(Picture credit HERE)
Before I begin this week, my heart goes out to the family of Vinnie Paul (drummer for Pantera and Hellyeah). I pray that he has found peace and reunion with his brother. Too many of my musical heroes have been passing away.
Movie review time! Captain Spoiler says, “Thar be spoilers ahead! Ye have been warned.”
There are several movies from my childhood that still captivate my attention as an adult. One of my favorites was Twilight Zone the Movie. I’m a big fan of the original Twilight Zone series with Rod Serling and can sincerely appreciate the movie’s adaptation to a large screen format.
The movie over the years has not been a favorite of critics. Roger Ebert only gave it 2 stars (movie review HERE). Even the always accurate Rotten Tomatoes score an underwhelming 61%, too bad sarcasm doesn’t translate into my writing very well. I will give my overall score at the end.
This movie contains a prologue story, 4 main stories, and an epilogue.
Jon Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller.
The Prologue: Something Scary (no score)
This is one of the best openings for a movie ever. It has Dan Aykroyd, and Albert Brooks set up as the two guys are talking about what they thought were the scariest Twilight Zone episodes. A very meta move before Deadpool made it popular. The best moment of the movie is when Dan asks Albert, “Do you wanna see something really scary?” It was a moment that forever scarred me as a child and a defining moment of my love for horror.
Story #1: Time Out (2/5)
Mr. Bloom, played by Vic Morrow, just lost out on a promotion to a Jewish co-worker. This leads him to a bar to drown his sorrows. He ends up going on a drunken rant about Jews, Asians, and African Americans. He leaves the front door of the bar and finds himself in German-occupied France during World War II. Immediately he is accused of being a Jew and pursued by German SS soldiers. The story becomes terribly predictable from this point forward. He finds himself jumping through different time periods being chased by the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south, American soldiers in Vietnam, and eventually being captured by the German SS. The ending is excellent with him put on a train and shipped off to a concentration camp. The twist is he can see the bar and his friends between the slats. He calls out for help, but they don’t hear him.
Story #2: Kick the Can (1/5)
I usually fast forward through this story. It is a weak effort by an ordinarily good director, Steven Spielberg. It focuses on a character named Mr. Bloom, played by Scatman Crothers, who is a new resident at the Sunnyvale Retirement Home (blech… for originality in naming conventions). Mr. Bloom grants some of the residents wishes to be young again, and they all have a fun time playing kick the can. Mr. Bloom tells them that they can remain young forever if they so wish. Older thoughts turn to practical matters, where will they sleep? Would their families recognize them? Eventually, they pick to return to their old age, but with a fresh outlook on life. Boring. Touchy feely crap. Even in the 80s, I thought this story sucked.
Story #3: It’s A Good Life (4/5)
If the second story lulled you to sleep, the third one is a glass of cold water to the face. Helen Foley is traveling to reach her new job, but since GPS technology will not be perfected for a few more decades, she stops in a rural bar to ask for directions. A young kid named Anthony is being harassed while he is playing an arcade game in the corner. Helen comes to his defense, but while leaving backs into the young kid and his bike. She offers to give him a ride home, I guess Stranger Danger was not popular in the early 1980s, and that’s where the fun begins. Anthony’s family is creepy, in an overly friendly kind of way, from the start and like most little kids, Anthony pulls Helen around his house for the grand tour. If I had any doubts about this episode, they were quashed when they came across Anthony’s sister Sara. Helen calls out to her but gets no response. Anthony casually replies with a lame story about how she was in an accident. The camera pans around and reveals that Sara has no mouth. Not sewn shut, but it just isn’t there!
The dinner scene is the best. Uncle Walt’s hat trick provides equal parts humor and terror.
(Photo Credit HERE)
Helen gets caught in the family drama and in the commotion discovers a note in her purse that says, “Help us! Anthony is a monster!” The reveal about Anthony shows that none of the people here are his real relatives and Anthony has the power to manipulate reality. Ethel, played by a young Nancy Cartwright of Simpson’s fame, catches Anthony’s rage by admitting to authoring the help me note. She is transported into a television where she is consumed by cartoon monsters. Helen freaks out and tries to bolt for the door, but it is blocked on the outside by a giant eye. Anthony frustrated with everyone, and everything makes it all go away except for Helen. She talks him out of presumably destroying the whole world and offers to teach him how to use his powers for good. He agrees only after she promises to take care of him forever. Boom, exit Helen and Anthony driving through a desert and into a happily ever after.
Story #4: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (5/5)
John Lithgow delivers an impressive performance as John Valentine anxious flyer. The tension in this story begins immediately as we get sucked into the anxiety of our main character. Having flown on an airplane during a storm, I can relate to the whole increased anxiety theme. The staff of the plane tries to calm him down, and it works until he sees something on the wing. A gremlin is tearing the engine of the aircraft apart. Every time John tries to show someone, nothing is there. This goes back and forth a few times until John is convinced that there is something on the wing of the plane. Lightning strikes the gremlin on the wing and the engine bursts into flames. John freaks out, grabs an oxygen canister, and starts bashing the window. One of the passengers wrestling John to the ground has a gun on his ankle, presumably because he is an off-duty policeman. Mr. Valentine grabs the gun and shoots out the window depressurizing the cabin. John finds himself sucked halfway out the window as he fires at the gremlin on the wing.
(Photo Credit HERE)
The gremlin runs up to John destroys the gun and grabs his face. The lights of the city appear below, and the monster gives a finger wag before he jumps off the airplane and into the clouds. Ambulances and rescue vehicles are waiting on the ground as we see Mr. Valentine being taken away in an ambulance secured in a straight jacket.
Epilogue: Even Scarier (No score)
Terror at 20,000 feet rolls right into the epilogue. We see John Lithgow tied up and mumbling in the back of the ambulance being driven by… Dan Aykroyd from the prologue. Dan turns around and says, “Heard you had a big scare up there, huh? Wanna see something really scary?” The scene fades away to a starry sky and Rod Serling’s opening monologue from the first season of the Twilight Zone. Great use of a callback.
The second half of the movie is far superior to the first half. I think that the movie could have benefited from more original content rather than trying to remake old stories (1 story original; the rest remakes). This was one of the first horror movies I watched growing up. It will forever hold a special place in my heart, but it doesn’t hold up very well over time. If you are looking for a better serial story movie, I would suggest Tales from the Hood.
Overall score 3 out of 5. Fun for nostalgia purposes, but there are better serial stories out there to watch.
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