Twilight Zone, The Movie (1983)

Directed by

Joe Dante (segment “3”)
John Landis (prologue & segment 1)
George Miller (segment “4”)
Steven Spielberg (segment “2”)
Four horror/sci-fi segments directed by four famous directors, each of them being a new version of a classic story from Rod Serling‘s landmark television series The Twilight Zone (1959).

Twilight Zone: The Movie is a 1983 American anthology science-fiction fantasy horror film produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis as a theatrical version of the 1959–64 TV series The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Serling.

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The film stars Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan and John Lithgow with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in the prologue segment. Burgess Meredith, who starred in four episodes of the original series, took on Serling’s position as narrator. In addition to Meredith, six actors from the original series (William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Bill Mumy, Murray Matheson, Peter Brocco, and Patricia Barry) had roles in the film.

The film is a remake of three classic episodes of the original series and includes one original story. Landis directed the prologue and the first segment, Spielberg directed the second, Joe Dante the third, and George Miller directed the final segment. Dante recalled that in the film’s original conception the three stories would be interwoven with characters from one segment appearing in another segment, but later problems with the film precluded this.

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The film garnered notoriety before its release for the tragic stunt helicopter crash which took the lives of Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, during the filming of the segment directed by Landis. The two child actors were hired illegally.Their deaths led to a high-profile legal case, although at the end of the trial no one was found to be criminally culpable for the accident.

Helicopter accident

During the filming of the “Time Out” segment directed by 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 (Chinese: 陳欣怡; pinyin: Chén Xīnyí, age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. The two child actors were hired in violation of California law, which prohibits child actors from working at night or in proximity to explosions, and requires the presence of a teacher or social worker. During the subsequent trial, the illegality of the children’s hiring was admitted by the defense, with Landis admitting culpability for that (but not the accident), and admitting that their hiring was “wrong”.

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In the scene that served as the original ending, 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 which would have led to his character’s redemption. The helicopter pilot had trouble navigating through the fireballs created by pyrotechnic effects for the sequence. A technician on the ground did not know this and detonated two of the pyrotechnic charges close together. The flash-force of the two 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 to death by the same rotor blades. A report released in May 1984 by the National Transportation Safety Board stated:

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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.

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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.

Myca and Renee were being paid under the table to circumvent California’s child labor laws. California did not allow children to work at night. Landis opted not to seek a waiver. The casting agents were unaware 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 did not tell Landis of his concerns.

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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 nine-month trial in 1986 and 1987.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.

Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of A Hat….

6 October 1999 | by Cobbler (Venice Beach, CA.) – See all my reviews

I’m a huge fan of the series, and I remember being obsessed with TZ The Movie when it was released. I was 12, after all!!

Recently watched the film again for the first time in at least 15 years. I was blown away by the final segment, it’s truly a classic which really scared the stuffing outta me. That evil little girl who takes Polaroids of everything freaked me out to no end. For me, it’s the only segment in which the quality of the writing matches the direction and visuals from beginning to end.

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I saw the original episode upon which Joe Dante’s (3rd) segment is based when I was spending the night at my friend’s house in 4th grade. It, too, really frightened me. I remember thinking to myself how hopeless the situation was– if you even TRIED to not think bad thoughts about Anthony, you would end up thinking them, and he could still get you!! And didn’t he “wish someone away to the cornfield”?? Man, that’s some serious freakiness.

I thought the design of that segment in the movie was incredible, I’ll never forget the mom holding the fishbowl, or the ferocious rabbit creature, or what happens to Ethel (“Run, Ethel….!”) But the ending is truly atrocious and almost ruins what has come before.

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What can I say about the other two segments? Better scripts were needed in order to make them work. And in the case of “Kick the Can”, sticking more closely to the original episode would have given it more impact. (Not to mention firing Steven Spielberg.)And it’s sad seeing Vic Morrow in his final role– I’ll always think of him as the sadistic coach in THE BAD NEWS BEARS, which is one of my all-time favorites.

All in all, a very uneven movie which improves steadily as it goes along. 6/10.

Hit and Miss

7/10
Author: jrs-8 from Chicago
26 May 2005

As is the case with movie anthologies, “Twilight Zone – The Movie” is hit and miss. If there was a movie destined to have four short stories that were all home runs it was this one. But the film falls short partially due to the expectations of the fans of the TV show and partially due to the fans expectations of the results of the four directors. What was most interesting back in 1983 was which ones hit and which ones missed.

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The prologue gets things going in the right direction with Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd as two guys traveling down a dark and seemingly lonely road. What transpires in pure Twilight Zone. Then we move into the first story which is directed by (as was the opening prologue) John Landis. Landis, who got the whole project off the ground, foolishly decided to go with an original story instead of updating a classic episode. His story is that of a bigot who constantly and bitterly complains about the minorities who are getting job promotions and moving into his neighborhood. Of course the bigot then gets a real taste of what it feels like to be frowned upon as a minority. Basically that is the whole story in a nutshell. Landis provides no real twists to his story to give us that Twilight Zone flavor after the first few minutes. Once we see where the story is headed it never changes directions. For film buffs Landis adds a nice touch with a subtle reference to his classic “Animal House” in the Vietnam section of the story.

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Of course it should be noted that this was the story being shot when Vic Morrow and two children were tragically killed which would explain its abrupt ending. The two children are never seen which would suggest perhaps Landis had more to tell but we’ll never know. Of the four this is the weakest story.

Story two is not much better then the first which is particularly surprising since Steven Spielberg is at the helm for this one. It’s a remake of “Kick the Can” which was not one of my favorite episodes from the series and Spielberg adds nothing to his version. It’s the tale of residents of an old folks home who encounter a new resident who promises them something no one of this Earth could possibly give them. While the story and individual moments are very sweet it goes absolutely nowhere. Having just come off “E.T.” perhaps Spielberg was in that same gushy mood at that time.

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Story three picks things up drastically and heads us in the right direction. Directed by Joe Dante who, at that time, was best known for “The Howling” with films such as “Gremlins” still in his future, this is the story of a little boy who hears people’s thoughts and has a way of “wishing people away” if he gets angry enough at them. Kathleen Quinlan plays an unsuspecting traveler who goes to the boy’s home and realizes almost immediately things are not normal. The star of this story is the art direction and sets as we are transformed into almost cartoon like worlds that are both funny and frightening.

The last and best story is the tale of a frightened airline passenger (well played by John Lithgow) who threatens the safety of everyone when he seems to be the only person that sees a creature on the wing of the airplane. George Miller, best known for the “Mad Max” movies, was smart enough to pick a popular episode from the series and he delivers with a bang. When you leave the theater this is the story you remember most.

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On the whole the film is worth watching especially after the first 45 minutes. Landis and Spielberg perhaps were a little too high on their horses and thought whatever they did would work. Apparently they under estimated the legions of Zone fans. I’d love to see someone try another Twilight Zone movie someday and try re-working some of the other most famous episodes. I should also mention the terrific musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. Its one of his least mentioned but I think it’s one of his best.

Hey, you wanna see something *really* scary?

7/10
Author: Scott LeBrun (Hey_Sweden) from Canada
11 August 2012

Feature film expansion of legendary TV series is uneven overall, but it does have its moments, and it does thankfully follow the rule of saving the best for last. Four prominent directors are brought together to create, in glorious colour, some classic episodes of the series, with an impressive roster of stars and character players. At least along the way it manages to create some enjoyable jolts. Burgess Meredith, star of ‘Time Enough at Last’, one of the best known and most beloved of all episodes, is the narrator for this trip into some bizarre places.

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Unfortunately the movie will always have an enormous stigma attached to it due to the untimely and horrific death of actor Vic Morrow and two child extras during the shooting of Segment 1. That may very well leave a bad taste in the mouth of many people watching. It’s up to the individual viewer as to how much this affects their enjoyment of the film.

The prologue and the first segment are actually originals written by director John Landis. Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks are fun as a passenger and driver who come up some with some amusing ways to entertain each other until Aykroyd decides it’s time for Brooks to get a good scare. This gets us off to a good start because Landis does understand that with the TV show the payoff was a most important element.

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Segment 1 sees Morrow playing an unrepentant bigot who gets a major dose of his own intolerance when he’s mistaken for a Jew by Nazis, a black by KKK members, and a Vietnamese man by American troops in ‘Nam. This is a very dark episode that doesn’t end too satisfactorily, but Morrow is excellent, the look of Paris during WWII is nicely realized, the pacing is effective, and there’s a great in joke referring back to Landis’s “Animal House”.

Segment 2, Steven Spielberg’s remake of “Kick the Can”, sees wonderfully genial Scatman Crothers injecting some magic into the lives of senior citizens in an old folks’ home. Like Segment 1, it’s unfortunately not subtle about its message, and is so syrupy sweet that it really doesn’t fit in with the other segments here. The actors are very likable, fortunately; Crothers manages to make it worth sitting through.

Twilight Zone The Movie Reviewed and Galleries theblackboxclub.com

Segment 3 tells the tale of “It’s a Boy’s Life”, in which a creepy kid (Jeremy Licht) makes the acquaintance of travelling schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan. This kid can bend reality to suit his whims, lives in a house with bizarre designs, likes his hamburgers with peanut butter topping, and lives for cartoons. And his “family” lives in mortal terror of him. The work of Joe Dante, this serves as a counterpoint to Spielberg’s tale the way that it depicts childish fantasies run amok. Great cartoon style monster work by Rob Bottin helps in the enjoyment of this segment; this is where the film starts getting really good. Bill Mumy, the kid in the original episode, plays a diner patron.

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Segment 4, directed by George Miller of the “Mad Max” series, is far and away the best, an over the top remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, in which terrified airplane passenger John Lithgow believes he sees a creature busy destroying the planes’ engines as it flies through a storm. Lots of good atmosphere and intensity here, with a top notch unhinged performance by Lithgow and a great creature, designed by Craig Reardon & Michael McCracken and performed by actor Larry Cedar.

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With a lot of familiar faces in the small roles (ex. Charles Hallahan, Doug McGrath, Bill Quinn, Selma Diamond, the almighty Dick Miller (once again playing ‘Walter Paisley’), Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, Cherie Currie, Nancy Cartwright, John Dennis Johnston, Eduard Franz, and Donna Dixon), and wonderful music by Jerry Goldsmith, this certainly remains an entertaining film to watch for its duration, if not a great one. Hopefully it will inspire people to check out the TV series and see why it’s so admired.

Film version of legendary TV show demonstrates the weakness of film anthologies

5/10
Author: kira02bit from Silver Spring, Maryland
14 May 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Film anthologies are a tricky thing to successfully pull off. They usually show up cinematically as horror films featuring cautionary tales (a la Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt), but they are a difficult genre to conquer, which is why there is not an overabundance of them.

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Usually there are strong entries in the anthology and weak entries, which has a tendency to leave the film in question unbalanced. What some people adore in one story, others strongly dislike. The only way to gauge a true success is if the majority of the vignettes are memorable and compensate for the lesser ones. And it is in this arena that Twilight Zone: The Movie falls apart.

One would think that given the well-earned popularity of the widely praised Rod Serling-hosted TV series and a wide variety of solid stories, both scary and thoughtful, that filmmakers had to choose from that the end result would be much better than what appears on screen here.

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The film opens well with an inventive wraparound segment featuring Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks as travelers driving down a desolate desert highway, whose game of TV themes takes a rather disturbing turn. The casting of two notable comedic actors in a sequence that concludes rather horrifically is inspired, but it is a set up that the remainder of the film, with only one exception, cannot meet or maintain.

The first story is an original one not borrowed from the show. Middle-aged white male bigot Vic Morrow finds his prejudices challenged when he is literally forced to walk in the shoes of those he denigrates. As such, he finds himself mistaken for a black man by the KKK, a Jew by the Nazis and a Vietnamese by trigger-happy American GIs. Ostensibly the story would end with Morrow mending the error of his ways, but due to the tragic death of Morrow and two young children on the set, the story ends up concluding on a downbeat ambiguous note. It logically feels unfinished, but even prior to the abrupt conclusion, John Landis’ heavy-handed direction renders everything predictable and obvious.

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The second story, and by far the worst, is an adaptation of the Kick the Can episode. Denizens of a nursing home find their yearning for youth granted by playing a game of kick the can. The original episode was not one of the strongest, but it at least followed a logical path to its end with a minimum of sentiment. By contrast, this update featuring Scatman Crothers as a magical intermediary allowing for second chances is dripping with gooey syrup until it degenerates into a sickening mess. What seemed like a change of pace at the time for director Steven Spielberg ends up highlighting some of his major weaknesses as a filmmaker and allows him to overindulge and wallow in sloppy manipulative emotion.

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The third story fails to improve on its inspiration. Schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan aids young boy Jeremy Licht, who insists she return home with him to meet his family, where all hell breaks loose. This segment initially seems better than it is mostly because the segment that preceded it was utter crap, but in reality this one is only mediocre. It features some inventive effects, but the story is badly thought out. Quinlan is stiff and largely emotionless as the teacher, while the character actors playing the family shamelessly go over the top. In the original story, the Licht character was pure evil, but director Joe Dante cannot make up his mind whether Licht is nasty or misunderstood; malevolent or desperate for the love and firm hand of a good strong adult. The upbeat ending seems rather weak here (after all Licht did just murder at least one person in front of Quinlan, and who knows what happened to the rest of them).

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The concluding story alone is worth the price of admission and almost makes up for the confounding weakness of what came before. Frightened passenger John Lithgow traveling on a storm-tossed airplane becomes the only one aware that an evil “gremlin” is subtly destroying the plane while in flight. The segment improves upon its inspiration with tremendous effects, kinetic direction from George Miller, a credible, sympathetic and white-knuckled tour-de-force from Lithgow and more nightmarish suspense than one can shake a stick at. It sends the viewer away from the film thinking better of it as a whole than they have any right to.

Unfortunately, when one ruminates over the film, one realizes that the only worthwhile segments were the opening and the concluding story, and the rest comes across as pallid filler. In the final analysis, one ultimately has to judge the entire film as an ambitious misfire, because the majority of the segments fail to measure up. This is a real shame, because the final segment shows what could have been and given the source and the diversity of tales that could have been utilized, one cannot help but be disappointed.

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Political correctness destroys original ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes

1/10
Author: jadedalex from United States
20 May 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It’s amazing how the mindset of screenwriters changed in a little over twenty years. This movie remakes a few of the classic ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes from the original series. It’s incredible how political correctness has taken the edge off of these stories.

The prime example of this is ‘It’s a Good Life’, which I consider to be one of the best of the original ‘Twilight Zone’s. Based on an inventive short story by Jerome Bixby, it’s a chilling story of a world ruled by one omnipotent child, Anthony Fremont (played perfectly in the original episode by talented child actor Billy Mumy).

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The story poses a simple, terrifying premise: one child has wished away most of the United States, and most of the people wished away into ‘the cornfield’. Anthony Fremont has the power of life and death, and you’d better not think bad things about him lest you wind up in ‘the cornfield’ (the burial ground for Anthony’s victims).

Despite some clever visual effects in this new version, the story is all but undone by the addition of a teacher at the end of the tale, who is going to teach Anthony to use his powers for good, not evil. Apparently, the writer’s felt the need to tack on some sort of happy ending to this story. Why this was done I do not know.

But it comes down to this: don’t remake ‘classics’. Why Gus Van Sant ‘remade’ ‘Psycho’ in color (stealing Hitchcock’s camera shots) is beyond me. You leave classics alone. It’s amazing how well the old ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes hold up after all these years.

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The original story’s ending, with Anthony suddenly making the world snow (thus ruining his father’s crops) leaves Anthony’s dad furious, but still having to say ‘it’s a good thing you made it snow’. This is terror. If television audiences in the sixties could handle a dark theme like this, why, some twenty years later, do movie audiences need a disingenuous ‘happy’ ending to the tale?

In another botched attempt at a classic ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ is all but destroyed by John Lithgow. Lithgow is a fine actor, but he is so wrong for the part that was played quite effectively by William Shatner. Shatner LOOKS sane, as he is a man just recovering from a nervous breakdown. Lithgow looks like a loose cannon, so it’s not surprising to see him act like a lunatic. The upshot is that the story has been compromised, and once again Serling’s original treatment still rings true.

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If anything, this movie only makes true fans of the original ‘Zone’ series fondly remember the old episodes and possibly inspire them to buy ‘Twilight Zone’ DVDs of the original series.

I will not even discuss the terribly unfortunate filming of the Vic Morrow episode. Morrow literally lost his head (and his life) while making this silly story. It appears in his last roles, Morrow was type-cast as some sort of white supremacist. I happened to catch ‘Humanoids From the Deep’ (a hilarious horror film) in which Morrow is cast in pretty much the same part.

This is years before the emergence of ‘Law and Order’, in which many times minorities are made out to be the criminals, but in the last ten minutes, it is usually revealed that all of the evil came from some Caucasian character.

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Of course, this is all part of the political correctness that has seeped into our lives since the seventies.

I love the old ‘Twilight Zone’ series. I hate this movie. Even the ‘humorous’ scenes with Danny Aykroyd and Albert Brooks fall flat. Best to stick with the black and white TV program.

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