The Twilight Zone was in syndication when I was very young. By the time I started watching it, I paid more was old enough to remember episodes of shows. Because it was in syndication, I was likely to see the same episodes over and over even though there was a total of 156 shows. The channel I saw them on aired them at 9:30 every night of the week, right before the news. Wednesday night was a bonus night because they started at 9 and would show two episodes. I started getting ready for bed at 10 so this show was perfect material for giving me bad dreams.
One of the first episodes that left an impression on me was called “The Dummy.” It stars Cliff Robertson as a ventriloquist. I think that all ventriloquist dummies are a creepy. Even the ones made to look like my favorite comedian, Groucho Marx, are a bit creepy. But much of my dislike of these dummies is because of this show. This episode has what I think is the gold standard for creepy ventriloquist dummies. It looks like he was made to be unattractive, even demon possessed. In this show, the dummy moves and talks on its own and wants to take over the act. There is a scene toward the end of the episode where Cliff Robertson’s character is running down an alley and he sees the shadow of the dummy against a wall. For some reason, the image of that shadow against the wall scared me. In my mind’s eye, I could picture that same shadow on the wall just outside the door of my bedroom in the long, dimly lit hall. It didn’t help that they repeated this image during the closing credits of the show.
The show really stuck with me the first time that I saw it. It didn’t scare me away from The Twilight Zone but that shadow was the first thing I thought about when I thought of the show. Any time I was walking down a dark hall, I thought of the shadow of the dummy. I might walk faster or even run through a dark area for fear of seeing a ventriloquist doll’s shadow.
The endings with a twist are one of the things I love about The Twilight Zone. It’s fun to recognize an episode but not remember how it ended. That’s one thing that makes this a show that you can return to so often. I don’t remember how long it was between the first and second time I saw this episode, but I recognized it within the first few seconds of watching it. I knew that this was the one with the shadow. I was going to watch it, but I decided that I couldn’t handle the closing credits. Before they ran them, I left the living room that night and went to my bedroom. I did a few things to prepare for bed and after about 30 minutes, I went back up to the living room. As I walked in, there was another episode of The Twilight Zone going off. I had forgotten that it was Wednesday night when they showed two episodes. I also knew that when they showed two, they usually didn’t show the closing credits of the first episode. I left the room for nothing. I was upset that I had missed the second show.
There was another Twilight Zone episode with a ventriloquist dummy called “Caesar and Me” but it doesn’t have the impact of this one. There are movies with similar themes to this show. I’ve seen a couple of them like “Devil Doll” and “Magic”. None of them are as frightening to me as this.
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