In the original run of The Twilight Zone, there were a lot of current, as well as not-so-current, short stories used as inspiration. Recently, I had a discussion with friends about what other stories would have made a great Twilight Zone episode. The rules are that the story had to be written before the end of the original run of the Twilight Zone, and they had to have had a Twilight Zone feel to them. Also, an author could only be used once. Here are the results of that exercise.
10. Human Is? by Philip K. Dick (1955)
Human Is? is actually like a sci-fi Sommersby. A space-faring husband returns home, but the husband does not seem quite like himself. Specifically, he is loving, caring, and attentive. He is not the verbally, emotionally, and possibly physically-abusive jerk that his wife had come to know. The “husband” is actually revealed to be a survivor from a dying race.
Dick was at his best when he presents real situations in a sci-fi setting. Human Is? brings up the questions of whether your absence would be truly noticed or mourned. What is a human, and could an alien be a better human than human beings, is a question that Twilight Zone could have masterfully explored, especially with a character actor like Jack Klugman or Cliff Robertson.
9. My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning (1842)
Robert Browning’s classic poem could have served as a jumping point for a truly classic Twilight Zone episode. A crazy, yet inquisitive, Burgess Meredith would have been perfect in the role of the narrator. The actual poem could have been spoken line-for-line in the course of the episode. In the surrounding area and flashbacks, there could have been hints to the open-ended mystery postulated by the poem. Was the last Duchess murdered by her husband? Was there some other type of reprimand?
We know that she is dead. We know that the narrator only truly values the painting. So far, that is all we know. If you add in Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, the poem could have been brought hauntingly to life.
8. Drink My Red Blood, by Richard Matheson (1951)
Riachard Matheson was one of the truly great horror, as well as Twilight Zone, writers of all time. “Drink My Red Blood” (also known as “Blood Son“) concerns the character of a young man named Jules. Jules is an outcast in his own town. Ever since birth, he has had the singular obsession of wanting to become a vampire. The story even includes a cameo by Count Dracula at the end of the story.
There are a lot of familiar Twilight Zone themes in this story: a feeling of alienation, a hint of the supernatural, and a character study headed to an uncertain ending. The character takes a similar journey seen by one of the aliens in “Black Leather Jackets.” If there had been another season, they might have done well to explore this one.
7. The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1937)
Edgar Rice Burroughs is known as the creator of Tarzan, but the rest of his prolific work tends to get sadly ignored. This is, first and foremost, a travesty. A prime point is “The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw.” Jimber-Jaw is a thawed out caveman struggling to live in the modern world. Jimber-Jaw not only has a caveman’s body, but also a mindset which will never adapt to the twentieth century. The sexist Jimber-Jaw cannot handle a world in which “women behave like men.” This is even true of a woman he starts to date. In the end, Jimber-Jaw refreezes himself, with specific instructions to never unfreeze him again. This is exactly the type of story that could have been deftly examined in the Twilight Zone, especially with an ending that defies the type of growth usually shown in these stories. Jimber-Jaw would not only have been a classic episode of the Twilight Zone, it would have been one studied to this day.
6. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)
If you were to see a Twilight Zone that was based on the “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum,” you would know where the story was going. However, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” would most likely be unknown, which is a shame, because it is the Poe story which seems to most take place in the Twilight Zone. Valdemar concerns a mesmerizer talking to a man at the point of death, stricken by an incurable disease. The man can only talk when under the mesmerizer’s spell. The discussion, as well as the dying man’s request and its aftermath, would have been an indelible episode of the Twilight Zone.
5. The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1843)
The classic story, about a scientist with a nearly-perfect physical specimen for a wife, is one that is taught in grade schools to this day. Hawthorne examines the one “flaw” of the wife — her birthmark — which the scientist works and toils to “cure.” The trouble is that, for all of the scientist’s brilliant achievements, he tends to fall short of the intended result. While he does remove the birthmark, his wife promptly dies. It was almost as if Hawthorne was putting this story in a time capsule, to later be produced by Rod Serling. Unfortunately, it was never done. It would have been interesting if “The Birthmark” could have been done in the same manner as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” with an independent film team producing the short, which would be adapted to a Twilight Zone episode.
4. Octopussy, by Ian Fleming (1962)
To clear something up, we are not suggesting that the Twilight Zone travel to an island filled with beautiful, scantily-clad women. We ARE, however, suggesting that TopTenz do that. We need vacations too, you know.
We’re also suggesting that the original Octopussy, written by Ian Fleming, was a classic that is not read enough. Also, it would have made for a classic Twilight Zone episode. Bond is actually a minor character (and you could have even changed his name for television.) The main character in the short story is Major Dexter Smythe. Smythe is a renowned World War II hero who was involved in a murder. Rather than being brought in and dishonored, Smythe allows his pets to finish him off. Octopussy presents exactly the type of moral situation and solution that the best entries in the Twilight Zone thrives on.
3. The Last Leaf, by O. Henry (1907)
When the stories of O. Henry are listed, “The Last Leaf” is not generally one of the first that comes to mind. People tend to forget that the Twilight Zone often would go into some very heartwarming territory, such as “Night of the Meek,” and “Kick the Can.” “The Last Leaf” would be perfect down those lines. It concerns a woman who believes that she will die of pneumonia if the last leaf outside her window falls off of a tree. An artist living near her promises that he will paint her a masterpiece before he dies. The artist dies, however, and the last leaf never falls. The woman eventually gets better, waking up every morning to the last leaf clinging to the tree. In truth, the last leaf had fallen during a thunderstorm, but the artist’s last masterpiece was a painting of that leaf. This is the kind of episode where Serling’s closing narration would start with a smile.
2. The Monkey’s Paw, by William Wymark Jacobs (1902)
In more than one episode, The Twilight Zone delved into the folly of wishing and Genie-like powers. Jacobs’ classic story would have made a terrifying morality tale set in the fifth dimension. For those unfamiliar with the story, the mystical monkey’s paw grants three wishes, but the buyer really needs to beware of how the wishes are granted. In this case, a couple spends their last two wishes cleaning up the after effects from the first wish. “The Monkey’s Paw” has often been performed as a one-act play. It would have been of great interest to see where the Twilight Zone team could have taken this one.
1. There Will Come Soft Rains, by Ray Bradbury (1950)
Despite a long flirtation, there was only one Twilight Zone episode written by Ray Bradbury. That episode was “I Sing The Body Electric.” Truthfully, the reason no more of his stories became episodes, is that they would have shot the entire year’s budget with one opening sequence. “There Will Come Soft Rains” would have been exceptional.
Rains would actually feature no visible actors. You are taken through a tour of a house, which is completely automated. As you go outside the house, you see the burned images of the family in the wall on the outside, as the rest of the town is devastated in a nuclear afterglow. The only human voice you would hear is a tape recorder reading the poem “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The episode would have been bookended by Serling’s narration (as the only person to appear in the house.) This would not only have been a classic Twilight Zone episode, this would have been a top-rated televised classic for all time.