Bob Wilson is on a flight when he sees a creature of some sort out on the wing of the aircraft. He's only recently recovered from a nervous breakdown and isn't sure that what he is seeing is real. Every time someone else looks out the window, the creature hides from view. When the creature begins to tamper with one of the engines he begs him wife to tell the pilots to keep an eye on the engines. If they see nothing, he agrees to commit himself to an asylum when they arrive at their destination. His paranoia drives him to a desperate act. Written by
one of the great modern re-tellings of the boy who cried wolf, Twilight Zone style of course
Amazing to say, I had never seen the original Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, even as it's one of the most notorious/popular episodes (two sides of the same Rod Serling coin). Needless to say I already knew what was coming- it's a major credit to the episode that the episode spurred on many imitators and homages (I saw it first redone on the Simpsons during one of the Treehouse of Terror segments). In its original form, with the "gremlin" that appears on the wing about as hokey as a third-rate Halloween costume (albeit with a decent job with the face makeup). But it's sort of crucial for the period for it to be a very simple creature, as it may (or may not) all be in Bob Wilson's consciousness (or subconsciousness). Today they would've done the episode in CGI, with an overly terrifying costume and makeup job, or at the least using an animatronic character. As goofy and at first unintentionally funny it is, it works really well as a springboard for Bob's visions.
The real focus isn't the gremlin, anyway, but the reactions to the claim being made, and the mounting apprehension to it, and just outright 'what?' attitude to him. It's not to say that a lot of this is outright scary; Shatner isn't the only one who over the passing of time has laughable facial expressions (the wife, played by Christine Wilson, gives a few glances that inspire laughter more than complete terror). But there is always an underlying tension though, and supplied by Richard Matheson the buildup and climax does work to an intense effect. The line does straddle from displaying the paranoia and mind-set of this guy and being silly, and luckily directed by Richard Donner there's always a clear enough story with a few great images (Shatner almost flung out of the plane, shooting the gun, is an indelible image). Sure, it's gone tame, sure it's got Shatner pre-Star Trek going through dialog like it's all his own to chew, and sure the conclusion is a given. But it's got a deft skill all the way.
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