Twilight Zone: The Movie is a 1983 American anthology science-fiction fantasy horror film produced by Steven Spielberg & John Landis as a theatrical version of the TV series "The Twilight Zone" created by Rod Serling, starring Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan & John Lithgow along 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.
The movie 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 segment, Joe Dante directed the third and George Miller directed the last segment.
It also gained notoriety before its release for the tragic stunt helicopter crash which killed actor Vic Morrow and two young 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 and their deaths led to a high-profile legal case, but at the end of the trial, nobody was found to be criminally culpable for the accident.
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the entire movie.
The movie starts with a driver and his passenger 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 that he is 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 monster and attacks the driver.
Then, the scene cuts to outside the car as the familiar Twilight Zone opening theme music and monologue begin (spoken by the film's 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."
"Time Out" (Segment #1)
The film's only original segment was the first, directed by John Landis. It is loosely based on the original Twilight Zone series 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 is an outspoken bigot who is bitter after being passed over for a promotion which was instead given to a Jewish co-worker. 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 and 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 sees him as an African American whom they are about to lynch. He is scared and confused and 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 and is blown to bits by U.S. soldiers. (After their encounter with Bill, one of the soldiers says, "I told you guys we shouldn't have shot Lieutenant Neidermeyer!" (which is a reference to National Lampoon's Animal House in which Doug Neidermeyer is said to have been fragged by his own troops.)
Instead of killing Bill, the grenade thrown by the soldiers blasts him into occupied France again. There he is captured by the same two Nazi officers chasing him and put into an enclosed railroad freight car, along with other Jewish Holocaust prisoners.
With no possibly chance 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 can't hear his cries or see him or the train as it pulls away to a concentration camp, thus leaving to wonder about his whereabouts.
"Kick the Can" (Segment #2)
The second segment was directed by Steven Spielberg and 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. 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 of them agree; however, Leo Conroy 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, while Mr. Conroy sleeps, Mr. Bloom gathers the rest of the optimistic residents outside and plays the game, during which they are magically 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 wakes up and witnesses one resident, Mr. Agee (who is still young) and says that he wants to go with him before the boy runs off. Conroy realizes that he doesn't have to stop enjoying his life because of his age.
The segment ends with Conroy outside happily kicking a can around the yard, having learned being young at heart is what really matters, while Mr. Bloom leaves Sunnyvale and moves into another retirement home... implying that he will repeat spreading his good-natured magical skills for other distraught senior citizens.
"It's a Good Life" (Segment #3)
The third segment (which is a remake of the episode, "It's a Good Life") was directed by Joe Dante. Its opening narration is borrowed, in part, from "Night Call." The name of the main character Helen Foley is from the original series episode, "Nightmare as a Child".
The narrator starts with this monologue:
"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."
While traveling to a new job, Helen Foley visits a rural bar for directions. While talking to the owner Walter Paisley, she witnesses Anthony—a young boy playing an arcade game—who is being blamed by a pair of locals (one of whom, Bill Mumy, portrayed Anthony in the original episode) 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...which only results in Anthony fleeing out of the restaurant. This prompts heavy sarcasm from the bully's disapproving friend, Tim: "Oh, that was good. That was real good." 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 a replica of the house from Mouse Wreckers. When Helen arrives, she meets Anthony's family: Uncle Walt (McCarthy, who starred in "Long Live Walter Jameson"), sister Ethel (Cartwright), and Anthony and Ethel's mother (Barry, who starred in "I Dream of Genie" and "The Chaser") and father (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.
Helen loses Anthony and comes to the room of another sister, Sara. Helen calls out to the girl, who is in a wheelchair and watching a television displaying "Bimbo's Initiation" 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, 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 onto the ground.
Helen hurriedly 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, cartoon-ish mutant 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, she reveals to Helen that Anthony intentionally let himself get run over, and that he plans on keeping her with him with the Fremonts. Anthony puts Ethel into the television set where she encounters a cartoon wolf who then turns into a large cartoon dragon and proceeds to chase her through cartoon Hell. Ethel tries to escape the cartoon demons in the process, only to get eaten by the cartoon dragon.
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 with her to stay. She then is led back into the room to see a demonic creature break free from the television set, proceeding to torment the adults like a cartoon character. She demands that Anthony make it disappear.
In a fit of irritation, Anthony makes the entire house disappear, 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 a change, he expresses the tremendous insecurity and pain that seethes within him, instead of burying it.
Helen offers to be Anthony's teacher and student. Together, she says, they can find uses for his power for which he has never dreamed. Having been confronted with the true end results of his reign of terror, Anthony welcomes Helen's offer and makes her car reappear and they ride off toward her new home and job.
As the car travels through a desert landscape meadows filled with bright flowers spring up alongside the road in the car's wake.
In this segment, the TV sets play clips from "Mouse Wreckers" (Hubie and Bertie, 1949), "Feline Frame-Up" (Marc Anthony, Pussyfoot, and Claude Cat, 1954), "Bimbo's Initiation" (Betty Boop, 1931), "Feed the Kitty" (Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot, 1952), "The Power of Thought" (Heckle and Jeckle, 1948), "Behind the Meat-Ball" (Fido, Hector, 1945), "It's Hummer Time" (McKimson Cat, Hector, 1950), "Case of the Missing Hare" (Bugs Bunny, 1942), "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" (Daffy Duck, 1946) and "Quasi at the Quackadero" (Quasi, Anita, and Rollo, 1975).
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (Segment #4)
The fourth segment is a remake of the episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", directed by George Miller. Its opening narration is borrowed, in part, from "In His Image."
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."
John Valentine is in an airplane lavatory as he tries to recover from what seems to be a panic attack. The flight attendants attempt to coax him from the lavatory and they repeatedly assure him that everything is going to be all right, but his nerves & antics begin to disturb the surrounding passengers.
As Valentine takes his seat, he notices a hideous-looking 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, losing more control each time he sees it do something new.
Valentine finally snaps and attempts to break the window with an oxygen canister. After being wrestled to the ground by another passenger (an off-duty security guard), he takes the passenger's gun and shoots out the window (which causes 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 and simply scolds him for spoiling its "fun" by wagging its finger in his face. The creature leaps into the sky as the airplane begins its emergency landing.
As they make it to the ground, a straitjacketed Valentine is carried off in an ambulance claiming to be a hero while the police, crew and the 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.
The fourth segment ends with a scene reminiscent of the prologue.
Valentine is in an ambulance when the driver (the same car passenger played by Aykroyd from the prologue) starts playing Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Midnight Special".
The driver turns and says, "Heard you had a big scare up there, huh?" Valentine nods, but says he is glad it's over. The driver continues with a grin, "Wanna see something really scary?" Valentine's eyes widen with fear as the ambulance continues driving into the night.
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."
- Albert Brooks as the Driver
- Dan Aykroyd as the Passenger
"Time Out" Segment Cast
- Burgess Meredith – Narrator
- Vic Morrow as Bill Connor
- Doug McGrath as Larry
- Charles Hallahan as Ray
- Rainer Peets and Kai Wulff as German Officers
- Sue Dugan and Debby Porter as Waitresses
- Steven Williams as Bar Patron
- Annette Claudier as French mother
- Joseph Hieu and Al Leong as Vietnamese men
- Stephen Bishop as Charming G.I.
- Thomas Byrd, Vincent J. Isaac, Bill Taylor, and William S. Taylor as G.I.s Eddy Donno, Michael Milgron, and John Larroquette as Ku Klux Klan members
- Norbert Weisser as Soldier No. 1
"Kick the Can" Segment Cast
- Burgess Meredith as Narrator
- Scatman Crothers as Mr. Bloom
- Bill Quinn as Leo Conroy
- Martin Garner as Mr. Weinstein
- Selma Diamond as Mrs. Weinstein
- Helen Shaw as Mrs. Dempsey
- Murray Matheson as Mr. Agee
- Peter Brocco as Mr. Mute
- Priscilla Pointer as Miss Cox
- Scott Nemes as Young Mr. Weinstein
- Tanya Fenmore as Young Mrs. Weinstein
- Evan Richards as Young Mr. Agee
- Laura Mooney as Young Mrs. Dempsey
- Christopher Eisenmann as Young Mr. Mute
- Richard Swingler as Mr. Gray Panther
- Alan Haufrect as Mr. Conroy's Son
- Cheryl Socher as Mr. Conroy's Daughter-in-Law
- Elsa Raven as Nurse No. 2
"It's a Good Life" Segment Cast
- Burgess Meredith as Narrator
- Kathleen Quinlan as Helen Foley
- Jeremy Licht as Anthony
- Kevin McCarthy as Uncle Walt
- Patricia Barry as Mother
- William Schallert as Father
- Nancy Cartwright as Ethel
- Dick Miller as Walter Paisley
- Cherie Currie as Sara
- Bill Mumy as Tim
- Jeffrey Bannister as Charlie
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" Segment Cast
- Burgess Meredith as Narrator
- John Lithgow as John Valentine
- Abbe Lane as Sr. Flight attendant
- Donna Dixon as Jr. Flight attendant
- John Dennis Johnston as Co-Pilot
- Larry Cedar as Gremlin
- Charles Knapp as Air marshal
- Byron McFarland as Pilot Announcement
- Christina Nigra as Little girl
- Lana Schwab as Mother
- Margaret Wheeler as Old woman
- Eduard Franz as Old man
- Margaret Fitzgerald as Young girl
- Jeffrey Weissman as Young man
- Jeffrey Lampert, Frank Toth & Carol Serling as Mechanics
The movie was filmed from 1982 to 1983. The filming locations took place in California in Burbank, Santa Clarita, Canyon City, Piru, Valencia and Van Nuys.
John Lithgow had worked out certain scenes in his airplane seat in conjunction with the manufactured lightning outside the window, but during filming, the crew member in charge of the lightning flashes would activate it too soon or too late which off Lithgow's timing. Although Lithgow was annoyed about this first, he later came to value the experience after viewing the film, seeing that it added to his anxious, fearful character as he looked genuinely startled by the lightning.
William Shatner was considered to be a part of the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" segment, but had to turn it down due to other commitments.
John Landis's segments were the first scenes to be filmed and Steven Spielberg considered canceling the entire project after the helicopter crash, but ultimately, the remaining segments were completed in this order: "It's a Good Life," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Kick the Can" (Spielberg's segment).
John Larroquette (who played one of the lead KKK members in the first segment) refused to wear a KKK hood because he wanted his face to be visible.
Originally, Steven Spielberg briefly considered using the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" as a segment, but due to the tragic events that occurred on the "Time Out" segment, Spielberg chose "Kick the Can" from the original series instead.
On July 23, 1983 (during the filming of the "Time Out" segment that was directed by John Landis) at around 2:30 a.m., Vic Morrow and child actors: 7-year-old Myca Dinh Lee and 6-year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. Renee & Myca were hired in violation of California law (which prohibits child actors from working at night or in proximity to explosions & 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".
During that, the scene (which 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 supposed 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.
But, the helicopter pilot had trouble navigating through the fireballs created by pyrotechnic effects for the sequence and a technician on the ground did not know about this & 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 & crash land on top of Morrow, Myca and Renee.
Morrow and Myca were decapitated and mutilated by the helicopter's top rotor blades while Renee was crushed to death by one of the skids.
According to a report released in May 1984 by the National Transportation Safety Board:
"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.
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 he didn't tell Landis of his concerns.
The tragic 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 & acquitted on charges of manslaughter during 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."
"Twilight Zone: The Movie" opened at #4 at the box office, grossing $6,614,366 during its opening weekend in theaters. Domestically, it grossed $29,450,919.
The movie was financially successful enough to stir interest for the CBS network to produce the 1980s television version of "The Twilight Zone" (which lasted from 1985 to 1989).
The movie received received mixed reviews from critics.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 65% "fresh" approval rating, based on 34 reviews, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10.
According to the critical consensus: "The Twilight Zone: The Movie suffers from the typical anthology-film highs and lows; thankfully, the former outnumber the latter."
On Metacritic, it has a score of 38 out of 100, based on six reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."
Roger Ebert 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 & three-and-a-half for the final.
He 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."
Vincent Canby from the New York Times called it a "flabby, mini-minded behemoth."
In TV Guide's review of the movie, they wrote that it is "a frightfully lopsided omnibus that begins with two wretched episodes by John Landis and Steven Spielberg and finishes with an engrossing pair by Joe Dante and George Miller."