Home Entertainment Why The Howling Man Is The Twilight Zone’s Scariest Episode

Why The Howling Man Is The Twilight Zone’s Scariest Episode


The horror of “The Howling Man” is baked into not just its premise but the setting in which it unfolds. The gothic castle where the Brotherhood of Truth resides looks right out of the 1930s black-and-white horror films by Universal. It’s easy to imagine that in that castle, Ellington could’ve stumbled on Dracula or Doctor Frankenstein instead. “The Twilight Zone” was shot in black-and-white for practical reasons (color in television was impractical and expensive), but that was often to the show’s benefit as black-and-white coloring adds atmosphere. That’s particularly true in “The Howling Man,” where the lack of color recalls those old horror films.

Episode writer Charles Beaumont was reportedly disappointed by Heyes’ insistence on showing the Devil in all his evil glory. (Beaumont’s original short story is more ambiguous, with Ellington’s guilt portrayed as slow-boiling uncertainty.) But with how the episode pulls it off, no-one can complain. The Howling Man gradually transforms into the Devil in a masterwork of special effects and editing; he walks behind a pillar and comes out from it looking more Satanic, and this is repeated four times. 

Stock score from Bernard Herrmann was repurposed in this transformation sequence, and the escalating notes intertwine so wonderfully with the bit-by-bit appearance of Satan you’ll swear the music was written for the scene. The Devil sticks around just long enough to let Ellington take in his full glory. An evil cackle or monologue would’ve been overdoing it; Hughes’ slight smile is all that was needed and silence sells the Devil as an imperious evil. 

The ending — where Ellington has recaptured Satan but his housekeeper once more lets him out — lets the episode split the difference between Beaumont and Heyes. I agree with the latter that teasing the Devil and not showing him would’ve been a letdown. But the final shot, a closet full of darkness, once more plays into fear of the unknown.

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