With a series that's as bizarre and disturbing as The Twilight Zone, you bet there's going to be Nightmare Fuel-tastic content. Here is a list of examples:
The episode "Night Call" involves an old, wheelchair-bound woman receiving constant phone calls from a man who only says "Hello? Where are you? I need to talk to you." That's bad enough on its own; what makes it scarier than shit is how the man's voice sounds so goddamn ghostly... The identity of the caller? HER DEAD HUSBAND! Telephone wires had snapped in a storm and come to rest over his grave.
In some ways, the ending is worse: disturbed by the calls, the woman finally demands that the calls stop... only to then find out who they are from and beg for them to start again.
The ending got neutered from the original short story. In the story there is no mention of it being her husband: she simply discovers that the calls are coming from the cemetery, and the next phone call (and the last line of the story) is "Hello, Miss Elise. I'll be right over." Brr.
"Living Doll": "My name is Talking Tina, and I'M GOING TO KILL YOU."
Made 1000 times scarier at the time in the fact that the doll was voiced by June Foray, the same woman who did the voice of an actual talking doll called Chatty Cathy, which looked very similar to the doll.
The ending is particularly chilling, after the man's wife finds him dead after being tripped down the stairs by the doll. When she picks the doll up, it opens its eyes and says "My name is Talky Tina. And you better be nice to me." It is the first time Tina speaks to someone other than the husband... and it confirms that he wasn't just going crazy.
Another creepy thing is that the stepfather was never outright rude or abusive to the girl, just a little cold, possibly just adjusting to the new living situation. But the doll still tormented him.
The dream sequences of "Perchance to Dream" with the freaky looking amusement park, the Femme Fatale with that eerie, seductive voice, and finally the climax where the guy sees the woman from his nightmare. Even the premise is a nightmare in itself
No matter how cheesy the monster on the plane from "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" may look nowadays, it's always a shock when William Shatner's character slowly reaches for the curtain in front of the window on the airplane... then pulls it back really quick and the monster is RIGHT THERE WITH ITS FACE AGAINST THE WINDOW!
The episode "The Odyssey of Flight 33" is full of Fridge Horror. A jumbo jet full of passengers somehow travels back in time, once to where they go back to the dinosaur era and again when they go back to the 1930's. It ends with the pilot trying to get the plane to travel forward in time, but there's no way of knowing when they'll end up. Take into account that their fuel and food will eventually run out, and you've got some horrific implications.
"The Shadow Man" from the '80s revival is... rather frightening. In short there are Living Shadows under (it's implied) everyone's bed. The Shadow Man shown is completely cloaked in darkness (as you'd expect), is very tall, has an freaky rasping voice, and is reminiscent of Freddy Krueger (maybe it's the hat). And it appears that whenever it wants to it can emerge from under your bed, and though it won't harm you anyone else's Shadow Man can happily try to kill you... which is what happens to the main character of the episode.
"The Midnight Sun", where the earth has fallen out of its elliptical orbit and is about to be consumed by the sun. Think of it this way: Everyone on the planet spends their last hours burning to death. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that the scenario was All Just a Dream, caused by the main character's dangerously high fever. So everything's okay... Until her doctor and neighbor start talking about how the earth has moved out of its elliptical orbit away from the sun and will completely freeze over in a number of years. *shudder*
The part where the woman screams and everything in the room just starts melting...
"Please...paint something cool!" And of course, later the same character just rambling on about a waterfall and swimming in the water before falling over dead.
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit". Its Nightmare Fuel status is given to us by Rod Serling himself in the opening monologue, when he tells us that nothing can be done to save them, even though we'll find out what their situation is. God, that alone is enough to give someone the permanent heebie-jeebies. The reveal is just... Horrifying.
Whatever the viewer's reaction to the twist ending, the psychological torture the characters experience is just...*shivers*. The major (and later the clown) said it best: "We are in Hell."
Although the fact it is more of a Purgatory and that the narrator strongly implies an eventual happy ending for all the toys makes it less Nightmare Fuel and more Heartwarming Moment.
The clown was pretty disturbing in how he seemed to constantly turn on a dime between funny and depressing while always keeping that smile painted on his face.
"Time Enough At Last" features Burgess Meredith as a meek clerk who loves to read, but never has the time to... Until a nuclear blast kills everyone else in the world. First, the episode plays on our Primal Fear of loneliness, and second, there's the famous ending where his glasses slip off his nose and shatter, with him shouting, "It's not fair! There was time now!" Whether the ending is scary or unintentionally hilarious, the idea of being completely alone for the rest of your life, on top of not being able to see... Brrr.
Futuramasatirizes this by making the ending worse. Mr. Bemis initially says he can still read the large print books, but then his eyes pop out. He then states that he can still read Braille, but then his hands fall off. Finally, after he screams, his tongue falls out of his mouth just before his head falls off, which, at that point, is a mercy.
The TOS episode "It's a Good Life" features a 6 year old boy with god-like abilities. When he was born he isolated his hometown away from the rest of the world, cutting off electricity, automobiles and the like. He can create and destroy, as well as read minds. Everyone must be happy and have happy thoughts, or they are sent to the cornfield.
"It's good that he went into the cornfield.."
Bill Mumy's performance deserves a lot of credit. He's just a kid with way too much power. It's still horrifying even when you watchThe Simpsons parody first.
Oh, and we get to see how Anthony turned out in the 2003 revival's sequel. He is grown up but still is at the mental capacity of a child, getting pissy when the towns people don't properly try to beat him on bowling night and, upon finding out that they're hiding secrets from him, refer to them all as "sneaky people". There's also the lovely Fridge Horror that at some point in between, Anthony married some poor woman, got her to sleep with him at least once, and cared for his baby daughter. Given how completely terrified the townspeople are and how they do whatever they can to please him, one can only imagine how much choice that poor girl had when Anthony fancied himself in love with her. And while Anthony really does love his daughter and never even considers using his powers against her, imagine how terrifying it must have been for his mother and the other townsfolk, watching him be the guardian of a baby.
It would be remiss not to mention the Twilight Zone '80s revival. "Something In the Walls" is enough to fuel a thousand nightmares (and make you swear off patterned wallpapers) but "The After Hours," "A Little Peace and Quiet," and "Examination Day" are utterly terrifying.
And there's the original "After Hours," particularly when the living mannequins begin repeating the woman's name over and over and she breaks down in tears. Don't see this episode if you have a fear of mannequins or of losing your memory.
And you screamed so loud! And you screamed so loud! And you screamed so loud!
"The Eye of the Beholder" - where the most of the horror is in the woman's bandaged face, and the fact that we don't see her face until the last act, but the nurse and doctor talk about how this woman hasn't been able to live an even vaguely normal life, because her face is so hideously deformed... brrr.
And then we see the standard she's held up to...
"Mirror Image". There's a woman in a bus station. Her bags get moved around and the clerk says that she did it. She meets a man that later calls the cops on her for saying that there's an evil lookalike among them. Then the man turns and sees a lookalike of himself...
The same subtle horror — you could lose your identity or life at any moment if some force beyond your control wills it so — appears in "I Shot an Arrow into the Air".
"The Hitchhiker", the episode with the lady going on a cross-country drive. Somewhere along the middle of the drive, this creepy guy in black begins to stalk her, trying to lead her into all sorts of lethal situations. Creepy enough on its own, gets worse when you find out that the woman died in a car accident somewhere during the middle of the drive, and the guy was actually the Angel Of Death.
The sudden shot where the hitchhiker's face suddenly pops into frame.
"I believe you are going my way..."
"Queen of the Nile" is quite possibly one of the most disturbing episodes this show has to offer. It features a perpetually young and beautiful actress, and it is gradually revealed that she is part of something similar, through her mother. In the end it is revealed that she is a thousands-year-old Egyptian queen, who uses a scarab beetle to SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF PEOPLE SHE MEETS to preserve her youth. The scene that reveals the twist ending is HORRIFYING.
And the mother? The old lady isn't her mother at all but one of her daughters, who grew up and got old while her mother stayed the same age the whole time.
In "Death's-Head Revisited", we see justice without mercy. It isn't pretty, although the recipient (a sadistic former SS captain) actually inflicted the pain he's feeling on his prisoners, so it's really hard to feel too sorry for him.
At one point the ghost of one of his prisoners mentioned the SS Captain does "unmentionable things" to people in a certain building. The captain falls to the ground, clutching his groin. Now think about the Nazi stand on eugenics for a second.
"And When The Sky Was Opened". Three astronauts are in a hospital recovering from their mission. They start disappearingnot just from sight but from memory. And no one knows why. Even the spaceship disappears in the end.
As soon as you figure out what happened to Harrington, you know the same thing will happen to Forbes, and HE knows it as well. And there's also the fact that the second that they're out of sight they vanish. Could it have been prevented if there was always someone looking at them?
The title itself is one of the eeriest in the show; not being linked to the story, it leaves the viewer to guess as to what it means. It seems to imply that the sky is swallowing the men up when they disappear.
The ending of "Number 12 Looks Just Like You."
And the nicest part of all, Val... I look just like you!
What's even worse is that she's told that she doesn't have to take the transformation, she's just highly encouraged to. But no matter where the girl turns to, no matter how much she insists that she likes herself the way she is, everyone from her best friend to her own mother just laugh and puzzle over how silly she's being. Finally, they kidnap her while she's trying to escape from her room, lead her into the place where the makeovers are done, and give it to her against her will. And afterwards, she no longer cares! And the peak of how horrible it all is? Rod Serling ends the tale by pointing out how, in the age of cosmetics we live in, it's entirely possible that this could be the future we have to look forward to!
The episode supposedly takes place in the year 2000. But before you laugh, how much of this episode could be called Zeerust, really?
The ending of "The Obsolete Man", when it turns out that because a high official of a state that executes people for being obsolete showed some weakness, he is considered obsolete by his people. The crowd in the room slowly circles him, before screaming in unison and pouncing on him as he struggles to escape. Another case of Asshole Victim and Karmic Death, but still...
The worst part? The state negated an act of great mercy this way.
The episode "The Lateness of the Hour" centers around a young woman who lives with her elderly parents and their domestic robots. She begins to wonder why she and her parents never go outside and questions other such abnormal behavior. The twist is that she is a robot built to be their daughter, and when she figures this out, she freaks. She starts hitting her arm screaming "No pain!" and lastly says "I can't even feel love!" The parents then convert her to a maid robot.
The rest of the episode. Look at how many children are in her world, all perfectly happy and having forgotten the voices of their parents. Now, look at what drove the two children to go back to her world for good. Just watching how the parents are so cold to their children, to the point where the children are happier abandoning their world and willfully ignoring the cries of their parents calling for them (because the last time they gave in and returned, they were still miserable), well, there's a whole lot of Adult Fear there.
In "Uncle Simon", aging scientist Simon and his niece Barbara hate each other, but she takes care of him because she's his only heir. However, she finally tires of his abuse and kills him, thinking that she is finally free—until she discovers that her uncle's will says she has to take care of a robot he invented or be disinherited. The robot slowly starts acting as her uncle did, so if she still wants his money then she is stuck with a never sleeping, immortal version of her uncle to make her life hell until she dies.
Sterling Holloway in "What's In The Box". "You will recommend my services... won't you?"
"Long Live Walter Jameson", especially the radio drama version. That old woman... "Hello, Tommy." BRRR.
"I saw my Tommy. He's resting now..."
The way he rapidly aged until he was nothing but a pile of clothes and dust after he was shot was equally creepy.
There's the episode "Stopover in a Quiet Town": though The Reveal is a bit of a Nightmare Retardant (if you haven't seen it, the characters are trapped in a giant alien child's model town), it doesn't fully undo the sheer creepiness of most of the episode. Two people awaken after a car crash to find themselves in a seemingly abandoned and unnatural town, haunted by ringing church bells and the sound of an unseen child's laughter, and trapped in a loop where every way out just leads back where they started. It's like an early draft of Silent Hill...
Learning you and your spouse are going to spend the rest of your lives alone as a giant alien's dolls in a toy town is hardlyNightmare Retardant, come to think of it...
"Twenty-Two". "Room for one more, honey."
The original series episode "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" (and its remake for the 2000's series, "The Monsters are on Maple Street") are scary mainly because of the real life subtext. Especially when you consider that "Due" aired almost 50 years before the remake, and how little things have changed....
In the remake it was the humans who were doing the experimenting and allowing the riot to happen. Aliens is one thing, but humans doing it puts it in the Humans Are Bastards territory.
It's implied to be for a good cause. The government soldiers are testing to see how a small town would react during a blackout in a post-September 11th world. But the damage was done.
'The Masks'. Their faces are stuck like that FOREVER. Which, admittedly, is more or less what they deserved.
"Spur of the Moment" where a young woman on horseback sees an older woman on a horse at the top of a hill, dressed in black, raising her cape like the wing of a vulture and chasing after her. It's even more terrifying when it's revealed it's her future self trying to warn her not to marry the wrong man and ruining her life. In retrospect, she probably shouldn't have yelled like a banshee at her younger self!
The ending of "A Kind of Stopwatch". The main character was kind of a Jerkass, but he still didn't deserve to be trapped forever in a frozen moment of time where nothing moves. The more you consider the Fridge Horror of it the scarier it gets.
Trivia: The actor would later play Leonard on Community!
The Simpsons' parody ended with the humans thinking that the book was a guide to cooking humans, when it was actually a guide to cooking for humans. Now watch the episode again, at the part where the woman screamed " IT'S A COOKBOOK!"
And all of the people in the model town standing around and not moving are actual dead bodies of real people.
"Nick of Time". Man (played by William Shatner) and Woman stop in a small time to get a bite to eat at a diner; they start playing with the freaky Devil-head, fortune teller thingy, whose fortunes are eerily accurate. At the end of the episode they manage to escape - but another couple rushes in who are completely enslaved to the answers the thing gives them.
In the 2003 revival, we get the fun episode "How Much Do You Love Your Kid". Basically, a woman sends her son off to school, only to get a call and discover that she's been chosen as a participant in a game show that kidnaps children and has the parents solve puzzles to find them again. The mother is terrified for her child's life, but no one will help her, because somehow the show is perfectly legal. It ends with the kidnapper performing an unscripted act which causes the child to be injured in a car crash, and the production crew urging the mother to shoot the kidnapper for more prize money. It turns out that the kidnapper was her husband, who took the job so they could have a steady source of income. And then she kills him and is taken to jail for homicide.
It gets better (or maybe worse): the closing narration implies that she won't be convicted due to everything, including the husband's involvement and murder, being planned all along, because that's want the audience wanted.
"The Placebo Effect", from the 2003 series. A guy becomes so utterly obsessed over a fictional disease he read about that he somehow manages to catch it, leading to a massive haemorrhage with blood gushing out of every orifice. Before dying he spreads it to the rest of the hospital. The doctor manages to cure him with a placebo... but in the process, she causes him to worry that a meteor hit the Earth, so he mentally starts a second Ice Age.
The episode "Sunrise" from the 2003 revival. In it, we see a group of teenagers believe that they disrupted an Aztec artifact and caused the sun to be blocked out, with the only way of saving the planet to sacrifice one of themselves. Eventually, they pick the girl who disrupted the artifact to begin with and stab her to death. And then it turns out that the whole thing was meaningless and that the sun was just blocked by a stellar cloud.
In "The Grave," gunman Conny Miller pursues outlaw Pinto Sykes for a bounty - only to find three men beat him to the punch. A displeased Miller then learns that Sykes threatened him in the end, vowing to rise up and grab him from the grave. This leads to a dare to go the grave at night, with sticking a knife into the ground as proof of visit. Miller seems afraid, but fulfills the dare only to mysteriously fall over and not return the next day. The three men go to the grave to find out what happened and are joined by Sykes' sister Ione. They find Miller's body over the grave, his body pinned by a knife through his coattail. One of the men comes up with a perfectly rational explanation: the wind blew the coattail over the grave, it was caught accidentally by the knife and the resulting tug Miller would've felt scared him further - leading to a fatal heart attack. All so rational, but the wind was blowing the opposite direction as pointed out by Ione, who knows the truth and laughs as we leave the graveyard.
The original series episode "The Invaders," with the tiny aliens going after the old woman.
Part of what makes that episode so brilliant is that it's terrifying before and after you know the Twist Ending, but for completely different reasons. The first time you watch it, you see it from the perspective of the elderly woman who lives in complete isolation, and starts doubting her sanity when an army of pint-sized creatures invade her house in the dead of night. The second time, you see it from the perspective of the helpless human astronauts who have to contend with a terrified alien the size of a skyscraper.
"The Toys of Caliban" from the 80's series, where a mentally handicapped child had the ability to "summon" any object he sees in a picture. Near the end of the episode a social worker comes because she suspects abuse, but the father explains the horrific side of his son's ability: He saw a puppy on television and tried to summon it, but the resulting puppy was dead. The father had buried it and dozens of other dead animals the child had "summoned." As the social worker leaves, the child sees a picture of his dead mother. He grabs it and tries to summon his mother, only for a disturbing, decomposing corpse of his mother to appear in a chair across the room. The father comforts the son, saying, "Don't worry, I'll go into the back and take care of it," as he sobs into his son's shoulder. It ends with the social worker returning with police backup to take custody of the boy. The father (fearing for his son's welfare if his powers were known) takes out an encyclopedia and has the son reduce the house to ashes by trying to "summon" a picture of a fire.
The 1985 revival episode "A Little Piece and Quiet" has a similar ending to "A Kind of a Stopwatch", except that the main character freezes time just as a nuclear war breaks out. She walks through a frozen town and sees the panicking townspeople frozen in place, as well as a Soviet missile suspended in mid-air. Her choice is stark: either unfreeze time and face annihilation with the rest of the world, or spend the rest of her life in a still, pre-apocalyptic landscape.
The TOS episode "The Shelter" might be the most terrifying episode of all, as it reveals just how thin and fragile the veneer of civilization is. Imagine your beloved friends and neighbors becoming your mortal enemies because a disaster is coming, and you have a way to escape it, while they don't. And it's hard not to imagine not becoming a bastard yourself if you're one of those in the "unprepared for disaster and screwed" column. What depths wouldn't you yourself sink to, in order to save your life or the lives of your children?
"He's Alive" - maybe Despair Fuel is a better term, but the simple concept that as long as hatred exists in the world, Hitler may as well still be alive.
"The Chaser" - the idea that someone could derail your entire life, not just destroying all your own plans and hopes for the future but overwriting your personality into a humiliating love-slave persona. Not to mention the implication that this was done to a number of others before Leila, many of whom were subsequently murdered. It's made all the more chilling by the incongruously lighthearted tone of the episode.