The Twilight Zone

 

When photography killed off art, a new art form emerged, that of moving pictures. Limited, yet powerful, it quickly became the most popular medium of all – at least until television came along.

It combines the privacy of reading a book with the mass experience of the cinema. This difference takes on a special meaning in the case of horror and science fiction.

Popular as the genre may be, there is no real advantage to seeing a western in your own home. A horror movie, however, changes from GRAND GUIGNOL to a haunting.

Unfortunately, this is not an effect, which technical strides like bigger screens and colour have enhanced. In my childhood, seeing an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS was like tuning in to another planet.

The producers were well aware of this, as seen by the introduction, showing static and a test signal, assuring us that there was nothing wrong with our television set, it had merely been taken over by a superior intelligence. These signals, which could bring about an epileptic seizure, could of course also be used as a brainwashing technique (as often claimed by desperately competing media).

And why not, since their modus operandi was atomic radiation of the brain? Where did they really come from?

In fact, the very first instalment told the story of a "galaxy being" physically televised to Earth and proceeding to kill people by irradiating them. And of course, in a way, that was exactly what happened to us kids – if THE OUTER LIMITS didn't give you nightmares, you were incapable of having one.

Today, these series can be had on DVD in crisp condition, and yet they have not lost their power to transport us "to another dimension". For one thing, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS are hands down the best television shows ever conceived.

They are so incredibly literate that even the movies of that golden age seem silly in comparison. The production values are literally out of this world – just think of having Bernard Hermann write a complete score for every single episode!

The cinematography, distilled by the constrained format, has never been surpassed. You could totally ignore the plot and performances, and still have an experience.

They featured the biggest stars of their day. Are they scary?

Yes, in the sense of otherworldly. ALIEN merely says boo.

The ZONE and LIMITS made you doubt your reality. Often, you were bewildered by what you had seen, and there was no rewind, only lying in your bed and wondering if there really were such things.

Whereas every episode of THE OUTER LIMITS was a surreal nightmare, THE TWILIGHT ZONE was more varied. It could be nerve-wrecking, tragic, whimsical or philosophical – even preachy.

Its creator ROD SERLING was considered a dangerous liberal at the time. Today he would have been locked up as a terrorist.

He often complained of censorship. He had no idea.

But then again, he was one of those pioneers, who believed in the future of the media, and it did in fact provide intelligent entertainment considerably longer than the cinema – the better episodes of THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE, produced a mere quarter of a century ago, is actually on a par with the original series. Now you can flip through a hundred channels without finding anything decent to watch, unless you're a child or a retard.

But then of course there's DVD and its indispensable companion, BATHOS. Rod himself wrote most of the episodes, and it says something about his prowess as an author that they were as well-written as those penned by Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury.

To him as to many others, science fiction provided a way of putting the human situation in a new perspective, but also of commenting on political issues, the censors mostly being sufficiently dense to consider the genre innocuous. Although he may himself have considered THE TWILIGHT ZONE to be in a lighter vein than his more talky pieces, he never did anything quite as good – nor did anyone else.

PS: There are 314 episodes. If you haven't got time (or money) for all of them, may we suggest that you subscribe to BATHOS?