Across the decades, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone has rightfully earned a vast number of plaudits. The anthology is beloved by generations, and seemingly exists as a permanent part of the American pop culture firmament. The series been re-made on television twice (once in 1985 and once in 2002), and a feature film premiered in 1983, with another one slated for release in the years ahead.
5. “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.” In this episode penned by Charles Beaumont, set in the year 2000, all eighteen year-olds in America must undergo a “transformation,” a physical re-shaping into a perfect specimen.
4. “Living Doll.” I don’t really have to write anything about the values of this episode here except: “I’m Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you.” This episode is so intriguing because the terrifying living doll is actually, in a weird way, a force of good.
3. “The Masks” Directed by Ida Lupino, this Zone tells the story of an old man on the verge of death, Jason Foster (Robert Keith). During Mardi Gras he holds a family gathering for the ungrateful relatives who seek to control and inherit his fortune. He requires each of his ungrateful relatives to adorn a hideous mask until midnight.
2. “Come Wander with Me.” I’ve made no secret of my absolute love for this episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Here, the Rock-a-Billy Kid, Floyd Burney (Gary Crosby) goes to backwoods Appalachia in hopes of exploiting the local music scene (and musicians), but instead comes across his own unpleasant fate, and a song that expresses his story.
1. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Written by Richard Matheson and directed by Richard Donner, this episode aired originally on October 11, 1963, and is one of the show's most legendary efforts. In fact it's one of those stories that has become part of the American pop culture lexicon, and seems to have effortlessly survived the test and passage of time (and was remade, in 1983's Twilight Zone: the Movie).
I'll be blunt: if there is a more pitch-perfect half-hour of horror television in the medium's history, I haven't seen it. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” loses none of its power (or terror...) on repeat viewing. The story draws you in, and the universal fear of flying renders the story riveting. William Shatner’s twitchy performance is great, too. He plays a man trying to hold on to his sanity, but a man who is likable and good. We relate to his predicament and his fear on a very deep, very basic level. How good is “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet?” So good that you don’t care that the monster looks like a cuddly, over-fed teddy bear.