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
#17 - A Native Vengeance, from “The Jungle,” season three, episode 77
Written by Charles Beaumont, directed by William Claxton, starring John Dehner
Charles Beaumont’s “The Jungle” is a bleak and brooding horror story that examines the contrast between modern science and ancient superstition. The tale of jungle horror or native vengeance was already a familiar story concept at the time Beaumont wrote his story, dating back at least to the middle Victorian era. What sets “The Jungle” apart is the strong, deterministic performance of John Dehner, as the unfortunate Alan Richards, and the excellent use of sound and images to tell the story. Dehner presents Richards as a quietly proud man determined to ignore all evidence that he is being targeted and pursued by things he doesn’t understand. This take on character makes the climactic moment of realization and subsequent breakdown all the more powerful. Dehner singlehandedly carries the episode along and the most effective moments come when he is being pursued through an eerily empty New York City. An episode in a taxicab is a particularly unnerving moment. Director William Claxton rises to the challenge and brilliantly helms a particularly atmospheric episode. There is a subtle supernaturalism in the episode, as in so many of the series offerings, which straddles the line between a tale of supernatural horror and one of psychological horror. Not until the end is the difference made explicit. Of course, “The Jungle” is greatly remember for its grisly ending, which is flawlessly staged using a live adult male lion, who is captured in an impressive leap over the camera.
-Charles Beaumont’s original short story was first published in the December, 1954 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction. The story differs greatly from the finished episode. The original story took place in a far future in which the wealthy members of society are forced to destroy a large portion of an African jungle in order to build a contained, sustainable city structure. Beaumont was forced to abandon most of this story configuration due to the budget limitations on the show, as the construction of such a city structure proved unfeasible. The story benefited greatly from this forced change, as the original story is overly long and too preoccupied with building its fictional world. By eschewing the science fiction trappings and placing the story in a recognizable, modern setting, Beaumont is able to continue his series of episodes which examine the psychological effects of unreality on a determinedly rational man.
Read our full coverage of “The Jungle” here.