Rod Serling impacted our genre in ways that not even he likely could have imagined. Never has that kind of statement held such an honest ring as the moment The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street came to life on television screens in households across America. It was one of the many fan favorite episodes featured in the ground breaking first season of the show, and it was one of the earlier episodes to hammer home a very valuable life lesson.
At 6:43 PM, the residents on Maple Street experience some strange business. There’s something in the sky. It could be a meteor… or it could be something else entirely. Whatever that strange thing in the sky was, it seems to have knocked out all power to electrical devices, and if our haunting narrator is to be believes, it may have signaled the arrival of some form of “monsters.”
It isn’t long before the residents of Maple Street come together in an attempt to figure out what’s happening in the neighborhood. And with the general confusion slowly permeating the community, paranoia comes to life, in a major way.
One local boy begins to tap into man’s fears of the unknown, as he recites the typical formula for a throwback alien invasion comic, and it gets these people thinking, too much. Before long the area becomes divided, and everyone is prepared to form a lynch mob to target anyone who looks as though they might be out of place… anyone here who looks as though they could be a monster from outer space, hiding in the skin of a typical man.
I won’t spoil the story, for you. It’s got the expected twist that The Twilight Zone was famous for, and the first time you see the episode you’re likely to spend plenty of time guessing as to who the episode’s hidden monster may be. Is it the natural leader, Steve, or is it the abrasive loudmouth, Charlie? Or is it something else entirely?
The episode is loaded with tension, and that tension is believable as a result of some stellar performances and great onscreen chemistry. The story comes together, and the story is and always was designed to be about man. About human beings and their flaws. This isn’t about monsters, and if you’re going to make the confident declaration that it is, then you’re simultaneously going to admit that those very monsters are us. We’re the monsters.
That may seem like a basic lesson. The moral of this story isn’t too hard to find. But is wasn’t as loud in this medium five decades ago. But that’s really all a part of the charm of the episode. It’s jarring material made even more jarring by the naiveté existent in 1960. It was a different time, and although innocence had long been eroding away, it was still plentiful in comparison to today. We’re a jaded bunch, and how can we not be? We can log onto the internet, run a filter or two, run a search or two, and be watching an American journalist having his head sawed from his neck inside of five minutes.
There’s no room for innocence in this day and age. But in 1960, when The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street initially aired, there was still a taste if innocence instilled in the American psyche. It’s just too bad we lost that novelty.