Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1983. Warner Bros.. Story by George Clayton Johnson, Screenplay by John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison, Based on stories by Jerome Bixby, Richard Matheson, Inspired by the series created by Rod Serling. Cinematography by Allen Daviau, John Hora, Stevan Larner. Produced by John Landis, Steven Spielberg. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Production Design by Jim Bissell. Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman, Deborah Lynn Scott. Film Editing by Malcolm Campbell, Tina Hirsch, Michael Kahn, Howard E. Smith.
Four directors combine their talents to pay tribute to the legendary Rod Serling series that terrified television viewers in the early sixties; thanks to production nightmares, which included the unnecessary, accidental deaths of three cast members, this film was a cursed project by the time of its release and, despite a good turnout at the box office, its finer aspects were buried beneath a lasting legacy of notoriety.
After a fun, creepy prologue in which Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks literally drive us into the atmosphere of the uncanny, John Landis directs Vic Morrow (who died in a helicopter crash during the filming of his segment) as a bigoted businessman who leaves a bar after making loud, racist pronouncements about the reasons that he didn’t land a promotion at work. Instead of finding himself in the parking lot, however, he opens the bar’s door and goes on a tour of Nazi Germany, the Klan-controlled American south and Vietnam during the war, in each location made the target of violent bigots who teach him a lesson about tolerance.
Steven Spielberg directs the second segment, the weakest of the bunch, a gentle Careful What You Wish For fantasy about a retirement home where a group of seniors long to be young again and magical Scatman Crothers makes it happen.
Much more creative if ultimately pretty silly is Joe Dante’s episode in which Kathleen Quinlan drives a little kid home after accidentally hitting him with her car, only to find that he lives in a madhouse with family members who are strangely very scared of him.
The best of the four, and the masterpiece of the collection, is George Miller’s episode, in which John Lithgow expertly plays an airline passenger who is terrified of flying, his fears not helped when he sees a creepy gremlin sitting on the wing of the plane and screwing with the machinery; he tries to warn the flight stuff but his testimony is dismissed as hallucination.
The first of the four is partially inspired by an episode of the show, the rest are all direct remakes and won’t measure up to the originals for diehard fans, the impressive visual effects give the whole thing a spiffy sheen that is at odds with the vibe of late-night exploitation that made Serling’s scripts that much scarier. The episode choices are satisfying in that they represent the wide variety in tone and subject that the show covered, but the deaths of Morrow and two children (who were working without proper permits) adds an unpleasant flavour to the first short and only Miller’s is strong enough to stand on its own.