The Chronological Spielberg: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

twilight zone the movie

I have a few distinct memories of Twilight Zone: The Movie. When I was a kid, I have a very clear memory of watching the beginning of this movie with my dad, who does not like scary movies by the way, and being completely freaked out by that Dan Akyroyd bit in the beginning between him and Albert Brooks. That was well before I got into horror movies myself and I must say it stuck with me.

The other memory is that it’s not very good. My memory didn’t go much further beyond that, but I think it had something to do with the fact that, aside from the initial segment by John Landis, the movie didn’t do too much in the way of newness. But upon watching the full thing again recently in my attempt to go through all of Steven Spielberg’s major film efforts, I didn’t have that same problem.

In fact, the only segment of the film — four parts each directed by Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante (who I recently realized I’m a huge fan of) and George Miller of Mad Max fame — that I didn’t like is the one by Spielberg which was pretty disappointing.

Called “Kick The Can,” the second part of the film finds The Shining‘s Scatman Crothers playing Mr. Bloom, a recent addition to a nursing home who riles up all the other old folks with talk of youth. That night, they all go out to play and actually become young again. I’m not nearly as familiar with this episode from the original TV series — which I absolutely love watching in marathon mode every New Year’s — but I can’t imagine that one is as schmaltzy and sappy as this one. Spielberg just goes overboard with the cutesy stuff and winds up undercutting his own fairly poignant story about not wanting to lose yourself to age. It’s too bad considering the other filmmakers created much more balanced offerings and Spielberg had just nailed well crafted, earned sentimentality with E.T. the year before.

Since I’m probably not going to circle round back to this movie for a while, I might as well review the other three segments. Landis’ piece about a bigot who winds up surviving violent encounters while looking like the various groups he hates was a really solid piece of craftsmanship unfortunately tainted by the real life tragedy that went on while filming. Still, I thought the whole film should have been more in line with this part which deftly recreated the feel of the old series while telling an all new story.

Dante did a lot with his part, “It’s A Good Life” about a little boy with intense reality warping powers who brings a traveling teacher into his incredibly strange house. He does a great job of slowly revealing what’s going on and also lacing the entire thing with cartoons to not only explain what’s going on without smashing you over the head with it, but then become much more a part of the proceedings as the segment progresses (poor Cousin Ethel). There’s something awesomely grotesque about how the toons look when they come into the real world. Since we’re inundated with cartoons, it makes all the more sense that some of the house’s hallways and rooms look like they’re straight out of Tom and Jerry or one of the Warners cartoons seen in the film. Actually, the set design of this movie reminded me quite a bit of what Dante did once the kid went in the deep, dark pit in The Hole.

This segment is also the one I want more of after it’s over. All four portions feel like complete short stories, but there’s clearly a lot more going on here that could be explored more fully in a longer form story. Plus, damn that kid and the mutant bunny are creep-city. Oh and it’s pretty crazy seeing Nancy Cartwright as Cousin Ethel because you can hear her Bart Simpson voice even back then.

Finally you’ve got Miller’s take on “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” starring John Lithgow in the William Shatner role. Of all three recreated episodes, this is the original I’ve seen the most. This is the one where an airplane passenger is convinced that a gremlin is on the wing of the place tearing it apart. Everyone around him thinks he’s nuts, but, being the Twilight Zone, we know that’s not what’s up. The key to this one is Lithgow’s excellent performance as the flier who starts off already terrified and then skyrockets into anxiety when he starts seeing things that shouldn’t be there. Since he nails it, the whole thing comes off as a more intense journey than you might expect. Of course, it helps that the gremlin looks a lot better than a dude in a carpet suit.

Oddly, as far as anthology films go, I’d give this one a thumb’s up, something I rarely do. Overall the quality’s solid, with great storytelling, acting and direction. As a Spielberg offering, though, it leaves much to be desired. With Twilight Zone out of the way, I’m moving on to Temple Of Doom, which I love, and then a few episodes of Amazing Stories that I believe are on Netflix Instant. After that I’m getting into some pretty new territory with his more dramatic efforts of the 80s and 90s starting with The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. I’m hoping to stay a bit more up to date on these posts. Looking back I only did two all year, this being the second. Hopefully I can at least get up to Purple by year’s end, but it would probably be foolish to make any promises.

Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

The Shining movie PosterHave you ever had a movie in your life that has built up such legendary status that you almost don’t want to watch it? Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was like that for me, but not always. Back in high school I tried watching it a few times, but kept hitting roadblocks. One time, a bunch of us were watching it in a friend’s basement where we were sleeping over. I think we got to the bathtub scene when a friend started freaking out and demanded we turn it off. I begrudgingly obliged and it wound up being the kind of movie that got swept away.

As I mentioned when reviewing Stephen King’s book, I picked up a DVD copy of the movie last year, but still hadn’t gotten around to watching it until today and you know what? I kind of didn’t like it. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

80s Odyssey: Zapped (1982) & Teen Wolf (1985)

I’ve been on a real 80s movie kick since I watched Back To School and Just One Of The Guys. Since then, I’ve probably watched a dozen or so 80s flicks. I’ll be pairing some of them up and writing about them over the next few days and weeks. Zapped appealed to me instantly because, as longtime readers will remember, I am a big fan of Charles In Charge which also stars Scott Baio and Willie Aames.

The story behind Zapped actually reminds me a lot of a movie I saw when I was younger called School Spirit as both are R-rated teen comedies about a kid getting a certain kind of superpower and basically using it the way that a kid that age would. In this case, Scott Baio gets telekinesis after some of the chemicals in the lab he uses at school get mixed up and he ingests them.

There’s little touches here and there that made this film fun and quirky when it could have gotten tired and stale. Even before getting his powers, Baio is growing weed in the lab. His parents also think he’s on drugs and give him a really hard time until he controls a ventriloquist dummy to scare his mom and then she leaves him alone. Oh, Scatman Crothers also plays a coach in the movie and I always enjoy seeing him do his thing.

And, as you might expect, there’s plenty of T&A to go around. I was actually surprised that I didn’t remember this movie from my youthful days of watching USA’s Up All Night or Comedy Central’s T&A Matinee. Heck, the end of the movie finds everyone at prom and Baio going all Carrie, but instead of being pissed, he’s just ripping everyone’s clothes off. In my mind, I like to think that Baio and Aames changed their names, went on to college and wound up on Charles In Charge.

The theme for this post is “high school comedies about kids with strange abilities and the wackiness that ensure” in case you couldn’t tell. Unlike Zapped, I had, of course, seen Teen Wolf. I think it’s nearly impossible to be my age, had cable for a long time and not seen at least a part of the movie. In case you haven’t, though, basically Michael J. Fox is a nondescript teenager on a crappy basketball team who finds out that he is, in fact, a werewolf. Things actually start turning around for him when people find out about his secret (apparently, in addition to getting hairy and growing fangs, being a werewolf also makes you awesome at basketball). From there it turns into a question of identity and being true to yourself as Fox struggles between being the wolf that everybody loves and the boy Boof loves.

I think what sets Teen Wolf apart from movies like it is how differently they play everything. It runs out that Fox’s dad actually completely understands what he’s going through because he is also a werewolf (I love that scene where he opens the door and dad’s standing there in wolf mode too). I also like how no one really seems to care that he turns into a werewolf in the middle of a basketball game. Sure some people are a little weirded out, but they also don’t care because he’s actually good at the sport. I also love the character of Stiles in pretty much any incarnation I see him in. He’s that perfect 80s smooth operator that seems to be missing from modern movies. I think some actors make that guy too douchey for consumption, but Jerry Levine kills the role of ultimate party guy who everybody loves. We need more Stiles’ in our lives.

Like with Zapped and all movies like this that follow a somewhat formulaic plot (you know prom has to be involved and the lead has to like the popular girl while his female friend pines after him), Teen Wolf lives or dies based on the main character. Luckily for both flicks, both Baio and Fox are great at playing normal guys who you can either feel for or relate to. You feel kind of good when they get to be awesome and then feel bad for them when they take it too far, but then good again by the end when they redeem themselves.

I want to take a quick paragraph and talk about this Teen Wolf show that MTV’s got coming up soon. I’ve seen a few previews for it and it doesn’t look like my bag. I’m not one of those idiots who throws around terms like “raping my childhood” when things like this get remade. Not only do I find the very idea of the phrase to be repugnant and a wild misuse of a term, but someone making a new version of something you liked as a good should have no baring on your enjoyment of the original work. It’s still there. You can always watch the original Karate Kid or Teen Wolf and completely ignore the remakes. It’s as simple as that. All that being said, I the bits of the Teen Wolf show I’ve seen seem to take all the fun that was inherent in the movie out of the proceedings in order to make another cheap Twilight rip off. I said something like that to the missus the other day and she responded with something like “Kids today don’t want fun, they want brooding.” I hope that’s not true. I know movies like Teen Wolf and Zapped aren’t in vogue anymore, but they should be. Maybe teens aren’t as into comedy because the only things aimed at them are shows on the Disney channel and the occasional dramedy on TV like My Life As Liz. Where’s the Zapped, Teen Wolf or American Pie for this generation?