TWILIGHT ZONE Rod Serlings Lost Classics
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A man searching the vast library of a popular streaming service. Titles both familiar and unknown flash by – thumbnail images blurring together under the rule of a bored, impatient thumb. The scrolling halts at the sight of a title that stands out from the muddle of faces and graphics – a familiar signpost, if you will, standing alone on the shoulder of a dark highway….
That’s how I came to discover TWILIGHT ZONE: Rod Sering’s Lost Classics while scrolling through the Amazon app on my TV recently. A lifelong fan of the series, I was both bewildered and delighted that there were two new episodes by Rod Serling I had never heard about, and that they were filmed for a TV movie all the way back in 1994!
I was a bit apprehensive as well. I am a huge Twilight Zone fan. I grew up on a steady diet of TZ reruns, not to mention Night Gallery. How could I not know about the existence of this movie?? Writing my ignorance off to old age (I seem to be suffering lately from a strange version of Alzheimer’s that affects only my knowledge of nerd pop culture) I sat down to watch Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics, hoping – praying – that this mini-resurrection of my all-time favorite TV show wouldn’t suck.
The “two hour” movie (with no commercials, you can shave a good half hour off the running time) consists of two episodes, “The Theater” and “Where The Dead Are.” If these were TZ episodes from the original run, “The Theater” would represent one of the half hour episodes that comprised the bulk of the series, while “Where The Dead Are” would’ve been one of the episodes in Season Four, when Twilight Zone switched to an hour-long format.
First up is “The Theater,” written by legendary author Richard Matheson, (he penned the classic TZ eps “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “Nick of Time” among many others) from an outline left behind by Mr. Serling wherein a young woman goes to the above-mentioned theater to see the classic Cary Grant flick His Girl Friday. As the film plays, she suddenly sees herself up on the big screen, along with her fiancée, replaying a scene from her life that occurred earlier that day. She soon discovers that only she can see these moments of her life – everyone else is watching the Cary Grant classic. Flustered, she leaves – only to return later for another showing. This time she sees scenes from her future, and that future is anything but bright as she is shown her life coming to an end under the wheels of a city bus.
“The Theater” was a worthwhile journey back to the land of both shadow and substance, and would’ve fit right in with the generous supply of well-crafted episodes that populated the first few seasons of the show. A terrific job by Matheson turning Serling’s notes into a very Serling-esque script.
“Where The Dead Are,” is a script written by Rod Serling in 1968, and would be equally at home in Season Four of The Twilight Zone and in Serling’s early 70’s anthology series Night Gallery. In this hour of richly dark television goodness, Serling applies his unique voice to the zombie genre, of sorts. No, this isn’t George Romero zombie-verse or Kirkman’s Walking Dead, folks. This is Rod Serling, and the theme is greed. And addiction. And the perils of playing God. In other words, it’s an hour of intelligent, damn good television.
This episode would likely have been rejected by the censors during Twilight Zone’s original run due to its dark subject matter, even though by today’s standards it’s tame to the point of being refreshing in a blissfully nostalgic way. And legendary actor Jack Pallance turns in a typically menacing performance studded with plenty of artfully delivered nuance thanks to Serling’s script.
The movie is hosted by James Earl Jones, who does a respectable job of providing the narration for the stories. He is tasked with being the “Rod Serling” of this revisit, and he fills the role with his own style that naturally compliments the iconic work of his predecessor without ever becoming an imitation or worse – a parody.
If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, this movie is a must-see, despite the fact that, while it’s a fun return to that shadowy realm whose boundaries are that of imagination, it never quite achieves the greatness of the storytelling on display in episodes like “Time Enough At Last,” “The Invaders,” or “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” Still, it is fun, quality storytelling – and these two tales alone are far better than pretty much anything that was done on the previous two iterations of the series, namely the CBS revival in the 80’s, and the god-awful UPN series in the early 2000’s.
Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics is available to stream or purchase on Amazon.
Thanks for reading, Deadies!