TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

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PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

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TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

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KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

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IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

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NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

THE HOWLING (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Joe Dante

Written by: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless

(based on the novel THE HOWLING by Gary Brandner)

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy

By the time the 70’s had ended, it seemed like the reign of classic movie monsters was at an end. There was a lack of vampire films, no Frankenstein movies to be found, and next to no werewolf movies. 1981 brought two great features about the beast that transforms by the light of the full moon. The more well-known film was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. THE HOWLING was the other film and though it has received significantly less attention than the horror-comedy take on the monster, it was extremely successful at the box office and has gone on to be considered one of the best werewolf movies of all-time. Incorporating classic sensibilities of the Universal horror movies from the 1940’s with a new concept of the well-known monster, THE HOWLING is a very cool 80’s horror film that holds up amazingly well.

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Karen White, a LA news anchor, is being used as bait to catch a serial killer. After the cops lose connection with her, Karen goes through a traumatizing experience in which she almost dies at the hands of the killer who appeared to be a little more than….human. In order to recuperate, Karen and her husband, Bill, travel to a resort where psychiatric patients gather to receive professional help. It’s a place called The Colony. After hearing some rather alarming howls in the woods at night, Bill is attacked and bitten by a large animal. As Bill begins to go through more than just a personality change, Karen, along with two of her friends, investigate the hairy secret that The Colony hides.

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Many critics say that the incredible transformation scene in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is the best werewolf scene of all time. I’d say that THE HOWLING has a scene that is just as great as that well-known moment in AMERICAN WEREWOLF. Rick Baker was actually on the make-up crew for THE HOWLING and left to work on the Landis production. They gave each other some stiff competition with well-constructed effects and memorable moments. As far as gore goes, I found THE HOWLING to be more graphic than AMERICAN WEREWOLF too. It’s a dark film that also has moments of humor, but isn’t a complete blend of horror and comedy. There are also plenty of little references thrown in the background for horror buffs.

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The music sounds like it’s from a black-and-white monster movie for the most part, but that also feels completely appropriate for the story being presented. For the most part, the monsters are left to the darkness for the first half of the film. We get little hints at what’s going on, but nothing is really shown front and center, save for one scene. When the werewolves are on-screen, it’s quite a sight to behold. Even little things like a shadow passing by the window can be nothing short of scary.

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One characteristic about these werewolves that is unique involves the idea that they’re simply shape-shifters. It doesn’t have to be a full moon for them to transform, instead they can turn anytime they please or that is convenient for them. This adds a new level of danger for the characters, especially Karen living with a man who could potentially change and rip her to pieces at any moment. The final third also introduces a really cool plot twist that makes sense with the logic that has been set up early on.

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As far as weak moments go, the only real pet peeve I had with this film is Dee Wallace’s acting. She’s good for the most part, but at times, she comes off as a bit over-the-top. Everything else about the film is stellar and makes for a hell of a great werewolf film. It might even place a little higher for me than AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which is blasphemy for a lot of people. THE HOWLING is an essential viewing for anybody who enjoys scary movies, especially ones about werewolves.

Grade: A-

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