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Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

June 24, 2013


written by: John Landis, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

produced by: Steven Spielberg and John Landis

directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

rated: PG

runtime: 101 min.

U.S. theatrical release: June 24, 1983

DVD/Blu-ray release: October 9, 2007


Airing for five seasons on CBS between 1959 and 1964, “The Twilight Zone” is one of the all-time great television shows. A mix of horror, science fiction, paranormal and all sorts of wackiness, almost all the episodes were able to deliver some shocker/twist in the end. It’s been revived several times in TV reboots, and even received a big-screen adaptation in the much-maligned 1983 “The Twilight Zone: The Movie” a film shrouded in controversy even before its release.

The story is broken down into four separate segments, including a prologue. The first segment follows Bill Connor (Vic Morrow), a despicably racist middle-aged man who finds himself in a variety of different situations where he’s the one being prejudiced against. The second takes place at a retirement home where one of the residents, Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) offers his fellow residents a chance at a new life of sorts. In the third, a young woman, a teacher, Helen (Kathleen Quinlan), is on a road trip west when she meets Anthony (Jeremy Licht) with a strange hold and ability to control his family. And last, John Valentine (John Lithgow), a man who hates flying, is on a cross-country flight and struggling mightily as the plane flies through a storm. Looking out the window, Valentine is absolutely convinced that something is out on the wing, tearing up the engine. No one else on board sees it though. Is he nuts?




I loved the original Twilight Zone episodes from creator/writer Rod Serling so I went into this movie with some at least modest expectations. As a result, I was more than a little worried as I watched the prologue, two men (Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd) driving at night on a road trip out in the desert. The tone was okay — feeling like a set-up — if a little odd, but a really stupid twist (supposedly a shocker?) comes completely out of left field. If it was supposed to be a shocker, it came across as laughable. Thankfully, it wasn’t a complete harbinger of what was to come. For the most part, the movie does what it’s supposed to do. It’s creepy, unsettling and plays like a tribute to the original show. Is it perfect? No, not at all. Of the four segments, one is really good, two only good, and one really bad.

Beyond the actual movie, ‘Zone’ is known for a horrific accident that claimed the lives of three cast members on-set, including star Vic Morrow. Filming the movie’s opening segment, Morrow and two child actors were killed when a helicopter crashed onto them after several explosions sent the helicopter out of control. There is actually some horrifically brutal footage of the accident via Youtube if you’re curious. It’s sickening stuff. The accident put the film in limbo, producers and the studio debating whether to continue with the film.

The first segment’s director, John Landis, took a ton of heat for the accident (understandably so), even getting through a lawsuit that ruled no one was at fault for the accident. With absolutely no disrespect meant to Morrow or the two child actors, a cloud hung over the film’s production and eventual release. The opening segment with Morrow is one of the “only good” segments, but it’s difficult to watch it without thinking about what actually happened in bringing this portion of the film to life.




Almost as a novelty, the four segments were divided by four different directors, Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller. The odd part? Spielberg – the most accomplished of the four by far – delivers the weakest segment of the film!

Apparently Spielberg was greatly affected by Morrow’s death and debated even continuing the film. He did stick with it, but biographies claim the director just mailed in the effort, and it shows. While Crothers does a good job in his part, the segment plays like a happy-go-lucky after school special. In other words? Nothing like the best Twilight Zone episodes, not even the average ones. Directing the prologue and the opening portion, Landis’ parts are hit or miss. The Morrow story is good, but it had to be edited on the fly following Morrow’s death. The end result is a rather abrupt ending.




Thankfully, the final two portions make up for the somewhat slow start. The Joe Dante portion is based off a Zone episode titledn ‘It’s a Good Life‘ with the original star, Bill Mumy (Lost in Space), making a brief cameo. Quinlan does a fine job as Helen, the young teacher thrust into something she can’t even comprehend at first. 12-year old Licht is incredibly creepy as young Anthony, a boy with special powers. Also look for Kevin McCarthy and William Schallert in key parts.

The highlight though is George Miller’s segment, based off maybe the most well-known and classic Twilight Zone episode ever, ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet‘ starring William Shatner. Lithgow’s performance as an obsessed, possibly paranoid airline passenger is the best performance in the entire movie. It is a truly unsettling segment, also delivering the biggest and best twist of all the four stories.

In the end, the TV show turned movie is a mixed bag. More than a movie that stands on its own, it plays like a tribute without a whole lot originality. Wrapping up at just 101 minutes, it covers a whole lot of ground. Could 15-20 more minutes have aided the cause? Maybe not, but it couldn’t have hurt. Also listen for Burgess Meredith (a Twilight Zone regular back in the day) as the narrator, transitioning from story to story and keeping us mildly informed….as much as the Twilight Zone will allow!!! Imagine a dun-dun-duh!!! at the end of that statement.





RATING: **1/2




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