Evil Movie Reviews: Twilight Zone: The Movie
The Twilight Zone is one of my all-time favorite shows, easily in my top 5. As a kid despite it already being 30 years old at the time, it never ceased to amaze me. I couldn’t wait to watch it and get that feeling of genuinely being a bit freaked out or the twist ending I never saw coming. Over the years I was always connected to it in once capacity or another. I was pleased that as I became older and more jaded the show still seemed fresh and interesting. The concepts, the writing, the acting and the filming were all top notch.
It’s a show for better or worse exists in a vacuum of time. It exposed the population’s very real fear and wonder with space travel, atomic war, the unknown and the atrocities of WWII. Creepiness and general scariness sometimes played a factor but the episodes were written to make you think. Yet it still has appeal to modern audiences. The show as beloved as it was, gave birth to many copy cats and many short lived revivals that never seemed to get it right. They took the ‘idea’ of it sure, but not the psychological underpinnings that made the original work so well.
In 1983, it was decided that a feature length film would be made using the anthology style of the show and presenting 3 ‘classic’ episodes and a newly written one. Each segment would be handled by a different director. I never saw this movie until a few weeks ago. I didn’t have HBO or any of the premium channels growing up (except for the occasional preview weekend where my Dad would load up on blank VHS tapes and record for 48 hours straight) so I feel like I missed out on a lot of different movies that people seem to remember from their childhood and this is one of them.
The movie starts with a great little pre-movie segment with Dan Akroyd and Mr. Hank Scorpio himself, Albert Brooks before transitioning to the first segment, “Time Out” directed by John Landis. It’s the only original script in the film, but the concept is borrowed from The Twilight Zone episode “Quality Of Mercy” where an American WWII army member switches bodies with a member of the Japanese army.
In the movie segment actor, Vic Morrow is a racist asshole and is letting loose a tirade of racial and ethnic slurs in a bar. This part was so disturbing for me because you never heard anyone curse in the original show and the movie practically starts off with some serious bigotry. I was taken aback. Our lead is transported back to Nazi Germany where he is being persecuted as a Jew, the U.S. South with the KKK and he’s a black man and a Vietnamese during ‘Nam. All in all it was ok, kind of effective but nothing spectacular. The most noteworthy thing about this segment was the accidental decapitation of Vic Morrow and two child actors by a helicopter on the set.
Steven Spielberg directed the next segment, “Kick The Can” which was based on the episode of the same name. In a retirement home, Scatman Crothers moves in and by playing kick the can allows all the oldies to become young again. That’s it. I never particularly liked the tv episode and question why they would want to adapt it.
Moving on to “It’s A Good Life” which is a very well known episode where a spiteful six year old boy named Anthony has the gift of powers to basically do whatever he wishes and hear other people’s thoughts. His family and everyone in the community are perpetually on eggshells around him. The movie version was directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame. I applaud his decision to choose a good episode to direct. His version is pretty decent too, but it lacks the creepiness and emotional edge that the original contains. This is mostly due to the fact that on the tv episode you know the deal about Anthony up front, here you find out about halfway through the segment so the viewer doesn’t maintain the same emotional alertness.
This one is definitely better than the other two and moving in the right direction. It has some cool 1980’s horror type special effects and also features a young Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright). This segment contains a ton of Twilight Zone easter eggs from cast choices, names, locations etc. Which I think is a great move by John Dante to reward the hardcore fans.
That brings us to the final and hands down best segment, “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” adapted from the classic episode starring William Shatner. George Miller directs this one and gets it exactly right. This is a one man show, there are other actors who speak, but this segment excels because of its star, John Lithgow. During a storm nervous airplane flyer, Lithgow believes he sees some kind of a gremlin on the wing of the plane tampering with the engine. But of course, no one believes him or can see the gremlin. This almost redeems the rest of the segments that proceed it…almost. It’s shot in a way that really showcases and heightens Lithgow’s paranoia with lots of tight focused shots. Lithgow’s body language and acting are both a joy to watch and legitimately terrifying.
The movie most assuredly gets better with each of the segments. I understand why they made this, but they shouldn’t have. I do think they were smart to do 4 different segments to really connect with the anthologized nature of the show rather than a full length film for one episode. I don’t really want to see a 2 hour movie based on ‘To Serve Man’ since I already know the premise and the ending. All they had to do was pick 4 classic episodes that would translate well on the screen and connect with what makes the Twilight Zone work. Hell, I would have even taken 2 classics and 2 more obscure episodes as long as they accomplished what they needed to.
I only recommend the Twilight Zone: The Movie if you’re already a fan of the show and curious, but except to be let down. For those of you that have never seen the Twilight Zone you should absolutely start with the TV show or at the very least the Simpsons – Tree House Of Horrors episodes.
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
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