Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Review

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on October 19th, 2018 | Movie Review | Cult Classic, Sci-Fi, Anthology

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It’s about an anthology of four stories in which people have misadventures in the title dimension.

Twilight Zone: The Movie was directed by John Landis (who also directed Innocent Blood and Schlock), Steven Spielberg  (who also directed Jaws and Duel), George Miller, Joe Dante  (who also directed Splatter and Trapped Ashes) and stars Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow (from The Evictors) and John Larroquette.

You're travelling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Twilight Zone: The Movie Review

Irony, Thy Name Is Irony

I mean, anthology horror movies are such a staple of the horror genre, we got a whole section of them. Twilight Zone was among the first TV shows to define the anthology format. Yet the franchise patiently sat dormant for about two decades while other anthology series came and went and dozens of anthology horror films made it to both late-night TV ( Trilogy of Terror shoutout!) and the theater ( Creepshow shoutout!).

That’s right, Creepshow beat Twilight Zone: The Movie to the post. After all that time watching all these other anthologies eat their lunch, the rights-holders of Twilight Zone finally woke up and realized “Oh yeah, we practically invented genre-anthologies, maybe we should cash in on the fad now!”

I will now unchain my inner fantard for this important PSA:

HEY KIDS! Wanna see a REAL horror anthology series? Pick up the original The Outer Limits (1963-1965), which was a heck of a lot darker than Zone. Or better yet, eyeball the petrifying Serling follow-up, The Night Gallery (1969-1973), which was not only a more horror-focused series, not only a fractal chasm of nightmares, but probably the greatest horror anthology TV series ever! Or see the closest spiritual successor to Zone in the modern day, Netflix’s own Black Mirror. We could be talking about those two classic episodes the late Harlen Ellison wrote for Limits, or how Charlie Brooker has been a long-standing British culture critic and satirist for years with his Screenwipe series before Mirror, but no... everybody wants more Zone, and this is why we can’t have -

Thank you. I have stuffed my inner fantard back in the basement to sort his Magic: The Gathering collection. We now return you to the Twilight Zone review already in progress:

Anyway, don’t get me wrong, The Twilight Zone was a ground-breaking, daring vision of a series, pioneering tropes we still hold dear today. But, while the show did give a batch of the most iconic horror stories to ever air, the show wasn’t focused on horror. It was mostly fantasy, science fiction, and then horror, but mostly it was about Rod Serling getting on a soapbox to preach the Very Important Lesson of the week.

Everybody forgets that for every one "It's a Good Life" or "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," there were ten mawkish, saccharine tearjerkers with Hallmark-card Aesops painted on an anvil and dropped on your head, like “The Mighty Casey,” “The Mirror,” “The Brain Center At Whipple’s,” and “Nervous Man In A Four-Dollar Room.” Whenever a TV channel airs an all-day TZ marathon, this sends us scampering to the episode listing, cheering for a run of “The After Hours” and “Eye of the Beholder,” groaning at the sight of “The Howling Man” or Cthulhu spare us, “The Gift.”

Something like a third of the episodes followed the exact same story over and over: (1) Some random klutz is tearfully sentimental about the past, (2) magically time-travels to the past, or the past visits them as ghosts, or whatever, (3) discovers ha ha you fool you were wrong to do that! You know how many of those nostalgia-for-the-past episodes are fan favorites? EL NUMERO ZIPPO!

Lo and behold, when Twilight Zone: The Movie finally emerged, it perfectly replicated the original show, flaws and all. Why, it’s just like the punchline to one of its own twist endings!

Which brings us to this movie:

As with most anthologies, it makes more sense to rate each segment individually and average the results. So here’s how I get 6 stars:

  • The prologue: It doesn’t count; anthologies are supposed to give us a clever framing device. This is a Tarantino-esque car dialog before Tarantino. It’s cool, it’s fun, but not sensational and not supposed to be.

  • “Time Out” - (5?) Tragically, the death of Vic Morrow mid-filming crippled this episode, so we’ll never know how awesome it could have been. But for what it is, it’s a big anvil about racism. It’s predictable and rushed, with a few good shots, mediocre overall.

  • “Kick the Can” - (1?) Vintage Soapbox Serling preaches at us about aging and the desire for youth. Eat chain, Serling! With every advancing year I am happier being the age I am than I ever was before! Being a kid again would be hell for me; I was born ready for Cuban cigars, tumblers of scotch, and lapdances, but found myself forced to sit in plastic chairs drinking Hawaiian punch and playing Hi-Ho Cherry-o. Scatman Crothers (The Shining) single-handedly wins the star.

  • “It's a Good Life” - (10?) Holy wolfman nards, this is the show I came to see! It takes the best episode of the series and updates it with so much cool stuff! Even the happy-ish ending they tack on works, because it raises the question of what kind of life lies ahead for Anthony and his new mentor. It even has the original Bill Mumy. Can we get a whole “Anthony” movie series? With the cool cartoon-come-to-life effects? Whose grits do we have to sugar to make this happen?

  • “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” - (8?) Solid. It’s a well-made, justified remake with John Lithgow giving us a convincing freakout. It has some scares, some laughs, and plenty of fun. Plus the gremlin actually looks scary and acts menacing this time. If any flaw is to be found, it does drag a bit, and it’s blown away by the third segment, which is a tough act for anything to follow.

Average them and you get a 6, no remainders or anything. Isn’t that neat?

And for our bonus peeve round, back to fantarding...

Of all the random songs, why is blues standard “Midnight Special” used in this movie? There’s a rocking song by Golden Earring released just the year before, they even used it for the pinball game! It was a top 10 Billboard hit written specifically as a tribute to the show. Whom didn’t return whose phone call here?

So they went with “Midnight Special”... because it has “midnight” in the name and that’s kind of like the field of stars in the narration cuts? Alas, it’s just one more mystery we’ll never solve in the Twilight Zone universe.

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