5. Little Girl Lost (Season three, episode twenty-six)
As someone who only recently got into The Twilight Zone, trust me when I say that for a TZ newbie, “Little Girl Lost” is an essential introduction to the show. This episode perfectly encapsulates one of the show’s greatest strengths: morphing the everyday into the truly bizarre. When parents awake to the cries of their daughter, surely that just means she had a nightmare and needs a warm glass of milk. But then, she’s nowhere to be found. Somewhere in her bedroom, a portal has opened to another world, and she’s lost in it. A terrifying concept in and of itself, but this only becomes more terrifying and surreal when they venture in to bring her back. All around, this is a stellar episode for first-time viewers and an incredibly enjoyable staple for seasoned fans. (Anna Swanson)
4. The Dummy (Season three, episode thirty-three)
Watching The Twilight Zone for the first time in the present day is like discovering the Rosetta Stone of modern genre film and television. From the frightening doppelganger episode that partly inspired Jordan Peele’s Us, to the Poltergeist-like family horror story, to the installment with a twist that matches The Good Place’s best reveal, Rod Serling’s fingerprints are all over modern pop culture. Yet few episodes are as clearly and broadly influential as “The Dummy,” a season three outing that popularized the sinister talking doll trope that would go on to show up in everything from the Child’s Play franchise to James Wan’s Dead Silence.
“The Dummy” follows a ventriloquist with a drinking problem named Jerry (Cliff Robertson), who’s convinced his wooden on-stage partner, Willy, is alive. Willy starts the episode off by biting his master, but as with many of the series’ trippiest episodes, we’re soon left questioning whether or not it’s all in the man’s head. “The Dummy” isn’t always given as much credit as “Caesar & Me,” another talking dummy episode that haunted a generation’s nightmares, but I think this outing has the edge thanks to its supremely messed-up ending, which sees Jerry turned into a puppet at the mercy of his new master, Willy. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
3. The After Hours (Season one, episode thirty-four)
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. All she wanted to do was buy her mom a ridiculously specific gift at a department store. When she is told that the ninth floor has what she’s looking for, Marsha White (Anne Francis) obligingly takes the trip in the elevator. Only, something’s off. Why was there an express elevator just for her? Why is the only item on the floor the object of her search: a gold-plated thimble? How did the saleswoman (Elizabeth Allen) know her name? After escaping back downstairs, Marsha’s concerns are handwaved by the baffled staff (including a fantastically campy James Millhollin). She must be mistaken. There is no ninth floor.
Directed by Douglas Heyes, who made his name as more of a writer than a director on the likes of Maverick and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, the 34th episode of The Twilight Zone’s first season is as twisty as they come. While Francis begins the episode as your standard demanding customer, we grow to empathize with her confusion and panic as reality seems to implode in on itself. It keeps you guessing, it feels like a nightmare, and that’s why it’s one of the best episodes The Twilight Zone has to offer. (Meg Shields)
2. The Shelter (Season three, episode three)
Fear is a grenade. Drop it into the middle of a party, and… no more party. “The Shelter” centers on a group of neighbors gathered for a birthday party. When a Civil Defense announcement comes over the radio alerting the partygoers of an impending nuclear attack, the guests run screaming for the basement. They know Dr. Bill (Larry Gates) has a shelter built for three, but maybe they could all cram inside. Or maybe they could buy their way in or fight to be one of the lucky few. As tensions between the guests escalate and terror becomes violent, The Twilight Zone delivers one of its least-fanciful frights. “The Shelter” is a brutally honest depiction of what we’re capable of doing to each other when injected with panic. (Brad Gullickson)
1. The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (Season one, episode twenty-two)
Everyone has their own list of what scares them most, and one of the top entries on my own is the brain-dead, violence-prone nature of mob mentality. It’s not that difficult to whip people up into a frenzy, and Rod Serling’s classic series – and this masterful episode in particular – captures it with heartbreaking accuracy. A regular suburban street descends into chaos when power fluctuations and fear-mongering lead to panic-fueled accusations and mindless violence. The episode ends with aliens thrilled at how easy it will be to invade Earth thanks to humankind’s idiocy, but the grounded truth of it all remains an endlessly powerful one. No outside threat will ever be even half as dangerous as our fellow humans. (Rob Hunter)
Your phone is ringing. It’s Rod Serling. He’d like you to check out more of our 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Previous 2 of 2