Friday, April 23, 2010

Zoning out: "The Masks"

More wholesome, macabre goodness from the vaults of the Twilight Zone....
And, as always, these moments of monochrome memories will be spoiler-ridden.

~The Masks~

Season 5, Episode 145
Original air date: 3/20/64

Jason Foster (Robert Keith) is waiting to die.
However, he has some things to resolve with his family before he does so.

When this episode starts, the mega-rich, dying old man is discussing his mortality time-line with his long-time family physician, who tells him it could quite literally be "any time now".

Jason, in turn, invites his egocentric, greedy family to his New Orleans estate on Mardi Gras eve to bid him a perfunctory fond farewell.
But he's not naive enough to think his family is feeling the pain of his imminent demise. Quite the contrary. Jason knows damn well they are only there to claim their part of an inheritance.

When the foursome arrives, he addresses each individually according to their ghastly and appalling attributes. His daughter Emily is a ridiculous hypochondriac, whining about her own (non-existent) ailments when she should be considering the fact that her father is dying. Emily's husband Wilfred is obsessed with money. Wilfred Jr. (who coincidentally looks only slightly younger than the actor playing his father!) is a lazy yet brutish asshole. And Emily & Wilfred's daughter Paula is utterly obsessed with her appearance, constantly looking at her reflection in the mirror and complaining about her boredom.
Even though Jason basically insults each of them, they are all too stupid to realize it.

Jason then tells them he has arranged a special Mardi Gras party for them, right there at the house. He treats them to a fabulous dinner and then gathers them together for the main event. Before he joins them, his butler is wheeling him into the parlor and Jason overhears the family discussing how they can't wait for him to just die so they can get their money.

It is then that Jason reveals a box of masks made by an "old Cajun" which he wants the family to wear until midnight. When the group initially balks at the mere suggestion, he pretty much lays it on the line by demanding that they wear them or they won't get one cent.
Naturally they change their minds, eagerly donning the grotesque masks one by one.
The final mask is for Jason himself, and is a skull - a creepy reminder that soon enough, he will no longer draw breath.

The few hours until midnight go by and though the complaints are never ending, the clock strikes twelve and almost on cue, Jason gives his final words to his family, telling them what greedy, horrible people they actually are, and that even without the masks, they are caricatures of themselves. He then does the dramatic head nod and dies. The family is overjoyed at their incredible fortune and luck... until they begin to take the masks off...

Each mask has changed the wearer's face into near-exact copies of the macabre masks.
When Jason's mask is removed however, his face remains completely normal...

The morality play is complete, and this remains one of the finest Twilight Zone stories by far.

This episode was written by Rod Serling and directed by Ida Lupino, who carries the distinction of being the only woman to ever direct a Twilight Zone episode.

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Anonymous said...

Oh I loved this one, the faces were so creepy. Do you remember the one with the phone connecting to the grave. That's my favorite.

C.L. Hadden said...

Anon: I just started doing these Twilight Zone posts last month, and the first one I did was Night Caller, the one you speak of. If you click on the Twilight Zone label it should bring it up:)

日月神教-向左使 said...
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