The Twilight Zone: Season 4, Episode Two “The Thirty-Fathom Grave”

Original Air Date: January 10, 1963
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Perry Lafferty

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A United States Naval Destroyer is conducting routine work in the Pacific when it begins hearing a strange blip coming from deep below the ocean’s surface. Captain Beacham (Simon Oakland who appeared in a number of classic films including Psycho) sends a diver named McClure (John Considine) down to investigate, and he reports of hearing a loud banging noise from inside a submerged World War II submarine which is now resting on the ocean floor.

“Incident one hundred miles off the coast of Guadalcanal. Time: the present. The United States naval destroyer on what has been a most uneventful cruise. In a moment, they’re going to send a man down thirty fathoms and check on a noise maker – someone or something tapping on metal. You may or may not read the results in a naval report, because Captain Beecham and his crew have just set a course that will lead this ship and everyone on it into the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

At the same time, a sailor named Chief Bell (Mike Kellin) begins acting strangely. As McClure is sent down to investigate the submarine a couple more times, Chief Bell grows steadily more insane. He is sent to the sick bay where he reports seeing a group of men pointing at him from a mirror. He steps out into the hallway to find a band of ghostly sailors covered in seaweed and beckoning him to go with them. He screams in terror and the doctor mysteriously finds remnants of seaweed in the hallway.

On his final dive McClure discovers a pair of dog tags. He gives them to Captain Beacham as he reads Chief Bell’s name clearly written on them. When confronted, Chief Bell relays his story of being the only man to survive a Japanese attack on a submarine, in fact the very vessel currently resting at the bottom of the ocean, and he feels guilty because no other man onboard lived to tell the tale. In a seeming fit of madness Bell then leaps overboard and swims down to the submarine. Later a deep sea rescue team arrives but they are unable to locate Chief Bell. They do, however, enter the submarine to the find the bodies of all the shipmen onboard during the attack –including one man brandishing a hammer near the submarine wall.

“Small naval engagement, the month of April, 1963. Not to be found in any historical annals. Look for this one filed under ‘H’ for haunting in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

This eerie installment in The Twilight Zone series is another wonderful and spooky tale, albeit a bit too long and stretched out at points. It contains echoes of the nautical ghost story theme as found in the Season 1 episode “Judgment Night” and also the isolating madness faced by a soldier as found in Season 2’s “King Nine Will Not Return.” After consulting with the U.S. Navy and influenced by his own time in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Rod Serling was often compelled to write stories about soldiers wrestling with guilt and trauma. And sadly some never escaped –this episode is a good reminder of all those who have served, past and present.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Perry Lafferty directed the first three episodes of the fourth season: “In His Image,” “The Thirty-Fathom Grave,” and “Valley of the Shadow.”
  • The events of this episode took place in April, 1963 which was roughly four months after the episode’s broadcast date.
  • This episode was shot on the “Mighty Mux” USS MULLINNIX DD-944, a Forrest Sherman class destroyer. The lead actor Mike Kellin died a mere three after the ship was decommissioned in 1983. The interiors were shot on board the USS-Edson DD946.
  • There is an amusing geographic error in this episode as the ship’s precise location would place it about 10 miles offshore.
  • Rod Serling had previously written the script for this episode during the third season, but he was forced to rewrite it when episode run-times were extended from half-hour to hour-long installments.
  • This episode bears striking similarities to a horror movie called Carnival of Souls.
  • A fathom was originally measured by a man outstretching his arms, which is standardized as about 6 feet. The title of this episode could be translated to the “180 foot grave.”
  • Rod Serling returned to the nautical ghost story theme in a first season episode of Night Gallery entitled “Lone Survivor.”

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

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