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
#3 - The Devil is Released, from “The Howling Man,” season two, episode 41
Written by Charles Beaumont, directed by Douglas Heyes, starring H.M. Wynant, John Carradine, Robin Hughes
“The Howling Man” is Charles Beaumont’s masterpiece, a well-designed, exquisitely directed, character driven tale that manages to encompass the type of moralizing monster story common to the series while feeling entirely different from any other episode. Beaumont’s story of a lost traveler who unwittingly unleashes the Devil from a remote monastery to usher in the horrors of the Second World War is as close to the traditional tale of horror as the series ever came. Everything about the episode is unusual and compelling. Its unique narrative structure sees H.M. Wynant, in convincing aging makeup, tell his terrible story as a flashback, thus subjecting the story to the type of exaggeration common to the oral folklore tradition to which it is an homage. The episode is drenched in a Gothic atmosphere typified by 19th century supernatural literature, complete with a raging thunderstorm in a remote quarter of Eastern Europe, though the actual location of the story is only suggested. It also features three compelling central performances from H.M. Wynant as the doubting traveler, John Carradine in a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the elderly leader of the monastic order, and Robin Hughes, whose devilish features are expertly used to create ambiguity as to the true nature of the imprisoned man. Of course, the episode also features a fantastic monster, revealed in a flourish of special effects shots, and a unique circular narrative structure which sees the monster released yet again at the close of the episode. Director Douglas Heyes’s camera seems never to sit still and the viewer is subjected to a number of tilting, turning, off-center camera shots which effectively mirror not only the mindset of the confused, disoriented protagonist but the dreamlike nature of the narrative itself. In all, “The Howling” man is a suspenseful, technically challenging episode that is magnificently pulled off by everyone involved and remains a high mark of the entire series.
-Beaumont’s original short story was rejected for publication in Playboy magazine, a publication which at the time was paying Beaumont a sizable retainer for first refusal rights to his fiction. Beaumont sold the story to the rival men’s magazine Rouge, which published the story in its November, 1959 issue. Harlan Ellison, a personal friend of Beaumont, was an assistant fiction editor at Rouge and was excited to publish the clearly exceptional story. However, Beaumont could not publish the story under his own name for a rival publication and Ellison devised a pseudonym based loosely on Beaumont’s surname. The story was published under the name C.B. Lovehill. This is, by necessity, a simplified version of the publication of the story. As such, I highly recommend Harlan Ellison’s essay on the publication of the story, which is included with the story in Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (Dark Harvest, 1988, reprinted in paperback as The Howling Man, Tor, 1992).
Read our full coverage of “The Howling Man” here.