“ Authors: Jerome Bixby & Rod Serling Genre: Horror „
It's a Good Life is a 2009 Twilight Zone radio adaption based on a classic episode of the original sixties television series. In the small American town of Peaksville, something very strange and spooky has happened. The rest of the world has disappeared and Peaksville appears to be alone. Cars, electricity and machines have been taken away and anyone who tries to sing or play a record is in very big trouble indeed. Everyone in Peaksville must think only pleasant happy thoughts and obey every whim of the terrible controlling monster in their midst. The "monster" and perpetrator of all this misery? An innocent cute looking six year old boy named Anthony Fremont. Anthony is no ordinary boy though. He's a conscienceless child with truly terrifying and uncanny psychic abilities. Anthony can make anything he wants happen just by thinking about it. Don't ever displease him in any way because he just might turn you into a giant jack-in-the-box and wish you away to the cornfield!
This was originally adapted by Rod Serling from a 1953 short story by Jerome Bixby. Even though there isn't a monster or an alien in sight it's one of the scariest and weird of all the Twilight Zone stories I think and nicely adapted here with Stacy Keach and Mike Starr. It's a very creepy premise and works relatively well in this audio format as we learn about this lonely forgotten small town where the residents are all terrified of a little boy and have to do absolutely anything he says. Because Anthony can read minds they must ALWAYS think happy neutral thoughts, especially about him of course. Anyone who irritates this scamp is made to disappear and he does it to the animals to. Anthony is prone is turning things into grotesque horrors and then sending them away to the cornfield and he makes it snow too whenever he feels like it - even though it is destroying the crops they all rely on to feed themselves. Everyone must congratulate him though whatever he does, however detrimental to the town or awful to an individual. "That's a good thing you did Anthony! A good thing!" This frequent refrain, underlaced with a palpable element of fear and hysteria, is very spooky. Everyone must act in a bland constrictive narrow manner just to stay alive.
The key difference here of course on radio is that Anthony is much less of a presence because he can't be seen by us. In the television version the somewhat unnerving and stroppy stare of child actor Bill Mumy could be deployed ("You're a very bad man! And you keep thinking bad thoughts about me!") but this radio version is enjoyable too because we hear about Anthony from the adult characters and build up a strong sense of this bizarre town where everyone has to walk a constant tightrope and try and get into Anthony's good books. Serling's intro for this was one of his longest ever and enjoyably strange - stressing the fact that this is a slightly different type of Twilight Zone story. Stacey Keach reads out this monologue here and it makes a great start to the drama. The main tension in the story comes from one of the adults (a character named Dan Hollis) celebrating his birthday and not being allowed to play a record he has been given because Anthony forbids it. Hollis starts to get drunk and becomes increasingly angry, eventually declaring that Anthony is a horror and they should kill him when they have the chance. The other adults of course are mortified and desperate for Hollis to shut his big cakehole. But will at least one of them be roused by his plea and make a move on this spooky telekinetic rascal?
Mike Starr (I think he was the baddie in Dumb and Dumber if memory serves) is fine here as the main guest star and the music is pleasantly eerie and restrained too. Not too overbearing to the point where it ever drowns out the actors. These radio adaptions are not straight transcripts of the original versions and do 'update' them too with mentions of modern things like computers and mobile telephones. It doesn't tremendously detract from the series and really makes sense in a way to do something slightly different. It's still The Twilight Zone - just dressed up in modern fashions. This one is 41 minutes long in total and a decent listen if you like this sort of stuff or are interested in the series. The central story here is just very effective and chilling. An entire town of grown adults under the complete control of a cute six year old boy who can do anything he wants just by thinking about it. Yikes!
It's a Good Life is another solid addition to this audio series and good late night fun. At the time of writing this is available as part of a Twilight Zone audio compilation CD or to download individually for £1.19.