Twilight Zone – Need to Know (03/21/86)

Jeck Henries is changing a tire on a dirt road in Loma.  The most interesting thing we will get out of him is that someone took the trouble to make up the name Jeck for a character that will disappear in less than 2 minutes.  His similarly over-monikered neighbor Wiley Whitlow suddenly appears.  Wiley whispers something in Jeck’s ear and Jeck suddenly starts screaming.  It is a good opening, but the effect is blunted because it’s just not a very good scream.  Is it fear, is it pain, is it a scream of insanity?

The government sends Edward Sayers (William Peterson, CSI: Twilight Zone) to investigate.  He is met by Amanda Strickland.  She had called her senator, but apparently only ponied up a big enough campaign contribution for one investigator to be sent out despite 25 people being effected, including her father.  She takes Sayers to see him at the local nut mental hut health facility.  After some creepy chit-chat, old man Strickland begins screaming his head off.

Then they go to the Hotchkiss house.  She had stopped by to see Mr. Strickland earlier that day.  The elderly woman serves them fresh bread and tea.  All is fine until she tries to stab them.

Sayers goes to work in the high school science lab.  He has deter-mined that the craziness is not caused by anything breathed or consumed.  Amanda has an idea that it is a contagious disease and describes the connections that caused it to spread.  I hope it isn’t sexually transmitted because every resident in this town seems to be 80 years old.

Sayers calls his boss in Washington, DC to see if they can set up a quarantine to contain the lunatics so they don’t do any more damage.  Sadly, his boss refuses to build a fence around DC, but promises to send troops to Loma.

Amanda has found hayseed-zero in Andrew Potts who is appropriately-monikered as she describes him a “local crackpot.”  He has gone crazy, but his brother Jeffrey — a professor of Far Eastern studies — still lives in town.  Sayers finds him at home.  With a degree in Far Eastern studies in this farm community, where else would he be during the day?  He says on his last trip to The Orient, he learned “the meaning of everything. Man’s purpose and destiny.  Life after death.  God.  Devil.  Existence.  Everything.”  He leans in to whisper it to Sayers, but he recoils.  No matter, Jeffrey is going to broadcast the secret over the radio.  He brains Sayers with a vase and heads for the radio station.

Sayers races back to Amanda’s house. As Jeffrey is about to give away the big secret, he rushes into her house yelling, “Turn off the radio!” even though he hypocritically left the radio in the Jeep on.

She whispers in his ear and he looks into the camera.  Over an exterior shot of the house, we hear his scream.

The randomly triggered violence reminded me of The Crazies and The Happening.  The mind-blowing revelation reminded me of Monty Python’s Killer Joke.  The whisper reminded me of Scarlett Johannson.  That’s OK, I like all of them.  I don’t even remember The Happening being as bad as everyone claims.

This is just the kind of story I like, and kudos to TZ for choosing the dark side once in a while.  However, a couple of things were problematic.  The screams were just not well-done at all.  A recurring problem is Charles Aidman’s narration.  It is becoming just as much of a buzz-kill as the scores.  TZ made a great choice having Sayers look directly at the camera after the whisper, however, the lackluster scream followed by Aidman’s raspy avuncular voice just drained the menace from the ending.

Still, there was a lot to like.

Post-Post:

  • Amanda was played by Frances McDormand.
  • Skipped Segment:  Need to Know was less than 20 minutes and the balance of the episode was a very good segment, Red Snow.  There was a 30 Days of Night vibe, but this 26 minute segment had more meat than that movie.  The main similarity was vampires above the arctic rim and extended “nights”.  However, Red Snow had the additional elements of a cold war gulag and the vampires’ adversarial / symbiotic relationship with werewolves.  A great movie could be made from this premise.

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