One of my favorite parts of New Year Eve and New Years Day is the Syfy Channel's Twilight Zone marathon. The Twilight Zone is without a doubt the most influential television show to grace the genre of horror. The themes presented in The Twilight Zone reflect the anxieties and fears of a country on the cusp of war, a major cultural revolution, and profound political turmoil. However, The Twilight Zone, with Rod Serling at the helm, created turmoil of its own when questioning common attitudes concerning corporate censorship, politics, race, and war. To give you some perspective, Rod Serling presented ideas that were not implemented by Hollywood until nearly a decade later and are still used by contemporary filmmakers. A round of applause for Mr. Serling, please. A man far ahead of his time.
Over the past week I've been collecting information from followers on my Belladonna Facebook page who shared their thoughts on their favorite episodes. Here is what we have determined (in chronological order) are the clear top 10 Twilight Zone episodes of all time:
A pitchman (Ed Wynn) is visited by Death and is forced to get his priorities in order.
Why we love it: While most episodes of The Twilight Zone display the darker side of humanity, this episode shows how The Twilight Zone itself can be bent to perform acts of kindness. At first the pitchman seems like a friendly but silly person, someone who has failed to evolve, someone whose greatest talent now seems foolish. But The Twilight Zone teaches us a lesson when the pitchman is able to beguile death and give up his life for a sick little girl. His purpose transforms from frivolous to noble. What I find most striking is not just the willingness with which the pitchman walks with death, but how he insists upon it.
Time Enough at Last
A henpecked book lover (Burgess Meredith) finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war.
Why we love it: "Time Enough at Last" may be the most heartbreaking of all TZ episodes. Despite the horrendous tragedy that has occurred, Henry Bemis is able to find the one possible silver lining in a grim situation. He exhibits the infallible nature of the human spirit; something we wish to see in ourselves. But when Henry's glasses break, there is no longer a silver lining, and all he is left with is the destruction of war. That last blow, though minor in comparison, erases the last shreds of possible joy for a devastated man.
Eye of the Beholder
A young woman (Maxine Stuart) lying in a hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages, awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look "normal".
Why we love it: "Eye of the Beholder" is all about perspective. We assume that the woman under the bandages wants to conform to our standard of beauty, and we are disturbed when we witness a standard very different from ours. What this episode does very well is build to a shocking reveal. During the episode we as the viewers speculate as to what the bandages are hiding; we assume it is something hideous. As her face is exposed, we realize that she is beautiful, and her entire world is hideous. Though perhaps we are the real monsters for judging so swiftly.
When a woman (Agnes Moorehead) investigates a clamor on the roof of her rural house, she discovers a small UFO and little aliens emerging from it. Or so it seems.
Why we love it: "The Invaders" is another episode that explores the theme of perspective, and is punctuated by an unexpected reveal. Honestly, this episode scares me more than any other. What I found particularly frightening (and intriguing) is that there is almost no dialoge. There's something human and comforting about language and communication, and it seems unnatural when that is missing. During the majority of the episode we sympathize with the woman, but our loyalty suffers from severe discord when we discover that the woman is actually a giant alien being that has killed American astronauts.
The Obsolete Man
In a future totalitarian society, a librarian (Burgess Meredith) is declared obsolete and sentenced to death.
Why we love it: "The Obsolete Man" is the most "important" episode on our list, and is best summarized by Rod Serling's closing narration: "The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He *was* obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under "M" for Mankind... in the Twilight Zone."
Upon returning from a coon hunt, Hyder Simpson (Arthur Hunnicutt) discovers that no one can see or hear him because he has passed on.
Why we love it: Anyone who as loved a pet will enjoy this episode. Quite simply, the loyalty of a pet will not only serve us during our lifetime, but may also save our souls in the afterlife. This is another one of those rare, uplifting TZ episodes with just a hint of cynicism. Much like the pitchman in "One for the Angels" Hyder Simpson is willing to overlook his spot in heaven to spend eternity with his beloved dog. It's this unconditional love that tips Hyder off that the gates of "heaven" are actually concealing the flames of hell. Aww!
To Serve Man
An alien race comes to earth, promising peace and sharing technology. A linguist (Lloyd Bochner) and his team set out to translate the alien's language, using a book whose title they deduce is "To Serve Man".
Why we love it: "To Serve Man" shows us that no matter how benevolent our leaders may seem, we can never be sure of their intentions. Perhaps we should even be more suspicious when offered something that seems too good to be true. Not to mention being ruled by a race of aliens that want to consume us is pretty horrific.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
A man (William Shatner), newly recovered from a nervous breakdown, becomes convinced that a monster only he sees is damaging the plane he's flying in.
Why we love it: I have to be honest. I have a hard time loving "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" as much as the rest of you. (I think y'all just like Shatner) I'm really bothered by how hokey the creature's costume is, and that ruins some of the magic for me. Despite my reservations I can understand why this episode scares many people. Fear of flying is a very common phobia (Dr. Phobias, what's the name for that one?), and at the time this episode aired commercial airline travel was still mostly reserved for the wealthy or business travelers; regular people rarely got the opportunity to fly. Fear of falling out of the sky coupled with an unknown experience is enough to provoke anxiety. But wait, there's more! The fear of seeing something no one else can, a fear of going insane (Phobias?), is what's really at the heart of the episode, and is personally one of my biggest fears. I just wish the costuming department got it together.
A frustrated father (Telly Savalas) does battle with his stepdaughter's talking doll, whose vocabulary includes such phrases as "I hate you" and "I'm going to kill you".
Why we love it: Sweet sweet vengeance. The asshole dad in this episode gets what's coming to him, and we love it! Talking Tina is a lovely little doll who is only looking out for the well being of her best friend, and that includes murdering her stepfather. This episode may be the creepiest on our list because inanimate objects should not speak, have independent thoughts, move on their own, or use these uncanny abilities for vigilante justice. This is another common fear, one that Sigmund Freud discusses in his essay on "The Uncanny" and stems from fearing that which is inanimate but has some human qualities.
Stopover in a Quiet Town
Young New York married couple Bob (Barry Nelson) and Millie Frazier (Nancy Malone) leave a party after drinking too much. They wake up in Centerville, a small town where no one lives, houses are empty, trees are props, food is plastic, and the only train comes right back to Centerville.
Why we love it: "Stopover in a Quiet Town" is another example of people getting what they deserve, but in this instance the punishment is very creative and the story has a clear moral: Don't Drink and Drive. The scariest part of this episode is the unique kind of hell (literally) the couple experiences. It can be assumed that the couple is dead, and rather than simply dying they become playthings for a giant child. Like "To Serve Man" this episode questions the beings who rule over us and their intentions. It also scares us into doing the right thing.
Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts on your favorite Twilight Zone episodes in the comments.
*Episode summaries were obtained from IMDB.