My Top 10 Twilight Zone episodes

This post is inspired by recently spotlighted author C.E. Wilson, who started tweeting out her ten favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone. It’s one of my all-time favorite television shows, and I’ve seen almost every episode. Thanks to scouring through Marc Scott Zicree’s wonderful tome The Twilight Zone Companion, I present my favorite episodes. Images are linked from various sources on the web.

No need to waste more time with this preface, so let’s just enter another dimension…

SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

#10 – Shadow Play

Many ideas in this episode resonate with me, particularly the recurring dream idea. The main character is going to be executed at midnight, but he tries to convince everyone it’s a horrible dream that he’s been having every night. If he’s executed, his dream ends, and everyone else will cease to exist. We never see his waking world, but immediately after the execution, he wakes up in jail again…on the day of his execution. The characters from the previous scenario are all there, shuffled around, and he has to start over. Brilliant twist ending.

 

#9 – Number Twelve Looks Just Like You

I know there are some YA dystopian stories just like this episode that came out fifty years ago! Once you turn nineteen, you select one of a handful of “perfect” bodies to have for the rest of your life. Main character Marilyn resists, with the brilliant claim that if there’s no ugly, then there can’t be any beautiful. Themes of body image and conformity abound, and the understated and touching performance by Collin Wilcox as Marilyn is perfect.

 

#8 – Miniature

It’s a love story between a man and a figurine he sees in a museum dollhouse, and perhaps the only episode in the fourth-season of hour-long episodes that works to tell a complete tale without feeling too dragged out. His family worries about him being lonely, so they try fixing him up on a date; the figurine is courted by a boozing gentleman caller. Only he sees the figurines move, and it seems like a much better place—and she a much better match—than anything the real world has to offer. Love is blind and knows no bounds, and the episode has the perfect soundtrack during the dialogue-free scenes inside the dollhouse.

 

#7 – The Hitch-Hiker

“Going my way?” I was young (pre-teen, I believe) when I first saw this episode, and it freaked me out. It still holds up, and I love rewatching it to see all the subtle hints that are dropped throughout about what really happened to Nan on her cross-country drive and the hitch-hiker’s true identity. They may not seem so subtle now after movies like The Sixth Sense, but in 1960 (and when I was young), they worked. Twilight Zone had episodes with a personification of Death a few times, and though this wasn’t the first (One for the Angels, a great episode in its own right, holds that distinction), this one is by far the creepiest. And I think the best.

 

#6 – Perchance to Dream

Another dream-themed episode. This one is about a man suffering through deliberate insomnia, as he explains to a psychiatrist he visits in the opening scene. He has a heart-condition, and within his dreams at a carnival, he’s being taunted by a performer named Maya—in a slinky leopard-print suit so he can’t help but follow her…into the funhouse or onto the rollercoaster. But is she out to kill him? The thrills would cause a heart-attack, and he dreams in sequence, so the next dream could lead to his death. Convinced the doctor can’t help him, he leaves and sees that the receptionist is Maya! Is this another dream? Some double (or even triple) twists at the end cap off the tension that built throughout the episode.

 

#5 – The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

Great social commentary here with a simple premise and an awesome twist ending. The lights go out on Maple Street, and at first, it seems like a normal blackout. But cars don’t start either. And then one house gets their power back. Weird. A young boy plants an idea from his comic books into people’s heads: an alien infiltration. These once close-knit neighbors start accusing based on what they know about each other: so-and-so stares at the stars every night. Then it becomes a free-for-all as neighbor attacks neighbor, proving we don’t need an alien invasion; we’ll fight ourselves easily. I’ve often considered trying to get the rights to perform this as a stage play with my drama kids; it’s a great ensemble piece with a super-strong script.

 

#4 – The Midnight Sun

Earth’s orbit is out of whack, slowly moving closer and closer to the Sun. Chaos ensues. Fans and water become precious commodities, lootings happen regularly, and everyone is migrating north. Twilight Zone has done a few apocalyptic, end-of-the-world stories, but this one takes one simple premise and hits every mark in execution. The growing madness is well-acted by the small cast, particularly Lois Nettleton as an artist named Norma. The sweat looks real, and the paint melting right off the canvas is an awesome practical effect and visual moment. I won’t reveal the twist ending of this one, but if you’ve seen the episode, you know it’s really cool.

 

#3 – Eye of the Beholder

In grad school, I took a course in Creative Thinking. About midway through the course, we had to do a presentation on a “creative person,” and we had to present in a character other than ourselves. My parents had recently given me a biography of Rod Serling for Christmas, so I used this opportunity to read the book. He was my choice. I presented as him, starting with the show’s opening music and narration (I can do a good Serling impression), complete with (fake) cigarette in my hand. I eventually showed the unraveling reveal clip from this episode as one of the greatest twist endings written by Serling. But more than that, it’s scathing commentary on conforming to a (dystopian) government and fitting in. I’ve got that theme earlier on this list, but Beholder did it first and did it better. Two women played the main role: Donna Douglas (later of The Beverly Hillbillies) as lovely unbandaged Janet, but the star is Maxine Stuart’s vocal work under the bandages—you really feel her pain and sadness.

 

#2 – Five Characters in Search of an Exit

A major. A clown. A ballerina. A hobo. A bagpipe player. A large round room with blank walls and no ceiling. They have no idea where they are, and they have no idea who they are—other than what their clothing dictates their “roles” are. This random collection of characters struggles with their identities, they worry that they’re in Hell, and then they attempt an escape. I won’t spoil the ending of this one because it’s awesome, and the closing shot of the five of them is a tremendous achievement in prop construction. The dialogue between the characters (particularly the major and the clown) crackles, and the theme of identity runs deep. Are we who we are because of our appearance or occupation? Or is there more to it?

 

Before I get to MY FAVORITE EPISODE, here are five Honorable Mention episodes:

Mirror Image – A woman in a bus station is taunted by her doppleganger from an alternate universe. Everyone else thinks she’s crazy.

Living Doll – “My name is Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you.” Enough said. Creepy.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – William Shatner sees the furry gremlin on the plane’s wing; no one else does. Classic horror and tension abound.

Time Enough at Last – Poor Burgess Meredith doesn’t deserve that ending. Oh so tragic.

Two – Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery (pre-Bewitched and totally bad ass!) as sole survivors from opposing sides of a terrible war.

 

And finally…

#1 – THE AFTER HOURS

It’s not just the really tight script. It’s not just the commitment of the entire cast, especially Anne Francis in the lead role. It’s not just the perfect camera work—moving shots and funky angles. It’s not just the sound effects—oh, those whispers of “Marsha.” It’s not just the props—seriously, you can’t tell the difference between the real characters and the mannequins. It’s just the whole freaking package! Marsha visits a department store to buy a gift, taking the elevator to the seventh floor where she buys a thimble—the only thing the odd saleslady has on display. When she returns to the first floor, the thimble is scratched. She complains, but the manager claims there isn’t a seventh floor. Then Marsha sees the saleslady, but she’s a mannequin! Marsha passes out and wakes up in the store after hours, all alone. Those whispers and the moving camera shots make us feel the stalking she feels…and that classic Twilight Zone ending! Even today when I see this episode, all the elements work so well together, that I still get chills. It’s about as close to a perfect production as I can imagine.

 

Any of your favorites I missed? Comment below! And hey, I may do a regular (maybe monthly, as it is August 1) Top 10 countdown because this was fun!

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