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Film / Twilight Zone: The Movie

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"A dimension of sight..."
"You're travelling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone."

An Anthology Film based on the 1959 Twilight Zone television series, released in 1983. It follows the show's anthology format by presenting four segments (all but one remakes of classic episodes), which are directed by four different directors.

  1. Prologue: "Something Scary" (Directed by John Landis): Two men discuss old television shows.
  2. "Time Out" (Directed by John Landis): A bigot is taught a fantastic lesson as he finds himself traveling through time and hunted down for being a minority (a Jew in Nazi Germany, a black man living in the Deep South during the 1950s, and a Vietnamese man during The Vietnam War).
  3. "Kick the Can" (Directed by Steven Spielberg): A mysterious man arrives at a retirement home and shows its inhabitants how to be young again.
  4. "It's a Good Life" (Directed by Joe Dante): A woman meets a young boy who has a very special power, which he uses to hold his family in a grip of terror.
  5. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"/Epilogue: "Even Scarier" (Directed by George Miller): A man who is scared of flying finds out that the plane he is in is being sabotaged by a gremlin.

This film became infamous for a ghastly accident that took the life of Vic Morrow and two child actors named My-Ca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. The script for "Time Out" called for a scene in which Morrow's character is supposed to be carrying two Vietnamese children across a river to safety during an American bombing raid in Vietnam. Director John Landis was shooting late at night, violating child labor laws, and ignoring the helicopter pilot's concerns about flying so close to the ground and so close to explosive detonations. The cameras rolled anyway, and the explosive charges meant to simulate bombs caused the helicopter to crash, crushing Chen under its landing skid and causing the rotor to decapitate Morrow and Le. Landis was later tried and acquitted on charges of involuntary manslaughter. The 2020 documentary series Cursed Films shows the actual, uncensored footage of the incident and its direct aftermath.

The tropes covering the film as a whole:

  • No Antagonist: All but the final segment.
  • Novelization: Robert Bloch wrote the book adaptation. Bloch's order of segments does not match the order in the film itself, as he was given the original screenplay to work with, in which "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" was the second segment, and "Kick the Can" was the fourth. Both the movie's prologue and epilogue are missing in the novelization. Bloch claimed that no one told him the anthology had a wraparound sequence. Bloch also said that in the six weeks he was given to write the book, he only saw a screening of two of the segments; he had to hurriedly change the ending of the first segment, after the helicopter accident that occurred during filming. As originally written, the first segment would have ended as it did in the original screenplay (Connor finds redemption by saving two Vietnamese children whose village is being destroyed by the Air Cavalry). The finished book reflects how the first segment ends in the final cut of the film.
  • Remake Cameo:
    • Burgess Meredith, who starred in four episodes of the series, including the all-time classic "Time Enough at Last", is the Narrator of the film.
    • Rod Serling's widow Carol has a cameo as an airline passenger in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".
    • Bill Mumy, who played the creepy omnipotent boy Anthony Fremont in the original episode "It's a Good Life", plays a diner patron named Tim in this film's adaptation. He sarcastically tells his friend Chris that it was "real good" that he attacked Anthony.
    • William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy (actor), and Murray Matheson all had parts in the original series and also appear in the movie.
  • Special Effects Evolution: The opening features updated visual effect versions of the fourth and fifth season Title Sequence. For example, the window doesn't collapse — instead it explodes outwardly.

Prologue: "Something Scary"

"Time Out"

  • Aborted Arc: In the original intended ending, Bill manages to redeem himself by rescuing two Vietnamese children, who time jump with him, not back to 1982/83, but back to Nazi Occupied France. The Kids are then taken by the Nazis to be executed, while Bill is put on a train bound for a Concentration Camp, making it a Cruel Twist Ending. However, due to the invokeddeath of Vic Morrow and the two child actors, all scenes featuring the children were cut and Bill's cruel twist turned into a deserving one.
  • Actor Allusion: Vic Morrow encountering Nazis in World War II France, where did we hear that before?
  • Asshole Victim: Bill.
  • Color Me Black: Bill finds himself placed in the fates of various oppressed minorities, first a Jew being chased by the SS in occupied France, then a black man hunted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s, next he's mistaken for a a North Vietnamese man facing American troops and ultimately as a German Jew sent off to a concentration camp.
  • Hate Crimes Are a Special Kind of Evil: Bill spouts racist and anti-Semitic comments at a bar before he is set on a journey through the Twilight Zone where he is confronted by numerous racist groups at different points in history, each of whom see him as the object of their hatred, such as the KKK seeing him as a black man, or a group of Nazis seeing him as a Jewish man. The story ends with him being put on a train bound for a concentration camp, the extreme end point of the very comments he was making in a bar. note 
  • Language Barrier: Bill, when he is sent back in time to Nazi Germany and questioned in German.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The only segment that portrays this trope.
  • Lie to the Beholder: Bill appears as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, a black man to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s Deep South and as a member of the Viet Cong Army to American soldiers during The Vietnam War. He protests that he's not Jewish, that he's white, and that he's an American respectively but to no avail.
  • Man on Fire: A Klansman goes on fire after Bill kicks him into a burning cross as he tries to escape.
  • One Character, Multiple Lives: Connor is shuttled back and forth in time to live lives as a Jew, a black man, and as Lieutenant Douglas Neidermeyer who is mistaken for a Vietnamese person, during the worst times to be part of their minorities respectively.
  • Public Execution: As they see him as a black man, the Klan attempts to lynch Bill but he manages to escape.
  • Shout-Out: Bill is seen as Neidermeyer by the GIs who are lost during The Vietnam War. Two of them say they accidently shot Lieutenant Neidermeyer after they mistake him for a Viet Cong guerilla, a reference to Landis' earlier film Animal House.
  • Villain Protagonist: Bill, since his supposed development to stop being a bigot was cut out.

"Kick the Can"

  • Adaptation Deviation: In the original episode, it is Charles Whitley, a long-time resident of the Sunnyvale Rest Home, who suggests playing the game of Kick the Can that makes him and the other residents (bar Ben Conroy) young again. All of the formerly elderly people choose to remain young. In the film, the newly arrived resident Mr. Bloom takes the place of Charles. After being children for only a short time, all of the residents except for Mr. Agee ask to become old again. Mrs. Dempsey is upset that she will live out her life without ever meeting her beloved husband Jack. Mrs. Weinstein does not want to go through the pain of losing loved ones all over again. Mr. Mute does not want to have to go through school all over again. Mr. Agee, on the other hand, looks forward to youthful sex, so he stays.
  • An Aesop: Don't let age stop you from enjoying life.
  • And Then What?: After the elderly people become young they wonder who will take care of them now and what they'll do now that they're kids, so all but Mr. Agee decide to just go back to being old again. The original episode left it more open-ended but we were left to assume the magic only works one-way.
  • Almost Famous Name: Mrs. Dempsey's husband was named Jack Dempsey. When Mr. Bloom jokingly asks her if he was the fighter, she clarifies that he wasn't.
  • Angel Unaware: Strongly hinted of Mr. Bloom.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Watching Mr. Conroy playing Kick the Can, Mr. Bloom then turns to the camera and smiles, saying, "He'll get it!"
  • Breather Episode: Spielberg directed the lone segment that isn't scary.
  • Canon Foreigner: Mr. Bloom, Mrs. Dempsey and Mr. and Mrs. Weinstein do not appear in the original episode.
  • Fountain of Youth: Playing Kick the Can makes the retirement home residents (with the exception of Mr. Conroy) children again.
  • Full-Name Basis: Mrs. Dempsey always refers to her late husband as Jack Dempsey.
  • Game Show Appearance: Brief clips from the April 24, 1974 episode of the original Jeopardy! appear during the segment.
  • Gender Flip: In the original episode, the Sunnyvale Rest Home administrator is Mr. Cox. In the film, it is Miss Cox.
  • Here We Go Again!: The segment ends with Mr. Bloom arriving at Driftwood Convalescent Home, where he will once again use his powers to make the residents young.
  • Human Popsicle: Discussed. Mr. Conroy tells the other residents of the Sunnyvale Retirement Home that his son has promised to have him frozen that he dies. Mr. Weinstein mockingly calls him "Popsicle Head."
  • Magical Negro: Mr. Bloom is an African-American man who has the ability to make elderly people young again so that they can live their lives over again. Prior to his arrival at Sunnyvale Retirement Home, he had previously done so at six or eight other retirement homes.
  • Never Found the Body: Young Mr. Agee just runs off, confusing the hell out of Miss Cox the next day.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Leo Conroy begs this of a young Mr. Agee, though it's more a "Take Me With You".
  • The Scrooge: Mr. Conroy. Like the trope namer, he takes out his loneliness and frustration on his fellow retirees.
  • Shout-Out: Mr. Agee says that he always wanted to be Douglas Fairbanks when he was a boy. When he becomes young again, he pretends to be the Black Pirate and refers to Sherwood Forest and Sir Guy of Gisborne.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Before leaving Sunnyvale, Mr. Bloom promises that Mr. Conroy will soon get his own chance to be young again — although he may just be saying that Mr. Bloom will get the hang of feeling young even though he's old.
  • Time-Shifted Actor:
    • Mr. Agee is played by Murray Matheson as an elderly man and by Evan Richards as a child.
    • Mrs. Dempsey is played by Helen Shaw as an elderly woman and by Laura Mooney as a child.
    • Mr. Weinstein is played by Martin Garner as an elderly man and by Scott Nemes as a child.
    • Mrs. Weinstein is played by Selma Diamond as an elderly woman and by Tanya Fenmore as a child.
    • Mr. Mute is played by Peter Brocco as an elderly man and by Christopher Eisenmann as a child.

"It's a Good Life"

  • Actor Allusion: Dick Miller plays Walt, named after his character, Walter from A Bucket of Blood.
  • Adaptation Deviation: This segment is only loosely adapted from the short story by Jerome Bixby. In the short story, Anthony uses his immense powers to terrorize the residents of his hometown Peaksville, Ohio and no one is able to exercise any control over him. In the film, Anthony's victims are limited to his real family and the people whom he has forced to act as his new family. Helen Foley recognizes that he needs guidance and offers to be his teacher so that he can find new uses for his powers. The segment ends with the two of them driving off together happily, giving it a happy ending which was not present in either the short story or the original episode.
  • Adapted Out: In the short story, Anthony's parents are major characters. In the film, Anthony mentions that his real mother and father hated him and wanted to "send [him] away to someplace bad." Ethel tells Helen that he did something terrible to them but she does not go into details.
  • Age Lift: Anthony is three years old in the short story and six in the original episode. He is about ten or eleven in the film.
  • Bond One-Liner: Played for Horror: After wishing Ethel into the cartoon, which causes her to be eaten by a monster, Anthony reacts rather callously:
    Anthony: (quietly) Th-th-th-th-that's all, Ethel.
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • Helen does not appear in the short story.
    • In the short story, Anthony is an only child. In the film, he has an elder sister named Sarah.
  • Closed Circle: Anthony's house, while the rest of the town only know that something strange goes on there.
  • Dutch Angle: Several are used when Anthony brings the cartoon creature to life.
  • Eldritch Location: Anthony's house looks normal (even though it's based on a subtle cartoon design), its upper floor is gray and very Tim Burton-esque with a portrait of a family of blank faces.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Ethel is eaten by a monster after Anthony transports her into a cartoon.
  • Giant Eye of Doom: Helen meets one when she tries to leave the house.
  • Green Thumb: In the final scene, Anthony turns the desert landscape into a beautiful garden filled with many different kinds of flowers as he and Helen drive away from his old house.
  • Hair-Raising Hare: Anthony asks his uncle Walt to pull a rabbit out of a hat as a magic trick, then the rabbit turns into a hairless, hulking, snarling monstrosity before it goes back into the hat.
  • I Am a Monster: Anthony's Heel Realization, admitting he teleported everyone back to their normal lives so they have what they wanted: to be away from him.
  • Mythology Gag: Helen tells Walter Paisley that she is going to Willoughby and that she is from Homewood. Walter tells her that it looks like she missed a turnoff at Cliffordville.
  • No Name Given: Anthony's fake mother and father are not named.
  • Obliviously Evil: Anthony wants to be a good little boy, but his "family" is so terrified of him that they don't set any limits on his actions.
  • Reality Warper: Anthony displays the ability to alter reality by creating monsters, bringing cartoon characters to life, transporting Ethel into a cartoon and stimulating the growth of plants.
  • Reset Button: Pressed by Anthony, sending the people he tormented back to wherever they belonged.
  • Shout-Out: Dick Miller plays a character named Walter Paisley, which was the name of his character in the 1959 film A Bucket of Blood.
  • Stepford Smiler: Anthony's "family". No bad emotions allowed.
  • Stock Footage: Bimbo's Initiation, Case of the Missing Hare, Behind the Meat-Ball, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Mouse Wreckers, The Power of Thought, It's Hummer Time, Feed the Kitty and Feline Frame-Up are played on the various televisions in Anthony's house. With the exception of Bimbo's Initation, all of them are Looney Tunes cartoons.
  • Toon Town: Anthony brings a cartoon character to life to terrorize Helen and his "family."
  • Trapped in TV Land: Anthony sends Ethel into a cartoon world to be eaten.
  • Tuckerization:
    • Helen Foley is named after Rod Serling's favorite teacher. She shares her name with the protagonist of "Nightmare as a Child".
    • Walter Paisley mentions a town named Beaumont. This is a reference to Charles Beaumont, who wrote numerous episodes of the original series.
    • Uncle Walt is named after Walt Disney.
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: Anthony took away his real sister Sarah's mouth so she would not be able to yell at him anymore.

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"/Epilogue: "Even Scarier"

  • Ambiguous Ending: John Valentine's fate is ultimately left unresolved. At a promotional event for his autobiography John Lithgow commented that in response to the ambulance driver's question "Do you want to see something scary?" he would just have replied "No" whereupon the driver would have simply shrugged and driven him to the hospital.
  • Adapted Out: A variation. In the film, John Valentine is traveling alone, like his counterpart Arthur Wilson in the short story by Richard Matheson. However, Bob Wilson, the protagonist of the original episode, was traveling with his wife Julia.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: In the film, Valentine suffers from a fear of flying. In the short story, Arthur Wilson is extremely apprehensive about flying but no specific reason is given as to why. In the original episode, Bob Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown on a plane six months earlier.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The protagonist was named Arthur Jeffrey Wilson in the short story and Robert Wilson in the original episode. His name is John Valentine in the film.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Zig-zagged. The gremlin in the original episode looked more like an ugly hunched-over Bigfoot. Here, the gremlin is a tall, scaly humanoid with large sharpteeth smile.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The gremlin was merely curious in the original episode. Here, it has vile intentions. (see For the Evulz)
  • Bittersweet Ending: John saves the plane from being destroyed, but he's hauled away as a crazy person in an ambulance. And unlike the TV episode, in which Bob Wilson killed the gremlin, this one is at best mildly inconvenienced and is still flying around up there somewhere. Also, we actually get to see the passengers on the plane discover the damage done to the wing.
  • Book Ends: The ambulance that John is placed in is driven by the hitchhiker from the prologue, who pops in "Midnight Special", asks him if he "wants to see something really scary". .
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: John lights up a cigarette to calm his nerves but the little girl reminds him that there is no smoking. The man sitting in front of him, who is later revealed to be an air marshal, stares at him intently until he puts it out.
  • Dutch Angle: They are used extensively throughout the segment.
  • Explosive Decompression: John grabs an air marshal's gun, and shoots the window, which causes this, forcing the plane to land, ruining the gremlin's plans.
  • Eye Pop: When John removes the cover from his window, the gremlin is behind it, which makes him do this briefly.
  • Finger Wag: See below under Graceful Loser.
  • For the Evulz: Strongly implied to be the "reason" for the gremlin's attack. When it sees it has a single witness, it starts showing off, just for him. And as noted below, its reaction to being thwarted is essentially a cheerful shrug.
  • Graceful Loser: After John manages to shoot the gremlin (to very little effect), it starts to clamp him with a Facepalm of Doom, but then realizes that the plane is about to land, and so just gives him a Finger Wag and a malevolent grin before flying away.
  • Griping About Gremlins: The villain of the piece, obviously.
  • Immune to Bullets: As noted, the Gremlin physically shrugs off Valentine shooting it with the aforementioned gun, though it appears to be a bit pissed off.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted, in contrast to both the short story and the original episode. Valentine fails to hit the gremlin with a revolver while hanging outside of a flying plane in the middle of a storm.
  • Large Ham: It's John Lithgow channelling William Shatner. 'Nuff said.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Though "friend" is probably the last word that John would use.
  • Oh, Crap!: Valentine, when the hitchhiker asks if he "wants to see something really scary".
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The little girl with the W. C. Fields doll takes great delight in mocking Valentine and takes everything in her stride, even when all of the adults around her are panicking. She maintains her composure right up until Valentine shoots open the window so that he can kill the gremlin.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: As noted above, the gremlin.
  • Wham Shot: "That's enough of that noise..." See Book Ends.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Valentine noticed one of the passengers reading a newspaper, with its front page telling of a plane crash, which only made him more nervous. It also implied that the gremlin caused that crash as well.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone