Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
“Nightmare at 20000 Feet” is Twilight Zone episode 3 of Season 5. It first aired on Oct 11th, 1963 on the CBS television network. To this day it is on the Top 10 list of many Twilight Zone fanatics.
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A Little About Rod Serling
Before we dive into “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, we’d like to share something about the brilliant writer and creator Rod Serling.
Rod was a huge fan of Pulp Fiction stories and gobbled up any books and articles he could find. At the same time, he was incredibly interested in themes about social issues such as racism, society, war, psychology and government. All of these ideas combined made his writing immensely deep. It’s very hard to find any writers who were as creative in this way.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” – 1963
“Portrait of a frightened man… Mr. Robert Wilson, 37, husband, father and salesman on paid sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last 6 months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home—the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson’s flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he’s traveling all the way to his appointed destination, which, contrary to Mr. Wilson’s plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone”
Our story begins with a shattered William Shatner (as Bob Wilson) on a flight with his wife Julia, who is groggy after taking a sleeping pill. Mr Bob Wilson, on the other hand, is wide awake and already in a fragile state of mind.
It’s a dark and stormy night and as Bob peers out the window, lightning reveals something sinister out on the plane’s wing. What’s that? Not only is there something strange out there but it’s also looking back at him! Frantically, Bob presses the button to call the flight attendant who comes rushing over.
Bob tells the flight attendant, “Look! there’s a man out there”! She looks and, of course, the “creature” is gone. Bob’s wife Julia finally wakes up and asks him “what’s wrong?”. Bob replies, “nothing, I thought I saw something out there”.
As the flight continues, Bob sees the gremlin pull up an access panel on the plane’s wing and begins destroying the engine! Things are getting crazy now!
After causing several scenes, the flight engineer comes out (portrayed by Edward Kemmer) to assess the situation and tells the stewardess to give Mr Wilson a sedative. Bob pretends to swallow the pill but spits it out when he gets the opportunity
Seeing no other alternative, the extremely agitated Mr Wilson grabs the gun of a police officer who’s on board and punches out the window, causing the plane to decompress. Bob, however, has managed to shoot the creature… but of course nobody on board saw it.
After the plane lands, we see our hero Bob Wilson strapped to a stretcher and being wheeled away. His wife Julia says, “Everything’s Alright now Bob” and Bob replies “I Know…but I’m the only one who really knows”
The final scene scene shows the damage to the airplane’s engine caused by the gremlin. Bob was right!
“The flight of Mr. Robert Wilson has ended now, a flight not only from point A to point B, but also from the fear of recurring mental breakdown. Mr. Wilson has that fear no longer, though, for the moment, he is, as he has said, alone in this assurance. Happily, his conviction will not remain isolated too much longer, for happily, tangible manifestation is very often left as evidence of trespass, even from so intangible a quarter as the Twilight Zone”
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” Cast:
William Shatner - Bob Wilson Christine White - Julia Wilson Nick Cravat - the gremlin Asa Maynor - stewardess Betty Crosby Edward Kemmer - flight engineer
The writer of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Richard Matheson, was mostly pleased with Rod Serling’s interpretation of his work, except for the creature on the wing. His vision was of an eerie, ominous being but instead what he got was what he called “A panda bear”
This story was remade in the 1983 Twilight Zone Movie with actor John Lithgow in the Shatner role. He was fantastic!
The Twilight Zone Trivia
- A Twilight Zone movie was produced by John Landis and Steven Speilberg in 1983. The great actor Vic Marrow lost his life after a helicopter blade decapitated him. The film was narrated by Burgess Meredith
- Producers tried to revive the series in 1985 but after 3 seasons, it was canceled. It just wasn’t the golden age of sci-fi TV any more
- In 1993, a made-for-TV movie called Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics was released. It featured two of Rod Serling’s works. The narrator was the great James Earl Jones, who also hosted the movie
- Mr Serling invited viewers to submit scripts and he receive over 1,500! He read over 500 of them and two were actually used
- Rod Serling wanted voice actor Richard Egan to do the narration but when Egan reported that he was not available, Rod did it himself
- After naming his show, Rod found out that “The Twilight Zone” was a term already used by US Air Force pilots. It means crossing over from a day sky to a night sky above the earth
- Desi Arnaz was technically the first host of The Twilight Zone. It was DesiLu Productions that produced the show. Thank goodness Rod Serling took control and hosted himself
- – The episode was based on a short story by Richard Matheson
- – William Shatner’s performance in this episode is often cited as one of the best in the series
- – The gremlin in this episode was played by Nick Cravat, who was a famous acrobat and circus performer
- – The sound of the gremlin’s laughter was created by slowing down the sound of a hyena’s laugh
- – The success of this episode led to a remake of the same story in the 1983 Twilight Zone series, with John Lithgow in the lead role.
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