My Top Five “The New Twilight Zone” Episodes

Known primarily as “The New Twilight Zone,” the new iteration of the classic Rod Serling anthology has garnered its own following and reputation for offering its own unique tales. While not timeless like the original show, the 1980’s series from CBS has stellar episodes in its own right, not to mention a pretty awesome twist on the classic theme as performed by The Grateful Dead, no less. The writers and producers took off from the controversial feature film, this time creating their own stories, with only a few classic “Twilight Zone” episodes being remade for the contemporary eighties setting. “The New Twilight Zone” aimed to carve out its own identity, and in the end it’s an above par series with some great episodes.

These are five of my favorite episodes from its 1985 to 1989 run.

5. Shelter Skelter
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Written by Ron Cobb, Robin Love
Some people just want to see the world burn and Joe Mantegna is very good as the picture of a man whose romanticized nuclear war. Spending a lot of his life preparing for war, Mantegna plays a family man who militantly prepares his son for some kind of bleak future. When his long suffering wife, daughter, and son leave for the weekend, he’s shocked to learn of a scuffle involving the military and retreats to his bunker with his neighbor. With the outside in flames, he sticks it out, almost gleefully preparing to take on any marauders of intruders that try to break in to the bunker. With a very ironic climax, “Shelter Skelter” is a clever look at hysteria and how some people are at home in chaos and misery.

4. Monsters!
Directed by B.W.L. Norton
Written by Robert Crais
A young boy who loves horror and monsters learns that his neighbor is a vampire. This episode takes a unique twist on the legend of vampires, as the monster is less a threatening beast, and more an infection on humanity that is cursed with living forever. The second twist involves the way humanity responds to vampires as, if the vampire spends too long in one place, surrounding humans develop flu like symptoms and at night transform in to werewolves with the sole mission of destroying the vampire. The episode opts for mostly whimsical with a sinister climax, and it delivers one final twist turning the screws on our unlikely young protagonist. There’s no social commentary here, but you have to love the final twist.

3. A Little Peace and Quiet
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by James Crocker
Melinda Dillon is a dead ringer from her character from “A Christmas Story,” once again playing a stressed mother. Having to run back and forth and never finding time, while gardening she discovers a magical necklace that can stop time. Whenever she commands “Shut up” the world stops, allowing her complete silence and peace. “A Little Peace and Quiet” is a very memorable remake of “A Kind of Stopwatch” with a gut punch climax, involving our character who is faced with spending the rest of her life in solitude and silence with time frozen in place, or allowing it to play out as it is going to, no matter what she does. Note the theater marquee in the final shot indicates a double bill of “Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail Safe.” It’s a morbid wink in a very dark ending.

2. To See the Invisible Man
Directed by Noel Black
Written by Steven Barnes
Humans by nature are a social animal and “To See the Invisible Man” pictures a society where the worst punishment for certain crimes involving cutting humans off from the world. Mitchell Chaplin is a man who has committed a generally unmentioned crime and is given a large mark on his forehead. Acting as a Scarlet A, the mark reminds everyone around him to ignore him. What feels like a dream at first begins driving Mitchell mad as he realizes he needs human contact and attention. Before long he’s spending his time begging for acknowledgement, garnering a new kind of perspective on his own life. Featuring a genuinely gripping finale, this is an interesting commentary on humanity and a unique twist on the future.

1.The Shadow Man
Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon
This is classic Joe Dante, as it prominently features the child like whimsy with a very dark overtone of menace. A geeky young boy with a desire to be popular discovers that a dark enigmatic specter known as the Shadow Man lives under his bed. Learning every kid has a Shadow Man, and can never hurt the child whose bed he lives under, he begins sending Shadow Man out to hurt his biggest rivals. As he grows more popular, using the fear Shadow Man spreads among town to his advantage. This is a great episode and one filled with excellent sound design. Everything from the spooky music to the haunting blowing breeze of the small town at night makes this feel like a classic piece of folklore told around the camp fire. The icing on the cake is the surprise ending with the classic piece of comeuppance delivered in a truly twisted manner. I still wonder whose Shadow Man that was.