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
After 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.
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 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.
Providing 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.
“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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