The Twilight Zone is an amazingly diverse program that offers stories of almost every conceivable theme and setting within the overall structure of intelligent modern fantasy. One area in which The Twilight Zone excelled was in the story of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series. -JP
13. Grandma’s Calling, from “Long Distance Call,” season two, episode 58
Written by Charles Beaumont and William Idelson, directed by James Sheldon, starring Philip Abbott, Patricia Smith, Lili Darvas, Bill Mumy
“Long Distance Call” is high in the running as the most unsettling episode of the entire series. The idea of a toy telephone as a conduit for a loving grandmother to call her young grandson from beyond the grave and attempt to coerce the child to kill himself so that they may be reunited in the afterlife is both heartbreakingly sad and undeniably disturbing. The series rarely ventured into such emotionally jarring content. The overall effect is a suspenseful and almost unbearably tense episode which seems to benefit from the otherwise unappealing videotape format, which lends a disquieting and intimate feeling to the proceedings, giving the viewer an uncomfortable fly-on-the-wall perspective to a family tragedy. The scenes in which the young boy speaks to the dead grandmother through the toy telephone remain some of the creepiest moments from the series. The episode is not unrelentingly bleak, however, and the ending manages to resolve the horrible plight of the family without relieving the carefully built tension. Strong performances abound in this one, particularly from Lil Darvas, as the grandmother, and Philip Abbott as the desperate father. The episode also marks the first of three appearances from young actor Bill Mumy, who soon makes an unforgettable appearance on the series and earns him a high spot on this countdown.
-Charles Beaumont and William Idelson were on-set during the filming the episode and were asked to write a new version of the father’s monologue at the end of the episode. In the original version, the father begs for the life of his son by bringing up his own relationship to his mother. After trying the scene and finding it flat, the production crew felt it would work much better if the father concentrated on the young boy’s relationship to the grandmother, focusing on how little of life the boy would be allowed if he were to die so young. Beaumont and Idelson obliged and rewrote the scene on-set.
Read our full coverage of “Long Distance Call” here.