You look at the directorial names at the top of Twilight Zone: The Movie and instantly you can recall films from each one that you love and admire. So you think it makes sense that this movie will be great. And to a degree, you’re right.
Unlike a more horror-driven anthology film, like Creepshow, Twilight Zone doesn’t posses a coherent tone. Partially due to the vast difference of its directors’ styles, but mainly just because of the nature of each individual film. Besides the prologue, which is short but really good, there are four stories altogether. Only one really commits to its horror identity, while the others are just supernatural tales.
The first, directed by John Landis, involves a curmudgeonly man, Bill Connor (Vic Morrow), who goes on a racist rant to his friends after being passed on for a promotion in favor of a Jewish co-worker. At first, Bill’s friends laugh it off, but eventually they try to get him to behave himself (they’re in a crowded restaurant). Bill leaves and becomes trapped in a seemingly endless purgatory cycle where he is now the oppressed individual. During World War II Germany, the Nazis think he’s a Jew. Once he gets “killed” there, he arrives at a KKK rally where they think he’s a black man, and so on. It’s a clever idea, but due to a horrific real-life accident on set, the original ending never made it to tape. So the ending we get instead is pretty underwhelming.
The next story is the definite low point. Which is odd since it’s directed by Steven Spielberg. A group of senior citizens at an old folks’ home are being urged on by a new resident, Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers), to play a game of kick the can. There is some resistance from one member who says that they’ll all break their bones if they try to run around and play. But nonetheless, a game ensues.
This segment is a remake of an original Twilight Zone episode from the television show. However, it starts off disjointed and the dialogue is messy and far too wordy. Spielberg ends things on a high note, but getting there is a struggle. When it comes down to it, this story really doesn’t belong in this movie at all.
However, the third story, It’s a Good Life, is the absolute highlight and one of the best things I’ve seen lately. Directed by Joe Dante, the segment is also a remake of one of the episodes from the series, but the art direction and world building that’s accomplished is a real feat. A woman (Kathleen Quinlan) wanders into a small town and accidentally hits a young boy with her car. She ends up giving him a ride home, unaware that she’s about to be in for a discovery of a lifetime once she arrives.
It’s a Good Life is creepy in all the right places. The way the story slowly unravels keeps us on the edge of our seat, and the solid performances help create this specific tone that perhaps only Dante can establish. It makes you wish Joe Dante was left to direct some of these other vignettes.
The last segment, directed by George Miller, is an adequate followup, as it tells the tale of a neurotic airplane passenger, John (John Lithgow), trying to recover from a panic attack when he sees a creature on the wing of the plane trying to take out its engines. He causes a scene, creating chaos among the rest of the passengers. However, when anyone else looks outside, they don’t see the monster. But somehow he keeps showing up for John.
The story lacks a certain kinetic quality as not a lot happens, but it actually tries to be scary–using our own vulnerability as we fly to give us something to fear and empathize with our protagonist. The creature, itself, looks really good, and the way this segment ends is fantastic.
While Twilight Zone: The Movie as a whole is incredibly inconsistent in both style and quality, at least it’s pieced together in a way that places the two strongest stories at the end, giving us a lot to come back to in the future. It’s just interesting that Spielberg and Landis are behind the two weakest points.