episode #04, segment 3: Nightcrawlers

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episode #04, segment 3: Nightcrawlers

Post  BoG on Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:39 pm

#4c: NIGHTCRAWLERS written by Phillip DeGuere; Directed by William Friedkin
This episode gained some notoriety even before it aired. I remember the days before it was scheduled to air on TV back in 1985. I read, probably in the latest TV Guide back then, that it was directed by a famous film director (Friedkin) and that some scenes were considered almost too intense for television. For '85, yes, that may be true; Friedkin tapped into the nightmarish perception which everyone had about the Vietnam War by then, filling the screen with chaotic & violent images. See also the film Jacob's Ladder (1990).
The plot revolves around the events of one rainy night at a roadside diner; most of the episode takes place in real time, covering about 20 minutes of experience by the people in the diner: a state trooper (James Whitmore Jr.-son of James Whitmore, who starred in the On Thursday,We Leave For Home episode on the old series), the cook, the waitress and a family of three.

The last to arrive at the spot, driving too quickly, is a troubled Vietnam vet (Scott Paulin). He brings with him a whole lot of baggage, brought back with him from 'Nam. Unfortunately for the other people in the diner, his demons actually materialize, as physical manifestations. It's harmless at first - a beer is briefly conjured up in place of a cup of coffee - but, later, when the vet loses consciousness, all his dead buddies from 'Nam return, stalking towards the diner, looking for payback; the vet has some guilt issues about surviving the war experience, evidently.
Friedkin (The French Connection; The Exorcist) turned this episode into a 20-minute movie, applying all his tricks and knowledge about constructing big-budget films. I'm not sure he bothers to supply an explanation for Paulin's abilities - perhaps something he was exposed to in 'Nam. He also demanded the best from the actors, whether getting a very naturalistic performance (most of the diner's occupants) or one that was very intense (Paulin as the vet). Paulin's character takes some pills at one point and it almost seems to me the actor himself was on some 'uppers' or something during this acting stint. He is really wired in this episode, almost over-wrought.

The episode is very atmospheric - there's an ominous tension almost from the beginning and the climactic scenes of the returned soldiers, all looking demonic, can be frightening for younger viewers. Like many big budget films, this suffers the stigma of having a lot of flash & style, but not much substance. And, as a result, it doesn't really come across like a Twilight Zone episode by the end. The only indication that it was a Zone is the mention that there are 4 other vets who can do what Paulin's character can do. Uh-oh. BoG's Score: 8 out of 10
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