Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
|"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 5
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Written by||Richard Matheson
(From his story, first published in Alone by Night, 1961)
|Featured music||Stock from "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Rip Van Winkle Caper"|
|Original air date||October 11, 1963|
|List of Twilight Zone episodes|
Bob Wilson (William Shatner) is a salesman on an airplane who notices a gremlin on the wing of the plane during mid-flight. Bob tries to alert his wife and the flight crew to the gremlin's presence, but every time someone else looks out of the window, the gremlin leaps out of view, so nobody believes Bob's seemingly outlandish claim; his credibility is further marred because this is his first flight since his nervous breakdown six months earlier, which also occurred on a plane. Bob realizes that his wife (Christine White) is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium, but his bigger concern is that, if nothing is done about the gremlin, it will damage the plane and cause it to crash; in fact, the gremlin has already started to tinker with the wiring under one of the engine cowlings.
After repeated attempts to warn the crew, Bob grows desperate, steals a sleeping air marshal's revolver, and opens the window marked "Auxiliary Exit" to shoot the gremlin, succeeding despite being nearly blown out of the plane himself. Once the plane has landed, Bob is whisked away in a straitjacket, as everyone believes that he has gone insane; however, the narrator informs the viewers that Bob's stay will be short-lived, and the final shot reveals why: the gremlin has left evidence of Bob's story, in the form of the damaged wing.
The episode was remade in 1983, as a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Unlike Bob Wilson, whose credibility was compromised by a recent nervous breakdown in the 1963 version, John Valentine, played by John Lithgow, suffers from severe aviatophobia, again giving the flight crew added reason to disbelieve his wild claims.
The story begins with flight attendants attempting to coax Mr. Valentine from the lavatory as he tries to recover from what seems to be a panic attack. He is repeatedly assured by the flight attendants that everything is going to be all right, but his nerves and antics disturb the surrounding passengers.
As Mr. Valentine takes his seat, he notices a hideous gremlin on the wing of the plane and begins to spiral into severe panic. He watches as the creature wreaks havoc on the wing, damaging the plane's engine, losing more control each time he sees it do something new. Valentine finally snaps, grabs a handgun from another passenger, a police officer, shoots out the window (causing a breach in the pressurized cabin), and begins firing at the creature. This only serves to catch the attention of the gremlin, who rushes up to Valentine and promptly destroys the gun. After a tense moment, in which they notice that the plane is landing, the gremlin grabs Valentine's face, then simply scolds him by wagging its finger in a "no, no" manner. The creature leaps into the sky as the airplane begins to make an emergency landing. On the ground, as a straitjacketed Valentine is carried off in an ambulance, the police, crew and passengers begin to discuss the incident, writing off Valentine as insane. The aircraft maintenance crew soon arrives, however, and everyone gathers to examine the massive amounts of unexplained damage (including claw marks) to the plane's engines.
References and allusions
Parts of this episode's plot have been repeated and parodied several times in popular culture, including television shows, films, radio, and music.
"Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" is the title of a song made by the Stourbridge UK Grebo band Pop Will Eat Itself featured on the album Cure for Sanity, released in 1990. The song refers to the Twilight Zone episode and the song's video features clips of it. The track was inspired by lead singer Clint Mansell's fear of flying.
The The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (1993) features a segment called "Terror at 5½ Feet". It takes place on a school bus rather than an airplane, and puts Bart Simpson in the role of Bob Wilson. A subcompact car, the AMC Gremlin, driving alongside the bus, confuses the issue. At the end Bart is taken away by an ambulance, but then sees the real gremlin outside the ambulance holding the head of Ned Flanders.
In the 1995 movie Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, when Ace is being flown out of Tibet, on a 747, against his will, he attempts in various ways to convince his British companion to call for the plane to immediately land. He ultimately puts on an impersonation of William Shatner and yells out "There's someone on the wing... Some-thing!"
The Tiny Toon Adventures Halloween special, Night Ghoulery (1995), features a parody of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", with Plucky Duck in the role of Bob Wilson, and the Gremlin from the Merrie Melodies short Falling Hare appearing as well.
In the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Dick's Big Giant Headache: Part 1" (1999), William Shatner makes his first appearance on the series, with John Lithgow meeting Shatner's character as he gets off a plane. When Shatner describes something horrifying on the wing of the plane, Lithgow replies, "The same thing happened to me!"
Richard Matheson, in The Twilight Zone Magazine, called this episode one of his favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, praising Richard Donner's direction and William Shatner's performance, though criticizing the appearance of the monster, comparing it to a "surly teddy bear."[verification needed]
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0006388981. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-00-638898-1, 978-0-00-638898-2. pp. 124–125.
- "William Shatner Trivia". Retrieved 8 August 2013.
- McDuffee, Keith (24 October 2008). "All-time scariest TV characters". TV Squad. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
- Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0