The Twilight Zone (1985)
by Scotty O. White
I remember the first time I watched The Twilight Zone; I was six years old and living in a one bedroom apartment with my mother, uncle and grandmother in Bay Minette, Alabama. It was late, or at least late for a six year old, and my Uncle Roy was up watching television. I crawled out of my bed to see what he was watching and, of course, it turned out to be an episode of The Twilight Zone.
As I try to remember those events that happened thirty-plus years ago, I think it was the distinct theme music that must have woken me up. I don’t remember being scolded or told to go back to bed, so I think Uncle Roy thought I wouldn’t be up too much longer. I crawled onto his lap and rested my head against his chest as we shared this moment.
I had caught the episode at the beginning, it was about two kids living a lavish lifestyle but with cold parents. The kids end up going for a swim in their pool only to find a portal that leads them to a cottage where a kind, old, granny-type woman would love them unconditionally. The episode was called “The Bewitchin’ Pool” and I find it ironic that the first episode I saw of The Twilight Zone was the last original one to air before the show was canceled.
A few years later my mother had married a good man and we were living together in a house-trailer located in a tiny, quiet area known as Perdido. I don’t exactly remember how I found out about CBS bringing a new version of The Twilight Zone to television, but I do remember being excited for it. Friday, September 27, 1985; That’s the day I remember sitting in my living room with my parents and watching this new version of The Twilight Zone, but what I remember most was the theme song.
This eerie and ominous tune written by Jerry Garcia and performed by his band, “The Grateful Dead,” with images of owls, spiders and mushroom clouds was both terrifying and intriguing. After that night I was hooked. I found myself watching each and every episode from week to week.
The show had many talented people working on it, such as Rockne S. O’Bannon, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Wes Craven, Arthur C. Clarke, George R.R. Martin and J. Michael Straczynski. Guest stars included Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Peter Coyote, Jeffrey Tambour and Louise Fletcher.
As a young boy I got to see all of these incredibly talented people telling fantastic, and sometimes horrifying, stories week after week. I was in heaven!
The series was filled with great episodes, but it was a little darker in tone than some of the originals; the early time-slot during family primetime sealed it’s fate, but the show managed to muster three seasons and had a little bit of a life in syndication. I rediscovered it about ten years ago when the show was first released on DVD. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been watched as much as I would have hoped, ending up on a shelf, then finally in a storage box when I decided to move to West Virginia.
When I was back home in Alabama for the summer, I found the box-set again and decided that I would take it back with me when I returned to school in West Virginia. I stuffed it in my suitcase and brought it with me, only to place it, yet again, on the shelf. I don’t know why I couldn’t compel myself to watch this amazing series again, I tended to be too busy or just not in the mood. It was only after hosting a podcast tribute to Wes Craven that I decided to take another look!
I watched the first episode, “Shatterday,” directed by Wes Craven and starring Bruce Willis. It was a story about a man with two selves, trying to vie for self control. It was in that moment that I remembered, all over again, why I liked this series so much. There are so many good stories in this box-set, but I will be the first to admit that not all of them are gems, but those that stand out, really stand out.
“Examination Day” is a story about a little boy in the future who is celebrating his birthday and preparing to be tested by the government. His parents pretend to be upbeat and happy for their son, but you can tell, deep down, that they are worried. From the description alone, it doesn’t seem like much, but the ending is a mic drop that is perfect and terrifying all at the same time.
“Her Pilgrim Soul” is another short directed by Wes Craven and written by Alan Brennert. It is the story of a woman’s soul that is trapped in the memory of a computer; it manifests her entire lifetime within a hologram. The scientist who created the machine is trying to find out what is happening, but finds himself falling in love with the spirit. The Twilight Zone takes science-fiction, mixes it with horror and adds a touch of sentimentality to it, which in the end, creates a brilliant piece of work.
“A Small Talent for War” is another one of Brennert’s works. We find the United Nations meeting with an Alien Ambassador who is threatening to destroy the planet over their savage ways during the Cold War. It has a perfect little The Twilight Zone twist, plus, it features one of my favorite working actors, John Glover.
“Dead Run” is based on the short story by Greg Bear. He finds a truck driver (played by Steve Railsback) who has had one too many wrecks and can’t find himself insurable. He takes the only job he can get, one that involves hauling the souls of the dead to Hell. This also has John DeLancie (Q from Star Trek: TNG) as a dispatcher who chooses which souls go to Hell. It’s a cool story and one of the better morality tales in this version of The Twilight Zone.
People talk about The Twilight Zone in such mythic terms and yes, the original show is great and you can see it every New Year’s Day on the SyFy channel, but I think there is a place for this 1985 version of the show, too. I personally think it was better than the 2002 relaunch with Forrest Whitaker taking the place of Rod Serling. It just didn’t have the heart that the original (nor the 85 relaunch) had.
Of course, I’m biased since this is my The Twilight Zone; the one I think of first, the stories I will go back to, the ones I loved when I was small and innocent, where I could enjoy these dark things and know, in the end, it would be all right because I didn’t live in the Twilight Zone.