Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983)
Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: June 24th, 1983 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, Steven Spielberg Actors: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, John Lithgow, Abbe Lane, Donna Dixon




wo men in a car (Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks) drive down a dark road in the middle of nowhere, singing loudly to “The Midnight Special.” But when the tape gets eaten by the player, the two are forced to talk to one another. The driver suggests turning off their lights and playing chicken. “That’s scary.” But soon they’re humming TV theme songs and trying to guess the titles. And then they mention the old show “The Twilight Zone,” reminiscing about some of the greatest episodes. “That show was so good!” Of course, they also confuse a few of the plots with those of “The Outer Limits.” This tepid, self-referential opening segment is merely a prologue to four separate episodes to be seen in “Twilight Zone – The Movie,” a big-screen anthology with plenty of recognizable writers and directors and stars.

In the first episode (called “Time Out,” though this is never shown onscreen), William Connor (Vic Morrow), a sour, tired man, joins his friends at a bar in California, starting up a racist tirade about a big promotion to which he lost out – to a Jewish man. After throwing around racial slurs and complaining about the minorities who live in his neighborhood and who own all the businesses and houses, he storms outside – where he suddenly finds himself in an unfamiliar world. The humid streets are full of decay and destruction, with foreign signage and architecture. Two Nazi officers then drive up, demanding to see Connor’s papers. He’s about to get a taste of his own medicine, as his American heritage is none too welcome in WWII-era, German-occupied France. Providing exceptional commentary on race relations and racism, this opening chapter satirically transitions to comparable, alternate scenarios, including a KKK lynching and a Vietnamese jungle – with each setting putting Connor at the center of startling intolerance. This story is clearly horror – but of an impressively intellectual, thought-provoking kind.

The next episode, set at the Sunnyvale Rest Home, features an elderly man, Leo Conroy (Bill Quinn), feeling abandoned by his children and grandchildren, who never allow him to visit. The other patrons of the convalescent home recall activities of their youth, fondly remembering childish frivolities, while Leo fumes over the meaninglessness of their cheery conversations. Trying to stir them all up, aren’t you?”

Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) suggests that they all play a game called “kick the can,” even though the nurses and caretakers would never allow such physical exertions. Nevertheless, around midnight, they gather in the yard to play. And with a touch of magic, they’re transformed into energetic children, running and screaming and dancing, once again able to enjoy being silly and youthful. This sequence is full of whimsy and fantasy, but also a bittersweetness; strangely, it doesn’t contain any elements of horror or science-fiction, specifically, which makes it the least fitting of the bunch.

In “It’s a Good Life,” Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan) heads to the town of Willoughby, but not before accidentally backing into Anthony (Jeremy Licht), a little boy on a bike, who then needs a ride home. It turns out to be Anthony’s birthday, yet no one in his family seems too concerned with that particular event. Instead, they welcome Helen into their labyrinthine home, where they promptly tear apart her purse and sweater, as if unfamiliar with commonplace human items. And there’s something very off about sister Sara (Cherie Currie), who sits silently in her room, watching cartoons. In fact, cartoons seem to be playing on TV sets in every room. There’s a glimpse of creepiness in this third segment, but it’s also filled with a goofiness that matches the revelations of its plot. As with the previous episode, there’s modest amusement to be found, but it’s more along the lines of comical fantasy than sci-fi or horror. Still, it possesses the distinct flavor of a “Twilight Zone” premise.

The fourth and final episode, entitled “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” features air traveler John Valentine (John Lithgow) having an exceptionally difficult time with the turbulence on his flight. Locked away in the bathroom for an unreasonable stretch of time, he finally returns to his seat, muttering about the statistics of flying, and sweating profusely. Just when he finally calms down enough to close his eyes for a second or two, Valentine happens to notice something crawling around outside on the wing of the plane. After some brief hysterics, he realizes it must have been a hallucination; after all, it’s too cold and the air is too thin for someone to have survived outside the cabin.

This closing sequence is the most markedly Twilight Zone-ish of the collection, boasting horror and humor and an utterly outlandish concept. And it also serves to rattle anyone with fears of flying, no matter how ridiculous the tale. It’s a strong note to end on, yet, as with any anthology film, some episodes are better than others. All but “Time Out” (perhaps the most shocking and timeless) are remakes of popular episodes from the original television series, with the first and last proving to be the most riveting. Unfortunately, many details are altered to include happier endings or upbeat revelations, straying away from the macabre qualities often seen in the celebrated show. Because of this, the middle lags considerably – quite notably with Steven Spielberg’s uninspired remake (“Kick the Can”), which is rather unexpected from the director who had just released “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981 and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10