Remakes are tricky things. On one hand, they feel totally uninspired, like rip offs being used to propel someone’s personal goals on the back of another’s hard work. On the other hand, however, remakes and retellings are an integral part of the human storytelling tradition with some of our most beloved tales being passed down, added to, and evolved over the ages. So, when Jordan Peele took the reigns of yet another Twilight Zone reboot, I looked at it with both skepticism and optimism. Furthermore, seeing my all time favorite episode of the series being brought back once again only heightened those emotions.
Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, based on the Richard Matheson story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and the subsequent Twilight Zone series and film adaptations, is the story of a man recovering from a mental breakdown boarding a flight he never should have gotten on. In the original short story and adaptations (starring William Shatner in the series and John Lithgow in the film) the stressed man sees a creature on the wing of the plane trying to take apart the engine. The creature’s motivation seems to be nothing but pure maliciousness and, as the panicked man tries and fails to get anyone to believe him, he takes matters into his own hands in order to save the flight.
In Peele’s retelling of the story, the monster is replaced by an mp3 player with a podcast running on about how the flight the man has boarded mysteriously vanished, never to be seen again. The main character, played this time by Adam Scott, begins to systematically go through the flight manifest being recited to him by the device, all the while making him look as if he is creating a threat against the flight. Eventually, he helps an intoxicated, depressed former pilot take control of the plane which promptly crashes into the waters of an atoll where the passengers and crew murder him for his role in the tragedy.
Adam Scott in Nightmare at 30,000 Feet
I’m not going to lie, I’m disappointed that there was no creature on the wing, despite the fluffy little doll thrown in at the end as an Easter Egg nod to the original story. I’m also not the biggest fan of Jordan Peele, feeling his work is good but not usually worthy of the fanatic praise it receives. The removal of the monster, that overt supernatural element of horror that justifies the character’s mania, was disappointing. Swapping the monster for the mp3 player felt like equal parts genius and pandering to an audience base that has slowly pushed aside the fantastic for the mundane as they insist on horror being more plausible than fantastical. Still, the story was well written, beautifully shot, and expertly executed in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat.
Stories evolve and change just as people and cultures evolve and change. You can either grow with the times or cling to the past and become little more than a relic of history. Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone feels like a worthy modern successor to Rod Serling’s original and Nightmare at 30,000 Feet remains a fantastic story as it continues to change with the times.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.