C Duncan On His Favorite Episodes of “The Twilight Zone”
The Midnight Sun Out Now via FatCat
Oct 28, 2016
Photography by Warrick Beyers Web Exclusive
Scotland's C Duncan (aka Chris Duncan) released his acclaimed debut album, Architect, last year via FatCat. It was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize and was a gorgeous collection with shades of Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear in its multi-layered harmonies. Earlier this month he released his sophomore album, the even more atmospheric The Midnight Sun, also via FatCat. The album is in part inspired by Rod Serling's iconic science fiction anthology TV series The Twilight Zone, which originally ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964, but also spawned a 1983 feature film and two revival series. Duncan was first exposed to the show as a teenager, but it has stayed with him into adulthood. In fact, The Midnight Sun is even named after one of his favorite episodes of the show. Here Duncan talks about his history with The Twilight Zone and picks his three favorite episodes, as well as recommending some others to check out.
I was first introduced to The Twilight Zone at the age of 13 when I went on holiday to Disney World in Orlando with a friend and his family. We were in MGM studios and came across the ride Tower of Terror, which towered above everything else. The ride was more like the movie set of an abandoned old hotel, which has been loosely tied to the series with a few references to episodes, and tells the story of a family of guests entering the hotel lift where they mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again. The ride itself takes you by cart through various rooms of the hotel accompanied by the narration of Rod Serling until at the end the cart is dropped 130 feet to the bottom of the building. It was the mystery surrounding the narrative, set, and atmosphere the experience created that really caught my attention. Shortly after returning from that holiday, I went to a shop and bought the full series of The Twilight Zone and have never looked back.
Here are just a three of my favorites as there are far too many great episodes to write about.
"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (S1 EP22) is a perfect example of the sci-fi element attached to Twilight Zone. On a sunny Saturday afternoon on a suburban American street, the electricity goes off, and everything mechanical stops working. Everybody on the street is confused and a neighbor's kid suggests that it might be aliens, and it isn't long until they form a mob and start accusing each other one by one of, well, being the alien. Hysteria levels get so high that the mob shoots someone out of fear in the distance thinking that they might be the alien. This is a good example of how well structured and mysterious the show is. It has a jab at our human instinct to gang up in situations of fear and suspicion and it gradually crescendos until all rationality is out the window and finally reaches a climax of shear mayhem. (Watch it on Hulu.)
"The Masks" (S5 EP25) is one of the later episodes of The Twilight Zone. It centers around a daughter, her husband, their two children, and their very wealthy grandfather who is dying and only has a few hours of life left. Each of the characters have a trait—one is greedy, one is a sadistic bully, one is extremely vain, and one is a self-obsessed coward. They are invited to spend the evening with their father/grandfather, Jason Foster, which happens to be on the night of Mardi Gras. None of them want to be there, but they want to claim the money from Jason before he finally dies. Jason is aware of this and of his family flaws, and tells them openly what he thinks of them. As it is his last day he decides to play a game with them. He has four hideous masks made for each of them to represent their character, and a skull mask for himself. If they wear them until midnight they will inherit his estate, but if they take them off, they will get nothing. The family finds them almost unbearable to wear, but their greed keeps them persisting until Jason finally dies and they all start rejoicing. They can finally take off their masks, and are shocked to see what's underneath. Although this episode has ties to the supernatural/sci-fi, it mostly centers around the family, how they interact and their flawed characters. Rod Serling is a master of not pushing the supernatural element in this episode, and allows the story to naturally unfold, merely placing this on top to create an uneasy aura of mystery. (Watch it on Hulu.)
"The Midnight Sun" (S3 EP10). This episode had such a profound effect on me that I decided to name my new album after it. There is something about the gentle, yet very dark and brooding atmosphere that spoke to me, along with the unexplained Kafkaesque circumstances in which the characters find themselves in. The episode is about a young female artist and her landlady—the only two people left in an apartment block in New York. The Earth has suddenly changed elliptical orbit and is gradually moving closer to the sun. There is never any darkness and it is getting hotter and hotter, until at some point in the near future everyone will essentially burn up and die. The story follows the relationship between these two women, and later on a stray man, and how they try to cope with the situation together. They gradually become more frantic as they get closer to the sun, and at boiling point there is an unexpected twist and shift in direction (true to Twilight Zone form). (Watch it on Hulu.)
I wanted my new album to reflect the mystery and often stark stylization of The Twilight Zone. It is a real one off show that mixes the unexplained, sci-fi, horror, thriller, and drama into one without ever crossing over too much into any genre, thus creating a complex and captivating genre of its own. It has been a huge inspiration for me and will continue to be for years to come.
Other episodes to check out:
"Mirror Image" S1 EP21
"The After Hours" S1 EP34
"The Silence" S2 EP25
"The Passerby" S3 EP4
"It's a Good Life" S3 EP8
"The New Exhibit" S4 EP13
"I Am the Night-Color Me Black" S5 EP26
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