SOME NOTES ON A TWILIGHT ZONE MOVIE
Every few years, I hear about a new Twilight Zone movie in development. Not long ago, I was invited to a studio to meet with a top executive to discuss the subject. I typed up my thoughts in the following document. (And if anyone wants to hire me to write any of these films, I’d be more than happy to oblige…)
Notes For a Film
by Marc Scott Zicree
Ever since Twilight Zone debuted as a hit series, there’s been speculation as to what a feature film of it might be.
I think it should be one feature-length story, must be a story of redemption, of second chances, and must have a central character or characters who touch our hearts.
All the successful films that have essentially been Twilight Zone movies, such as Field Of Dreams, Et, Poltergeist, Close Encounters, Groundhog Day (even It’s A Wonderful Life, really) have had that quality.
There are essentially five ways of accomplishing this, all of which we will explore in the following document:
- A story that derives from a single Twilight Zone episode, using it as inspiration or a jumping off point, and expanding upon its central notion.
- A story that utilizes the notion of the Twilight Zone itself – another dimension that impinges on our reality and introduces new and unsettling rules – as the impetus for the drama.
- A story that combines several Twilight Zone episodes into a single narrative, with a compelling structural throughline (and main character).
- A story that revises or updates an unused Serling Twilight Zone script.
- An original feature-length story very much in the Twilight Zone vein.
Here are some specific ideas…
STORY AREA ONE: ENLARGED AND AMPLIFIED INDIVIDUAL EPISODES
- TO SERVE MAN (“Just Desserts”) – When we open, Josh Freeman and his family are pretty typical of the modern brood, each involved in their own way with pursuits that take them away from connection with each other – TV shows, videogames, the Internet, text messaging. More than that, Josh and his family have been ingrained with the societal message of not getting involved with the larger world, being passive, buying and consuming and just trying to scratch out the good life with the least amount of… well, being awake to what’s really going on.
Then the Kanamits arrive on earth, benevolent aliens who promise to make our world a Garden of Eden, who provide virtually free energy, clean up pollution and global warming, cure disease and famine and all the other ills man is heir to. They provide an inspiration that leads humanity to band together and bring about an end to all weapons of mass destruction. Peace on earth has finally arrived.
Josh and most of his family are thrilled by all this – with the exception of his rebellious young son who is suspicious of the Kanamits’ motives.
Nevertheless, when they win a lottery to travel to the aliens’ home planet, they board the ship and embark on the greatest adventure of their lives.
But when they arrive, they’re in for a shock – all humanity is simply being bred as cattle, to be slaughtered and eaten by these aliens. It’s literally the Holocaust for humanity.
In order to save his family, Josh has to find a way to stage a revolt and escape from this slaughterhouse, then has to utilize an entirely alien advanced technology in order to turn it on their captors and get back to earth.
It’s literally the revolt of the cows. But with one big difference, and it’s one the Kanamits haven’t banked on – unlike cows, humans are predators.
And they can fight back.
In the end, Josh saves his family and returns to earth, which now has quite a fight on its hands. But a common enemy wakes humanity up and bands it together, it really is a new beginning… where every human’s first and major duty is To Serve Man.
- MIRROR IMAGE – Duplicates from a parallel world are taking over the lives of their counterparts here. We discover the why and how of it, and accompany those humans determined to win back their stolen identities.
- THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER – In a future totalitarian society in which hideous mutations have become the norm and normal humans the grotesque, a young “monstrosity” is transported to a reservation to live with those of her kind… only to learn the truth of the past which up-ended the world, and to stage her own desperate rebellion against the status quo.
- ON THURSDAY WE LEAVE FOR HOME – In this case, we start the story earlier, with the ship crashing on the planet and the struggle to survive, basically delineating how Benteen kept these people alive by sheer force of will and leadership – we don’t hear it, we see it. So that when rescue comes and he ultimately destroys himself because he can’t let go of that mantle, it’s all the more tragic.
- THE HITCH-HIKER — If you were going to do this as a feature, you could have the Inger Stevens character learn that she’s dead, and then she becomes the Hitch-Hiker herself, journeying to others who are still in this world, unaware that they’ve died – her job is to midwife them to the other side.
- THE HOWLING MAN — As a feature, it could focus on the pursuit of the Devil through many events and locations, could be on a much larger scale.
- NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET — The way to do this is to do a sequel where a malevolent race of gremlins is reawakened and starts attacking all our high-altitude stealth military aircraft, and Bob Wilson – the only man who ever managed to kill one — is brought out of retirement to help them defeat these creatures.
- THE JUNGLE — This could be a very effective horror story about an American pursued through Africa and America by a voodoo curse.
- IN HIS IMAGE — Could be a scary sci-fi horror movie about a murderous serial killer who doesn’t know he’s a malfunctioning android.
- IN PRAISE OF PIP – A down on his luck ex-con desperate to save his dying soldier son’s life offers God to trade his own life for his son’s.
STORY AREA TWO: THE ZONE ITSELF
- GUARDIAN – A writer of a popular TWILIGHT ZONE-like show is admitted to a hospital in a coma from a stroke, dying. Then strange things start happening all over, weird events astonishingly like the “fictional” episodes he wrote about – people are under attack by all the iconic TWILIGHT ZONE characters we’ve come to know and love over all these years – mirror image duplicates, devils and ghosts and gremlins and eye of the beholder grotesques. And it’s getting worse fast. You can’t go out your door without literally finding yourself in the Twilight Zone.
A young doctor runs a CAT scan on the dying writer and finds an area of his brain unlike any other human. What we ultimately learn is that he wasn’t writing fiction but rather scenes from alternate dimensions that he was actually seeing… and that he alone has been somehow holding these other dimensions at bay, been the guardian at the gate… until now.
Digging further, we discover that one member of each generation of his family has been fulfilling this same function apparently for hundreds of years, supposedly-“mad” artists, visionaries, prophets, shamans and sages.
But now his estranged daughter has been missing for years – she didn’t want to take up this burden, this mantle. Our hero must find her before the writer dies and all hell literally breaks loose – to put the genie back in the bottle and the Twilight Zone back where it belongs — on the other side of that doorway to another dimension.
STORY AREA THREE: MULTIPLE STORIES REVISED INTO ONE
- IN PRAISE OF PIP (Version Two) – A down on his luck ex-con (or bookie) desperate to save his son’s life encounters a number of the other “losers” in the Zone (Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room, A Passage For Trumpet, etc.) and intervenes in their lives in order to learn the lesson he needs to learn to save his son.
- TIME ENOUGH AT LAST – A bookworm survives World War III only to break his glasses and then meet the other survivors from the Zone After-the-Bomb stories (Two, The Shelter, One More Pallbearer, etc.). Essentially, you’d do an extremely realistic telling of how a nuclear war might actually happen now, and how these characters would come together and survive.
- THE LIFE OF MR. DEATH – We weave all the Zone Mr. Death stories (One For the Angels, The Hitch-Hiker, Nothing in the Dark) together to create a tapestry of this Being’s life, loves, losses and ultimate triumph.
STORY AREA FOUR: REVISED & UPDATED UNUSED SERLING SCRIPTS
- THE HAPPY PLACE – Serling’s great unfilmed Twilight Zone pilot. In a totalitarian society of the future, at age 60 everyone is escorted to the Happy Place, an idyllic retirement community… where they’re exterminated. The man who runs the facility has to make a choice when his outspoken father’s age is changed from 58 to 60 – does he take steps to save his father, or retain his own safety in a world extremely unforgiving of rebellion?
- AFTERWARDS – Serling’s feature-length script about nuclear Armageddon.
- IT’S A GOOD LIFE – Serling wrote a feature-length version of this episode.
STORY AREA FIVE: NEW TWILIGHT ZONE STORIES
- MORRIE – Dinosaur in a time machine story. Details to follow.
- KNIFE THROUGH THE VEIL (Zicree Twilight Zone script bought for the second series but never made due to network censorship) – When a woman’s husband and child are brutally murdered and the killer dies in the police pursuit, she finds herself haunted and taunted by the killer – until she pursues him into the Afterlife, intent on vengeance.
- THE UNSEEN – A quiet little mouse of a man, afraid to ever express his opinions or disagree with anyone, awakes one day to find that no one can see or hear him. He soon finds, however, that this world is populated by other “ghosts,” shy souls who have suffered a similar fate. Eventually, he falls in love with a young woman who has also fallen through the cracks, and the two work to give each other courage to express themselves, to become visible again. In the end, he succeeds, but she isn’t brave enough. He must continue his life as best he can, knowing that the woman he loves is close by, but that he can never see or hear her again.
- HARBOR – Idyllic town a la Willoughby where you go only for a temporary time to defeat the demons within yourself and possibly gain a second chance. Details to come.
OTHER TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODES THAT MIGHT BE EXPANDED FOR POSSIBLE FEATURE STORYLINES:
- THE LONELY
- PEOPLE ARE ALIKE ALL OVER
- AND WHEN THE SKY WAS OPENED
- JUDGMENT NIGHT
- THE FOUR OF US ARE DYING
- THE PURPLE TESTAMENT
- THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET – An updating of Serling’s classic script, in which aliens manipulate a neighborhood into turning against each other, but in this case we’d bring in elements of the Columbine shootings, shootings in the hood, etc.
- EXECUTION – An outlaw gang from the Old West is brought to the present via time machine and runs riot.
- THE BIG TALL WISH
- A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY
- A PASSAGE FOR TRUMPET
- THE AFTER HOURS
- KING NINE WILL NOT RETURN
- NERVOUS MAN IN A FOUR DOLLAR ROOM
- THE MAN IN THE BOTTLE – We do the ultimate malevolent genie story.
- MR. DINGLE, THE STRONG – Aliens manipulate the abilities of an ordinary man, but on a much larger scale.
- A THING ABOUT MACHINES – All the machines in the world revolt, and attack all the humans.
- THE ODYSSEY OF FLIGHT 33 – The difference would be that we’d have the plane travel back in time, be disabled by hitting (or being attacked by a pteranodon or Quetzlcoatlus) and actually crashing. The passengers would have to survive attacks by dinosaurs and find a way to repair their plane. They’d then arrive in 1939, actually see the World’s Fair. Some would stay there (we’d find reasons it would be a happy ending for their characters) and some would return to the present.
- THE LATENESS OF THE HOUR – A woman discovers that she’s not human but actually a robot.
- A HUNDRED YARDS OVER THE RIM
- THE RIP VAN WINKLE CAPER
- THE MIND AND THE MATTER
- WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP
- THE OBSOLETE MAN
- THE ARRIVAL
- THE MIDNIGHT SUN – This could be the ultimate Global Warming movie.
- FOUR O’CLOCK
- THE GIFT – Do the plot of the original script this was based on: a little boy discovers a wounded alien in the woods, nurses him to health and helps him get home, only to ultimately grow up to be an astronaut and be reunited with him.
- HOCUS POCUS AND FRISBY – This would work if it was a Will Ferrell comedy about a congenital liar who’s abducted by a flying saucer, spirited away to an alien planet, where he essentially becomes John Carter of Mars and leads a revolt of the captured species, defeating the aliens before they can launch an invasion of earth and making his way back home – only to have no one believe him.
- MR. BEVIS/CAVENDER IS COMING – The ultimate guardian angel story.
- THE TRADE-INS
- NO TIME LIKE THE PAST
- THE PARALLEL
- UNCLE SIMON – A woman murders her uncle, only to find the tables turned when the Uncle comes back as a robot bent on revenge.
- A KIND OF A STOPWATCH – A group of young people find a device with the power to stop time.
- THE MASKS
- THE LONG MORROW
- PROBE SEVEN – OVER AND OUT
- THE JEOPARDY ROOM
What the above shows clearly is that there is plenty of room to make a thoroughly engaging, satisfying and modern Twilight Zone movie – but most importantly of all, like the show itself, it must touch the heart and thrill the imagination.