Director – John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Cast – Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Bill Quinn, Martin Garner, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Murray Matheson, Peter Brocco, Priscilla Pointer, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry, William Schallert, Nancy Cartwright, Dick Miller, Abbe Lane, Donna Dixon, John Dennis Johnston, Larry Cedar, Charles Knapp
Release Year – 1983
Reviewed by John of the Dead
“The Twilight Zone” aided in bringing eerie and creative horror to the masses, and I believe it was only fitting that it was given a full-length feature effort, especially from four infamous directors. John Landis, Stephen Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller direct four tales of terror, fantasy, and joy in this landmark anthology that despite a great output sadly suffers the omen of the terrible tragedy that took the life of Vic Morrow.
This shout-out to the popular Ron Sterling TV series consists a prejudicial bigot(Vic Morrow) who soon finds himself suffering prejudice first-hand, a kind old man(Scatman Crothers; The Shining) aiding those bound to retirement homes in finding their youth, a woman who suffers true terror when she helps a young boy in distress, and a neurotic man causing mass panic on a plane when he sees a heinous creature outside his window.
I honestly find the events that haunt this film to be pretty darn creepy. Several events caused delays in filming, with the most traumatic being the death of actor Vic Morrow and two children, decapitated by a helicopter’s rotor, which carries a creepy feel given the mystique behind the original Twilight Zone series. Simply put: it seems there was a bad omen in adapting the series to the big screen, and a price was paid.
The story gets started with an original prologue written/directed by John Landis employing Dan Aykroyd in a fun and zany role, which I saw as a sweet way to get things going. Landis also used his creative touch in writing/directing the first sequence, the only sequence not to be based on any particular Twilight Zone episode, and subsequently not written by Richard Matheson, who contributed the writing for the other three segments. I enjoyed this bit, and found its political and social commentary to be very enjoyable, as I love seeing people get what they deserve in ironic fashion, which was the case with the bigot getting a taste of his own medicine. The story was great, and it moved very well to numerous settings at the blink of an eye, making for not only a creative entry but a fun and engaging one as well. Landis’ direction is top-notch, as usual for him early on in his career, and he executes the psychological horror very well and in believable fashion. Vic Morrow delivers his usual great performance, which was sadly cut short by the unfortunate events mentioned earlier.
Our second story, centering around an older gentleman bringing youth back to the elderly in a small nursing home, was my least favorite of the film, but that does not mean it is lacking in quality. My reasoning for not enjoying the film was much was that it really stuck out in comparison to the other entries, and not in a good way per say in regards to horror. The level of horror is pretty much non-existent in this entry, and I admit I balked a bit at that. Thankfully, the story is a good one and one that contains many feel-good elements sure to please those with a kind heart, and I found myself quite forgiving of its non-horror given The Twilight Zone often employed storylines like this one. Spielberg’s direction is fantastic as usual, and he makes it known that he is helming the director’s chair with his usual Hollywood-esque favorable direction. I must admit though that the most remarkable thing about this entry though was Scatman Crother’s acting, as he was superb and expertly portrayed the wise, caring, and giving older gentleman in this truly memorable role for one of horror’s most under-appreciated actors.
The third entry was my absolute favorite entry, and that came due to its awesome storyline and superb direction from Joe Dante. Centering on a woman who offers to take a little boy home after bumping him with her car, we watch this kind gesture soon turn to terror when she learns of his supernatural powers/abilities and finds herself stuck in his grasp. The level of horror in this segment was the highest in the film, and that came to the addition of some truly scary creatures used by the kid to force his captive victims to do as he says. Dante’s direction really sells the horror, and he expertly employed live-action FX for the creatures, which were definitely some of the best I have ever seen. This really left me wishing we’d been given a full-length film based on this short story, or at least one with Joe Dante laying on the goods as he did in this entry.
Our fourth and final entry was an enjoyable one as well, centering on a man with a severe fear of flying who’s night becomes worse when he sees a ghastly creature outside of his window. The creature is seen sabotaging one of the plane’s engines, and while nobody believes him regarding the creature outside, one of the plane’s engines was indeed made dysfunctional…and all hell breaks loose. Psychological horror reigns supreme in this entry, and I was glad to see the addition of creature horror as well. George Miller does a fine job direction this sequence, employing great atmosphere, a sweet looking creature, and the truly superb acting performance from John Lithglow. He alone made this one of the most engaging entries in this film, and complimented by Miller’s direction this was my second favorite entry in the anthology, which is especially great given every other director in the film carries more prominence than Miller does, and ever will.
Those expecting to see a slugfest between four top-notch directors may want to look elsewhere, mainly because the film’s elite directors, Landis and Spielberg, deliver entries that pale in comparison to the entries from Dante and Miller, two novices compared to the elites. I guess once again Hollywood fails and the underdog reigns supreme.
Overall, Twilight Zone: The Movie is an awesome homage to the popular late night series that surely kept millions from sleeping at night. Four great directors deliver four well-written stories, bringing us great horror, good fun, and a truly engaging experience sure to please all who give this a watch. Recommended.