“Nightmare” is an episode of the original The Outer Limits television show. It first aired on 2 December 1963 – delayed from the original schedule due to the funeral service of John F. Kennedy, during the first season. It was directed by John Erman and written by Joseph Stefano (also the series writer and producer) whose writing credits include such horror works as Hitchcock’s Psycho screenplay, Snowbeast and The Kindred.
The opening narration explains the following:
“A war between worlds has long been dreaded. Throughout recent history, Man, convinced that life on other planets would be as anxious and belligerent as life on his own, has gravely predicted that some dreadful form of combat would inevitably take place between our world and that of someone else. And Man was right. To the eternal credit of the peoples of this planet Earth, history shall be able to proclaim loudly and justly that in this war between Unified Earth and the planet Ebon, Ebon struck first. Ebon: Its form of life unknown, its way of life unpredictable. To the fighting troops of Earth, a black question mark at the end of a dark, foreboding journey”
A nuclear attack by the bleak, unexplored world of Ebon has necessitated a party to be sent from Unified Earth (U.E.) to retaliate appropriately. They are captured by Ebonites (who refer to them as ‘the unfortunate group’) before they can fulfil their mission and are physically and psychologically tortured in order to obtain the Earthling’s military secrets.
The Ebonites are significantly advanced to humans and can control all of the five senses, allowing them to make their captives, mute, blind, ‘see’ long-lost relatives and suffer incredible pain with minimal force. It soon becomes clear that one of the men has succumbed to the torture and has told the aliens more than their military code allows. However, the men soon turn on each other, their fears, past lives and own agendas soon becoming clear and just as dangerous as the aliens themselves.
The humans suffer losses through heart attacks and their own brutality but it is revealed the situation is not as first assumed – the Earth’s own military are far more heavily involved in the psychological warfare than the humans could possibly imagine and could it be that the Ebonites are actually the good guys after all?
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If there is one flaw to this episode, and there is only one, it is that the ‘surprise’ is given away rather too early by the appearance of the Earth generals working alongside the Ebonites. In amongst the moral messages, of which there are many, the episode succeeds largely as it captures the elements regularly recurring in nightmares and familiar to all the viewing audience; wanting to cry out but making no sound; blindness; the inability to run away; not knowing who to trust. Then, of course, there are the monsters.
The Ebonite’s appearance is surprisingly similar to that of the monsters in the well-regarded 1972 TV movie, Gargoyles, though there is no connection in their creation. The make-up duties on “Nightmare” were handled by Fred B. Phillips, also responsible for the appearance of William Marshall in Blacula. The thick polyurethane and rubber applications were the last thing actor John Anderson needed during the September heatwave they worked through, though fortunately only he could hear the sloshing around of his own sweat within the costume as he scuttled eerily across the set. Not only was Anderson caked in make-up (and a cape for good measure), his voice was also manipulated to sound suitably alien – fortunately it did not hinder his long career in television, including four episodes of rival TV series Twilight Zone.
The beleaguered captives are played by some familiar faces; Major Jong is played by James Shigeta (Die Hard), Lieutenant Willowmore by Bill Gunn (Ganja & Hess), Captain Brookman by David Frankham (Return of the Fly), Colonel Stone by A Bucket of Blood‘s Ed Nelson and finally Private Dix by Martin Sheen (The Dead Zone) in one of his first screen roles.
This classic episode was remade in 1998 for the far inferior rehash of The Outer Limits.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
Thanks to My Life in the Glow of the Outer Limits for many of the pics.