DVD Review: “The Twilight Zone: Essential Episodes (55th Anniversary Collection)”

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The Ultimate Must-Have Collection For Any Twilight Zone Fan!

“The Twilight Zone” was a TV show that was revolutionary when it first premiered in 1959. There had been nothing else like it and there have been countless imitations since, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “Tales from the Darkside”, “The Outer Limits” and “Tales from the Crypt”. Granted, some of these shows had some good episodes but they surely wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for “The Twilight Zone”.

On July 1st, Image Entertainment is releasing “The Twilight Zone: Essential Episodes (55th Anniversary Collection)”. This isn’t a release of the entire series, instead, it’s a very special collection which features some of the most memorable episodes from Rod Serling’s legendary series exploring the fantastic and the frightening. Prepare to travel to another dimension of sight and sound once again with these essential episodes: “Walking Distance”, “Time Enough At Last”, “The Hitch-Hiker”, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, “A Stop at Willoughby”, “The After Hours”, “The Howling Man”, “The Eye of the Beholder”, “Nick of Time”, “The Invaders”, “The Obsolete Man”, “It’s A Good Life”, “The Midnight Sun”, “To Serve Man”, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, “Living Doll” and “The Masks”.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet:
This episode is one of my all-time favorites. William Shatner has become synonymous with over-acting and annunciating…every…single…word! Actually, this happened to him much later in life. In his earlier career, he gave some good performances and in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, he plays Bob Wilson, a man who is recovering from having a recent nervous breakdown and who is on a flight home with his wife Julia (Christine White). Sitting next to a window, he begins seeing a creature out on the plane’s wing. In the beginning, he doesn’t know if he’s having another breakdown but the creature is well aware that he can see him and toys with him until he finally snaps. Mr. Shatner’s portrayal of a man slowly losing his mind, was actually very understated and one of his best. We all know that as his career flourished, as a direct result of “Star Trek”, his performances became more extravagant and melodramatic and he became a caricature of his former self, something he seemingly embraced. This segment was directed by Richard Donner who would go on to make “The Omen”, “Superman”, “The Goonies” and the “Lethal Weapon” movies and it was great watching this talented director in his early years, obviously very capable of delivering the goods.

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The Obsolete Man:
In a future totalitarian America, a librarian, Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) is declared ‘obsolete’ by the State and sentenced to death as books and literature have been eliminated. Mr. Wordsworth also believes in God, another crime which is punishable by death, dictated by the State and so he is given the choice of his own method of execution which must take place within the next 48 hours. He chooses to die in his own home at the strike of midnight and in the hour before his death, he summons the chancellor (Fritz Weaver) who condemned him. Initially, the Chancellor, arrogant and presumptuous, assumes that he has called him there to beg and plead for his life but then Wordsworth informs him that he has chosen to die as a result of a bomb planted in his room. Initially, he calls his bluff but when he realizes he’s telling the truth and finds the door locked, he is certain that the state will rescue him. Wordsworth informs him that the events are being broadcast live and as a result, the State would risk losing its status in the eyes of the people by trying to rescue him. He eventually breaks down and pleads for his life, in the name of God and because of this, Wordsworth frees him. When he returns to the State however, he finds the tables have been turned on him. Starring a young Burgess Meredith who would go on to star in the “Rocky” movies as Rocky’s trainer Mickey.

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To Serve Man:
This episode begins with Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), a cryptographer who works for the United Nations, lying in a small spartan chamber on board a spaceship. A voice advises him to eat but he informs them that he is not hungry. We then see a flashback weeks earlier, where a U.F.O. is spotted over New York City. There is a general assembly of the world’s different countries at the United Nations and it it here, that one of the aliens enters and proceeds to tell the world that they come in peace and want to help us rid the planet of famine and war. Everyone is skeptical in the beginning but the aliens, called Kanamits, begin to prove to the world that they mean what they say: underdeveloped nations begin to flourish, energy becomes very cheap and nuclear weapons are rendered harmless. The Kanamit’s call their home planet a paradise and start offering flights with humans flocking there by the thousands but just as Chambers is ready to board one of the flights, a member of his staff informs him that they were able to break one of the aliens’ cryptic codes and warns him that mankind is the main ingredient on the Kanamit’s food chain! “To Serve Man” indeed. Richard Kiel, who would later portray the character of JAWS in the James Bond movies “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”, plays the lead alien in one of his earliest performances.

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These are my three favorites from the forthcoming DVD release and below are the titles and synopsis for each episode:

Walking Distance:
A man makes a time travel to his childhood, when he’s just a few miles away from his native town.

Time Enough at Last:
A henpecked book lover finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war.

The Hitch-Hiker:
A young woman driving cross country becomes frantic when she keeps passing the same man on the side of the road.

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street:
On a peaceful suburban street, strange occurrences and mysterious people stoke the residents’ paranoia to a disastrous intensity.

A Stop at Willoughby:
Tired of his miserable job and wife, a businessman starts dreaming on the train each night, about an old, idyllic town called Willoughby. Soon he has to know whether the town is real and fancies the thought of seeking refuge there.

The After Hours:
A woman is treated badly by some odd salespeople on an otherwise empty department store floor.

The Howling Man:
At the end of World War I, David Ellington is hiking in Europe when he desires refuge in an old abbey during a violent rain storm. During his short stay, he meets someone who is being kept prisoner and howls constantly through the night.

The Eye of the Beholder:
A young woman lying in a hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages, awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look “normal”.

Nick of Time:
A pair of newlyweds stopping in a small town are trapped by their own superstition when playing a fortune telling machine in a local diner.

The Invaders:
When a woman investigates a clamor on the roof of her rural house, she discovers a small UFO and little aliens emerging from it. Or so it seems.

The Obsolete Man:
In a future totalitarian society, a librarian is declared obsolete and sentenced to death.

It’s a Good Life:
On an isolated family farm, a young boy with vast mental powers, but lacking emotional development, holds his terrified family in thrall to his every juvenile wish.

The Midnight Sun:
When the Earth falls out of orbit, two women try to cope with increasingly oppressive heat in a nearly abandoned city.

To Serve Man:
An alien race comes to earth, promising peace and sharing technology. A linguist and his team set out to translate the alien’s language, using a book whose title they deduce is “To Serve Man”.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet:
A man, newly recovered from a nervous breakdown, becomes convinced that a monster only he can see, is damaging the plane he’s flying in.

Living Doll:
A frustrated father does battle with his stepdaughter’s talking doll, whose vocabulary includes such phrases as “I hate you” and “I’m going to kill you”.

The Masks:
Wealthy Jason Foster is dying and he invites his greedy heirs to a Mardi Gras party where they must wear the masks he specially had made for them or else be cut off from their inheritance.

Product Details
Actors: Bill Mumy, Burgess Meredith, Cloris Leachman, Ron Howard, John Carradine, William Shatner.

Directors: Alvin Ganzer, Douglas Heyes, Ida Lupino, James Daly, John Brahm.
Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC.
Language: English.
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only).
Number of discs: 2.
Rated: Unrated.
Studio: IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT.
DVD Release Date: July 1, 2014.
Run Time: 425 minutes.
SRP: $29.98.

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James McDonald
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