After The Basement I was in the mood for some more anthology movie goodness and that’s when I realized that I’ve never actually watched Twilight Zone: The Movie in its entirety. It felt like I knew a lot about it, but had never seen it. Plus having bought the box set of the entire run of the show recently, it felt long overdue that I check this one out.
The idea behind Twilight Zone: The Movie is that four different prominent directors would each direct their own segment to make up the movie. Three of them are either remakes or updates of concepts from the original show. Actually all four of them might be now that I think about it, although each one does try and tweak the story a little bit (with the exception of story four really). Once again, let’s do this segment by segment.
The first story is the Landis one and it’s about a racist asshole who finds himself in the shoes of those he talks shit about, and ends up having to escape from Nazis during WWII, a gang of KKK members who want to hang him, etc. It’s weird watching this one since the big controversy around it is that lead actor Vic Morrow and two child actors (who were being paid under the table in order to get around certain labour laws) were killed after a helicopter stunt went awry and ended up landing on them. That scene has of course been excised from the movie but it’s still strange to watch it. It also doesn’t help the end product since they clearly had to edit together what they had and it makes things feel very disjointed and abrupt. The concept of a racist being shown what it’s like in the other role is not new, and this story brings nothing new to the table. Nobody learns a lesson. The universe just deals this guy the ultimate fuck you card and that’s that. Not a great way to kick things off.
The second story....oh god the second story. This is the Spielberg one and it has got to be the sappiest, schmaltziest, 20 minutes of story ever committed to film. It’s about a group of adorably quirky seniors living in the nicest retirement home on the planet, who are transformed into the adorably quirky child versions of themselves for one night after a game of kick the can that is organized by a wizard or an angel or whatever. If you like your shit sappy and overwrought then oh my god is this ever for you. If there’s a score out there for this, I have to imagine every track is “Whimsical Shit” “Shit Gets Way Whimsy” “Get Face Fucked With Whimsy” “Holy Shit, The Whimsy!” We get it music, this is magical stuff! Stop telling me how to feel about it, I’ll figure it out myself! Painful, just painful!
Things start to pick up with story 3, the Joe Dante one. Here a woman accidently hits a kid on his bike with her car and after giving him a ride home, is invited inside. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out that this kid’s family is a wee bit fucked up. They all look like they came straight out of a fifties sitcom and seem ridiculously on edge around this kid. It turns out it’s because this particular kid has god like powers and can essentially make anything happen just by thinking about it. The family is on edge because they’re afraid that if they step even slightly out of line, this kid will take away their mouths or trap them in a cartoon world. There’s some great tension here, as well as some great practical special effects once the kid starts creating creatures. I love the set design, with the house set-up to look like a cartoon, and the unhinged performances are fun as well. Plus it plays on everyone’s fear that children are out to murder them with their mind. Good stuff this one.
Finally we have a remake of the episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, the famous one where William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane but of course nobody believes him. The story here plays out virtually the same, only with John Lithgow in the lead. This story is the highlight of the movie, with a standout performance by Lithgow and a surprising amount of tension. The lighting is great on this, as anytime it cuts to the exterior of the plane you can see a fleeting glimpse of something out there, but you can’t get a good look at it. You do start to see more and more of what’s out there, but it never takes away from the suspense. It’s a great way to close out the movie.
Naturally I can only partly recommend this movie. The first half is weak no matter how much fucking whimsy it tries to throw at us, with things really picking up with the final two stories. I guess then my advice is to get the movie (I bought my copy for 3 dollars) and skip to around the one-hour mark. Actually watch the prologue as well, I didn’t mention that but it’s funny and features a really random/awesome ending. Also Dan Aykroyd.