Greetings Halloween lovers, and welcome back to my series of October features revolving around the world of televised horror. Last weekend, I highlighted a small selection of big name actors that made early appearances on scary series. It seemed to go over pretty well, and I even got some promising suggestions for a possible second edition next year. Today, I shine a spotlight on some of the cruelest, vicious, and most sadistic twist endings in anthology show history. Some of these you'll probably be familiar with, others are fairly obscure, but all were clearly the product of a writer in a bad mood.
Note: As this is a piece about twist endings, spoilers abound for the episodes that are discussed. Now you can't say I didn't warn you. Ranking endings seemed a bit pointless, so these are presented in no particular order.
'The Twilight Zone' - "To Serve Man" - S03E24 - 3/2/62
Most of you will undoubtedly be familiar with my first choice, as it's gone on to become one of the most well known shock endings in television history. Earth is visited by a seemingly friendly alien race known as the Kanamits. They may all be nine feet tall, and have large weird-looking heads, but they vow to help humanity achieve our true potential as a species. When a Kanamit leader leaves an alien book behind, suspicious humans attempt to decipher the title. It turns out to be 'To Serve Man,' which jives with all the grand promises the visitors have made so far.
Soon, human beings are signing up to take trips to the Kanamit home world. After a long period of skepticism, cryptographer Michael Chambers finally agrees to make the intergalactic journey. As he prepares to board the Kanamit ship, Chambers is surprised to receive a last minute visitor, his friend and colleague Patty. It seems that more of the book has now been translated. "To Serve Man" is not a volume on how to help the human race. It's a cookbook. Yep, Chambers and the rest of the unwitting travelers are about to become human a la king. Always read the fine print first.
'Tales from the Crypt' - "Three's A Crowd - S02E05 - 5/1/90
"Three's A Crowd" is unique, in that it's one of the few 'Crypt' episodes to not feature any recognizable stars in the cast. Not that its story is hurt by that. A husband and wife go to a secluded mountain home owned by a male friend, in order to celebrate the husband's birthday. Unfortunately, the man's long held jealously of his richer, more successful pal wastes no time in coming to the forefront. He becomes increasingly more convinced that his friend and wife are conducting a secret love affair right under his nose, and his rage builds with every passing minute.
Finally, the husband snaps, brutally murdering the friend, then setting his sights on his lovely bride. She attempts to escape, but it's to no avail. Satisfied with his handiwork (and now completely insane), the newly self-made widower drags his former significant other's corpse to a small cabin on the property. He opens the door, only to be greeted by a smiling group of family and friends. It turns out that his wife and friend weren't having an affair at all. Their clandestine meetings had simply been to organize a surprise birthday party for him. To top things off, a banner that's hanging from the ceiling reads "You're going to be a daddy!" Wow.
'Night Visions' - "After Life" - S01E10 - 8/2/01
I consider myself quite the connoisseur of horror/sci-fi anthology programming, having watched every episode of nearly every notable series in the genre. So take it from me, if you like this type of show, you really need to watch 'Night Visions.' This little seen FOX series only lasted one season, but still managed to produce some great stories in that time. Case in point, "After Life." Randy Quaid stars as a recently deceased man that wakes up at his own funeral. His family is understandably shocked at first, but quickly comes to accept the second chance they've all been given.
Unfortunately, this does not extend to Quaid's character, who is tormented by memories of a brief period spent in a place of ultimate peace and beauty. Naturally, he assumes this to be heaven, and wants desperately to go back. His daughter pleads with him to reconsider, only to regret it after he decides the answer is for them both to commit suicide together. The daughter is saved by her mother, but the man succeeds in taking his own life. We are then shown his body, back in a casket at the local funeral home. On the ceiling above is a painting of a heavenly landscape. This image was what the man had remembered. His brain perceived it as he lied there only mostly dead previously. Ouch.
'The Twilight Zone' (1985) - Examination Day - S01E14 - 11/1/85
The 1985 revival of 'The Twilight Zone' was conceived and produced as a 10pm, adult targeted series. This fact didn't matter to CBS executives, who pulled a last minute timeslot switch and programmed the show at 8pm. While content standards have changed a lot in the ensuing decades, the 8 p.m. slot used to be known in the industry as "the family hour." Shows like 'Full House' were America's usual 8 p.m. fare, and the country wasn't ready for the often gloriously dark plots that the '80s 'TZ' reveled in.
Case in point, a gut punch of a ten minute short known as "Examination Day." The story takes place in the not too distant future. It's a young boy's 12th birthday, and he's super excited about the new video phone he's about to receive as a gift. Ah, 1985, when "video phones" were sci-fi technology. Anyway, before the child can celebrate, he has to take a government mandated test. The details of the test are kept pretty vague, but he's told it's an intelligence test. The boy isn't worried, and he promises to do his best. He takes the test, then his parents are called at home with the results. The good news: their son is extremely intelligent. The bad news: the totalitarian future government deemed him too smart for his own good. His parents are kindly asked what type of funeral service they'd prefer. Yep, the writers of 'The Twilight Zone' killed a 12-year-old boy at 8 p.m. The public was far from pleased.
'Tales from the Darkside' - "Anniversary Dinner" - S01E14 - 2/3/85
While 'Tales from the Darkside' is a very well remembered show, it could also be a very schizophrenic one at times. One episode might creep the holy hell out of the viewer, while the next could be a total slapstick comedy with random supernatural elements. 'Anniversary Dinner' is a definitely a member of the former class of episodes. It begins with a kindly old married couple that are looking forward to their latest wedding anniversary. They both miss having children around the house, so when a wayward young woman shows up at their door one day, the couple offers to let her stay for awhile.
With nowhere else to go, and feeling safe and secure, the young woman settles in to their laid back country lifestyle. Before long, she discovers a hidden lounge area, one that contains a gigantic hot tub. She asks if its okay for her to use it, and the old couple seem oddly encouraging of her doing so. After a few minutes, they start to do bizarre things, such as drop vegetables into the water. However, the girl is too drunk to care. Well, to be more accurate, she's been drugged. The young woman passes out and slips between the water, as the couple brings out a giant spoon. Just when you'd think that things couldn't possibly get worse, the couple starts reminiscing about children again. In front of a cabinet filled with human skulls. The "children" weren't offspring, they were past meals. Sweet dreams.
'Fear Itself' - "Family Man" - S01E03 - 6/19/08
Make no mistake about it, 'Fear Itself' was not a good show. In fact, most of the episodes outright sucked. There's a reason the show was canceled after airing only eight installments. Still, there were a few gems amidst the refuse, including the episode I've selected. "Family Man" starts out as your typical 'Freaky Friday' style body swap plot, with the soul of a loving husband and father switching places with that of a vicious serial killer. This leaves the nice guy locked in jail, while the psycho gets to play daddy with his unassuming family.
Long story short, the bad guy eventually dies, and all briefly seems well. That is until the father (now back in his own body) goes upstairs to find that his wife and son had already been murdered before he got there. To top things off, when the cops ask the surviving daughter who killed her mother and brother, she points directly at her dad. The episode ends with the man letting out one of the saddest screams you'll ever hear.
That's all for this trip down depression drive. Feel free to point out any instances you think I should have covered below, and maybe I'll do another one next October. Next Sunday, I present my picks for the best devils in TV history. You might be pleased to meet them, but can you guess their names?