Creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, spent most of his career fighting censors… struggling to maintain creative control while making comics and pulp novels mainstream.
Having written 92 of the 156 scripts for The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling also showcased many other sci-fi writers. This includes Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, and an up-and-coming Earl Hamner Jr. Serling gave him his break in television by writing 8 episodes for The Twilight Zone. Most scripts are in the same voice that later landed Hamner’s fame with The Waltons.
However, the last season’s 18th episode was a drive-in space opera of juvenile delinquents and mind control.
Twilight Zone’s Black Leather Jackets: Strangers in the Neighborhood
Every head turns in suburbia when 3 leather-clad young men on motorcycles cruise down the street. Swaggering through town as the newest residents, provoking distrust. Neighbors peer from behind curtains, as movers load a few items into an empty house.
Next door, Stu Tillman eyes the trio suspiciously and warns his daughter to stay away. When the suburbanite starts having electrical problems, he and his wife discover a large antenna on the strangers’ house. Clearly, they must be ham radio operators.
They are in fact Steve, Fred, and Scott. Icy and intimidating young men that keep their shades drawn. Michael Forest plays lead stranger, Steve, best known for television westerns but familiar with sci-fi series like One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and The Outer Limits. Forest also played Zeno in the biker exploitation film, The Dirt Gang.
Stu’s daughter, Ellen, can’t help herself and strikes up a conversation with Scott at the bus stop.
The pair quickly become smitten and now Scott has to reconsider his life’s purpose. As an advanced lifeform from space, he’s not so sure about his mission. How can he exterminate human life now that he’s met one worthy of love?
Defying his brothers and refusing to poison the world’s water supply, Scott tries to confess. Unfortunately, Ellen thinks he’s having a psychotic breakdown and calls for help. Scott is taken away by men in white coats and the mission moves forward.
“Portrait of an American family…”
Ellen’s father Stu is played by another TV cowboy, Denver Pyle. You might recognize him as Uncle Bene in Escape From Witch Mountain. Michael Conrad plays Sheriff Howard. Conrad has a wide range of television sci-fi like The Incredible Hulk and Planet of The Apes. He also plays another cop in the cult horror film, Scream Blacula Scream.
The story of an alien wanting to call off an invasion after falling for an earth girl had been seen before in 1959’s Teenagers From Outer Space… a film that was rumored to have inspired The Misfits’ 1979 B-Side song, “Teenagers From Mars”. One might wonder if The Twilight Zone’s “Black Leather Jackets” had any sway over Glen Danzig as well, being that it was episode 138.
Season 5 wasn’t known for the best episodes and this one felt exceptionally flat. In fact, it’s widely hated in many reviews for the poor acting and overall cheese. Some would argue it was an homage to Red Scare Sci-Fi, the alien invasion films of the 50s that dripped with McCarthyism. Inspiring rumors of Soviet Union agents trained to look and act like Americans… infiltrating suburban communities. Around the same time, teen gun violence throughout the country was being highly reported on.
So movies like The Wild One and Blackboard Jungle incited a fear of juvenile delinquency. These anxieties combined gave us rock n’ roll space teens. Maybe not inspiring the likes of Ziggy Stardust, but definitely more PG variations in the 80s. Such as Wak and Neek from Explorers… the Neutrinos from TMNT “Hot Rodding Teens From Dimension X”… even the early 90’s comic and animated series, Biker Mice From Mars.
The Twilight Zone’s “Black Leather Jackets” was adapted for radio with Stacy Keach Sr. as the narrator. Many episodes were often expanded on from original scripts for context. In “Black Leather Jackets” the opening alien dialog suggests their idea of normal might have come from news headlines and motion pictures. As the invaders attempt to consistently speak in beatnik slang, often having trouble with it. These advanced lifeforms are not from a hep-cat galaxy, but believe our counterculture is normal. Maybe the awkwardness of this mistake is what adds to the charm of “Black Leather Jackets”.
It is a ridiculous attempt to blend in with everyday life, paired with a hot original jazz score by Nathan Van Cleave. The sum of the episode’s flaws could now be considered aesthetic for fans of campy retrofuturism.
An out of this world vibe straight from… The Twilight Zone.
Last Updated on August 20, 2021.