10 classic Twilight Zone episodes to watch before CBS All-Access launch

4 of 12

Twilight Zone ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ – Image by CBS

3. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Originally aired: October 11, 1963 – Season 5, Episode 3

Written by: Richard Matheson

Opening narration: “Portrait of a frightened man: Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father, and salesman on sick leave.

Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home—the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson’s flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown.

Tonight, he’s traveling all the way to his appointed destination, which, contrary to Mr. Wilson’s plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.”

Plot: A terrified man is on a flight when he sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane. But, when he tries to convince his wife and the flight attendant that there was something on the wing, no one sees anything.

Thus, no one believes him. It also doesn’t help that this happens to be his first flight since he had a nervous breakdown on a flight six months prior. But he’s convinced, he sees a gremlin on the wing, prying up the metal on the plane and messing with the electrics.

He eventually steals a sleeping police officer’s gun, straps himself in and opens the emergency door to shoot the gremlin. The plane has to make an emergency landing.

Why it’s a classic: Since we were talking about legendary actors, Wilson is played by the one and only William Shatner. It’s also an episode that has been remade multiple times including in the 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie, where John Lithgow stepped into the role.

Peele and CBS All Access have already announced that Peele will be taking his own swing at this classic story of paranoia in “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” where Adam Scott will join the lists of actors tackling this story.

This is also one of 16 episodes written by Richard Matheson, the novelist perhaps best known for writing I Am Legend (1954). Stephen Spielberg placed Matheson among literary legends Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

What I’m saying is, even when Serling wasn’t writing, he had people like Matheson churning out some of their best work for The Twilight Zone. (Or, in this case, adapting some of their work for a great Twilight Zone episode.)

This episode has also seen its fair share of pop culture fame. Some notables include: The Simpsons, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Futurama, Saturday Night Live and, of course, Peele himself referencing the episode in a sketch on Key & Peele.

In the grand scheme, this isn’t the scariest or deepest of The Twilight Zone’s episodes, but Shatner is memorable. And, you may think twice before opening your shade on a plane if you’re flying at night. You never know what’ll be out there.