To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.
Of all the Twilight Zone revivals so far, the 1980s series tends to be the most glossed over. The aughts version was widely panned while the latest reboot is still going through sizable growing pains. Without Rod Serling around, it seemed impossible to recover any of the ingenuity that made the original so applauded and groundbreaking. The eighties installment may be disregarded these days, but the show was notable for its ability to age with its audience as opposed to remaining trapped in the past. The relaunch wasn’t going to introduce new perspectives or challenge the status quo; it was instead a commendable attempt at pure storytelling.
Using Charlotte Perkins Gilman‘s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” as inspiration, the third and final season’s “Something in the Walls” concerns a psychiatric patient (Deborah Raffin) who is deathly afraid of patterns. As she explains to her new doctor (Damir Andrei), the woman once saw sinister faces in the walls of her bedroom. The incident caused her to voluntarily check herself into the hospital and leave behind her family. Just as the patient begins to open up to the doctor about the origin of the faces, a severe storm intervenes. The next day, the woman is nothing like her former self — she’s even wearing a patterned shawl.
Unlike “The Yellow Wallpaper,” J. Michael Straczynski‘s Twilight Zone episode forfeits any sort of feminist slant. He removes subtext and leaves behind a more straightforward story where a woman is merely haunted by the faces she sees in patterns. The only man in the episode is the doctor, whose most criminal offense is being a tad forceful with his patient during therapy. Otherwise, “Something in the Walls” is utter horror.
There’s not much small print here as the episode takes a no-frills approach to the source material. At the end, it even makes the mistake of telling rather than showing. What ends up being so memorable, however, is the special effects. Similar to the technique in the Wes Craven classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, the faces the protagonist is so scared of, all emerge from the walls and ceiling like living, nightmarish plaster casts. The emphasis on visuals and tangible menace are all tell-tale signs of the decade. It just goes to show that the eighties Twilight Zone is an entirely different beast but not necessarily a bad one, either.