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?
What show did you watch DannyBoy7? Fear Itself featured tons of blood, and the only reason it didn't have "boobies" is because it was on NBC. This show was made by the people behind Showtime's 'Masters of Horror,' a series which reveled in graphic violence and sexuality. As for the plotlines, they were incredibly formulaic. I easily guessed the twists in every episode but 'Eater' and the aforementioned' Family Man,' and most of the premises were well worn horror staples. Vampire episode? Check. Werewolf episode? Check. Haunted house episode? Uh-huh. Witch episode? Yep. Town with a dark secret? Present and accounted for. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but you're definitely the first person I've ever heard describe Fear Itself as intellectually stimulating.
Cool! Another great list Michael! I really must check out 'Night Visions'! These shows were so cool and quite scary at the time - to me anyway, but there is no way any of these would make it past pilot on today's telly. The endings are just so dumb! xD Devils... hmmm. I know it probably wasn't the best for anyone but me but I really loved Ray Wise as the devil in Reaper. Infact I just loved reaper full stop. xD
Check out Paul Wilson's author's notes and working script on Glim-Glim, in his book "The Barrens and Other Stories" if you can find it.
Freddy's Nightmares - "A Family Affair": The stories in this show are rather ho-hum, making the show really only entertaining because it has Freddy Krueger. In this one - well, the second half (each episode had a two-tier method, with the two being tethered by varying degrees) a man gets his son back after he spent two years as a junkie. Wouldn't you know it? Death decides to take the dad, but makes a deal to stick around for a little longer to be with his son. Death (or rather an agent) agrees and goes all Seventh Seal in a card game. He wins (heavily implied that he cheated), meaning the agent will have to answer to her superior for not bringing a soul back. The father doesn't care... until he hears his son scream. Finding him upstairs, he discovers that she found a way to meet her quota.
Monsters - "Glim-Glim": A spiritual sequel to Tales from the Darkside, which follows the same unfocused tone. However, this one maybe the saddest in horror anthology history. Three sole survivors of a plague that ravaged the town find themselves trapped not only in the same isolated town as the alien, but seek shelter from the cold in the basement of the same library it inhabits. It's not really a twist because it's revealed early on that the alien didn't unleash the plague intentionally. In fact, he's written quite sympathetically, as he carries a lot of guilt for what his visit has done, and what it could do to the entire planet. Trying to work on a cure, he befriends the girl, despite the language barrier. However, the one man convinces the father that the alien is benevolent, especially when he spots the alien taking his daughter's blood (to develop a cure). When they take up guns and shoot it dead, they turn a corner to discover that he was helping her build a Christmas tree. She asks what happened to him, before she sobs, as it dawns her that the affectionately named Glim-Glim is dead. The episode ends on the image of Glim-Glim holding a note he tried to give to the two men, which reads, "Merry Christmas". As heartbreaking as that is, it's even more devastating when you realise that the force-field the alien put up that trapped the three was done so to keep the virus from spreading. But now with the only hope dead and the field inevitably going to give out, they doomed the entire human race with just a few bullets.
Devils: Burgess Meredith, Thomas Gomez, Burl Ives (Twilight Zone), Ray Wise (Reaper), Dan Hedaya (80s Twilight Zone), John Glover, of course,Mark Pellegrino (Supernatural), Roddy McDowell (Fantasy Island), Jon Lovitz (SNL)
"The twist being that the aliens are disappointed that we have not become violent enough, with the tale ending as the Pres realises we no longer have weapons to defend ourselves from the upcoming invasion."
That sounds like the 80s TZ, although the one I saw didn't have the President, but the UN. There was an Outer Limits revival episode that sounds similar to that, too.
One of my favorites twist endings. from when I was very young, was from the show "Thriller." It was episode six of season two titled "Masquerade." It starred Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston. It was a fairly comedic episode, but I never saw the twist coming.