Didn’t get your full The Twilight Zone fix from the New Year’s marathon? Here are films that draw their inspiration from episodes of the show, and try to recapture Rod Serling’s sense of the unknown.
In addition to inspiring numerous TV episodes (including the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” which is based on the episode “People Are the Same Everywhere”), The Twilight Zone spawned its own anthological movie in 1983. But these movies were inspired by individual episodes of the series:
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960): A power outage strikes a small suburban town and the residents find that not only has the electricity been cut off, but the phone lines and vehicles have stopped working as well, completely isolating the town. The residents become convinced that this is the sign of an imminent alien invasion, and become suspicious of one another as lights and cars start coming on at random. Soon riots ensue, and it is revealed to the audience that this is, in fact, part of an alien plot. The aliens sow the seeds of suspicion and then leave the humans to destroy each other.
Inspired The Trigger Effect (1996): A widespread blackout reveals how tenuous humanity’s grip on civilization is. Although there is no threat of alien invasion, the blackout causes panic that results in theft, property damage, and murder. The film plays explicit tribute to The Twilight Zone, with the lead characters living at the corner of Maple and Willoughby (the latter a reference to the episode “A Stop at Willoughby”).
“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (1961): An army major, a ballerina, a clown, a hobo, and a bagpiper find themselves in a cylindrical prison with no memory of who they are and no apparent means of escape. They never need to eat or drink, and the only change in their surroundings is an occasional shaking that knocks them to the ground. They speculate on where they are and how they get there, and begin to fear they may be in Hell. Finally, the major manages to escape, and it is revealed that the prisoners are actually dolls sitting in a collection bin.
Inspired Cube (1997): Cube operates from the same starting point as “Five Characters,” with seven characters waking to find themselves in a mysterious prison, with no idea as to how they ended up there and why. They engage in similar speculation as to their situation, but the nature of their prison is never revealed. And, when they try to escape, many of the prisoners meet with unfortunate ends.
“Living Doll” (1963): When Christie’s mother buys her a pricey Talky Tina doll, her stepfather Erich is displeased. As it turns out, the feeling is mutual, and Erich starts hearing some nasty talk from the angel-faced doll. When the doll threatens to kill him, he becomes intent on destroying it, but Tina gets to him first.
Inspired Child’s Play (1988): Karen can’t afford to buy her son Andy the expensive talking Good Guy doll he desperately wants for his birthday. When she manages to get one from a homeless vendor, it has been imbued with the soul of a notorious serial killer. The doll first eliminates Andy’s nasty babysitter, but soon starts pursuing his own interests.
“I Sing the Body Electric” (1962): Based on the short story by Ray Bradbury. A father gets his children a robotic grandmother after their mother has died. The oldest daughter, Anne, is distraught at the idea of getting attached to this sweet, matronly android after losing her mother. But when Anne is nearly hit by a truck, her electric grandmother comes to the rescue, and is hit by the truck instead and left unscathed. Anne realizes her electric grandmother is indestructible, and the grandmother stays with the children until they are grown.
Inspired The Electric Grandmother (1982): Bradbury’s story was also the basis for the award-winning made-for-TV movie starring Maureen Stapleton and Edward Hermann. An android surrogate helps three children deal with the loss of their mother, although one child just wants to send grandma back to the store.
“Little Girl Lost” (1962): A couple wakes to hear their daughter Tina’s distant cries for help, but they are unable to find the girl. Eventually, they discover that Tina has slipped through a portal under her bed and into another dimension. The father must enter the other dimension and pull his daughter back before the portal closes.
Inspired Poltergeist (1982): During a storm, ghosts pull five-year-old Carol Anne into another dimension through a portal in her closet. Her family is unable to locate her after the storm, but can hear her voice coming through the TV. In this version, it’s the girl’s mother who must enter the other dimension and pull her daughter back.
“A Stop At Willoughby” (1960): Gart Williams is an advertising executive who encounters nothing but stress at work and at home. The only enjoyment he gets in his life is during his daily commute, when he sleeps and dreams of the pastoral, 19th Century town of Willoughby. One day, he simply steps off the train in his dreams and remains in Willoughby, though to those around him, it appears he has leapt to his death.
Inspired For All Time (2000): Charles Lattimer finds himself frustrated with the pace of his daily life and trapped in a crumbling marriage. But when his train goes through a certain tunnel each day, he finds himself in the 19th Century, where he finds love and a more satisfying life.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1962): This short film, based on the Ambrose Bierce story of the same name, was a Cannes Film Festival darling before it was purchased for The Twilight Zone. A Civil War prisoner is about to be hanged when he makes a lucky escape. But just as he is about to be reunited with his wife, his neck breaks and it becomes apparent that he has been hanged and that his escape was all in his imagination.
Inspired Donnie Darko (2001): After a jet engine mysteriously lands in Donnie Darko’s bedroom, a series of events conspire to lead Donnie back in time, to the exact moment when the engine crashed. Director Richard Kelly has mentioned the episode in interviews, suggesting an alternate interpretation of the film. Bierce’s original story like inspired numerous other films, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
“Button, Button” (1986): A couple low on cash receive a visit from a mysterious stranger carrying a box with a button on it. The stranger tells them that, if they push the button, they will receive $200,000 in cash, but someone they don’t know will die. Eventually, the wife pushes the button and they receive the money. When the stranger takes the box away, he tells them that he will give the box to someone else – someone the couple doesn’t know.
Inspired The Box (2009): Richard Kelly plans to revisit The Twilight Zone this year, with Cameron and James Marsden as the button-pushing couple. But he could use the ending of Richard Matheson’s original short story, which is more along the lines of the classic horror tale “The Monkey’s Paw.”
Aspects of other episodes have worked their way into numerous films. The 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (also known as Doppelganger) has a plotline similar to that of the alternate universe episode “The Parallel.” The ending of Payback draws directly from “The Jeopardy Room,” one of the few episodes with no science fiction or supernatural aspects. The deathly premonition at the start of Final Destination resembles a similar foresight in “Twenty Two,” and the death of the shapeshifting T-1000 in Terminator 2 pays homage to “The Four of Us Are Dying.” And M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village may have its roots in “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” in which a man from 1847 wanders into the 20th Century looking for medical supplies.