Why the scary ‘Little Girl Lost’ from ‘The Twilight Zone’ remains a favorite TV episode

“Favorite” is a word that’s often accompanied by a smile because it’s something that makes you happy.

As in, what’s your favorite ice cream?

Your favorite band?

Favorite movie?

We smile so much about our favorites that “smile” should be part of the definition, as in:

fa·vor·ite: Something that makes us smile.

Yet my choice for the 9th annual “Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon,” hosted by Shroud of Thoughts, is a TV episode that I love but doesn’t quite make me smile – at least in the happy, traditional sense of the word.

“Little Girl Lost,” the 91st episode of “The Twilight Zone,” has fascinated and terrified from the first time I saw it. Even rewatching it recently, the episode still freaked me out. (I guarantee you that “freak you out” is not part of the definition of “favorite.”) But the episode also makes me think and remains a favorite.

“Little Girl Lost” premiered on March 16, 1962 as the final episode (#26) of Season 3. I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw it, but I wasn’t older than 10, and could have been closer in age to Tina, the little girl lost of the episode’s title who was only 6.

Sure, that’s too young for “someone” (“me”) with an overactive imagination to watch a story where a little girl goes missing after she accidentally steps into another dimension. And yes, you read that right. In “Little Girl Lost,” sweet little Tina falls out of her bed, rolls underneath it and right into the fourth dimension. How do we know? The physicist who conveniently lives next door tells us so. And it’s all so believable.

Mac the dog tries to lead little Tina out of the fourth dimension in “Little Girl Lost.”

Here’s the episode’s plot, starting with Rod Serling’s original intro.

Missing: one frightened little girl. Name: Bettina Miller. Description: six years of age, average height and build, light brown hair, quite pretty. Last seen being tucked in bed by her mother a few hours ago. Last heard: ‘ay, there’s the rub,’ as Hamlet put it. For Bettina Miller can be heard quite clearly, despite the rather curious fact that she can’t be seen at all. Present location? Let’s say for the moment… in the Twilight Zone.

The episode opens with Chris and Ruth Miller waking to cries of “mommy” from their daughter, Tina (played by Tracy Stafford). They aren’t alarmed – yet. In fact Chris the dad  (Robert Sampson) takes the time to slowly put on his slippers despite the growing cries of his daughter.

Even when he can’t find Tina in the bedroom, it still takes him a few minutes before he starts to worry.

“What’d ya fall out of his bed?” he asks with a nervous laugh as he peers underneath the bed and gropes around the carpet for his daughter. Then he moves to the closet with similar results – she’s just not there.

Parents (Sarah Marshall and Robert Sampson) can’t find their daughter under the bed despite hearing her cries in “Little Girl Lost.”

Ruth the mom (played by Sarah Marshall) panics right away and makes a fuss as cute little dog Mack is barking up a storm outside and trying to get in. He senses the trouble but the adults aren’t paying attention. When Mack is finally let in the house, he runs fearlessly into the portal after Tina. (As physicist neighbor Bill will say later, “Animals are sharper about these things than humans.”)

Physicist neighbor Bill (played by Charles Aidman with a solid mix of composure and smarts) has been called over by a desperate Chris to help. Bill calmly explores the house and quickly deduces what has happened: Tina has fallen through an opening to another dimension.

Bill (Charles Aidman, right) calculates the location of a portal to another dimension where he thinks a child has fallen through as her parents (Sarah Marshall and Robert Sampson) look on.

“I’m no expert in this,” he tells the parents before going on about junctures between dimensions and gap openings that all sounds plausible to the untrained ear of say, a 10-year-old girl watching this at home who will soon develop her own phobia of falling into another dimension. (Hey, it could happen.)

Things get intense during the short 25-minute episode. Tina’s voice goes in and out and they fear she’ll be lost forever. Mack the dog’s barking indicates he hasn’t found Tina. And desperate dad gets way too close to the invisible portal in the wall and falls halfway into the strange world while screaming for Tina to find him.

Bill the neighbor physicist is clearly getting more agitated with every passing second and that ramps up the tension. Only later do we learn what was setting him off and without spoiling too much, let’s say that we are not dealing with a stable entrance to another dimension. Just thinking about it now is “freaking me out” (there’s that phrase again).

The fourth dimension is all strange angles, lights and fog in “Little Girl Lost” as dad (Robert Sampson) tries to grab his daughter and dog who are out of reach – and out of time.

By the end of the episode, when we should be feeling relief, the questions left unanswered also leave us unsettled.

Here is Rod Serling’s Outro for the episode: The other half where? The fourth dimension? The fifth? Perhaps. They never found the answer. Despite a battery of research physicists equipped with every device known to man, electronic and otherwise, no result was ever achieved, except perhaps a little more respect for and uncertainty about the mechanisms of the Twilight Zone.

Oh, Rod Serling didn’t need to tell me – as a kid or adult – to respect the possibility that other dimensions existed. I respected the idea so much that I read books with true stories of people from around the world who survived brushes with portals to another world. There were plenty of stories and yes, I believed them ALL!!!.

Neighbor Bill (Charles Aidman) reaches through a portal to another dimension as Ruth and Chris (Sarah Marshall and Robert Sampson) look on in terror in “Little Girl Lost.”

So stumbling into another dimension remains on my list of ridiculous phobias I gained from watching TV or film. Also on that “realistic” list: being mauled to death by a bear or tiger, suffocating in quicksand and burned alive by lava.

Here’s another creepy fact about “Little Girl Lost.” It was written by the great Richard Matheson after an incident where he couldn’t find his own daughter in her bedroom. Here is how Matheson shared the story in author Marc Scott Zicree’s indispensable “Twilight Zone Companion.”

“That was based on an occurrence that happened to our daughter. She didn’t go into the fourth dimension, but she cried one night and I went to where she was and couldn’t find her anywhere. I couldn’t find her on the bed, I couldn’t find her on the ground. She had fallen off and rolled all the way under the bed against the wall. At first, even when I felt under the bed, I couldn’t reach her. It was bizarre and that’s where I got the idea.”

To keep authenticity for his story, Matheson even named the TV characters after his real wife and daughter. (I wonder what they thought after watching it!). He wrote the original short story in 1953 and it appears in his collection “The Shores of Space” (1957).

‘Little Girl Lost’ and ‘Poltergeist’

Another reason why “Little Girl Lost” is one of my favorites is its influence on one of my favorite films, “Poltergeist” (1982) – and yes, “Poltergeist” does freak me out, too. If you’ve seen both you would have noticed the similarities that are worth a story on their own. But here’s the ToniNotes version of the “Poltergeist” plot.

After a few odd events in their new home in a fancy subdivision, parents wake to the sounds of their children screaming during a thunderstorm. Their son has been pulled outside by a tree limb that has crashed into the house. They rescue him, but can’t find their little girl. Then they hear her calling from somewhere “inside” the house. The rest of the film is their search for their own little girl lost, while battling malevolent spirits.

So we have a little girl, trapped somewhere “inside” of her house, crying for her parents who can’t see her. You’ll notice some similar shots (overhead views of the family looking upward toward the child’s cries) and you’ll hear lines that could have been copied and pasted from “Little Girl Lost.” For example the name of the dog Mac is replaced with the word “light” as in repeated references of “Go with Mac, baby” becomes “Go into the light baby” in “Poltergeist.”

Does this mean I think a monster is going to come out of my closet and steal me? Can a hole open to another dimension? Of course it can. Just watch “Little Girl Lost” and you’ll believe.

The blogathon

The 9th annual “Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon” is hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his blog Shroud of Thoughts. You’ll find links here to more posts where people write about their favorite TV episodes.

In a previous “Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon,” I wrote about an ingenious episode of “Murder, She Wrote” that acted as a sequel to the 1949 detective film, “Strange Bargain.” This is a favorite episode that truly does make me smile. Here is the link to that story.


14 thoughts on “Why the scary ‘Little Girl Lost’ from ‘The Twilight Zone’ remains a favorite TV episode”

  1. Great review! This is one of the more memorable episodes in a series chock-full of memorable stories. I can imagine how many kids (or adults for that matter) had trouble sleeping – maybe for weeks! – after seeing it. The Richard Matheson quote is very interesting, I’d never seen that before. He was responsible for so many of Twilight Zone’s best episodes. P.S.: It’s great to know there’s another fan out there of true accounts of people slipping into other dimensions/times. I used to read Frank Edwards and Brad Steiger voraciously, and lately I’ve gotten hooked on the mysteriousuniverse.org site, which is filled with stories like this.


    1. Thanks, Brian. I’m happy to meet another fan of the episode and someone who has looked into true accounts of things like this. I will check on that website you mentioned.


  2. I’m glad you mentioned POLTERGEIST in connection to this episode. I made the same connection the first time I saw it. I guess Matheson never saw a case for plagiarism.

    One big difference between the two is seeing what Tina’s dimension is like. POLTERGEIST improved on the story by not showing where Carol-Anne was. That made it a lot scarier.


    1. Hi Rich, thanks for reading. The connection between “Little Girl Lost” and “Poltergeist” could be its own story. That’s a great point you made about how the two treated where each girl was lost – it’s always scarier when things are left up to your imagination. Thanks again.


  3. Hi Toni!

    Congratulations on a wonderful post. I watched the episode today after reading a few lines of your article-I wanted to be surprised before I read the rest. Somehow the majority of Twilight Zone episodes manage to bring out every possible primal fear of mine. This one was no exception! I really enjoyed it, & got a kick out of hearing the Bernard Hermann score, & seeing that Paul Stewart directed it. Even watched it on free Pluto tv on Roku, which includes the outro (!) & Serling pitching for Chesterfield cigarettes!

    Thanks again for introducing me to a Twilight Zone episode that I was unfamiliar with!

    P.S.: tonight I will watch “Strange Bargain”, as I’m a huge film noir fan!


    1. Hi Amy,
      Thanks for reading my stories. I truly appreciate it. I love that you stopped reading the article to watch the episode and that you “enjoyed” it. It is such a great episode. I am like you in that the “Twilight Zone” also brings out many of my fears – some I didn’t even know I had.

      Also, I hope you do get a chance to watch the film “Strange Bargain” and then watch the “Murder, She Wrote” episode – it’s so ingenious how they continued the movie and brought back some of the stars. Let me know if you do!

      Thanks again.


  4. This such a great review! For me “Little Girl Lost” has always been one of The Twilight Zone’s most chilling episodes. I think I was a teenager when I first saw it and it freaked me out then. It still freaks me out now! Bill’s explanation about openings to other dimensions is all too convincing and all too believable. Even after having see it multiple times, “Little Girl Lost” still disturbs me. Anyway, thanks for taking part in the blogathon!


    1. Thank you! I love that you had a similar reaction to “Little Girl Lost.” And there’s that phrase – “it freaked me out”!! Thanks
      so much for all the work you did in putting this blogathon together.


  5. I’m glad I never watched this ep as a kid because I probably would have been convinced the same could happen to me, too. The Twilight Zone certainly could make things sound realistic and plausible!


  6. I was eleven years old in 1962 and I remember seeing this episode for the first time. You’re absolutely right; I believed it!! When I’ve seen it again over the years, it still has a strong effect on me. The Twilight Zone was a show we never missed during its entire run. Thanks for this great review!


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