Richard Matheson is responsible for some of the most entertaining and enthralling stories in sci-fi and horror. And his credits are limited to books alone, as he was one of the most credited contributors to "The Twilight Zone". I was introduced to Matheson's work through reruns of the show back in the 90s actually, as I wouldn't read a Matheson story until about a decade later. Now, looking back on the show I have a new appreciation for those episodes he wrote and co-wrote.
Matheson had a real knack for using each script to focus on a single emotion and squeeze every drop he could from it. On more than one occasion, the episode would revolve around a fear of loss in some form--three such stories are included in my list below. No matter what the subject matter though, you could always count on a Matheson tale in being a quality piece of work.
My five favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes written by Richard Matheson are:
#5 "And When the Sky Was Opened" (Season 1, co-written with Rod Serling) - After a group of astronauts return from their mission in space, members start to disappear one by one. But they don't just disappear. They seem to be wiped from existence entirely, as if they never went on the mission--as if they were never born. It's all told from one astronaut's perspective and asks the question of whether what he's experiencing is real or perhaps a form of psychosis caused from his time in space. I love trippy pieces like this that mess with reality on universal levels.
#4 "Little Girl Lost" (Season 3) - Oh, you surely remember this one about a little girl who disappears into the fourth dimension. If you haven't seen it, I'll bet you saw the "Simpsons" Halloween episode that had Homer disappear into the third dimension. To see it now, there is a campy quality that can't be avoided. That's mainly due to the fact that the fourth dimension basically looks like a foggy stage with a distorted camera. The real fun in this episode was watching the family and friends try to discern where the girl is and how to get her back.
#3 "Death Ship" (Season 4) - This was another story about a crew of astronauts in a story that messes with reality. Maybe Matheson had a whole pile of these lying around. Anyway, this one had the added bonus of starring Jack Klugman as the dutiful captain trying to keep his two crew mates from losing their composure. They land on a planet only to discover there is an identical ship already there, and when they investigate the ship they find a dead crew inside ... that looks exactly like them.
#2 "Nick of Time" (Season 2) - William Shatner. Yup. 'Nuff said. I suppose I could have just as easily placed the other Matheson tale starring Shatner on this list. You know the one. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". Yeah, that one. Well, while I enjoyed the heck out of that one, I equally enjoyed this story about a young couple who stop at a diner and become enamored and then frightened by a little device at their booth that tells fortunes. I think I listed this one over "Nightmare" because it hasn't been parodied to anywhere near the degree as Shatner's iconic line, "There's something on the wing of the plane!"
#1 "Once Upon a Time" (Season 3) - I must admit that this one makes the top spot on the list purely out of nostalgia. I am not sure if it was written with Buster Keaton specifically in mind, but to see this episode it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the starring role. It's stylistic by using speaking roles for the then present-day scenes, and silent film style for the scenes set in 1890. Keaton plays a janitor who stumbles upon a scientist's time-machine helmut while cleaning the lab and accidentally sends himself into the 1960s. It's probably the funniest "Twilight Zone" episode I've ever seen too.
There you have it? What episodes do you think should have made that list? I gave an honorable mention to "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", but I wonder if others would insist on episodes like "The Invaders" or "Mute" to be included. Opinions welcome.