RICHARD MATHESON’S THE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS (VOLUME 1)
Edited by Stanley Wiater
Gauntlet/Edge Books / 316 pages / May 2001
It is impossible to discount the long-reaching effects the The Twilight Zone television series has had upon almost every aspect of our popular culture. Although employed by earlier authors, it took the impact of the Rod Serling’s creation to make the ironic, twist ending almost de rigeur in almost all fiction genres and in every form of media. The show pulled science fiction, fantasy, and horror out of the realm of the absurd and set it down in the house next door to us. Sometimes, it injected the nightmare directly into our lives.
Many of the best episodes to come out of this landmark series were written by one of the masters of dark fantasy — the incomparable Richard Matheson. The eight scripts in this first volume are culled from the first four seasons: 1959-1963. These are some of the most famous and memorable episodes ever produced. A chance to see the original scripts is a gift no fan or writer of the genre should let pass. It is an opportunity for which every follower of the original series and/or Matheson’s writing owes editor Stanley Wiater a thank-you note. For that and for the informative and entertaining introductions of each selection. These brief interludes provide an insight into the making of the show that might have been lost forever.
With stars (and future stars) such as Alexander Scourby, Howard Duff, and even shudder William Shatner, and a producer like Buck Houghton, the episodes had every advantage available to turn out an exceptional product. But, as a reading of the The Twilight Zone Scripts makes wonderfully clear, the magic and power was in the writing long before a single frame of film was shot.
For the simple reason that I happened upon the episode this morning, I’ll single out the 11 May 1962 performance of “Young Man’s Fancy.” The situation is seemingly as innocuous as small town middle-class life could possibly be, but, in the Twilight Zone, nothing is ever as harmless as it appears. Newlyweds Alex and Virginia’s plan to tie up a few last minute details before they put his late mother’s house on the market is about to go chillingly wrong. Maybe not everyone is ready to let the past go. Virginia is about discover to her horror just how much energy wishes can generate.
Other scripts include the famous “The Last Flight” — a war story with a very unusual hero and a lesson in time paradox. The question of what — exactly — constitutes reality is explored in “A World of Difference” and “A World of His Own;” two worlds with very little in common with our own. And the remarkable, almost speechless, “The Invaders” showcases Matheson’s ability to convey fear and desperation without the handy recourse to dialogue.
Enjoy these spectacular screenplays and try to be patient until the next volume comes out in 2002.
And if you ever doubt the lasting influence The Twilight Zone, ask any stranger on the street to hum the theme song for you.