Thursday, January 27, 2011

TZ Promo: "The Invaders" (1/27/1961)

“The Invaders”
Season Two, Episode 15 (#51 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3646

She’s a quiet, simple woman alone in a shabby cabin in the middle of nowhere. She never utters a word. Perhaps she’s mute. Or perhaps she has no language. We don’t know her name or her backstory. We do know that something has landed on her roof, something from… out there.

50 years ago tonight, one of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone was first broadcast. “The Invaders” stars Agnes Moorehead (probably best remembered as Endora from TV’s Bewitched) as the nameless woman described above (in Richard Matheson’s script, she’s identified only as “The Woman”). This one is something of a polarizing affair… you either love it or you hate it. I have to admit, I’ve historically fallen into the latter category. Time, however, has softened my view of it to a degree, largely because I’ve grown to love --- hell, adore --- the miniature creatures that terrorize Ms. Moorehead.

They look like wind-up toy robots. We’ll discover that they’re something else entirely by the end.

What’s wrong with the episode? The pacing, mostly. This thing drags. Big time. Boiled down to its essentials, the story reads something like this:

Spaceship lands on roof. Woman gradually makes her way up to the roof. Woman gets spooked by tiny occupants of spaceship and flees. Invaders follow her down, shoot lasers at her and slice her with her own knife. Woman finally fights back, kills one of them, chases the other back up to the roof, where she deals a fatal blow with an axe (believe it or not, I didn't spoil the patented TZ twist at the end).

This could have happened in five minutes (in fact, it might have been more effective as a five-minute segment on Serling’s later series Night Gallery. This is the only time you will ever hear me say something like that, as I’m not a fan of that series at all). As it stands, we spend an entire 25 minutes watching this thing unfold as slowly as possible. It’s tedious.

What’s right with this episode? First and foremost, Agnes Moorehead is (well, was) a treasure of both the silver and small screens (she played Orson Welles’ mother in Citizen Kane, along with countless other memorable roles, before settling comfortably into the witches’ garb as urban enchantress Elizabeth Montgomery’s mother on Bewitched; Montgomery, by the way, will appear in season three’s “Two”). Her performance here is often labeled “tour de force,” and it’s absolutely deserved. She’s captivating to watch, essentially miming (and occasionally grunting or screaming) her way through fear, panic, rage, and exhaustion.

Second, the cinematography here is among the series’ best. There’s no electricity in The Woman’s cabin… it’s all lamplight. Shadows abound. It’s deep and dark, and it looks gorgeous (I’m really looking forward to watching it tonight on blu-ray).

Third, Jerry Goldsmith’s original score. It starts off creepy and escalates. “The Invaders” is really more horror than science fiction, and Goldsmith’s music is undeniably scary. You'll find it in the usual places: on vinyl from Varese Sarabande (volume 1), on CD from Silva, and as an isolated music track on both DVD and blu-ray from Image Entertainment.

Fourth, we get yet another nod to Forbidden Planet, this time in the form of the United Planets C-57D Space Cruiser prop (we’ve already seen it in “Third From the Sun” and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” and we’ll see it again in “Death Ship”). I love All Things Forbidden Planet, so I never get tired of these prop re-uses. I'm happy to report that Ms. Moorehead didn’t really destroy the actual prop (a rough version was specially built for this episode).

A closer shot would reveal the spoiler.

I’d love a toy version to put on my TZ shelf, but the only option I’ve found is a model kit from Polar Lights. I’m worthless when it comes to building models, and this thing has 105 individual parts (!), so it's really not an option for me at all. *Sigh* Maybe someday...

Fifth… well, damn it, the Invaders themselves are awesome. The Invader is one of the most recognizable characters in the entire series, and it pulls off the near-impossible feat of being goofy as hell and highly cool at the same time. Sideshow Collectibles released a 1:1 scale action figure several years back which is literally a dead ringer for the real thing (well, you know what I mean). I bought one for my friend Bill Huelbig as a Christmas gift, and he still has it proudly displayed in his New Jersey apartment. I really wish I’d had the foresight to buy one for myself too…. Every time I see one pop on eBay, it usually sells for a couple hundred bucks. Too rich for my blood.

Bill's Invader.

Happily, Bif Bang Pow! has helped fill the gap in my life with two distinct bobbleheads (one black and white, and one color), plus they’ve got a 6” inch action figure coming later this year.

And as I've mentioned in the past (in my notorious "Invaders" thong spotlight), my next tattoo will be The Invader. My love for this little guy borders on the irrational.

So it seems my only gripe against this episode is that it’s a bit boring. I think, after writing this entry, I may actually like it much more than I ever realized. I can’t wait to revisit it again tonight.

Haven’t had your fill of actors in their pre-Bewitched days? Next week, Dick York (the original Darrin Stephens) stars as a mild-mannered bank clerk who accidentally gives himself telepathic powers. It’s better than it sounds. Flip a coin and tune in.


James B. W. Bevis said...

My views are similar to yours, Craig. I'm glad this episode exists, but don't usually have the patience to watch it. It's nice to see the Invaders get some love.

"A Penny for Your Thoughts" will be the 52nd of 156 episodes, exactly one-third of the way through. Good to see you still keeping the faith. :)

Matthew Bradley said...

It might surprise you to learn that screenwriter Richard Matheson concurs with your assessment of the finished episode. When I interviewed him for FILMFAX some years ago, he told me, "I would have liked it if [“The Invaders”] had gone faster. In that and the Buster Keaton thing [“Once Upon a Time”], I had a lot more material-—more going on between her and these little critters because the opening I find, to this day, unbearably leisurely. It just takes forever. It takes forever before she hears the noise on the roof, and then it takes forever for her to get up there. I think [the opening] probably could have been cut in half, or by a third…" He also didn't care for the Invaders themselves, but I think your description of them being at once goofy and cool is spot-on. Don't know what he'd make of the thong his work unwittingly inspired! :-) For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (

i-Lens Artography said...

An absolute gem of an episode. Agnes Morehead is brilliant!

Anonymous said...

More people seem to remember and dislike this episode than just about any other, but in my opinion, it is well done and much better than its reputation.

I hope that Ms. Moorehead got residuals from this, as she doesn't have a line of dialog to qualify her.


Alex said...

This episode is pure gold, I tell yuh! Despite (as Matthew Bradley cites in his comment above) Matheson himself faulting the pacing, Moorehead's brilliant acting as well as the overall foreboding atmosphere and artful camera-work leave me in rapt attention throughout the mere 25 minutes. This is an episode that becomes BETTER with repeated viewing - long after the "twist" ending (a hallmark of most Twilight Zone episodes) has been totally internalized.
Cudos to you for your blog, by the way!