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
#19 - Vanished, from “And When the Sky Was Opened,” season one, episode 11
Written by Rod Serling, based on “Disappearing Act” by Richard Matheson, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring Rod Taylor, James Hutton, Charles Aidman
Rod Serling took Richard Matheson’s haunting short story “Disappearing Act” and crafted from it an equally haunting story of three astronauts who discover that their existence is slowly being erased due to contact with some unknown force in outer space. Though Serling kept very little of Matheson’s original story, so little in fact that it’s a wonder Matheson received credit for the story at all, the episode remains a highly engaging exercise in the type of science fiction horror story that soon became the idiosyncratic trademark of the series. Serling likely made changes to the story in order to bring it in line with the type of science fiction program he’d sold to CBS and the series sponsors. Matheson’s story is a tale of domestic terror in which the individual aspects of a man’s life slowly begin to disappear until the man himself vanishes at the counter of a café, leaving behind only a notebook filled with his terrifying narrative. The combination of Matheson’s original imagination and Serling’s talent for dramatic narrative is an underrated masterwork of existential terror. The episode boasts a talented cast, especially Rod Taylor, who gives a striking performance as the last survivor of the party of astronauts. The direction, from Twilight Zone stalwart Douglas Heyes, is excellent as always and the episode holds up surprising well. The episode finds tension in the form of a ticking clock, as the audience, wise to the inevitability of the astronauts’ plight, are helpless but to watch the nightmare unfold to its conclusion.
-Matheson’s original story, “Disappearing Act,” is one of his finest. It was originally published in the March, 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
-Charles Aidman, who plays Ed Harrington, one of the doomed astronauts, also starred in the third season episode “Little Girl Lost” and narrated the first two seasons of the Twilight Zone revival series which, in total, aired from 1985-1989.
Read our full coverage of “And When the Sky Was Opened” here.