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January 3, 2010

The Twilight Zone: Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (1963)

The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
William Shatner comes to face to face with his fear of flying in Nightmare At 20,000 Feet.

The 1983 movie version of the Twilight Zone contained a segment based the 1963 tv episode "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet". This original episode starred, you guessed it, William Shatner. Only three years away from his break through role on Roddenberry's Star Trek in 1966, Shatner was finding regular work in Hollywood television production like the Twilight Zone. He'd previouslly been featured in the 1960 episode "Nick of Time" as well as several local western productions such as NBC's The Outlaws Western.

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (season five episode 123?) was another Richard Matheson entry into the tv series. William Shatner plays Bob Wilson, a salesman, who finds himself on an airplane for the first time since his recent nervous breakdown.

Enter Rod Serling, slinking onboard to set the stage:

“Portrait of a frightened man: Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father, and salesman on sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home - the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson's flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he's traveling all the way to his appointed destination, which, contrary to Mr. Wilson's plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone."

Wilson spots an evil "gremlin" (actually what looks like an extra in a bad paper mache mask left over from Eye of the Beholder from 1960) hovering on the wing of the plane. Each time someone else looks out the window, the "gremlin" leaps out of view. No one believes Bob when he claims he has spotted a gremlin. Bob realizes that his wife is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium... but if nothing is done about the gremlin, it will damage the plane enough to cause it to crash. Bob snatches a sleeping policeman's revolver then opens the "Auxiliary Exit" to shoot the gremlin, succeeding despite the fact that he is nearly blown out of the plane himself.

Once the plane has landed, Wilson is whisked away in a straitjacket, but there is evidence of his claims: unusual damage to the plane's engine — yet to be discovered by mechanics — that presumably can only be explained as being caused by something clawingat the structure's airframe. The original role of Bob Wilson is further polished by John Lithgow 20 years later minus the paper mache mask and man-girdle.

John Lithgow is kinda scared of flying in The Twilight Zone (1983)
In the film update of Nightmare, John Lithgow is also "kinda scared of flying".

As part of the Twilight Zone movie, Lithgow encounters a less hokey lookin' gremlin - who, like his paper mache counterpart from 1963, has a real hard-on for air traffic related mayhem. At the end of this segment, Dan Akroyd delivers a classic line in a bit part as a creepy Paramedic asking an already shook up Lithgow: "You wanna see something really scary?"


References:
Wikipedia, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
Wikipedia, William Shatner
Cult TV, Twilight Zone Episode Guide
Twilight Zone Autographs


Season Five of The Original Twilight Zone is available at:
Season Five of The Original Twilight Zone on Amazon

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