I’m a bit pressed for time today, so I figured I’d keep the Twilight Zone Review Marathon going with mini-reviews of 4 of my 5 favorite episodes, with a review of my favorite episode coming tomorrow.
5. To Serve Man
“Respectfully submitted for your approval – a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment we’re going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone”
An alien race, The Kanamits, arrive on Earth and begin helping mankind. They even bring with them a book, entitled “To Serve Man” which, while encoded, is believed to be a manifesto explaining their benevolence. The people of Earth, impressed by how kind and generous the Kanamits are, being boarding space crafts heading back to the Kanamits’ home planet. To Serve Man is finally decoded, revealing it to be a cook book full of recipes for eating humans, but it’s too late.
To Serve Man is an excellent episode, with a great twist that must have been mind-blowing at the time of its original airing. It’s one of the series most widely remembered episodes and it was parodied to perfection by The Simpsons in first Treehouse of Horror .
4. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
“Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43pm on Maple Street. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street, in the last calm and reflective moment before the monsters came”
As a meteor passes over a small town, the power goes out. Initially, the residents of Maple Street try to figure out what is going on, but soon begin to fear that they’re being invaded by aliens. As electricity flickers on here and there, and machines being to start on their own, neighbor turns on neighbor and everyone becomes a suspect. After one of the residents is shot, and the electricity beings turning on and off wildly, total chaos breaks out on Maple Street. The entire event is observed by a pair of aliens, manipulating the power supply, and watching as it causes the residents of Maple Street to turn on each other.
The Twilight Zone is often at it’s best when an episode is being used as an allegory for something else. Here, we have an excellent example, with The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street being used as a criticism of McCarthyism and the paranoia the United States found itself in during the height of the Cold War and the Red Scare.
3. The Invaders
“This is one of the out-of-the-way places, the unvisited places, bleak, wasted, dying. This is a farmhouse, handmade, crude, a house without electricity or gas, a house untouched by progress. This is the woman who lives in the house, a woman who’s been alone for many years, a strong, simple woman whose only problem up until this moment has been that of acquiring enough food to eat, a woman about to face terror which is even now coming at her from… the Twilight Zone”
An elderly woman in an isolated cabin discovers that her home is being invaded by tiny spacemen. The men terrorize the woman and she desperately fights back. She’s finally able to destroy the spacemen, and their flying saucer, but not before one manages to send a message back to his command center, warning them not to send any more ships. His command center? The U.S. Air Force.
The Invaders is an incredibly simple episode, and probably features my favorite twist ending of the series. The entire episode has no dialogue until the final message is sent back to the Air Force. The Invaders is a testament to what can be done with one good actor and the fear of the unknown.
2. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
“Portrait of a frightened man: Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father, and salesman on sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home – the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson’s flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he’s traveling all the way to his appointed destination which, contrary to Mr. Wilson’s plans, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone”
A man recovering from a nervous breakdown takes his first flight since his release from a hospital. Midway through the flight, the man sees something on the wing of the plane, a gremlin, which seems to be attempting to destroy the engine. Unfortunately, the man is the only one able to see the creature, and no one believes him. Several attempts to calm the man down are made, but it’s to no avail. Determined to save the plane, the man steals a gun from an air marshal and blasts the creature. The plane is forced to make an emergency landing and the man is hauled off in a strait jacket, while a maintenance crew tries to figure out what caused so much damage to the plane’s wing.
If this episode was in full on YouTube, it’d likely be the one I’d review tomorrow; unfortunately it’s not, so it’s landed in second place. Many elements combine to make this one of the best episodes of the series, it’s a story written by the great Richard Matheson, directed by acclaimed director Richard Donner and acted to perfection by William Shatner. It says a lot that this episode still maintains its excellent suspense, especially when the gremlin has aged terrible and now looks like the world’s ugliest teddy bear.
So, if any of these episodes pop up during Syfy’s Twilight Zone marathon tomorrow, be sure to give them a watch, you won’t be disappointed.