Every weekday, we’re going to review an episode of Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi/horror TV series “The Twilight Zone“. We’re starting from the beginning and we will be working our way through every episode the series has offered, including the episodes from the 80’s. You can see all the reviews right here.
“Perchance to Dream” – Directed by Robert Florey
Broadcast date: November 27th, 1959
Edward Hall (Richard Conte) is a man who is obviously very distraught and uncomfortable. He stands outside a large, monolithic building, watching people come and go through the revolving door, the anxiety palpable and tangible. He forces himself to go through so that he may see psychiatrist Dr. Rathmann (John Larch) to discuss the circumstances surrounding his fears. It is there that he reveals that he dreams in episodes, each new dream a continuation of the one beforehand. Now, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem but Hall has a bad heart, a diagnosis he has lived with since his childhood. Too much stress or strain can have very negative effects, up to and including death.
In these episodic dreams, Hall is at a carnival where everything seems amiss. He is enchanted by a dancer by the name of Maya (Suzanne Lloyd), who takes him to the Funhouse for a salacious tryst. However, the funhouse proves to be a scarehouse, haunting and unsettling Hall to the point that he wakes up terrified. He tried to sleep again but the dream continued and Maya took him on a roller coaster, trying to convince him that his dreams were a place where he doesn’t have to worry about his heart, where he can enjoy the thrills life has to offer without the risks. However, she is deceiving him and when they’re on the roller coaster and he begins to feel terror, she goads him to jump from the ride, to hurtle himself to his death.
Feeling like he needs some fresh air, Hall leaves Dr. Rathmann’s office only to realize that the receptionist looks exactly like Maya. Going back into the office, he then runs and leaps through the window, falling to his death.
We come back to the office, where Dr. Rathmann seems unconcerned. It turns out that Hall is laying on his recliner but he has just passed away. What happened was that Hall came in, admitted his exhaustion, laid down on the couch, fell asleep in an instant, and then let out a horrible scream before suddenly dying. Rathmann is convinced it was a heart attack and states that, in the end, it wasn’t a bad way to go, to die in one’s sleep. What he doesn’t realize is that Hall dreamed a horrifying vision in those few moments after he fell asleep, dying in a state of abject fear.
This was the first episode not to be written by Rod Serling. Rather, it was written by Charles Beaumont and was based on a short story he’d written that was published the previous year in Playboy. Knowing this, I can see why this episode feels so starkly different from the previous entries. To be completely honest, this was the first episode so far that actually scared me. It was frenzied, surreal, wild, and deeply unsettling. From the first scene, it pushes forth anxiety and trepidation. While we know there is always a twist in “The Twilight Zone”, something about the opening to this episode made it feel sinister and foreboding.
Florey’s direction is simply wonderful here. From the onset, there is this sense that Hall is dwarfed by everything around him. The building where Dr. Rathmann practices looms over Hall. When Hall lays down on Rathmann’s recliner, the angle points down from a seemingly disturbing height, ensuring that we see Hall as diminutive. This isn’t meant to make us see him as pathetic. Rather, it’s meant to make us feel like he is constantly shouldered by some seemingly burdensome weight from which he can get no respite.
The carnival sequences are nightmarish and phantasmagoric, which makes all the sense considering they are Hall’s dreams. Feeling like some sort of awful fever dream, I dreaded Hall’s inability to leave that ghoulish circus. The funhouse, while something I would personally delight in seeing in real life, felt terrifying from Hall’s perspective. Conte’s performance captures his desperate situation and it bears great impact on every moment of the episode.
As a horror fan, I am smitten with this episode. Thinking of it in the context of “The Twilight Zone”, I’m enamored. This is, in my opinion, a magnificent representation of what the show was about and what it had to offer.
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