It may be turning 62 this October, but The Twilight Zone has hardly skipped a beat. Look past the retro fashions and old-fashioned language, and the original episodes from the brilliant writer and producer Rod Serling — often about war, racism, prejudice, and technology — are just as fresh today as they were more than half a century ago. (It’s no wonder that the show, which first aired from 1959 to 1964, inspired numerous official reboots and countless homages such as Black Mirror.) With 156 episodes to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down to the most unsettling ones ... but we gave it a shot. Submitted for your approval, eight of the weirdest and most memorable Twilight Zone episodes that ever aired.
Marsha (played by actress Anne Francis) is browsing at a department store for a gold thimble when she finds herself on a mysterious floor that’s completely empty – save for the exact gift she’s looking for. Even stranger, the saleswoman knows her name. Marsha’s shopping experience gets increasingly more bizarre when she later spots a mannequin that looks exactly like the saleswoman, and discovers that the floor she’s visited doesn’t exist.
“It’s a Good Life”
This season three gem in which an Ohio town is held captive by the whims of a telepathic six-year-old boy (played by Billy Mumy) is consistently named one of the most haunting episodes. Based on an award-winning short story by writer Jerome Bixby, “It’s a Good Life” has been much-parodied and referenced in the decades that followed, including in Better Call Saul, The Drew Carey Show, Johnny Bravo, and on a “Treehouse of Horror” segment on The Simpsons.
“The Midnight Sun”
Always ahead of the times, Rod Serling was thinking about climate change back in 1961 when he penned this episode, which features an Earth thrown out of orbit and inching ever closer to the sun. Serling gives us an uncomfortable taste of what this apocalypse might be like, from the physical heat to the mental breakdown of society.
This haunting tale was originally penned by famed screenwriter Lucille Fletcher in 1941 for a radio play starring Orson Welles; it proved to be just as popular when it was adapted for The Twilight Zone in 1960. In the adaptation, a young woman (played by Inger Stevens) is followed by an apparition while she makes a cross-country road trip. She becomes increasingly disturbed by the man’s improbable appearances — and by the end of the episode, it becomes quite clear why.
“Long Distance Call”
Shortly before her death, a doting grandmother gives her grandson a toy telephone for his birthday. When his parents hear him talking to “grandma” on the phone after her funeral, they assume it’s a coping mechanism. But this is The Twilight Zone, and we all know better. The little boy in this episode is played by Bill Mumy, who also portrayed the monstrous child in “It’s a Good Life.” Charles Beaumont, co-writer of “Long Distance Call,” is credited as the writer on more than 20 episodes of The Twilight Zone, including the next two on our list.
Talky Tina walked so Chucky could run. While the menacing doll in this episode starring Telly Savalas (best known for playing the lead in the 1970s crime series Kojak) doesn’t have Chucky’s mobility, she was threatening in her own way. “My name is Talky Tina ... and you better be nice to me,” she warns. Compared to the murderous toys in today’s horror movies, Tina isn’t so terrifying, but (spoiler alert) she manages to get the best of Kojak, which is no small feat.
“Number 12 Looks Just Like You”
This quintessential Twilight Zone episode gave viewers a peek at the year 2000, where all 19-year-olds go through “The Transformation,” a procedure that makes them live longer and become physically beautiful. There are only so many models to choose from, which makes everyone look the same. Still, most people are thrilled with the Transformation — until 18-year-old Marilyn Cuberle (Collin Wilcox) starts asking questions. The episode was based on a short story by Charles Beaumont that appeared in If magazine in 1952, but was adapted by John Tomerlin.
“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”
Many people yearn for their glory days, but perhaps none more than the youth-obsessed Hollywood crowd. That’s the premise of the fourth episode of the Twilight Zone – and who is more fit to portray an aging movie star than one-time Hollywood “It Girl” Ida Lupino? Lupino’s Barbara Jean Trenton spends her days locked in a dark room, watching her hit films and dreaming of the good old days – but of course, things are never what they appear in the Twilight Zone. Worth noting: Lupino was only 41 when this Serling-written episode aired in 1959.
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