LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Brand New - Interview With Twilight Zone Expert Tom Elliot
By James Whittington, Tuesday 19th July 2011
Tom Elliot started his horror career as the co-host of The Gentlemen's Grindhouse podcast, as well as being the horror reviewer at GeekPlanetOnline.com. He's currently writing for Scream: The Horror Magazine where he's interviewed some of horror's greats, including Doug Bradley, Kane Hodder and Joe Pilato. When he's not up to his neck in blood and guts he hosts the official Twilight Zone forum at Cult-Labs, and writes the official Twilight Zone Blog. If that wasn't enough Twilight Zone for you, Tom is also the host of The Twilight Zone Podcast. Seeing as though the Horror Channel is showing The New Twilight Zone we decided to chat to Tom about his love of the series.
HC: Are you a big science fiction fan?
TE: I would class myself as a science fiction fan, but not necessarily a big one. I'm more of a horror fan than anything, but The Twilight Zone seems to stand alone for me in that particular genre, possibly because it has a foot in quite a few genres; it ticks a lot of boxes.
HC: Can you recall the first episode of The Twilight Zone that you saw?
TE: That’s tricky. I think it’s possibly an episode called Five Characters In Search Of An Exit. It’s about an Army Major who wakes up in a strange room. It’s circular; the walls are completely smooth, and too high to climb. He’s joined by a ballet dancer, a clown, a hobo and a bagpiper. They spend the episode wondering why they’re there and trying to escape. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but as a child I certainly didn’t see it coming!
HC: What is it about the series that made you such a fan?
TE: As a child I was attracted by these stories that just blew my mind on a regular basis. It wasn’t just the twist endings, but the interesting characters that I’d never seen anywhere else before. An adult who has never seen the series these days might be able to see some of them coming, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s a level of intelligence and social commentary there that children wouldn’t really pick up on. Plus the themes in The Twilight Zone would often be touching on the struggles we face as adults; wondering what our place is in the world; fear of death such universal human concerns that the older you get, the more they speak to you.
HC: Rod Serling was way ahead of his time with some stunning stories, do you have a favourite?
TE: There’s an episode called A Stop At Willoughby, where a stressed out advertising executive who longs for a simple life falls asleep on the train each night on the way home from work, when he wakes up the train has stopped at this idyllic little town called Willoughby. He never quite gets up to get off the train in time, but he gets obsessed about this lovely little place, because it seems to offer everything he wants in life as opposed to the life he’s living. Again, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a wonderful episode. Rod Serling wrote several pieces that are quite similar in theme, where someone would find themselves wondering what their place in the world was, and they’re some of the strongest, because Serling was someone who longed for a simple life himself.
HC: It obviously led to similar shows, are you a fan of these too?
TE: I do own The Outer Limits; I’ve watched a couple of them and enjoyed them. I like the anthology format, but it seems to be almost a lost art these days. I used to really enjoy Tales From The Crypt too.
HC: The New Twilight Zone series from the mid eighties is airing now on Horror Channel, do you agree that it captures the essence of the original?
TE: From the episodes I’ve seen, while there’s an obvious difference in the look of it, and despite Rod Serling not being a presence, I think it does have a hint of the original about it for sure, but more importantly it’s successful at being its own thing.
HC: There’s some notable names here including Wes Craven, Tommy Lee Wallace and Paul Lynch, what do you think drew them to the series?
TE: I agree, some great names were attached to it. I spoke to Marc Zicree once who was the author of The Twilight Zone Companion, and then went on to be a screen-writer himself. One comment he made always stuck out for me. He was talking about writers of his generation, and directors like Guillermo Del-Toro, who is also a big fan of Serling’s work. The comment Marc made was “We’re all Rod Serling’s children”, and I think if you talk to any writer of a certain age they’ll agree with that. I think they’re drawn to it because it’s such a good example of strong, imaginative consistent writing that it’s something to aspire to. He also said that he knows writers who go back to The Twilight Zone to re-charge their creative batteries.
HC: Do you have a favourite episode from this run?
TE: I can’t really say just yet, in all honestly I haven’t seen enough episodes to make a judgement! In the past I’ve been dubious about going near anything Twilight Zone that Serling wasn’t attached to, but seeing as the Horror Channel was showing them, I thought it would be a good opportunity to check them out. I’m glad I did, because I’m really enjoying it so far, and I’d recommend anyone who thought like me in the past to give it a shot because it’s worth it.
HC: What’s your honest opinion of the movie version from 1983?
TE: Personally I think it strayed too far from the tone of the original series; it was a bit over the top for my tastes, and I didn’t see the point of it being mainly remakes of existing Twilight Zone stories. Although, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I do remember enjoying the Nightmare At 50,000 Feet segment starring John Lithgow. I host a Twilight Zone podcast and I do plan on reviewing it on the podcast at some point.
HC: If the show was to return who would like to see writing the stories and which directors would you choose?
TE: I think JJ Abrams would be a good person to oversee a series like this. I think he’s a smart guy and he’s gone on record in the past saying how much he admires the series. It’s not an easy prospect, everyone has their own idea of how the show should be, but he managed to silence a lot of critics with Star Trek, and I think he’d do a great job with The Twilight Zone. So I’d have JJ Abrams running the show and being head writer, and I’d probably throw the doors open for the directors chair to the best we have working today. People like Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Guillermo Del-Toro, directors who have a slightly different view of the world that would be perfect for The Twilight Zone.
Believe it or not though, there is a possibility of a new Twilight Zone like series adapted from stories by Rod Serling. Marc Zicree told me that they have discovered two hundred tapes of Rod Serling dictating stories that were never produced, so not only would it be adapted from his dictation, but they’d use the actual dictation to open and close each episode. The title is Rod Serling’s After Twilight. There’s no guarantee it’ll happen, but it’s an intriguing prospect.
HC: Tom Elliot, thank you very much.
TE: My pleasure, and thank you for running The New Twilight Zone, I look forward to it every day!
You can catch The New Twilight Zone weekdays at 1pm and 6pm.
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