I cut my teeth as a child watching The Twilight Zone. My brother and I used to stay up late on summer nights and watch reruns of the original on a local syndicated station (WZTV Channel 17 long before it was owned by Fox, you couldn’t beat it). I have watched my favorite episodes time and time again to the point where if I now read something weird, it’s Rod Serling’s voice I hear in my head. When the SyFy Channel used to air The Twilight Zone marathons on July 4th, I was glued to the television. This week’s movie selection is in honor of those perfect summer nights of long ago.
The Vast of Night begins on a normal 1950s night in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico. A young disc jockey, Everett, from the local radio station is helping to set up the remote equipment to cover a high school basketball game. While in the gymnasium, he runs into Fay, a schoolgirl who works at the town telephone switchboard. She has a new tape recorder, the exact same kind Everett recommended, and wants him to show her how to use it. In mid-20th Century parlance, she’s sweet on him and he’s somewhat sweet on her.
Everett and Fay both work the night shift. Everett walks Fay to her job since its more or less on his way, too. During their walking and talking, he shows how to operate her new tape recorder and gives her tips on interviewing people, using some of their fellow townsfolk for impromptu practice.
Leaving Fay at to work at the switchboard, Everett heads to the radio station. It seems like another long, boring night for Fay until she receives frantic calls from people reporting strange phenomenon in the skies over Cayuga. She hears a weird signal on the radio interrupting Everett’s show, and she hears the same signal over the telephone lines. With growing worry, especially when people she calls stop answering their phones, Fay turns to Everett for help to track the source of the signal.
Playing a recording of the signal over the radio, a man named Billy calls Everett live on the air. Billy, a former military man, knows quite a lot about the signal. He informs Everett and Fay, and the entire listening audience, that the signal is not of this earth. Soon, the radio station’s power is knocked out and Fay is up to her chin in telephone calls about unidentified flying objects in the New Mexico night.
The Vast of Night feels like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone (the original series; I want to say the good series, but I’ve not seen any episodes of the new incarnation, so I’ll have to wait on that opinion). It’s unsettling in subtle ways, and flashy in tasteful execution. When it seems like nothing is happening, there’s something happening.
This is not sci-fi, it’s science fiction. If you do not know the difference, I direct you to Harlan Ellison. If Signs reverted the transcendence of Close Encounters of the Third Kind back to B-movie sensationalism, The Vast of Night brings us a step closer to regaining a sense of awe and an air of mystery.