Darkest Twilight

13 spooky TV treats for Halloween by Sean McQuaid

As Halloween creeps ever closer, October is the perfect time to sample some dark TV… especially sci-fi/horror/fantasy anthologies like The Outer Limits, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Night Gallery and so on. Biggest and best of the breed is the Twilight Zone, which spawned a slew of classics during its seminal 1959–1964 run, plus occasional gems in its later, lesser revivals (1985–1989, 2002–2003 & 2019–2020). 

This article highlights Twilight Zone’s spookiest tales. It’s not a broad best-of-series list—ranging as it did from visceral horror to gentle fantasy, and from sci-fi thrillers to goofy comedy, the versatile franchise’s best moments include many stories that aren’t particularly scary, like wistful time travel classic “The Trouble with Templeton” (1960), weird comedic short “I of Newton” (1985), quirky self-improvement oddity “Mr. Motivation” (2002) or virtual reality head trip “Downtime” (2020). 

But spooky or downright scary elements were often a big part of the Twilight Zone mix, and this article surveys some of the finest fright fare in the extensive TZ catalog. Our lucky 13 picks (with director/writer credits) include, in chronological release order:  

“Perchance to Dream” (Robert Florey/Charles Beaumont, 1959): An exhausted man believes his nightmares are literally trying to kill him. 

“Judgment Night” (John Brahm/Rod Serling, 1959): An amnesiac man aboard a lost World War II convoy ship has a premonition of doom. 

“The Hitch-Hiker” (Alvin Ganzer/Rod Serling, 1960): A motorist driving cross-country sees the same shabby hitch-hiker everywhere.

“Mirror Image” (John Brahm/Rod Serling, 1960): A woman at a lonely bus station is haunted by her own malevolent double. 

“The After Hours” (Douglas Heyes/Rod Serling, 1960): A shopper has eerie encounters at a department store. 

“Shadow Play” (John Brahm/Charles Beaumont, 1961): An inmate sentenced to death claims he is trapped in a recurring nightmare. 

“The Midnight Sun” (Anton Leader/Rod Serling, 1961): Humanity endures endless heat as the world moves closer to the sun. 

“The Jungle” (William F. Claxton/Charles Beaumont, 1961): A man scornful of superstition is haunted by a mystical African curse. 

“The Dummy” (Abner Biberman/Rod Serling, 1962): A troubled ventriloquist believes his dummy is alive.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Richard Donner/Richard Matheson, 1963): A fearful airline passenger spots a monster on the wing of his plane. 

“Living Doll” (Richard C. Sarafian/Charles Beaumont & Jerry Sohl, 1963): A little girl’s talking doll utters sinister threats. 

“A Game of Pool” (Randy Bradshaw/George Clayton Johnson, 1989): An ambitious pool player stakes his life on a game with a ghostly rival. 

“Blurryman” (Simon Kinberg/Alex Rubens, 2019): A TV writer is stalked by a mysterious shadowy figure. 

Also scary: “And When the Sky Was Opened” (1959), “The Howling Man” (1960), “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960), “A Stop at Willoughby” (1960), “The Invaders” (1961), “A Game of Pool” (1961), “The Grave” (1961), “It’s a Good Life” (1961), “Twenty-Two” (1961), “The New Exhibit” (1963), “Nightcrawlers” (1985), “The Burning Man” (1985), “The Shadow Man” (1985), “Shadow Play” (1986), “The After Hours” (1986), “Something in the Walls” (1989), “It’s Still a Good Life” (2003), “The Monsters Are on Maple Street” (2003), “The Collection” (2003), “Sunrise” (2003), “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” (2019), “A Traveler” (2019) and “Among the Untrodden” (2020).