Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Rates: * * *

Why Did I Watch It? Blank Check Pod were doing George Miller and this was the bonus ep.

Cast, crew, etc.

In the early 80s, two superstar directors at the height of their fame teamed up with two up-and-comers to revisit one of TV’s most venerated and influential shows. The result: a goofy mess, with the odd moment of inspired genius.

‘Twlight Zone: The Movie’ has five segments (counting the prologue, which is extended), and I am going to rank each one separately.

PROLOGUE (Dir: John Landis) * * * *

Dan Akyroyd and Albert Brooks are on a late night, all night, road trip from somewhere to somewhere. Their tape player gives out – Brooks whines, pretty hilariously, ‘No entertainment! No entertainment!’ – and when they get bored with playing TV Theme Show trivia, they start telling each other scary stories.

And then Aykroyd says, ‘You wanna see something really scary?’

A great start; the two stars show excellent comic chemistry and their banter is fun, leading to the best single scare of the movie.

TIME OUT (Dir. John Landis) * * 1/2

A racist businessman mouths off in a bar about how the Jews and the Blacks are ruining America, before finding himself transplanted to Nazi Germany to get a taste of his own medicine.

This is the notorious part of the film; the section where inadequate safety precautions lead to the death of three actors, including two children (who had been hired illegally), and the trashing of Landis’ reputation. While he continued to make big films after this – I mean, of course he did – he did at least have to face court charges and the end of his friendship with Spielberg.

The section that came out of this tragedy is heavy handed and obvious, a solid enough idea given a far too literal treatment.

KICK THE CAN (Dir. Steven Spielberg) *

Scatman Crothers arrives at a stodgy old nursing home, and inspires the staid residents to rediscover their inner child. And then, actually turns them into kids, for a quick run around in the back yard.

Without question the worst segment, a grab bag of Spielberg’s poorest, most treacly, instincts as a director, with an offensive ‘magical negro’ trope thrown in for good measure. Some of the older performers are charming, and have great, pesonality filled faces, otherwise this is emabarassingly awful.

Maybe… the worst thing Spielberg has ever directed?

IT’S A GOOD LIFE (Dir. Joe Dante) * * * 1/2

An aimless young woman stumbles across a mystery house dominated by a sinister boy: if you’ve ever seen that Simpsons Halloween special segment where Bart has magical powers, you know what you’re in for.

Joe Dante’s wild visual imagination is on full display in this segment, which features particularly impressive production design. The house is a striking mixture of German expressionism and Tim Burton-esque suburban hell pastels, and there is one astonishing special effect, involving a rabbit and a hat, that scared me to death when I was little.

A fun and trippy little film, with a nicely ambiguous ending; just what are our heroine’s plans for the boys gifts? She may not be as sweet as she appears. And speaking of the Simpsons, Nancy Cartwright also features.

TERROR at 20 000 FEET (Dir. George Miller) * * * *

John Lithgow fills the role originally played by William Shatner, as an airline passenger with a fear of flying who spots a gremlin out on on the wing. As the creature gradually destroys the plane’s engines, Lithgow’s increasingly frenzied attempts to raise the alarm just make everyone think he’s nuts.

They saved the best for last and George Miller, fresh off ‘The Road Warrier’, brings a tremendous amount of taut energy to this well known story. There is one especially good moment, when Lithgow, having drawn the blinds to try and calm down, wrenches them up, comes face to face with the beastie, screams and is immediately grabbed by ten different people and restrained. An exceptional bit of visual direction, in close, cramped quarters.

Lithgow’s performance – sweat drenched, crazy eyed, manic – is tops as well. An exciting segment that shows how good this project COULD have been.

Overall, despite the shortcomings and the shadow cast by the Landis incident, a pretty fun package and a nice bit of nostalgia; my brother took me to see this when I was 6, and it gave me nightmares for some time afterwards. My mother, was not pleased.

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