The Vault: Unearthing Forgotten Films (…So You Don’t Have To!)

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC The Vault: Unearthing Forgotten Films (…So You Don’t Have To!)

By Sebastian Skelton.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Once again here at The Vault, we take a look back at some cult movies of yesteryear. This time it’s the movie version of the TV series phenomenon: The Twilight Zone – something everyone has heard of even if they haven’t actually seen any of the episodes.

The big screen treatment of a long running TV series is always an intriguing prospect. Rather than having just one feature length story however, ‘The Movie’ opts to present four different stories (plus a prologue) with four big name directors on board for each segment: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, George Miller and Joe Dante.

Although this seems like an enticing prospect, the following should be noted: three out of the four segments are just straight remakes of ‘classic’ ‘Zone episodes and also that none of the segments are linked in any way (unless you count the narrator bookending each episode).

So how does it fair? Revisiting it now yields decidedly mixed results. Here is a segment-by-segment breakdown.

The Prologue (directed by John Landis) is a short and sweet introduction featuring a man (Albert Brooks) who has picked up a hitchhiker (Dan Aykroyd) during a cross-country road trip. After hearing them singing along to ‘Midnight Special’ for an almost uncomfortably long amount of time, the segment ends with an unexpected jump scare. It’s classic Landis (see American Werewolf in London for more of this) but sets a precedent that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to.

Case in point: Segment 1 (also directed by Landis), a story that starts out with a bigoted man in a bar complaining out aloud to his friends about how he lost his promotion to a Jewish man, and then goes on to rail against various other ethnic minorities. Shortly after leaving the bar however, for reasons unexplained he finds himself transported back to 1940’s Nazi occupied France, then to a KKK rally in the 1950’s and then finally to 1960’s Vietnam – in each location he is perceived and subsequently persecuted as a minority.

It’s a heavy-handed morality tale that is not only fairly dull to watch but is also unfortunately shadowed by the real life tragedy that occurred during its filming, in which lead actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed during a stunt scene involving a helicopter. Perhaps it was because they had already spent so much money on it, but the inclusion of this segment in the film (and it being the only original tale not based on any previous Twilight Zone episode) never sits quite right.

Segment 2, a remake of the episode ‘Kick The Can’, concerns a mysterious stranger Scatman Carothers (most known for his role in The Shining) and his ability to (literally) rejuvenate the occupants of an old people’s home through the power of ‘play’. No, really.

But hang on, wasn’t this directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg? Yes, but unfortunately it’s drawn out, mawkish and sickly sweet. The less talked about the better – it’s easily the weakest entry of the movie. Moving on…

Segment 3 (directed by Joe ‘Gremlins’ Dante) is a remake of the episode ‘It’s A Good Life’ – the story of a teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) who comes across a weird family who seem to be held hostage in their own home by their son. It’s revealed that the boy has the power to alter reality with his mind and has taken to punishing them in various ways when he feels they don’t love him anymore.

This has more the classic Twilight Zone feel – mysterious and dark – and with great special effects (especially the creepy puppetry) is one of the better episodes of the movie. Check out an early performance by Nancy Cartwright (most famous as the voice of Bart Simpson) as the girl who (rather ironically) gets stuck in a cartoon.

The final Segment, a remake of the episode ‘Nightmare At 20,000 Feet’, sees John Lithgow (playing the William Shatner role of the original), as a man who panics during a stormy flight when he is convinced that he has seen some kind of creature outside on the wing of the plane. Directed by George Miller (Mad Max), this one is generally perceived to be the best of the bunch, combining decent effects, kinetic camerawork and a terrific physical performance from Lithgow – all rolling eyes, crazed blabbering and profuse sweating.

Whether or not he is imagining it all is kept suspenseful right up until the end and it’s a great episode to finish off the film – it’s just a shame you have to wade through some weaker episodes to get there.

There is no doubt that the name ‘The Twilight Zone’ will continue to live on in the far reaches of popular culture – but this movie is really only half a decent one, and as such will likely remain just a footnote to the long running series.

When even up to this day, the on set deaths of cast members is the most remembered aspect of the movie, you know you don’t have a particularly memorable film on your hands.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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