10 tragically underrated episodes of 'Twilight Zone'

Connecting the most overlooked episodes with their more popular counterparts.

Certain episodes of The Twilight Zone are referenced over and over again, like "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" or "Eye of the Beholder." It's deserved, of course, as these episodes featured some of the finest writing, acting, and cinematography, and went on to inspire filmmakers long after the episodes first aired, as early as 1959.

Those aren't the episodes we want to focus on today. We want to talk about the episodes that slipped by and are almost forgotten by viewers they surely shook when they debuted. This includes some of the early episodes from Season 4, which started stronger than most critics are likely to recall.

Here, we go through some of The Twilight Zone episodes that seem to have ghosted pop culture, disappearing before our very eyes into the far recesses of our collective memories. See if you remember these chilling and emotional episodes that aren't often discussed.

1. “The Shelter”

Season: 3
Episode: 3
For fans of: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"

In "The Shelter," a group of friends gathers to celebrate the birthday of beloved physician Bill Stockton (Larry Gates) in his home. Suddenly, a broadcast announces unidentified objects have been detected approaching the U.S. Expecting a nuclear attack, Bill brings his wife and son into his bomb shelter. His friends attempt to physically beat the door down to join them, exposing how people can snap when it comes to survival. The twist is described by Serling in the intro as a "very small exercise in logic."

2. "Shadow Play"

Season: 2
Episode: 26
For fans of: "Judgment Night"

Prisoner Adam Grant (Dennis Weaver) is convinced he's living a recurring nightmare, having experienced his arrest, trial and execution, all on the same day. District Attorney Henry Ritchie (Harry Townes) assumes the man is mad, until Grant makes an unsettling prediction that comes true. It features one of the darkest endings of any Twilight Zone episodes.

3. "The Changing of the Guard"

Season: 3
Episode: 37
For fans of: "The Night of the Meek"

It's Christmas Eve, and the English literature teacher at a boys' prep school, professor Ellis Fowler, finds himself alone. What follows is a dark, somber trip into The Twilight Zone, as Ellis decides to take his own life because he's had no impact on his students. It's like a cross between Dead Poets Society and A Christmas Story, and the conclusion is highly emotional.

4. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

Season: 5
Episode: 22
For fans of: "The Passersby"

This is an unusual episode of The Twilight Zone, where an award-winning film from Cannes Film Festival was aired as a special episode of the TV show. It finds civilian prisoner preparing to be hanged in the Civil War era. Everything that happens once the rope snaps around his neck is a surprise, and the conclusion is just as searing as any episode in Serling's Civil War trilogy episodes.

5. "The Howling Man"

Season: 2
Episode: 5
For fans of: "The Hitch-Hiker"

The devil is real in this often forgotten episode of The Twilight Zone, where an American man, David Eliington, is taking a walking tour in Europe and hears a strange sound coming from a castle. Despite being warned to ignore it, he persists, and his courage leads him to meet the devil himself. It's a chilling episode that echoes the persistent haunts of much more famous Twilight Zone moments.

6. "A World of His Own"

Season: 1
Episode: 36
For fans of: "Time Enough at Last"

In this more subtle scare from The Twilight Zone, writer Gregory West is caught by his wife Victoria West with a beautiful blonde. It turns out that she's a figment of Gregory's imagination, and he demonstrates his surprising ability to his wife eagerly, showing how what he writes becomes real. It's a boggling look into the choices we make when left to our own devices, and ends on a brighter (yet creepier) not than the more famous bookish episode, "Time Enough at Last."

7. "Third from the Sun"

Season: 1
Episode: 14
For fans of: "Elegy"

This episode is a lot like the Johnny Cash hit, "One Piece at a Time," featuring a military base scientist building H-bombs as he steals his own ship and secretly supplies it. His plan is to escape the certain destruction with his coworker, their wives and his daughter. They escape, but not to where you might expect. 

8. "Black Leather Jackets"

Season: 5
Episode: 18
For fans of: "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Leather-clad aliens invade Earth, intent on destroying our water supplies. They take on the human names Steve, Fred and Scott, and rent a house together out in the 'burbs. Scott ends up falling in love with an earthling girl, which leads him to a broken heart, and viewers to an eerie ending.

9. "In His Image"

Season: 4
Episode: 1
For fans of: "The Lateness of the Hour," "The Lonely

Alan Talbot is just waiting for the train when an evangelist approaches him with a pamphlet. What's normally an insignificant social intrusion results in murder and Alan flees the scene to the home of his fiancee, Jessica. She tries to help, but the homicidal urge in Alan is powerful, and it turns out, powered by a robot system that seems to have replaced the blood in his veins. For anyone who enjoyed "The Lateness of the Hour," this later episode is sure to make your skin crawl.

10. "Valley of the Shadow"

Season: 4
Episode: 3
For fans of: "It's a Good Life"

A reporter, Philip Redfield, wanders into a small town filled with crazy technology he's never seen. A little girl's toy makes his dog disappear. A fully functioning replicator. He's intrigued, but also spooked, and to make sure he keeps the small town's secret, the townsfolk decide to hold him prisoner. It has Stepford Wives vibes that rival "It's a Good Life."

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