It is the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and a driver (Albert Brooks) and his passenger (Dan Aykroyd) are on a journey, singing along with the Creedence Clearwater Revival cassette playing on the car stereo - or they are until the cassette breaks and the machine spews out the tape. They are both irritated by this, especially as there are no radio stations to be picked up way out here, so they begin to amuse themselves by singing television theme tunes: Hawaii 5-0, Car 54 Where Are You?, The Twilight Zone - ah, there was a show. It really scared them when they were kids, but the passenger has a question for the driver... "Do you wanna see something really scary?"
It was an odd notion, that four of the brightest of the movie brats to work in the fantasy genres should wish to doff their cap to a television series, and not only that but recreate three classic episodes into the bargain which prompted the question, if they were so great why remake them in the first place? Yet the prologue apart, there were four stories to this film, the first one proper being the creation of John Landis (he had directed the prologue too) which, above all the others, really evoked the moralistic tone of Rod Serling's series. But that wasn't the reason his efforts were to be remembered.
No, in fact it's impossible to mention The Twilight Zone movie without acknowledging the terrible accident that occured on the set of Landis' segment. Actor Vic Morrow was filming a story set partly during the Vietnam War and in a battle scene a helicopter crashed, killing him and two young children who had been recruited to be in the sequence; it later transpired that the children were working in illegal circumstances, as if the accident wasn't bad enough. So when you're watching Morrow's bigot character receive his heavy-handed just desserts, you're not thinking of its "racism is bad" message but about how they managed how to edit it all together from what the unfortunate Morrow had already filmed.
Elsewhere, co-producer Steven Spielberg updated a tale of old folks in a retirement home enjoying a visit from a special friend, Mr Bloom (Scatman Crothers) who makes their yearning dreams for restored youth come true only for them to prefer being old in an unconvincing development. Considering Aykroyd's promise of "something really scary" it's curious that Spielberg would want to adapt the most saccharine story he could apparently find and this is rightly derided as the least of all the segments, though his lack of enthusiasm by that point was understandable. Joe Dante also suffers an attack of sentimentality for his adaptation of the one where little boy Bill Mumy (who makes a grown-up cameo here) has Godlike powers, but only at the ending.
Before that, there's a superbly designed nightmare of an eighties kid remaking the world in the image of cartoons, junk food and totalitarian regimes, luring schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan back to his home after she "accidentally" crashes into his bicycle. There she finds that the boy (Jeremy Licht) is holding others hostage as an enforced family, bullied into doing whatever he says (watching cartoons all day, eating burgers with peanut butter garnish for every meal). The vision of a child's tyranny, transforming in particular the animation into something sinister, is very well done, but they had to mess around with the conclusion which deflates all the tension. Not so with the best section, George Miller's version of the one where William Shatner saw a creature on the wing of the jetliner he was travelling in. Here it's John Lithgow in the role, an exquisite performance of barely contained panic that matches Miller's paranoid take; it has the best punchline too. Inevitably a mixed bag, Twilight Zone: The Movie falters often and only rarely summons up the true frissons of the best of the original. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.
Joe Dante (1946 - )
American director of science fiction and horror, a former critic who got his big break from Roger Corman directing Hollywood Boulevard. Piranha was next, and he had big hits with The Howling and Gremlins. But his less successful films can be as interesting: Explorers didn't do as well as he had hoped, but illustrated the love of pop culture that is apparent in all his work.