Finding Fright in the Fifth

It’s a Halloween staple that ranks right up there with spooking trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and wearing outlandish costumes: watching a scary-movie marathon.

But in an age of digital streaming and high-quality DVDs and Blu-rays, why limit yourself to movies? Why not program a few chills right from the fifth dimension?

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True, The Twilight Zone is generally considered a science-fiction series (although I think it’s so unique that it defies easy classification). And yes, the stories dreamed up by Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and other TZ writers were usually designed more to intrigue and edify than to disorient or frighten viewers.

But every now and then, the series gave us some old-fashioned scary moments that might cause even your favorite vampire to glance over his shoulder. So here, in the spirit of October 31st, are 13 Twilight Zones that may make you think twice about turning out the light (click any title to go to the Hulu link and watch it):

LIVING DOLL

Season 5, Episode 6 – November 1, 1963

Living Doll7

Some tips for those who find themselves near Talky Tina: If she says she hates you, don’t laugh at her. If she threatens you, don’t mock her. Erich Streator (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) did, only to discover that Tina is very serious about protecting her young owner. DEADLY serious. Beaumont (aided by an uncredited Jerry Sohl) gives us a creepy tale that does to dolls what Hitchcock did to birds.

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THE DUMMY

Season 3, Episode 33 – May 4, 1962

The Dummy4

You can’t blame ventriloquist Jerry Etherson for wanting to switch to a new dummy. The old one, Willie, has a mind of his own. Seems he wants top billing. And when Jerry locks Willie in an old trunk one night, he finds out how far Willie is willing to go in order to get it. No “message” from Serling this time out … other than the fact that it’s fun to be scared. Good luck shaking Willie’s maniacal laugh (courtesy of star Cliff Robertson).

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NIGHT CALL

Season 5, Episode 19 – February 7, 1964

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For most of us, a phone ringing in the middle of the night is annoying. For Elva Keene, however, it’s terrifying, especially after she discovers who’s on the other end of the line. Director Jacques Tourneur, famed for his work on the low-budget chiller “The Cat People”, gives this Matheson story a suitably eerie look, while Gladys Cooper steals our hearts (again) in her third and final TZ appearance.

***

PERCHANCE TO DREAM

Season 1, Episode 9 — November 27, 1959

Perchance to Dream12

Many people enjoy fast rides at an amusement park. Not Edward Hall (Richard Conte). A heart patient, he knows such thrills can kill him. So when an exotic dancer named Maya (Suzanne Lloyd) invades his all-too-vivid nightmares and tries to lure him onto the roller coaster, it becomes a life-and-death showdown. Beaumont’s first TZ is a roller-coaster ride of its own, filled with haunting images and an inexorable sense of dread that may creep into your own dreams.

***

THE HITCH-HIKER

Season 1, Episode 16 — January 22, 1960

The Hitchhiker9

We all know you should think twice before picking up a hitch-hiker. But what if you keep seeing him again and again? Nan Adams (Inger Stevens, in the first of two TZs) plays a woman on a cross-country car trip who tries desperately to dodge a strange man who keeps asking her a simple question: “Going … my way?” Serling’s script keeps turning the screws and ratcheting up the tension in expert fashion.

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THE AFTER HOURS

Season 1, Episode 34 — June 10, 1960

The After Hours2 (1)

Hey, it’s just a woman in a department store. Why be scared? Except it’s after closing, and she’s alone. And as she walks warily down darkened hallways laced with shadows, someone is calling her name. Marsha White (Anne Francis, in the first of two TZs) is about to uncover a startling secret about her identity, but not before giving us a serious case of goosebumps. Serling’s clever script raises thought-provoking questions about the perception of reality.

***

NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET

Season 5, Episode 3 — October 11, 1963

Nightmare 20,000-33

Yes, the famous “gremlin on the wing” story. But if that’s all you remember about this landmark episode, give it another look. William Shatner (in the second of two TZs) turns in a terrific performance as a man facing a terrible dilemma: say nothing and see the plane crash, or warn everyone and risk being thrown back in the asylum. The script by Matheson and the direction by Richard Donner (“Superman”, “Lethal Weapon”) bring this high-flying drama in for a perfect landing.

***

THE GRAVE

Season 3, Episode 7 — October 27, 1961

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If someone bet you that you weren’t brave enough to go to a cemetery at night and stick a knife in a fresh grave, would you do it? Bounty hunter Conny Miller (Lee Marvin, in the first of two TZs) considers that easy money. So when the residents of an Old West town question his courage, he accepts the challenge. Too bad he didn’t know what writer/director Montgomery Pittman had in store for him up among the tilted tombstones of this entertaining campfire story.

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THE NEW EXHIBIT

Season 4, Episode 13 — April 4, 1963

The New Exhibit (1)

It’s nice to see a man devoted to his work. But when that work involves caring for wax figures of famous murderers, such devotion can be troubling. Just ask Martin Senescu (Martin Balsam of “Psycho” fame, in the second of two TZs). He’s so upset when the museum that owns the figures closes that he offers to house them in his basement. He’ll do anything to protect them … even cover for them when a new rash of homicides begins. Beaumont and director John Brahm imbue this story with a memorably suspenseful edge.

***

SPUR OF THE MOMENT

Season 5, Episode 21 — February 21, 1964

Spur of the Moment4

Being chased by a crazed killer in the dead of night is a time-worn horror trope. Being chased by a mad-eyed woman riding a black horse in the middle of the day? That’s no day at the beach either, as Anne Henderson (Diana Hyland) learns when she goes out for her daily ride. Why does this woman chase her? And what’s Anne’s connection to her elopement 25 years earlier? Matheson takes up his pen again to give us an unexpected tale of warning, regret and second chances.

***

THE FEAR

Season 5, Episode 35 — May 29, 1964

13 (2)

A high-society writer and a helpful state trooper find themselves holed up in the proverbial cabin in the woods as an extra-terrestrial invasion gets underway. Director Ted Post (“Hang ‘Em High”, “Magnum Force”) does a nice job pacing this Serling meditation on the nature of fear. The conclusion may leave you wishing that time travel was possible merely to import more convincing special effects, but the first two-thirds (filled, as usual, with Serling’s catchy dialogue) show why the unknown will always create more dread than anything that we can actually see.

***

THE INVADERS

Season 2, Episode 15 — January 27, 1961

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Sure, this Zone classic focuses squarely on alien visitors. But anyone who has watched the woman at the center of this tale (Agnes Moorehead, in a silent performance that speaks volumes) battle those visitors knows it’s basically a short horror movie. Director Douglas Heyes drapes almost every scene in shadow, leaving us wondering just where her two tiny but lethal-minded visitors are, and why they have such hostile intent. Famous for its twist ending, this Matheson story knows how to leave you wondering what lurks around every corner.

***

TWENTY-TWO

Season 2, Episode 17 — February 10, 1961

Twenty Two

A patient leaves her hospital room at night, goes to the basement, and stops at the morgue … only to see a nurse walk out, look at her and say, “Room for one more, honey.” Her doctor insists her daily nocturnal wanderings are just a nightmare, but Liz Powell (Barbara Nichols) believes it’s really happening. But why? Is it just a symptom of the nervous breakdown that landed her in the hospital in the first place, or something more sinister? Serling adapts a famous ghost story guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

“We dismiss our terror by finding safety in false knowledge,” says a character in Serling’s follow-up series Night Gallery, “when instead we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.” Or to this baker’s dozen of spooky Twilight Zones. Hope they help put a shiver or two in your Halloween!

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Photos courtesy of my “Gal Friday,” artist Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook orPinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 10/25/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. What a great post, Boss! And right in time for Halloween. What could be better than a marathon of Hammer horror films with a couple of these scary TZs mixed in? I’m bringing popcorn over. Chill the Mountain Dew. ;)

    This is one of my new favourites of all your posts. I couldn’t agree more with the 13 episodes you’ve selected here. “Spur of the Moment” was always very spooky. And the “Hitch-hiker” still scares me a bit to this day.

    I’d like to submit “You Drive” as an honourable mention here. That one gives me the chills too. Not as scary as “Night Call” or “The New Exhibit”, but it might make you wary of going into your garage in the dark.

    Only four of these episodes are on my Top 25 list, but all of them are spooky gems for sure. Excellent job, my friend. As usual!

    • Excellent suggestion, GF! Hammer, TZ, MD and popcorn sounds ideal. We’ll be up ’til dawn, I’m sure! :-o

      You’re right, “You Drive” is a good candidate for a follow-up post. I’ve had a couple of other nominees — I have a feeling you and I will be working on a sequel sooner rather than later!

      Which reminds me: thank you for sending me such great pics for this post. That, plus your editing eye and unflagging encouragement, were instrumental as always.

      Glad you enjoyed the final product! Let the marathon commence … ;)

  2. Victor De Leon

    Awesome post!!! Now, I want to go and watch EVERY one of these episodes. Good job and Night Call, Perchance and Living Doll are soooo epic. (And scary)

  3. Excellent post, as always. But I would include on this list my favorite TZ episode of all time, “It’s A Good Life.” Just the concept alone was terrifying for me: a child with supernatural powers, a wild imagination, and a short fuse. Was I the only one who envisioned blood dripping down the springs of poor Mr. Jack-In-The-Box? Classic!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Darryl! Yes, “It’s a Good Life” is a great candidate for this list. Truly a frightening concept. I was going for ones that had more “conventional” scary elements, but you’re right — if little Anthony’s powers don’t scare you, nothing will!

  4. Fantastic choices! I’m ashamed to say I know nothing about “The Grave.” It doesn’t sound at all familiar to me! Even if there’s some I’ve never seen, I usually know something about them from hours of poring through Zicree’s book. Now I have some weekend viewing! Thanks!

    • My pleasure, Mike! I hope you were able to slot some in, but if you weren’t, there’s still time before the big day. Of course, they “work” anytime!

      And yes, “The Grave” is a terrific story. Funny you should mention it — my next post is on that very episode. My plan (fingers crossed) is to debut it on Halloween. So if you get a chance to watch it, maybe you can come back and see if my post has any merit!

  5. This is my first comment to your blog. Love this post! I agree that “The Twilight Zone” defies classification. I think that is part of what made it successful. Viewers could always expect the unexpected.

    I think the definition of horror can change depending on the person.

    AMC is playing an “Alien” marathon this weekend so I guess science-fiction can be classified as horror. Although I’m not a big fan of those movies.

    I would add “The Howling Man” to your list. So creepy!

    • Yes, I had a couple of other people suggest “The Howling Man”. I can certainly see its potential for this list. In any event, it’s long been a big favorite of mine.

      And yes, TZ is hard to classify, in my view. I think that’s why I’ve done several posts just trying to explain it!

      Glad you decided to leave a comment, Jo Ann. This may be your first, but I hope it won’t be your last!

  6. Great post, though SPUR OF THE MOMENT is not one I’ve ever liked, based on the quite-distasteful woman/husband relationship…though loved the idea of the [won't-give-away] GHOST aspect. Glad you also mentioned Night Gallery! :-]

    • Thanks, Frank! Yes, Spur tends to be somewhat polarizing. Some people love it; others don’t at all. I enjoy it, although I know what you mean about the distasteful aspect of the relationship. And yes, how could I not mention NG in a post dedicated to fear?

  1. Pingback: Matheson: Why I Named It “Spur of the Moment” | Shadow & Substance

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