Thursday, October 11, 2018

Twilight Zone Take-Over #13 - The Invaders

"This is one of the out-of-the-way places, the unvisited places, bleak, wasted, dying."
Director: Douglas Heyes
Writer: Richard Matheson
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

This is arguably the most horrifying episode on the countdown and simply based off of the brilliant direction that was put on display by one Douglas Heyes. It'd moody, filled with shadows, and riddled entirely with suspense. Not only that, but it's a true feat of filmmaking in many regards, with several unique features thrown in the episode to make it memorable even beyond its incredible twist ending.

In what is essentially a one-person performance, Agness Moorhead plays an old hermit woman living on her own in a dinky little house in the middle of nowhere, when she is visited upon by a saucer landing in her attic (or it's on her roof, the set is dressed a bit weird at times). Suddenly, her house becomes a battlefield between herself and some tiny invaders, and she's put to her wit's end at figuring out just what exactly she can do to survive.

Moorhead plays the main star of the episode brilliantly. One of the unique things about this episode is how it has almost no dialogue, so she has to carry the episode entirely on her own expressions and acting ability. She does make noises, like heavy breathing, grunts, sounds and cries of pain, but never utters a single word.

She does a lot with her face, too, even before the titular invaders arrive at her home. She just makes bored expressions while she carries on with her day-to-day life, and when they do arrive, she's curious and worried, and all of it comes through clear as day in her face.

The harrowing parts of the episode, where she realizes that the invaders may pose a serious threat to her despite their diminutive size, are where her acting comes through the best. It's never over-the-top, never too wild, and always matches, really, what any normal person would do in her situation, given her circumstance.

Adding to the fear is the fact that she is all alone, as established by the opening narration and the establishing shot for the episode (a brilliant shot, mind you, damn near perfect for what it's worth). So she can't call for help, and if she runs, where does she go? Worse, what does she return to? She has no choice but to try and fight these things but the little invaders are designed so intricately and interestingly to be so jarring compared to her normal surroundings.

While it's obvious that these invaders are just toy-mechanical robots with some light-up features, there's a good sense of mystique and fear built up around them. Never does the episode force them to be scary; rather, it's how much they stand out and just how they seem to be everywhere that makes them frightening. It plays to the similar fear that one feels when they think they hear footsteps on the roof above them or outside their door.

The main star of the episode, the thing that makes this episode a real standout, is Douglas Heyes and his directions. It may not be possible to count the number of brilliant shots in this episode. He plays with shadows and lighting to a masterful degree here to perfectly set the mood and get the viewer in a claustrophobic mindset.

There's one shot in particular of the woman standing in the corner of the room and she's bathed almost entirely shadow but there's just enough light filtering in the room that her outline is mostly visible and she slowly gets up to move out of the shadow and it is chilling. It's perfection.

And of course, it takes a certain level of skill to direct an episode without any dialogue. This is helped majorly by Richard Matheson's teleplay, where there are but a few lines of dialogue and the one who has the most is Rod Serling with his opening and closing narration. Matheson really shows his competency as a writer, as he does time and again throughout the show, but this is probably his most unique script.

Heyes is also brilliant with the camerawork in the episode, always keeping the woman pretty much at the center of the frame and having everything else around her add to the atmosphere. It would be rather annoying if every time there were a noise he moved the camera to try and track it. Instead, he leaves it on Moorhead, and the viewer watches her react, then follows her movements as she slowly treks across the house.

"The Invaders" is mostly known for its big twist, but it should be watched as a masterclass in horror direction. There aren't any jumpscares and it works as a minimalist piece of science fiction horror. It's chilling all the way to the end and definitely not one to be missed this Halloween season.


Not much to say in this one. The twist doesn't affect the story so much as I think it does the perspective of things, although Serling's closing narration still makes it seem as if the invaders were indeed the bad guys all along. 

It is a brilliant reveal, though, having the destroyed ship be the framing device just after we hear our first lines of dialogue since Serling's narration. The big shock of "oh my goodness, they were human all along!" really only comes as a lesser shock after hearing that they're on a planet of giants, which is a brilliant explanation for why Moorhead's character never speaks: she probably doesn't have a language to speak with. 

My take on the reveal is that we're supposed to sympathize a bit more with the characters since they seem much less like invaders as we can relate to them, but Serling reminds us that, regardless of that, they still attacked her, they still tried to kill this woman after she did nothing to them. The humans came out shooting, came out looking to take down the giant woman. 

It does make the scene where she brutally kills one of the invaders by stuffing it in a pillow case and slammed him on the edge of the bed a bit more horrifying, though. And while the twist obviously isn't as effective on a second viewing, it does leave one more time to appreciate the craft that went into carefully hiding this twist from the viewer on the part of Matheson and Heyes, of which there can be no fault. 

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