On June the 24th, 1983, the much anticipated Twilight Zone the Movie is released. This was one of my most favorite summer of ’83 films; and it is a wonderful piece of work based on Rod Serling’s incredible TV show from the 50’s and 60’s. John Landis and Steven Spielberg teamed up with Joe Dante and George Miller to make this motion picture homage to one of the greatest shows from the golden age of Television. I am a huge fan of all four of these talented story tellers, and the sequences are masterfully directed by each man. The stories are all intricately and beautifully connected by an emotionally moving and haunting score by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Each story stands on it’s own as the directors take us into new and revisited territory. The segments by Joe Dante and George Miller really stand out and show case these two directors’ great talents. This is a very good film on so many levels and I recommend it highly.
Below is a synopsis provided by Wikipedia that really gives a wonderful insight into each man’s story. Tragically, the film’s production suffered the great loss of veteran actor Vic Morrow and two young children due to a helicopter accident on the set a year before the film was to be released. The tragedy is heartbreaking to be sure, not only for those that lost their lives, but also for those that were there and have to live with the pain of what happened. Thirty years later and my heart and prayers still go out to everyone that was a part of this production. When and if you do revisit or watch this film for the first time, do remember those who passed on with special reverence. Thanks.
The film starts with a driver (Albert Brooks) and his passenger (Dan Aykroyd) driving very late at night, singing along to Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s cover of “Midnight Special” on a cassette, and the song ends when the tape breaks. The driver talks about a scary game he finds amusing: he switches off the car’s headlights and drives in the dark. After the passenger admits he’s uncomfortable, the driver laughs it off and keeps the lights on. With no tape or radio, the pair start a Name That Tune game with television theme songs such as Sea Hunt and Hawaii Five-O, and eventually the classic theme to The Twilight Zone. The conversation turns to what episodes of the series they found most scary, such as Burgess Meredith in “Time Enough at Last” and other classics. The passenger then asks the driver, “Do you want to see something really scary?” The driver obliges and reluctantly pulls over. The passenger turns his face away, then turns back around having transformed into a demon and attacks the driver.
The scene then cuts to outside the car as the familiar Twilight Zone opening theme music and monologue begin (spoken by narrator Burgess Meredith):
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… The Twilight Zone.
The film’s only original segment was the first, directed by John Landis. It is loosely based on the original Twilight Zone episode “A Quality of Mercy“, with the opening narration borrowing from “What You Need” and “A Nice Place to Visit“. The narrator starts with this monologue:
You’re about to meet an angry man: Mr. William Connor, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a lonely man, who’s tired of waiting for the breaks that come to others, but never to him. Mr. William Connor, whose own blind hatred is about to catapult him into the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.
Bill Connor (Vic Morrow) is an outspoken bigot who is bitter after being passed over for a promotion. Drinking in a bar after work with his friends, Bill makes prejudiced remarks and racial slurs towards Jews, blacks and Asians, attracting the attention of a group of black men sitting near them who strongly resent his racist comments. Bill leaves the bar very angry, but when he walks outside, the supernatural tone begins.
He inexplicably proceeds to assume the racial ethnicities of people against whom he was always prejudiced.
First, he finds himself in occupied France during World War II. He is spotted by a pair of SS officers patrolling the streets, who see him as a Jewish man. A chase ensues around the city, and Bill is shot in his arm by one of the German officers.
Bill falls from the ledge of a building and abruptly finds himself in the rural South during the 1940s. There a group of Ku Klux Klansmen (including John Larroquette) sees him as an African American whom they are about to lynch. Bill is scared and confused; he vehemently tells them he is white.
While trying to escape the Klansmen, he suddenly finds himself in a jungle during the Vietnam War, as a Vietnamese man is blown to bits by U.S. soldiers.
Instead of killing him, the grenade thrown by the soldiers blasts him into occupied France again. There he is captured by Nazi soldiers and put into an enclosed railroad freight car, along with other Jewish Holocaust prisoners. With no apparent possibility of redemption or rescue, Bill sees and uselessly screams for help to his friends from the bar, who have come out to the parking lot and cannot hear his cries, nor see him or the train as it pulls away to a concentration camp, thus leaving them to wonder about his whereabouts and the viewer to wonder about his fate.
- Burgess Meredith – Narrator
- Vic Morrow – Bill
- Doug McGrath – Larry
- Charles Hallahan – Ray
- Rainer Peets – German Officer
- Kai Wulff – German Officer
- Sue Dugan – Waitress No. 1
- Debby Porter – Waitress No. 2
- Steven Williams – Bar Patron
- Annette Claudier – French Monther
- Joseph Hieu – Vietnamese
- Al Leong – Vietnamese
- Stephen Bishop – Charming G.I.
- Thomas Byrd – G.I.
- Vincent J. Isaac – G.I.
- Bill Taylor – G.I.
- William S. Taylor – G.I.
- Domingo Ambriz – G.I.
- Eddy Donno – Ku Klux Klan Member
- Michael Milgrom – Ku Klux Klan Member
- John Larroquette – Ku Klux Klan Member
- Norbert Weisser – Soldier No. 1
Kick the Can
It is sometimes said that where there is no hope, there is no life. Case in point: the residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home, where hope is just a memory. But hope just checked into Sunnyvale, disguised as an elderly optimist, who carries his magic in a shiny tin can.
An old man named Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) has just moved into Sunnyvale Retirement Home. Upon his arrival, he sits around kindly and smiles as he listens to the other elders reminisce about the joys they experienced in their youth. Mr. Bloom implies to them just because they are old does not mean they cannot enjoy life anymore, and that feeling young and active has to do with your attitude, not your age. He tells them that later that night, he will wake them and that they can join him in a game of kick the can. All agree; however, Leo Conroy (Bill Quinn) disagrees, saying that now that they are all old they cannot engage in physical activity and play the games they once did as children.
That night, Mr. Bloom gathers the rest of the optimistic residents outside and plays the game, during which they are transformed into childhood versions of themselves. Although they are extremely ecstatic to be young again and engage in the activities they once enjoyed so long ago, they also realize that being young again means you not only experience the good aspects of life again but also the bad. They request to be old again, which Mr. Bloom grants to them. Leo Conroy witnesses one resident, Mr. Agee (Murray Matheson, who had a role in “Five Characters in Search of an Exit“) that still remains young, and says that he wants to go with him before the boy runs off. Conroy realizes that he does not have to stop enjoying life because of his old age.
The segment ends with Mr. Bloom leaving to another retirement home, and Conroy outside happily kicking a can around the yard, having learned being young at heart is what really matters.
- Burgess Meredith – Narrator
- Scatman Crothers – Mr. Bloom
- Bill Quinn – Leo Conroy
- Martin Garner – Mr. Weinstein
- Selma Diamond – Mrs. Weinstein
- Helen Shaw – Mrs. Dempsey
- Murray Matheson – Mr. Agee
- Peter Brocco – Mr. Mute
- Priscilla Pointer – Miss Cox
- Scott Nemes – Young Mr. Weinstein (Segment #2)
- Tanya Fenmore – Young Mrs. Weinstein (Segment #2)
- Evan Richards – Young Mr. Agee (Segment #2)
- Laura Mooney – Young Mrs. Dempsey (Segment #2)
- Christopher Eisenmann – Young Mr. Mute (Segment #2)
- Richard Swingler – Mr. Gray Panther (Segment #2)
- Alan Haufrect – Mr. Conroy’s Son (Segment #2)
- Cheryl Socher – Mr. Conroy’s Daughter-in-Law (Segment #2)
- Elsa Raven – Nurse No. 2 (Segment #2)
It’s a Good Life
Portrait of a woman in transit: Helen Foley, age 27. Occupation: schoolteacher. Up until now, the pattern of her life has been one of unrelenting sameness, waiting for something different to happen. Helen Foley doesn’t know it yet, but her waiting has just ended.
Mild-mannered Helen Foley (the name of the main character of the original series episode “Nightmare As A Child”) (Kathleen Quinlan), traveling to a new job, visits a rural bar for directions. While talking to the owner Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), she witnesses Anthony, a young boy (Jeremy Licht) playing an arcade game, who is being blamed by a pair of locals (one of whom portrayed Anthony in the original episode, Bill Mumy) for “accidentally” causing interference on the TV by slapping the side of the game machine. When one of the men pushes Anthony away from the game and pulls the plug, Helen comes to the boy’s defense, but Anthony runs out of the restaurant. As Helen leaves, she backs into the boy with her car in the parking lot, damaging his bicycle. Helen offers Anthony a ride home.
They eventually arrive at Anthony’s house, which is an immense home in the country. When Helen arrives, she meets Anthony’s family: Uncle Walt (Kevin McCarthy, who starred in “Long Live Walter Jameson“); sister Ethel (Nancy Cartwright); and Anthony and Ethel’s mother (Patricia Barry, who starred in “I Dream of Genie” and “The Chaser“) and father (William Schallert, who played a role in “Mr. Bevis“). Anthony’s family seems overly welcoming, but Helen at first dismisses this. Anthony starts to show Helen around the house (while the family rifles through Helen’s purse and coat); there is a television set in every room showing cartoons. She loses Anthony and comes to the room of another sister, Sara (Cherie Currie). Helen calls out to the girl, who is in a wheelchair and watching a television displaying cartoons, and gets no response. Anthony appears and explains that Sara had been in an accident; Helen isn’t able to see that the girl has no mouth.
After the tour, Anthony announces that it is time for dinner, which consists of Anthony’s favorite foods: including ice cream, candy apples, and hamburgers topped with peanut butter. Confused at first at how the family eats, Helen thinks that this is a birthday dinner for Anthony. Ethel complains at the prospect of another birthday; Anthony glares at her, and her plate flies out of her hands onto the ground. Helen hurredly attempts to leave, but Anthony urges Helen to stay and see Uncle Walt’s “hat trick”. Helen is stunned to see that a top hat has suddenly appeared on top of the television set. Uncle Walt is very nervous about what could be in the hat, but he pulls an ordinary rabbit out of it. The family members are relieved, but Anthony insists on more, and a large, cartoonish rabbit springs from the hat. Helen screams, and Anthony orders it to go away. As she attempts to flee, she falls and spills the contents of her purse, and Anthony finds a note slipped in from one of the Fremonts stating “Help us! Anthony is a monster!” When the family points the finger at Ethel, Anthony wills her into the television set; there she is eaten by a large, dragon-like cartoon character.
Helen attempts to escape only to have the door open up to a human eye. She closes it quickly only to see Anthony at the top of the stairs pleading her to stay. She then is led back into the room to see Anthony have a demonic cartoon that continuously contorted into various grotesque. After Helen demands the creature to disappear, in a fit of irritation, Anthony makes the entire house disappear instantly, and his family with it, leaving himself and Helen literally nowhere. Anthony explains that, since they were not happy living with him anymore, he sent them all back where they came from. Now, at last, Anthony realizes the horrific loneliness that comes with being omnipotent. For once, he expresses the tremendous insecurity and pain that seethes within him instead of burying it.
Helen offers to be Anthony’s teacher, and also his student; together, she says, they can find uses for his power that even he never dreamed of. Having been confronted with the true end results of his reign of terror, Anthony welcomes Helen’s offer and makes her car reappear. Both ride off toward her new home and job, surrounded by bright meadows filled with flowers.
- Burgess Meredith – Narrator
- Kathleen Quinlan – Helen Foley
- Jeremy Licht – Anthony
- Kevin McCarthy – Uncle Walt
- Patricia Barry – Mother
- William Schallert – Father
- Nancy Cartwright – Ethel
- Dick Miller – Walter Paisley
- Cherie Currie – Sara
- Bill Mumy – Tim
- Jeffrey Bannister – Charlie
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
The fourth segment is a remake of the episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“, directed by George Miller. The narrator starts with this monologue:
What you’re looking at could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn’t. It’s the beginning. Introducing Mr. John Valentine, air traveller. His destination: the Twilight Zone.
Nervous airline passenger Mr. John Valentine (John Lithgow) is in an airplane lavatory as he tries to recover from what seems to be a panic attack. The flight attendants attempt to coax Mr. Valentine from the lavatory, and they repeatedly assure him that everything is going to be all right, but his nerves and antics disturb the surrounding passengers.
As Mr. Valentine takes his seat, he notices a hideous gremlin (Larry Cedar) on the wing of the plane and begins to spiral into another severe panic. He watches as the creature wreaks havoc on the wing, damaging the plane’s engine, losing more control each time he sees it do something new. Valentine finally snaps, grabs a hand gun a sleeping air marshal, shoots out the window (causing a breach in the pressurized cabin), and begins firing at the gremlin. This only serves to catch the attention of the gremlin, who rushes up to Valentine and promptly destroys the gun. After a tense moment, in which they notice that the plane is landing, the gremlin grabs Valentine’s face, then simply scolds him by wagging its finger in his face. The creature leaps into the sky as the airplane begins its emergency landing.
On the ground as a straitjacketed Valentine is carried off in an ambulance, the police, crew and passengers begin to discuss the incident writing off Valentine as insane. However, the aircraft maintenance crew soon arrives and everyone gathers to examine the unexplained damage to the plane’s engines, complete with claw marks.
- Burgess Meredith – Narrator
- John Lithgow – John Valentine
- Abbe Lane – Sr. Stewardess
- Donna Dixon – Jr. Stewardess
- John Dennis Johnston – Co-Pilot
- Larry Cedar – Gremlin
- Charles Knapp – Air Marshal
- Byron McFarland – Pilot Announcement
- Christina Nigra – Little Girl
- Lana Schwab – Mother
- Margaret Wheeler – Old Woman
- Eduard Franz – Old Man
- Margaret Fitzgerald – Young Girl
- Jeffrey Weissman – Young Man
- Jeffrey Lampert – Mechanic
- Frank Toth – Mechanic
- Carol Serling – Mechanic
The fourth segment ends with a scene reminiscent of the prologue. Valentine is in an ambulance when the driver (Aykroyd) starts playing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special”. The driver turns and says, “Heard you had a big scare up there, huh? Wanna see something really scary?” The scene fades out to a starry night sky accompanied by Rod Serling‘s opening monologue from the first season of The Twilight Zone:
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
During the filming of the “Time Out” segment directed by John Landis on July 23, 1982 at around 2:30 a.m., actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (陳欣怡, age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. In the scene, Morrow’s character was to have traveled back through time again and stumbled into a deserted Vietnamese village where he finds two young Vietnamese children left behind when a U.S. Army helicopter appears and begins shooting at them. Morrow was to take both children under his arms and escape out of the village as the hovering helicopter destroyed the village with multiple explosions. The helicopter pilot had trouble navigating through the fireballs created by pyrotechnic effects for the sequence. A technician didn’t know this and detonated two of the pyrotechnic charges close together. The explosions caused the low-flying helicopter to spin out of control and crash land on top of Morrow and the two children as they were crossing a small pond away from the village mock-up. All three were killed instantly; Morrow and Myca were decapitated and mutilated by the helicopter’s top rotor blades while Renee was crushed by one of the skids.
|“||The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high-temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter’s tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter (around 25 feet off the ground) to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.||”|
The deaths were recorded on film from at least three different camera angles. As a result of Morrow’s death, the remaining few scenes of the segment could not be filmed and all of the scenes that were filmed involving the two Vietnamese children, Myca and Renee, were deleted from the final cut of the segment.
It later emerged that Myca and Renee were being paid under the table to get around California’s child-labor laws. At the time, California did not allow children to work an hour past curfew. Landis opted not to seek a waiver, either because he didn’t think he’d get one for such a late hour or because he knew he would never get approval to have young children as part of a scene with a large number of explosives. The casting agents didn’t know that the children would be involved in the scene. Associate producer George Folsey, Jr. told the children’s parents not to tell any firefighters on set that the children were part of the scene, and also hid them from a fire safety officer who also worked as a welfare worker. A fire safety officer was concerned the blasts would cause a crash, but didn’t tell Landis of his concerns.
The accident led to civil and criminal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade. Landis, Folsey, production manager Dan Allingham, pilot Dorcey Wingo and explosives specialist Paul Stewart were tried and acquitted on charges of manslaughter in a 1987 trial. In the aftermath of the accident, regulations were changed involving children working on movie sets at night and during special effects-heavy scenes. Hollywood also avoided helicopter-related stunts for many years, until the CGI revolution of the 1990s made it possible to use digital versions. As a result of the accident, second assistant director Andy House had his name removed from the credits and replaced with the pseudonym Alan Smithee.
Release and reaction
Twilight Zone: The Movie opened on June 24, 1983 to mixed reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated each segment individually, awarding them (on a scale of four stars): two for the prologue and first segment, one-and-a-half for the second, three-and-a-half stars for the third, and three-and-a-half for the final. Ebert noted that “the surprising thing is, the two superstar directors are thoroughly routed by two less-known directors whose previous credits have been horror and action pictures… Spielberg, who produced the whole project, perhaps sensed that he and Landis had the weakest results, since he assembles the stories in an ascending order of excitement. Twilight Zone starts slow, almost grinds to a halt, and then has a fast comeback.” The New York Times‘ Vincent Canby called the movie a “flabby, mini-minded behemoth.”
According to boxofficemojo.com, it opened at #4, grossing $6,614,366 in its opening weekend at 1,275 theaters, averaging $5,188 per theater (adjusting to $15,076,555 and a $11,825 average in 2009). It later expanded to 1,288 theaters and ended up grossing $29,450,919 (adjusting to $67,129,396 in 2009). Having cost $10 million to make, it was not the enormous hit which executives were looking for, but it was still a financial success and it helped stir enough interest for CBS to give the go-ahead to the 1980s TV version of The Twilight Zone.