Sure, Twilight Zone pushed the limits of sci-fi television with its shocking plot twists, but it also sometimes used a simple, startling image to strike fear into our hearts. For the 5th of our 31 posts for the 31 days of Halloween, here are the seven scenes from this classic series most likely to give you nightmares.
Beware—once seen, these clips can't be unseen.
Robot Woman Gets Shot in the Face
Episode: "The Lonely"
(skip to 2:30)
In this mind-blowing early episode, a man is serving a life prison sentence on a deserted asteroid. One day, a supply truck brings him a robotic girlfriend. Keep in mind this was 1959, when "robotic girlfriend" didn't have all sorts of nasty fetishist connotations. Emmy-winning actress Jean Marsh plays the robot woman who, due to budget concerns, looks and acts just like a real woman.
Initially, there's friction between the two over disagreements (for instance, she doesn't like getting slapped). Eventually the prisoner falls in love. When a spaceship arrives announcing that his sentence has been commuted, the prisoner wishes to remain behind with his wife (who won't fit on the ship).
Rather than ending it there, where a softened criminal chooses true love, the writers of the show decided to melt our brains by having the captain of the rescue spaceship nonchalantly shoot Jean Marsh in the face.
Is this standard procedure for shutting down robots in the future? "Sorry Timmy, there's no room for your robo-dog in the new apartment. Go shoot him in the face and then help us pack."
William Shatner Always Gets Sat next to a Freak
Episode: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
(skip to 1:14)
Perhaps the most iconic moment in TTZ history, a young William Shatner sees a gremlin. Unlike his Star Trek counterpart, Shatner has no idea how to handle this strange being while on a flying craft. The correct answer is to order a double scotch, but this probably wasn't common knowledge 50 years ago.
The gremlin, obviously enraged at being stuck in the coach section, begins tearing up the wing of the plane. Shatner does the only logical thing by stealing a gun and shooting out the window of the plane, causing him to fly out the hole. Remember when you could bring a gun on a plane and shoot imaginary monsters without consequence? Those were times of boyish innocence.
Dude Peels Back His Own Skin
Episode: "In His Image"
(skip to 26:52)
So this guy lives a normal life, falls in love, bumps into his own double, then peels his skin off. Yeah, Twilight Zone went there. Even with the ancient special effects, it's not easy to watch.
It turns out that this inventor was making robots of himself to go out and mack on chicks for him. If he was smarter, he would have just made himself a robot girlfriend.
Severed Head Jack-in-the-Box
Episode: "It's a Good Life"
"It's a Good Life" is another one of those iconic TTZ episodes, immortalized with a remake of the episode in the 1983 movie. But the TV show had one thing that the movie didn't: Billy Mumy, the kid who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space and is creepy as all frak.
Here he plays a kid who can make anything happen, simply by imagining it. In a scene reminiscent of a Hallmark original movie, a drunk guy advocates killing the child and is turned into a Jack-in-the-Box. The fearful citizens urge the boy to wish the head-in-a-box into "the cornfield," because apparently severed heads make good fertilizer or something.
Small Child Repeatedly Attempts Suicide
Episode "Long Distance Call"
(skip to 18:30)
What's creepier than a kid receiving call from the dead telling him to kill himself? Bill Mumy is.
In this horrific tale, Mumy plays a child who keeps getting calls from his dead grandmother. His granny misses him, and wants them to be reunited via him offing himself. So, first he runs in front of a car, without much luck. Then, the small child tries to drown himself at the request of his deceased grandma. That grandma sure is a jerk, and she's almost definitely going to lose her afterlife phone privileges for this stunt.
The Pig Doctors
Episode: "Eye of the Beholder"
(skip to 2:40, ignore the cheesy Joe Cocker overdub)
Another horrific Twilight Zone moment that burnt itself into the minds of a generation is "that one with the pig doctors." The story is simple—woman has plastic surgery to stop being ugly, doctors claim it fails, she looks beautiful, turns out she lives in a world where everyone looks all messed up.
Which brings up a point we've always wondered: how hard is it to make someone look ugly, really? It doesn't even look like these doctors tried to make the patient look more like them, a feat which can be achieved by sticking your face in a radioactive blender. It may seem futuristic and farcical, but not 100 years ago there were laws requiring war heroes to cover up head disfigurements with a mask or hood.
Doll Tells Kid to Kill
Episode: "Caesar and Me"
Killer dolls are scary. Killer children are also scary. Dolls telling children to kill? That's a whole new level of scary: Twilight Zone scary. In this episode, a ventriloquist's dummy leads a man on a spree of crime. When that man gets arrested, the dummy concocts a plan for a local child to kill her guardian, go to New York and dig up a stash of money. It's not a good plan, but what did you expect from a dummy?
Also, we're intrigued by the concept of a doll and a murderous child on the lam. When is this show going to air? Or, better yet, just have that girl from Small Wonder short circuit and start axing people.
Episode: "Living Doll"
Here, they just did away with the whole duo idea and made a small killer girl doll. The wicked parent, played by Telly Savalas, enters into a futile battle with the doll. A vice, a blowtorch, curse words: none of these are enough to destroy the doll, who eventually hacks into their phone network or something and starts calling.
It may seem offbeat, but this is exactly what will happen if Google opens a children's toy division.
The Twilight Zone episodes pack thrills that are not always cerebral, but sometimes quite visceral as well. That's how they've managed to us on the edge of our seats for over 50 years.