Land of Shadow and Substance – Sixteen Millimeter Shrine – (10/23/59)
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. – Rod Serling (Season one introduction)
Written by Serling, this tale originated from an idea surrounding the old west and in particular, gunfighters. However, the title appeared somewhat to be little more than average sales slogan similar to, “as seen on TV.” You Too Can Be Fast With A Gun, began as a story surrounding a schoolteacher having delusions of gunfighting grandeur, able to finally make them come true with the aid of an elixir or potion. Upon rewriting, Serling changed the title and opted to tell the tale from a more believable viewpoint, using actual Wild West characters in a setting that was more than suitable. While the concept of a downtrodden person magically getting a second chance had been explored before by many a writer, Serling’s take created a powerful episode, certain to generate viewers’ emotions ranging from empathy to encouragement.
In my humble opinion, this episode is somewhat lackluster compared to the others. However, this doesn’t necessarily make it terrible. On the contrary, while the episode contains no oddities or monsters, no science fiction or horror and no faraway lands or fantasy laced scenarios, it is one of the episodes that will make a viewer reflect. With a subtle punch, the lessons of living in the past are there for all to see. But beware; the odds are slim to none of them ever returning. Of course, one can always hope and dream…and one thing is for certain, when it comes to the Twilight Zone, slipping through the cracks, or in this case the celluloid, is a definite possibility.
Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino), a once great actress whose films were considered classic from dialogue to set production, each having powerful leading men surrounding, vying for her commanding attention, is now nothing more than a mere shell of a great prime past. Time has passed, roles became fewer and farther in between, and her evolution, growth and progression in the film industry basically came to a standstill. Now, day after day she sits, secluded in her screening room continuously watching spool after spool of her old films, clinging to the past and maintaining delusions of grandeur.
Desperate to aid, her agent (Martin Balsam) tries in vain to bring her back to glory, arranging and coordinating a role in an upcoming production. Barbara, ever maintaining shades of ego, views the small role of a mother as too aged and menial, an unacceptable deviation far below and beyond her prior leading lady days, and adamantly denies the role. Storming out of the studio in a huff, she once again she takes lonely solace in her screening room.
In a last ditch effort, her agent summons Hearndon (John Clarke), a prior leading man, in hopes that he might gently tear her away from the past mindset. However, Hearndon is now visibly older, barely resembling the man he was in the film. Barbara cannot accept this fact and the action only succeeds in driving her farther away and deeper into the past.
Shortly thereafter, ever vigilant Sally (Alice Frost), Barbara’s longtime maid, enters the screening room with lunch and is horrified by what she sees on the screen, dropping the tray and running from the room.
She beckons the agent, and upon arrival, enters the screening room. Sally has since turned off the projector, saving what little film is left on the spool for the agent to see. He turns on the projector and is surprised to see Barbara in the film looking back, the motion picture being current, having been filmed from her living room, where she is being doted upon by stars of old.
Pleading with her to come back, she doesn’t’ say a word, only looking deeply at him and tossing a white scarf toward him.
The film ends and as the film flaps at the end of the spinning reel, the agent rushes out to the living room, only finding the scarf lying in the middle of the floor. He picks it up and looks at the stairwell, the place she had been standing in the film, and says “To wishes, Barbie. To the ones that come true.”
Next time – Walking Distance
Want more of horror writer Thomas Scopel & his alter ego sinful clown Wee Wille Wicked? Visit his blog at stayingscared.blogspot.com, where you can download his free mobile app.
Thomas Scopel has explored the dark, demented, and gruesome his whole life, beginning at a young age with Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater. He has penned and published many reviews, articles and short stories, as well as two novellas. At press time, he is currently in the midst of editing his first full length novel for Suspense Publishing, submitting a few tales elsewhere, and chopping through other various blood infused projects that most would probably prefer to read with the lights on. Also known as Wee Willie Wicked, a sinful, malicious clown who takes pleasure in fear and also writes, usually finding solace in covering frightening film reviews for Horror News Net, one thing’s for certain, this horror writer has no shortage of drive.
Land of Shadow and Substance: Sixteen Millimeter Shrine