Original Air Date: April 29, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Alvin Ganzer
“Nightmare As A Child” delivers a shocking story of psychological repression and mental confrontation as one woman suddenly remembers her long-forgotten childhood trauma when she meets a shadowy figure from her past.
“Month of November, hot chocolate, and a small cameo of a child’s face, imperfect only in its solemnity. And these are the improbable ingredients to a human emotion, an emotion, say, like—fear. But in a moment this woman, Helen Foley, will realize fear. She will understand what are the properties of terror. A little girl will lead her by the hand and walk with her into a nightmare.”
Children’s schoolteacher Helen Foley (played by Janice Rule) arrives home to her apartment to find a little girl seated outside on the stairwell who goes by the name “Markie” (played by Terry Burnham). They talk over hot chocolate and Helen realizes that Markie knows a surprising level of detail about her life. Earlier that day, Helen spotted a man she vaguely recognized -somehow Markie knew about this. Just then, there is a knock at the door and Markie runs in terror.
Helen greets the strange man who is named Peter Selden (played by Shepperd Strudwick) and she is slowly reminded of a traumatic childhood experience she had long-since repressed. Helen is shocked when he pulls out a picture of her as a child -and the photo is of Markie. Peter says “Markie” was Helen’s childhood nickname. We are then offered a beautifully blurred memory of Helen’s mother who was attacked and killed. The flashback is narrated by Markie who is nothing more than repressed memory of Helen as a child. As it turns out Peter was the culprit who had killed Helen’s mother many years prior -he had tried to cook the books at their business but Helen’s mother threatened to report him so he killed her. Peter very nearly killed Markie, as well, but her screams were her salvation.
Returning to the present-day Helen tries to flee from Peter but she is caught in a scuffle in the hallway that only ends when she heaves him down a flight of stairs killing him. Hours later the police investigate the crime scene while Helen walks past another girl singing a tune similar to the one Markie sang on the stairwell. Helen tells her she has a beautiful smile and to never lose it.
“Miss Helen Foley, who has lived in night and who will wake up to morning. Miss Helen Foley, who took a dark spot from the tapestry of her life and rubbed it clean—then stepped back a few paces and got a good look at the Twilight Zone.”
Often in The Twilight Zone we are asked to sympathize with people and their inner struggles. Through clever cinematic editing, we experience Helen’s trauma as it unfolds in her mind in “Nightmare As A Child.” In this way we become part of her nightmare.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Helen Foley was the name of a beloved teacher who taught Rod Serling at Binghamton High School. In addition, the main performance theater at Binghamton High School is named after her. Richard Matheson would later borrow this name for Kathleen Quinlan’s character when writing the script for Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983).
- Fans have speculated whether or not Serling may have been inspired by Truman Capote’s 1946 O. Henry Award-winning story “Miriam” when he wrote this episode.
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This Twilight Zone episode had a most powerful message about how salvation can come in the most surprising forms. We still need stories like this one today.
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