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|"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"|
|Episode no.||Season 5|
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Written by||Richard Matheson|
|Based on||"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"|
by Richard Matheson
|Featured music||Stock from "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Rip Van Winkle Caper"|
|Original air date||October 11, 1963|
|Running time||25 minutes (without commercials)|
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is episode 123 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone, based on the short story of the same name by Richard Matheson, first published in Alone by Night (1961). It originally aired on October 11, 1963 and is one of the most well-known and frequently referenced episodes of the series. The story follows the only passenger on an airline flight to notice a hideous creature lurking outside the plane.
In 2019, Keith Phipps of Vulture stated that the episode "doubles as such an effective shorthand for a fear of flying", making it endure in popular culture. This is the first of six episodes to be directed by Richard Donner.
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.
While traveling by airplane, Robert Wilson sees a gremlin on the wing. He tries to alert his wife and the flight crew, but every time someone else looks out of the window, the gremlin hides itself near the engine, so Robert's claim seems crazy. Robert admits the oddness of the gremlin avoiding everyone else's sight but not his. His credibility is further undermined by this being his first flight since suffering a nervous breakdown six months earlier, which also occurred on an aircraft. Robert realizes that his wife is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium, but his more immediate concern is the gremlin tinkering with the wiring under one of the engine cowlings, which could cause the aircraft to crash.
In response to his repeated attempts to raise an alarm about the gremlin, the crew gives Robert a sedative to stop him from alarming other passengers. Robert pretends to down it with water, but does not swallow and secretly spits it out. He then steals a sleeping police officer's revolver, straps himself in to avoid being blown out of the aircraft, and opens the emergency exit door to shoot the gremlin.
Once the airplane has landed, everyone believes that Robert has gone insane. In a straitjacket as he is whisked away on a gurney, Robert tells his wife that he is alone in his knowledge of what really happened during the flight. However, the final scene reveals conspicuous damage to the exterior of one of the aircraft's engines, confirming that Robert was right all along.
The flight of Mr. Robert Wilson has ended now, a flight not only from point A to point B, but also from the fear of recurring mental breakdown. Mr. Wilson has that fear no longer... though, for the moment, he is, as he has said, alone in this assurance. Happily, his conviction will not remain isolated too much longer, for happily, tangible manifestation is very often left as evidence of trespass, even from so intangible a quarter as the Twilight Zone.
The episode was remade in 1983 by director George Miller as a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. John Valentine, played by John Lithgow, suffers from severe fear of flying. The plane flies through a violent thunderstorm, and Valentine hides in the lavatory trying to recover from a panic attack, but the flight attendants coax him back to his seat. He notices a hideous gremlin on the wing of the plane and begins to spiral into another severe panic. He watches as the creature wreaks havoc on the wing, damaging the plane's engine. Valentine finally snaps and attempts to break the window with an oxygen canister, but is wrestled to the ground by another passenger (an off-duty security guard). Valentine takes the passenger's gun, shoots out the window (causing a breach in the pressurized cabin), and begins firing at the gremlin. This catches the attention of the gremlin, who rushes up to Valentine and destroys the gun, then leaps away into the sky. The police, crew, and passengers write off Valentine as insane. However, while a straitjacketed Valentine is carried off in an ambulance, the aircraft maintenance crew arrives and finds the damage to the plane's engines, complete with claw marks.
Adam Scott was cast in an episode for the 2019 reboot series, entitled "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet". Other cast mates include Chris Diamantopoulos, China Shavers, Katie Findlay and Nicholas Lea. The remake removes the gremlin completely, though it makes a cameo as a doll that washes up on the atoll near the end, and instead focuses on a sinister podcast hosted by the enigmatic Rodman Edwards (voiced by Dan Carlin).
Settling in for a 13-hour transatlantic flight to a land rife with ancient mysteries is Justin Sanderson. Mr. Sanderson's occupation is to uncover unbiased truth. But with an hour left before certain doom, he must ask the right questions of the right people. Landing at the truth this time will require an unscheduled stopover in The Twilight Zone.
Justin Sanderson is a magazine journalist suffering from PTSD, who is boarding Golden Airways Flight 1015 for a flight to Tel Aviv. While awaiting his flight, he befriends Joe Beaumont, a former pilot for the company and alcoholic who suffered some unspecified failure in the past. At his seat, Sanderson discovers an MP3 player that has a podcast playing called Enigmatique, which describes a "Flight 1015" which was lost without explanation. Sanderson begins to panic and tries to make sense of the situation, but is told to calm down. He listens further and hears speculation about passengers who might have been involved somehow in the plane's disappearance; his attempts to investigate only to annoy the other passengers and crew. He learns that the last words heard from the pilot were "Good night, New York", and desperately tries to warn the pilot not to say that, but is restrained by an air marshal. Beaumont approaches and confides that he believes him. Guessing that the flight number - and coincidental departure time - is the code to the cockpit, Sanderson gets Beaumont access, who overpowers the crew and takes control of the flight. As Beaumont subdues the passengers and crew with oxygen deprivation, he reveals his plan to crash the plane to atone for his past failures. As Beaumont signs off with "Good night, New York", it dawns on Sanderson that he indirectly causes the crash. He awakens on an island and learns from the MP3 player that all the passengers actually survived, except for Sanderson who disappeared. The other passengers reveal themselves as they attack and kill Sanderson, whom they blame for the crash.
In his final moments, Justin Sanderson made the case that he did everything he could to avert disaster. But in the end, he was an investigative reporter unwilling to investigate himself, until it was too late. Justin discovered that the flight path to hell is paved with good intentions, and it passes directly through The Twilight Zone.
Keith Phipps of Vulture rated the 2019 episode three of five stars, citing that the "concept's solid", though he felt there was implausibility regarding the revelations about Joe and that the final reveal about the passengers killing Justin is "a twist too far in an otherwise solid outing."
The episode is considered one of the most popular of the series and parts of the plot have been repeated and parodied several times in popular culture, including television shows, films, radio and music: