Twilight Zone: The Movie
Twilight Zone: The Movie is a 1983 American science fiction horror anthology film produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis as a cinematic interpretation of the 1959–64 TV series created by Rod Serling. The film stars Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan, and John Lithgow, with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in the prologue segment. Burgess Meredith starred in four episodes of the original series and took on Serling's position as narrator. Other actors from the original series included William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Bill Mumy, Murray Matheson, Peter Brocco, and Patricia Barry.
|Twilight Zone: The Movie|
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Screenplay by||Prologue: Something Scary:|
Kick the Can:
George Clayton Johnson
It's a Good Life:
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet:
Richard Matheson Epilogue: Even Scarier:
|Story by||Prologue: Something Scary:|
Kick the Can:
George Clayton Johnson
It's a Good Life:
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet:
Epilogue: Even Scarier:
|Based on||The Twilight Zone|
by Rod Serling
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$29.5 million|
The film is a remake of three episodes of the original series and introduces one original story. Landis directed the prologue, the first segment, and the epilogue; Spielberg directed the second segment, Joe Dante the third, and George Miller the final. Dante recalled that the four stories were originally intended to be interwoven, with characters from one segment appearing in another segment, but problems with the filming precluded this.
The film gained notoriety before its release for the stunt helicopter crash which took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen during the filming of the segment directed by Landis. The two child actors had been hired illegally. Their deaths led to a high-profile legal case, although no one was found to be criminally liable for the accident.
Prologue: "Something Scary"
Two men are in a car driving along a lonely country road late at night. The conversation turns to what episodes of The Twilight Zone they found most scary. The passenger then asks, "Do you want to see something really scary?" and says to pull over. He turns into a monster and attacks the driver.
The film's narrator, Burgess Meredith, then recites the season 4 opening narration of The Twilight Zone:
You unlock this door with a key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension; a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, and a dimension of mind. You are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You have just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.
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 is bitter after being passed over for a promotion in favor of a Jewish co-worker. Drinking in a bar after work with his friends, Bill utters slurs towards Jewish people, black people, and Asian people. A Black man sitting nearby asks him to stop. Bill leaves the bar angrily, but when he walks outside, he finds himself in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. A pair of SS officers patrolling the streets interrogate him. Bill cannot answer satisfactorily since he does not speak German. A chase ensues, and Bill ends up on the ledge of a building, where he is shot at by the officers.
He falls from the ledge and lands in the rural South during the 1950s. There a group of Ku Klux Klansmen sees him as an African-American man, whom they are about to lynch. Bill vehemently tells them he is white, to no avail. While trying to escape, he jumps into a lake and surfaces in a jungle during the Vietnam War, being fired at by American soldiers, one of whom throws a grenade. Instead of killing him, the grenade launches him into occupied France again. There he is captured by the SS officers and put into an enclosed railroad freight car, along with Jewish prisoners. Bill sees the bar with his friends standing outside looking for him. He screams for help, but they cannot see him or the train as it pulls away.
- Vic Morrow – Bill Connor
- Doug McGrath – Larry
- Charles Hallahan – Ray
- Rainer Peets and Kai Wulff – German officers
- Sue Dugan and Debby Porter – Waitresses
- Steven Williams – Bar Patron
- Annette Claudier – French mother
- Joseph Hieu and Al Leong – Vietnamese men
- Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen – Vietnamese children (scene deleted due to the death of both actors and Morrow during filming)
- Stephen Bishop – Charming G.I.
- Thomas Byrd, Vincent J. Isaac, Bill Taylor, and William S. Taylor – G.I.s
- Eddy Donno, Michael Milgron, and John Larroquette – Ku Klux Klan members
- Norbert Weisser – Soldier No. 1
It has been speculated that this segment was to end with Bill returning to his own time after redeeming himself by saving the lives of two Vietnamese children during a helicopter raid on their village, and the aforementioned scene was dropped due to the death of Morrow and two child actors during filming.
However, this has been contradicted by writer/director John Landis, who stated, "The episode ends the way it always ended, but it's missing a third of it because we decided not to use footage of the children." When asked how the film changed from its initial conception after the accident, Landis replied, "The intercutting between the actions of the KKK and American GIs and the Vietcong and the Nazis became more and more frenetic as [Bill] tried to protect the children. Finally, the Nazis take the children away and shoot them and load him up on the train. We decided not to use any footage of the children. It was a very difficult situation. Do we keep it in the movie? ...And, ultimately, we decided it would be really outrageous to Vic Morrow if we just cut it out of the movie completely. Landis has also said, "There are moments [in the segment] I think work well. When [Bill] is in the cattle car, and he looks back and you see his POV of the bar going by. I think that's an unsettling image."
This segment also contains an inside joke from Landis. During the segment where Bill is in Vietnam, one American soldier says to another: "I told you guys, we shouldn't have shot Lieutenant Neidermeyer." This is a reference to the character of the same name in the film Animal House, which was also directed by Landis. At the end of Animal House, the viewers are told what later happened to each of the main characters; it states that Douglas Neidermeyer was, "killed in Vietnam by his own troops."
"Kick the Can"
The second segment is a remake of the episode "Kick the Can". The narrator starts with this monologue:
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 has just moved into Sunnyvale Retirement Home. He listens to the other elders reminisce about the joys they experienced in their youth. Bloom insists that being elderly should not, and need not, prevent them from enjoying life. He invites them to join him, later that night, for a game of kick the can. Leo Conroy objects, saying that they cannot engage in physical activity because they are all elderly.
While Mr. Conroy sleeps, Mr. Bloom gathers the rest of the residents outside and plays the game, during which they are transformed into childhood versions of themselves. They are ecstatic to be young again, engaging in activities they enjoyed long ago, but their thoughts soon turn to practical matters...such as where they will spend the night, since they will no longer be welcomed in the retirement home, and their families won't recognize them. They ask to be their true age again, and Mr. Bloom grants their wish...satisfied that, as with himself, their minds will remain young. Leo Conroy wakes up and notices that one resident, Mr. Agee, has opted to remain young. Conroy asks for Agee to take him along, but Agee tells him that such is impossible.
The next morning, Mr. Bloom finds Conroy kicking a can around the yard; clearly, like all the other Sunnyvale residents, he has changed his outlook on life. (Bloom breaks the fourth wall to assure the viewer that "He'll get it".) Bloom departs from Sunnyvale for another retirement home, to spread his good-natured magic among other senior citizens.
"It's a Good Life"
The third segment is a remake of the episode "It's a Good Life". The name of the main character Helen Foley is from the episode "Nightmare as a Child". The opening narration is borrowed, in part, from "Night Call":
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.
Helen Foley, traveling to a new job, visits a rural bar for directions. While talking to the owner, she witnesses Anthony—a young boy playing an arcade game—being harassed by a local. Helen comes to the boy's defense. As Helen leaves the bar, she backs into Anthony with her car in the parking lot, damaging his bicycle. Helen offers Anthony a ride home.
When Helen arrives with Anthony at home, she meets his family: Uncle Walt, sister Ethel, and mother and father. Anthony's family are excessively welcoming. 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 comes to the room of another sister, Sara. Helen calls out to the girl, who is in a wheelchair and watching television, and gets no response. Anthony explains that Sara had been in an accident; Helen isn't able to see that the girl has no mouth.
Anthony announces that it is time for dinner, which consists of ice cream, candy apples, potato chips, 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. Helen attempts to leave, but Anthony urges Helen to stay and see Uncle Walt's "hat trick". A top hat appears on top of the television set. Uncle Walt is very nervous about what could be in the hat, but he pulls out an ordinary rabbit. Anthony insists on more, and a large, mutant rabbit springs from the hat. As Helen attempts to flee, she spills the contents of her purse, and Anthony finds a note inside stating "Help us! Anthony is a monster!" When the family points the finger at Ethel, she reveals to Helen that they are not Anthony's real relatives; Anthony brought them to his house to be his surrogate family after he killed his parents, and presumably he is doing the same with Helen. In punishment for writing the note, Anthony puts Ethel into the television set where she is pursued and eaten by cartoon monsters.
Helen attempts to escape only to have the door blocked by a giant eye. Anthony vents his frustration at everyone being afraid of him. He makes the entire house disappear, taking himself and Helen outside the physical plane of existence. Anthony says that he sent his "family" back where they came from, since they didn't want to be with him. He cannot understand why everyone is unhappy with him, since he believes he provided for their every possible desire.
Helen offers to be Anthony's teacher, and help him find new uses for his power. After extracting a promise that she would never leave him, Anthony welcomes Helen's offer and makes her car reappear. As they drive through a desert landscape, meadows filled with bright flowers spring up alongside the road in the car's wake.
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
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 traveler. His destination: The Twilight Zone.
While flying through a violent thunderstorm, airline passenger John Valentine is in an airplane lavatory as he tries to recover from a panic attack due to a fear of flying. The flight attendants coax Valentine from the lavatory and back to his seat.
Valentine notices a hideous gremlin 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. Valentine finally snaps and attempts to break the window with an oxygen canister, but is wrestled to the ground by another passenger (an off-duty security guard). Valentine takes the passenger's gun, 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 destroys the gun. After they notice that the plane is landing, the gremlin grabs Valentine's face (covering it with slime), then simply scolds him for spoiling its fun by wagging its finger in his face. The creature leaps into the sky and flies away as the airplane begins its emergency landing.
The police, crew, and passengers write off Valentine as insane. However, the aircraft maintenance crew arrives and finds the damage to the plane's engines complete with claw marks, while a straitjacketed Valentine is carried off in an ambulance.
Epilogue: "Even Scarier"
The ambulance driver is the car passenger from the prologue. The driver turns to Valentine 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 a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. 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 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".
Producer and Co-director Steven Spielberg was so disgusted by Landis's handling of the situation, he ended their friendship and publicly called for the end of the New Hollywood Era, where directors had almost complete control over film. When approached by the press about the accident, he stated "No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now, than ever before, to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn't safe, it's the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell, 'Cut!'"
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 Le were decapitated by the helicopter's top rotor blades while Chen was crushed to death by one of the struts. A report released in May 1984 by the National Transportation Safety Board stated:
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, portrayed by 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.
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.
Release and reception
Twilight Zone: The Movie opened on June 24, 1983, and received 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' film critic Vincent Canby called the movie a "flabby, mini-minded behemoth."
In the modern day, critical reception is still divided; on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 58% "rotten" approval rating, based on 38 reviews, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10. The critical consensus was "The Twilight Zone: The Movie suffers from the typical anthology-film highs and lows; thankfully, the former outnumber the latter". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 38 out of 100, based on six reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
According to Box Office Mojo, 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.
Robert Bloch wrote the book adaptation of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Bloch's order of segments does not match the order in the film itself, as he was given the original screenplay to work with, in which "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" was the second segment, and "Kick the Can" was the fourth. Both the movie's prologue and epilogue are missing in the novelization. Bloch claimed that no one told him the anthology had a wraparound sequence. Bloch also said that in the six weeks he was given to write the book, he only saw a screening of two of the segments; he had to hurriedly change the ending of the first segment, after the helicopter accident that occurred during filming. As originally written, the first segment would have ended as it did in the original screenplay (Connor finds redemption by saving two Vietnamese children whose village is being destroyed by the Air Cavalry). The finished book reflects how the first segment ends in the final cut of the film.
Jerry Goldsmith, who scored several episodes of the original series, composed the music for the movie and re-recorded Marius Constant's series theme. The original soundtrack album was released by Warner Bros. Records.
|1.||"Twilight Zone Main Title"||0:42|
|4.||"Kick the Can"||10:12|
|5.||"Nights Are Forever"||Goldsmith||Jennifer Warnes||3:39|
|6.||"It's a Good Life"||10:52|
|7.||"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"||6:53|
|8.||"Twilight Zone End Title"||0:45|
"Time Out" is the only segment whose music is not included in the overture (actually the film's end title music).
A complete recording of the dramatic score, including a previously-unreleased song by Joseph Williams, was released in April 2009 by Film Score Monthly, representing the soundtrack's first US release on Compact Disc. Both songs were used in "Time Out" and were produced by Bruce Botnick with James Newton Howard (Howard also arranged "Nights Are Forever"). The promotional song from this movie, "Nights Are Forever", written by Jerry Goldsmith with lyricist John Bettis, and sung by Jennifer Warnes, is heard briefly during the jukebox scene in the opening segment with Vic Morrow.
|1.||"Twilight Zone Main Title"||Marius Constant||0:45|
|2.||"Time Out – Time Change/Questions/The Ledge"||4:51|
|3.||"The K.K.K./Yellow Star"||3:53|
|4.||"Kick the Can – Harp and Love"||1:27|
|6.||"Kick the Can"||0:37|
|8.||"Young Again/Take Me With You/A New Guest"||10:10|
|9.||"It's a Good Life – I Remember/The House"||2:29|
|10.||"The Picture/The Sister/I Didn't Do It"||1:20|
|12.||"That's All, Ethel"||1:47|
|13.||"Teach Me/No More Tricks"||3:54|
|14.||"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – Cabin Fever/Nervous Pills"||2:39|
|15.||"On the Wing"||1:20|
|16.||"A Face in the Window"||2:10|
|17.||"Hungry Monster/Engine Failure"||1:35|
|18.||"Overture (Twilight Zone Theme and End Title)"||5:55|
|19.||"Nights Are Forever" (Jennifer Warnes)||3:36|
|20.||"Anesthesia" (music and lyrics by Joseph Williams and Paul Gordon, performed by Joseph Williams)||3:02|
|21.||"Time Change/Questions/The Ledge" (Time Out: album edit)||3:01|
|22.||"Young Again/Take Me with You/A New Guest" (Kick the Can: alternate segments)||5:01|
|23.||"Cartoon Monster/That's All Ethel" (It's a Good Life: album edit)||4:29|
|24.||"Cartoon Music" (It's a Good Life)||1:26|
|25.||"On the Wing/A Face in the Window/Hungry Monster/Twilight Zone Theme" (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: album edit)||4:59|
- "The Twilight Zone (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 6, 1983. Retrieved January 12, 2015.
- "Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
- Larnick, Eric (September 26, 2012). "Joe Dante, 'The Hole' Director On New Horror, '80s Favorites And More 'Gremlins'". Moviefone. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012.
- Farber, Stephen (June 1, 1988). Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case. Arbor House Pub Company. ISBN 087795948X.
- Weber, Bruce. "James F. Neal, Litigated Historic Cases, Dies at 81", The New York Times, October 22, 2010. Accessed October 23, 2010.
- John Landis, cited in John Landis by Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan. (2008, M Press), p.106
- Vallan, p.108
- Vallan, p.106
- Luz, Tim. "Movie In-Jokes: Twilight Zone: The Movie". Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Noe, Denise. The Twilight Zone Tragedy Archived January 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Crime Library. Accessed 2011-02-09.
- "Aircraft Accident Report" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 5, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- Twilight Zone: The Movie
- Feldman, Paul (May 29, 1987). "John Landis Not Guilty in 3 'Twilight Zone' Deaths : Jury Also Exonerates Four Others". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger. "Twilight Zone -- The Movie". Sun Times. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- "Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- "Twilight Zone: The Movie". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- Bloch, Robert (1983). Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography. Tor Books. pp. 388–389.
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