Monday, June 18, 2018

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 9


In which we take a closer look at each issue of the magazine. For our capsule history of the magazine, go here.

Volume 1, number 9 (December, 1981)


Cover Art: Peter Frommig

TZ Publications, Inc.

President & Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary/Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice-Presidents: Leon Garry, Eric Protter
Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Leon Garry
Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson, Theodore Sturgeon
Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Director, Marketing and Creative Services: Rose-Marie Brooks
Public Relations Manager: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Mgr.: Chris Grossman
Circulation Director: William D. Smith
Circulation Assistant: Karen Wiss
Circ. Marketing Mgr.: Jerry Alexander
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
Advertising Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Adv. Production Manager: Marina Despotakis
Advertising Representatives: Barney O’Hara & Associates, Inc.

Contents:

--A Note from the Publisher by Carol Serling
--In the Twilight Zone: “Required reading . . .” by T.E.D. Klein
--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--TZ Interview: Harlan Ellison by Tom Staicar
--“Age of Reason” by David St. Marie
--“Forest God” by Jaspar Witco
--“Handyman” by Kenneth Goodman
--“The Pasture” by Joe R. Lansdale
--“All a Clone by the Telephone” by Haskell Barkin
--TZ Screen Preview: The Quest for Fire by Ed Naha
--The Essential Writers: M.R. James by Mike Ashley
--“The Ash Tree” by M.R. James
--“On 202” by Jeff Hecht
--“The Emerson Effect” by Jack McDevitt
--Show-by-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone: Part Nine by Marc Scott Zicree
--TZ Classic Teleplay: “The Midnight Sun” by Rod Serling
--Looking Ahead: In January’s TZ

--A Note from the Publisher by Carol Serling
-Serling uses her customary place in the magazine to examine a plethora of society’s shortcomings and the ways in which imaginative literature serves to provide an escape from these problems as well as combat such issues as ignorance and intolerance. Rod Serling’s work possessed a clear humanistic streak and here his widow advocates that those who enjoy imaginative literature demand that such literature remain a pathway to a better tomorrow. It is a small, inspiring piece which serves to remind readers that Rod Serling’s legacy is as much about moving viewers/readers to positive action as it is about providing escape from life.

--In The Twilight Zone: “Required reading . . .” by T.E.D. Klein
-Klein spends the majority of his editorial lamenting the fact that many so-called horror fiction fans remain ignorant of the classic writers of the form. From this springs a new feature which begins in this issue: The Essential Writers. This feature provides an informative essay on a classic horror writer along with a quality example of their fiction. The editorial is rounded out by Klein’s capsule biographies of the issue’s contributors along with thumbnail images.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon

-Sturgeon is back with another round of brief book reviews. In this issue he takes a look at:

-Millennium, Glimpses into the 21st Century, edited by Alberto Villoldo and Ken Dychtwald.
“. . . it consists of a series of essays on aspects of ourselves, our species, our culture and our thought, in terms of our potential.”

-The Prince of Morning Bells by Nancy Kress
“Smile a lot, yes, and then weep a little, and hold your breath, and wonder at the wisdom, and the whimsy of it, and you’re reading The Prince of Morning Bells.”

-At the Eye of the Ocean by Hilbert Schenk
“. . . a slam-bang narrative that filled me with the same deep excitement I felt when, as a fourteen-year-old, I discovered Robert Louis Stevenson.”

-The Gladiator by Bill Earls
“He tells us of the frighteningly swift evolution of violence in professional sports.”

-Radix by A.A. Attanasio
“. . . a very large paperback, to make what is, to me, a very important point: namely, that the most successful fiction is that which compels the reader to identify with its people, and to be remembered as something experienced rather than merely observed.”

-Distant Stars by Samuel R. Delany
“. . . beautifully produced and illustrated by no fewer than seven fine artists, it contains some of his most compelling writing, including an original story.”

-Whispers III edited by Stuart David Schiff
“. . . for those of you who delight in shudders and grue.”

-New Voices 4, the John W. Campbell Award Nominees edited by George R.R. Martin
“. . . contains an intro by van Vogt, a most penetrating appreciation of Tom Reamy by A.J. Budrys, and one of the finest stories I have ever read: ‘Blue Champagne’ by John Varley.”

-Nebula Winners Thirteen edited by Samuel R. Delany
“. . . despite high-level competition by Ellison, Varley, Sheldon, and Spider Robinson, two runners-up captured me: ‘Particle Theory,’ by Edward Bryant, and Vonda McIntyre’s ‘Aztecs.’”

-Galaxy, Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction edited by Frederick Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander
“. . . surely the best buy of the month – possibly of the year.”

-Skyclimber by Raymond Z. Gallum
“. . . the saga of the settlement of Mars during a period of wars on Earth.”

-Horrors edited by Charles L. Grant
“. . . especially J. Michael Reaves’ country-flavored nightmare ‘Shadetree,’ Jack Dann’s ‘The Drum Lollipop’ and Stephen King’s ‘The Monkey.’”

-Virgil Finlay Remembered edited by Gerry de la Ree
“It’s hard to imagine Golden Age pulps without the Finlay touch.”

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson

-Wilson examines two werewolf films: Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh, and An American Werewolf in London, directed by John Landis. Much of this article felt repetitive for the fact that the magazine presented a feature on werewolf films in the August issue with a color section entitled TZ Screen Preview: Hollywood Cries Wolf! However, Wilson gives each film the once-over and finds things to like and dislike about each. For The Wolfen Wilson praises the performance of Albert Finney as well as the novel use of the werewolf’s perspective in a series of subjective shots. Wilson found the attempt to shoehorn a social message into the film unsuccessful. For An American Werewolf in London Wilson found the special effects to be highly accomplished (the film won an Academy Award for makeup artist Rick Baker) but found the film’s second half to be considerably weaker than the first half, due to the fact that director John Landis all but abandons the comedy of the first half in the concluding portion of the film. Although An American Werewolf in London certainly has moments of comedy, Wilson's review indicates that he expected the film to be a full-out comedy in the manner of Landis's previous films Animal House and The Blues Brothers, perhaps spoiling the ability for him to enjoy the film for the bleak horror story that it is.

-The films have had divergent paths since their initial releases. An American Werewolf in London is generally considered a modern classic by horror film fans and one of the finest of all werewolf films. It has seen multiple home video releases, spawned a sequel: An American Werewolf in Paris, been the subject of a feature-length documentary, Beware the Moon, and there is currently a remake planned by John Landis' son Max Landis. The Wolfen, while admired by many horror film fans, has seen nowhere near the same level of exposure and acclaim. It has recently seen a Blu-ray release as part of the Warner Archive collection.

--TZ Interview: Harlan Ellison on the Art of Making Waves

Subtitled: The candid self-portrait of ‘a very tough little bird.’

-For readers who do not know Harlan Ellison I am not going to use this space in any real attempt to provide a history of Ellison’s career. Those interested in such are advised to consult a recently published biography: A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff (NESFA Press). Briefly, Harlan Ellison is the most honored writer of speculative fiction since Fritz Leiber and his work has been honored by a diverse body of awards, including the Nebula, Hugo, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe, Writers Guild, and International PEN Awards, among others. He has been recognized as a Grand Master by both the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Some of Ellison’s more enduringly popular works include the short story collections I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967), Deathbird Stories (1975), Strange Wine (1978), and Shatterday (1980), two volumes of television criticism titled The Glass Teat (1970) and The Other Glass Teat (1975), and two hugely influential SF anthologies which he edited, Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Ellison wrote for many television series as well including The Outer Limits, Star Trek, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and the 1980s Twilight Zone, for which he also served as Creative Consultant.

-A working knowledge of Ellison’s career will certainly assist the reader when encountering this interview as the interview covers an enormous amount of ground in a relatively short space. That being said, it is certainly worth your time to read this interview even if you have not read much (or any) of Ellison’s work. Ellison is erudite, humanistic, controversial, and deeply committed to quality, intelligence, tolerance, and integrity. Ellison has developed a reputation for being contentious due to his unwavering dedication to the integrity of the writer's work. Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Ellison’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, is its ability to elicit a strong reaction in the reader.

-The interview begins with Ellison listing a number of works in progress, only one of which has subsequently seen publication. Ellison also states that the third and concluding volume in the Dangerous Visions series, The Last Dangerous Visions, will be released in three volumes in 1982. For those who do not know, The Last Dangerous Visions is the most famous unpublished work of SF. It was initially announced for publication in 1973 but suffered a series of setbacks which prevented its publication. The work will likely never see publication in its originally intended form. The interview continues by exploring the varying aspects of Ellison’s career, including his work for television and film, his practice of marketing his books by publicly writing stories in the widows of bookstores, his views on fame and posterity, his college lecture tours, his combative nature, his marriages, and his intention to have all of his unpublished material destroyed upon his death. Overall, this is a long and rewarding interview for Ellison’s readers and is sure to stimulate the curiosity of those who have not yet encountered his work. 

--"Age of Reason" by David St. Marie

Illustrated by E.T. Steadman
"For the lucky few, the law of gravity might bend a little - but only till they reached the . . ."

-A government official is sent to an elementary school to examine a young boy who appears able to transcend gravity. Grade: B

-This was a short, enjoyable tale which took on an additional layer of thematic material when the protagonist examines the differences between a child's ability to levitate due to an emotional connection or through genetic makeup. I enjoyed the vague glimpses of a near-future society and the intimate setting and small cast of characters. My only complaint with the tale, as the father of a young boy, is that the child in the tale, a kindergarten student, speaks far too much like an adult. David St. Marie's tale has not seen republication. His work in speculative fiction appears to have begun and ended with this tale, though he did contribute a review of Wayland Drew's novelization of the film Dragonslayer to the July, 1981 issue of Ares magazine. 

--"Forest God" by Jaspar Witco

Illustrated by Robert Morello
"Maybe the real danger wasn't out there in the woods. Maybe it was inside himself."

-A racist white man finds himself lost on Native American land while on a hunting trip and discovers the truth of his animalistic nature. Grade: D

-Perhaps time has diminished my ability to enjoy this tale. Although it is competently written, it hits just about every Native American revenge cliché that proliferated in the horror genre in the 1980s. The characters are woefully stereotypical and the attempt to create an outré atmosphere is mostly unsuccessful. Worse than that, the tale hints at a disturbing transformation scene which is never delivered. Witco does not appear to have written any additional speculative fiction which again displays T.E.D. Klein's dedication to publishing new writers. "Forest God" has not been reprinted. 

--"Handyman" by Kenneth Goodman

Illustrated by Gregory Cannone
". . . Which asks the vital question: just how far are you willing to go in search of realism - and how much are you willing to pay for it?"

-A dim-witted janitor is coerced into chopping off his own hand for a film director who desires ultimate realism. Grade: D

-This issue's seemingly obligatory tale of comedic relief is rather insensitively related from the perspective of mentally challenged man who mutilates himself for money to feed his family, only to later discover that the joke's on him. My initial problem with the story is that it doesn't really belong in the magazine. It possesses no speculative or even criminal element. Instead, it is a simple character study which lacks the complexity of character to bring such a story off. "Handyman" has not been reprinted.

--"The Pasture" by Joe R. Lansdale


Illustrated by Ahmet Gorgun
"That craziness beyond the barbed-wire fence - was it a dream, another dimension, or just a load of bull?"

-A fireman discovers a passage to a strange alternate world when he is called out to a small pasture fire. Grade: C

-"The Pasture" is something of a Joe R. Lansdale rarity. Written early in Lansdale's career, the story has only been reprinted in his 1996 collection A Fist Full of Stories (And Articles), a miscellany of uncollected works. The story contains Lansdale's trademark regional humor but runs a bit long and doesn't seem to come full circle. It is as though Lansdale conjured up the image of naked humans grazing in a field of grass watched over by their bovine owners but couldn't quite wrap a proper narrative around the image. It is a testament to Lansdale's storytelling talent that it is still an enjoyable and, in places, genuinely funny story.

-This is Lansdale's second appearance in the magazine, after his enjoyable tale "The Dump" appeared in the July, 1981 issue. Lansdale is a prolific writer across a range of genres, including crime, suspense, horror, science fiction, western, historical, and mainstream works. His celebrated career has garnered multiple Bram Stoker Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Lansdale began his career writing regional crime and horror stories of a bleak and violent nature, resulting in such powerful works as the novels Act of Love (1981) and The Nightrunners (1987). He is well-known for his Hap and Leonard mystery series and has lately concentrated his efforts on works of historical fiction which still possess his creatively dark signature. Lansdale is particularly well-regarded for his short fiction, collected across such volumes as By Bizarre Hands (1989), Bestsellers Guaranteed (1993), and Writer of the Purple Rage (1994). The best of his short fiction can be found in High Cotton: Selected Stories (2000). Lansdale's works have been translated to other mediums as well, including film, television, and comic books. If you are not familiar with Lansdale's work I can highly recommend becoming acquainted with this unique and very talented writer. My first discovery of Lansdale some fifteen years ago was one of the most refreshing literary discoveries in quite some time. 

--"All a Clone by the Telephone" by Haskell Barkin

Illustrated by Marty Blake
"As is generally agreed, those telephone machines are revolting!"

-A television writer buys a new answering machine only to find that the machine is sentient and ruining his life. Grade: C

-More comedic fiction for this issue, this time from television writer Haskell Barkin, who wrote a handful of 1980s Twilight Zone episodes. Barkin's tale naturally concerns a television writer who wages an unsuccessful war with his answering machine when it begins to alter his life in unpleasant ways. The tale is not quite funny enough to be a successful comedy nor quite scary enough to be a successful tale of horror. Nevertheless, Barkin adapted the tale for the first season of Tales from the Darkside, directed by Frank De Palma and starring Harry Anderson and Marcie Barkin, whose possible relation to Haskell Barkin I was unable to determine. Barkin was a relatively prolific writer for television, primarily for animated programs such as The Smurfs, Darkwing Duck, and various Scooby-Doo series, and genre anthology series such as Tales from the Darkside, The Twilight Zone revival series, and Monsters, including an adaptation of Stephen King's "The Moving Finger," starring Tom Noonan. Barkin wrote a handful of additional short stories for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. "All a Clone by the Telephone" joins Donald Olson's "The Tear Collector," from the October, 1981 issue, as a story published in TZ Magazine to later be adapted for Tales from the Darkside. Barkin died in 2013. 

--TZ Screen Preview: The Quest for Fire by Ed Naha

Illustrated with stills from the film
"Those who loved the first twenty minutes of '2001' can return to the past in this thinking man's stone age adventure."

-Writer Ed Naha steps in to deliver this enjoyable full-color preview of Quest for Fire (1981). The article presents the title as The Quest for Fire but "The" was dropped from the title in release. This film was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and written by Gérard Brach and concerns the time in man's ancient past when fire was a previous commodity and warring tribes battled for supremacy. The film stars Everett McGill, Rae Dawn Chong, and Ron Perlman. Two interesting aspects of the production are the technical advisers on the film. Desmond Morris, the zoologist, was engaged to direct the actors in the ways in which early humans might move and behave. Author Anthony Burgess, best known for A Clockwork Orange, was hired to create the film's fictional language. The film was a critical and financial success, currently holding an 83% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing more than $55 million dollars on a $12 million dollar budget. The film is also well-regarded for its makeup achievements, having won the 1982 Academy Award for Makeup for its technicians Sarah Monzani and Michèle Burke. 


Ed Naha is likely a familiar name to readers of such genre publications as Starlog and Fangoria, for which Naha provided dozens of feature articles. Naha wrote one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest, series retrospective for The Twilight Zone, which appeared in Starlog #15 (August, 1978). The article featured an essay, “Rod Serling’s Dream,” and an episode guide to the series. Naha also wrote a film review series, Ed Naha’s Nahalywood, for Science Fiction Chronicle magazine from 1986-1990. Naha is also known for his relatively small fiction output, which includes original novels such as Breakdown (1988) and Orphans (1989) as well as movie novelizations including Ghostbusters II (1989), Robocop (1987), and Robocop 2 (1990). Naha’s nonfiction works include Horrors: From Screen to Scream (1975), The Science Fictionary (1980), and The Films of Roger Corman (1982). 

--The Essential Writers: M.R. James by Mike Ashley

Illustrated with a photo the author, a still from the film Night of the Demon (1957), and illustrations by Lynd Ward, Lee Brown Coye, and Elinore Blaisdell

"With this issue, TZ begins a new series profiling great names of fantasy's past. Our first subject is the genial English antiquarian whose ghost stories, though merely intended to amuse his friends at Christmas, remain the supreme examples of the form."

-Mike Ashley, noted anthologist and compiler of numerous genre reference works, here presents an engaging and informative profile of probably the finest author of ghostly fiction ever to set pen to paper. M.R. James was an English author and lifelong academic and college administrator who occasionally produced a ghost story to read to his friends and students at Christmastime. These occasional tales have since come to be regarded as among the finest bodies of ghostly fiction produced in the English language. James' tales were published in four volumes: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). His Collected Ghost Stories appeared in 1931. His stories have never been out of print.

-Although James' tales do not range widely and can be diminished through repetition, the best of his works contain moments of ghostly or demonic creation which can still unnerve a reader today. His tales are also filled with esoteric details which lend the supernatural proceedings an almost unrivaled degree of verisimilitude. This issue presents James' 1904 tale "The Ash-Tree," an excellent and oft-reprinted tale of witchcraft and spectral vengeance. Though I can recommend reading all of James' fiction, if you desire to read only a handful of his best, go with these selections: "Canon Alberic's Scrapbook," "Lost Hearts," "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'," "Count Magus," "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas," "Casting the Runes," and "A Warning to the Curious." James' influence upon the field of horror and fantasy is profound and his style of ghost story has been frequently imitated. Multiple anthologies have been compiled from ghost stories inspired by M.R. James and no collection of ghostly fiction is complete without a selection from James. His acolytes are numerous and range from James’ contemporary fellow academics to such titans of horror fiction as Fritz Leiber and Ramsey Campbell. His influence on the field is nearly that of H.P. Lovecraft, who considered James one of the supreme masters of the form.

-James' works have inspired numerous adaptations, including the 1957 film Night of the Demon, starring Twilight Zone veteran Dana Andrews and directed by Twilight Zone director Jacques Tourneur. Several of James' tales were famously filmed over many years for the unofficially titled Ghost Stories for Christmas on the BBC. Most of these adaptations were directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark. James’ work has inspired a long-running and highly regarded newsletter, Ghosts and Scholars, as well as a podcast, A Podcast to the Curious. 

--“The Ash-Tree” by M.R. James

Illustrated by George Chastain
“A classic tale of undying evil.”

-A horrible death awaits any who sleep in a certain room of a manor house which is overlooked by an ancient ash-tree. Grade: A+

-“The Ash-Tree” is the perfect selection to introduce readers to the fiction of M.R. James as it contains many of the overriding characteristics of James’ work, from a preoccupation with historic architecture to a fascination with the ancient sin of witchcraft, and the sin of persecuting the innocent falsely accused of witchcraft, to a horrible fear of spiders and a wonderful gift for dark invention. In Mrs. Mothersole, James creates a truly frightening antagonist who lives beyond the grave to bring a death curse upon the family of the man who sentenced her to hang for witchcraft. The story contains some of James’ most grisly effects, including a body turned black with poison and the horrible arachnid progeny of Mothersole. This one comes with the highest recommendation.

-“The Ash-Tree” was originally collected in James’ first volume of ghost stories, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), and has subsequently been reprinted numerous times, including in Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night (1961, anonymously edited by Robert Arthur), The Dark Descent (1987, edited by David G. Hartwell), and The Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories (1995, edited by Richard Dalby). “The Ash-Tree” was filmed in 1975 by Lawrence Gordon Clark as part of A Ghost Story for Christmas on the BBC. It was presented as a partially-dramatized reading by actor Robert Powell as part of his Classic Ghost Stories series in 1986. In 2000, Sir Christopher Lee provided a dramatic reading of “The Ash-Tree” for the BBC program Ghost Stories for Christmas. English actor Robert Lloyd Parry provides perhaps the finest rendition of the tale as part of his one-man live show in which he plays M.R. James and presents spirited readings of James’ stories. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is in the public domain in the United States and can be read freely through any number of e-book outlets. 

--“On 202” by Jeff Hecht

Illustrated by Frances Jetter
“The past lay before them, the dead lived again, and memories ended at the end of the road . . .”

-A young couple begin to lose their grips on reality while traveling down a desolate stretch of New England highway. Grade: B

-The main aspect of this story which prevents it from receiving a higher grade is that it is highly ambiguous, nearly to the point of being a mood piece rather than a proper narrative. I found Hecht able to create a truly unnerving atmosphere fueled by the tension between the couple as well as the overarching theme of the story, which is that the past is never dead and can suddenly intrude upon the present. Hecht’s story is also about the danger of holding on too strongly to the past, particularly an idealized past. Hecht also attempts a vague atmosphere of Lovecraftian horror which occurs when the male half of the couple juxtaposes his California existence, which he views as bright and hopeful, with the New England landscape through which they travel, which he views as bleak and despairing.

-“On 202” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Horror Stories X, edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1982) and New England Ghosts, edited by Frank D. McSherry, Jr., Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg (1990). Jeff Hecht has written several additional tales of science fiction and horror. His first short story, “Lifeboat,” was published in New Dimensions 8, edited by Robert Silverberg (1978). His most recent story, “A Slice of Time,” was published in the April 28, 2016 issue of Nature magazine. Hecht also wrote a series of science essays for Omni magazine in the 1980s. He performed a similar function for the digital Lightspeed magazine in 2010 and 2011. 

--“The Emerson Effect” by Jack McDevitt

Illustrated by Jeff Gherman
“The old book bore no address – as if its message had been intended, all along, for him.”

-A postal worker intercepts a strange package that appears to be a personally inscribed book from the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). The postal worker, who leads a lonely, dull life, finds himself able to transcend the spatial dimension once he begins reading the book. Grade: B

-I greatly enjoyed this strange and uplifting novella which presents a fresh spin on the age-old trope of an ordinary man pushed to change his drab existence through an encounter with the supernormal. The story is also of interest as it is the first professionally published fiction from prolific, Nebula Award-winning author Jack McDevitt, who has gone on to produce a stellar body of work in the SF field. The aspect of the tale I found particularly enjoyable was that although McDevitt is primarily interested in the philosophical and scientific aspects of the tale he doesn’t neglect the human element and thus presents distinct and engaging characters who look, act, and feel like real people. This is an element missing from a great deal of SF and it is refreshing to find it in the genre on occasion.

-“The Emerson Effect” was reprinted in Wondrous Beginnings, edited by Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg (2003), a volume designed to display the first published stories from notable SF authors. McDevitt is best known for his Academy series and his Alex Benedict series of novels. A career retrospective of his short fiction was published by Subterranean Press in 2009 as Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt.

--Show-by-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone: Part Nine by Marc Scott Zicree
“Continuing Marc Scott Zicree’s show-by-show guide to the entire Twilight Zone television series, complete with Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations.”

-Marc Scott Zicree returns with his Twilight Zone episodes guide, this time providing the cast and crew, summaries, and opening and closing narrations for the following third season episodes, all of which we’ve covered here in the Vortex: “A Quality of Mercy,” “Nothing in the Dark,” “One More Pallbearer,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” “The Hunt,” “Showdown with Rance McGrew,” and “Kick the Can.” 

-TZ Classic Teleplay: “The Midnight Sun” by Rod Serling

“The original television script first aired on CBS-TV November 17, 1961”

-Presented in full is Rod Serling’s teleplay for the very good (and somewhat underrated) episode “The Midnight Sun,” which I reviewed back on July 20, 2016 and awarded a grade of B. I still feel this is one of the stronger episodes of the series with one of my favorite performances from Lois Nettleton.

--Looking Ahead: In January’s TZ
-Next month’s issue includes another essay by Mike Ashley on the essential writers. This time it is a profile of the Irish writer Joseph Sheridan LeFanu along with LeFanu’s tale “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street.” Also included are stories by Parke Godwin (with a tale later adapted for the Twilight Zone revival series), Robert Sheckley, Reginald Bretnor, Connie Willis, Vic Johnson, Frank Belknap Long (who is also interviewed in the issue), and John Morressy. A special treat is a work from Rod Serling, “My Most Memorable Christmas.” Robert Martin returns for a film preview of the Peter Straub adaptation Ghost Story, and Theodore Sturgeon and Gahan Wilson return to provide their thoughts on current books and films, respectively. 

See you next time!

-JP

Monday, June 4, 2018

"The Thirty Fathom Grave"

Simon Oakland and Mike Kellin
“The Thirty Fathom Grave”
Season Four, Episode 104
Original Air Date: January 10, 1963

Cast:
Chief Bell: Mike Kellin
Captain Beecham: Simon Oakland
Doc: David Sheiner
McClure: John Considine
OOD: Bill Bixby
Ensign Marmer: Conlan Carter
ASW Officer: Forrest Compton
Jr. OOD: Henry Scott
Lee Helmsman: Tony Call
Sonar Operator: Charles Kuenstle
Helmsman: Derrik Lewis
Sailor #1: Vince Bagetta
Sailor #2: Louie Elias

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Perry Lafferty
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Associate Producer: Murray Golden
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Art Direction: George W. Davis & John J. Thompson
Film Editor: Richard W. Farrell
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Don Greenwood, Jr.
Assistant Director: John Bloss
Sound: Franklin Milton & Joe Edmondson
Music: stock
Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“The ingredients: an American destroyer, the Pacific Ocean, and the ghostly sound of hammering from thirty fathoms below. They add up to a strange tale of the bizarre and nightmarish. Mike Kellin and Simon Oakland star in a very different kind of Twilight Zone which we call ‘The Thirty Fathom Grave.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Incident one hundred miles off the coast of Guadalcanal. Time: the present. The United States naval destroyer on what has been a most uneventful cruise. In a moment they’re going to send a man down thirty fathoms to check on a noise maker – someone or something tapping on metal. You may or may not read the results in a naval report, because Captain Beecham and his crew have just set a course that will lead this ship and everyone on it into The Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            A United States naval destroyer on a routine trip in the Pacific Ocean stops to investigate a blip on sonar and a strange noise emanating from below the ocean surface. The noise sounds like steady hammering upon metal. Captain Beecham sends a diver, McClure, down to investigate and the crew discovers a ruined submarine dating from the Second World War.
            These events come at the same time Beecham is dealing with the sudden strange behavior of Chief Bell, a veteran sailor whose unexplained behavior is as perplexing as the mystery of the submarine.
            McClure goes down twice more in an effort to determine the origin of the submarine and the cause of the hammering sound. It is determined that it is a U.S. submarine but there is no accounting for the hammering noise. McClure get no response when he hammers upon the outer hull. Out of options, Beecham decides to call in help to get the submarine open.
            Meanwhile, Chief Bell’s mental health deteriorates to the point where he is admitted to sick bay and placed under observation. Bell is convinced that someone inside the submarine is calling out to him. Soon he is visited by ghostly visions of drowned sailors beckoning to him.
            On his final trip below McClure discovers a pair of dog tags caught in an opening to the submarine. He wrenches them free and gives them to Captain Beecham. Beecham reads Chief Bell’s name on the tags. When confronted, Bell relates a tale of being the only man to make it out of a Japanese attack on a submarine during the Second World War, the same submarine they have been investigating. Bell feels guilty about the deaths of the other men since he inadvertently drew the attention of the Japanese destroyer and was the only man to make it out alive when he was cast over the side.
            Convinced he should have died with the other soldiers Bell jumps over the side of the ship. Despite hours of searching, the crew is unable to recover his body. Help arrives and the submarine is opened. The report back to the captain is that all were dead inside but, strangely, one soldier in the control room was holding a hammer.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Small naval engagement, the month of April, 1963. Not to be found in any historical annals. Look for this one filed under ‘H’ for Haunting – in The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

            Despite Rod Serling’s preview narration characterizing “The Thirty Fathom Grave” as “bizarre and nightmarish” and “a very different kind of Twilight Zone,” the episode fails to deliver on either of those promising descriptions. What remains is a largely ineffective and predictable ghost story which, at its hour length, feels overly padded and familiar.
            “The Thirty Fathom Grave” is partially redeemed by its engaging cast, the novelty of its setting, and the technical aspects of its script and production. Rod Serling was determined to get the technical aspects of the script correct and engaged feedback from the U.S. Navy to ensure the terminology used in the episode was realistic. Production Manager Ralph W. Nelson secured the use of actual naval destroyers to further ensure verisimilitude in the production. The exterior shots are of the USS Mullinnix with interior shots filmed aboard the USS Edson. Other interior shots, such as the Captain’s quarters, were filmed at MGM. The underwater shots were filmed on a tight schedule at the studio facilities of Republic Pictures.* This close attention to detail brings a spark of interest to otherwise laborious proceedings and recalls the technical attention paid to episodes such as “King Nine Will Not Return” and, especially, “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” an episode in which Serling engaged his brother Robert, a prolific writer covering the aviation industry and author of the national bestseller The President’s Plane is Missing (1967), as Technical Advisor.
             "The Thirty Fathom Grave" also reflects Serling's experience in the Pacific Ocean theater of the Second World War where he served three years with the 11th Airborne Division of the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. This war experience had a profound impact on Serling and he utilized his harrowing experiences to produce some truly moving and exceptional Twilight Zone episodes such as "The Purple Testament" and "A Quality of Mercy." As in those episodes, "The Thirty Fathom Grave" approaches issues of responsibility in the face of adversity as well as the emotional and psychological toll inflicted by combat. 
            The ghost story in all of its variegated applications was frequently explored on the series, with every major writer attempting the form at least once, the result of which was some of the more interesting episodes of the series, “Long Distance Call,” “A Game of Pool,” “The Changing of the Guard,” as well as less-successful efforts such as “Young Man’s Fancy” and “He’s Alive.” Rod Serling was naturally drawn to the conceits of the ghost story as the form is intrinsically concerned with the past and the way in which the past continues to affect the present. An overriding concern of Serling’s writing can neatly be described by William Faulkner’s familiar quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” (Requiem for a Nun (1951)). The past intruding upon the present to disrupt a character or a place is at the core of many Serling-penned episodes, including those which do not feature ghosts.
            The difficulty in using the familiar form of the ghost story is that it demands an intriguing variation upon the theme while also working within the parameters of an established form. This variation is typically achieved through setting, characterization, or a more refined quality such as unreliable narration or a disparity in narrative structure.
In many ways, Serling hearkens back to his earlier, far more successful, nautical ghost story “Judgment Night” in constructing “The Thirty Fathom Grave.” The episodes find common ground in concerns with the Second World War and concerns of a past naval engagement which must be repaid in the present by a ghostly revenge. There are several reasons why “Judgement Night” is more successful than “The Thirty Fathom Grave." The primary reason is the difference between a half-hour and hour-long format. This will likely be a repeated observation as we cover the fourth season but the less successful fourth season episodes feel impossibly padded. The hour-long format required a narrative structure which called for the incremental unfolding of the mystery in order to engage the viewer. In this regard, “The Thirty Fathom Grave” tips its hand too early. The short prologue conveys nearly the entirety of the plot which is then laboriously laid out over the following forty minutes. As a result, the viewer is left with a less-than-engaging cycle of repetitive events which holds no revealing mystery, unless one is unobservant to the point of missing the telegraphed story of Chief Bell’s conundrum.
Another qualitative difference between the episodes is that of atmosphere. “Judgment Night” had the luxury of director John Brahm, one of the supreme masters of shade and shadow, but also wisely set the proceedings at night in a fog-engulfed sector of the ocean, an atmosphere which immediately sets a proper tone for the ghostly tale. “The Thirty Fathom Grave” takes the opposite approach. In its quest for unwavering verisimilitude the production sacrificed the atmosphere necessary to effectively present a ghost story. The episode is filmed entirely in the clear, bright daylight. The orderly atmosphere of a military procedural, while in some ways an interesting attempt at variation, does little more than dispel any real atmospheric tension. 
      The underwater scenes, perhaps an area to engage a suitable atmosphere, are pedestrian at best and plodding and dull at worst. These scenes were filmed on a very tight schedule at Republic Studios and it shows in the finished product as each underwater scene bears little difference from that which came before, despite the narrative progression of each underwater descent. This sort of filmmaking gives the episode a sense of static repetition. Furthermore, the appearance of the silent, unmoving ghosts in “Judgment Night” is more effective than that of the beckoning ghosts of “The Thirty Fathom Grave,” although there is an unnerving quality to their water-logged appearance and blank-faced gesticulations.
Serling produced a similar nautical ghost story with “Lone Survivor” (published in book form as “The Sole Survivor”), a first season Night Gallery episode which concerns a coward (John Colicos) who escapes the sinking of the RMS Titanic by dressing in female clothing to secure a place on a lifeboat. Serling manages a neat, if predictable, twist on the tale when it is revealed that the lone survivor was picked up by the RMS Lusitania a short time before it is torpedoed by a German U-boat. The cowardly survivor acts as a ghostly portent of doom, cursed to be repeatedly rescued only to bring destruction upon his rescuers. In each of these episodes Serling is broadly playing upon the legend of The Flying Dutchman, a ship which can never make land and serves as a portent of doom if seen by members of another vessel. Serling played upon this legend in other, non-nautical, episodes such as "King Nine Will Not Return" (based in part on the 1959 discovery of the previously lost B-24 bomber Lady Be Good) and "The Odyssey of Flight 33," in which a commercial airliner is substituted for the doomed ship. 
The cast of “The Thirty Fathom Grave” is a small saving grace to the production as it is filled with talented, familiar-faced character actors. Simon Oakland (1915-1983) gives a strong, authoritative performance, despite the often ludicrous nature of the lines he delivers. Oakland made a career out of playing gruff, if not outright villainous, characters and previously gave a memorable turn as the antagonist DeCruz in Rod Serling’s second season episode “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” Oakland appeared in dozens of television series but is perhaps best remembered for portraying the psychologist who attempts to explain Norman Bates's condition in the closing minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Mike Kellin (1922-1983) plays the doomed Chief Bell, bringing a high degree of believable anxiety to the tortured character. Kellin is remembered for portraying tough guys and for his role as Billy Hayes's father in Midnight Express (1978). Kellin's relatively infrequent appearances on genre programs include turns on Suspense, Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Lost in Space. Also among the cast of sailors is Bill Bixby, who soon achieved recognition on the CBS sitcom My Favorite Martian and later played Dr. David Banner in the CBS action drama The Incredible Hulk. Bixby also appeared in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. John Considine portrays the unfortunate sailor who must descend underwater repeatedly. Considine was also a prolific television actor who is likely familiar to genre fans for his appearance in the excellent The Outer Limits episode, "The Man Who Was Never Born." Anthony D. Call (here billed as Tony Call) also had a memorable genre television appearance in the first season Star Trek episode "The Corbomite Maneuver," written by Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl. 
Although there are interesting aspects to the production, “The Thirty Fathom Grave" is far too slowly paced and predictable to be objectively recommended. It is not the worst episode presented on the series but there is little of interest beyond the novelty of its production and, perhaps, the collective cast. It simply plays too long and offers no real variation on a well-worn theme. In many ways, "The Thirty Fathom Grave" is everything viewers find unsatisfactory about the fourth season. This one is for completists.

Grade: D

*Those who desire a more detailed examination of the production and the way in which input from the Navy reflected in Rod Serling’s final script are advised to seek out Martin Grams, Jr.’s book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008).

Notes:
-Perry Lafferty also directed the prior and subsequent episodes of the series, “In His Image” and “Valley of the Shadow.”
-Simon Oakland also appeared in the second season episode, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.”
-Bill Bixby appeared in two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” from the second season and “The Return of the Sorcerer” from the third season.
-Henry Scott also appeared in the first season episode “The Big Tall Wish.”
-“The Thirty Fathom Grave” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood.
-An interesting aspect of the episode is that Rod Serling's closing narration reports that the events took place in April, 1963, roughly fourth months after the broadcast date of the episode. 

-JP