Director: Alvin Ganzer
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, Janice Rule, Shepperd Strudwick, Terry Burnham, Michael Fox, and Joe Perry
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Air Date: 4/29/1960
Production Code: 173-3635
Upon returning to her apartment, schoolteacher Helen Foley (Janice Rule) is visited by Markie (Terry Burnham)—a peculiar young child with an uncanny knowledge of Helen’s life and activities. When Peter Selden (Shepperd Strudwick)—a vaguely familiar man connected to the death of Helen’s mother—later appears in a threatening fashion, only Markie can assist Helen in piecing together the details of a forgotten tragedy.
A haunting episode, “Nightmare as a Child” contains an intriguing study on the behavior of a troubled human mind (i.e. amnesia induced by childhood trauma). Particularly worth noting is an eerie musical arrangement from Jerry Goldsmith, which accentuates the disturbingly prescient nature of Markie’s revelations regarding Helen.
While interacting with Helen, Markie comes across as remarkably astute, mature, and sophisticated; yet never creepy or malevolent as one may expect of a little girl with implied supernatural abilities. Markie’s apparent lack of malice contrasts quite obviously with the demeanor of Selden, whose skin-crawling manner serves to foreshadow his predatory intentions toward Helen. Terry Burnham and Shepperd Strudwick should thus be commended, specifically for allowing viewers to decipher the true motivations of Markie and Selden respectively—a difficult task considering that both characters initially generate vibes of an ominous variety.
By detailing his criminal history and plans through a longwinded, expository monologue, Selden portrays himself as a mustache-twirling villain—quite unlike his subtle air of menace when first acquainting himself with Helen.
Though occasionally underwhelming, Rod Serling’s employment of the trauma-induced amnesia trope is a clever one. Notably, the character of Markie seems to embody repressed memories buried beneath Helen’s own subconscious—not, as audiences are led to believe, a younger but nonetheless physically real version of Helen; therefore, “Nightmare as a Child” deviates from The Twilight Zone’s traditional formula of explaining unusual or bizarre happenings through paranormal phenomena alone, instead attributing Markie’s existence to a manifestation of Helen’s fragmented personality.
“Nightmare as a Child” puts a unique but greatly effective spin on the murder mystery genre. For this reason, fans of psychological horror will enjoy Serling’s approach to an otherwise generic premise.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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