Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween on the Ponderosa: Twilight Town

Note: This post was part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. You can click here to read the other fabulous entries."

Among all of the movie and TV genres, the two most disparate may be westerns and horror.

One is rural, outdoors, sunny skies and wide-open spaces; the other is urban, dark and claustrophobic.

Yet surprisingly, there have been several attempts to see if these two great tastes can taste great together.

At the shallow end of the pool are camp classics like Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Monster (1966) and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). 

For something (slightly) more sophisticated, check out Curse of the Undead (1959) starring Eric Fleming (from Rawhide) as a small-town preacher pitted against a gun-slinging vampire. The mixing of western and gothic horror clich├ęs results in a strange but intriguing hybrid that makes its 79 minutes fly by.

But as this is a classic TV blog, let’s get back to our main topic. Westerns thrived on TV in the 1950s and ‘60s, and while quite a few featured Christmas episodes, not many built a story around Halloween. However, for those seeking a few spooky thrills this October 31, there’s a season 5 episode of Bonanza that would be perfect to watch with the lights down low. 

“Twilight Town” starts with Little Joe (Michael Landon) being knocked unconscious by a horse thief. 

Dazed and injured he wanders into what appears to be a ghost town. But after passing out again he wakes up and finds the town – Martinville – transformed into a busy settlement where all the locals seem unusually delighted to welcome a stranger.

After being nursed back to health, Joe is urged to become Martinville’s new sheriff. But the widow of the last sheriff implores him to leave town while he still can. “They’re going to kill you,” she warns, “just as surely as they killed my husband.”

I think that’s enough plot, for the benefit of those who have yet to enjoy this wonderful episode.

As the title suggests, “Twilight Town,” seems inspired by The Twilight Zone. The scares come not from quick cuts to frightening images, but from the slow realization of being trapped in a situation where everything seems normal on the surface but not quite right if you look a little closer.

There are moments here found in dozens of westerns and Bonanza episodes: Joe meets a pretty girl and falls in love; a gang of outlaws threaten a town that seeks a brave man to protect them; horses run and guns blaze; and yet all the while that wild card element is still present – what’s really going on in Martinville?

The climax seems to provide a logical explanation, but then there’s a little twist at the end that blurs the line between what’s real and imaginary. 

This ranks as a favorite episode among many Bonanza fans, and it’s easy to see why. “Twilight Town” can be found in the series’ Season 5 DVD box, and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.


  1. David, I don't remember this episode, but found it on YouTube and will be watching it next weekend. Some of the atypical BONANZA episodes were my favorites. Plus, I recall Doris Dowling fondly from her nifty supporting performance in the film noir THE BLUE DAHLIA.

  2. I don't remember this episode at all but it sounds like quirky fun for Halloween, to be viewed at twilight, of course!

  3. Nice write-up, David! Thanks for the YouTube info -- I haven't seen this one but I'll surely check it out for Halloween.

  4. Don't have specific memories of this particular episode but am going to watch it asap! Was this one in the original syndication package? I don't recall it though I used to program Bonanza for KTLA in L.A.. But it looks like a terrific hour and I can't wait to get unsettled by it! Great post!

  5. Oh wow! I appreciate your point about merging Westerns and horror stories. It's not an easy project. But I'm very curious about this episode that "blurs the line between what's real and imaginary." Except for "Wild Wild West," that's not what I expect when watching a western TV series--I can't wait to see it. Thanks for writing about this.