Most sci-fi shows that are any good at all have some sort of dedicated fandom. But there’s one iconic, genre-defining show that missed out…simply because it existed before the word “fandom” did.
I have a special place in my heart for The Twilight Zone, even with its heavy-handed narration, 60s special effects, and sometimes terrible acting. Its episodes range from funny to sad to scary, and the majority of the last few decades’ sci-fi and horror owes at least part of its existence to them. TZ was playing with the implications of time travel way before Back to the Future. It was erasing people from existence and sending them to parallel dimensions before Doctor Who. Evil talking dolls? Phone calls from the dead? Creepy little kids with cosmic powers? The Twilight Zone did it first.
Which makes it a must-see for every hardcore nerd. Gotta get in touch with one’s roots, right?
While I do love pre-Space Age takes on space travel, and ridiculous alien suits are always fun, I like TZ best when it’s scary. I love that it relies on psychological terror rather than gore and things with tentacles. One of the few disadvantages to living in a post-Hays Code era is that TV shows aren’t required to be that subtle anymore. I’m also a sucker for a good twist ending, and TZ has quite a few of those, even if some of them are so famous that they can’t surprise the audience anymore.
Here are a few of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes, judged by their scariness and/or twistiness.
“All the Time in the World” – There’s a reason this is one of the most famous episodes ever. I really sympathized with the bookworm protagonist, and I was happy that his wife died (She ruined his poetry book! Who DOES that??). But the twist ending to this story is so cruel that it almost becomes funny. Pretty sure this episode is the reason Lasik was invented.
“Perchance to Dream” – No one else seems to find this episode as scary as I do. But come on – a guy is afraid to fall asleep because he thinks his recurring nightmare will kill him? Maybe it’s because I find the thought of staying awake that long scary in itself, maybe it’s because I have a fear of killers in the backseat, or maybe it’s because that dream-lady was creepy as heck–for whatever reason, this one really freaked me out. In a good way.
“And When the Sky Was Opened” – Three pilots return from the first manned space mission to find that something is erasing them from history, one by one. We never find out what, or why. It’s possibly the most terrifying concept I’ve ever encountered in fiction.
“Eye of the Beholder” – Again, this one is so famous that I knew the ending long before I watched the episode, but I still found it absolutely brilliant. And the message is every bit as relevant these days as it was in the early 60s, if not more so.
“The After Hours” – Living mannequins! Always good for a scare. Of course, this is one of the few episodes where the twist made the whole thing less disturbing…in a way. But up until then, it was nightmarish. “Marsha? Marsha?”
“It’s a Good Life” – So, there’s this spoiled little kid who can control reality with his mind. The result: an excellent TV representation of Hell. So, so many creepy children in fiction were inspired by Anthony Fremont.
“The Hitch-Hiker” – As if being followed everywhere you go by the same sad-looking hitch-hiker wasn’t eerie enough…there’s the twist. “I believe you’re going…my way.”
I could name many others, but you get the idea. The Twilight Zone is brilliant!