The series The Twilight Zone grew out of Rod Serling’s dissatisfaction with the network’s interference in programming while he worked on dramas for Playhouse 90. He couched what were often moral quandaries in a science-fiction theme and got away with more than many other shows could at the time. (Gene Roddenberry would later do the same thing in the original Star Trek series.)
156 episodes of this series were filmed over the course of five seasons. That’s around 31 episodes per season, a true testament to the writing staff. In the present day, less than 15 episodes often encompass an entire season.
It would have been nice had the DVDs for the series been put together in a boxed set with some nice extra material; maybe some interviews with the cast and crew that remain. Instead, however, Image Entertainment (the studio that released the DVDs) cobbled together four episodes from various seasons loosely surrounding a central theme. This is fine for early on in the releases, but I have to wonder what will happen as there are fewer and fewer episodes to draw from as the volume numbers get higher.
For Volume 6 the theme is death. People are dead, die, have to deal with their actions which resulted in others’ deaths, and rise from the dead. The episodes are all very well-written with interesting twists that make the viewer wonder where reality ends and imagination begins. Especially in Deaths-Head Revisited, I found myself wondering whether the burden of the thousands of deaths finally weighed on the man’s mind and caused a hallucination, or if he actually experienced what viewers saw.
The hysteria of something people couldn’t understand was central to The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank. It’s comic more than dramatic, and a nice lift after the very serious tone of the previous show, and made me think about whether the masses could misunderstand something to the point of creating an explanation completely off the mark… or not.
Each episode stands on its own, so there is a different cast each time. Some actors came back and portrayed different characters in more than one episode, but the writing is so good that it doesn’t hinder the overall story in any way. Guest stars in this volume include Lee Marvin, James Gregory, and James Best.
The restoration of these episodes has been done quite well. They were filmed in black and white. Although they don’t have the crispness of shows filmed in the current day, the film is definitely less blurry than what I recall seeing when I viewed the show during re-runs growing up or in more recent years with my family during the Sci-Fi Channel marathon on New Year’s Eve. There’s no interference or snow in the picture, either. More importantly, they haven’t been cut and shaved down for additional commercials.
There are no real extras on the DVDs. The same ones which were present on other DVDs in the collection of volumes is present here in Volume 6. It really makes it hard to justify purchasing them, no matter how good the episodes themselves are. They are available for rental from places such as Netflix.
This episode takes place at the end of the Civil War. A widowed southern woman sits on the porch of her once-grand home day after day, watching the soldiers pass by, presumably on their way home from the War. One Confederate soldier stops off at the house. When a Union soldier stops and chats, both realize that the men passing the house died in the war, both Union and Confederate. At the end of that line is Abraham Lincoln, the last casualty of the war.
Conny Miller visits the town just after outlaw Pinto Sykes has been killed by the townspeople. He isn’t happy to find out that Pinto is already dead. While he lay dying, Pinto vowed to kill Miller if he ever came near the grave. Two men dare Conny to go to the grave and sink a knife into the ground to prove he was there. Just as Conny gets up to leave, it appears that something pulls him down…
There’s a bit of overacting here by Ellen Willard who portrays Pinto’s sister, Ione. Otherwise, it’s pretty good.
Probably one of the most serious episodes ever crafted during the series, and one of the best as well for the way it deals with its weighty subject. Gunther Lutze, a former Nazi S.S. captain, revisits the Dachau death camp. He meets up with Alfred Becker, a former inmate. Becker tells him that Lutze must atone for the atrocities he committed while stationed there. He is haunted by the spirits of those who were killed there and made to suffer the same experiences they did. The whole episode leaves him insane. Was it real or just in his conscience catching up with him after all these years?
The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank
A funeral is being held in a small mid-western town for Jeff Myrtlebank. Suddenly, the coffin opens and Jeff sits up. The mourners run out of the building, terrified and screaming. Strange things start happening, and the townspeople begin to believe he must be possessed by a demon and want to run him out of town. That is, until he makes the point that if he is just Jeff Myrtlebank they have nothing to fear. If he is a demon, then they had better be pretty nice to him, hadn’t they?
Inside the Twilight Zone Special Features:
• Rod Serling Bio
• Season by Season
• History of Twilight Zone
• Reviews & Credits
Categories: Television Reviews, Twilight Zone
I know someone who has some of these Twilight Zone DVDs. While I enjoy the series, I am not keen on the way Image Entertainment chose to present Serling’s now-classic anthology. I would have preferred “complete season sets” like the ones Paramount releases for its Star Trek shows.
I agree. This was a series that just needed season-long boxed sets rather than the way they marketed it.