This big budget anthology film seems destined to be known primarily
for the offscreen catastrophe that occurred during filming. The film
itself is a severely mixed bag, with one portion working smashingly and
rest not so much.
It seemed like a good idea: get four hot
directors--John Landis (ANIMAL HOUSE,
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Joe
Dante (THE HOWLING), George Miller (MAD MAX) and Steven Spielberg, who
also produced--to each direct a portion of a film based on THE TWILIGHT
ZONE. The 1983 project, however, went horribly wrong when a helicopter
crashed during filming of the Landis-directed segment, killing actor Vic
Morrow and two young children. The result was a high-profile trial that
concluded in 1987 with Landis acquitted.
Two dudes driving down a road one night get into a
conversation about old TV programs, including THE TWILIGHT ZONE--until
one of them, promising to show his pal “something really scary,”
abruptly turns into an inhuman creature.
This is followed by a pointless account of a racist
businessman’s comeuppance. Upset that a “Jew bastard” has been promoted
in his place, this a-hole launches into a tirade against Jews, blacks
and the Vietnamese inside a crowded bar. Upon exiting the bar the
protagonist finds himself in Nazi Germany, where he’s taken for a Jew,
and then in the American south, where white robed Ku Kluxers try to
string him up, and Vietnam, where he’s nearly shot by American soldiers.
The man ends up back in Germany, where he’s packed into a train car with
several Jews on the way to a death camp.
Next we have an even dumber account, this one about a
bunch of cute codgers in an old folks’ home who are lured into playing
Kick the Can by a sweet black guy. This somehow turns the wrinkly old
farts into children, who inform their supernaturally endowed benefactor
that they really only wanted to become young at heart.
Following this an attractive woman schoolteacher runs
into a young boy who has the power to make his every wish come true. The
boy is holding his “family” (actually a bunch of strangers he’s
collected after wishing his real family away) hostage in a big house
where everyone watches cartoons, eats junk food and dotes on the boy.
But in truth all the twerp wants is for people not to be afraid of him.
Finally there’s a nutty man aboard a commercial flight
who’s petrified of flying. The guy becomes even more worked up when he
spies a creature on the wing of the plane messing with the engines. Is
he seeing things or is there really something out there?
Quality-wise this film has a most unexpected
trajectory: the opening segments by the most popular and experienced
filmmakers of the quartet flat-out suck, while the third is only
slightly better and the final segment a mini-masterpiece.
A short prologue featuring Dan Aykroyd and Albert
Brooks starts things off well. In its mixture of laughs and shock horror
it’s pure John Landis, something that can’t be said for the Landis
directed opening segment.
The only one of the four segments not adapted from a
TWILIGHT ZONE television episode, Landis’ segment is a disaster. Most of
its problems are due to the accident outlined above, which took the life
of its star player and resulted in a cobbled-together mess that
unwittingly imparts the message that people with racist tendencies all
deserve to be shipped off to Nazi death camps.
Steven Spielberg’s segment is nearly as awful. It’s
mawkish and cloying in the extreme, not to mention poorly lit and
distractingly overscored by Jerry Goldsmith. The one saving grace is THE
SHINING’S always-lovable Scatman Crothers…playing Scatman Crothers.
Joe Dante contributes a thoroughly misguided update of
“It’s a Good Life,” one of the scariest episodes of the original TZ. It
suffers from a revamped script that turns the evil little boy of the
original episode (and the Jerome Bixby story it was adapted from) into a
misunderstood wuss. Phooey!
Yet Dante’s overpowering candy-colored visuals are
impressive, recalling the comic book inspired look of
foreshadowing the films of Tim Burton. The great Rob Bottin contributes
some impressive animatronic cartoon creatures, and the lead actress
Kathleen Quinlan does the best she can in a misconceived role.
George Miller was the director of the last and best
segment, inspired by the Richard Donner directed “Nightmare at 40,000
Feet” TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Working from a script by Richard Matheson
(who scripted the original episode and penned the story it was based
on), Miller succeeds in rendering this tight, claustrophobic piece, set
almost entirely in a small portion of an airplane, in impressively
cinematic fashion. It’s eerie, suspenseful and extremely well paced,
putting Miller’s skill for cinematic mayhem to excellent use.
Miller’s collaborators match his skill: the lead
performance by John Lithgow is terrifically unhinged, while the steadily
building, anxiety inducing score is among Jerry Goldsmith’s finest ever
work. The episode also has a nifty monster that’s a far cry from the
laughable guy in a gorilla suit that haunted the original “Nightmare at
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE
Directors: John Landis (Prologue, Segment 1), Steven Spielberg
(Segment 2), Joe Dante (Segment 3), George Miller (Segment 4)
Producers: Steven Spielberg, John Landis
Screenplay: John Landis (Prologue, Segment 1), Richard Matheson
(Segments 2, 3 & 4), Melissa Matheson (Segment 2), George Clayton
Johnson (Segment 2)
Cinematography: Allen Daviau (Segments 2, 4), John Hora (Segment 3),
Steven Larner (Prologue, Segment 1)
Editing: Malcolm Campbell (Prologue, Segment 1), Tina Hirsch (Segment
3), Michael Kahn (Segment 2), Howard Smith (Segment 4)
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic
Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry,
Nancy Cartwright, Doug McGrath, Dick Miller, Abbe Lane, Donna Dixon,
Bill Mumy, Larry Cedar