In the wake of the Wes Craven’s passing, I began my annual horror-thon by revisiting the episodes of The Twilight Zone he directed in the 1980s.
They are surprisingly great — I say surprisingly only because they show a depth of sentiment that Craven rarely got to show in his horror features. His features have glimpses or moments of such empathy, but in these episodes, he really gets to put the human condition in the foreground. And because he’s Wes Craven, he can pull this off without being at all saccharine or cloying.
All seven of his episodes were on YouTube when I did this, weeks ago, but a couple have since been pulled by CBS. I don’t know why they aren’t streaming on Hulu, in that case, but perhaps its in the works.
Submitted for your approval: the case of one Mr. Wes Craven… in The Twilight Zone
“Shatterday” (Season 1, Episode 1) stars Bruce Willis and… Bruce Willis. There’s a whole lotta Bruce here, and it’s fun to watch him chew scenery and chase himself at the same time. He credits Mr. Craven with giving him his big break in this episode.
“A Little Peace and Quiet” (Season 1, Episode 1) This is a reworking of the 1963 episode “A Kind of Stopwatch,” made better, in my opinion, by Melinda Dillon as a put-upon, Cold-War-Era housewife under Craven’s sensitive yet bitterly ironic direction.
“Chameleon” (Season 1, Episode 2) Someone who’s come back from space may or may not be himself…. or herself… it’s familiar territory but Craven gives it a creepy veneer. The Space Shuttle Discovery is the big star of this episode.
“Wordplay” (Season 1, Episode 2) Is wickedly funny, surprisingly poignant, and a tad perverse as only Wes Craven could pull off.
“Dealer’s Choice” (Season 1, Episode 20) This one got pulled from YouTube, no doubt because it stars Morgan Freeman, Garrett Morris, M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Hedaya, and Barney Martin. Story-wise there’s not much here — Satan at a card game — but Craven and this cast are clearly having a blast working together so it is a treat to watch as a rare moment of tv-movie history.
“Her Pilgrim Soul” (Season 1, Episode 28) I wasn’t sure about this one at first, then I wound up weeping. What a haunting homage to great love, great loss, and the complexities of the human spirit. [“When You Are Old” – William Butler Yeats]
“The Road Less Traveled” (Season 2, Episode 07) Meet the self you almost were… in the Vietnam Era. Again, it’s a typical tale, but Craven and cast make it engaging and ultimately very moving. Cliff De Young stars.
Also on my horror-thon to-watch list: Night Visions, Craven’s 1990 TV movie starring James Remar – better get to it before it gets pulled too.