- Eric Webb American-Statesman Staff
Rod Serling -- or as I like to call him, the Cary Grant of hell -- was a holiday fixture for me growing up. Each year, I would try to mainline as many episodes of his seminal TV series, “The Twilight Zone,” on the SciFi Channel’s New Year’s Eve marathon. Here’s the thing: Serling is not the best person for that particular holiday. No, he and his smartly tailored suit are far more suited for that spookiest of special days, Halloween.
“The Twilight Zone,” in its original incarnation, ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. Not all episodes are scary, mind you. If you’re in the mood for a little black-and-white horror without any gore, though, you’ve got streaming options: Hulu, Amazon Prime and CBS.com have all five seasons available for subscribers (with 10 episodes for free on the third option). Netflix has four seasons, too.
Here are five episodes guaranteed to prevent you from getting the recommended 7-8 hours of nightly sleep. I’m going to skip the “There’s a man on the wing!” one with Captain Kirk in it, because that gremlin costume is wack. Neener-neener, neener-neener, neener-neener ...
“Living Doll” (Season 5, Ep. 6)
Creepy dolls: I love ’em, you love ’em, we all love ’em. Talky Tina wants the same thing every toy wants. She wants to play with the little girl that owns her, and she also wants to mercilessly taunt that girl’s abusive stepfather and threaten to kill him whenever possible. Like, it straight up tells the dude (played by Telly Savalas) that it is going to go full “Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’” on him. One of the better killer dolls in pop culture, because Tina’s kind of the hero!
“The Masks” (Season 5, Ep. 5)
Gramps is dying and invites his children and grandchildren, who are trash monster people, over for Mardi Gras. They just want gramps to kick it and leave them his dough. But before they can inherit his sweet nest egg, the old man makes them wear some grotesque Cajun masks until midnight. Would you guess that these masks are not actually of the Party City variety? Warning: You will hate masks after this episode, and also money, Mardi Gras and the entire concept of faces.
“The Hitch-Hiker” (Season 1, Ep. 16)
OK, have you ever seen “Duel,” the first movie directed by Steven Spielberg? This little slice of psychological horror is a lot like that, as a young woman driving across the country who is haunted by blank-stared hitchhiker who just. Won’t. Go. Away. No matter how far she drives! The real creeping genius of this episode is in the little details of its shots. Forget the motorist. Our fine vagabond friend also pops into the viewer’s sight suddenly, jarringly, when they least expect him, and more than once.
“It’s a Good Life” (Season 3, Ep. 8)
Perhaps the most famous “Twilight Zone” episode on this list. The less said, the better. It stars young Bill Mumy as a midwestern tyke who’s also a capricious and omnipotent god, keeping everyone in town under his control — even in their thoughts — out of pure fear of being “sent to the cornfield.” What junior does to the one guy who manages to stand up to him could make you want to throw up in 1961 or 2017.
“Twenty-Two” (Season 2, Ep. 17)
“Room for one more, honey!” The scariest “Twilight Zone” episodes make you feel just as anxious as the protagonist. In this tale of a hospital-bound dancer with recurring nightmares that she’s being led to the morgue, every creeping step toward doom (and a terrifying nurse) feels like a stab in the gut. “Twenty-Two” was shot using early videotape technology, which gives it an eerie, dreamlike texture, and Barbara Nichols’ brassy performance keeps you invested in this tormented lady right until the twist ending.