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
#24 - Do I Know You? from “Person or Persons Unknown,” season three, episode 92
Written by Charles Beaumont, directed by John Brahm, starring Richard Long and Frank Silvera
Charles Beaumont’s “Person or Persons Unknown” is an engaging and unnerving existential nightmare, the type of story which Beaumont was keenly interested in, having approached similar material in several previous episodes. The episode hinges on Richard Long’s excellent performance as David Gurney, a man who awakens from a night of partying to find that his previous life has been erased. His wife and coworkers claim not to know who he is and his resultant behavior lands him in the care of a sympathetic but unavailing psychiatrist. Gurney eventually breaks free, clinging hopefully to the one piece of evidence that can prove his existence. This evidence, however, is cruelly taken away from him, plunging him further into a nightmare from which he may never awaken. Gurney does awaken, however, into yet another nightmare scenario. The episode is a fast-paced, masterfully directed excursion into perhaps the purest Twilight Zone-esque fantasy of the entire series. “Person or Persons Unknown” is vastly underrated, perhaps because of the ambiguousness of the ending, which may be too subtle to register the intended shock of Gurney discovering this time his wife, and presumably everything else in his life, has changed.
-Charles Beaumont approached similar material, always with great success, in several other episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “Perchance to Dream,” “Shadow Play,” and “In His Image,” among others. His work is characteristically informed by psychology and revolves around the malleability of reality as related to our sensory perception. Other stories similar to “Person or Persons Unknown” include: “The Overnight Case,” the tenth episode of the Roald Dahl-hosted anthology series ‘Way Out (1961), Phillip K. Dick’s 1974 novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Stephen King’s 1988 short story “The Reploids,” and the television series Nowhere Man (1995-1996).