While there were plenty of creepy Twilight Zone episodes, the only one that truly scared me was “It’s a Good Life.” Written by Rod Serling and closely based on Jerome Bixby’s short story of the same name, it posited that the most terrifying thing in the world was a six-year-old child with no moral compass…and absolute power over matter and reality.
Little Anthony Fremont (played by Billy Mumy) ruled the town of Peaksville, Ohio as a capricious god. His seemingly unlimited powers of teleportation and transmutation were made all the more frightening by his ability to instantly read the minds of others. One stray thought–such as the desire to bash in little Anthony’s head with a shovel–and the thinker might be transformed into a walking horror or simply vanish “into the cornfield.”
Anthony didn’t like noisy cars and machines, so he made them go away. He did away with the electricity as well. And then one day he decided that he didn’t like the rest of the world. Whether the Earth was destroyed or Peaksville merely removed from it, the town became an isolated community of dwindling supplies and fearful neighbors obliged to praise each one of Anthony’s spiteful acts as “a good thing.”
The story was unusual for The Twilight Zone in that there was no moral lesson, no twist ending, no respite. It ended as it began, with Anthony in charge.
It was remade as one segment of 1983′s Twilight Zone feature film. That time, Anthony’s realm was confined to a single house in the countryside. The boy had lured several strangers there to serve as his “family” in an idyllic life (for him, at least) fueled by non-stop cartoons. This version ended hopefully, as a schoolteacher who found herself in Anthony’s world managed to get through to him and promised to help constructively channel his powers.
The 2002 revival of the series dared to make a sequel to the original episode, entitled “It’s Still a Good Life.” It reunited Billy Mumy with his TV mom, Cloris Leachman, whose character improbably survived forty years of Anthony’s rule.
Anthony Fremont was all grown up. While age had tempered him a bit, he was no less tyrannical for being more self-aware. One had best not beat him at bowling…or lose on purpose.
And he had a daughter (played by Mumy’s real-life kid). Yes, little Anthony dipped his wick. You may commence shuddering.
The townspeople came to learn that Audrey Fremont was even more powerful than her dad. She could do all the things he could, plus the one thing he couldn’t: bring things back from “the cornfield.” They tried to convince Audrey of the wrongness of her father’s ways, and to use her to end Anthony’s tyrannical reign at last.
It didn’t work. And it’s a good thing that it didn’t work. A very good thing.