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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