Horror Television: The Twilight Zone

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The list kind of list would be an object of mockery without it. I’d have no credibility without it. Laughing, pointing, and a hotfoot would all be justified if I wrote about great horror/dark fiction TV without including the foundation of the genre, The Twilight Zone.

This is where horror TV started. If there were horror/SF/fantasy series on TV before this, people don’t remember them. And with good reason – The Twilight Zone was fantastic, groundbreaking. Frightening one week, thoughtful the next, then maudlin, then strange, then funny. It ran the gamut and almost always did so with great quality.

More than probably any genre show before or since (with the possible exception of the Alfred Hitchcock TV shows), The Twilight Zone had a face ? Rod Serling. The man was a great writer, possessed of a great imagination (and bought great talent around him: how many episodes were written by Bradbury or Matheson?), and a great screen presence. Serling’s introductions, his dark complexion and bushy eyebrows, the tendrils of smoke from his cigarette, his diction that you can hear in your head even as you read this, are iconic. You think Twilight Zone and you think Serling and those openings.

The drawback of the show to me, what limits it from being the best dark fiction TV I’ve ever seen, is that it was rarely as emotionally deep or resonant as Angel or even Buffy. The ideas were great, but the heart wasn’t always there. And when it was, it was often too sentimental.

Still, whenever a Twilight Zone marathon is on TV ? especially on New Year’s Eve and Day (whether it was on WPIX out of New York when I was growing up or now on Sci Fi) ? I’m always there, watching as many episodes as possible, even the ones I’ve seen before. And now that the show is being released season by season on DVD, I’ll be wearing out those Netflix envelopes.

I even had the chance once to watch a different kind of Zone marathon. Serling, retired from Hollywood in the ?70s after his Night Gallery series ended, became a professor of TV and film at my college (long before I arrived, of course). Part of what he left to the school when he died were some original Zone episodes, on film and with the original commercials.

Every year, the school would show these 8 or 10 episodes and it was a great night, despite being held in the auditorium with some of the most uncomfortable seats you get hope for in a movie theater. The shows were great and so were those commercials ? there’s nothing like cutting to commercial and watching a black and white (!) Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble light up a Lucky Strike!

Those, boys, those were the days.

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