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
#7 - Going My Way, from “The Hitch-Hiker,” season one, episode 16
Written by Rod Serling (from the radio play by Lucille Fletcher), directed by Alvin Ganzer, starring Inger Stevens, Leonard Strong, Adam Williams
Rod Serling’s adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s popular radio play is an engaging and atmospheric episode propelled by Inger Steven’s excellent performance as a woman on the run from a ghostly hitchhiker that only she can see. Serling changed very little in his adaptation other than the gender of the protagonist. The role was originated on radio by Orson Welles and Serling chose to make the character a young woman whom he named after his daughter Anne (Nan was her nickname). The episode is cleverly structured, with the story leaving little hints along the way as to Nan’s ultimate fate; even moments of dark humor, as when the tow truck driver tells Nan she’s lucky to be alive. Everything in the episode progresses in a manner reflecting Nan’s growing panic. The camera begins unobtrusively and slowly becomes more frantic with several perspective shots, giving the viewer a glimpse from Nan’s eyes. As the setting moves from day to night, so too does the increasing pitch of tension until Nan becomes completely unraveled. The episode is also surprising heavy on action, including a nerve-wracking scene in which Nan barely escapes an oncoming train when her car stalls on the railroad tracks. Another curious aspect of the story is the off-duty sailor to whom Nan gives a lift. The traditional form of this story would typically follow the sailor and function solely on the twist ending that the sailor had hitched a ride with a ghost. Lucille Fletcher decided instead on following the ghost to see where she ended up. It is an interesting variation that gives the story much more depth once the viewer has seen or intuited the ending. Leonard Strong give a memorable performance as the ghostly hitchhiker, as he refrains from any ghoulish action to instead remain a character whose intentions are shrouded in calm yet persistent behavior. The final sequence in which Nan calls home to discover the truth of her fate remains one of the most atmospherically staged and spooky moments from entire series.
-Composer and frequent Twilight Zone contributor Bernard Herrmann was married to Lucille Fletcher at the time Fletcher wrote “The Hitch-Hiker.” Herrmann provided a memorable score for the radio play, portions of which were reused for the Twilight Zone adaptation.
-Alfred Hitchcock attempted to purchase the rights to adapt “The Hitch-Hiker” for his television series but Fletcher declined the offer. She later sold the rights to Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions for the exact same amount previously offered by Hitchcock.
-Atlas Comics (now known as Marvel Comics) produced an unauthorized adaptation of Fletcher’s story for Marvel Tales #107 (June, 1952), titled “Going My Way?” In it, the character of the hitchhiker is portrayed as a grinning skeleton in a top hat, dispelling any mystery as to the ending of the story. The story was adapted by Stan Lee and illustrated by Bernard Krigstein.
Read our full coverage of “The Hitch-Hiker” here.