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Finding Fright in the Fifth Dimension: Some TZs That Are Perfect for Halloween

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:


Season 5, Episode 6 — November 1, 1963

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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. Read the rest of this entry

The Best of Twilight Zone’s Hour-Long Season 4 Episodes

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show. If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap opera style. Viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

That was Rod Serling speaking, a couple years before The Twilight Zone spent one season as, yes, an hour-long show.

Why? Primarily because Twilight Zone was briefly off the air following Season 3, then brought back as a mid-season replacement — and the show it was replacing was 60 minutes. Besides, if the show was a hit at 30 minutes, why not expand it to 60 and give the audience twice as much show?

It soon became clear why: Fantasy stories, especially ones that depended on a twist ending, were more ideally suited to the half-hour format. In 30 minutes, they could get in, set up an intriguing premise, and then deliver the payoff. But when you double that length, the effect is ruined. The longer the expected payoff was delayed, the more the suspense and tension was dissipated.

Take “The Thirty-Fathom Grave,” for example. It’s a story about a modern Navy ship discovering a sunken World War II submarine — and hearing a mysterious tapping sound coming from inside. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that the story, despite the usual quality touches you’d expect on a TZ, is simply too padded. Several other Season 4 episodes were also stretched out a bit too long. Read the rest of this entry

“The After Hours”

If you were picking one episode of The Twilight Zone to show someone who had never seen the show before, which one would it be?

You could opt for the iconic “Time Enough at Last,” with its devastating O. Henry-type ending. Or the wrenching “Eye of the Beholder” — its looking-glass world, full of unforgettable meditations on the true nature of beauty and ugliness, never fails to leave a mark on any viewer.

Me? I’d probably pick the episode that first aired on June 10, 1960: “The After Hours.”

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Not that it’s necessarily better than the two named above — or, perhaps, a dozen others. But “The After Hours” is, for me, the Zone in miniature. We’re set in a seemingly normal world, with a woman on a normal task: shopping for a gift.

But then this world begins to appear odd. People say and do strange things. A sense of fear and dread creeps in, bit by bit, as we try to unravel the mystery with the unsettled Marsha (played beautifully by Anne Francis, in the first of her two Zone roles).

Is this all in her imagination? Or is someone playing a trick on her? Is this a normal woman being harassed by mannequins come to life, and if so, why? Thanks to Serling, and an incredibly talented cast and crew, we’re kept guessing right up to the end. Read the rest of this entry