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Monday, May 17, 2021

“The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics” Attempted to Revive the Series for the 1990s [TV Terrors]

Horror and science fiction have always been a part of the television canvas, and constant attempts have been made over the years to produce classic entertainment. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others became mainstream phenomena. With “TV Terrors,” we take a look back at the many genre efforts from the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, exploring some shows that became cult classics, and others that sank in to obscurity.

In this installment we remember “The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics.”

  • Aired in 1994
  • Aired on CBS

Ever since the original series ended in 1964, Hollywood has always been looking for ways to revive “The Twilight Zone.” While it’s mainly for the built in audience, it’s also because Rod Serling and Richard Matheson wrote some of the most timeless, enduring, and brilliant narratives of all time. They wove horror, fantasy and social commentary all in one and there’s never been a time where Hollywood didn’t seek to re-imagine the IP for a new generation. 

“Twilight Zone” was even being developed into a new feature film by Leonardo DiCaprio at one time, and there was also more recently the polarizing (now cancelled) Jordan Peele iteration. I’d bet big money that won’t be the last we’ll see of the fifth dimension anytime soon.

Back in 1994 we were granted a look at a new “Twilight Zone” property entitled “Rod Serling’s Lost Classics.” Although Serling was sadly long gone by that time, CBS took it upon themselves to take the pair of apparently “lost” Serling tales and package them as an anthology TV movie with Richard Matheson writing. Perhaps it would have led to a new take on the series? Who knows? The legend goes that Carol Serling, the widow of the late TV writer, discovered the pair of stories told here after Serling’s death in 1975. 

The title of the production, in and of itself, is a bit of a misnomer as while Serling is credited, both stories were written by Richard Matheson (who was still alive during this period) and include much of his influence. “The Theatre” primarily was (according to the article “Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Twilight Years, Part II“) based around an alleged broader outline more than a short story by Serling; apparently Matheson then took it from there. 

With James Earl Jones taking the role as the film’s narrator (after the injection of the original series’ black and white opening credits), we’re given two fairly lackluster short films. That pains me to say, and maybe you could make the argument that perhaps you have to lower your expectations going in. But even with Richard Matheson on board, “Lost Classics” doesn’t really dig up a gem that is bound to knock you on your butt with a shocking twist like, say, “Time Enough At Last” or “To Serve Man.” 

The first tale is “The Theater,” starring Amy Irving and Gary Cole. Irving plays Melissa, a woman who is hesitant to commit to her boyfriend, as played by Cole. While out one night to see her favorite movie “His Girl Friday,” she sees herself projected on screen. As she keeps returning to the theater, she realizes her future (and possible fate) is being projected on to her, and she has to figure out how to beat it.

There are so many unanswered questions left by this segment once it’s over (what is the significance of the clowns?), and the overall theme feels fairly clunky. The whole idea about beating fate and our struggles with the concept of free will has been done to death in just about every anthology ever made. Despite the strong turns by Irving and Cole, the themes along with the weak plot twist land with a thud and make this one feel like a third tier episode of the eighties iteration. 

The second tale, “Where the Dead Are,” has a much more profound theme, even if it’s talky and glacially paced. Set in the late 1800s, we follow a brilliant doctor (Patrick Bergin) who is desperate to beat death. When he discovers an old man (Jack Palance) with the means to bring the dead back to life, he travels to a distant island to learn his secrets and gets so much more than he bargained for. Written by Matheson, “Where the Dead Are” has a satisfying Edgar Allan Poe atmosphere, with some strong turns by the cast. 

There’s also the ultimate question: if you could accomplish immortality, would you? Would you even if it meant leading a monotonous, routine existence? While the overall message is much more interesting, “Where the Dead Are” just isn’t worth the journey, and drones on and on until finally getting to the point. I guess you could admire what the producers were initially aiming for with “Lost Classics” (James Earl Jones is very good as the narrator, no surprise there), but in the end it’s very much a TV movie that doesn’t work to Matheson’s innate strengths. The narratives feel strained to build momentum and atmosphere, and the overall movie lacks the palpable menace and camp of the 1983 feature film.

“The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics” came and went without much fanfare in 1994 and is mainly known by the fan base as one of the many efforts to breathe new life into the property. All things said, even if you’ve never seen this before, I’d recommend it mainly for those who consider themselves part of the hardcore fan base; you’re just much better off with the original series, or even the 1985 reboot.

Is It On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming? “The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics” is sadly only available for purchase on Region 2 PAL DVD, but it is readily available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, in its uncut form.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3665566/twilight-zone-rod-serlings-lost-classics-attempted-revive-series-1990s-tv-terrors/

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