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. 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 Shatner, 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.
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.
Plot summaries Edit
The film 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.
- Albert Brooks as the Driver
- Dan Aykroyd as the Passenger
The scene then cuts to outside the car as the familiar Twilight Zone opening theme music and monologue begin (spoken by the film's narrator, Burgess Meredith):
"Time Out" Edit
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:
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. 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 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 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!", 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 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 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
- 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
Note: Originally, this segment was supposed to end with Bill redeeming himself by saving the lives of two Vietnamese children during a helicopter raid on their village. The aforementioned scene was dropped because of Morrow's death while filming it.
"Kick the Can" Edit
The second segment was directed by Steven Spielberg and is a remake of the episode "Kick the Can". The narrator starts with this monologue:
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 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, 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, 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.
"It's a Good Life" Edit
The third segment, 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:
Note: Rod Serling attended Binghamton Central High School in Binghamton, New York, and the real Helen Foley was his drama teacher. His respect for her brought him back to Central High for many years to have a conversation with the students in Ms. Foley's public speaking class and to address a student assembly in the auditorium.) 
Mild-mannered Helen Foley, traveling to a new job, 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. She 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 also his 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. Both 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.
- 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
Note: In this segment, the television 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" Edit
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:
Nervous airline passenger 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 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 Valentine takes his seat, he 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, 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), Valentine takes the passenger's gun and 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 for spoiling its "fun" 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 claiming to be a hero, 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.
The fourth segment ends with a scene reminiscent of the prologue. Valentine is in an ambulance when the driver - Aykroyd from the prologue - starts playing Creedence Clearwater Revival's "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 as the ambulance continues driving. The scene fades out to a starry night sky accompanied by Serling's opening monologue from the first season of The Twilight Zone:
Helicopter accident Edit
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".
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 one of the skids. A report released in May 1984 by the National Transportation Safety Board stated:
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.
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 Edit
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' 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 65% "fresh" approval rating, based on 34 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.
It was released to LaserDisc and VHS several times, most recently as part of WB's "Hits" line, and was released for DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray on October 9, 2007.
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.