7.12.2016

The Twilight Zone: The Invaders

Next up:
Season 2, Episode 15.
Originally aired January 27, 1961.

"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."

"The Invaders" is one of those Twilight Zone episodes that takes a classic Hollywood star - 


Agnes Moorehead, one of the original Mercury Players and later rebranded even more enduringly - something that irritated her greatly - as Endora on Bewitched.

and places her in the fantastic scenarios the series so often explores. 


This undoubtedly worked to the show's advantage - much easier to accept said-fantastic-scenario if the face on the screen is the trusted celebrity of yesteryear. And unlike the faded-celeb-sploitation of later eras, the presence of so many classic Hollywood actors and directors - Mooerhead, Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Buster Keaton, Ida Lupino, Jacques Tourneur, Ann Blyth, Mickey Rooney, to name some of the more prominent ones - in so many classic episodes only enhances their already considerable CVs.

In Moorehead's case, she gets to carry a mostly wordless episode where she communicates only via pantomime, hissing, and guttural moans. As the from AV Club notes: "(Her) performance almost completely lacks vanity, and it’s a wonder to behold. She thrashes around on the floor in pain. She lets drool drip from her lips in her one extreme close-up. She acts more like some strange creature than a human being."

"And, of course, she is a strange creature."

The story is simple. Moorhead's wordless character lives in this remote ramshackle home and hears something land on the roof. (Or, rather, crash through it.) She investigates to discover a flying saucer and two Michelin-men-looking spacemen, armed with ray guns. She knocks one of them down the hatchway, and the other shoots at her.

These clever little spacemen adapt quickly, making good use of one of her knives to lay in wait and slash at her ankles.
They also trick her into reaching for the doorhandle to slash at her hands.

Of course, things can end only one way


As she smashes the ship, she hears something from inside - the final report of the last of the invaders, sending out an exhausted last transmission: "Gresham is dead... Incredible race of giants here. No counter attack... too powerful! Stay away! Gresham and I are…finished." At which point we pan over the only part of ship left intact:



"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."

As mentioned at the ol' vortex: "One of the most memorable features of this episode is the panic-laden score composed by Twilight Zone veteran Jerry Goldsmith. 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."

Poor Bernard Hermann. In the days before sampling, his work for Hitchcock must have been lifted in a hundred different ways, but his work for Psycho - so much more than a score and more like contributing new vocabulary to all of cinema, still in circulation today - more than any. Not that I mind here - the score for "The Invaders" definitely elevates an already-great episode into the absolutely-essential.

~

16 comments:

  1. Is this the best entry point for newcomers to the "Zone"?

    I think it "can be", at least. It definitely deserves to be up there with a handful of episodes that can usher new audience members into this particular treasure trove.

    Other episodes that might fit this bill are the premiere, "Where is Everybody", "Little Girl Lost", and "The Monsters are due on Maple Street".

    This episode once more brings up a theme Serling seems to share with PKD, namely exploring and questioning the nature of our perceptions.

    The conclusion of the story does a good job of raising a ton of tantalizing questions. For instance, Moorehead's character always seems pitiable, yet there's just enough of a darkness to the final twist where we're left wondering just how true that may be.

    Otherwise, the tale is a fine mixture of sci-fi with the Gothic. Rather fitting in that I've just got finished with a Boris Karloff anthology, "Thriller", and saw a rather interesting take on Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper".

    ChrisC

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    1. All the episodes you mention are good entrypoints to the series, to be sure. (I think my own was either "Will the Real Martian Stand Up?" or "Mirror Image," although I was well-familiar with the 80s revival and movie before seeing a frame of the original series.)

      I've had "Thriller" (and "One Step Beyond") on my wish list for years. One of these days!

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    2. I'd happily watch all those anthology shows one of these days. I'd especially love to get my hands on some of ones (such as "Kraft Suspense Theatre") that a young Johnny Williams scored.

      Speaking of scores, I'm curious to revisit "The Invaders" to hear what I think about the Goldsmith score. I can't recall noticing the "Psycho"-ness of it the first time I watched it, but I betcha that's just a failing of memory on my part, as I would certainly have been familiar with that and other Herrmann scores when I saw the episode.

      Boy, having Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith score a bunch of episodes sure does lend something wonderful to a tv show, doesn't it? Herrmann was already a huge deal by then, whereas Goldsmith was only beginning his path toward becoming one; but still, that's a couple of great credits for TZ.

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    3. It's true - hell, has any show had a double whammy of composers like that?

      Probably, actually. I just can't think of any offhand.

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  2. Hey, groovy! I've actually seen this episode!

    It's a stone-cold classic, of course. It was completely unknown to me at the time I saw it, which means that the plot twist worked on me completely. All things considered, that's the way to do these things. I've got no objection to finding out about the plots of older stories through the cultural grapevine -- I mean, the damn thing is way older than I am! -- but if I have the choice to go in unspoiled, obviously that's the choice I'd make.

    I've yet to see the episode a second time, so I'm curious to see how it plays when I already know the twist. My guess is that Moorehead's performance will keep it interesting; that certainly seems to be the intimation of this post.

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    1. Absolutely. And yeah it holds up pretty well. The pacing of the episode is great. The camera holds things out of sight for just the right amount of beats, Moorhead turns or slices the knife through the air at just the right speed, etc.

      Poor Earthmen. They put up a good fight and showed considerable ingenuity in appropriating the giantess' kitchen knives.

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  3. In other news, here are the two episodes I watched most recently:

    "What You Need" -- Pretty good. You could kind of see the resolution coming from a mile away, so much so that you wonder why the antagonist couldn't. But maybe that's the point: he's such a bastard he's oblivious to even the blazingly obvious.

    "The Four of Us Are Dying" -- I've got a new least-favorite episode. This is probably the first one I haven't liked. Some of the acting is good, but the central conceit is a bit on the contrived side, and there isn't enough to redeem it.

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    1. "What You Need" is a good one, I agree. I was going to say "I bet it percolated in a young Stephen King's mind and eventually surfaced as 'Needful Things,'" but both probably just share the Magic Peddler archetype.

      Agreed on "Four of Us Are Dying."

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    2. I watched "What You Need" again tonight. The Blu-ray has an episode of "Tales of Tomorrow" from 1952 that is also an adaptation of the short story Serling based this episode on. It's very different, in all but a few key respects.

      However, the old man who can get you what you need works out of a shop, and I definitely thought of Leland Gaunt. He's more of a good-guy (like Serling's version) than Gaunt, of course.

      Wikipedia indicates the "Tales of Tomorrow" episode is a lot closer to the original story, so I betcha King read that at some point and hung on to the idea in the back of his brain.

      If so, I'm glad he did!

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  4. I watched "Third from the Sun" last night. It made me think of "The Invaders" a bit, for the obvious reasons. I didn't mind that, though.

    Excellent episode; very grim, very sincere, and I expect it to stick with me a while.

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    1. I remember seeing that one for the first time. I was playing hooky, junior year in high school. (I watched it in a room at my parents' house that no longer exists - very Twilight-Zone-y)

      That's a great one indeed!

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  5. Update time:

    I watched "The Hitch-Hiker" last week. I'd heard of this one before via the connection it has to "Creepshow 2" (as the inspiration for the final segment). Even so, I didn't really see where it was going. If I had, it wouldn't have mattered; terrific episode all the way around.

    I was considerably less impressed by "The Fever," which I watched this week. Kind of awful. Definitely the least-good episode I've seen so far.

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    1. "frraaannklin..."

      Yeah that's not a goodun'.

      For some reason I never saw "The Hitch-Hiker" until many years after I saw "Creepshow 2" / after starting to watch the TZ. Like, for the first time within the past four or five years. I agree, it's a great one.

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    2. I watched another good one tonight: "The Last Flight," which is a little bit Langoliers-esque. This is probably to say it was a bit Matheson-esque, which makes sense given that Richard Matheson wrote it.

      Good stuff. I kept wondering, what would happen if Decker simply chose to stay where he was? The answer, I think, is that he never did make that choice, never would make that choice. In some way I can't quite put my finger on, I find that to be a bit unsettling.

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    3. All the TZ eps with airplanes are vaguely unsettling, aren't they? I'll be curious how these things hit you as you take more and more of the series into your head and especially as you cross-reference them to King and "The Langoliers" in general.

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    4. I can already tell that to some extent, it would be possible to accuse King of flat-out ripping off Matheson and/or Serling in "The Langoliers" (and maybe the entirety of "Four Past Midnight"). I don't think I would make that accusation, though. I see it as King adopting a certain mode of storytelling as a sort of floor for the house that he then builds around it. Variations on a theme never bother me.

      Well...

      I shouldn't say NEVER, I guess; but in this instance, it doesn't bother me.

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