Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #77: The Jungle

By  · Published on September 21st, 2011

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 #77): “The Jungle” (airdate 12/1/61)

The Plot: A businessman on a company committee that’s developing in Africa warns of the natives bewitching threats and falls victim to them himself.

The Goods: The exotic nature of the episode is not lost even today where our view of Africa is a bit more well-rounded. Alan Richards (John Dehner) has recently returned from the continent and his first order of business is to get rid of a few knick-knacks that his wife has held onto. When she loses it at the thought of losing them in a fire, he scoffs, but the paranoia of a witch doctor’s threats still crawl underneath his skin.

As it turns out, she probably shouldn’t have brought them home at all.

There’s a nakedness to the story that makes it incredibly intriguing. Richards becomes a cipher through which something 1) old and 2) foreign becomes familiar. The centerpiece is a meeting where the board discusses their (possibly exploitative) building efforts in the region. With the twinkling of delusion shadowing him, Richards responds to their laughter at the “backward ways” of the natives by scolding them all (the active echo to his wife’s passive fear). He reminds them that salt being tossed over the shoulder or suspicion about black cats and open ladders is the kind of superstition that’s acceptable, even while they find the beliefs of the African witch doctor silly. So what’s the real difference?

The bulk of the episode is Richards playing off himself and his own fear. And playing off the goat left in the hallway.

It (the fear) manifests in subtle ways where production and sound design put us all on a dark street with the pounding of drums pulsating from everywhere and nowhere. The rational businessman is mentally torn to shreds by how loud and close they get.

This all culminates in an ending that took brass buttons to write and even shinier ones to film. It’s violent, suggestive, and it both leaves all doubt of the reality on the floor and makes the lesson of the episode vague.

Overall, it’s a disturbing tale that’s got teeth.

What do you think?

The Trivia: John Dehner is the rare kind of actor that got his start in the business as an animator working for Disney.

On the Next Episode: A man from 1890 seeks peace and quiet in 1962.

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.

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