Monday, June 3, 2019

Summertime in The Twilight Zone


The first day of summer may be over two weeks away but the needle has already crept north of ninety where I’m writing from, which got me thinking about episodes of The Twilight Zone best suited for the hottest time of the year. The show may be remembered for its shadowy, expressionistic camerawork and moody atmosphere but many of the best episodes play out in bright sunlight and on warm summer nights. The show didn’t always need a creepy hospital, smoky nightclub, or isolated monastery to turn reality upside down. It could happen to a young woman traveling across country by car, a stressed-out businessman revisiting his hometown, a couple on a detoured honeymoon, players of a nostalgic children’s game, witnesses of something strange passing overhead on an idyllic summer day, or those suffering the hottest day ever recorded.  


So, crank up the air conditioning, grab your favorite iced beverage, and take a trip through that dimension where the summers are always strange and the sunlight provides no protection from the unexpected. Here are some essential summertime Twilight Zone episodes to help you beat the heat.

 -JP

“Where Is Everybody?” S1, E1 (October 2, 1959)

Starring: Earl Holliman
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Robert Stevens

Rod Serling's pitch-perfect pilot episode plays out on a bright, sunny day in a typical American small town. The trouble for the amnesiac Mike Ferris (Earl Holliman) is that the town is completely empty of people. More unnerving is that Ferris finds evidence of the inhabitants (food cooking, a phone ringing, a cigar smoldering in an ashtray) but always seems to be a minute late to find anybody. In one of the more heartbreaking scenes from the series, Ferris believes he sees a young woman sitting in a pickup truck, but sunlight glinting off the windshield briefly shields Ferris from the truth. The woman is a store mannequin. As Ferris descends further into panic, we follow him into the night (a narrative device we will see used again) where he discovers the full, devastating truth of his predicament.

 Rod Serling displayed from the outset that the sunny side of an American town can elicit as much terror and disorientation as the gloomier sets from the series. Holliman's performance is one of the finest the series has to offer (he virtually carries the episode) and the camerawork of Joseph LaShelle (his only work on the series) set a high standard for television cinematography which was carried forward on the series by George T. Clemens and rarely matched outside The Twilight Zone.

Looking for more like "Where Is Everybody?" It pairs nicely with Earl Hamner's fifth season episode "Stopover in a Quiet Town," another sunny nightmare with one of the more memorable twist endings on the series.  

Read our full review of "Where Is Everybody?"


“Walking Distance” S1, E5 (Oct 30, 1959) 

Starring: Gig Young, Frank Overton
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Robert Stevens

This is Rod Serling's masterpiece on the series, a heartbreaking (and heartwarming) meditation on the past, on regret, and on how we sometimes find what we need by looking ahead instead of behind. Using the backdrop of a memorable boyhood summer, Serling tells of burned out advertising executive Martin Sloan (Gig Young) who yearns for the idyllic days of his boyhood but finds out that long ago summer no longer belongs to him.

Graced with moving performances from Gig Young and Frank Overton (as Martin Sloan's sympathetic father), "Walking Distance" also features a beautiful musical score from Bernard Herrmann, wonderful direction from Robert Stevens, and some of Rod Serling finest and most memorable writing.

The series returned time and again to the theme of the immutable nature of the past in such episodes as "Back There," "The Trouble with Templeton," and "No Time Like the Past."

Read our full review of "Walking Distance."  


“The Hitch-Hiker” S1, E16 (Jan 22, 1960) 

Starring: Inger Stevens
Writer: Rod Serling (adapting Lucille Fletcher)
Director: Alvin Ganzer

A beautiful young woman experiences clear, sunny weather on her drive across the country toward Los Angeles, California. But along the way her car gets a flat tire and sends her on the road to terror as she is haunted by the repeated presence of a shabby hitchhiker. Rod Serling's faithful adaptation of Lucille Fletcher's famous radio play changed only one major component, the gender of the protagonist, and that has made all the difference. Portraying the doom-haunted Nan Adams is Inger Stevens, a vibrant, sunny actress whose demeanor concealed a terrible personal darkness. Her performance is one of startling range and aching tragedy.

Like in "Where Is Everybody?" the coming of night signals the height of terror and the beginning of the end. The final sequence near a lonely roadside phone booth is one of the more masterful endings of the series, perfectly scored with stock music, intimately filmed by director Alvin Ganzer, and featuring the tragic inner thoughts of the character. The episode feels like a dramatization of the famous poem by Emily Dickinson which begins: "Because I could not stop for Death - He kindly stopped for me-."

The first season featured three Rod Serling-penned episodes exploring the supernatural persecution of lonely young women. Along with "The Hitch-Hiker," the trilogy is completed with "Mirror Image" and "The After Hours."

Read our full review of "The Hitch-Hiker."  


“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” S1, E22 (March 4, 1960) 

Starring: Claude Akins, Jack Weston
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Ronald Winston

You can practically smell the fresh-mown grass and feel the stickiness of melting ice cream in Rod Serling's classic of paranoia which infects the residents of an idyllic suburban street one sunny summer day. This tale of madness rapidly descending upon a neighborhood after strange sounds in the sky are followed by the failure of electrical and mechanical devices has repeatedly served as an allegory for our increasingly paranoid times. Serling's script still resonates today and its ability to shock and provoke has not diminished.

The episode also puts to good use the narrative device of a descent into night being a descent into madness. As the sun sets upon Maple Street the residents resort to increasingly violent and chaotic behavior which ultimately seals their collective fates. The episode boasts a talented ensemble cast but the standout performances are Claude Atkins as Steve Brand, playing against type as the voice of reason whose calls for rationality are drowned out by the roaring mob, and Jack Weston as Charlie Farnsworth, the instigator who discovers too late the consuming fire his words and actions have stoked.

Serling frequently returned to the themes of mass paranoia and prejudice in such episodes as "The Shelter," "I Am the Night - Color Me Black," and his adaptation of Henry Slesar’s "The Old Man in the Cave."

Read our full review of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."


“Nick of Time” S2, E43 (Nov 18, 1960) 

Starring: William Shatner, Patricia Breslin
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Richard L. Bare

One of the cleverest and most surprising scripts of the series is Richard Matheson's "Nick of Time," about newlyweds Don and Pat Carter (William Shatner and Patricia Breslin) whose cross country honeymoon road trip is detoured by car trouble. When a novelty fortune-telling napkin dispenser captures Don's obsessive and superstitious nature, the couple descends into the depths of fear and suspicion only deep paranoia can create.

The genius of the episode is also a hallmark of Matheson's best fiction. This ambiguously supernatural tale unfolds in the most mundane of settings and circumstances, on a bright summer day in a small town diner in Nowhere, USA (Ridgeview, OH). Matheson ultimately gives us a hopeful tale of escape from the invisible imprisonment of fear but then shocks the audience with a truly unforgettable coda to this fascinating and disturbing tale.

Matheson was a master at the domestic horror tale, as evidenced in another tense episode, "Little Girl Lost."

Read our full review of "Nick of Time" here.


“The Midnight Sun” S3, E75 (Nov 17, 1961) 

Starring: Lois Nettleton, Betty Garde  
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Anton Leader

The Earth’s orbital pattern has altered and the planet is moving steadily toward the sun, causing surface temperatures to reach scorching levels which will ultimately make survival impossible for every person on the planet. This quintessential summer episode explores the hottest day in human history through the eyes of an artist, Norma Smith (Lois Nettleton), and her neighbor Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde), the last remaining tenants in an apartment building who band together to try and combat the rising temperatures outside and the heat-mad humans who stalk the city streets.

Rod Serling’s masterwork of human survival gets better with each subsequent viewing. It is a taut tale of ecological disaster and the ultimate urban nightmare, strengthened by excellent acting (particularly Nettleton’s understated performance), writing, direction, and some innovative special effects, such as using a hot plate to melt paint from a canvas. The feeling of heat is palpable in the episode and when tempers rise along with the temperature it leads to some intense moments of physical and emotional violence. Topping it off is one of Serling’s more devastating twist endings.

The series produced a number of excellent stories of human struggle in the face of global devastation, including Montgomery Pittman’s “Two” and Rod Serling’s unforgettable adaptation of Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life.”

Read our full review of "The Midnight Sun.”


“Kick the Can” S3, E86 (Feb 9, 1962) 

Starring: Ernest Truex, Russell Collins
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
Director: Lamont Johnson

This bittersweet tale of nostalgia for the innocent past juxtaposes the aged residents of Sunnyvale Rest with the children who play on the lawn of the rest home. It is a tale of longing for that endless summer where you’ll never grow up and always be free to shout and play. An impulsive game of kick-the-can bridges the years of the old and the young with a special magic which leaves some residents of Sunnyvale in that endless summer and fills others with the bitter regret of no longer believing in childish magic.

George Clayton Johnson’s moving fantasy is an allegory for the idea that youth is only a thought or an action, not an age or a number. Its controversial ending is only further evidence that The Twilight Zone is not an area of easy answers and convenient solutions but a shadowy realm where magical gifts can also have unintended consequences.

The series provided several episodes about the irresistible pull of the past, including Charles Beaumont’s moving episode “Static” and Richard Matheson’s disturbing tale “Young Man’s Fancy.”  

Read our full review of "Kick the Can" here.

Note that none of these episodes originally aired in a summer month. 

Did I miss your favorite summertime Twilight Zone episode? Maybe it's the zany robot baseball of "The Mighty Casey" or the grueling trek across the desert with the crew of "The Rip Van Winkle Caper." Let me know in the comments.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 13


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

Volume 2, number 1 (April, 1982) 

First Anniversary Issue

Cover art: Kevin Larson

TZ Publications, Inc.

President & Chairman: 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/Contributing Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Assistant Editors: Steven Schwartz, Robert Sabat
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson, Robert Sheckley
Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Production Director: Stephen J. Fallon
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Assistant: Doreen Carrigan
Public Relations Manager: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Manager: Chris Grossman
Circulation Director: William D. Smith
Circulation Manager: Janice Graham
Eastern Circulation Manager: Hank Rosen
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
Advertising Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Advertising Production Manager: Marina Despotakis
Advertising Representatives: Barney O’Hara & Associates, Inc.

Contents:

--Publisher’s Letter by Carol Serling
--In the Twilight Zone: One Year Older by T.E.D. Klein
--A Reunion in the Twilight Zone
--Other Dimensions: Books by Robert Sheckley and T.E.D. Klein
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan
--TZ Interview: Rod Serling: The Facts of Life
--“I’ll Be Seeing You” by W.G. Norris
--“The River Styx Flows Upstream” by Dan Simmons
--“The Seed” by Joseph Bocchi
--TZ Screen Preview: Cat People by Robert Martin
--“The Thing from the Slush” by George Alec Effinger
--“Old Fillikin” by Joan Aiken
--The Essential Writers: William Hope Hodgson by Mike Ashley
--“The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson
--“Snakes & Ladders” by Ramsey Campbell
--“Djinn, No Chaser” by Harlan Ellison
--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Thirteen by Marc Scott Zicree
--Looking Ahead: In the May TZ

Note: this is the first issue which does not present a Rod Serling teleplay.

--Publisher’s Letter by Carol Serling
-Carol Serling returns to the pages of the magazine with another occasional, informal editorial. The occasion this time is the magazine’s first annual short story contest. Serling congratulates the winners, offers encouragement to those who did not win, and promotes the next short story contest offered by the magazine, including a few suggestions for stories inspired by then-current headlines.

--In the Twilight Zone: One Year Older by T.E.D. Klein

-Klein spends most of his editorial space detailing the logistics of the magazine’s first annual short story contest, including some photos and a humorous cartoon by Jason Eckhardt (right) displaying the overwhelming nature of receiving two thousand plus submissions. Klein gives his thoughts on the winners, including the reason there was a tie for first place, which apparently resulted from the fact that the contest judges (Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, and Carol Serling) were allowed to split their votes (a situation Ellison described as a technicality in his introduction to Dan Simmons’ short story collection Prayers to Broken Stones). Klein spends the remainder of the editorial space in his usual manner, providing capsule biographies of the magazine’s contributors alongside thumbnail images.

--A Reunion in the Twilight Zone 

-This two-page feature is a photographic record of a party given at the home of author Marc Scott Zicree to celebrate the completion of his book The Making of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ which was published by Bantam as The Twilight Zone Companion later in the year. Attendees of the party included such Twilight Zone alumni as directors Alvin Ganzer and Douglas Heyes, writers Jerry Sohl, Richard Matheson and John Tomerlin (right), actors John Anderson, Charles Aidman, Nehemiah Persoff, Murray Matheson, and George Takei. The final image presented is of Carol Serling and Marc Scott Zicree holding a Twilight Zone cake. This is a wonderful look at a time when many of the people who made the series were still alive and able to attend events and give interviews.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Robert Sheckley and T.E.D. Klein
-Book review duties are split this issue between Sheckley and Klein. This issue marks the end of Sheckley’s brief tenure (three issues) as books reviewer, giving way to Thomas M. Disch with the May, 1982 issue. Here’s a brief look at the books under review this issue:

Sheckley:

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson: “It’s a good tale with plenty of suspense and thrills. My only complaint is with the human side of the book. The characters are typical rather than individual, and suffer a loss in believability. I kept on feeling that this well-constructed novel should have come alive for me more than it did.”

Masques by Bill Pronzini: “There’s really a double ending, one the solution to the mysteries Giroux has been going through, the other a direct outcome of Giroux’s helpless and passive character. The second ending is even scarier and more true to life than the first.”

Klein:

Creature Features Movie Guide by John Stanley: Klein gives a long review of this first of many editions authored by San Francisco-based horror movie host Stanley. Klein finds fault with much of the production, including the lack of detailed cast and crew listings, the author’s conservative tastes, the use of puns, and the various typos and errors in the listings. Klein also manages to pass on one of the book’s errors, stating that William F. Nolan was the screenwriter on the exploitation film I Dismember Mama (1972) which was actually written by William W. Norton. Klein provides a look at artist Kenn Davis’ stylized letters which head each alphabetical chapter, generously quotes from Fritz Leiber’s introduction to the book, and cautiously recommends the volume for its exhaustive nature and plethora of startling facts. 

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
-The film on tap this issue is Ghost Story (1981), adapted by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen from Peter Straub’s 1979 bestseller about an ancient evil which terrorizes a group of old men, The Chowder Society, who guard a dark secret from their collective past. The film’s all-star cast includes Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., John Houseman, Patricia Neal, Craig Wasson, and Alice Kringe as the evil entity’s human form, Eva Galli. The film was directed by John Irvin, photographed by Jack Cardiff, and featured the special makeup effects of Dick Smith. Robert Sheckley favorably reviewed Straub’s novel in the March, 1981 issue of the magazine.

-As usual, Wilson begins his review with a humorous anecdote, this time about the humors and horrors of advanced film screenings. Of Ghost Story he writes: “For one thing, Universal, why’d you change the basic idea of the book? It makes me wonder about you moviemakers sometimes, it really does, why you spend all that money for a book and then trash its best parts.” Wilson praises the cast (especially Fred Astaire and Alice Kringe) and the makeup effects of Dick Smith but faults the film for changes made from the source material, particularly that of making Eva Galli an actual ghost rather than the undefined, ancient entity of Straub’s novel. He concludes his review this way: “But the best thing, Universal, the high point in your movie, is the look Fred Astaire gives the dying monster – a look unique, I think, in all the long history of dying monsters in the movies and the looks given them by their destroyers. Not triumph, this time, not horror, but pity. A long, regretful look of pity.” 

--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan 

-Genre historian Jack Sullivan, author of Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood (1978) and editor of The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), returns with another installment in his essay series on macabre music. The series will run all the way through the August, 1981 issue. This continues to be a unique and impressive series and displays the magazine’s ambitions to be more than a fiction magazine or a movie review magazine. It is difficult to imagine another mass-market genre publication at the time which would run this series, much less at the length Sullivan is allowed in the pages of Twilight Zone. If you have any interest in the dark side of classical music, I highly recommend consulting this series.

-This installment finds Sullivan looking at macabre music from composers not generally known for such work. Here is a quick list of the music Sullivan covers:

The Libation Bearers by Darius Milhaud
Fourth and Sixth Symphonies of Ralph Vaughn Williams
Riders to the Sea by Ralph Vaughn Williams
“Four Sea Interludes” by Benjamin Britten
The Planets by Gustav Holst
Fourth Symphony of Jean Sibelius
Mathis der Maler by Paul Hindemith
Concert Music for Strings and Brass by Paul Hindemith
String Quartet by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Early Symphonies of Prokofiev
Sixth and Seventh Symphonies of Mahler

-Sullivan also suggests recordings for each selection. Next issue he moves closer to the contemporary by focusing on the eerie composers of the postwar period. 

--TZ Interview: Rod Serling: The Facts of Life by Linda Brevelle 

-This final interview of Rod Serling was conducted a mere four months before the writer’s untimely death on June 28, 1975. It first appeared in different form in Writer’s Digest Magazine (1976) and was included in the 1977 Writer’s Digest Yearbook. It was further reprinted in the Writer’s Digest book On Being a Writer (1989). The interview can be read in full at the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.

-This is Rod Serling’s most famous interview as it has been quoted from endlessly in books, documentaries, blogs, podcasts, and on social media. Reading it again it struck me is how terribly tired and depressed Serling sounded. Here was a beloved writer, a genuine American icon, who appeared to have little perspective on his cultural value as he is repeatedly self-effacing and humble to a fault. I think this quality of the interview will pain those who admire Serling as one would like to believe he left this mortal coil fully aware of how beloved a figure he was. Nevertheless, the interview does contain many memorable candid moments from Serling, who gives his thoughts on everything from his genesis as a writer, his favorites among his works, the key to working with producers, awards, the ways in which television has changed since the days of live performance, as well as a number of other topics. Sadly, The Twilight Zone is little discussed, only garnering a mention in the context of television censorship. Though it may be painful to read Serling’s self-deprecating thoughts on his works, this is essential reading for fans. 

--“I’ll Be Seeing You” by W.G. Norris (Tie-first place short story contest)
Illustrated by Bruce Waldman 

“The past was almost close enough to touch, hidden from him by the thickness of a sheet of paper”

-A grieving widower discovers a portal to his past in the panels of a newspaper comic.

-This meditation on grief and the past is quite effective though too ambiguous to be entirely successful. The supernatural aspect is never explained even though a large portion of the story is given over to the main character’s attempt to unravel the mystery. The ending comes like a swift punch and concludes the story on a note which can alternately be interpreted as hopeful or horrible. It appears as though W.G. Norris never published another story, though “I’ll Be Seeing You” was reprinted in the annual volume Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982). T.E.D. Klein describes Norris this way: “A native of Boston, where his story is set, he’s studied at Bates and the University of Hamburg, has lived in Geneva, Paris, Washington, and (for five years) Nigeria, and speaks six foreign languages including Persian, Arabic, Hausa, and Fulani, Today he teaches African, Asian, and European cultural studies at a high school in Suffolk County, Long Island.” 

 --“The River Styx Runs Upstream” by Dan Simmons (Tie-first place short story contest) 

Illustrated by Frances Jetter
“It was good to have mother home again, at first. You could almost make believe she wasn’t dead.”

-In a society where the dead can be returned to life, a family struggles to adjust to the return of the mother, who returns missing her essential humanity.

-This was my third time reading this short story and it loses none of its power with repeat readings. The strength lies in Simmons’ writing, as the story is heavy on suggestion, peppered with small, devastating statements which illustrate the insidious effects of the mother’s return. Many of the most unsettling moments of the story are Simmons’ suggestions that the mother may be responsible for various “accidental” deaths which occur in the town, as well as the deaths within the family which occur in the wake of her return. Fans of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary will especially enjoy this one.  

-Simmons (b. 1948) first presented the story at the Clarion Writers Workshop in 1981 and was encouraged by Harlan Ellison and Edward Bryant to revise it and submit it for publication. It launched Simmons’ highly successful career as a writer of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction. Simmons has won a shelfful of awards and has recently been flush with the success of the AMC adaptation of his 2007 novel The Terror. Although I enjoyed “I’ll Be Seeing You” by W.G. Norris it is easy to see why the tie between that story and Simmons’ obviously superior piece of fiction baffled so many. For those interested, both Harlan Ellison and Simmons discuss the genesis of the story in Simmons’ 1991 short fiction collection Prayers to Broken Stones.

-“The River Styx Runs Upstream” has been reprinted several times. It appeared in the annual volume Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982) as well as the premier issue of the magazine’s sister publication Night Cry. It has been reprinted in such anthologies as Midnight Graffiti (1992) and Angels of Darkness (1995). 

--“The Seed” by Joseph Bocchi (Second place short story contest) 

Illustrated by Ahmet Gorgun
“It was planting time – and the midget knew that Sally was the most fertile ground of all”

-A midget is offered room and board at a couple’s boarding house in exchange for work but quickly comes to disturb the wife to the point of obsession and terror.

-This strange story, which is graced with perhaps the most suggestive tagline of any story in the magazine, is quite an effective tale of a terror and obsession. Largely written in a David Lynchian style of suggestive and disordered prose, it contains a number of disturbing and disorienting scenes, including an ending which would feel at home in the early horror fiction of Ray Bradbury or EC Comics. The highlight of the tale is an extended dream sequence with perfectly captures the feeling of a nightmare. Bocchi even changes the tense of the prose from third person to first person in order to make the dream sequence more intimate and frightening. Despite being essentially a mood piece with a ghoulish ending I can see how this was awarded the second place prize in the magazine’s short story contest as it has a way of staying in the reader’s head well after it has been read. Unfortunately, the story appears never to have been reprinted and Bocchi never to have written another story. It’s a shame since this story displayed a unique imagination and a skill with the atmosphere of terror. 

--TZ Screen Preview: Cat People by Robert Martin 

-Martin talks to screenwriter Alan Ormsby about teaming with director Paul Schrader to reimagine the 1942 film Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur (director of Richard Matheson’s fifth season episode “Night Call”) and produced by Val Lewton. Ormsby, also known for his makeup effects work on such films as Deathdream (1974) and Deranged (1974), discusses the challenges of updating the story for a modern audience who, he feels, would reject the deliberate pacing and suggestive horrors of the earlier film. Ormsby discusses the writing process, location scouting, makeup effects, and casting. Makeup artist Tom Burman is also briefly interviewed. The film stars Nastassja Kinski (pictured) and Malcolm McDowell. 

--“The Thing from the Slush” by George Alec Effinger 

Illustrated by Randy Jones
“This story’s totally ridiculous, of course, and we were going to reject it out of hand. But then we figured: ‘Why take chances?’”

-A first reader at a genre fiction magazine discovers ominous patterns in the stories submitted for publication.

-Effinger (1947-2002) presents us with a tale of the slush pile, that ever-increasing pile of manuscripts submitted by amateur writers to professional publications. From this he spins an unnerving tale of the strangeness of knowing someone only through reading their repeated efforts to find publication. Although the twist in the tale has been done many times before (L.P. Hartley’s “W.S.” comes to mind) it has a satisfying ring a familiarity to it. The story is one of a number to feature the character of Sandor Courane, a series which began with “Strange Ragged Saintliness” (1978) and ran another ten stories through “The Wicked Old Witch” (1993). “The Thing from the Slush” was reprinted in the second issue of Night Cry and collected in The Old Funny Stuff (1989). 

--“Old Fillikin” by Joan Aiken 

Illustrated by Annie Alleman
“Surely teacher was right, and Grandma was wrong. Surely numbers never lied, and folk tales were for children. And surely there was nothing in the well like . . .”

-A young boy struggling with his school work accidentally summons a destructive creature of legend.

-This tale is classic Joan Aiken (1924-2004): exploring the world through the fearful lens of childhood and examining the ways in which myths and legends shape the way we see and think about the world around us. Aiken juxtaposes the ordered world of mathematics with the disordered world of legends and folk stories. The story is filled with pleasantly familiar characters: the struggling young boy, the strict teacher, the wise, eccentric grandmother, and, of course, the monstrous Old Fillikin, a small but terribly destructive creature which dwells at the bottom of water wells. Once Old Fillikin has been inadvertently freed and caused a terrible death, the story ends on a pleasingly dreadful note: “Where – he could not help wondering – was Old Fillikin now?”

-“Old Fillikin” was first published in Ghostly Encounters in 1981 and collected in A Whisper in the Night (1982). Aiken was a prolific author best remembered for her works for children (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, etc.) but also wrote many tales for adults. The majority of her fiction was cast in a Gothic or fantastic mode. Her 1958 story “Marmalade Wine” was adapted for the second season of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery by writer/director Jerrold Freeman. Aiken was the daughter of the American poet and story writer Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), who’s 1932 tale “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” was also memorably adapted for Night Gallery by writer/director Gene Kearney, featuring Orson Welles. 

--The Essential Writers: William Hope Hodgson by Mike Ashley
Illustrated by Stephen E. Fabian

-This excellent series of essays and story selections from the classic masters of the supernatural tale continues with Mike Ashley’s informative essay on William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918), examining Hodgson’s upbringing, his years upon the sea, his pioneering efforts in physical culture and body building, and his tales of nautical terror and the psychic detective Carnacki. This is an excellent primer for those unfamiliar with Hodgson’s work and surely contains a nugget or two of unknown information for the aficionado. Ashley discusses Hodgson’s contentious meeting with Harry Houdini, his early experiments with fiction, his unrivaled tales of terror on the sea, and his strange and tragic death at age 40 on the battlefields of WWI. Ashley selects Hodgson’s 1907 tale “The Voice in the Night” to represent the author at the height of his powers. In 1981 Ashley published William Hope Hodgson: A Working Bibliography and also wrote the introduction to the 2008 Dover reprint edition of arguably Hodgson’s greatest work, The House on the Borderland (1908).

--“The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson 

Illustrated by D.W. Miller
“Required Reading: The classic tale of terror on the sea”

-On a dark, foggy night in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, two members of a small vessel are accosted by an unseen figure in small craft. The figure in the boat asks for supplies and relates the harrowing tale of what befell him and his fiancé.

-I am reluctant to give many details even on a story which is over a hundred years old due to the fact that “The Voice in the Night” is one of those great tales which is best experienced as blindly as possible. The power of the story lies in what is suggested rather than what is explicitly shown, and also in Hodgson’s remarkable ability to suggest the strange, unknown terrors of the vast waterways of the world. The story was loosely adapted as the controversial Japanese film Matango (1963), alternately known by the more exploitative title Attack of the Mushroom People. It was first published in the November, 1907 issue of Blue Book magazine and collected in Men of the Deep Waters (1914). It has been reprinted many times, including in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV (1957). “The Voice in the Night” is among my favorite tales of terror and I have collected illustrations of the tale, a couple of which I will share at the bottom of this post. 

--“Snakes & Ladders” by Ramsey Campbell 

Illustrated by Brad Hamann
“They called it a game – but there weren’t any winners, and the penalty for losing was death”

-A skeptical journalist challenges the abilities of a folk healer with dire consequences.

-Ramsey Campbell (b. 1946) returns to the pages of the magazine after his appearance with the harrowing story “Again” in the November, 1981 issue. This time he presents a sleek tale of terror concerning a skeptical journalist who is forced to defend himself from the terrifying machinations of a folk healer and those who have gathered in her service. This story displays all of Campbell’s remarkable strengths as a horror writer, particularly his uncanny ability to create an atmosphere of terror and disorientation. Campbell’s stories can often feel like bad dreams and frequently possess the logic of such. “Snakes & Ladders” concludes on a particularly ghoulish note, typical of Campbell’s output, but feels even more paired down and streamlined than his usual style. A little research uncovered that this story was an early version of Campbell’s 1988 tale “Playing the Game.” Though “Playing the Game” has been reprinted multiple times following its appearance in Lord John Ten: A Celebration, “Snakes & Ladders” was not reprinted until the 2008 volume Inconsequential Tales, a volume which collected many of Campbell’s fugitive pieces. Still, “Snakes & Ladders” works just fine on its own as a fast-paced tale of terror which will appeal to fans of supernatural pursuit in the mold of Charles Beaumont’s “The Jungle” or Rod Serling’s “Mirror Image.” 

--“Djinn, No Chaser” by Harlan Ellison 

Illustrated by Marty Blake
“Ellison launched TZ’s premier issue with a story about the Holy Grail. Now he returns, in a distinctly lighter vein, with this tale about a certain magic lamp . . .”

-A young married couple stumbles upon a magic shop inside of which they purchase a magical lamp inhabited by a particularly nasty genie.

-I was surprised to learn that this story won the 1983 Locus Award for Best Novelette, not because I think it is a bad story but because it is basically a punchline story in which a genie who has been tormenting the young couple is finally brought around to being nice by being freed from the lamp by a can opener. It is Ellison in humorous mode and contains plenty of witty banter and showy examples of esoteric knowledge. The story was collected in Stalking the Nightmare (1982) and adapted for the first season of Tales from the Darkside by Ellison’s friend, writer Haskell Barkin (as by Haskell Smith), whose story from the December, 1981 issue of Twilight Zone, “All A Clone by the Telephone,” was also adapted for the first season of Darkside. “Djinn, No Chaser” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 9 (1983) as well as in Top of the Volcano: The Award-Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison (2015).  

--Show-by-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone: Part Thirteen 

by Marc Scott Zicree
-Zicree continues his guide to the original series of The Twilight Zone with a listing of the cast, crew, opening and closing narrations, and summary of the following fourth season episodes: “Mute,” “Death Ship,” “Jess-Belle,” and “Miniature,” all of which we have reviewed here in the Vortex.

--Looking Ahead: In the May TZ
-Next month looks like another great issue. We have Thomas M. Disch’s first column as books reviewer, an interview with director Terry Gilliam, a set visit to George Romero’s Creepshow, a look at Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal, stories by Peter Straub, Kit Reed, Connie Willis, Chet Williamson, and George Clayton Johnson’s “All of Us Are Dying,” which was adapted by Rod Serling for the first season episode “The Four of Us Are Dying,” the teleplay of which is also presented. Looks like a good one, see you back next time.

-JP 

Bonus illustrations for William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night”:

Illustration by Gordon Laite from More Tales to Tremble By (1968):


Illustration by Diane and Leo Dillon from Great Short Tales of Mystery and Terror (1982):