The Twilight Zone: 10 Scariest Characters | Screen Rant

The Twilight Zone is one of the most suspenseful series in television history, but it isn’t necessarily known for its scary characters. Most of the shows' chilling stories focus on the lives of everyday people through the lens of science fiction or fantasy, usually ending with an impactful twist.

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On occasion, however, Rod Serling and his successors introduced terrifying tales with characters frightening enough to stand the test of time. The monsters, aliens, and boogeymen featured in The Twilight Zone are visually unsettling, but also often lay bare the human frailties that make their existence possible. These are some of the most fear-inducing characters the franchise has to offer.

“The Invaders” stars Agnes Moorehead as an elderly woman whose home has been overrun by tiny space people. The little robot-like creatures may not seem scary at first, but when they begin to infest her rooms like insects, creeping in every crack and corner, it creates an uncomfortable sense of paranoia.

The old woman is forced to deal with the incursion by herself, and her desperate efforts play on people’s fears of loneliness and isolation. Viewers may not notice that no words are spoken until the end of the episode when the twist is revealed. This builds eerie uncertainty around who the attackers are and why they are there, resulting in a can’t-miss episode of television.

In the season 2 episode “8” from Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot, a crew of undersea scientists find themselves in mortal danger when an intelligent and aggressive octopus finds its way into their station.

The killer octopus is uncomfortable to watch. The movements of its slithering tentacles are disturbingly realistic and the creature attacks with a ferocity not normally seen in The Twilight Zone. In fact, the episode is more reminiscent of claustrophobic horror films like Alien and The Thing. The quality of the stories in this most recent revival is mixed at best, and “8” certainly isn’t one of the stronger entries, but the octopus is among the most terrifying characters in any of the shows in the franchise.

Ventriloquist dummies have always been a rich source of horror. In "The Dummy," ventriloquist Jerry Etherson (Cliff Robertson) wants to abandon his wooden partner Willy, but the dummy won’t let him break up the act so easily. Is the dummy actually alive, or is Jerry having delusions? Viewers are forced to wait through a majority of the episode to see. Throughout the story, the creepy dummy sits in the background biding his time.

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Inanimate objects coming alive is one of horror’s most dependable tropes, and it is used to spine-tingling effect in this episode, with its final frames being some of the most disturbing in the show’s run. The title character was later used in The Twilight Zone episode “Caesar and Me” and also made a cameo appearance in the first episode of Jordan Peele’s revival series.

The 1980s installment of The Twilight Zone is not as fondly remembered as its predecessor, but it still produced many well-regarded episodes and some of the scariest characters in the history of the franchise. The title character in “The Shadow Man” is one of the weirdest examples.

The creature in question has taken up residence under the bed of young Danny Hayes and leaves his room each night to murder other children. Although the Shadow Man remains shrouded in darkness throughout the episode, his petrifying voice and intimidating silhouette are enough to keep anyone from turning the lights off at night. The unique style of the Shadow Man is due largely to the directorial choices of horror icon Joe Dante, who was fresh off the success of Gremlins.

When the Kanamit race of aliens arrives on Earth, they bring with them promises to solve humanity’s most perplexing problems. Cryptographer Michael Chambers is suspicious of their benevolent intentions and sets his team to work deciphering a book they left behind titled “To Serve Man.”

Although the nine-foot-tall aliens seemly have peaceful motives, they are an alarming sight. Their large bulbous heads, sunken eyes, and emotionless expressions give them a Frankenstein's monster-like appearance that makes them difficult to trust. Rod Serling often teaches viewers not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, it turns out the Kanamits are just as frightening as they appear to be. In The Simpsons’ first “Treehouse of Horror” episode, the story is famously parodied, with Kang and Kodos standing in for the Kanamits.

In another well-crafted example from the eighties Twilight Zone revival, sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison adapted the season one segment “Gramma” based on a Stephen King short story from his Skeleton Crew collection. The title character may seem innocent, but she is as scary as the creatures in some of King's best TV adaptations.

The episode tells the tale of a young boy who is left home alone with his bedridden grandmother. The tale is told from the point of view of the child who hears Gramma’s decrepit calls (voiced by Piper Laurie) from down the hall. What makes Gramma so particularly unnerving is that she isn’t seen for most of the episode. Viewers are left to imagine who or what is sleeping in the bedroom. When the boy finally gets a glimpse of her, it justifies the buildup. More than just a monster story, the tale is a disturbing allegory for the aversion children have for dying relatives and how it evokes fears of growing older.

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone. It stars William Shatner as Robert Wilson, a man recovering from a mental breakdown who discovers a creature on the wing of the plane during his flight home. As he frantically tries to convince others of what he’s seen, viewers are made to guess whether there is actually a furry creature destroying the plane or if Robert hasn’t fully recovered.

Related: 10 Of The Worst Things That Ever Happened To Star Trek's Captain Kirk

A man dressed up in a yeti costume may not seem frightening, but when Shatner opens the window curtain to discover the Gremlin looking back at him, it is one of the great jump scares in television history. It is little wonder that so many people are afraid to fly. The episode is so memorable that it was remade as part of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie with John Lithgow in the lead role.

Long before Chucky amassed a following of die-hard fans on television and in movies, Talky Tina terrorized viewers in The Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll.” An abusive stepfather, Erich Streator (played by Telly Savalas), meets his match when his wife Annabelle buys a new Talky Tina doll for their daughter. The doll gives Erich a taste of this own medicine by delivering hair-raising threats like "My name is Talky Tina and I'm going to kill you,” with a cold lifeless stare.

Tina is one of the most unsettling and memorable characters in the show’s five seasons. The idea that something as innocent as a child’s doll can harbor malevolent intentions is enough to keep anyone awake at night. Interestingly, famed actress June Foray voiced both Talky Tina and Mattel's popular Chatty Cathy doll that inspired the character.

Admiral Oliver Perry once wrote, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This is true of so many Twilight Zone episodes in which humans are much scarier than any boogeyman a person can imagine. In “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” a group of neighbors begins to suspect each other when strange occurrences start randomly happening around them. From there, the situation spirals into mob violence.

The episode plays on the Cold War paranoia of the early 1960s, but viewers can easily imagine a similar circumstance in today’s polarized environment. The power fear can have over people continues to be a societal concern, which is what makes the neighbors on Maple Street so spine-chillingly relevant today.

There are very few things more theoretically terrifying than an all-powerful child. When “It’s A Good Life” begins, young Anthony Fremont already has a tyrant-like grip over his family and neighbors. He has used his unexplained godlike powers to trap everyone in a post-apocalyptic cage of his own creation. They are forced to think good thoughts because he can also read minds and he might turn on them in an instant. Paralyzed by fear, Anthony’s parents have set no limits for the boy and as a result, he has become a spoiled hedonistic monster with no moral compass.

Billy Mumy plays the child with a chilling intensity that makes him one of the creepiest characters in of all time. His wide-eyed stare is truly the stuff of nightmares. The character is so well known that his episode was recreated in Twilight Zone: The Movie, and he was given a sequel episode as an adult in the 2002 Twilight Zone revival, but the six-year-old version of Anthony remains the scariest.

Next: 10 Most Romantic Episodes Of The Twilight Zone

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