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July 27, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #186 - Child's Play

It is impossible for anyone to be scared of Chucky like children of the early '80s are scared of Chucky. I'm not going to sit here and argue that the killer from the Child's Play series isn't universally creepy, because the idea of a happy-go-lucky looking doll who's a psychotic madman on the inside is pretty timeless. But those of you who didn't watch Saturday morning and/or after school cartoons at the time just don't know why us late '80s kids were so terrified when little Chucky started killing and swearing and being evil.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: My Buddy and Kid Sister.
If you were a kid of the era, the My Buddy/Kid Sister ad was the real world equivalent of the Silver Shamrock ad from Halloween III. That commercial was everywhere kids wanted to be, and the idea of owning a My Buddy doll that would be my best friend in the world was addictive in all the commercially wrong '80s ways.  Granted, the advertising was never enough to make me actually GET the My Buddy doll - Transformers and G.I. Joe figures were so much cheaper and awesomer! (Plus, us monster kids lucked out when we got My Pet Monster instead.) - but that didn't mean that I wouldn't see that ad three times an hour for what seemed like a lifetime and freak out about how awesome it would be to have a plush best friend in overalls. Every. Single. Time.
Which brings us to Chucky, and the realization that some sick bastard (in this case, Don Mancini) sat at home one day and said "I'm gonna turn that brainwashing commercial for kids into a giant nightmare" and cackled all the way to a hit horror franchise that has spanned nearly 30 years. Mancini actually has stated that his inspiration for Child's Play came from another doll of the '80s, the Cabbage Patch Kids, but it is still impossible for me to see an image of Chucky and not imagine My Buddy tenaciously chasing me around the house with a knife. (Because, as the jingle says, "wherever I go, heeeeee goes.")
Taking a look at the other side of the coin, you have to wonder how a movie could manage to make My Buddy scary - and the answer is the fantastic talent of Brad Dourif. I've seen Dourif in plenty of movies - both very good and very bad - but I only need two of them to convince myself that he's a talented man. This is obviously one of the two roles that defines him in my eyes, and the other is his turn as one of the patients in the true Hollywood classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It's a simplistic way of looking at things, but I'm convinced that any man who can go from bumbling mental patient with a heart of gold to cold-blooded killer in the body of a doll has to have some pretty incredible range as an actor.
Chucky is remembered as a wisecracking killer, much like Freddy Krueger, and like Krueger's films it's sometimes hard to remember that Chucky was birthed from a pretty serious horror film. There's a bit of humor that comes naturally throughout the movie - a lot of it due to the innocent performance by young Alex Vincent as the child who owns Chucky, a lot of it because it's hard to take a 3 foot doll in overalls too seriously - but Mancini and director/co-writer Tom Holland do good work to keep this film tense and serious. The change in tone for the sequels makes sense - less talent involved would lead to a heavier reliance on the simple charms of a killer doll who spews one-liners - but the original film focuses in on the voodoo origins of the possessed doll and lets the child's mother (Catherine Hicks) and the detective on the case (Chris Sarandon) push the movie forward as a (mostly) serious piece of murderous horror.
I'm not sure Child's Play really stands up as "scary" - I like to think of it as a fun-filled horror film that belongs with the likes of Tremors and Gremlins - but Holland and Mancini's film is consistently entertaining schlock. But the thing that's always pushed Child's Play to a special place in my mind is my memory of being indoctrinated by that darned My Buddy jingle, and I have a somewhat twisted respect for Mancini and company for turning out something like Chucky. One of the great skills any horror storyteller has to have is the ability to take the normal and make the audience reconsider it, and few movies have ever destroyed something peaceful in the name of killing as well as Child's Play does.

July 19, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #185 - The Hitcher

The relationship between stalker and stalkee has rarely been as bizarre as the one at the center of 1986's The Hitcher.  What looks like a simple plot - driver picks up hitcher, hitcher is crazy, driver is tormented by hitcher for days - is simply the mechanism that allows Harmon and writer Eric Red (one of the most underrated talents of his era, I say) to create one of horror's most personal and intense battles.
An understanding of this relationship must begin with an understanding of the players involved, which is no easy task. One of the biggest struggles I have had with The Hitcher over the years is that Red offers so little early in the film that can explain John Ryder, the hitcher, and Jim Halsey, the driver. With a lack of background information about them available, my mind often tends to stop thinking of the characters and start thinking about the actors who play them.
Rutger Hauer is Ryder, and it's near impossible to avoid thoughts of his robotic Blade Runner character each time he does something sadistic to Halsey or anyone else who stands in his way. Unlike many imported Hollywood stars, Hauer has always had a pretty solid command in dialogue, and his wild eyes and eloquent speech make Ryder an intimidating presence in any scene. After his initial interaction with the driver, which establishes his criminal and violent insanity, we primarily see Ryder and don't hear him - which makes Hauer, with his imposing size and piercing eyes - the perfect actor to play the role.
Opposing him as Halsey is C. Thomas Howell, a 20 year old who had been a teen star since he was 16 thanks to The Outsiders, Red Dawn, and (the incredibly underrated) Secret Admirer. Howell certainly comes off as young and naive in the film, and there are a few moments where his performance wavers opposite the intensity of Hauer, but what Howell offers is also what allows the film to really hit at the differences between the psychotic hitchhiker and the seemingly innocent young man.
But the differences between the characters aren't really as interesting as the similarities - or perhaps I should say the connection - between them.  Personal space is no concern for the director, and the camera takes us into extreme close ups of either character early and often.  These shots are often used to build up the strange fascination Ryder seems to have with the youngster, and there are more than a few moments that imply a deeper (and possibly sexual) interest in the young man.
The assailant's intentions are just one of the things that these filmmakers brilliantly leave up to our imagination. One haunting sequence has Halsey see Ryder riding along with a family in their station wagon and - after failed attempts to warn them - finding that vehicle lifeless and still on the side of the road. Harmon's camera never shows us what is inside the vehicle - he just shows us Halsey looking in the window, peeing his pants, and running back to his car to throw up.  Now that, my friends, is how you tell us that Rutger Hauer's doing some sick stuff to people.
There are other characters that caught up in Halsey and Ryder's game - most notably Jennifer Jason Leigh as a young woman who gets caught in the middle and Jeffrey De Munn as the cop on the case - but the film is really all about how the older and more sociopathic character torments the younger. Phrases like "a game of cat and mouse" often get thrown around about movies like this, but it's clear from the onset that Ryder is the only one playing and Halsey is just scrambling to make it through alive.  We don't know why he's doing it - Sexual attraction? Good old fashioned crazy? PTSD? - but that makes thinking about this movie after the fact that much more fun.

July 18, 2013

The Mike's Top 10 Made for SyFy/Sci-Fi Channel Monster Movies

Seriously, it blows my mind.  People who only watch Oscar nominated films or big budget blockbusters were coming to me and saying things like "WHOA! There's a movie called Sharknado! About a Sharknado!" And I was like "Yes...these things happen." And I was all calm and stuff.  I've been down this road a few times. It's kind of a busy street where I live in the nerdy genre fan kingdom. It's crowded with all kinds of ridiculous and wonderful and cheesy and poorly made stuff - and it's glorious.

I did watch Sharknado, and will say it had a few moments of brilliance - especially in the final act. But honestly, it kind of left me wanting something more fun. It was a one trick pony with a drab color pallette, an often misplaced sense of humor, and a repetitive nature. I felt cheated, because for such an inspired idea it was actually kind of dull - while also being bad. And I feel a little like some of the people who think Sharknado is the end-all-be-all of ridiculousness might want to watch a few more movies.
Which movies? Well I'm glad you asked!  Below are ten movies that (as far as I can tell) premiered on the SyFy network or its previous incarnation as the (grammatically correct) Sci-Fi Channel. Do I mean to tell you these are fine pieces of cinema? Well...not really. But they stick out in my mind as more inventive, more fun, and more ridiculous than most pieces of trash I've ever seen. And if you're gonna watch something bad, you should at least watch something that does bad right. The ten following movies just might fit that bill.
Bonus Honorable Mention: Atomic Twister
Original Air Date - June 9, 2002
Atomic Twister would have been one of the highest ranked films on this list - until I realized it premiered on TNT, not Sci-Fi. Alas, I will warn you that this one is about a Tornado hitting a town with a nuclear plant and stars Zack Morris and a cougar scientist who never buttons her shirt. Sadly, it's almost impossible to find now - so you're just going to imagine Zack Morris as a sheriff trying to stop a nuclear tornado.

10. Mega Piranha
Original Air Date - April 10, 2010
 You're not going to see a lot of movies by The Asylum - the company responsible for most movies like Sharknado or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Battle OF Los Angeles - on this list. Their cheap knock-offs of big budget thrillers have occasional charms but can end up a little vapid.  But a) there aren't a ton of great movies to chose from here, and b) This one sticks out in my mind as more clever than most of their recent "battle between giant things" movies have been. (And I just love Tiffany. There, I said it.)

9. Mammoth
Original Air Date - April 2, 2006
A frozen wooly mammoth is revived and causes havoc in a small town while Firefly's Summer Glau and the excellent Tom Skerritt try to stop it. Why's it here? Because it's a freakin' mammoth! Those things are/were awesome!

8. Never Cry Werewolf
Original Air Date - May 11, 2008
This is basically a remake of Fright Night with werewolves replacing vampires, future Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev being attractive and replacing William Ragsdale, and Kevin Sorbo replacing Roddy McDowell. Before you run away to vomit, you should know that I'm a sucker for the Rear Window-with-monsters film, which is a big reason why I love Fright Night and why I can laugh at this thing.

7. Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys
Original Air Date - December 18, 2004
Not only do the title toys go to battle in this one, but they're joined by Corey Feldman and Vanessa Angel feuding over control of the miniature forces. This thing also partially comes from the writer of Dark City, The Dark Knight, and Man of Steel (David S. Goyer) and gets bonus points for ticking off the notoriously shady Charles Band, who doesn't recognize this as "canon."

6. Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep
Original Air Date - September 23, 2006
This one gets crazy bonus points for taking itself too seriously, even while it has an O'Connell in the cast. The real star of the show is one of my favorite underloved actresses, Victoria Pratt, who manages to play a very serious marine archaeologist while only wearing bikini tops. It also features recently deceased Glee star Cory Monteith as one of Pratt's assistants.

5. Wyvern
Original Air Date - January 31, 2009
The Academy Award for Best Lead Performance in a SyFy Original Film of All-Time simply has to belong to Nick Chinlund for his work on Wyvern. The co-star of films like Eraser and Con Air stars as a trucker who has to help a small Alaska town battle a snake dragon, and manages to get in a heavy personal monologue on his way to becoming a hero. Like the last flick, major bonus points for taking itself so seriously.

4. Sasquatch Mountain
Original Air Date - September 9, 2006
Lance Henriksen's wife gets killed by a 'squatch and then a bunch of crooks start pretending their life is Reservoir Dogs in the woods and then there's a bunch of Sasquatch going down and Henriksen is angry and out for blood. There are some obvious flaws, but it still is one of the better Sasquatch movies out there. Then again, there are about zero good Sasquatch movies out there - so I'm not saying much there.

3. Beyond Loch Ness (aka Loch Ness Terror)
Original Air Date - January 5, 2008
If there's one thing I love more than Sasquatch - it's Nessie. I couldn't stop freaking out when that stupid Nessie movie for little kids came out in theaters around the end of 2007. Thankfully, SyFy was there for me. They picked me up and said "Don't worry, The Mike. You want a killer Nessie movie? WE'VE GOT THAT!" And I think that was the moment I knew I was in love.

2. Terminal Invasion
Original Air Date - September 14, 2002
YOU GUYS! You guys! It's Bruce Campbell, you guys!

Campbell stars in what is essentially a feature length (and low-low-budget) adaptation of the classic Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" that is directed by Friday the 13th's Sean S. Cunningham. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS AWESOME. Some bad special effects set the film back a bit, but it's one of the more well-plotted films made for the network and - OH YEAH - it has freaking Bruce Campbell!

1. Mega Python vs. Gatoroid
Original Air Date - January 25, 2011
OK, I know I said I'm not a big fan of The Asylum - but this is their The Dark Knight. Directed by Pet Sematary's Mary Lambert and reuniting '80s pop stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany - the former reprising her role from Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and the latter returning from Mega Piranha - this is the one time when the stars just seemed to magically align and everything ridiculous about these movies came together to make one perfectly entertaining work of art.  Plus, we finally get to see a catfight between Debbie and Tiffany that is bookended by quotes from their once popular songs. This is the new American treasure that Sharknado wishes it was.


July 12, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #184 - Mute Witness

I love being able to call a movie "Hitchcokian" almost as much as I love Hitchcock. Heck, saying a movie is Hitchcockian - which means "feels like a movie Hitchcock would approve of or make himself" in my mind - is my way of saying a movie has made it in this world. In my mind it's like Hitchcock is Roy Hobbs at the end of The Natural and I'm Bobby Savoy and the movie I get to call Hitchcockian is the Savoy Special. That's how awesome I feel when I can say it and mean it, and I don't care if that reference is nearly thirty years old and doesn't fit my blog and may be a little obscure. "Go pick me out a winner, Bobby" is one of the most uplifting movie moments of EVER, and that's how I feel about great Hitchcock clones.
Which brings us to Mute Witness, a 1994 thriller that's full of holes but has this wonderful manic energy that teams with a devilishly playful script to create something twisted that you just know would make Hitch smile. The plot revolves around a young, mute woman who is working as a special effects artist on a Russian horror film and just happens to stumble upon the filming of a snuff film. I don't want to explain what a snuff film is to you innocent readers - I didn't learn about them until I was 17 and my mom took me to see 8mm - but I don't really want you to google it either. So, I'll just go ahead and say that you need to prepare for a sex scene with a murder at the end and leave it at that. Is it uncomfortable to see that? You betcha. Does it ramp up the tension for everything that's going to follow it? Absolutely.
Considering the plot, the film could also draw a viewer's mind to Hitchcock homages made by Brian De Palma like Blow Out and Body Double. Writer/director Anthony Waller doesn't shy away from brutality and bloodletting, but at the same time the film always has that sinister charm that keeps you feeling safe while watching it. If there's one thing that sets a Hitchcock thriller apart from most other films is that there's this perfect balance where you feel in danger while also feeling like you're having fun. It's what I call the roller coaster principle, and Waller - like Hitchcock and De Palma before him - understands that principle.
The key to any good roller coaster movie is that the pace can't follow a formula. There are always going to be ups and downs, but if we get into a rhythm and start to expect them they lose their power over us. Mute Witness gets this. It starts off with a bang - the snuff filming happens way earlier than you would expect to see snuff filming in a movie - and there are a few moments after that shock where the viewer is left wondering if there are any more thrills to be had. Patience will pay off for the viewer, as the film always seems to have something new coming with the next twist.
Russian actress Marina Zudina takes the lead as Billie, the mute special effects girl, and is fantastic throughout the film. Considering the fact that her Wikipedia page discusses her aspirations to be an opera singer and her musical background, I'm going to go ahead and assume she's not mute in real life. But I would never have believed that based on the film - in fact, I've seen it 3 or 4 times and I just now made the connection that she might not be mute and now I feel kind of in shock and it's derailing this whole paragraph. Thanks to Zudina's performance - by far the most polished in the film - Billie is a fun character to be stuck in a mystery with as she comes up with some very unique (and R-rated) ways to interact with her surroundings while not speaking.
The film is also slightly infamous thanks to a cameo from a "Mystery Guest Star" who agreed to speak a handful of lines for the film as long as he wasn't mentioned in the film's advertising. As such, I have chosen not to list his name here - but I will tell you he once built a bridge and at another time used Force. You can look it up on IMDB, but to do so might spoil one of the most overly dramatic reveals in the history of movies. To say that Waller milks this star's presence for all it's worth would be a huge understatement. As the music swells around him and the camera lingers as his faces peeks out from a darkly lit car I half expected Humphrey Bogart to show up as an evil mastermind. (SPOILER ALERT: It's not Humphrey Bogart.)
Mute Witness has some problems - bad acting from the supports and a few lulls between shocks are the biggest of them - but then that sly Hitchcockian/De Palmaesque attitude shows up on the screen and it's nearly impossible to avoid being hooked. This is a high concept thriller full of surprises, a crowd pleasing film that should keep anyone who can find the fun in murder smiling. If nothing else, it should do the same thing a good roller coaster does - distract you from reality and keep you anticipating the next thrill.

July 8, 2013

Trailer for Curse of Chucky Released; Twisted Children of the '80s Rejoice

I don't consume alcohol or drugs or pop music or any of those other things that people get really excited about and then feel bad about later. But I imagine that the reaction people have to those intoxicants is similar to what I feel when I, as a super horror nerd, see a preview for something like Curse of Chucky.
What follows is the trailer for said film, a reboot of the Child's Play franchise that claims it will drop the self referential humor of the last two films and take the franchise back to its creepier roots. It looks the part, and I kinda dig the switch to a spooky old house setting. Will it be deep and meaningful? Do the special effects look good? Probably not on both accounts. But Brad Dourif and the change in tone actually makes me think this looks like a bunch of slashery fun.

Curse of Chucky will be released to DVD/Blu-Ray/Other-Home-Media-Formats-I-Don't-Know-Yet on October 8, so invite some friends over, get the popcorn ready, and wear ankle protection. Or don't. It's your achilles tendon.

July 5, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #183 - Twilight Zone: The Movie

During a recent viewing of Twilight Zone: The Movie I came to the realization that my biggest problem with this movie is that it's not the original Twilight Zone. And while this compilation of four mysterious tales doesn't exactly fit with the series that preceded it - there are a few issues we'll get to as we discuss this compilation - there's an incredible charm to this loving tribute to Rod Serling's TV classic.
A dream team of Hollywood directors came together to lead each segment of this anthology, setting the expectations for the film unreasonably high for many viewers. The producers, each of whom directed a segment, are no less than John Landis and Steven Spielberg, who team up with Joe Dante and George Miller for the film. Three of the directors worked up remakes of classic Zone episodes, while Landis wrote his own prologue and initial segment to get the film going. If you're familiar with these four directors you probably know that there are some differing styles at work here, which means they each bring something different to the table - and also means that the film has a little bit of a flow problem too.
Landis opens the film with a catchy, self-referential prologue featuring Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks as two men on a dark highway who sing some CCR and then start to discuss their favorite TV shows, including - you guessed it - The Twilight Zone. This leads to an abrupt surprise reveal that would be at home on the show (though it would need fleshed out a bit), and one of the film's most iconic moments. Landis then follows up with an ill-fated original story of a racist/bigoted man played by Vic Morrow who finds himself facing the injustices that those he opposes once faced. It's an idea that has a lot of power and some of the imagery of Nazis and Klansmen that Landis provides are incredible, but unfortunately things didn't work out for this story. In a tragic accident, Morrow and two child extras were killed in a helicopter crash due to a pyrotechnics error. Landis salvaged what he could with the film - and with his career, which was sidetracked severely by the ensuing lawsuits - but the end result is an abrupt story that leaves a bad aftertaste for obvious reasons.
The second episode is Spielberg's version of an old episode entitled Kick the Can.  Though Spielberg was one of the driving forces behind this movie, I've always felt that his segment - while good on its own - misses the mark as a throwback to the series. It's a fun story, in which a group of retirement home residents are reminded of their youth by the fantastic Scatman Crothers and the titular kids game, but it seems like Spielberg brought a little too much of his E.T. mojo over from that production. He retains only part of the original episode's twist, and lessens its blow considerably with a change in focus to Crothers' character.  The story is still well made - it's certainly the film's most polished piece - but it just doesn't feel like it belongs with the series with Spielberg's tone.
At this point you might be wondering why I'm bothering to even talk about this movie, but this is the part where business picks up. The final two segments, directed by Dante and Miller - both of whom were much lesser known than their cohorts at this time - both hit as good adaptations of two of Serling's show's best episodes. The late genius Roger Ebert famously noted this fact in a backhanded insult toward genre films, stating that "the two superstar directors are thoroughly routed by two less-known directors whose previous credits have been horror and action pictures" in his review of the film. I agree with his assessment of the film, at least.
The first is Dante's update of It's a Good Life, originally made famous when young Billy Mumy starred as a six-year old with unnatural control over his environment in the show's initial run. The plot is updated a bit here, introducing a teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) who is invited into the child's home and experiences his wrath. Dante, who would go on to direct cartoonish fare like Gremlins and even a Looney Tunes film, takes plenty of stylistic cues from violent childrens' cartoons, and hammy performances from the cast - including the always welcome Kevin McCarthy - add to the fun. The tone shift from the original series is noticeable, but it's not really problematic. Dante has a lot of fun with this story, little Jeremy Licht is good as the child (and Mumy cameos alongside Dick Miller in one scene), and the re-write around Quinlan's character is a nice supplement to the original episode. You could almost look at this one as a sequel to that episode, and it works either way you look at it.
George Miller brings up the tail end of the film as he directs the grand finale, a remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, which is one of the most famous episodes of the series.  This tale of a frightened airline passenger who sees a creature on the wing of the plane originally starred William Shatner in one of his early roles, and his shoes are filled admirably here by John Lithgow. The performance is wild, even in comparison to Shatner, but Lithgow's ability to show fear really pushes this segment to great heights. Miller was fresh off his first two Mad Max films when he directed this segment, and there's a little bit of the same chaotic energy running through this segment. Miller swoops the camera around the confined airplane and Lithgow frantically tries to survive at the same time, resulting in an unsettling sequence that still gives me the creeps. Is it better than the original episode? No, probably not. But it's a different vision and a very fun one at that.
When you take all of these parts and put them together into a 101 minute package, the results are admittedly mixed. But, if you took four random episodes of The Twilight Zone and packaged them together they might not flow as one entity either. That's part of the beauty of the series in which - despite some recurring themes - no two episodes are alike. If nothing else, Twilight Zone: The Movie manages to capture four different moods from The Twilight Zone, showing off both dark and sinister and light and playful themes in one package. On that alone, the final product is a tribute that seems to be endlessly watchable, filled to the brim with enough good ideas and excellent performances to make Zone fans like me smile.

July 3, 2013

The Mike's Guide to SyFy's Fourth of July Twilight Zone Marathon

If you're like me - read as: uncomfortable with crowds and human interaction and comfortable with awesome genre entertainment - there's about nothing you'll like more than when the SyFy Network offers up one of their Twilight Zone marathons on the New Years or Independence Day holidays.  It's got its flaws - the fact that they can only show 44 episodes in 22 hours is a big one, not to mention a few cuts to make room for modern commercial requirements - but there's simply no better escape from holiday madness for someone who loves twisted, dark entertainment.
But we can't all be full hermits, and most of us can't sit in front of a TV screen from 8 AM EST through 6 AM EST the next day, which means there's some picking and choosing that you might have to do when it comes to. (I suppose you could avoid picking and choosing if you have one of those fancy future DVR machines that holds a lot of stuff, but I'm a VCR boy and I don't understand that kind of talk.) My point is that you might have to pick out the best of what this marathon has to offer so you can keep your family/friends/waist line happy. And I'm here to help with that.
Below is a quick rundown of the episodes that stand out to me from tomorrow's marathon. I'm still working through the whole series to catch episodes I've missed/forgotten over the years, so this is by no means the definitive answer to this marathon - I encourage you to check out the full lineup, which I'll post at the bottom of this post, and check out the descriptions of the episodes you might like on your cable guide or somewhere like  Additionally, I've linked each title to the episode's IMDB page for your convenience.
Here's what I'm recommending/watching out for:
  • The daytime lineup features a lot of episodes that I'm not familiar with yet or don't remember well. I'm looking forward to catching a few new (to me) episodes, but there's a couple I dig

9:30 AM EST - People Are Alike All Over - Roddy McDowell of Planet of the Apes and Fright Night fame stars as one of the first Earthlings on Mars, who is given a warm welcome by the planet's humanoid inhabitants. Underrated episode that's worth it for the actor's performance and a stinging ending.

12:30 PM EST - Stopover in a Quiet Town - The ending of this one might not work for everyone, but it's one of The Zone's best "where is everybody?" episodes. A married couple finds themselves in a seemingly deserted town and things are - as always when Serling's the host - not what they seem.

1:30 PM EST - I Sing The Body Electric - This tale of a robot grandmother and the children she takes care of is most notable for being the only Twilight Zone episode written by the late, great Ray Bradbury.

2:00 PM EST - Five Characters in Search of an Exit - A clown, a ballerina, a soldier, a hobo, and a bagpiper wake up in an inescapable room with no memories and only the sky above as a clue that might explain their predicament. One of my favorite episodes, but another with an ending that's a little farther outside the box than some might like.

2:30 PM EST - Nick of Time - I actually haven't seen this one, about another couple stopping in a small town and finding trouble, but I'll be checking it out for two reasons: it's written by Richard Matheson, and it stars William Shatner. If you think that sounds like an awesome combination, check back in at 9:30.

3:00 PM EST - Kick the Can - Also haven't seen this one, but I'm so excited that it's getting shown here. This is the episode that was updated by Steven Spielberg for 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie, in which an optimistic old man tries to convince other seniors that age can be conquered. Really curious to see how this one originally played out.

4:00 PM EST - It's a Good Life - Also updated for Twilight Zone: The Movie, this tale of a boy who holds his family captive with his overactive imagination is a one of a kind winner.

5:30 PM EST - The Invaders - Another classic via Matheson, in which an old woman goes to war with tiny aliens that land on her roof. If it sounds too good to be true - trust me, it's not. It's great.

  • (By The Way - From 5:30 to 11:30 you might as well cancel all your plans, because this is when SyFy is bringing out some heavy hitters. Crack the window so you can see the fireworks, but keep your eyes glued to the following episodes if you haven't seen them.)

6:00 PM EST - The Masks - One of the only episodes to be directed by a woman - the great Ida Lupino - and one of the more serious and macabre episodes of the series. This is one you might want to check out on Hulu or Netflix, however, as the cuts for timing hurt a couple of the reveals here.

  • (By The Way II: The Sequel - All of these episodes are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even Hulu (for free via IMDB).  If you miss out - you can still see them and win! It's like Christmas and Independenc Day and The Twilight Zone Marathon mixed into one package!)

6:30 PM EST - Living Doll - Telly Savalas goes one on one with the infamous Talky Tina, an angry and murderous doll that won't shut up. It's creepy even if you know that Tina is voiced by June Foray, who is most famous for being Rocky the Flying Squirrel alongside Bullwinkle.

7:30 PM EST - Time Enough At Last - The second straight episode starring Burgess Meredith (The Obsolete Man runs at 7:00 PM) has what might be the whole series' single best gut-punching ending.

8:30 PM EST - Eye of the Beholder - One of the most infamous episodes, and it needs no introduction to TZ fans. The thing about this show is that it can so easily trick us by making us buy in to our own preconceptions of reality - and few episodes do that better than this one does.

9:00 PM EST - To Serve Man - The best alien episode of the series? Possibly. And, like most of these prime time episodes, one that packs a fantastic and iconic twist. Plus it features Richard "Jaws" Kiel as a Kanamit invader - and that's always welcome.

9:30 PM EST - Nightmare at 20,000 Feet - Shatner and Matheson return in another of the series' most popular tales. There's something on the wing of the plane!

10:00 PM EST - Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? - I love love love love love that this episode is getting a prime spot in the marathon next to some of the greats. The story, in which the trail of an alien invader leads to a snowbound diner full of seemingly normal people, is one of the Zone's best combinations of paranoia and mystery.

10:30 PM EST - The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street - It's a paranoia double feature in the the 10 PM hour, as Rod Serling unleashes one of the more socially relevant episodes from the show's run. This chaotic episode is still relevant today, making it one of the show's biggest "must see" episodes.

11:00 PM EST - The Howling Man - This one is probably my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. I've written about it before, but it still never seems to get old. One of the few Zone episodes that is directly about the battle between good and evil, and the results are perfectly over-the-top and nightmarish.

The early Friday lineup doesn't pack the same punch as that set of episodes does, but there are still some good episodes to be found and a few I'm hoping to catch up with. Here's what jumps out to me.

2:30 AM EST - Night Call - Directed by the legendary Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past, Cat People, Night of the Demon) and written by Matheson, this is certainly one of the most horror-based episodes of the series. An old woman (Gladys Cooper of Rebecca and other Hollywood classics) deals with a series of ominous phone calls late at night and becomes increasingly afraid for her life.

4:00 AM EST - Little Girl Lost - More Richard Matheson! This is the episode that should give any parent nightmares, in which a little girl vanishes from her room while her parents can still hear her scream.

4:30 AM EST - The After Hours - OK, I know it's the title - but I HATE how this one always seems to be buried in the late/early hours of the marathon. I actually just saw it for the first time during one of the marathons a couple of years ago, and instantly loved it. Forbidden Planet's Anne Francis stars...and there's also a bunch of mannequins. Prepare for creepy.

A few of my favorites didn't make the cut for this short marathon - try out Nothing in the Dark (Robert Redford!), Spur of the Moment, and Mirror Image if you need more - but it's not possible to show all the great episodes without showing almost all of the episodes. Check out the full rundown below and make your own viewing (or streaming) plans. In the meantime, hit up the comments and tell me which episodes you dig - I need to make sure I catch 'em all!
(All times EST)
Thursday, July 4                                                             Friday, July 5
8am: “Walking Distance”                                                    12am: “The Midnight Sun
8:30am: “The Shelter”                                                         12:30am: “The Bewitchin’ Pool
9am: “The Old Man in the Cave”                                        1am: “The Dummy
9:30am: “People Are Alike All Over”                                  1:30am: “Dead Man’s Shoes
10am: “Probe 7, Over and Out”                                          2am: “Night of the Meek
10:30am: “A Kind of a Stopwatch”                                     2:30am: “Night Call”
11am: “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”                            3am: “A Penny For Your Thoughts
11:30am: “A Game of Pool”                                               3:30am: “Long Distance Call
12pm: “A Most Unusual Camera”                                      4am: “Little Girl Lost”
12:30pm: “Stopover in a Quiet Town”                                4:30am: “The After Hours”
1pm: “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”                           5am: “The Little People
1:30pm: “I Sing the Body Electric”                                     5:30am: “Caesar and Me
2pm: “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”
2:30pm: “Nick of Time”
3pm: “Kick the Can”
3:30pm: “Where Is Everybody?
4pm: “It’s a Good Life”
4:30pm: “The Hitch-Hiker
5pm: “Third From the Sun
5:30pm: “The Invaders”
6pm: “The Masks”
6:30pm: “Living Doll”
7pm: “The Obsolete Man
7:30pm: “Time Enough at Last”
8pm: “A Stop at Willoughby
8:30pm: “The Eye of the Beholder”
9pm: “To Serve Man”
9:30pm: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
10pm: “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
10:30pm: “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
11pm: “The Howling Man”
11:30pm: “The Odyssey of Flight 33