Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Invaders"

Agnes Moorehead meets the Invaders

“The Invaders”
Season Two, Episode 51
Original Air Date: January 27, 1961

Woman: Agnes Moorehead
Astronaut Voice: Douglas Heyes (uncredited)

Writer: Richard Matheson (original teleplay)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Philip Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Lindsey Parsons, Jr.
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“Next week we bring you a show called ‘The Invaders’ written by Mr. Richard Matheson and in this room you’ll watch Ms. Agnes Moorehead in a tension-riddled attempt at escape…from a pair of very improbable housebreakers. This one we recommend to science fiction buffs, fantasy lovers, or to anyone to grip the edge of his seat and take a twenty-four minute trip into the realm of terror.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“This is one of the out-of-the-way places. The unvisited places. Bleak. Wasted.  Dying. This is a farmhouse, handmade, crude. A house without electricity or gas. A house untouched by progress. This is the woman who lives in the house, a woman who’s been alone for many years. A strong, simple woman whose only problem up until this moment has been that of acquiring enough food to eat. A woman about to face terror which is even now coming at her from the Twilight Zone.”


An old woman lives alone in a ramshackle house on a barren stretch of land few would willingly choose to call home. While washing the dishes one evening, she hears a loud, piercing noise followed immediately by a crash. After a few moments she climbs up to the attic to investigate. Upon entering the attic she discovers that a small air vessel of some kind has crashed through her roof. The vessel is round and thin with a diameter of about three feet. The woman approaches the vessel with caution. As she does so a small drop-door begins to descend from underneath the ship and a tiny figure emerges. The figure is fully clothed and his face cannot be seen. Frightened, she kicks the figure through the attic opening down into the bottom interior of the house and swiftly shuts the door. She notices a second figure standing on the opposite end of the room. The figure aims his arm at the woman and fires something at her. She is too big for the tiny weapon to do any significant harm but its effects are still painful and she fleas back to the kitchen.
After she dresses her wounds she begins to look for figure number one.  She notices that one of her kitchen knives is missing. She searches the house in extreme caution. One of the figures emerges from under a floorboard and plunges the knife into her foot. She screams in pain. She runs to the kitchen and grabs a hatchet. After having her hand sliced open while grabbing the makeshift door handle on her bedroom door she enters into her bedroom and finds one of the tiny figures hiding under a blanket. She approaches the blanket slowly and grabs the moving mass underneath. She is then confronted by the second figure shooting at her from the ledge of a nearby window. She shoves the figure through the window sending it to the ground below. She wraps the other figure up in the blanket and slams it down on a table repeatedly as if she were trying to bust the table open with a sledgehammer. She stops once the figure goes limp.
She hears noise above her. She climbs up to the attic and approaches the ship, her fingers gripped around the handle of the hatchet.
She hears a voice.
“Gresham is dead,” the voice says.  “Incredible race of giants here.  No counter attack, too powerful!  Stay away!  Gresham and I are…finished.”
The woman begins to smash the ship in a violent frenzy until she collapses from exhaustion. Afterwards, we see the only part of the ship left intake. Printed in English in large block letters are the words: U.S. Air Force: Space Probe No. 1.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration

“These are the invaders: the tiny beings from the tiny place called Earth, who would take the giant step across the sky to the question marks that sparkle and beckon from the vastness of the universe only to be imagined.  The invaders, who found out that a one-way ticket to the stars beyond has the ultimate price tag.  And we have just seen it entered into a ledger that covers all the transactions of the universe, a bill stamped ‘paid in full,’ and to be found on file…in the Twilight Zone.”

Never a program to shy away from a challenge, the second season of The Twilight Zone had already given audiences Rod Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder,” an episode in which none of the characters’ faces can be seen until the end of the story. Now the show offered viewers a story with only one performer who doesn’t utter a single line of dialogue for the entire twenty-three minutes that she is on screen. Her thoughts and emotions are conveyed through facial expressions and the use of pantomime, making it one of the most memorable episodes in the entire Twilight Zone canon.
For an episode that has scant dialogue and is shot in real time, “The Invaders” feels surprisingly fast-paced, with tension instilling itself during the first moments of the episode and not letting up until its denouement. This is one of only a handful of episodes that breaks the formula of the opening sequence which usually consisted of a teaser followed by Serling’s appearance on screen. Here, the audience is given no information before Serling’s introductory monologue.  Instead, Matheson and Serling grab the viewer’s attention as soon as the title sequence is over with Serling launching into what may be the single most effective opening line in any episode of the show:

“This is one of the out-of-the-way places.  The unvisited places.  Bleak.  Wasted.  Dying.”

The rest of the monologue continues in a similar manner with Serling describing both the woman and the house in an unflattering fashion. When Matheson first began writing for the show he didn’t attach an introductory or closing monologue to any of his scripts believing that Serling preferred to write the monologues himself. But he found out later that this was not the case and began to write them himself. It can be assumed that by this point Matheson had begun scripting his own monologues, for this example in particular resembles Matheson's prose style even though it was written specifically to be spoken by Rod Serling. Its effectiveness lies in not only what is being described but the way in which the words are strung together. Its terse delivery and harsh language immediately grab the viewer’s attention and gives them a glimpse into the world of this character.
            Matheson had explored the theme of role reversal between human beings and extraterrestrial life a decade earlier in his short story “Third from the Sun,” which was adapted by Rod Serling during season one. In this story the audience is led to believe they are watching a family escape from an Earth on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse only to find out by the end of the story that it is an alien family traveling to Earth. He would also recycle the premise and basic plot structure of "The Invaders" for his short story “Prey,” which was published in the April, 1969 issue of Playboy. “Prey” tells the story of a young woman alone in her apartment with a Zuni fetish doll that she has purchased for her boyfriend. After only a few paragraphs, the Zuni doll comes to life after the woman accidentally removes a restricting charm from around the doll's neck. The doll proceeds to stalk the woman around her tiny apartment for the remainder of the story trying to kill her. When interviewed, Matheson said that his original pitch for “The Invaders,” a script titled "Devil Doll," was much closer to the plot of "Prey" but that producer Buck Houghton and series creator Rod Serling thought it was too grim a tale and suggested that he set it on another planet and try to tone down the violence. “Prey” was later made into a segment of the made-for-television horror anthology film Trilogy of Terror (ABC, 1975). This film was intended as the pilot episode for a possible anthology series but was never picked up by a network. Trilogy of Terror was directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis based on three of Matheson's short stories, "The Likeness of Julie," "Needle in the Heart," (or "Therese") and "Prey."  All three segments feature Karen Black in the lead role.  The first two segments were adapted by writer William F. Nolan, a close friend of Matheson's and frequent collaborator with Dan Curtis, but the “Prey” segment, titled “Amelia” in the film, was adapted by Matheson, the writer perhaps sensing something special about the segment as it is undoubtedly the most fondly remembered portion of the film. Curtis directed a sequel to the film, Trilogy of Terror II, in 1996 which includes a sequel to the “Amelia” segment from the first film, picking up right where the original segment ended. William F. Nolan wrote the screenplay for this segment.
            Calling the shots on “The Invaders” was director Douglas Heyes who had become the show’s good luck charm when it came to technically challenging episodes such as this one. Unfortunately, this would be the last episode directed by Heyes. The Twilight Zone never staffed regular directors, writers, or actors. Everything was freelance, with the producers purchasing the stories they felt were right for the show and hiring the people they felt were right for that particular story. Heyes made nine episodes during the first and second seasons of the show, although his influence can be felt throughout the entire run of the series. He had an eclectic style that lent itself to the show remarkably well. If Houghton knew that an episode was going to be challenging Heyes was usually his first choice.
             Something of a renaissance artist, Heyes explored many avenues of the creative process during his career. In addition to directing he was also a skilled musician, painter, actor, screenwriter, and novelist. He began his career at the age of seventeen as a cartoonist for Walt Disney Studios where he first learned the process of storyboarding. After he left Disney Heyes worked as a cartoonist on the syndicated comic strip Strange as It Seems from 1946 – 1948. With the advent of television Heyes turned his talents to writing. Heyes sold his first script to Arthur Ripley at General Electric Theatre who saw in the young man an extraordinary talent. He offered Heyes the chance to direct his own material. With no formal training, Heyes began his career as a director and was soon writing and directing for shows like Cheyenne, Maverick, Naked City, and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin—for which he wrote forty-four episodes. During this time he also began a career as a novelist publishing his first book The Kiss-Off (Simon and Schuster, 1951) to favorable reviews. Considering his prolific output as a writer, it seems odd that Heyes never penned any scripts for The Twilight Zone. It is possible that he intended to eventually return to the show but was never able to.
Heyes’s second major contribution to the horror/fantasy genre is his work on Boris Karloff’s Thriller. Around the same time that he made “The Invaders” Heyes had already begun working on episodes of Thriller at NBC. Although several different versions of the show’s history have been presented over the years it is generally agreed upon that Heyes played a significant role in helping it evolve from a bland imitation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to a program of rich gothic horror more in line with the image of Boris Karloff. Heyes wrote and directed the first genuine horror episode of the show, “The Purple Room,” for its first season. Later in the season he directed the episode “The Hungry Glass” which he adapted from the Robert Bloch story “The Hungry House.” Heyes’s third and final episode was “The Premature Burial” which he directed and co-adapted with William D. Gordon from the story by Edgar Allan Poe. Although he was only directly involved in three episodes Heyes, along with many others most notably producer William Frye, helped save the show from obscurity and made it a program that is still enjoyed and discussed today.
After his work on Thriller and The Twilight Zone, Heyes wrote three segments of Night Gallery including both segments of the debut episode “The Dead Man,” which he also directed, and “The Housekeeper.” He also wrote the segment “Brenda” for the second season of the show. He continued to publish novels. The 12th of Never was published by Random House in 1963 and The Kill was published by Ballantine Books in 1985 and was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Original Paperback. Today he is probably best remembered for helming the sprawling historical miniseries Captains and Kings (NBC, 1976)—which features an appearance by Richard Matheson as President James Garfield—and North and South (ABC, 1985). Much of his writing appeared under the pseudonym Matthew Howard. He died in 1993 at the age of 73.

In an interview with Marc Scott Zicree, Heyes said that once he read the script for “The Invaders” he knew that the set design had to be as simple as possible to make the audience believe that they were watching a story set on Earth. Nothing specific to Earth, nor anything overtly foreign, could be used as a set piece. This is why the woman’s house looks so primitive. All of the set pieces seen inside the house are the basic tools one would need for survival. Heyes also revealed that the “invaders” were simply puppets that were manually operated by various crew members. Heyes and the crew members wore black, long sleeve t-shirts and were able to maneuver the puppets by placing their hand through an opening on the back side of the puppet and moving the legs with their fingers. This is why the spacemen move with such slow, wooden gestures. Over the years the tiny invaders have been the subject of criticism and ridicule from fans because of their primitive appearance. However, the story is so good and Moorehead’s performance so captivating that this is quickly forgotten. Heyes said he based the spacemen on the Michelin Tire Man. He also revealed that the voice of the astronaut at the end of the episode was actually his voice.
Jerry Goldsmith forgoes his usual soft dream-like style to deliver some of the most memorable music from any episode of the show. No doubt taking a cue from Bernard Hermann’s famous score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released the year before, Goldsmith uses mostly harsh strings and occasional piano arrangements which greatly add to the unsettling atmosphere in this episode.
            And finally, although Matheson delivers a solid script and both Heyes and Goldsmith help breathe life into it, this episode more or less belongs to Agnes Moorehead. A veteran character actress of stage and screen, Moorehead was a well-known name by the time this episode aired. In the 1930’s she became friends with Orson Welles and eventually joined his Mercury Theatre Company.  In 1938 she took part in Welles’s famous radio adaptation of H. G. Welles’s War of the Worlds. After Welles moved to Hollywood she appeared in several of his films including Citizen Cane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). She went on to have a wildly successful film career appearing alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, and Vincent Price. But it was her role as Endora on Bewitched that would immortalize her forever (much to her reported irritation).
Heyes recruited Moorehead for this episode specifically based on her performance in a one-woman radio adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number” (1948) for the show Suspense. He was impressed by her ability to sustain terror for the entire half hour episode and figured that she would be a good fit for “The Invaders.” The challenge here of course is that she had no dialogue to help her move the plot along or develop her character. As there is little dialogue in this episode most of the story is told through the actions, mannerisms, and facial expressions of Moorehead’s character. Years earlier she studied under renowned pantomime artist Marcel Marceau and her performance here is one of the best the show ever offered. It is crude and even embarrassing at times but she still manages to be completely compelling. Her mannerisms are almost primitive and there is one scene where the woman, exhausted, is seen drooling uncontrollably. It is as authentic as any performance that one is likely to see on television from this or any other era.
Although “The Invaders” has come to be a fan favorite and one of the more recognizable episodes of the show it should be noted that Richard Matheson was not a fan of it, although he did praise Moorehead’s performance. He was irritated by the stilted movements and absurd mannerisms of the tiny invaders. He also thought the episode moved much slower than his original script. Even so the idea was unique enough to cement this story in the cosmos of popular culture and make his miniature space invaders immortal.

Grade: A

Grateful acknowledgement to:

“Douglas Heyes: Behind the Scenes at The Twilight Zone” interview with Heyes conducted by Ben Herndon. Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (August, 1982) edited by T.E.D. Klein

This is a Thriller by Alan Warren (McFarland and Company, 1996)

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

Original design sketch by director Douglas Heyes
featured in an interview with Heyes in the
Aug, 1982 issue of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine

--Agnes Moorehead also appeared in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Certain Shadows on the Wall," scripted by Serling from a story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and "Witches' Feast."
--Douglas Heyes directed nine episodes of The Twilight Zone and was considered by producer Buck Houghton to be the go-to director for technically challenging episodes. “The Chaser,” “The After Hours,” “The Howling Man” and "Eye of the Beholder" are among his contributions to the show. Heyes wrote both segments of the first episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Dead Man" (based on the story by Fritz Leiber) which he also directed and "The Housekeeper" which he wrote under the pseudonym Matthew Howard. He also wrote the season two segment "Brenda" (based on the story by Margaret St. Clair) under this pseudonym.
--"The Invaders" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Kathy Garver.



  1. This episode suffers a lot from the fact that we now have HD TVs with big screens. Those spacemen look like squeaky dog toys! This was a very good writeup, though I have seen this episode so many times I'm tired of it and don't know that I'd give it a straight A. It always seems to turn up on the New Year's Eve marathon right around the time I turn on the TV!

  2. I'll agree with you here, Jack. I still think it's a great episode but it suffers from overexposure big time. But if I'm trying to be objective then it's interesting enough to me to get an "A," even if I've seen it a million times (and yes, the spacemen look ridiculous). Thanks for reading.

  3. I have seen this episode a number of times both from watching the New Year's Eve marathons and my own DVD complete collection. The first time I viewed the episode the twist ending was the most effective of course. The beginning of the episode starts off with a lonely cabin in the woods with an old woman preparing a meal with no electricity except for lanterns giving one a sense of isolation and the fear of being alone. Then the sound of something landing on the roof and a big thud with sawdust raining down inside the cabin. When the old woman climbs the attic stairs to the roof she sees a metallic object with a tiny figure descending down to the roof which spooks her to go back downstairs. The entire episode makes the viewer side with the old woman against the alien force even though they are 12 inches high which is quite chilling in itself. Amazingly, there is no dialogue exept for occasional grunts by the woman. Then at the very end when the old woman chases the last spaceman back into the ship and she starts hacking at it with an ax causing it to catch on fire, the camera zooms in on the logo on the side of the ship, U.S Air Force Space Probe 1, and a radio voice saying not to send out another probe to retaliate as this is a race of giants and far too superior to launch a counter-attack. I would rate the episode initially an "A" but does not lend itself to subsequent viewings.

  4. I am so glad that Rod Serling gave this showcase episode to Agnes Moorehead. She joins the list of splendid performers -- Anne Francis, William Shatner, Jack Klugman, and Lois Nettleton were four others -- who really got a chance to demonstrate their acting chops on the series. (I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when "The Invaders" was pitched to the network brass. "Rod, Chuck -- I've looked over this script of yours. Where the hell is all the dialogue?" "Well, sir, there ISN'T any until the last two minutes.' "WHAT THE %$÷<^&?????") Anyone who wants to see Moorehead at her best should take a look at the films "Dark Passage", "The Magnificent Ambersons", and "Jeanne Eagels". (In the last-named of these, she blows poor Kim Novak off the screen and right out of the theater, without raising a bead of sweat).