30 Minutes of Horror: The Twilight Zone "Five Characters in Search Of An Exit" (1961)

I'm a huge fan of anthology television (It inspired my web-series Holidays of Terror). I love being able to sit down and watch a story unfold in front of me for 30 minutes, not having to commit to seasons worth of binge watching. I'm able to bounce around episodes, skipping the lame ones and going straight to the good stuff. In this ongoing series I'll delve into my favorite anthology shows. Also, occasionally I'll cheat and review episodes from series that run an hour long; but hey, those still count! 

I figured I'd start with a show almost everyone universally loves, The Twilight Zone (if not, something is wrong with you.)  The show, which first aired in 1959 and ran for five seasons, consisted of science fiction tales dealing with monsters, paranormal, and the Armageddon. The show's creator, Rod Sterling, would introduce each episode with an opening and closing monologue and would end with some sort of morality tale or twist. The show was way ahead of its' time to say the least. 

My first experience with The Twilight Zone was in the early nineties. Every New Year's eve WPIX 11, a channel here in New York, would run their annual New Year's Eve Twilight Zone marathon. While the adults partied, waiting for the ball to drop, I'd be in the other room mesmerized with what was on the TV. At this point, I was more involved with the marathon then Dick Clark's New Year's rockin' Eve. 

One of the first episodes I remember watching, during said marathon, was "Five Characters in Search of an Exit". The premise of this episode centers around five people; A Major, Ballerina, Clown, Bagpiper, and Tramp all mysteriously wake up inside of a room with no exits or windows. Also, a loud ringing noise erupts from time to time that is disorienting the group. Paranoia ensues and the five characters must band together to escape; along with figuring out the reason behind them being put into this room in the first place. Personally I always thought the acting in this episode was top notch. Both Murray Matheson (The clown) and William Windom (The General) steal the show. Each have their own characteristics foreshadow the somewhat depressing ending (I'll get into that in a sec.) The Clown, for the most part, seems unaffected by the scenario and tends to joke around constantly. He specifically annoys The General, who is determined to escape with the group, thinking of different ways they can escape the hell they are in. Even after failing in their first attempt, he continues to push them. 

Now the ending, whoa! It's great! You don't expect it coming, well I didn't when I initially watched it. It turns out the five characters are just that, characters. They are different toys to be donated to a girl's orphanage. The cylinder room is actually a barrel sitting in the middle of the street and the loud ringing is the bell the handler is using to get pedestrians attention,(like those salvation army bells you hear during the holidays.) The episode ends with the haunting images of the characters frozen faced and mannequin like. A single tear falls from the ballerina's eyes, she slowly moves and hold the majors hands as the scene fades. It's a very downbeat/depressing ending, but really effective. I'll never forget seeing it for the first time and feeling chills run down my spine. I watch the episode at least once a year and it continues to leave me with the same sensation. 

I'm sure I'll revisit "The Twilight Zone" again, considering how many episodes I love and it being one of my favorite shows that fits the anthology format. Check it out!

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