Television Review: 'Nightcrawlers' (1985)


An episode of the 80s Twilight Zone reboot, Nightcrawlers deserves its own stand-alone review.

Nightcrawlers (1985), directed by William Friedkin. Starring Scott Paulin, James Whitmore Jr. and Robert Swann.

Based on a short story of the same title by horror great Robert McCammon, Nightcrawlers may be the most intense television episode ever produced for prime-time, network television — even though it’s only about twenty minutes long. Directed by William Friedkin (yes, THAT Friedkin), it’s a masterclass in suspense, atmosphere, and terror. To Friedkin’s credit, he doesn’t stint on the action just because it’s television — he brings big-screen direction techniques and care to the small screen and it shows in every frame.

The story starts out with Wells, a state trooper (played by James Whitmore, Jr.), arriving at a roadside diner in rural Nevada in a fierce rainstorm. Inside the diner are Bob the cook (Robert Swan) and a waitress, played by Exene Cervenka. Wells tells Bob that he’s investigating a horrific massacre that occurred at a motel down the road in Elko. Four people were slaughtered in a torrential barrage of bullets and flames that decimated the motel and torched cars in the parking lot.

Later, a family of travelers take refuge in the diner from the storm. Wells advises them to stay until he can escort them to a motel because it's too dangerous to continue on their trip. Then, a motorist named Price arrives at the diner in a tire-screeching fury. Wells immediately suspects him. He looks nervous and shifty.

Price orders coffee but really wants a beer. Bob tells him the diner doesn’t serve beer, but suddenly a can appears in Price’s hand, then disappears. Bob and Wells think they’re seeing things.

As Price talks, he reveals that he’s a Vietnam vet who belonged to an army unit called the Nightcrawlers. He says that everyone in his unit was massacred one night in the jungle, and it was his fault. He explains that he has a recurring nightmare in which the members of the Nightcrawlers try to kill him in revenge.

Wells continues to interrogate the erratic-acting Price and the vet confesses that he was sprayed with a chemical that enables him to materialize things out of thin air. As proof, he makes a sizzling steak appear on Bob’s grill.

Eventually, Wells and Price fight and the trooper knocks out the veteran. As Price lays on the diner floor unconscious, he dreams the Nightcrawlers into existence and they start attacking the diner with a hail of bullets, helicopters and flamethrowers. The attack is around five minutes of intense action and firepower in which Wells is killed, the family is chased and terrorized by the Nightcrawlers, and Bob is wounded. The episode ends in a classic, macabre Twilight Zone twist.

Apparently, no expense was spared in filming this episode. The attack sequence is very realistic and complex for television, and the score is provided by Huey Lewis, The Grateful Dead and Merl Saunders. Cinematography by Bradford May is top notch.

This short story is better than 95 percent of the horror dreck being released currently. It could be expanded to a feature film and released today, with Price updated to an Afghanistan or Iraq vet, and it would be great in the hands of the right director.

You can watch the whole thing at the YouTube link above. The 80s TZ is also available as a set on disc, but outside of YouTube, it's otherwise is hard to find.

Sort:  

I really like watching this now but I'll be patient and wait till I'm back in my own place, where I can watch it projected on my living room wall.

Just curious. Have you seen the 2014 Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I really liked that one.

Have not seen that Gyllenhaal film. What's it about?

As described on IMDb:
"When Louis Bloom, a con man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story"

Interesting, thanks for bringing it to our attention. At first, I thought about a movie that was recently released, something like "The Nightcrawler" and I don't mean the Marvel dude.

hello dear @janenightshade, intresting review thinking that it is many years ago;)) but I will keep the advice for the next week, no horror for this Sunday of rest !! ;-D keep on, have a nice sunday

Hello!

If it's scary, I'll see it, with the light off and some candy by my side haahaha xd

Greetings and happy holidays from Venezuela

Thanks -- happy holidays to you too!

Holy shit, Nightcrawlers...

I'm a huge fan of the 80's Twilight Zone reboot, but I've only seen a handful of them. One of these days, I'll get my hands on the DVD set and plow through them.

But man, this story...fuck. I actually read it for the first time a few years ago in the horror anthology Masques which, if you aren't familiar, is one of the single best horror anthology collections ever committed to paper. But the whole time I was reading it, I could not shake the feeling that I'd seen this on the screen somewhere.

I chalked it up to its minor similarity to an episode of The X-Files from season 2 called Sleepless, where Tony Todd (Candyman) plays a Vietnam veteran who hasn't slept in over two decades thanks to an experiment conducted on him and other members of his platoon to turn them into super soldiers.

But I never thought that was quite right. I had distinct memories of scenes taking place in a small-town diner with a ferocious gun battle and helicopters, none of which appear in Sleepless. I must have caught this episode, or at least part of it, as a kid when it ran on TV, and just repressed the memory.

Because, yeah, Nightcrawlers is one savage-as-fuck story, and this is easily one of the most savage episodes of Twilight Zone I've ever seen. Viewed as an adult, it's pretty easy to enjoy on its own merits, but man, I know this gave me nightmares as a child. :)

Agreed. I love the way Friedkin made no concessions to prime time television and treated that massacre scene like it was a scene from The French Connection. Lol!

I own the first and second seasons, but not the third. The third wasn't part of the original series -- it was filmed to fill out a syndication package. Nevertheless, there's some good eps in the third, like The Cold Equations. A lot of the eps of all three seasons are posted on YouTube, along with Nightcrawlers.

Hi janenightshade,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day :)

Visit curiesteem.com or join the Curie Discord community to learn more.

Thanks curie!

To listen to the audio version of this article click on the play image.

Brought to you by @tts. If you find it useful please consider upvoting this reply.