VIDEO: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

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David enters another dimension, not only of sight and sound but of mind, to review the 1983 anthology film Twilight Zone: The Movie, featuring four separate stories brought to life by four of the era’s most sought-after filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg and John Landis. He also briefly touches on the history of the classic TV series and its legendary creator, Rod Serling.

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  • I started watching a bit of the Twilight Zone quite a while ago after seeing James Rolfe’s top 10 best episode list. I like how the messages presented have held up after all these years. The one that left an impression with me was ‘What’s in the Box’. Not because of the episode itself (although the vision of an old married couple beating the shit out of each other then the husband knocking the wife out of the window killing her was pretty disturbing, if not slightly funny), but because Winnie The Pooh was a subtly demonic TV repairman! How could it not be? Seriously though, The Masks and Printer’s Devil were my favourites.

    I can finally see where more of the Treehouse of Horror parodies came from seeing this video. When I saw the original “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, I thought, that can’t have been the creature they were parodying when I was actually looking at the wrong version. Also, the Vic Morrow death story is pretty gruesome and almost makes you feel as though Spielberg and Landis were stuck there during filming. But at least they got around it and were able to finish this movie.

    Great recap and production as always David. I’m sure there was some kind of filming technique used for those duplicated DVDs at the end. Wasn’t there?…

  • StevePotter

    I never got a Twilight Zone vibe from “Duel.” “The Twilight Zone” was, at its best, insightful and exciting, even if it was just a half hour of dialogue, or even an episode without a single spoken word. “Duel” was just a ninety-minute bore. I didn’t find it very exciting and CERTAINLY not insightful.

    To each their own, of course, I just personally don’t understand its hype.

    • danbreunig

      I love Duel!

      I know how it looks like such a bore, and many will find it exactly as that: slow, ancient, too simple. Normally I’m not geared toward liking or disliking directors, or movies because of which director was involved with what, but I have to give a little nod to Spielberg here since he was an unknown then and actually made so much out of so little. A big factor in how I can enjoy this film is because it’s a product of it’s time. It’s 1971, so no 911, no cell phones, no highway surveillance, no commonplace knowledge about road rage, your word against anyone else’s–you can’t pull off a story like this in the 2010s. And the Truck Driver made one pretty scary antagonist for never revealing his true face or name at any point (the truck itself is just an extension of the guy driving it).

      As far as not being insightful…well, maybe in my case I got some particular insight because I could actually relate to it. I first saw it on TV after a tough day of an especially tough year for me in college, and at the end of the day I was aimlessly flipping through channels and Duel was on. I was rooting for the protagonist before too long and felt satisfied when it was over, mostly because I kept fantasizing “if only I could get rid of my own Goliaths that easily”.

      Yeah, I know, this is supposed to be about Twilight Zone, but I had to show that at least one viewer out here found some significance and even relevance in the other film. You can feel however you want about it. Twilight Zone and Duel are mutually exclusive–I just had to say something here because DUEL. Now I’ll go quiet.

      • John Wilson

        You could still do Duel now a days. You just have to change some things:).

  • Dennis Fischer

    Nice review, Dave. I especially liked the use of clips from Serling’s interview with Mike Wallace. You didn’t mention that there was concern about the similarity between the story Spielberg came up with for POLTERGEIST and Richard Matheson’s TZ episode “Little Girl Lost.” Hiring Matheson to do much of the script for the movie seemed to keep a potential lawsuit at bay. Also, sf writer Jerome Bixby came up with the basic concept for “It’s a Good Life,” which is based on his original story.
    Additionally, while Warner Bros. did distribute MAD MAX 2 as THE ROAD WARRIOR in the U.S., AIP was the one who distributed the original MAD MAX and required that the Australian film be dubbed into American English before doing so (it plays much better under its original soundtrack, naturally).

  • Cristiona

    Wow. I recognize a lot of those episodes just from the couple second clips you’ve shown. Some great picks, too. The fact that the entire run of The Twilight Zone is on Netflix Instant helps a lot.
    You know… if Spielberg wanted to do a tame, “safe” episode instead of a darker one, he should have done Night of the Meek. It’s right in Spielberg’s wheelhouse and is a much, much better episode.
    Also, a local station used to broadcast the Twilight Zone radio dramas, with Stacy Keach as the narrator. They were really very well done.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Thanks for the review, Dave. I vaguely recall hearing stories about the deaths related to this movie, but never the full details. I saw this movie in the theater and loved all the segments and I remember how much airplay it got on HBO. I used to watch it all the time.

  • Magdalen

    I love the Twilight Zone! You’re show doesn’t get enough love, I tell ya. :)

  • James Elfers

    To read the definitive book on Morrow’s and the children’s needless deaths seek out “Outrageous Conduct: Art Ego and the Twilight Zone Case” by Stephan Farmer and Marc Green, Landis was incredibly reckless in shooting the scenes in question. There was NO REASON for the helicopter to flying so low in the first place. Landis had a history of being reckless and in his previous films. John Landis only escaped jail only because the prosecutor over reached, First he waited too long to file charges against Landis and the producers for breaking child labor laws and the statute of limitations kicked in. Then he insisted on a first degree murder charge against Landis. The jury to a man WANTED to convict Landis of manslaughter but they were forbidden from even considering any other charge aside from murder. With that as the only option they voted to acquit. In a just world John Landis would have spent at least several years in jail. Landis however escaped justice. The real lesson of the Twilight Zone is that the fake justice and retribution visited upon Vic Morrow’s character is the ONLY form of justice to be found in Hollywood. The rich and powerful men behind the cameras never have to answer for their crimes.

  • Allison Venezio

    Fantastic! I am a fan of the original Twilight Zone series, having seen many episodes throughout my teens and twenties (I’m 30 years old). I tend to like these anthology series, and have also watched the reboot of The Outer Limits from the 1990s, Poltergeist The Legacy (which I watched as a 12-year old), and a personal favorite, Amazing Stories, a sort of obscure gem of Steven Speilberg’s creativity from the mid 1980s. That series actually came on the heels of Twilight Zone: The Movie, and was short-lived. Think Twlight Zone, with the right balance of whimsy, drama, and horror.

    The true tragedy about how this film wound up not having the box office success it could have had was definitely rooted in the “Time Out” segment. I actually have seen this movie more than a few times on Encore, but for some reason, come into it too late and always right at the beginning of the “Kick the Can” segment, so it actually had taken me some time to see the opening segment and “Time Out” (thanks You Tube!), but I have to say that the “Time Out” segment is actually quite eerie. I like plots with darker undertones, so this segment worked for me, but it definitely felt darker because of the controversy surrounding it.

    “Kick the Can” was definitely weak, but after finding out that the real segment was supposed to be “The Masks,” I’m actually quite disappointed with this segment. I will say, I love that Selma Diamond was in it, that woman was hilarious! But I was definitely disappointed in it, not that I don’t like happy, but it just felt…not Steven Speilberg.

    “It’s a Good Life”…creeped me out when Billy Mumy played Anthony, creeped me out again when I saw the 2003 version featuring his equally creepy daughter, Audrey (played by six-year-old Liliana Mumy). Jeremy Licht is just as haunting, pre-“Hogan Family.” The special effects are so much fun, definitely something that 80s kids can appreciate.

    “Terror at 20,000 Feet” – I hate William Shatner, I’ll say it. So seeing anyone who was not him in the segment was wonderful! John Lithgow is a great actor, he could convince me not to get on a plane ever again. Then again, the original “Airport” movie could do the same, but the gremlin in this version of the story…wow. I fondly remember The Simpsons version, and how the gremlin is akin to the one John Lithgow saw. And that freeze frame shot you provided? Um…yikes?

    In all, an excellent review of a movie that manages to maintain a cult following all these years later. It’s a fun watch and a great time filler, but if you’re into doing some serious reading about the tragedy surrounding the “Time Out” segment, reading I started doing in the early 2000s, while still in college, and a few years before I saw the segment itself, there is ALOT of information about it. That book even sounds like a convincing read, I really did get engaged in reading about the subject years ago.

    David Rose, you have a new fan! :-)