Top 20 Best Twilight Zone Episodes Part 2
Okay, so here we are for 2nd installment of the Top 20 Best Twilight Zone episodes. Before reading be sure to read Part 1 of the series, to see what you missed.
In the words of Rod Serling: “Submitted for your approval”…:
12. “To Serve Man”
An Alien ship arrives on Earth. Its spokesman speaks at the U.N. They say they are a peaceful race, known as Kanamits, and as a gesture of good will, proceed to rid Earth of famine and disease. They offer trips for humans to visit their home planet, which they claim is a paradise. All the while, 2 government cryptographers are trying to crack the code on the alien’s language via a book left at the U.N. They figure out the title “To Serve Man”. But are they really the benevolent benefactors as they claim?
This is one of the most beloved episodes due to its classic twist ending.
11. “The Dummy”
Rod Serling said one of the main themes of the show was the “fear of the unknown working on you, which you cannot share with others.” This episode is a perfect example.
Jerry Etherson is a down on his luck ventriloquist (is there any other kind?), who feels that Woody, his wooden co-star is alive and is controlling him, not the other way around. Of course his manager and everyone else around him think he’s nuts. They also blame his drinking, which he says is just to calm his nerves. But is Woody truly alive? This is a classic with a stellar performance from Cliff Robertson.
Vengeance never felt so good as it does in this episode. Jason Foster is a wealthy old misanthrope. Gravely ill, he summons for his daughter Emily and her family. He expresses his displeasure with them; Emily is annoying with her self-pity, her husband’s a greedy banker, their son is a bully and their daughter excessively vain. But they’re still in his will, provided they wear bizarre masks until midnight. The grotesque masks were made by an old Cajun, and conjure the true personality of the wearer (but Jason cleverly says they are the opposite to appease them).
As the clock approaches midnight, everyone complains of the discomfort caused by the masks, but they have no idea things are about to get much worse. Check out the finale in the clip.
9. “A Stop At Willoughby”
Like “Walking Distance”, this episode concerns a man living out of time who wants a more peaceful existence. His name’s Gart Williams, a stressed out ad exec who is desperate for a way out. But his obnoxious boss and gold digging wife have no sympathy. His outlet? A recurring dream he has on the subway home from work. In it, he hears the conductor call out the stop for “Willoughby”, which looks like a bucolic paradise from a past era. But every time he gets ready to depart, he wakes up. He’s determined to get there in the next dream. This leads to a truly clever twist ending.
8. “The Monsters Are Due At Maple Street”
This is a prime example of Serling being subversive. This was at the height of the Red Scare, where politicians like Joseph McCarthy was ruining people’s lives by labeling them communists, usually with no proof whatsoever. It was a massive witch hunt that was damaging to the nation. Serling cleverly adopts this premise for a story of a neighborhood tearing itself apart from the fear that an alien is among them. It’s widely considered one of Serling’s best scripts, so much so that it’s used in school text books to shed light on the dangers of prejudice.
7. “Living Doll”
“Talky Tina” is a doll that Annabelle buys for her daughter Christie. She says sweet things like “I’m Talky Tina and I love you very much”. Christie loves it, but her grumpy step father Eric (Telly Savalas) thinks it cost too much and is a subtle reminder from his wife that he can’t sire children. While handling the doll, Tina tells Eric, “I’m Talky Tina and I don’t think I like you”. From here on out its war between the two, but he’s hopelessly outmatched. Best line? “My name is Talky Tina and I’m going to kill you”.
6. “The Howling Man”
This is a great episode by contributing writer Charles Beaumont. David Ellington is recounting a tale where he was ill and took refuge in a monastery. While there he hears tortured howling. Upon investigating further, he discovers a man in a cell, begging to be released.
Brother Jerome, one of the monks says that he’s not a man at all, but the Devil in disguise. What keeps him in the cell is “The Staff Of Truth”which bars the door. He implores David to not go near the man again. But he disobeys, and lifts the staff, releasing Satan into the world. But now he think he has him contained again. Or does he?
5. “It’s A Good Life”
There have a been a lot of evil kids in tv and movies, but Anthony Fremont is the biggest turd of the bunch. He can do anything with his mind, and wishes people away “to the cornfield” when they disrespect him. The whole town of Peaksville Ohio fearfully play by his rules. They eat what he eats and watch what he enjoys on television (he make his own shows since he wished away electricity), doing anything to avoid the wrath of his omnipotent powers. Even his own parents are terrified of their son. This is one of the darkest episodes of the series, and Billy Mumy is quite convincing as evil Anthony.
4. “Time Enough At Last”
The term “Life’s not fair” sums up this ep. Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith again) is a bookworm, but he can’t enjoy reading in peace at his bank teller job, or at home where his cruel wife mocks his pastime. While seeking solace on his lunch break, he sneaks into a bank vault to read. This proves fortuitous as he withstands a hydrogen bomb attack. But he’s the only survivor. But then he sees it: a library! Overjoyed he stacks up endless books, getting ready for years of peaceful reading. But then fate happens, and it’s a cruel sonofabitch. This is the most tragic of all the episodes, and Meredith’s emotional portrayal is heartbreaking. Get yourself together before watching this clip!
3. “The After Hours”
Another key episode of the “fear of the unknown”, it concerns Marsha, a woman looking to buy a gold thimble at a dept. store. But things feel off. She’s taken to the 9th floor where all that’s for sale is the thimble she seeks. The woman waiting on her is prying and rude. When she contacts the store manager he tells her there isn’t a ninth floor. Then Marsha see a mannequin that perfectly resembles the saleswoman. Panicked she faints. When she awakes the store’s closed and she’s locked inside. There she feels all the mannequin’s eyes on her, hears voices whisper her name, and her true self is exposed. Eerie perfection.
2. “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet”
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” shares many distinctions; it’s written by the great sci-fi novelist Richard Matheson (“I Am Legend”). It’s directed by Richard Donner, (“Superman”, “The Omen”, etc). It has an actual nuanced performance from the hammy William Shatner, and it still manages to be scary even with a ridiculous looking monster.
Shatner plays a man recovering from a nervous breakdown who’s flying back home. His neurosis stems from flying (naturally), so he’s on edge. And then he sees a creature on the wing of an airplane, tampering with the engine. Not sure if he’s hallucinating, he tries to stay calm, but eventually conveys his fears to his wife and the airplane staff. They think he’s nuts, so it’s up to him to take matters in his own hands. The clip above is a montage of the episode.
1. “Eye Of The Beholder”
This episode has the best direction (by Douglas Heyes, a frequent director of the show) of the series. It concerns Janet Tyler, a woman who is undergoing facial reconstructive surgery to correct a major deformity. In her world ugliness is such a sin that those “of her kind” are sent to a village, away from polite society.
Janet’s face is covered in bandages, and everyone else is obscured by shadow. When her bandages are finally removed, it leads up to the best twist ending of the entire series, and a great social commentary on our unhealthy obsession with beauty.
That’s what makes this show so great and enduring. The themes are universal, and the problems it explores still exists.
So that wraps up my Top 20 Best Twilight Zone Episodes. The best of all time IMHO. What you say? No “Invaders”, “Hitch-hiker” or “Kick The Can”? Such is the dilemma when you have so many fine episodes to choose from. Perhaps I will do a new Top 20 in time for Syfy’s New Year’s Marathon. I hope this helps turn on those unfamiliar with the series to check it out on the 4th.
Okay Twilight Zone fans, weigh in with your own Top 20 below! And be sure to read my list of 7 Forgotten Twilight Zone episodes, to discover some that you may never have known existed before! And check out why The Twilight Zone remains the Best TV Show Of All Time.
And check out all this great related memorabilia from Amazon, including toys, collectibles, the awesome Blu-ray collection which has tons of extras and uncut eps (you can buy the full set at half off July 4th only!) and 2 great books for the ultimate TZ fans: