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.
M. Night Shyamalan introduced the “dead all along” twist to modern audiences with his film The Sixth Sense, but the idea wasn’t novel. Movies and television shows of yesteryear have infrequently used this rug pull since Carnival of Souls. When watching “Night Route” from the 2002 reboot of The Twilight Zone, viewers undoubtedly think they know what’s going on before the episode even ends. It just goes to show, we can’t always trust our instincts.
The aughts version of Twilight Zone only lasted for one season on the now-defunct UPN network. By and large it was panned, yet “Night Route” was one of the short-lived show’s highlights. Ione Skye plays Melina Kroner, an English professor who is set to marry Adam (Dylan Wash) very soon. While walking her dog Vigo one night, Melina is nearly run over by a car. She then sees a city bus drive through her street despite there being no scheduled routes. The same bus reappears over the course of the episode, relentlessly following Melina. The driver’s intentions don’t become clear until it’s too late, though.
If there is anything this Twilight Zone did well, it was how it executed the twists. Although in this case, people assume they already have Melina’s predicament all figured out. It doesn’t help that the main character even spells it out for everyone: she believes she died in the car accident and the bus represents Death. While this sounds like the umpteenth use of a seasoned plot device, there’s more to this sad story.
As it turns out, Melina was half right — she in fact did die from the car accident. Melina has visions of bleeding from her head and nose as she plans her dream wedding; people she doesn’t recognize somehow know her. When the bus finally returns to offer her one last ride, only Melina’s dog jumps on board. The driver emphatically tells her “this isn’t her life” before driving away with Vigo in tow.
The episode finally closes with Melina’s corpse sprawled out in front of the car that killed her. The dog appears to be dead, too, before he springs back to life. His human, however, isn’t so lucky. The bus wasn’t coming to take Melina to the afterlife, after all. No, the driver was there to bring her back to the living. Melina being engaged and a professor was all part of some fantasy; Adam is an eyewitness at the scene and he tells his actual girlfriend, “I always felt like she was starin’ at me.”
What was expected to be bromidic is fairly distinctive. “Night Route” is an utterly sad display of loneliness with a bitter outcome for its pitiful protagonist. The story unnecessarily spoon-feeds its plot pivot at the very end, but everything before that is fairly solid buildup work.