One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Serve Man” remains one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes ever
remembers the tale’s unforgettable punch-line: “it’s a cook book!!!” But by
the same token, it’s easy to forget what a sturdy, brilliantly-constructed
episode it is.
on a 1950 short-story by Damon Knight (1922 – 2002), “To Serve Man” features a
his room (or cell…) on a spaceship in flight, an American man named Chambers
(Lloyd Bochner) recounts how alien Kanamits (Richard Kiel) came to Earth
promising friendship and peace, but actually executed an insidious and secret
explains how the alien spaceships were first seen over many cities across the
globe, and how the U.N. Secretary General welcomed the aliens, with some
the 9-foot tall Kanamits promised peace and honorable intentions. They planned
to transform Earth into a veritable paradise by offering economical new power
sources, and radically improving means of agriculture. And if humans didn’t want their help, the
aliens promised that “nothing would be
forced” upon them.
the while, Chambers worked on translating an alien book that one Kanamit
representative left behind at the U.N.
the months, Chambers toiled further on the extra-terrestrial book even as
excited humans boarded Kanamit spaceships and headed to the distant home-world
for vacations, shopping excursions, and guided tours.
then decided to go on one such visit for himself.
before he left -- right as he was boarding a saucer in fact – Chambers’
assistant discovered a terrible secret.
was a cook-book…
of “To Serve Man” appears to concern humanity’s short-sightedness.
regrets that the human race should have been focusing on the “calendar” and not the “clock” while contending with the
states that humans should more often be worried about “tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow.”
is a universal real-life refrain, certainly, in regards to man’s stewardship of
the environment, and even his foreign policy principles.
often, it seems, we are focused on crisis-management and dealing with what is right
in front of our face, rather than planning for the looming disaster just around
the next curve.
humanity is taken in by the Kanamit promises of a brave new world, and
immediate gratification too.
“It was the age of
Chambers notes with cynicism.
other words, because things seem to be good at present, humans don’t look
beyond that “shiny” surface to the future. In “To Serve Man,” no one really
examines the alien race’s long-term motivations for fundamentally transforming
this case, the Kanamits end war (with the creation of national force-fields…),
hunger, and poverty…but for the express purpose of growing and fattening the
given the episode’s prominence in the pop-culture, “To Serve Man’s” most
memorable moment arises when the other shoe drops.
assistant tells him that “To Serve Man” is a cook-book. And then he is forced
on the ship anyway…by a hulking Kanamit.
that moment, Chambers learns that mankind has gone from “being ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup.”
“Sooner or later,” notes Chambers
caustically “we’re all of us on the menu.”
Serve Man” doesn’t really reveal much detail or background information about
the Kanamits. We don’t know if there is famine on their world…only that we are
their latest smorgasbord, and that they have been to other worlds…and done the
same thing before.
I suppose, we know that their name -- Kanamit
-- isn’t far from our word “cannibal.” That's enough. This episode is one of the most chilling of all the Twilight Zone canon.