Category Archives: twilight zone

The Twilight Zone 1.18 – Gramma / Personal Demons / Cold Reading

Last night, our son was fairly ambivalent about our selection from The Twilight Zone. Tonight, we finished our week-long trip to the eighties Zone with a segment that scared the devil out of him and a segment that ranks as his all-time favorite story from this series.

“Gramma” is a Harlan Ellison adaptation of a then-recent short story by Stephen King. It’s tight, cramped, claustrophobic and practically the whole half-hour is carried by a young actor called Barret Oliver who is freaking out about being trapped in his remote house alone with his huge, wheezing, asthmatic bed-ridden grandmother, who may be a beast or a witch or an Old One. Our son was petrified. He told us, bluntly, that he never, ever wants to see this again.

But then there was “Cold Reading,” which was so fun that he was disappointed that there isn’t a sequel. In this one, a live radio show called Dick Noble, African Explorer gets interrupted by a voodoo totem that makes every sound effect in the production come true, with rain, macaws, jungle drummers, and monkeys causing havoc in the studio. The impresario in charge of the show is pleased at last with the authenticity he’s long craved, but his ability to rewrite on the fly gets called up for duty before the actors can get to the pages with the earthquakes and plane crashes. This was silly enough for our son to love to pieces.

Between the two, there was a bit of self-indulgence on the part of writer Rockne S. O’Bannon, who contributed a story about a writer, also called Rockne S. O’Bannon, who is desperately looking for an original idea and tormented by a gang of creatures in monks’ robes that only he can see. Martin Balsam plays the fictional O’Bannon, and Clive Revill his agent.

That’s all from the eighties Zone for a good while, although we may step back in and look at some later episodes down the line. I thought these were a little uneven, much like the original series, but there were some good performances and good ideas, and “A Message from Charity” and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” were as great as I remembered them.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.15 – Monsters! / A Small Talent for War / A Matter of Minutes

The larger stories on either side of the very small gag in the middle were both entertaining, but they also really lacked any kind of twist or oomph at the end. So this wasn’t an entirely satisfying hour of The Twilight Zone, but it had a few entertaining moments for the grownups. Our son was pretty indifferent to the show, honestly. He sort of shrugged about all three.

Since the meatier stories kind of fumbled with the payoffs, the gag story might be the best of the three. It’s co-written by Alan Brennert and Carter Scholz and features John Glover as an alien ambassador disillusioned by our planet’s capacity for war. “Monsters!” features Ralph Bellamy as an old vampire who doesn’t exhibit any of the traits or weaknesses of vampires that the stories claim, much to the confusion of a kid who loves horror movies. “A Matter of Minutes,” written by Rockne S. O’Bannon from a story by Theodore Sturgeon, suggests that time works in a very weird way: each individual minute is a separate space entirely, and it’s constantly being built by crews of silent blue-clad workmen in anticipation of the humans who will populate it that space for all of sixty seconds.

Despite some fantastic visuals, and a terrific explanation of what causes people to lose their keys every so often, “A Matter of Minutes” acts like it has a threat at its core and a malevolent reason why a young couple played by Adam Arkin and Karen Austin can never go back to real time after skipping ahead four hours. But there’s no payoff, and consequently no reason why the orange-clad crew boss should be concerned about what they’ve seen. Maybe they ran out of time. *grin

“Monsters!” fumbled its ending even worse, but I decided to quibble more about the horror trivia. First, that kid is way too young to have seen EVERY Hammer films even once, let alone six times. Not because there are so many, but because that must be the most irresponsible dad on the planet to show a middle schooler Demons of the Mind and To the Devil… a Daughter. And honestly, if you’re going to get that nerdy about the release date of The Crawling Eye, you should call it The Trollenberg Terror!

(That film is awesome, by the way. I’ve always loved it.)

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.13 – Night of the Meek / But Can She Type? / The Star

So last time, we looked at a remake of an episode that we hadn’t watched, and this time, we looked at a remake of a story that we really enjoyed. The ’80s version of Rod Serling’s “Night of the Meek” was scripted by Rockne S. O’Bannon and it’s… okay. The problem with remaking something that’s really well known and really, really good is that it’s always going to suffer by comparison. Richard Mulligan is fine as Henry Corwin, if tactfully less pathetic than Art Carney’s original, but poor William Atherton seems to have been cast specifically to replay his needlessly obstinate antagonist character from Ghostbusters. On the other hand, the scale of the production is a little larger and there’s a real sense of redemption when the grouchy department store owner finds a little happiness on Christmas Eve. Our son loved it.

He was a little baffled by the second segment, “But Can She Type?”. The first problem was that title. Obviously, to older viewers, this one’s about a secretary, but he asked “But why was it called that?!” Pam Dawber plays a mistreated and unhappy secretary in this segment, but with a little magic from a gigantic office photocopier – the comic that I used to draw when I lived in Athens was mostly printed on a beast this size – she can visit another world where secretaries are held in awe and esteem. For a comedy segment, it’s not bad, and it was fun to see Jonathan Frakes play a dude so out of his league that he can’t even talk to a secretary without spilling his drink.

“The Star” is based on Arthur C. Clarke’s story and it’s a really short segment, just about ten minutes long. Writer Alan Brennert hit the plot beats as quickly as the running time would allow, and Fritz Weaver and Donald Moffat, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, are very watchable as two old friends learning a surprise about the universe that sparks a crisis of faith. Our son had no idea at all what this one was about, though, because we’re not Sunday school types, you see. It’s a heck of a good premise for a story, and we explained what the revelation implied to general disinterest and shrugs. So this was an hour that he enjoyed a little less as it went on, basically!

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.9 – Dead Woman’s Shoes / Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium

I had been planning to look at a couple of the remakes that they did in the eighties Twilight Zone, though I confess that I completely forgot to check out Charles Beaumont’s original “Dead Man’s Shoes” production before watching its 1985 rewrite. So I have no idea how “Dead Woman’s Shoes” compares to the original, but it’s extremely entertaining! Helen Mirren is completely wonderful as an evasive, shy woman who works in a Los Angeles thrift store and gets possessed by the spirit of a murdered woman when she tries on her donated shoes.

Once Mirren, possessed, gets into her old home, which she had shared with her killer, played by Jeffrey Tambor, she does herself up and looks as glamorous and beautiful as you expect Helen Mirren to look. As the cashier at the thrift store, sharing a scene with Robert Pastorelli in an amazing rockabilly haircut, she’s so introverted that she almost collapses in on herself.

After this very fun ghost story, Brian Tochi, who I remembered as Tee Gar from Space Academy even if our son didn’t, takes the lead in Alan Brennert’s “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium.” It’s a whimsical story but a bit spiky and hard to embrace because his character has sought out this strange shop in the hope of finding his lost compassion. Other shoppers have come here to find lost time or lost respect. I found it a little hard to sympathize with a character so deliberately abrasive, but it’s a swell script for what looks like a budget-saving segment.

Our son can’t decide which of the two installments he enjoyed most. He liked the ghost story a lot, but he liked the surprises and all the odd props in the second one, too. They really got the balance right with this hour, I think.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.7 – Teacher’s Aide / Paladin of the Lost Hour

“Teacher’s Aide” is… well, I really do try to be positive, so I’ll just say it’s about a teacher who gets possessed by a gargoyle. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Tales from the Darkside.

It’s paired, however, with one of the best known segments of the 1985 Zone, the absolutely beautiful “Paladin of the Lost Hour.” It’s almost entirely a two-hander, written by Harlan Ellison and starring Danny Kaye and Glynn Turman. Kaye plays a lonely old homeless widower with a gigantic secret, and Turman plays a Vietnam veteran with a traumatic case of survivors’ guilt. After Turman’s character saves the old man from a mugging, the sweet old man helps himself into his life, feeding him wonderful beef stew and sharing stories.

The interesting science fiction twist might not have been so overshadowed in Ellison’s original short story, but onscreen, bearing in mind my fascination with actors and their craft, it’s almost an afterthought because Turman and Kaye are just so amazingly good. They could have spent their thirty-odd minutes discussing anything at all and I think it would have been time well spent. But in this subtle, sweet, and life-affirming little tale, they make some real magic.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.6 – A Message from Charity

No, I didn’t show my darling, sensitive son the Zone adaptation of “Examination Day” the week he started the gifted program at school. Geez, what kind of monster do you think I am? *grin

But we did watch the other segment in the Zone‘s sixth hour. “A Message from Charity” was one of the few segments from this season that I saw. I was a freshman in high school in 1985. I went to a few football games that season and sometimes started spending the weekends with friends that year and wasn’t often home to see this show. And I fell in love with it. I haven’t seen a frame of it since, but I remembered it quite clearly. Alan Brennert’s script was so moving that when I ran across the writer on Usenet in 1994 or so, I dropped him a line to tell him how much I loved it.

The story concerns two teens separated by 285 years: Charity in 1700 and Peter in 1985, played by Kerry Noonan and by future Star Trek: Voyager castmember Robert Duncan McNeill. They’re supported by James Cromwell and Gerald Hiken, who was always playing a villain in the eighties. Charity and Peter get linked telepathically after they each suffer a high fever. He shows her the wonderful technology of the future and she talks a little too freely about what she’s seen to friends who are obsessed with witchcraft.

The witch angle may suggest that this doesn’t do anything too surprising, but the kids’ resolution to the problem is very novel and the acting is absolutely first-class. Kerry Noonan, who retired from acting a few years after this and went on to become one of the country’s most respected folklorists, is absolutely magical as Charity, and McNeill is incredibly sympathetic as the bookish kid whose only friend died a couple of hundred years ago. It’s a great love story between two characters who never share any screen time, and if the segment’s epilogue doesn’t make you smile, your heart must be two sizes too small. Our son enjoyed it, but he also really bristled at Hiken’s evil squire character.

Also, no, it’s not just you. Like MacGyver, it would appear that the master tapes for this program were stored next to an electromagnet or something. I don’t know what it is about mid-eighties American TV, but these DVDs don’t look any better than a thirty-three year-old VHS copy would look.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.1 – Shatterday / A Little Peace and Quiet

We interrupt this blog. We control the horizontal, we control the v– oh, wait, that was the other show.

But we are going to interrupt things just a hair and do something a little different. This is Twilight Zone week at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, and tonight and for the next six evenings, we’re going to watch seven highlights from the first season of the 1985 revival of the series. This ran at 8 pm Friday nights in the 1985-86 season on CBS, leading more than one person to ask what in creation this show was doing on so early.

They led with their big guns. “Shatterday” stars Bruce Willis, who was on the brink of becoming one of TV’s biggest names, in a script by Alan Brennert based on a short story by Harlan Ellison. It, and the second story that made up the new Zone‘s first hour, was directed by Wes Craven. Willis, Ellison, and Craven: I’d say that’s your 1985 dream team right there. And interestingly, even though this program’s called The Twilight Zone, with its more frequent dips into the supernatural and horror and its presentation of two or three different teleplays within each hour, it sometimes feels more like a revamp of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery than new episodes of Zone.

Marie wasn’t all that taken with either of these first stories, and our son was mostly subdued by the first story, but I thought they were both terrific. “Shatterday” begins with Willis’s very, very 80s PR hack phoning a friend but dialing his own number by mistake. He hears his own voice answer. The person on the other end is him… a calmer, gentler, more thoughtful him. Can there be space in the city for both of them?

Our son enjoyed the second story a lot more. In “A Little Peace and Quiet,” a frantic housewife with four needy kids and an even more needy husband unearths a medallion that can stop time and give her the chance to breathe. In retrospect, I should have seen where this one was going – they telegraphed the heck out of it – but I was so fascinated by the possibilities of where it could go, with the mom gradually using the device more and more, for increasingly selfish reasons, that I missed the writing on the wall. Craven staged a couple of completely amazing set pieces, with crowds of people frozen in time. The first of the two is done for comedy and the second one isn’t. If he’d stuck that second scene in one of his Nightmare on Elm Street movies, people would call it one of that series’ high points.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 5.30 – Stopover in a Quiet Town

The problem with figuring out a Twilight Zone twist immediately – and I mean before Rod Serling’s introduction immediately – is that you spend the whole half hour just watching events confirm your suspicions. “Stopover in a Quiet Town” was written by Earl Hamner, Jr., and if I had been watching this by myself, I’d have been annoyed that the episode was so incredibly obvious. But I didn’t watch it by myself, and so the experience was a little more fun.

Our kid had no idea what weird fate had befallen the inhabitants of Centerville, where a married couple played by Nancy Malone and Barry Nelson – the screen’s first James Bond – wake with foggy memories. Of course, he was approaching the problem from the wrong angle. The question is what weird fate had befallen the couple. So he grimaced and worked at it and said “Huh?” a few times, and, wide-eyed, said “This is so weird! Where is everybody?” at the commercial break. The episode may be obvious for grown-ups, but is a terrific mystery for kids.

One minor point that the writer and director could not possibly have predicted: at the precise moment where the characters comment about the lack of birdsong in the town, the cicadas outside our house erupted in the noisiest cacaphony of the summer. Ah, well! These things just can’t be helped.

There were six more episodes of The Twilight Zone after this one, and then the show was axed. It’s been revived a few times since, including a feature film along with more TV episodes. A second Zone ran on CBS from 1985-87 and continued in syndication with new episodes until 1989. A third Zone ran on UPN from 2002-03. A fourth series is apparently coming to CBS’s streaming service All Access sometime in 2019. We’re not presently planning to watch the eighties Zone – although that could change! – but we will look at a little of Rod Serling’s later series Night Gallery down the road when our son’s a little older. Stay tuned!

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