Sunday, May 15, 2011

Twilight Zone Snapshots

Last night left me suffering with that awful disease called indecision. You know the dull, aching sensation that forms somewhere in the right part of your brain that prevents you from making any kind of worthy decision about SOMETHING. I'd been battling it all day; which colored wrapping paper to buy, what delicious cupcake to get and now, which movie to watch. After going back and forth between about 5 different titles, I suddenly decided to be spontaneous (I had watched Harold and Maude earlier that day and was inspired) and so I picked none of them and settled on watching a few episodes of The Twilight Zone instead.

People are often aghast when I tell them that I've seen very few episodes of what many dub as the best horror-themed show that ever was. I can't help it if the opening music freaked me out too much as a child to really adventure into its awesomeness okay? Never mind anyways because tonight I'm fixing it and finally watching some episodes while I guzzle red wine.

Up first I've picked the aptly named episode The Dummy after I remembered reading about it on Miss Sardonicus' wonderful list. Let it be known that I really fucking hate dummies. Who invented these vile creatures? Who thought, "Yes! A scary, wooden, talking puppet is EXACTLY something that should be created for fun!" ?? Whoever they are, I would like to punch them in their throat. Let me tell you a story about puppets. Once when I was little I got a puppet as a Christmas present. It was a marionette and had gross puppet hands and it freaked me out. Like it really freaked me out. I was so horrified that when I got home, I threw it in my closet and never laid eyes on it ever again. The end.

This episode reaffirms my belief that dummies descend from Satan and should never be allowed anywhere in any form. This particular dummy named Willie is about 55 times creepier than all other dummies.

I blame his bushy eyebrows. Ventriloquist Jerry has apparently developed a type of schizophrenia according to his psychologist and agent because he believes that Willie is more than just a dummy--he's alive. Jerry imagines Willie moving on his on, and talking on his own. Is he though? Or is Jerry really crazy?

The best thing about this episode is how subtle everything is. The creepier moments I find are in the beginning when Willie changes positions quietly and slowly. One minute he's facing the back of the dressing room and the next he's turned and staring straight at Jerry! It's a strange thing that you both expect and are surprised about. At any rate, this whole idea of whether or not Jerry is crazy or not, is nicely juggled up until the very end. Good old Twilight Zone and its willingness to never leave you disappointed. Let's just say, if I was scarred by Willie's face in the beginning of this, then nothing and I mean NOTHING beats the "dummy" at the end.

From one creepy doll situation to another, why do I torture myself like this? It's the wine, it must be the wine! Living Doll was recommended to me a few times after announcing that I'd be watching Twilight Zone episodes. Apparently it was chilling and eerie and all of that great stuff that someone who likes chilling and eerie stuff should like. Count me in I thought, evil talking dolls? Yes and yes!

Living Doll follows a doll named Talky Tina after she is brought home for small child Christina's enjoyment. She appears normal at first only saying over and over again, "My name's Talky Tina and I love you" but once Stepfather Erich gets a hold of her, she starts saying different things. Things like, "My name's Talky Tina and I think I hate you"--you know mean stuff like that. Later she even calls him on the phone from inside a trash can and says, "My name's Talky Tina and I'm going to kill you". Chilling indeed.

I love the fact that a large portion of well known horror movies can be traced back to The Twilight Zone. Obviously Child's Play took a note or two from Living Doll and hey why not? Talking dolls that are conceiving of the notion of murder inside their tiny plastic heads is something that one should grapple with as much as possible. Living Doll is simultaneously funny and scary--just the kind of horror I like the most. Of course...I'd be lying if I said I laughed more than I winced...

The third episode I've chosen is Mirror Image and was recommended to me by my good friend The Mike of From Midnight With Love and stars Vera Miles. I can't tell a lie in this instance...any former Psycho stars are very capable of placing a Twilight Zone episode on my must see list. Here is a tale of doppelgangers and alternate universes, one of my favorite things because the doppelganger is always mean and nasty. I wonder if there will ever be a pleasant doppelganger? Someone who just smiles and welcomes you for tea and biscuits? Although I suppose that kind of puts a cramp in the plans for the battle over who gets to survive in this world and who doesn't.

Anywho, Vera Miles plays Millicent, a young woman waiting at the bus station late at night. Soon she starts noticing some peculiar things, like how the ticket man insists she's been up to talk to him at least 5 times when she hadn't, or how an identical suitcase to hers was checked when she hadn't checked it. Neat little creeps like that. Then in a moment of shock, Millicent goes to the bathroom and in the reflection behind her sees her own self sitting on the bench!

Luckily for Millicent, she stays on top of weird metaphysical theories and remembers how she once heard about alternate universes and how we each have a twin in the "other universe". Sometimes our two selves converge and one of them must overpower the other to stay alive or something to that degree.

The episode is one of those fantastic one set places that fills with you an odd sense of suffocation. It also plays on the idea that Millicent has simply gone crazy, but as with most Twilight Zone episodes we know that is not the case. Perhaps if she was anywhere else but the Twilight Zone then maybe, but not here. I think that is what I love most about The Twilight Zone. There's none of this wishy washy--"Oh, you think this is a fantastic ghost story? Well too bad because the main character just has schizophrenia, ZING!" Nope. Here in the Twilight Zone the weird will always be weird and it's never explained away into a world of logic. I love that. I really, really do.

Number 12 Looks Just Like You was recommended by Christine Makepeace of Paracinema and I was intrigued instantly upon reading the brief synopsis. This episode seems to vary slightly from others in that it isn't twisty and full of surprises and scary things waiting to get you rather, we examine an issue much more pressing and thought provoking. This episode takes place in the future, where people wear leotards and stretch pants and no furniture seems to exist. I love how people's ideas of the future always contained leotards--let's pray that they were right. Anywho, in the future when all humans turn 18 they are transformed into a beautiful person. You get to pick from a few different faces that are all equally beautiful and embody that little thing called perfection.

Our hero is Marilyn who reads books and realizes what a travesty the idea of transformation is. How can she be herself when she is made to look like somebody else?

Why must she be conformed, why why why? Everything that Marilyn asks is spot on and chills your blood. The threat of your individuality being taken away is something I'll never get used to thinking about. On the small scale this happens with things like school uniforms and Now That's What I Call Music Volume 80 and on the large scale you get plastic surgery and Stepford Wives activity.

At any rate, I really enjoyed the episode. Virtually all the characters are played by the same 3 people and it really is just sort of neat isn't it? They all look the same, act the same, the only thing that sets them apart are the little name tags they wear. The episode was meant as a commentary on the idea of beauty developing at the time and as Rod Serling points out the over abundance of cosmetics and plastic surgery. Although the idea of everyone looking the same seems crazy, our current mindset of what is considered beautiful, perfect and ageless make that idea seem not so impossible after all. And that is rather terrifying.

And finally we close with The Masks, an episode I had been yearning to see after seeing a still again at Miss Sardonicus and after it had been recommended by Andreas of Pussy Goes Grrr. I've spoken about masks before and how horrible they are for things like running around your yard or chasing teenagers through the woods but what about the kind of masks we do not wear? Such is the question of this episode which follows a dying old man and his horrible, heartless family who comes to bid him well (and to bid his will hello).

Jason Foster's one wish before he dies is that his family members wear creepy and scary masks until the stroke of midnight. If they do not, then they do not receive any inheritance. Each masks represents the "opposite" of what each individual is but we know from judging their character that the masks really represent who they truly are.

Ugliness, heartlessness, avarice--it's all there and embodied in each mask, while James' own mask merely represents death.

So what happens at the stroke of midnight? I'm sure it's not difficult to guess but this episode is a rarity in that we beg for the horrible outcome. We cannot wait to see what happens when each foul character takes off his or her mask and when they do, we practically jump for joy. This one may not be very scary but it certainly ends on a note of satisfaction. Of course, the episode does get high marks for having some of the creepiest looking masks and "masks" that I've ever seen.

So that does it for these snapshots. I think I quite like this idea for a reoccurring feature at the 'Gest. What do you think? Have any favorite Twilight Zone episodes that you'd like to recommend? Do so in the comments section and I'll be sure to check them out for next time!


Mikey Sarago said...

This is funny because I did the exact same thing last night. I spent hours trying to decide what movie to watch, and then stumbled across the Twilight Zone on Netflix and watched a couple episodes instead. You picked some good ones to watch, but my favorites are "Night Call" and "The Howling Man." Those two episodes absolutely traumatized me as a kid, especially the latter, with it's creepy old men with long creepy beards and stuff. Ugh. Still gives me the shivers :(

Andre Dumas said...

Both of those were actually recommended to me last night as well, but I pushed them to the next edition. I did watch The Howling Man though. Pretty good but hilarious ending with the dictionary definition of Satan and all : ) An awesome episode though and I will be including it next time!

Mikey Sarago said...

Yeah, I guess the ending to The Howling Man is funny to most people, but I've always been super creeped out by those cheesy old-school devils. I have no idea why, lol. Also forgot to mention the episodes called "Twenty Two" and "The New Exhibit." I haven't seen them in years, but from what I remember, they were pretty creepy.

Andre Dumas said...

Well, you're definitely right. When I was little I went to the Salem Witch museum and there's a part where this huge picture perfect devil lights up. Red, scaly, huge horns red glowing eyes. It scared the crap out of me! If I saw The Howling Man at that time I would probably react in the same way.

Now however I like to pretend that the devil is just a cool guy who didn't like doing good things ALL the time.
Hey, why not?

Enbrethiliel said...


What I love about this post is that it creeped me out--and I didn't even watch anything!

My own idea of a horrific Twilight Zone episode is Time Enough at Last . . . but that's more from the awful, gut-wrenching sympathy I feel for the main character than from a real sense of terror.

Crafty C said...

Twenty Two is def one of my favs - as well as Night Call - also The Hitchhiker. For some reason that one always creeps me out. There are also ones that I love that aren't very creepy but just really cool like Midnight Sun and What's in the Box and Passage on the Lady Anne and all the ones you mentioned. If you think the theme song is creepy - on the DVD copies I have on the screen where you choose the episode there is a barrage of audio clips from different episodes that play over and over and it's pretty damn freaky if you leave that on too long.

Andreas said...

This is an AWESOME idea for a recurring feature! I'm glad you enjoyed all the episodes... Living Doll has to be one of my all-time favorites.

Killer dolls are CREEPY and Telly Savalas is amazing. Well-written and well-executed, the Twilight Zone at its best. Some nice appreciations!

The French Waffle said...

Rod Serling is THE man. In college I would get together will one of my best friends and we would sit down on Saturday night to watch the Twilight Zone (on a few occasions, the Night Gallery [I love that episode with the Jesus painting and the Nazi...]) and eat junk food. We would always joke about how cool it would be if at late at night while we were going about our business we would suddenly hear Rod Serling's voice narrating. So one night when I was in the thrall of insomnia I decided to watch a few episodes of the Twilight Zone (yeah, like that'll cure insomnia...). So at any rate I start watching a random episode (the one with the prisoner reliving the same day over and over). I finish it and close my lap top, not bothering to actually shut it off, and climb back into bed in hopes of getting some shut eye. I was awoken a few hours later by a strange noise in my room. I flail around as a rouse myself from sleep hearing the voice of Rod Serling. At this point I consciously think that this is some dream and Rod Serling is making a cameo appearance (it happens, along with Sir Thomas More, but anyway...). I switch on the nearest light and realize that my lap top had not been turned off and that, upon opening it, come to the realization that it must have been on auto play and had skipped to the next episode on the playlist which happened to be "The Midnight Sun". Just because of that experience "Midnight Sun" will always be the most memorable for me, plus it provided me with a great story. But I do confess, I think I'm more of a fan of "The Night Gallery" (the earlier seasons).