Imagine, if you would, four young men pursuing their chosen paths. The paths lead them here and the sole purpose is your entertainment. Ladies and Gentlemen they offer to take you on a journey... a journey of sight, sound and imagination; your ultimate destination... The Twilight Zone.
And so it was that in the early Eighties John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller embarked upon their own journey and offered up a slice of the eponymous late 1950s and early 1960s. Presented as a series of four vignettes, each director had their hand in putting their own stamp on this classic TV series.
Prologue & Section 1 - John Landis
During the prologue we see two weary travellers crossing the wasteland of Middle America late into the night, to keep themselves amused they play verbal games. This descends to horror stories until the passenger, Dan Ackroyd, turns into a vile creature and takes both the driver and the viewers into the Twilight Zone.
Immediately followed by the first section we see Bill Connor (Vic Morrow), an outspoken, in your face bigot who blames all of his life's downfalls on the marginalised sections of his community. On leaving a bar he jumps through time becoming at once a Jew in 1940's Nazi Germany pursued to the concentration camps, a Vietnamese during the American occupation in the late 60s, a black man about to be lynched at a Klu Klux Clan gathering. He obviously starts to learn that perhaps these sections of the world community haven't had it as easy as he might have originally have thought.
A good enough opening continuing the style from the original TV series and progressing onto what would probably have become the best of these short features. Tragedy was to befall the first story though with the untimely death of Vic Morrow and two children, Myca Dinh Le aged 7 and Renee Shin-Yi Chen aged 6.
Section 2 - Steven Spielberg
This segment invites us into the lives and rest home of some retired citizens. On reminiscing that they no longer dance, climb trees or generally play, a recent inhabitant suggests to them that they should in fact sneak out one night and play an old game, Kick the Can.
Once on the outside they do start to play, and when doing so they find that they have reverted back to being children, their clothes no longer fitting them, their voices reduced back to their shrill tones. The mysterious man, played by the ever smiling Scatman Crothers, has offered them what they all wanted and shows them that age is ultimately no barrier to enjoyment.
Spielberg here doing what Spielberg always does, adds a glitz and smaltz to the original Kick the Can episode. The underlying story of regained youth perhaps not being the prize one really desires works pretty well, but it's been done to better effect many times before and from the eighties you only have to seek out the original Cocoon to find a much better example.
A noted cast are more than enjoyable, the lighting and photography suit the characters in their Golden Years. In the end though it's just a little too sugary sweet for this reviewer's tastes.
Section 3 - Joe Dante
Anthony (Jeremy Licht), a young child, is offered a lift home by Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan). Arriving at his homestead in the middle of nowhere she is faced with a number of rusting abandoned cars and a rather odd family who bow down to Anthony's every whim, serving only the food he will eat, watching only the cartoons he enjoys so much.
It soon becomes apparent that this family are scared of Anthony; he has power over them which reduce them to quivering wrecks. Young Anthony however needs guidance, something perhaps which others through fear have been unable, or unwilling, to give.
This is quite an enjoyable romp from Dante, basing his section on the It's a Good Life episode it's certainly a little more comedic and definitely more upbeat. Whereas in the original the child ends up killing one of his 'family' here we see that he can be 're-educated' and use his special powers for good.
The house is itself a joy to behold, being pulled straight out of one of Anthony's favourite cartoons and that theme permeates through all we see here. One nice touch is upstairs, whilst watching an early black and white cartoon the house follows suit, the corridors bathed in greys.
Section 4 - George Miller
A nervous passenger breaks out in cold sweats when the plane on which he is travelling goes through some roller coaster turbulence. Locked away in the security of the bathroom he is eventually returned to his seat only to be harassed by inquisitive passengers and unruly children. To make matters worse on looking out of his window he sees what he can only describe as a man travelling on the wing on the outside of the plane.
This 'man' turns out to be some mischievous gremlin of sorts intent on causing the plane and the passengers harm. Starting to claw and rip at the engines it's not long before the plane faces serious difficulty. Spiralling down into madness, his own air flight fears compounded with this beast of burden, the crew and passengers dismiss his sightings as those of a deluded madman.
They say save the best for last and this section certainly proves to be that. Based on the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with Sci-Fi favourite William Shatner, the effects, as can be seen in the previous segments on offer here, are suitable for the time but these days certainly showing their age. That beast on the wings is obviously costume, make-up and animatronics and are artistically dwarfed these days by the use of good CGI. It works well enough though and presents a menacing force as you catch glimpses of it scuttling around the engines and wing, seen only at times in shadow or through the highlighted flash of lighting strikes.
What brings force to this piece though is the superb performance by John Lithgow as the white knuckle aerophobic. As a person myself who does not enjoy the very thought of flying, never mind the actual experience, my heart went out to him. It is Lithgow's descent into utter madness which has to be applauded here. Certainly Miller, previously better known for his Mad Max trilogy, managed to get the best out of Lithgow and subsequently win this race into and out of The Twilight Zone.
Opening titles narrated by Burgess Meredith and the closing titles narrated by Rod Serling himself Twilight Zone: The Movie was a decent enough stab at taking the short TV screenings and updating them for the big screen. Choosing four directors who were no doubt at the head of the box office pulling power at the time was the reason they were asked, however it might have been a better experiment to employ relatively unknown directors and perhaps a more thought provoking end result may have come about if they had let the reigns loose with more unfamiliar faces.
But ultimately filming, acting, effects or storyline are not why The Twilight Zone has its place in history. Due to a complete disregard for safety Landis broke some or all of the rules during filming his own piece. It could be stated that he adhered to common held practices but in reality pushing those boundaries as he did (using live ammo on set, using tired actors and children long past social working hours, organising stunts to be more dangerous than needed) resulted in the deaths, on set whilst filming, of three unfortunate souls. Forever blighting the lives of three families and splintering an enjoyed friendship between Landis and Spielberg, it has to be said that no film, no piece of 'entertainment' is worth the price which was paid here on July 23rd 1982.
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