The Twilight Zone Episode 123: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

General Information

Director: Richard Donner

Writer: Richard Matheson

Cast: William Shatner, Christine White, Edward Kemmer, and Asa Maynor

Composer: None (Stock Music)

Air Date: 10/11/1963

Production Code: 2605

 

Overview

The Twilight Zone Nightmare at 20,000 FeetAfter recovering from a mental breakdown, salesman Bob Wilson (William Shatner) travels with his wife Julia (Christine White) via airplane. When a gremlin lands on the plane and begins tampering with the engine, Bob attempts to alert the others of his discovery—with an ironic twist.

Combining sci-fi/horror tropes with tongue-in-cheek elements, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” earns its status as the greatest episode of The Twilight Zone. Especially iconic is the performance of William Shatner, who deserves praise for his unique facial expressions and paranoid mannerisms.

 

Pros

In spite of its dated special effects, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” maintains a frightening impact after more than fifty years. Specifically worth noting is The Twilight Zone Nightmare at 20,000 Feetthe claustrophobic airplane setting for this episode, which, when coupled with a violent thunderstorm, compels the viewer to sympathize with Bob’s predicament.

Though often parodied in pop culture media, the scenery chewing of Shatner adds to the subtle humor of this episode. Upon sighting the gremlin, for instance, Shatner’s character gazes through the window with bulging eyes and a gaping mouth—a hilarious, albeit realistic, depiction of a nervous breakdown.

 

Cons

None.

 

Analysis

The Twilight Zone Nightmare at 20,000 FeetProviding a modern update on a timeless fable, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” demonstrates how a lack of credibility can undermine the value of one’s testimony. In contrast to the Boy Who Cried Wolf, however, the character of Bob is portrayed as a truthful man driven by altruistic motives, even scrutinizing his own sanity before taking drastic action to save his fellow passengers—possibly a statement on how good, honest people with mental illnesses may suffer terrible discrimination from society.

 

Concluding Comments

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is a clever, well-acted, and chilling installment of The Twilight Zone. Classic television buffs will therefore enjoy this episode, which offers an unforgettable viewing experience for fans of all ages.

 

Overall Quality: 10/10

 

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2 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone Episode 123: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

  1. Whenever I watch this episode I also have to screen the John Lithgow remake as well. Both are fantastic. True, the remake omits some pertinent details — our protagonist in Lithgow’s version, for instance, is merely afraid of flying while in the original he’s just been released from a sanitarium after suffering from a nervous breakdown on a plane six months prior (was he harassed by a creature only he could seemingly see then too?) — but it more than makes up for that by besting the original in its creature design– and wisely confining it, like Freddy Krueger in the original “Elm Street” movie, largely to the shadows. Also, the remake depicts what the original couldn’t owing, I guess, to budget constraints: the cabin depressurizing as a result of someone shooting out a window (or, in the original, releasing the emergency door) while the plane is in flight. And, finally, in the original, we mostly spend time with Bob, his wife and the crew. We never get acquainted with the other passengers. In the remake, we get a feel for some of the other personalities traveling with our protagonist and how it might be like for them to have to deal with someone who is totally wigging out in the middle of a storm… Oh, and one of the passengers is a little girl who is surprisingly not annoying at all. She’s given some pretty amusing lines including what is possibly the best line after the iconic “There’s a man on the wing of this plane!”: “You big fella you used to be a normal person.”

    • I, too, enjoy the updated version with John Lithgow, although I prefer William Shatner’s performance as the main character.