Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Various
As an unwavering fan of Rod Serling’s brilliant concoction, The Twilight Zone, I enjoyed the “official film” one for the first time back in the mid-80s. I was still a boy, and I’ll forever remember the opening slice of the anthology’s wraparound, in which Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks trek through the rural countryside, jamming hard as ever to Creedence’s “Midnight Special.” That opener felt special to me, even before things got “really scary” – which, for the record, they most certainly did.
A perfect opener takes a sharp and savage turn. A risqué short if ever there was one, John Landis’ pic about a raging racist who gets what he deserves when reality takes a dark turn for the ironic, is a brash piece of film. This is a gruesome segment, and not in the traditional gory, bloody fashion. It’s just an offensive tale that’s made strangely melancholy when looking back at history; Vic Morrow, who plays the aforementioned racist, was killed on set in a tragic helicopter accident. Apparently, somehow he was literally crushed by a chopper while filming. It’s a bleak note to exit on, and holding that knowledge, and feeling the power of that initial story makes for an interesting viewing experience today.
Viewers are really thrown for a loop after moving into the second film in the anthology, which basically sports a polar opposite tone to the first. In this story the great Scatman Crothers plays a magical old fellow who moves from one resting home to the next, gifting the optimistic residents, or those willing to be optimistic, at least, a slice of magic and a chance at reliving youth. It’s a generally pleasant tale that tugs at the heart strings. Scatman is as amazing as he ever was, and watching him in action makes 2016 feel strangely… empty. If only we had a personality so infectious lighting up productions these days. Maybe Crothers took that old magic (and that tin can) with him when he parted ways with this world back in ’86.
The next story is no doubt the most outlandish, focusing on a child capable of making anything he can see in his mind a reality before him, and forcing those who inevitably wander into his cruel web to remain trapped there forever. This is a wildly creepy little short, but it’s intriguing, sports an assortment of demonic and chilling animatronics and makeup work, and drops the gorgeous Kathleen Quinlan right in the driver’s seat. It’s as close to psychedelic that The Twilight Zone gets, but it’s damn engaging.
And then, you’ve got the final and most famous piece of this brilliant painting, the famed Matheson tale, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” This rendition, as opposed to the original, which appeared in the T.V. series back in ’63 and featured William Shatner, gives a much-younger John Lithgow the chance to steal the show. What do you know, he does! He’s amazing as the paranoid author trapped on a plane being slowly chewed apart by a monster hanging out on a wing of the plane. It’s a tense and yet almost humorous piece, but it’s got all the impact today that it did some 50-plus years ago. It’s a great way to bring the focal lineup to an end before sliding back into the wraparound where Dan Aykroyd makes one final – and awesome – appearance.
While people leap at the chance to point at the first two Creepshow films as apex moments for anthologies, I’d argue tooth and nail that The Twilight Zone is a superior film. Even with the off kilter lineup of stories, it’s an amazing feat, with each story standing out for unique reasons.
You want to watch an awesome anthology this Halloween? Check out The Twilight Zone!