"What's in the Box," "The Masks," and more.

I have a confession to make; one that will surprise and possibly upset you: as of November 1st, 2013, I had seen more episodes of 2002's Twilight Zone revival starring Forest Whitaker than I had the original series that ran from 1959 to 1964. Over the years I've seen a few on late night TV, and usually not paying much attention to boot - I've probably "seen" more episodes via Simpsons parodies (or 1983 feature film remakes) than the right way. It's depressing, really.

But a recent acquisition of the series boxed set (a newly packaged version from RLJ that is now in stores) has given me the opportunity to fix that. This post is part of a new limited series column, where I will go through a disc at a time and offer some highlights on each as I make my way down the path of being a much more educated genre fan (not to mention someone who will understand 7-8% more "Treehouse of Horror" gags). Join me, won't you?

Season 5, Disc 4
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge
Queen Of The Nile
What's In The Box
The Masks
I Am The Night - Color Me Black
Sounds And Silences
Caesar And Me
The Jeopardy Room

I guess Disc 1 was a fluke. That disc was packed with great episodes, making me think the show would end on a high note - but as with the others, this fourth disc is filled with, well, filler episodes that often just remind us of previous highs. "Owl Creek Bridge" mixes things up only because it's an outside production (from France, in fact), however it's telling a story I already knew so it actually kind of fit the nearly permanent deja vu (add in the obnoxious drum score and it's even less enticing). But nothing was as bad as "From Agnes, With Love", so it's a step up... right?

Favorite Episode: The Masks
When I was doing Horror Movie A Day, I was kind of appalled at how many horror movies focused on someone trying to screw another person out of their inheritance by driving them crazy, usually by creating a "ghost" or something. So it was fun to see this sort of creepy inverse on the situation - the rich guy screws his benefactors INTO their inheritance by telling them that the only way they can have it is to wear these creepy masks for a few hours. The twist is, the masks modify their real faces, so when they take them off they look just as hideous. But they got their money! Heh.

I also enjoyed the Mardi Gras setting; even though we just hear it outside (via canned noise) instead of seeing it, it adds some local flavor to the episode - something that's often missing from the show. Many of them are intentionally set in generic small towns, or in outer space or whatever - it's very rare that they go for any specific locale (especially one as rich with history and character as New Orleans) and dive into its customs. Even on a budget, it sets the episode apart, as do the impressively creepy masks and makeup work for when they take them off. It's all very Tales From The Crypt-y, so I had a lot of fun with it.

Not A Classic: Sounds and Silences
This is one of the episodes that never appeared in syndication, due to the fact that Serling was borrowing perhaps a bit too much from a spec script he had rejected two years earlier. In fact I hope he DID knowingly steal the idea, because at least I'd feel better knowing he himself never came up with anything this grating and pointless. An old fat asshole likes to listen to records of naval battles (is this actually a thing?) and drives his wife away, only to get super hearing and then go deaf. Yeah, and? Really didn't get the point of this one, though I was somewhat amused by John McGiver's performance and appearance, as it seemed to have inspired Anthony Hopkins' in that Hitchcock biopic.

Starwatch: The Jeopardy Room
This is actually Martin Landau's second appearance in the Zone, but I went with someone else on that other disc and there were really no other options on this one, so DEAL WITH IT. Honestly, this is a pretty fun, suspenseful episode - in fact it'd be my pick for favorite if not for the fact that it's not very Twilight Zone-y at all. There's no fantastical element at all, and it seems like something that should have been on Alfred Hitchcock Presents instead of here. But with such slim pickings at this point, a good episode is a good episode, and Landau is always a treasure.

Next week: the final installment, as I watch the last group, including the series finale! All questions will be - oh wait it's an anthology.