TWILIGHT ZONE-THE MOVIE–United States-101 Mins. 1983
Vic Morrow as Bill Connor (Segment 1)
Scatman Crothers as Mr. Bloom (Segment 2)
Kathleen Quinlan as Helen Foley and Jeremy Licht as Anthony (Segment 3)
John Lithgow as John Valentine (Segment 4)
Based on the television series created by Rod Serling
Segment 1 Written and Directed by John Landis
Segment 2 Directed by Steven Spielberg
Story by George Clayton Johnson
Screenplay by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson and Josh Rogan
Segment 3 Directed by Joe Dante
Based on a story by Jerome Bixby
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Segment 4 Directed by George Miller
Based on a story by Richard Matheson
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
It’s been over 20 years since I last saw this movie. In the years since its release it has been recognized more as a center of controversy and not as a science fiction cum horror anthology film. The Twilight Zone was one of the greatest series in the history of television. So, how does the movie stand up? I will review each individual segment of the film. If I should stray from my appointed task I will need someone, somewhere to call my wife and tell her that I have just stepped over into…the Twilight Zone.
Dan Akroyd and Albert Brooks star as two travelers on a dark winding road. With no radio for entertainment their only option is to talk to each other and play TV theme song trivia. This acts as an introduction to the film and does nothing to further the careers of either actor. Moving on…
Segment 1-“Time Out”
In the only segment of the film not based on an episode from the original series, Vic Morrow stars in his final role as an angry, bigoted man who believes that all the good things that he feels he deserves are being taken from him by minorities. His trip into the Twilight Zone is one based on his own intolerance. To the Nazi’s he is a Jew, the KKK a black man and the American troops see him as North Vietnamese. It was originally intended in the latter that he find redemption by rescuing two children from the US troops. Unless you’ve been without radio, television or newspaper for the last 40 years or so you know that’s not how it ends. This is the worst segment of the series and it’s sad that Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-yi Chen gave their lives for this segment of the film. Honestly speaking it’s just not good enough to be worth it.
Segment 2-“Kick the Can”
You know that old trees just grow stronger,
and old rivers grow wilder every day.
Old people just grow lonesome,
waiting for someone to say
“Hello in there…hello”
You would think that with a segment of the film directed by Steven Spielberg that I would be reminded of more than just a song. But sadly, that’s not the case. Based on an original series episode, the segment feels as old as the residents of the Sunnyvale Rest Home instead of fresh in the fashion of their juvenile doppelgangers. Spielberg is usually an ace when it comes to directing children; but in this story starring Scatman Crothers as a man who knows that the secret to staying young is contained in a shiny tin can; the once and future best director Oscar winner kicks the can and misses altogether. Without Crothers this segment would have no redeeming value.
Segment 3-“It’s a Good Life”
Finally a segment of the film that plays not only on the strength of the episode that it was based on; but on the strengths of its director and its cast as well. I remember seeing this segment for the first time and thinking how truly beautiful Kathleen Quinlan was in her role. Watching it again after all this time I see that not only is she a visually striking woman but an incredibly talented actress also. In this Joe Dante directed tale, we meet Helen Foley, schoolteacher. Miss Foley is a woman moving on in life. But there is always the possibility of a detour in the Twilight Zone. That detour comes in the form of a boy with an amazing and frightening power. This is an example of a remake adding to the quality of the original story. It is a cautionary tale of what happens when we indulge our children without any structure or discipline in their lives. After the first two segments and their unintended boredom this segment is a breath of fresh air.
Segment 4-“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
Segment 3 played on the strength of its cast and director along with the original story that it was based on. Segment 4 does the very same thing only this time it amps the intensity up to 10. The expression ‘they saved the best for last’ was meant specifically for this segment. Director George Miller takes all the action of his open road Australian classics Mad Max and The Road Warrior and compresses it into a space no larger than the passenger section of a commercial airliner. Throw in a masterful performance by John Lithgow as a frightened, claustrophobic passenger, mix in a series of unfortunate events caused by a slimy little gremlin and you’ve got a recipe for terror that can only be found in the darkest corridors of the Twilight Zone.
The end of segment 4 finds John Valentine strapped into the back of the ambulance. He is presumably on his way to the hospital for mental evaluation after his little incident on the plane in Segment 4. But look, the driver is Dan Akroyd, the passenger from the prologue. Listen, Creedence Clearwater Revival is playing on the cassette deck. The epilogue is slightly better than the prologue. Say, you want to see something really scary?
So, there you have it; Twilight Zone-the Movie. Based on the ratings of the four segments, the prologue and the epilogue, I’d say that the final rating for this film would be about ½ blood drops.
See you in the Zone.
Mention is made of Lieutenant Neidermeyer getting “fragged” by his own troops. This was the fate given to Neidermeyer in the ending of Animal House, also directed by John Landis.
Segment 2, “Kick the Can,” features Steven Spielberg’s future mother-in-law, Priscilla Pointer, as Miss Cox.
In the diner, when Kathleen Quinlan is asked where she is from and where she is going, she answers with two town names that were used in old “Twilight Zone” episodes: “Homewood,” from Walking Distance, and “Willoughby,” from A Stop at Willoughby. The cook refers to “Cliffordville,” from Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.
In the television series 3rd Rock from the Sun, one episode has Dick (John Lithgow) meeting the Big Giant Head (William Shatner) at the airport. Lithgow asks Shatner, “How was your flight, sir?” Shatner replies, “Terrible. I could have sworn I saw a man on the wing of the plane!” Lithgow said, “The same thing happened to me.” This was an intentional tip of the hat to The Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Shatner played the disturbed passenger in that episode, and Lithgow played the disturbed passenger in this movie.
Known for his meticulous preparation, John Lithgow had worked out certain scenes in his airplane seat in conjunction with the manufactured lightning outside the window. However, during filming, the crew member in charge of the lightning flashes would activate it too soon or too late, throwing off Lithgow’s timing. Although initially annoyed, he later came to value the experience after viewing the film, seeing that it added to his anxious, fearful character as he looked genuinely startled by the lightning.