6 reasons you should not sleep on the 1985 version of The Twilight Zone

The Grateful Dead, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin and Bruce Willis all had a hand in the first TV reboot.

Image: The Everett Collection

There's a new iteration of The Twilight Zone. Writer-director Jordan Peele, who is working hard to prove himself as the Rod Serling of the modern era, has crafted a fresh take on the classic series. The 2019 version of The Twilight Zone is sure to spark discussions — and draw comparisons to the brilliant original, which celebrates its 60th anniversary.

What will likely go overlooked in all the chatter is the first television reboot of The Twilight Zone, the 1985 series that ran for three seasons. It arrived in a peak era of science-fiction and horror, when creators like Stephen King and Steven Spielberg dazzled audiences with original ideas. It's the exact era and vibe that Stranger Things mines so effectively, which makes the scarcity of the '85 Twilight Zone so bizarre. It's as if the show itself has slipped into the Fifth Dimension. (The 2002 reboot that was on UPN with Jessica Simpson and music from the guy in Korn can remain in the shadows.)

For those unfamiliar with the '85 Twilight Zone, these six quick facts will hopefully whet your appetite. For those who watched it, perhaps this will remind you that the series was a worthy heir.

1. The Grateful Dead recorded the theme song — and a lot of the score.

That iconic der-der-der-der-der-der-der-der theme came courtesy of Jerry Garcia's guitar. The opening credits featured a Rorschach-test effect on the title that briefly morphed into a grinning skull, seemingly a nod to the band. The jam band, deep in its synthesizer phase, composed music for the episodes. Well, minus bassist Phil Lesh, who was dead set against the idea. (Instead, Huey Lewis collaborated with the group to play harmonica on "Suite from 'Nightcrawlers.'" But The Twilight Zone helped keep the Dead alive. "I’m still grateful that a steady salary for the two seasons The Zone ran helped make the house payments and put food on the table for our family of five back when the GD was staggering financially," Robert Hunter wrote in a 2005 blog entry.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The cast was fantastic.

The very first tale in the series, "Shatterday," featured a young Bruce Willis, who was appearing on just his second television show. He even had a full head of hair. Other notable stars on the show included Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Martin Landau. Indie music aficionados might be interested to learn that both Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and Exene Cervenka of X appeared on the show. The latter played a waitress in "Nightcrawlers." That's already the second time we've referred to that standout episode, which brings us to…

Image: The Everett Collection

3. "Nightcrawlers" is as good as anything in the original series.

Ask a Twilight Zone geek to name a highlight from the '85 series. Odds are, "Nightcrawlers" will be the answer. With its diner-in-a-storm setting, the story brings to mind "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" — only there's a Vietnam vet with telekinetic powers in place of an alien. The tense plot proves that a simple "closed room" tale is often the most effective.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

4. Some serious Hollywood masters directed episodes.

There's a reason that "Nightcrawlers" arrived so finely crafted. William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), helmed the episode. He was hardly the only Hollywood notable to direct an episode. Horror visionary Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) sat in the director's chair for six episodes. Joe Dante, who masterfully fused horror and comedy in classics like Gremlins and The Howling, contributed "The Shadow Man." Heck, even Canadian arthouse mind Atom Egoyan, who earned Oscar noms for his The Sweet Hereafter, directed an episode.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. There was a Stephen King episode.

Now we arrive at the source material. Like the original, the '85 Zone turned to finely tuned sci-fi short stories for its tales. Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury are some of the old masters responsible for the ideas within the episodes. The series also tapped newer voices like Roger Zelazny and Stephen King for plots. Of course, as with all reboots of The Twilight Zone, there were some remakes of Rod Serling originals, too, such as "Night of the Meek."

Image: The Everett Collection

6. George R. R. Martin wrote a bunch of episodes.

Finally, we have three words for fantasy fans: Game of Thrones. Westeros creator George R. R. Martin was creating series like Beauty and the Beast long before he was penning epic dragon battles. He contributed several teleplays to this Twilight Zone, including "The Once and Future King," which was about Elvis, not King Arthur, surprisingly.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

SEE MORE: 8 tiny details that make ''Mirror Image'' one of the most fascinating Twilight Zone episodes

Learn more about the episode that inspired the hit film Us. READ MORE

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wanderer2575 18 days ago
"Nightcrawlers" actually was the downfall of the 1985 TZ revival and was the start of the network brass interfering with production, according to Alan Brennert. The show was scheduled for Friday nights at 8:00, traditionally a time for kids' programming. CBS had the idea of "giving Friday nights back to the adults," Brennert said, but when they delivered the horror of "Nightcrawlers" and other adult fare the ratings tanked. Many episodes were already filmed before the network schedule was set, and the shows were not appropriate for the kids' viewing audience. Too bad the network screwed with it, because there were some really good shows made.
VBartilucci 19 days ago
Paladin of the Lost Hour was magnificent. A lot of those short take stories wee solid as well.
stephaniestavropoulos 19 days ago
It was nice to see a shout out for one of the funniest movies made: The Exorcist. Whenever that scene with Regan possessed enters my mind, I laugh! I'm laughing now, and I am finding it difficult to type! I've laughed at Alien. I don't think I've seen the entire movie, but the clips I've seen...funny! With most horror films, I find them funny. {No, I am not laughing to hide my fear like some people do, I genuinely find them funny.} I will admit that there are certain ones/types that have gotten to me, but for the most part, no. Even though I did watch and enjoy the original TZ, I still found them amusing little "parables."
Stephanie, Are you bring serious or is this an April Fool joke? I'll agree with you on the Evil Dead movies, but true story I couldn't watch The Exorcist 45 years ago! No problem today, but I was 15 when it was in the theater! You already know how much I love TZ, to quote the late Stan Lee "Nuff Said"!
I agree about those movies. I don't find The Shining scary at all. Rosemary's Baby is kind of funny.
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