a fortune!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Next to the original 'classic' series of Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone is probably my favourite television series. I've been tempted by the recent Blu Ray releases of Seasons 1 and 2. I can't begin to catalogue the number of episodes I consider favourites. In fact everything Serling produced I have liked (even if repetition did become an issue), have you ever seen one of his earliest television shows PATTERNS? - excellent article Brian.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Kabluie. Nice lists there. My list of favorites would be a long one. I couldn't limit it to just 12, unfortunately. I'm saving my faves for the end.

@ Fran: You've never seen TZ? You are in for a MAJOR surprise, my friend! Check out IMDB. You can watch just about all of them there for free. This show is most definitely right up your alley. I am almost positive you will have a field day picking the subtext apart. DARKSIDE doesn't even drink from the same fountain as the ZONE, in my view. I am sure you are gonna love TZ!

@ Shaun: I have the Definitive Box set of all five seasons but I'm tempted as well to pick up those Blu's. I read that some season 1 Blu sets had problems with a disc or two not playing. I got my box set at deep discount during one of their 25% off sales they have a couple times a year. I paid just a little over a hundred for mine. Now I think it can be had at some places for around $130 which is still a damn good deal.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

JP "Strange and Shocking Turn Of Events" Wendel said...

The Invaders isn't just the single best episode of the show, but it's pretty much the best THING ever.

Andrew Green said...

Wow, amazing post....
Yes, The Twilight Zone was one of the best shows of all time.

My favorite episode was probably Time Enough At Last. It reminds me of my own life.

venoms5 said...

@ JP: THE INVADERS is an amazing episode, JP, although it would be difficult for me to nail down a single favorite episode. I love too many of them.

@ Andrew: TIME is one of the best and I love that ending. I think it's about the only truly cruel ending for such a likable character.

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