Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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The Twilight Zone Influence

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 10, 2015

TwilightZoneDVDOver the weekend, at the Local Authors & You event, I chatted with author David West for a few minutes. We’d been on the same row at Comic Con a couple of months ago. He also writes some cool, weird stories running across several subgenres of speculative fiction. (His latest anthology was just released a few days ago: Whispers from the Dust). At some point, our conversation turned to The Twilight Zone, and how much both of us were influenced by that show.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the original TV series — which was over before I was born — and you have something like Netflix, watch it! Seriously. I’m still amazed at how many episodes I haven’t seen. While the quality of the episodes varies greatly, there are some fantastic gems in there.

David and I both noted how many of our favorites were written by Richard Matheson. He passed away recently, but his legacy is impressive. He penned the original novel I Am Legend, the basis of  four movies; A Stir of Echoes (which became one of my favorite spooky movies, perfect Halloween watching), Bid Time Return (made into the movie Somewhere In Time), all three short stories used for the cult classic movie Trilogy of Terror (although people only remember the final one, Amelia, adapted directly to a screenplay by Matheson. It’s the one with the little Zuni Doll that comes alive.)

He also wrote numerous short stories, many of which were adapted for The Twilight Zone. I’ve read at least one of his anthologies, and it’s generally awesome stuff. Some of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes penned by Matheson or based on his stories are: “Little Girl Lost,” “A World of Difference,” “A World of His Own,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (which was included in the 1980s movie).

TwilightZoneAfterHoursWhen I was a kid, the show aired on Friday nights at 11:00, I think. I was eleven or twelve. The first episode I ever watched was “The After Hours.” The one with the mannequins. It was amazing. I didn’t know people actually wrote stories and made TV shows like that. It was like my weirdest dreams and dark fantasies were not only shared, but turned into a TV show. I was hooked. And I think it opened my mind to weird ideas… I no longer needed to suppress them because they were too bizarre. My Star Wars action figures went through some really weird adventures after that.

Some other favorites of mine: “Jess-Belle,” “It’s a Good Life” (also featured in the movie), “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (sort of a familiar theme with “The After Hours”), “Time Enough at Last,” and of course the infamous “Living Doll” (“I’m Talky Tina, and you’d better be nice to me!”). Surprisingly, on a rewatch of “The Monsters are Due in Maple Street,” I found it pretty forced and lacking. It’s considered one of the best, but… meh.

They keep trying to make shows that follow this format – self-contained, stand-alone episodes with completely different casts and characters. I haven’t known any that have lasted long, and even Steven Spielberg has made a go at it, so it’s not due to lack of ability or influence. It’s too bad. Maybe it’s for the same reason as why “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” falls flat on me now… there’s just not enough time to develop believable characters and situations for more than a couple of characters. I think more importantly, people tune in regularly to a show because they are invested in characters and a story… and standalone episodes don’t offer that. The best we could do was something like The X-Files where each story was (mostly) a standalone, Twilight Zone-esque situation, but the show followed common characters investigating these incidents.

Although… TV is going through yet another upheaval, now. It’s no longer such a scheduled, weekly event as it once was. People tend to record and watch on their own time, and some (popular!) shows are being produced directly for the Internet, released a full season at a time (Hello again, Netflix!). So maybe we’ll see more of this again sometime.

In the meantime, we’ve got anthologies of weird stories by guys like David West, and Xchyler’s recent Beyond the Wail.  (I know my own story, “Cold Spot,” was somewhat influenced by The Twilight Zone). I wonder how many other authors, filmmakers, and game developers were influenced by this awesome TV series…

The cool thing is that more still can be. The show is still quite watchable, proving how a good story doesn’t need elaborate special effects to be awesome.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • CdrJameson said,

    Three recent examples do spring to mind: Dr Who, Black Mirror and The Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors episodes. The genre’s still got a bit of life in it.