Written by: Lois Kennedy
There is no shortage of T.V. shows devoted to horror (though there could always be more). Oftentimes they miss the mark when it comes to the truly scary, but these particular episodes manage to hit the nail on the head.
- The Twilight Zone: “It’s a Good Life” (1961)
Anthony is a six-year-old boy who can control everyone around him. His parents and neighbors have to think happy thoughts and smile, or Anthony will strike. As he says, “I hate anybody that doesn’t like me.” He took away electricity “because it displeased him”; he’s able to create monsters and control the weather. The tension caused by such an environment comes to a head as one of the townspeople gets drunk and forgets his place, provoking Anthony’s wrath.
Anthony is kinda cute, until someone crosses him. Or he gives a blank wide-eyed stare, as in the opening sequence. This one is more of a thinker than a jump scare. The townspeople are harried and miserable; their faces when Anthony isn’t looking reveal it all. Anthony is still a kid, and kids are notoriously selfish and irrational. He makes a three-headed gopher to amuse himself, and then decides: “I’ll make him dead now. I’m tired of playing with him.” Then there’s the matter of Anthony’s parents (a young Cloris Leachman plays his mother, by the way) wishing he would die, and drunk Dan imploring his friends to bash Anthony’s head in while he’s preoccupied—surprisingly disturbing subject matter for the ‘60s—or any decade.
- The Outer Limits: “Under the Bed” (1995)
The episode opens on little Andrew, who disappears from his room mysteriously after an arm reaches from under his bed and drags him away. A detective and her boyfriend, a child psychologist, are brought in to investigate, focusing on Andrew’s traumatized sister, the only witness. She claims her brother was taken by the boogeyman, and it turns out she’s right.
The episode explores the concept of “unknown creatures.” The main idea is that there are undiscovered beings that science has yet to discover. While it may be reassuring that this particular critter is explainable (his blood turns to sand in sunlight, so he’s nocturnal), that means that the boogeyman is real. The scene with Andrew is particularly eerie; the creature takes the shape of Andrew’s teddy bear, with glowing red eyes and a Jigsaw whisper: “Andrew, come and get me.”
- Fear Itself: “Skin and Bones” (2008)
Directed by Larry Fessenden (Habit, The Last Winter), the episode concerns rancher Grady (Doug Jones, best known as that skinny creepy guy in Pan’s Labyrinth, Legion, and John Dies at the End, among many others), who has been missing for 10 days. He returns finally, emaciated and frost-bitten. And unfortunately, he’s also possessed by a Wendigo, an evil spirit that is only satisfied by eating human flesh.
*Warning: Minor spoilers*
The scariness is most inherent in Jones’s performance as Grady. He’s skeletal and plumb evil—and lightning fast when he wants to be. Grady licks his wife’s arm, claiming it “Tastes good.” He kills his brother and makes his wife cut up his corpse and cook him for dinner, forcing her to eat some too. (At least he insists on some vegetables to go with it.) Despite the corniness of a convenient Native American character existing only to explain the Wendigo phenomenon (and die saving the white folks, natch—NOT a spoiler, believe me), it’s a compelling watch.
- The Haunting Hour: “Mascot” (2011)
Willie is tired of his high school’s poor performance in basketball, and blames the school mascot, Big Yellow. He campaigns to get rid of the yellow guy and replace him. No one knows who Big Yellow actually is, but that doesn’t stop Willie from giving him a letter telling him to vamoose. Big Yellow is less than pleased, and lashes out.
I became a fan of this show after watching the pilot, which was a surprisingly creepy living doll episode. “Mascot” leaves that one in the dust. Big Yellow is skin-crawling to look at. He’s tall, with a dirty costume. He has bloodshot eyes and scraggly random suggestions of hair sprouting out of his head. He has one tooth and giant claws (why does a high school mascot need claws?). He has a sloping caveman brow. He dances listlessly and with barely any coordination. It’s completely unclear what he’s supposed to be. His dressing room is decrepit and full of random things, like a biohazard drum. He even smells bad, according to Willie. Aside from his appearance, his revenge on Willie is a bit nonsensical but eerie nonetheless.
- Tales from the Crypt: “And All Through the House” (1989)
Wife (she’s not actually given a name) murders her husband on Christmas in order to get his money, and decides to blame it on an escaped mental patient dressed like Santa Clause. Meanwhile, her daughter Carrie is keen for Santa to show up, and this doesn’t bode well for Wife, who’s trying to avoid being murdered by the guy in the costume.
Santa is played by Larry Drake (best known for playing Dr. Giggles in the movie of the same name), who is inspired here as a wild-eyed, grinning lunatic. The episode is rife with tension. We can empathize with Wife to an extent, as her dead husband doesn’t seem like a terrific guy, and we’d like to see her make it. The penultimate creepy scene is when she finds herself locked in a closet and Santa climbs a ladder up to Carrie’s window, triumphantly peeking in at Wife through a window and brandishing an axe. (He just wants to axe her a few questions—you can’t discuss Tales from the Crypt without terrible puns, hee hee hee.)
Therefore, sometimes the scariest moments can be found in a T.V. show rather than a movie.
Author’s note: Thank you to IMDB for dates and my friend Paula for pointing out good episodes of The Twilight Zone.
About the author: Lois Kennedy is an avid horror fan who loves to write. She can be found under her pseudonym Ghoulie Joe on Facebook, YouTube, and WordPress.