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Video & DVD 

DVD, Paramount Home Video

Remember your first childhood encounter with The Twilight Zone? That abrupt realization that you were looking at a different world, one that was scary, even when you couldn't say exactly why? Or that, maybe, Rod Serling had just peeled away the veneer of the "real" world to look at what's underneath it?

Seconds — released in 1966, not long after Serling's series ended — is like a feature-length Zone episode, allowing for greater characterization and narrative detail, but sharing the same affinity for spinning a yarn that, while scary and weird on its own, is also a loaded social metaphor.

A middle-aged, middle-class man discovers an organization that offers a way out of his dull existence. For a price, they'll fake your death, give you full-body plastic surgery, and set you up in a new identity; they'll even provide technical support after the sale. Suddenly, a pudgy nobody becomes a successful painter who looks like Rock Hudson, with a sunny home in California.

As the viewer might suspect, there are strings attached. Also, changing your life turns out to be more complicated than opening your checkbook — who'da thunk it? Director John Frankenheimer, feeling at home with altered states after making The Manchurian Candidate, uses a variety of intriguing camera tricks to produce a claustrophobic nightmare world for his protagonist. (Hiring graphic design wizard Saul Bass to create the freaky opening titles was a good move, too.) And Hudson gives a performance as the man-in-way-over-his-head that would've pleased Hitchcock. The film's middle sequence, in which he tries to acclimate to an artificial bohemian world, is deliberately awkward, making the viewer as uncomfortable as the subject, just as dissatisfied with an artificial utopia. When that section ends, and the story moves toward its final irony, we may feel thwarted — but we realize there's no other direction this tale could go. You make your bed, you lie in it — whether you've had a facelift or not.

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More by John DeFore

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June 16, 2021

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