Other Summer Movies of the 80s: Twilight Zone: The Movie
Released June 24th, 1983
Prologue and Segment One: Written and Directed by John Landis.
Segment Two: Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson and Melissa Matheson
Segment Three: Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Richard Matheson.
Segment Four: Directed by George Miller. Written by Richard Matheson.
Twilight Zone: The Movie opens with a prologue starring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd. The pair is driving along a dark desert road singing along to "The Midnight Special," by Credence Clearwater Revival. They reminisce about old TV shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. It's fun, familiar banter and the two actors play it with a light, realistic touch. Then, Aykroyd's character asks Brooks' a question that caused titters across the audience the night I saw it in 1983.
"You wanna see something really scary?"
The jolt that follows caused my date that night to squeeze my forearm so tight that her fingernails dug into my skin. The crowd screamed and then we laughed at ourselves. We settled in for what was sure to be a fun night at the movies.
I was on the cusp of my 16th birthday when the movie opened and I saw it while on a triple date with two of my best friends. We each invited a girl and one of my buddies borrowed the family station wagon for us to ride in. I was excited about the film because I knew The Twilight Zone from TV reruns and loved it. My brothers had shared an apartment by then and had cable, so I got to enjoy all sorts of programming when I stayed with them. This included the Saturday Night Shocker creature feature on KPLR out of St. Louis, music videos, and reruns of classic television series like The Twilight Zone. So, while so many people my age were gushing out Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, I was tingling with anticipation over Twilight Zone: The Movie.
The anthology movie that followed that wonderful prologue was a mixed bag of quality. Four episodes from the original series were produced by four different directors. "A Quality of Mercy," by John Landis, "Kick the Can," by Steven Spielberg, "It's A Good Life," by Joe Dante, and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," by George Miller. The first segment was pretty good, but its filming had been marred by a tragic helicopter crash and explosion that killed the segment's lead actor Vic Morrow and two child actors Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Myca Dinh Le. The awful incident occurred a year prior during filming and was on the news. Watching the "A Quality of Mercy" was unsettling and upsetting knowing what had happened and made any enjoyment of it nearly impossible. It was a reaction I didn't expect to have.
"Kick the Can" bored me and I grew frustrated that I was going to be completely underwhelmed by this whole endeavor. I wondered if my date was feeling the same frustration. Then, "It's A Good Life" came and breathed life and energy into the film and then final spot, "Nigtmare at 20,000 Feet," brought it home on a high note that included a perfect callback to the prologue. All in all, it wasn't the complete bust it was starting to feel like and I left satisfied.
After the movie, the six of us drove to a field through which some railroad tracks ran. The tracks were alleged to be haunted. Something about a ghost light that appeared. We thought it would be fun to park out there and see what would happen. We wanted to see something scary. The results were akin to the first two segments of Twilight Zone: The Movie without any of the fun stuff from the final two to save the experience. No ghost light. No eerie noises. No Dan Aykroyd or Albert Brooks.
About ten years later, while living briefly in Poplar Bluff again, I drove out to that spot one night with my wife to show here the haunted tracks. Again, nothing happened. I wish I had some Rod Serling-esque twist to add to the story here, but I don't. I guess we didn't travel through another dimension.