ROCKLAND – The scene is a top-secret lab. Two scientists are marveling at their creation: a hologram projector that depicts the universe. The planets whirl in poetic patterns but then the scientists see another image floating in the hologram. Is it a human fetus?
“This is crazy,” one of the scientists says, clicking away at his computer keyboard. “I ran all the debug routines this morning.”
Could it be our scientists are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind? Could they be on a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination?
Wait. Anybody hear a creeped-out two-note melody?
OK, baby boomers, all together now: “Next stop: the Twilight Zone!”
Rod Serling’s classic TV series “The Twilight Zone” first aired in 1959 and ran for five seasons. It returned in the 1980s as “The New Twilight Zone,” and now is back again, this time as a special free Halloween showing of three episodes – one from 1961, two from the 1980s – at the Rockland Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, on the big screen in the Friends Community Room.
If you stayed up late as a child to watch reruns of Serling’s award-winning show, then you know the surprise-ending segments are perfect fare for older teens and adults looking for Halloween tricks and treats that don’t involve candy. The scripts are brainy stuff – and we don’t mean an icky bowl of noodles at the local haunted house.
TZ was psychological drama at its best, with stories that realistically and often futuristically depicted disturbing sides of human nature, the possibility of alternate worlds and the presence of aliens. Encounters between scientists and holograms or between an aging man and an emotionally wounded Vietnam vet surreally twisted traditional plots of love and self-worth into science fiction and fantasy. Serling and his coterie of star writers, including Ray Bradbury, were writing about 20th century issues – just as Gene Roddenberry would do later with “Star Trek.”
The really scary part is that the eerie TZ themes still resonate today. In “Two,” a young Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery meet as lonely, post-nuclear war enemies in a nameless and timeless town, a “jungle … that comes in the aftermath of man’s battles against himself,” Serling tells viewers as he stands in the debris, anachronistically dressed in a black suit and holding his signature cigarette. Montgomery speaks only one word – Russian for “pretty” – in the entire episode. Bronson does most of the talking, at one point screaming out a declaration of world peace. The chilling episode will be shown as part of the lineup Thursday.
Serling, who majored in English literature and drama in college, was one of the early TV writers to cloak messages about racism, sexism, government propaganda, war and bigotry. “You can put words into the mouth of a Martian and get away with it,” Serling reportedly said. Perhaps that’s why so many actors eagerly joined his casts.
“Serling was a genius at writing about the insanity of human beings in a very human way,” said Steve Donoso, programs director at the Rockland Library and curator for the free events that take place there each Thursday evening. “He’s very good at reminding people: This is insane. But it’s not insane people necessarily. It’s normal people. Yet what shows up is not what we expect.”
Donoso is hoping patrons will show up in costumes. He’s still planning his own.
“Halloween is a time when fears are played with in a fun way but can also be scary,” said Donoso. “It’s a time when we’re allowed culturally to look at the things that scare us. Serling was good at writing about those fears in a personal way.”
Costumes are mandatory, but why not go as your favorite TZ character? It’s another dimension, so not even the sky is the limit.
Alicia Anstead can be reached at 990-8266 and firstname.lastname@example.org.