The Twilight Zone is an amazingly diverse program that offers stories of almost every conceivable theme and setting within the overall structure of intelligent modern fantasy. One area in which The Twilight Zone excelled was in the story of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series -JP
#22 - Accusing Ghosts, from “Judgment Night,” season one, episode 10
Written by Rod Serling, directed by John Brahm, starring Nehemiah Persoff
Rod Serling’s tale of spectral vengeance is one of the most disorienting episodes of the series. Under John Brahm’s excellent direction, the entire episode feels as ethereal as a dream, with tilting camera angles panning over shadowy, fog-shrouded sets. The episode rests on Nehemiah Persoff’s tortured performance as a confused passenger on a ghostly ship and it is this performance, one of brooding tension and mounting fear, which propels the story along its circular course. What the story lacks in originality it more than makes up for in atmosphere during a first season in which nearly every type of fantasy story was attempted in order to find the right tone for the series. The most disquieting moment in the episode is undoubtedly when Persoff’s character, Carl Lanser, confronts the expressionless, unmoving figures crowding the hallway of the ship. The scene is presented without music, heightening the dreamlike aspect of the play. Lanser screams at the other passengers to prepare for an attack he does not yet realize he is responsible for. By the time of realization it is already too late to either prevent the attack or escape his place in this ever-enduring nightmare.
-Rod Serling wrote three collections of short stories for Bantam Books based on his episodes from the first three seasons of the series: Stories from the Twilight Zone (1960), More Stories from the Twilight Zone (1961), and New Stories from the Twilight Zone (1962). Serling intended to continue adapting his teleplays into prose for subsequent books but his increasingly hectic schedule preventing him from doing so. He turned over the work to veteran pulp fiction writer Walter B. Gibson (writer of many adventures of The Shadow under the house name Maxwell Grant) who continued the series with Grosset & Dunlap for two books: Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1963) (reprinted as: Chilling Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, 1965, Tempo Books) and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (1964). Gibson adapted “Judgment Night” into prose for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone as well as several other episodes across the two volumes he authored, including “Back There,” “The Purple Testament,” “Beyond the Rim” (“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”), “The 16-Millimeter Shrine,” “The Man in the Bottle,” and “The Mirror Image.” Gibson also wrote several new stories in the Twilight Zone mold from both his own and Serling’s original story ideas.
Read our full coverage of “Judgment Night” here.