Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet


This is a creepy ass story that exists in three forms. It was originally written as a short story by Richard Matheson ( I am Legend, What Dreams May Come, The Legend of Hell House) and this version is by far the best, granted you have a good imagination. It was used as the plot to a Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner (pre Star Trek) in 1959. This version kinda sucks, but we'll get to that later. When the Twilight Zone Movie came out in 1983, four old Twilight Zone episodes were remade for the big screen, this time it was John Lithgow that played the part. The story is a popular one without a doubt, and truly quite frightening. Bob is a man with issues. To begin with, he's returning home from a sanitarium, due to a severe nervous breakdown. He's chooses to fly home, despite the fact that his nervous breakdown occurred on a plane. Everything seems cool at first (after like 25 cigarettes), but then the plane begins to enter a storm, sending Bob's nerves totally on edge. Having sat in a window seat, Bob peers out the window, only to a see a strange human-like figure on the wing of the plane. Attributing this apparition to his nerves, he closes the window and pretends it's not there. Eventually curiosity gets the better of him and he again looks out the window and again sees the strange creature who is closer to his window now and can make out that it's definitely there and not his imagination. Having heard stories from war pilots about so-called "gremlins" that liked to sabotage planes, he assumes that is what he's seeing. He closes the window and takes an abundance of pills, thinking this will make it go away. His curiosity finally gets the better of him and he opens the window shade and the gremlin is right there staring at him... Bob freaks. He tries to alert several people of this creature who appears to be tearing up parts of the plane. Alas, every time someone besides Bob looks out the window, there's nothing to be seen, making Bob look even crazier. Bob decides that he must take action before the gremlin causes the plane to crash. He ever so nonchalantly steals a gun from a sleeping passenger (I guess gun laws were really different in the late fifties) and shoots the window. The suction of the cabin pressure is released and shit goes flying everywhere. Bob is sucked halfway out of the window, but still manages to get a few shots at the gremlin... to no avail. The plane manages to land safely, but poor Bob is toted away in a straight jacket on his way back to the looney bin. Everyone thinks this was just a crazy way of attempting suicide, but Bob knows better. Shortly after landing, the crewmen find a patch of the airplane that has been strangely damaged by something that might have had claws, leading us to believe that the creature on the wing of the plane was not entirely a figment of Bob's lunacy. The original Twilight Zone version of this story is pretty stupid. Shatner plays the part of Bob very well, but the appearance of the the gremlin is totally ridiculous. It looks sorta like a teddy bear with a scrunched up face, or maybe a teletubbie with a severe hormone problem. And the fact that it's on the wing of an airplane doesn't seem to affect it in any way, his "fur" doesn't even bristle with the blast of the wind. Now, the remake with John Lithgow is a fantastic rendering of this story. The gremlin actually looks like, well a gremlin. Kind of slimy, with fangs and demonic eyes... and much more aerodynamic. Pretty creepy stuff. There's even a "Simpsons" Halloween episode called "Nightmare at 4 and a half Feet" where bart sees a gremlin on the side of his school bus.



2 comments:

Scott Sheaffer said...

You're calling the TV version of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" stupid merely because a show in 1959-60 didn't have the budget or the SFX technolgy available to a movie made decades later? You might as well complain about it being in black and white too. It's not like CGI was available back then. The show had to make due with the available technology of the time AND what it could afford. I watch the original TZ for the stories, ideas, and characterization - not for state of the art special effects. I like both adaptations of Matheson's story.

Cultfiend said...

Yes, as a matter of fact I will compare a low budget version against a version created decades later, simply because I have to compare every version in existence. I also compared it to the book... is that gonna be a problem too? You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but the TZ version isn't scary in the slightest. It looks like a teddy bear for gods sake. And its face is obviously a reused mask from another TZ episode where everyone is "normally ugly" and treat beautiful people as though they were repulsive. Twilight Zone was a wildly popular show and had a bigger budget than you think, they could've done better than a recycled mask and a teddy bear costume.