Exploring The Twilight Zone #109: Jess-Belle

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #109): “Jess-Belle” (airdate 2/14/63)

The Plot: Love is magical, even if it involves a little bestiality.

The Goods: Audiences on Valentine’s Day back in 1963 must have been flipping around the channels, eager to see something romantic and sweet. Something that would remind them of their own loved ones. Something where candles were lit in anticipation.

Couples flipping over to CBS got a story where a woman forces a man to love her, turns into a witch, and becomes a big cat.

It’s love Rod Serling style.

Jess-Belle (the legendary Anne Francis in her second Twilight Zone appearance) is pretty damned convinced that her ex-boyfriend Billy-Ben (James Best, in his third) shouldn’t be marrying his love Ellwyn (Laura Devon). Why not? Because he belongs to her, and make him aware of that fact, she enlists the help of an old witch who lives just down the dirt road (Jeanette Nolan).

For this twisted tale, writer Earl Hamner Jr. delved deep into the magical realism of the South, taking liner notes from the Bible and pouring old wives tales all into the blender. Jess-Belle is evil inasmuch as she wants someone else’s man, but it’s really her obsession that gets the best of her. The price she pays for winning his love through witchcraft is that she turns into a, wait for it, leopard from midnight until the sun rises. What’s worse is that as time goes by, her soul is slipping away.

She should have read the fine print.

The episode itself is a fun one, filled with different plot turns, but it’s also filled with the show’s normal hokey-ness when it comes to portraying rural America. The accents are overly thick, the level of dumb is sort of ridiculous, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Oddly enough, Hamner Jr. is the man behind the classic TV show The Waltons, so it was clear where his interests lay: somewhere in the mountains.

This is as harmless as The Twilight Zone gets. It’s downright tame. Everything is played casually as if marriage and soul-loss is something fairly ho-hum. It’s aggressively average, but it does teach us that every time we see a shooting star, it means a witch has died.

I’m pretty sure that’s been confirmed by NASA.

What do you think?

The Trivia: Sadly, Anne Francis passed away in January of this year.

On the Next Episode: A man becomes obsessed with a dollhouse and what’s inside…

Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR

We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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