A Sci-Fi Honey Classic Review by Katie

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Exterior, night: two men are driving down a winding country highway, engaging in typical “road trip” games and innocuous banter to stay awake. In a self-referential moment, the subject turns to favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone; suddenly, things take a turn. Car Passenger (Dan Aykroyd) asks Car Driver (Albert Brooks) “hey… you wanna see something really scary?” With those words, the Driver (as well as the audience) crosses into that fabled fifth dimension, brought to light time and again by Twilight Zone series creator Rod Serling. In the early 1980s, four film directors got together to remake three definitive episodes and create one new segment for a four-part anthology film, and Twilight Zone: The Movie was born. While some segments hold up better than others, the film is one of the better sci-fi/horror anthology offerings in the genre, featuring some imaginative revisions of classic stories and plenty of scares to thrill you as you navigate the land of shadow and substance. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, Twilight Zone: The Movie!

Segment 1: Time Out

As the only original segment in the film not strictly based on a previous episode of the TV series, Time Out had the unique opportunity to tell a completely new story that felt at home in the overarching world of Serling’s work – and for the most part, it succeeds. Vic Morrow stars as a down-on-his-luck working stiff, who, after being passed over for a promotion at work, knocks back one too many drinks and goes on a bigoted tirade about all his problems stemming from one race or another taking away the various hard-earned opportunities he’s entitled to as a red-blooded American. Upon leaving the bar, Morrow finds himself suddenly transported to different places and times where subjugation of other races and religions was rampant – Nazi Germany, the deep South in the early 20th century, Vietnam during the war – but this time, he’s on the other side of the abuse. The first segment in the Twilight Zone movie, unfortunately, will always be remembered more for what happened in real life while filming it than the finished product itself: during the filming of a Vietnam scene, Morrow and two child actors were killed when a stunt helicopter crashed on top of them. The segment was re-edited to excise any mention of the children, who were on the set illegally, and director John Landis went through years of litigation before he was acquitted of manslaughter charges. While it’s difficult to not think about the behind-the-scenes tragedy while watching this segment, Morrow’s final performance is powerfully nuanced and the story is more sophisticated than the afterschool special about intolerance it appears to be.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three Serlings out of five

Segment 2: Kick the Can

A remake of the 1962 episode of the same title, Steven Spielberg’s segment in the film is the weakest overall, but fits nicely into the catalogue of his work as an auteur. A clear visual and thematic predecessor to Hook, a film he would make nearly a decade later, Kick the Can tells the story of a nursing home inhabited by quirky octogenarians reminiscing about the days when they used to dance, play, and use their adolescent bodies every way they could. A new resident (Scatman Crothers, The Shining) suggests that they all play a game of kick the can in an attempt to regain some of that youthful magic – and let’s just say, the game works quite literally. The segment has far too much Spielberg-ian whimsy to feel at home in Serling’s territory, for even the most lighthearted of Twilight Zone episodes had a dark undertone. The only darkness here lies in the unescapable reality of growing old, a concept better fleshed out in a similarly affable manner by Ron Howard in Cocoon. Kick the Can is a moment of sentimental levity in the midst of the horrors depicted in the segments that bookend it, but feels out of place in the film as a whole.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Two Serlings out of five

Segment 3: It’s a Good Life

One of the best episodes of the series is also one of the best segments in the movie, adapted here by Gremlins director Joe Dante. Sweet-natured Helen (Kathleen Quinlan) gives little Anthony a ride home after accidentally damaging his bike, and inadvertently becomes a prisoner to his will. A child-sized monster, Anthony has the ability to wish anything he wants into existence – which forces his terrified family to constantly placate him out of fear that he’ll mutilate or kill them with a simple wish. Visual effects had grown by leaps and bounds in the 20 years since the original episode aired, and Dante uses puppetry, makeup, and special effects to achieve some memorably gruesome and shocking moments that weren’t possible to depict on television in the early 1960s. With wacky sets and sound effects, the segment plays out like a live-action cartoon, populated by creatures that resemble a Looney Tunes version of hell. It’s pure lunacy, but it’s also fraught with a profound sense of dread for anyone in Anthony’s life who unintentionally displeases him.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four Serlings out of five

Segment 4: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

The collaborators behind Twilight Zone: The Movie saved the best for last in concluding the film with one of the most famous stories in the series history, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. In a role made famous by William Shatner, John Lithgow stars as John Valentine, an anxious passenger on board a turbulent flight in the middle of a nighttime thunder storm. As he attempts to calm his nerves, he notices something on the wing of the plane – perhaps a man, perhaps something more sinister – deliberately damaging the plane’s engine. Director George Miller (of Mad Max fame) perfectly frames the chaos of the situation through the eyes of a man who is paralyzed by fear, never relieving the audience of psychological distress. Valentine’s vain attempts at alerting the passengers and crew to the danger only makes him seem more insane, and the segment’s visual style is conversely more erratic. The original television episode is just as suspenseful, but the much-anticipated reveal of the creature here is significantly more effective, both in the pacing leading up to the reveal and in the makeup effects (like I said, they’d gotten better since the 60s). This segment stands the test of time in both the television and film version because it grounds the horror in a very realistic context, playing on fears we’ve all had while making journeys by air. The next time you fly, you’ll think twice about taking a seat over the wing.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four-and-a-half Serlings out of five

Twilight Zone: The Movie is available on Netflix DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, YouTube VOD, iTunes, & blu-ray/DVD

Which is YOUR favorite Twilight Zone segment?
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