Thursday, January 01, 2009

Real Horror

Watching the Twilight Zone New Year's Marathon. One of my favorite episodes is on right now: Nick of Time. I think it's an excellent story about the fear woo can bring into a person's life. William Shatner plays a business man named Don Carter, traveling with his wife, Pat. Their car broke down in a small town and they have lunch at a diner with novelty penny fortunetelling machines.

Don asks a few questions in jest, asking if he got his promotion, which it answers in the affirmative "It has already been decided in your favor." After a bit of celebration after getting confirmation over the phone, he asks a few questions that lead him to think it'll be dangerous to leave the diner. After nearly getting run over at 3 o'clock, when the machine 'warned' him to stay in the diner.

He grows obsessed with the machine after a couple more strange coincidences, asking it where they'll live. His wife, however manages to break him out of it by telling him that he's letting the machine run his life. They leave as another couple arrive to ask the machine questions, if they can leave the town today. Rod Serling closes.

I like this episode because you don't know if the supernatural is really involved. The responses were vague enough that you could expect to receive similar, vaguely threatening suggestions out of such a machine. And I can truly imagine someone getting roped in by it. The "villain" isn't the machine, it's fear and uncertainty, and our cognitive biases grasping for answers and explanations, no matter the source. Our minds can betray us in so many ways, and that, I find, is one of the truest sources of horror.


Melissa Gay Art said...

Wow-- that's an awesome episode!

I had forgotten how many TZ episodes Shatner had appeared in. He was all over the place! It was a good vehicle for his acting, which really heightened the suspense IMO.

Anonymous said...

That's one of the only ones that I remember. Not counting the movie, and bits and pieces of other episodes, the only other one that I really remember is the one with the boy who was basically god-like and sent people to "the cornfield" if they didn't keep him happy. (After a bit of searching, I found the title of the episode: "It's a Good Life".)