Monday, December 10, 2018

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 11


In which we take a closer look at each issue of the magazine. For our capsule history of the magazine, go here.


Volume 1, number 11 (February, 1982) 


Cover art: John Oberdorf

TZ Publications Inc.

President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary/Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice-Presidents: Leon Garry, Eric Protter
Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Leon Garry
Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Assistant Editors: Steven Schwartz, Robert Sabat
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson, Robert Sheckley
Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Asst.: Doreen Carrigan
Public Relations Manager: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Mgr.: Chris Grossman
Circulation Director: William D. Smith
Circulation Manager: Janice Graham
Eastern Circulation Manager: Hank Rosen
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
Advertising Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Adv. Production Manager: Marina Despotakis
Advertising Representatives: Barney O’Hara & Associates, Inc.

Contents:

--In the Twilight Zone: “A word or two of explanation . . .” by T.E.D. Klein
--Other Dimensions: Books by Robert Sheckley
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan
--“Playing the Game” by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann
--“Essence of Charlotte” by Charles L. Grant
--“Other” by Jor Jennings
--“My Old Man” by George Alec Effinger
--“The Other Train Phenomenon” by Richard Bowker
--TZ Interview: Wes Craven by Tom Seligson
--TZ Screen Preview: Swamp Thing by Jim Verniere
--The Gargoyles of Gotham by Don Hamerman and Stephen DiLauro
--“Holiday” by Richard Christian Matheson
--“Top of the Stairs” by Stephen Schlich
--“The Voices of the Dead” by Leslie Horvitz
--Show-by-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Eleven by Marc Scott Zicree
--TZ Classic Teleplay: “A Stop at Willoughby” by Rod Serling
--Looking Ahead: In the March TZ

--In the Twilight Zone: “A word or two of explanation . . .”

-Along with the usual capsule biographies of the issue’s contributors is a lengthy explanation by editor T.E.D. Klein for the inclusion of George Alec Effinger’s story “My Old Man,” which Klein apparently felt was difficult or unusual enough to warrant an explanation. After reading the story I found such a measure unnecessary but nevertheless if the reader finds the tale confusing he/she can consult this editorial space for enlightenment.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Robert Sheckley

-Robert Sheckley takes over book review duties following the departure of Theodore Sturgeon. Sheckley previously appeared in the magazine with short stories in the April, 1981, October, 1981, and January, 1982 issues. Sheckley’s introduction explaining how difficult a time he had getting the column written gives good indication of his comfort level with the job. Sheckley would appear as the magazine’s book reviewer only two additional times before giving way to Thomas M. Disch. Sheckley prefers to take a deeper look at a smaller number of titles. Here is a small taste of what he had to say about the four books he reviews.

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban:

“It’s a fine book and the best science fiction novel to come along since Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.”

Program for a Puppet by Roland Perry

“I was two hundred pages into the thing before I decided I didn’t much like it, and by then it was too late, I was hooked, so I finished it.”

Lovers Living, Lovers Dead by Richard Lortz

“Lortz puts his characters through changes increasingly strange, but believable and compelling. The tone of the book is by turns dreamlike and businesslike as you are led into mounting horror, ending at last with the big splatola.”

Bugs by Theodore Roszak

“The novel attempts to marry science fiction and the occult – an important and fruitful union, but not too convincingly handled here.”

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson

-Wilson reviews Polyester (1981) directed by John Waters, and Strange Behavior (1981) directed by Michael Laughlin. Since both films are independent features made on very small budgets, Wilson takes a broader look at some successful independent horror films, examining what works in these films, what hampers these films, and what characteristics are shared by successful examples of the type. Wilson’s reviews of the two films are highly favorable. Typical of Wilson’s column there is a good amount of autobiography weaved into the reviews.

--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan

-This new column provides the first part of a comprehensive look at classical music pieces which contains macabre or fantastic elements. The writer is Jack Sullivan, a freelance cultural critic well-known as the author of the 1978 volume Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from LeFanu to Blackwood. Sullivan also edited Lost Souls: A Collection of English Ghost Stories (1983) and The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986). His music column runs through the August, 1982 issue with an additional column in the May/June, 1983 issue. Sullivan also provided the magazine with essays on L.P. Hartley, Shirley Jackson, and H.R. Wakefield as part of “The Essential Writers” series.

-This is simply a fantastic column and something this reader has always been searching for. It provides a detailed history of macabre classical music and then moves into specific selections from an array of composers, uncovering well-known works as well as lesser-known selections. Sullivan also provides a listing of the best recordings of the pieces he discusses. Here are the selections from this first installment:

Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz
“Requiem” by Berlioz
Todtentanz for Piano and Orchestra by Franz Liszt
“Late Piano Music” by Liszt
“Mephisto Waltz” by Liszt
“Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky
“Songs and Dances of Death” by Mussorgsky
Prometheus: The Poem of Fire by Alexander Scriabin
Piano Sonatas by Scriabin
Le Sacre du Printemps by Igor Stravinsky


--“Playing the Game” by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann 

Illustrated by E.T. Steadman
“The arena was inside his skull . . . and as wide as the world”

-A young boy sets in motion a series of reality altering events by playing a game of mental concentration. Now he struggles to return his environment back to the way it was before.

-Gardner Dozois (1947-2018) began collaborating with Jack Dann (b. 1945) on dozens of science fiction and fantasy anthologies beginning with Future Power in 1976. They began writing short stories together in 1981 and “Playing the Game” was their third story collaboration. The story is a nifty speculative thriller which leads the reader from ambiguity to shocking clarity in its closing lines. It is an effective work from two legendary figures in the field of SF, both of whom are best known as editors. Dozois edited Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine from 1986-2004, winning a shelfful of awards for his editorship. Beginning in 1984 Dozois began compiling The Year’s Best Science Fiction, a series which saw its thirty-fifth volume published in 2018; sadly, this will be the last such volume with Dozois’s selections. Dozois’s fiction has garnered multiple awards and been collected across half a dozen volumes. Dann’s career has likewise been very fruitful. Along with his work as editor he has published novels, short stories, essays, reviews, and poems. Awards for his work include the Nebula, World Fantasy, Ditmar, and Shirley Jackson Awards.


-“Playing the Game” was included in the only annual volume of the magazine, Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982), as well as in The 1983 Annual World’s Best SF, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Arthur W. Saha. Both authors included the story in individual collections, Dozois in Slow Dancing Through Time (1990) and Dann in The Fiction Factory (2005). 

--“Essence of Charlotte” by Charles L. Grant 

Illustrated by Gregory Cannone
“One by one the townspeople died, as silently and mysteriously as petals dropping from a rose.”

-A man murders his mean-spirited, elderly aunt. Though he successfully disposes of the body he discovers that Aunt Charlotte has returned from the grave in a unique, and deadly, way.

-“Essence of Charlotte” is an enjoyable tale of revenge from beyond the grave even if it does not fully display the considerable talents of Charles L. Grant (1942-2006). The stereotypical characters and surprising amount of humor in the story give indication of Grant’s seriousness of intent (or lack thereof). Still, for those who enjoy tales of ghostly vengeance it is a breezy and satisfying tale. The story was reprinted in the first issue of Night Cry (with an illustration by D.W. Miller) but has never appeared in one of Grant’s collections. The story plays on the theme of the deadly plant, in this case roses, and would seem a logical choice to include in a thematic anthology. Grant previously appeared in the magazine with an interview of Stephen King for the first issue and a story, “Silver,” which I enjoyed, from the July, 1981 issue. 

--“Other” by Jor Jennings 

Illustrated by Randy Jones
“Return with us now to the great American census of 1980 in a modern-day fairy tale about a literal-minded census taker and a household that’s definitely . . .”

-A harried wife and mother, who works as a census taker, finds herself in the home of fairies who provide her with a different perspective on her life.

-This story falls firmly in line with the sort of urban fantasy first popularized by John W. Campbell’s Unknown magazine, in which an ordinary person accidentally crosses over into Faery (or some equivalence). As such, it may be of interest to fans of this story type but otherwise it largely falls flat. The main character is the sort of hardworking wife/mother whose horrible husband and horrible children have stolen her dreams which feels like too easy of a cliché in modern fiction. The fairies only serve as grotesques with no real differential between characters. The story is ultimately about transition, from who you are to who you wish to be, yet the reader is not shown any of the transitional effects of the main character’s encounter with the fairies. Perhaps it is because Jennings’s own life is described in the issue’s editorial as possessing “an easy-care husband (a lawyer) and a self-sufficient son (a graduate student in physics)” that the fictional opposite presented in “Other” is not successful.

-Arthur W. Saha thought enough of “Other” to include it in The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 9 (1983). Jennings published only four SF stories in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the last of which was “Tiger Hunt,” featured in the inaugural volume of L. Ron Hubbard Presents: Writers of the Future (1985). Jennings died in 2015.

--“My Old Man” by George Alec Effinger 

Illustrated by José Reyes
“Seen through the eyes of memory, love and hate have a way of being curiously interchangeable.”

-An electronic game of chess magnifies a trouble man’s unpleasant memories of his late father.

-As stated before, this story apparently struck editor T.E.D. Klein as unusual or difficult enough to warrant a lengthy explanation in the editorial column of the issue. Although the story is heavily cloaked in figurative language, I doubt it will cause any real problems for the mature reader. It is ultimately about memory and childhood trauma centered on an abusive parent. Effinger (1947-2002) uses an electronic game of chess to present a man forced to come to terms with his dead father, terms which include the fact that the man still loves his father despite his father’s abusive nature. It is a well-written and moving piece which will appeal to fans of introspective fiction.

-The story was reprinted in the Winter, 1985 issue of Night Cry with an illustration by J.K. Potter (see end of post). It was collected in Effinger’s George Alan Effinger Live! From Planet Earth (2005). 

--“The Other Train Phenomenon” by Richard Bowker 

Illustrated by Robert Ray
“In which a lone researcher stumbles upon the horrifying truth behind urban America’s version of the jelly-side-down theory”

-A subway rider on a broken-down train gets into a conversation with an eccentric fellow passenger who has formulated a theory about the systematic ruination of some people’s lives.

-“What are the odds?” is the question this story humorously, and darkly, attempts to answer. It seeks to find a solution to the reason why the misfortune heaped upon some people defies the odds of probability. The story ultimately applies a light touch with a humorous final scene in which the Men in Black come to remove the man who knows too much. The story was reprinted in 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories (1984), edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Terry Carr, and Isaac Asimov. Richard Bowker (b. 1950) is best-known for his The Last P.I. series of novels, the first of which, Dover Beach (1987), was nominated for the Locus and Philip K. Dick Awards. After a lengthy break from writing SF, Bowker returned in 2012 using e-publishing platforms to create new works.  

--TZ Interview: Wes Craven by Tom Seligson 

“Who’s made nightmares come true.”

-Despite the subtitle of this interview with the well-known horror film director, it was conducted before the film generally regarded as Craven’s masterwork, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Even so, Craven speaks at length on the ways in which dreams and nightmares inform his early films. These early films, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Deadly Blessing, are discussed in detail as Craven reveals the genesis, inspiration, and challenges in bringing each work to the screen. Craven gives a detailed account of his improbable rise to the director’s chair in the early portion of the interview. He discusses his repressive upbringing in a staunchly religious household, his years as a teacher, and his slow ascent up the filmmaking ranks performing technical jobs on independent features. The final portion of the interview is dedicated to Craven’s then-current production, Swamp Thing (1982), a feature adaptation of the DC Comics character.

-I have been very impressed with the quality of the interviews featured in these early issues. They benefit from being conducted by knowledgeable writers and critics who are clearly genre fans. This interview with Craven is no exception. It contains a wealth of information and inspiration for film fans and aspiring filmmakers. Craven went on to direct such horror films as The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), The People Under the Stairs (1991), and Scream (1996). He died in 2015 at the age of 76. 

--TZ Screen Preview: Swamp Thing by Jim Verniere 


-The magazine’s customary full-color film preview section is dedicated to looking at the 1982 film Swamp Thing, written and directed by Wes Craven and released by Embassy Pictures. It is an adaptation of the DC Comics character created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson which first appeared in the July, 1971 issue of DC’s horror anthology comic, The House of Secrets, before getting its own series for a short run in the early 1970s. Craven’s film adaptation stars Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, and Ray Wise. Jim Verniere’s article gives a full account of the making of the film, including perspectives from the director, producers, principal performers, and technicians. The article takes a particular look at the difficulties of filming on location in a South Carolina swamp and the challenges endured by the crew, including special makeup artist Bill Munn, who created the film’s practical effects.

-Although Swamp Thing is not considered among Craven’s finest efforts, it continues to possess the charming feel of a comic book come to life, with campy special effects, extreme lighting, and over-the-top performances. The film was only a moderate financial success but still managed to spawn a sequel, The Return of the Swamp Thing (1989), directed by Jim Wynorski, which eschewed the serious tone of Craven’s film. A more notable byproduct of Craven’s film is The Saga of the Swamp Thing, DC’s second attempt at a Swamp Thing title. This second volume of the story included a celebrated run by British writer Alan Moore and American artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben. This series, edited by Karen Berger, is widely regarded as the beginning of DC’s celebrated Vertigo line of mature comics. 

--The Gargoyles of Gotham by Stephen DiLauro (text) and Don Hamerman (photography) 

“Hidden like endangered species amid the steel-and-glass skyline, a menagerie of grand and grotesque creatures stare inscrutably at modern-day New York”

-This interesting photography feature, the magazine’s first, takes the reader on a tour of New York City from the perspective of the jutting gargoyles which adorn the city’s most renowned buildings. Stephen DiLauro approaches theories of the origin of the gargoyle, their installation in the New World, and their relevance to modern-day culture. The photography is the real draw here, of course, and the grotesque gargoyles are a marvel to behold despite the limitations of a black-and-white magazine. 

--“Holiday” by Richard Christian Matheson
Illustrated by Anna Rich
“One of the nicest things about vacationing alone is that you meet the most unexpected people!”


-A man vacationing alone meets an eccentric older gentlemen who turns out to be Santa Claus.

-This is on the lighter end of Matheson’s (b. 1953) fictional output. The son of Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson, and a highly successful television writer in his own right, Matheson’s prose fiction tends toward the concision of the short-short: dark, shocking, often experimental, tales written in terse, forceful language. Although “Holiday” was collected in Matheson’s 1987 volume Scars, it differs markedly from the other stories in that collection. It is a rather straight forward, humorous piece about a man who meets Santa Claus on vacation. It has been reprinted in such themed anthologies as The Magic of Christmas (1992) and A Yuletide Universe (2003). 

--“Top of the Stairs” by Stephen Schlich 

Illustrated by Frances Jetter
“It was just an old wooden staircase, twenty-eight steps high – but it led to the upper reaches of Hell.”

-A newly-disabled man is forced to reckon with a crime for which he was never punished, until that punishment comes from beyond the grave.

-This enjoyable horror story is thematically related to such better-known tales of the type as Henry Slesar’s “The Jam” (1958) and William F. Nolan’s “The Party” (1967). These stories center on a character who has hidden some essential knowledge away from themselves only to discover too late the dire straits they find themselves in. The final sequence of the story is effectively unnerving, if a bit predictable. The story has not been reprinted since its appearance in this issue.

-Stephen Schlich published the occasional horror story in the genre magazines and anthologies of the 1980s and 1990s. “Top of the Stairs” was the first of these stories. The most recent, “Inside the Iron Maiden,” appeared in 2006 in editor Christopher Conlon’s Poe’s Lighthouse: New Collaborations with Edgar Allan Poe. The issue’s editorial column indicates that Schlich also published mystery stories and worked for a time as a newspaper journalist.  

--“The Voices of the Dead” by Leslie Horvitz 

Illustrated by Earl Killeen
“How could she have known, on that night in the cemetery, that a message from beyond the grave would bring so strange an answer from the living?”

-A young actress becomes enamored with attempting to record the voices of the dead until she learns the lengths to which the living were willing to go to connect with a dead loved one.

-The longest story in the issue, “The Voices of the Dead” is a character piece, with the supernatural angle of the tale used as a tool to examine the interpersonal relationships between the main character, the aloof and complicated man she loves, and the dead woman who comes between them. It is a well-written story with excellent characterization and a pleasantly creepy ending. Horvitz placed a handful of stories in Charles L. Grant’s horror anthologies of the 1980s, most notably in the Shadows series. He also published two horror novels, The Dying and Blood Moon (both 1987), at the height of the horror boom in paperback publishing.

--Show-by-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone: Part Eleven by Marc Scott Zicree

-Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion (now in its 3rd edition), continues his early examination of the series by providing the credits, narrations, and summaries of these third season episodes: “The Little People,” “Four O’Clock,” “The Trade-Ins,” “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby,” “The Dummy,” “The Changing of the Guard,” “Young Man’s Fancy,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and “Cavender Is Coming.” We have reviewed these episodes as part of our third season coverage and you can find our reviews under the episode titles in the sidebar section titled Directory. 

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “A Stop at Willoughby” by Rod Serling 


-The complete shooting script of this fan-favorite episode is presented here accompanied by production stills. “A Stop at Willoughby” was a first season episode written by Rod Serling and directed by Robert Parrish. It starred James Daly as a stressed-out advertising agent who longs to escape to the idealized town of Willoughby. It originally aired on May 6, 1960. As frequent readers of the blog may already be aware, our opinion of this episode diverges from the prevailing opinion among viewers. Many TZ fans put this one near the top of the series. We put it closer to the middle. If you are interested in our take on the episode, you can find it here.

--Looking Ahead: In March’s TZ

-Next month looks like a great issue. Robert Sheckley reviews books by Peter Straub, Cornell Woolrich, and Gahan Wilson, the latter of whom reviews the movie Time Bandits. Jack Sullivan returns to continue his music column about macabre and fantastic classical music. SF legend Fritz Leiber, one of this writer’s personal favorites, is interviewed and Leiber’s 1947 tale, “The Man Who Never Grew Young,” is reprinted with a new illustration by José Reyes. We have a story by Barbara Owens, “The New Man,” which was later adapted for Tales from the Darkside. We also look at stories by Kevin Cook, Ron Goulart, Elizabeth Morton, Robert E. Vardeman, Larry Tritten, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Richard Stooker. On the film front we have Ed Naha’s set visit to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a full-color preview of a Jack-the-Ripper thriller, Still of the Night. Finally, Marc Scott Zicree jumps into the fourth season of his episode guide and Rod Serling’s teleplay for his moving first season episode, “A Passage for Trumpet,” is presented. We will get to all of that in our next installment. See you then!

-JP 
J.K. Potter's illustration for George Alec Effinger's "My Old Man"
from Night Cry, Winter, 1985

D.W. Miller's illustration for Charles L. Grant's "Essence of Charlotte"
TZ Magazine Special: Night Cry (1984)

Monday, November 19, 2018

"Death Ship"

Picture of the crew of E-89. From left: Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, Fredrick Beir

“Death Ship”
Season Four, Episode 108
Original Air Date: February 7, 1963

Cast:
Cpt. Ross: Jack Klugman
Lt. Mason: Ross Martin
Lt. Carter: Fredrick Beir
Ruth: Mary Webster
Kramer: Ross Elliott
Mrs. Nolan: Sara Taft
Jeannie: Tammy Marihugh

Crew:
Writer: Richard Matheson (based on his story)
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Director of Photography: Robert Pittack
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Art Direction: George W. Davis & Edward Carfagno
Film Editor: Richard W. Farrell
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Edward M. Parker
Assistant Director: Ray De Camp
Sound: Franklin Milton & Joe Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Rod Serling’s Wardrobe provided by Eagle Clothes
Filmed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Mr. Richard Matheson lets his typewriter pay us a return visit next time out on Twilight Zone with a story called ‘Death Ship.’ Now, this one is for science fiction aficionados, ghost story buffs, and any and all who file away clues with an eye toward out-guessing the writer. Next on Twilight Zone Messrs. Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, and Fred Beir take an extended trip through space on ‘Death Ship.’"

 Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

“Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the thirteenth planet of star system fifty-one, the year 1997. In a little while, supposedly, the ship will be landed and specimens taken: vegetable, mineral, and, if any, animal. These will be brought back to overpopulated Earth where technicians will evaluate them and, if everything is satisfactory, stamp their findings with the word ‘inhabitable,’ and open up yet another planet for colonization. These are the things that are supposed to happen.

“Picture of the crew of the spaceship E-89: Captain Ross, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Carter. Three men who have just reached a place which is as far from home as they will ever be. Three men who in a matter of minutes will be plunged into the darkest nightmare reaches of The Twilight Zone.” 

Summary: 

            The Spaceship E-89 scans an unexplored planet while cruising high above the surface. Lt. Mason sees a blip on the view screen, a possible indication of life on the planet below. The crew, which also includes Capt. Ross and Lt. Carter, gathers around the view screen. Capt. Ross quickly assumes a stern command of the situation and tampers the excitement of the other two men. Though Capt. Ross is wary of landing on the planet, the other men convince him otherwise.
            E-89 makes a smooth landing but the crew is horrified to see a ship exactly like their own crashed nearby. After a show of tension with Lt. Mason, Capt. Ross reluctantly agrees to explore the crashed ship. Inside, the men are further horrified to discover what appears to be their own dead bodies. Capt. Ross dismisses the grisly discovery as deception and orders the men back to their ship.    
            Capt. Ross comes to the conclusion that what they have witnessed is only a possible future, perhaps one created by their passage through a time warp. It is an outcome which will only occur if they take off again. He decides they are to remain on the planet’s surface indefinitely. The other men staunchly oppose this drastic measure but are overruled by their captain.
            Lt. Carter closes his eyes in a moment of despair. When he opens them again he finds himself standing near the road which leads to his home on Earth. Confused, he slowly walks down the road until he is happily met by a man named Kramer, who appears to have been hunting in the nearby woods. The two men are soon met by Mrs. Nolan, a kindly old woman. At the mention of his wife Mary’s name, Lt. Carter runs down the road toward his home, leaving Kramer and Mrs. Nolan behind. Carter arrives at his home but cannot find his wife anywhere. In the bedroom he sees an ominous sign. Laid upon the bed are the black veil and gloves which a woman in mourning might wear. Worse still is a telegram laid beside the veil and gloves. It is from the Space Exploration Agency and states that Carter was killed in the line of duty. Suddenly, Carter is called back by the voice of Capt. Ross and inexplicably finds himself again on the spaceship.
            Cater realizes that the people he met on the road are dead and that he too must be dead. Capt. Ross refutes the idea. Their resultant argument is interrupted when they realize Lt. Mason has vanished.
            Mason awakens in a grove near a lake. He is astonished to see his young daughter Jeannie and gathers her in an emotional embrace. He then rushes to his wife, Ruth, who is setting up for a picnic in a nearby clearing. She asks if he is asleep. “Oh, if I am I hope I never wake up,” Mason replies. Suddenly, Capt. Ross pushes his way through the overgrowth and into the clearing. He’s come to take Mason back to the ship. A fight ensues and Ross manages to drag the other man back to the imprisoning spaceship.
            Capt. Ross removes a newspaper clipping from Mason’s shirt pocket. It tells of how Mason’s wife and daughter died in a car accident. “They’re dead, you’re alive,” Ross insists. Ross has a new theory about their predicament. He believes there are alien lifeforms on the planet and through some unknown method are causing the men to have hallucinations. He is determined that they must go up in order to escape.
            The ship takes off with the crew bracing for a crash. They celebrate once they are free of the atmosphere. Capt. Ross, though, decides that they will go back down now that they have broken free of their delusions. He ensures the other men that the crashed spaceship will no longer be there. Lt. Carter attempts to wrench control of the ship from Capt. Ross, nearly sending them crashing down onto the planet. At the last moment, the men manage to regain control of the ship and make a safe landing.
            To their horror, the cashed ship is still there. Lt. Mason and Lt. Carter have accepted their deaths but cannot convince Capt. Ross of their fates. Ross is determined to go over it again and again until he can reach a conclusion other than the one suggested by his crewmen.
            The Spaceship E-89 scans an unexplored planet while cruising high above the surface. Lt. Mason sees a blip on the view screen, a possible indication of life upon the planet below . . . 


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Picture of a man who will not see anything he does not choose to see, including his own death. A man of such indomitable will that even the two men beneath his command are not allow to see the truth; which truth is that they are no longer among the living, that the movements they make and the words they speak have all been made and spoken countless times before, and will be made and spoken countless times again, perhaps even unto eternity. Picture of a latter-day Flying Dutchman, sailing into The Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary: 
Ross Elliott & Fredrick Beir

“There seemed nothing to be said. It was a speechless nightmare. The tilted cabin all bashed in and tangled. The three corpses all doubled over and tumbled into the corner, arms and legs flopped over each other. All they could do was stare.”

-Richard Matheson, “Death Ship”

            To this point writer Richard Matheson appeared reluctant to adapt his own short stories for the series. This reluctance abated by the fourth season as five of Matheson’s final six teleplays were adaptations of previously published stories, compared to only one (“Little Girl Lost”) among his first eight scripts. Matheson was a busy writer during 1963, scripting an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The Thirty-First of February”), two films for American International Pictures (The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors), and four episodes of The Twilight Zone. Whether Matheson felt overworked during this period is difficult to say but it is not unreasonable to assume that Matheson decided to approach previously published material to facilitate quick work without sacrificing quality. Some of Matheson’s most powerful and fondly remembered episodes, “Death Ship,” “Steel,” “Night Call,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” were adaptations of his stories.
            There is also the likelihood that the series expansion to a one-hour format encouraged Matheson to look at expanding some of his stories. Matheson was vocal in his dislike of the hour-long change though he likely relished the opportunity to take another run at some of his older stories with the opportunity to rework the material for the dramatic medium. 
Ed Emshwiller magazine
illustration for "Death Ship"
            “Death Ship” was originally published in the March, 1953 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine. Matheson changed little about the story and the resultant episode functions primarily as an expansion of the material, particularly in relation to the two extended afterlife sequences for the characters of Carter and Mason (absent in the story). Although a decade separated the publication of the original story and Matheson’s adaptation for The Twilight Zone, little needed to be altered in the original narrative to suit the series. Matheson lifted Rod Serling’s opening narration nearly whole from his original story. It reads in the story thus: “In a little while they’d land and take specimens. Mineral, vegetable, animal – if there were any. Put them in the storage lockers and take them back to Earth. There the technicians would evaluate, appraise, judge. And, if everything was acceptable, stamp the big, black INHABITABLE on their brief and open another planet for colonization from overcrowded Earth.”

             Matheson made slight changes to the three principal characters in the tale. There is a clearer delineation between the men in the original story in terms of duty. Ross is the captain and pilot, Mason the navigator, and Carter the engineer. These lines of duty blur a bit in the adaptation, particularly in relation to Mason and Carter. Ross is the only of the three to significantly change in terms of character. In the original story Ross’s fatal flaw is not will but vanity; he is not a man who must be obeyed but a man who believes he is always right. Jack Klugman, when speaking with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation (1998), stated multiple times that he did not care for “Death Ship.” One assumes this is because of Ross’s unattractive characteristics. As dramatized, Ross is not simply an arrogant man burdened by duty and mission but a dominating, villainous force that refuses to let his crew pass into the afterlife, holding the men in a hellish, imprisoning limbo. It is no wonder Klugman would not look back upon this role with fondness, despite his excellent performance, as his sympathies were aligned more with the redemptive characters he portrayed in “A Passage for Trumpet” and “In Praise of Pip.” One ironic characteristic of Ross’s ascent to the role of villain is that, in both story and episode, he must be convinced by the other men to descend to the planet’s surface. Ross does not want to land, does not want to see what caused the blip on the view screen. There is no escape from the situation, of course, but it is interesting to consider that Ross became the monster at least in part because of the will of the Mason and Carter, who set in motion the series of events which forced Ross to see that which he was unwilling to acknowledge.
            Richard Matheson knew that the key to engaging the viewer in a story with little physical action was to lean on the dramatic tension inherent in the ever-widening rift between Ross and Mason, an aspect less fully formed in the story. “Death Ship” largely hinges on the tension between these two men, beautifully played out by Jack Klugman and Ross Martin. In point of fact, the original story displays the decision to remain indefinitely on the planet to avoid a possible crash as agreed upon by all three men in a democratic process. The alteration made for the episode, in which Ross demands they stay in the face of ardent opposition from Mason and Carter, deepens the tension and lends an aspect of non-physical combat to the episode which did not appear to interest the writer a decade earlier. This shift from a focus on the mystery of the narrative to the foibles of character was facilitated not only by the necessary expansion of the material but also by the enclosed nature of the stage upon which the drama played out. In this way, “Death Ship” bears similarities to such previous episodes as “The Shelter,” “The Mirror,” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” in which the players are placed in an enclosed environment and the drama is played out through the violence of human tension (which frequently devolves to actual physical violence).

            The director selected to bring out this violence of human tension was Don Medford (1917-2012), who previously appeared behind the camera for such claustrophobic and tension-heavy episodes as “The Mirror” and “Deaths-Head Revisited.” Buck Houghton, who produced four of Medford’s five Twilight Zone episodes, initially recognized the director’s ability to draw out engaging tension between characters when there was little physical action to otherwise engage the viewer. With The Twilight Zone’s limited production budget and economically enclosed settings, this was a skill highly prized by the production and fourth season producer Herbert Hirschman was wise to place Medford on such an episode as Houghton had before. Medford perfected his craft on Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953), a science fiction anthology series which was a significant precursor to The Twilight Zone. Medford directed 36 episodes of the series. Medford’s other genre work includes crime and suspense series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the original and revival series), Climax!, and Suspicion. Jack Klugman and Mary Webster previously worked with Medford on his first Twilight Zone episode, “A Passage for Trumpet.”

            Another interesting aspect of Matheson’s story is a veiled homage to Ray Bradbury’s 1948 story “Mars Is Heaven!” a tale later included by Bradbury as “The Third Expedition” in The Martian Chronicles (1950). This occurs when Capt. Ross suggests that there is alien life on the planet upon which they have landed, aliens who haven’t the physical strength to carry out an attack on the interlopers so instead resort to mental suggestion, causing the men to hallucinate and see things which are not really there. This innovative plot device was a key element of the Bradbury story. Bradbury was a mentor to Matheson and a particularly strong creative influence. Matheson later adapted Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for a television miniseries in 1980. “Mars Is Heaven!” is one of Bradbury’s most frequently anthologized and adapted tales. It was adapted multiple times on radio, most memorably on Escape (1950), and into comic book form in the EC Comics title Weird Science #18 (April, 1953), illustrated by Wallace Wood. Bradbury adapted the story for television on his Ray Bradbury Theater, broadcast July 20, 1990. Another Twilight Zone writer, Charles Beaumont, produced his own homage to the Bradbury story with his 1953 tale “Elegy,” adapted by Beaumont for the first season of The Twilight Zone.

            The legend of the Flying Dutchman forms the broader thematic backbone of Matheson’s story. Matheson calls attention to this parallel in the final paragraphs of his story:

 “Then, in a split second, with the knowledge, he saw Ross and he saw Carter. As they were. And he took a short shuddering breath, a last breath until illusion would bring breath and flesh again.
            “ ‘Progress,’ he said bitterly and his voice was an aching whisper in the phantom ship. ‘The Flying Dutchman takes to the universe.’”

            The folk legend of the ghost ship which can never make port and serves as a portent of doom to other vessels has been around since the late 17th century and proven to be a pliable legend, able to be adapted across a wide range of themes, subjects, and settings. The Twilight Zone approached tales of this type in such episodes as “Judgment Night,” “King Nine Will Not Return,” and “The Arrival.”


            The production design of “Death Ship” will likely be a divisive aspect for the modern viewer. One will either enjoy the retro-future style (perhaps in an unintentionally humorous way) or abhor it as unconvincing and distracting. The uniforms and external ship were borrowed from the MGM production Forbidden Planet (1956), a film whose futuristic props and design permeate the series as Twilight Zone was filmed at MGM and thus had access to the sets, props, and costumes of the studio’s signature science fiction film. Although the series did occasionally use footage from the film to show travel in outer space, such footage in “Death Ship” was original to the production. Other aspects, including some impressive visual effects, stand out as innovative and unique, particularly the scanning effect of the view screen and the launch and landing of the spacecraft, complete with billowing dust and fiery exhaust, an expensive effect conceived by producer Herbert Hirschman and designed by the MGM FX Department using miniatures and painted backdrops.
            The most effective sequences of the episode occur outside the construct of the spacecraft during the afterlife experiences of Carter and Mason. Not only is the emotional impact of these sequences acutely felt but it allowed Don Medford to juxtapose the expansiveness of the open setting with the imprisoning nature of the ship. This juxtaposition is expertly displayed when Ross invades Mason’s passage to the afterlife and physically drags the man back to the ship. The cut from the wide open outdoors to a tight shot of the ship interior is highly effective. There follows a gut-wrenching moment when Mason circles the enclosure of the ship, devastated to have been taken from his wife and daughter.
            Other notable aspects of the production include the use of a varied selection of stock music for the episode. Particularly effective are selections from Jerry Goldsmith’s unnerving composition for Rod Serling’s first season time travel episode, “Back There,” and Bernard Herrmann’s melancholy score for Serling’s “Walking Distance,” utilized for Lt. Mason’s afterlife sequence. Also notable is the work of cinematographer Robert Pittack, an experience photographer who worked on an array of feature-length and short films for major studios before moving into television in 1952. Pittack was brought on board Twilight Zone to alternate the filming of episodes with the show’s principal photographer George T. Clemens due to an increase in the production schedule for each episode. Pittack more than upheld the show’s high standard for black-and-white photography and perhaps no episode better displays this than “Death Ship,” particularly the sequence inside the crashed ship and the discovery of the bodies. The episode offered a number of challenging aspects for the photographer, including a wide range of lighting effects and complex editing techniques such as quick transition cuts and split-screen photography.

            The final anchoring aspect of the episode is, of course, the performances. The performances were always a hugely important aspect on the series but this was especially true in “Death Ship,” which depended greatly upon the tension established between the three men.
Jack Klugman (1922-2012), despite his dislike of the episode, is suitably dominating in the role of Captain Ross, using both physical strength and impenetrable will to imprison his fellow crew members. Klugman is a familiar face to viewers of the series, joining Burgess Meredith as the only actors to be featured in a lead role in four episodes. Klugman previously appeared in Rod Serling’s first season episode, “A Passage for Trumpet,” and George Clayton Johnson’s excellent third season episode, “A Game of Pool.” Klugman saved perhaps his finest performance for last when he appeared as a father who trades his own life for that of his son in Rod Serling’s moving fifth season episode, “In Praise of Pip.” Best remembered for such films as 12 Angry Men (1957) and the television series The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E., Klugman was a staple of early television anthology series. He previously worked with Rod Serling in the Playhouse 90 production, “The Velvet Alley” (1959). Klugman’s genre work includes episodes of Suspense, Inner Sanctum, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Kraft Suspense Theatre, and the revival The Outer Limits series. 

Mary Webster and Ross Martin
            Ross Martin (1920-1981), who gives a powerful performance as the tortured Lt. Mason (we rated it #19 on our list of the 20 greatest performances on the series), also previously appeared on the series as one of Arch Hammer’s “faces” in Rod Serling’s adaptation of George Clayton Johnson’s “The Four of Us Are Dying.” Here, Martin is given a much larger role and runs with it, eliciting an emotional response in the viewer perhaps unrivaled on the series. Martin was born in Poland and immigrated to the Unites States as a child, his family settling on the Lower East Side of New York. An incredibly learned man who spoke multiple languages, Ross followed his passion for acting into a prolific television and film career. Best known for the role of Artemus Gordon on The Wild, Wild West, Martin also appeared in episodes of Lights Out, Suspense, One Step Beyond, and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Martin provided the voice of the main character in the Academy Award-nominated short animated film Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962), adapted from Ray Bradbury’s 1956 short story by Bradbury and George Clayton Johnson. Martin also featured in the 1973 television film Dying Room Only, adapted by Richard Matheson from his 1953 short story. 

            Although Fredrick Beir (1927-1980) only appeared in this one episode of the series, he is likely a familiar face to television viewers from his frequent guest appearances. Among those appearances was plenty of genre work as Beir featured in episodes of One Step Beyond, Men into Space, Thriller, The Outer Limits, The Munsters, The Time Tunnel, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Beir is given the difficult task of portraying the young, idealistic Lt. Carter in “Death Ship,” a man who suffers a clear mental break when confronted with the image of his own death. There is a disturbing and effective quality to Beir’s performance, particularly his physical mannerisms and his shocked, open-eyed expression.
            The three performances are highly symbolic of fundamental aspects of the human personality, the mental makeup of the rational and willful (Ross), the sensitive and melancholy (Mason), and the fearful and childlike (Carter). The performances are singularly impressive but are more effective when taken as a unit, with one meeting the other meeting the next in an emotionally resonate way.

            “Death Ship” is Twilight Zone at its most successful: an existential nightmare presented by an engaging script, performed by excellent actors, under strong direction, aided by innovative production design and special effects. The story is a perfect blend of horror and science fiction with an emotional resonance brought to its zenith by a devastating twist which keeps the viewer playing out mental scenarios long after the play is over. It remains an episode which lends itself to multiple viewings and a sterling example from the much-derided fourth season which can stand with the best of the series.

Grade: A

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following:

-Richard Matheson’s The Twilight Zone Scripts, Volume Two, edited by Stanely Wiater (Edge Books, 2002)

-The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008)

-The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (2nd edition, Silman-James, 1992)

-Interview with Jack Klugman conducted by Sunny Parich (5/1/1998) for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation.

-The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)

-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)

Notes: 
Illustration by Karel Thole
for Urania #322, an Italian SF magazine
which included "Death Ship" as
"Il relitto," or "The Wreck"
--Richard Matheson’s original story appeared in the March, 1953 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine. The story was collected in Shock! (Dell, 1961). Most often anthologized as a time travel tale, it appeared in The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg (Del Rey, 2005) and The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer  (Tor, 2014).
--Don Medford also directed “A Passage for Trumpet,” “The Man in the Bottle,” “The Mirror,” and “Deaths-Head Revisited.”
--Jack Klugman also appeared in “A Passage for Trumpet,” “A Game of Pool,” and “In Praise of Pip.” Klugman also appeared in Rod Serling’s Playhouse 90 episode, “The Velvet Alley” (1959).
--Ross Martin also appeared in “The Four of Us Are Dying” and the segments of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery titled “Camera Obscura” and “The Other Way Out.”
--Mary Webster also appeared in “A Passage for Trumpet.”
--Ross Elliott also appeared (uncredited) in “In Praise of Pip.”
--The road which leads to Carter’s home in his afterlife sequence is the same road used to stage Philip Redfield’s (Ed Nelson) crash into an invisible barrier in “Valley of the Shadow.”
--“Death Ship” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Schneider.

-JP