From the creepy, instantly-identifiable music to the name itself, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone is arguably one of the most influential TV series of all time. From 1959 to 1964 Serling hosted half-hour morality play with twist endings that put M. Night Shyamalan to shame. The show would inspire two TV series revivals and a feature film, not to mention countless other variations.
Indeed the upcoming feature film The Box is a direct adaptation of the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson (a staple writer in the Zone) , which was first adapted with the film's title as an episode of the show.
While there are certainly no shortage of direct spin-offs from TheTwilight Zone, here are four films that borrowed liberally from the series, without owning up to being adaptations.
4. Child's Play (1988) / Living Doll (season 5 - 1963)
When you think of homicidal dolls, the star of the 1988 movie Child's Play is the undisputed scream king. But some 25 years before Chucky went nuts on moviegoers, The Twilight Zone introduced Talking Tina, the murderous ragamuffin that starred in the season 5 episode "Living Doll."
Not unlike Chucky, Tina is given to a child with all the best intentions, but very soon the child's uptight stepfather (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) senses something sinister behind Tina's vacant eyes. And it's not like she hides her disdain for Telly. Pull her string and she recites gems like "I'm beginning to hate you." Pick up the phone and her little voice is there saying, "My name is Talking Tina and I'm going to kill you."
On the one hand, she's nowhere near as animated as Chucky, and she definitely lacks his filthy mouth. And let's face it, Telly is the true villain of the story.
Still it's easy to imagine Chucky as, the bastard hate-child of Talking Tina and another Richard Matheson creation: the Zuni Devil Doll from the 1975 Zone-inspired movie Trilogy of Terror. Screenwriter Don Mancini, who created Chucky, has acknowledged that the scare pair had influenced his script "Bloody Buddy" which later became Child's Play.
3. Final Destination (2000) / Twenty Two (season 2 - 1961)
In the franchise-launcher Final Destination Devon Sawa loses his shit after experiencing horrific visions which cause him to flee an airplane just before it takes off. Actress Barbara Nichols played out a similar scene almost 40 years earlier in season two's Twenty Two episode. Both characters watch from safety, shocked as their intended air transport explodes on take-off, realizing that their strange and prescient visions have saved their lives.
The scene marks the end of what is considered by many to be a lesser-episode of The Twilight Zone which seems to encourage the viewer to pay heed to mysterious dreams.
However, it's just the beginning for the hit-making franchise. Sawa's Alex Browning quickly learns that death will not be denied, and the lives he saved by his hysterics are doomed to a terrible and inevitable series of deaths, which continue on for three sequels so far.
2. Poltergeist (1982) / Little Girl Lost (season 3 - 1962)
A little girl disappears from her bed, leaving her tortured parents helpless to do anything but listen to her chilling pleas echoing forth from some trans-dimensional space between the walls of the house.
That's the premise of Tobe Hooper's 1982 movie Poltergeist(written and produced by Steven Spielberg) as well as the season 3 episode "Little Girl Lost" (another based on a Richard Matheson story). Of course there are significant differences in the details of the two versions.
On the TV show, Bettina Miller disappears through an invisible hole in the wall near her bed, which is explained in science fiction physics. The source of Carol Ann's disappearance in Poltergeist is decidedly supernatural.
Perhaps the most significant difference is that the father takes on the heroic role in The Twilight Zone episode, entering the portal himself to retrieve his little girl. In Poltergeist, Craig T. Nelson's father figure is a hysterical and ineffective simp and it's up to JoBeth Williams as the mom to actually pull Carol Ann through.
Andrew Gordon's book "Empire of Dreams" claims Spielberg drew direct inspiration from Matheson's short story, and requested a tape of the episode while he was writing the film. While the episode may have inspired Spielberg, the filmmaker does take his version in several interesting directions that fills out the feature film length nicely.
1. Cube (1997) / Five Characters In Search of An Exit (Season 3 - 1961)
Ask fans about the indie movie Cube and you're likely to get an effusive reaction. Filmed in Vancouver, the movie is an intellectual thriller that benefits from its low budget by putting its five primary characters in a minimalist setting: a small cube-shaped prison cell that's bounded on six sides by identical cube-shaped rooms. The characters have no connection to one-another nor any idea how they came to be there. They pull together in their attempt to understand their prison and escape.
But while it is slick and modern, and has more action and special effects, the basic premise and themes of Cube are nearly identical to those found in the 1961 episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit." The primary difference is that the five Zone characters are trapped in a cylinder instead of a cube and, with a running time of less than a half-hour they really only had time for one failed escape attempt and one successful one.
The big departure comes in the final reveal of the respective prisons. Where Cube's Rubik's death trap becomes a thought-provoking metaphor for runaway bureaucracies that entrap and consume everyday people, the Five Charactersare revealed to actually be unwanted dolls that have been flung into a Salvation Army collection drum.
These aren't the only examples, just a few of the most prominent ones. Others may come to mind and be discussed in the comments below. But rest assured: whenever Hollywood goes fishing for ideas, they'll always feel a tug on the line when they cast it into the bottomless well of ideas known ...as The Twilight Zone.
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