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"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is an episode of the The Twilight Zone.
From the CBS Video Library cover:
"Mr. Robert Wilson is a frightened man. He's just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent six months recovering from a nervous breakdown—a breakdown that occurred during a night flight on a plane very much like the one he has just boarded. Looking out the airplane window, Wilson suddenly sees a bulky, furry creature land on the wing."
(spoken by Robert Wilson): "...Gremlins. Gremlins! I'm not imagining it. He's out there! Don't look, he's not out there now. He jumps away whenever anyone might see him... except me."
Portrait of a frightened man. Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father and salesman on sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home. The difference being that, on that evening half a year ago. Mr. Wilson's flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he's traveling all the way to his appointed destination which, contrary to Mr. Wilson's plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.
Bob Wilson is a salesman on an airplane for the first time since his nervous breakdown six months ago. Bored, he looks out onto the wing of the plane, and is astonished to see a gremlin on the wing of the plane, tentatively approaching the window from the outside. Wilson closes his window curtain, and soon opens it again. When he reopens his curtain, he is shocked to see the gremlin with its face pressed against the window, staring at him. When he notifies the stewardess, the gremlin vanishes. Wilson looks outside again shortly after, and is horrified when he sees the gremlin is back and is starting to tamper with one of the engines on the wing. Every time someone else looks out the window, the gremlin immediately jumps out of view, so no one believes Wilson's seemingly outrageous claim. Bob realizes his wife is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium. But, also, if nothing is done about the gremlin, it will seriously damage the plane's engine and cause it to crash. Bob steals a sleeping policeman's revolver and opens the window marked, "Auxiliary Exit", and is sucked halfway out the window. This catches the gremlin's attention. The evil creature begins charging at Wilson, but is shot fatally. Once the plane lands, Bob is whisked away in a straitjacket, with a final shot revealing evidence of his claims: the unusual damage to the plane's engine nacelle - yet to be discovered by mechanics.
The flight of Mr. Robert Wilson has ended now, a flight not only from point A to point B, but also from the fear of recurring mental breakdown. Mr. Wilson has that fear no longer, though, for the moment, he is, as he said, alone in this assurance. Happily, his conviction will not remain isolated too much longer, for happily, tangible manifestation is very often left as evidence of trespass, even from such an intangible quarter as the Twilight Zone.
Preview for Next Week's Story
Next time on The Twilight Zone, we probe into the element of time and we present a very oddball opus entitled "A Kind of a Stopwatch". We tell the story of a man, a stopwatch and an incredible deviation from the norm, said norm being the usual 24-hour day, said deviation involving what happens when the stopwatch is pushed and everything stops, not just time. To titillate and intrigue, "A Kind of a Stopwatch" next on Twilight Zone.
Response and Analysis
Often thought of as one of the best episodes. Has been parodied numerous times.
- Main article: List of memorable quotes from the first series
Notes and References
- CBS Video Library: Twilight Zone #0310 "Walking Distance/Nightmare at 20,000 Feet/The Midnight Sun/The Purple Testament" ; UPC: 000310060008, EAN: ?, ASIN: ?; Format: NTSC, VHS, Collector's Edition (1987)
This episode would become a part of the 1983 anthology movie "Twilight Zone: The Movie". In it, John Lithgow portrays John Valentine, a man who has a fear of flying. While sitting in his seat, John sees the gremlin destroying a wing of the plane and tries to get other people to believe him to no avail. Unlike the episode, after John takes the gun from a U.S. Marshall and fires at the gremlin, the gremlin manages to destroy the gun instead of being shot and wounded. They both then see that the plane is about to land and the gremlin responds by grabbing John's face and wagging his finger at him before vanishing into the sky. The end of the segment has John taken away in an ambulance while passengers and crew see the damage to the plane.