I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has ever watched The Twilight Zone has seen The Invaders. It’s up there with those other classics like Time Enough at Last or Eye of the Beholder. But let’s pretend it’s the first time we’re seeing it. Rod Serling opens up with his standard monologue and then for the next 22 minutes, we get an episode without any words. The entire thing is carried by Agnes Moorehead grunting and being frightened. And it works exceptionally well. Even the music adds to the sense of dread and this one does have an excellent score!
The unnamed woman played by Moorehead lives alone on a farm in some out of the way place and finds herself the victim of some space invaders, complete with a damned fine model of a UFO that lands on her roof. The squat, pudgy invaders look like wind-up toys but they are effective at being a threat, shooting her with ray guns that leave little welts on her skin. She spends the entire episode in terror, trying to protect herself and her home.
When I’d read I am Legend by Richard Matheson, I was mesmerized. He had pulled the wool over my eyes and forced me to make the sudden realization that my perspective had been subtly altered over the course of the book. When the punchline comes at the end of I am Legend, I was left speechless and have since considered it one of the best horror/scifi books I’ve ever read, largely because he made me change my perspective. He had a talent for that apparently because he pulled off that same trick in this episode. Even though Moorehead spends her time dribbling and grunting, we are made to feel for her; she’s under attack. When the punchline comes, it’s that famous Matheson perspective shift! We are shown that the invaders are in fact from the US Air Force and they are people who have landed on a planet of giants. WOW! Suddenly we feel for them and turn on Moorehead. She’s just killed some of our people!
Don’t get me wrong: amazing surprise. But I can’t help but feel differently about this episode now. It paints the humans in a terrible light: they land on a woman’s house, regardless of her size, and proceed to terrorize her. I’d be willing to forgive them when she technically attacks first by throwing one of them down the open trap door from her roof to her lower level (considering that would have been one heck of a fall of the human) but the humans made no effort to communicate in any way. I get it when the creature looks like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal but this was evidently a humanoid woman. They could have tried. I’d even be willing to accept that they tried to communicate but as the audience, we were only able to hear what Moorehead hears which would have sounded like gibberish to her, however later we do hear the astronaut speaking English. What we are then forced to realize is that from the start, humans have been attacking her home, blowing a hole in the front door and most horrible of all, they use a large knife to cut her foot and later her hand. These are not good, innocent humans. These are Invaders. Frankly, while it’s a brutal murder, when Moorehead takes one in a blanket and smashes it to oblivion, that’s a triumph for her. Do these people deserve any less? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because they were human we should side with them! That’s not good thinking and leads to some unpleasant outcomes! Think it through: these people were Invaders, as the title says, and I’m very satisfied that they are defeated.
I know Matheson is an amazing writer and I do love having my perspective challenged, but the 25 minute format may be harmful to successfully pulling that off. In the end, The Invaders get what they deserved and Moorehead can go back to her life. Maybe that’s not popular opinion, but I think we need to shift perspective back on Matheson to address that fact that we are depicted as the aggressors and didn’t deserve mercy. Agnes can go fix her house up and go back to making her stew for whatever visitors come next from The Twilight Zone. ML
The view from across the pond:
Did Richard Matheson want a break from writing dialogue? The script for this one must have looked unusual, with nothing said until the closing seconds of the episode, apart from the usual narration from Rod Serling. Much to my embarrassment, I had to watch this more than once before I realised that the lack of speech from the unnamed woman (Agnes Moorehead) is obviously there to strengthen the twist ending, but I probably shouldn’t feel too bad about that, reading some of the reviews out there which speculate on whether she’s a mute and in doing so spectacularly miss the point. Anyway, she does have a bit of dialogue. It goes something like this:
“Hngh! Mghr! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
That’s because the woman is being menaced by an intruder in her own home, a very small intruder. Small things can be scary: spiders, creepy crawlies, Tom Cruise. This TZ episode deftly blends that fear of little scuttling things with a fear of the unknown, the alien invader. If there’s a moral of the story it’s that small and silent can be deadly, like a fart. But in fact, the true moral is glossed over pretty quickly, because the woman greets her visitor from another world by immediately kicking it down her loft hatch. She behaves like a wild animal. It’s an object lesson in how not to react to the unknown.
The funny little astronauts don’t just run away. They fight back first, and it has to be said that a lot of the shenanigans they get up to makes a nonsense of the twist at the end. The weirdest moment is the woman coming out in boils, as if she has been cursed by the little alien with some kind of witchcraft. It’s an odd blend of sci-fi and fantasy. But these are bizarrely persistant and sadistic aliens. The first of the two gets bashed around and tossed here and there (if the ending is to be believed, how does he even survive any of that?) and he still comes back for more, poking her in the leg with a knife, like some kind of a sick intergalactic Jerry to her Tom. Later he tricks her by poking a stick through a hole and then following it through with a knife to cut her hand when she tries to grab the stick. This is proper horror movie stuff, and goes a long way to make up for the slightly tedious scenes of the dribbling woman walking around, flapping a stick here and there and holding a candle in a brightly lit room. The alien threat is at its most effective when unseen. The sound of footsteps wandering around builds up the tension, and triggers off a very specific fear in any viewer who has experienced what it’s like to have a mouse scuttling around in the house (not Jerry, though). In constrast, when seen clearly the aliens have the appearance of funny little child’s toys, waddling along in a vaguely robotic fashion. They are unintentionally cute. I want one on my DVD shelves, but I’m keeping the knives locked away when I get one.
“These are the invaders,” says Serling in his narration. What, Americans? He said it, not me, but there’s something to consider there. This is a story of the US military invading all gung-ho into somebody else’s territory, receiving an unfriendly welcome, and then fighting back disproportionately against a frightened and angry native, before eventually getting their butts kicked and running away. Where have we heard that one before? Let’s just say the TZ writers perhaps understood their own country better than the average American. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: A Penny for Your Thoughts
It took me my first re-watch of this episode many years later to finally understand it and especially its twist ending. I must say that I was quite star-struck. Of course like most great Twilight Zones it challenges our perspectives while still maintaining an important point in its message. For a vastly discussable issue like invasion in our world today, this is a TZ that timelessly holds up. Thank you both for your most appreciable reviews on this one.
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