So in a burst of inspiration I decided to acquire the entire Twilight Zone series, and now have over 20 gigs of it sitting on my hard drive. What an evocative collection of titles! The Living Doll, Nothing in the Dark, The Midnight Sun. Somehow I missed watching these while growing up, so I’ve decided to rectify this glaring omission (hard to claim to be an avid fan of speculative fiction and not have these under my belt) by watching each episode and writing a mini-review. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, so forgive the reviews if they’re a little vague.

Watched three of them tonight, and they were each of them excellent.

Episode 16 The Hitchhiker

A young lady is driving cross country when a mysterious and increasingly ominous hitchhiker begins to haunt her path, ever appearing before her no matter how fast she drives.

A few things leaped out at me from the get-go. First was the early 1960’s fashion, the awesome car, the smooth, nacreous gray hues of the black and white shot. The heavy use of narrative voice, as if the producers had yet to make the transition from radio programs to TV shows. There were extended scenes where the camera was focused on the lady’s face, and while the voice over narrated her thoughts the actress simulated her mental conversation through facial twitches, frowns and subtle turnings of her head.

For all that it was a great show–creepy, ominous, and when the final reveal came it was a satisfying one. Perhaps some of this episode’s thunder was stolen by my having had my class of 8th graders perform the radio play version a couple of years back, so that actual plot was already familiar.

Episode 86 – Kick the Can

A resident at a retirement home refuses to succumb to the ‘realities’ of old age, and instead seeks the fountain of youth in an unexpected place – the games children play.

Skipping ahead a couple of years, we picked this show because Grace remembered it fondly. And it was the exact opposite of the Hitchhiker: not ominous, not creepy, not disturbing at all. Instead it had a charming, endearing quality to it as the old man sought to enliven his comrades and reignite the spark of youth in their ancient hearts. Amusing, cute, and with a beautiful message, it was if anything perhaps undone by the fact that it seemed so allegorical for how we should all stave off encroaching old age.

Still, the image of Benny hunched and croaking and desperately stepping across the dark street, can in hand, asking his friend to remember him and take him along, face contorted by desire and despair, is a haunting one and not easily forgotten.

Episode 123 – Nightmare at 20,000 feet

Following a nervous breakdown, a gentlemen is declared cured by his doctor and sent home along with his wife in the very method of travel that instigated his collapse. But once the plane reaches a certain height, he begins to experience visions that leave us doubting – is he going crazy again, or the only sane one on the plane?

I will always, always be fond of this episode for the piercing scream it elicited from my girlfriend. The fact that it stars a young William Shatner only further cements its awesomeness, and the atmosphere of dread that is creates is brilliant. Add in the fact that it all takes place in one airplane seat, and you’ve got a disturbing little gem of an episode right here.

Of the three I saw tonight, I’d say this last was my favorite; it’s not seeking to convey a message, nor working on any metaphorical level. Instead, it’s simply a straight trip through the Twilight Zone, where the weird gets in your face, and leaves you and everybody else doubting your sanity