Film Review: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Release Date: June 24th, 1983
Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison, Jerome Bixby
Based on: The Twilight Zone by Rod Sterling
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan, Burgess Meredith (narrator), Dick Miller, Steven Williams, Al Leong, John Larroquette, Selma Diamond, Priscilla Pointer, Nancy Cartwright, Christina Nigra

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey… you wanna see something really scary?” – Car Passenger

After recently watching the Creepshow television series, as well as revisiting the movies for the umpteenth time, I got the itch to rewatch Twilight Zone: The Movie, as it has a lot of similarities and I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade.

I like the highpoints of this movie almost as much as the Creepshow films. However, Twilight Zone is pretty inconsistent, as the first two segments are weak while the latter two are really good. And maybe it was put in this order in post-production because Steven Spielberg felt the same way, even though one of his segments was one of the crappier ones.

The prologue and the first segment were both directed by John Landis, coming off of An American Werewolf In London, a true horror classic. The prologue was a pretty good setup and I loved it when I was a kid. Landis’ segment, however, plays more like an episode of Amazing Stories.

Although, two of these segments play like Amazing Stories episodes and maybe this movie is what inspired Spielberg to create that show just two years later.

Anyway, Landis’ segment is actually incomplete due to an accident involving a helicopter on the set of the film. The accident killed two kids and actor Victor Morrow. It was a pretty controversial event back when it happened (see here) and it forever ruined the working relationship between Steven Spielberg and John Landis.

Moving on to the second segment, it’s the one directed by Spielberg himself and it is also the other segment that feels like an Amazing Stories episode. It’s also really boring and slows the movie to a crawl. But thankfully, Joe Dante’s segment gets the movie back on track.

By the time the third segment rolls around, you might find yourself in a comatose state that even the gentle, kind and always fly Scatman Crothers couldn’t pull you out of during the previous story. But once you get to the midpoint of the film, everything picks up, gets better and the movie delivers.

The third and fourth segments feel almost as good as the best segments from the Creepshow franchise and they save this movie from being a total disaster.

Where the first story dealt with an unlikable, old, racist piece of shit and the second dealt with old people getting to feel young again, the third deals with a young boy with special powers and a nice lady that eventually wants to help him, played by Kathleen Quinlan. It has more energy, it’s a more interesting story and the monster effects that Dante had created for this are superb. I love the third segment and it’s actually a story I would revisit if ever there were a followup to it. Plus, it has Dick Miller in it.

Now the fourth segment is directed by George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max franchise, and it is a remake of the most famous Twilight Zone episode.

The story sees an airplane passenger freak out over a monster on the wing of the plane. It may sound like an odd setup but it is a great segment that builds suspense incredibly well and also benefits from the great talent of John Lithgow. I also really liked the young Christina Nigra in this, as she added some good comedic seasoning at just the right moments. She was also really good in Cloak & Dagger, alongside Henry Thomas, a year later.

The final segment features the best (and only real) monster of the movie. The special effects are outstanding and the payoff in the finale makes the rest of the movie worth sitting through.

In the end, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a good example of what I don’t like about anthologies: consistency. The first half is bogged down by dry, slow, boring stories that one has to suffer through in an effort to get to something better. Thankfully, the second half of the picture is good.

In retrospect, though, it feels like this is almost a movie length pilot to Spielberg’s anthology television series Amazing Stories. If you’ve ever seen that show, this feels like an extension of it more than it feels like it fits within the Twilight Zone franchise. However, this would also lead to the Twilight Zone getting resurrected on television. In fact, it relaunched just a few days before Amazing Stories debuted.

Going back to the Spielberg segment with the old people experiencing their youth again, there are a lot of parallels to it and Ron Howard’s Cocoon. I’m not sure if this was an inspiration for that movie and its sequel but it’s very possible.

In fact, Twilight Zone: The Movie seems to have had quite the impact between launching a new TZ television series, influencing Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and its similarities to Cocoon, all of which came out two years later in 1985.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthology films of the time: the Creepshow movies and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, as well as the television shows Amazing Stories and Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

Film Review: Gunslinger (1956)

Release Date: June 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Beverly Garland, John Ireland, Allison Hayes, Dick Miller

Roger Corman Productions, American Releasing Corporation, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll make you a deal. I won’t try to make you a bad woman, if you stop trying to make me a good man.” – Cane Miro, “You’re not bad, you’re just no good.” – Marshal Rose Hood

This came out before Roger Corman really found his footing as a filmmaker. While I love how Corman could make so much with so little, his pictures typically survived on the charm he was able to put into them. Gunslinger, however, is just so drab and pedestrian that I have to put it as one of Corman’s worst.

That sucks because the film does have an interesting premise, especially for a mid-’50s movie. It sees the town sheriff get murdered by criminals and then his widow picks up his badge to take out the scum that killed her man. The story is the type of female empowerment stuff that I love. But unfortunately, it completely lacks any sort of badassness and feels more like a half-assed pilot to a ’50s western show that had no chance of getting picked up.

The film stars Beverly Garland, along with John Ireland and a small role for Corman favorite Dick Miller but it lacks any sort of energy or emotion.

Even though Roger Corman may have the record for most films riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t feel like this one really fits the mold that well. It’s just dry and weak and even though MST3K features schlock, this film feels out of place among the other Corman flicks they lampooned.

In a time where I hadn’t seen this, if someone came up to me and asked, “Hey, have you ever seen that Corman picture where the dead sheriff’s wife picks up his badge to get revenge?” I’d have been like, “No! Fuck! We gotta go watch it!” But I would’ve been let down, severely.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other western schlock from the time, as well as other ’50s Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: The Undead (1957)

Also known as: The Trance of Diana Love (working title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1957 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ponald Stein
Cast: Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes, Val Dufour, Mel Welles, Richard Devon, Billy Barty, Dick Miller

American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Hickory dickory dorse / My guest is dead, of course / The clock struck two / He’s turning blue / With little or no remorse.” – Smolkin, the Gravedigger

Man, Roger Corman certainly had a lot of films appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it was all for a good reason and it’s a lot of fun seeing the master of schlock dominate the way he did.

Fans of Corman will probably enjoy this film, even though it’s what I would consider to be below Corman’s normal quality. Normies out there will probably be bored shitless and wonder why anyone would watch this but it takes a special someone to have a real love affair with Corman’s great and uniquely impressive work.

The reason why it is impressive is because Corman can create so much with almost nothing. Now this specific film isn’t the best example of that but for a movie that was made for less than a dime, he’s able to pull this off better than any other director in a similar situation would be able to.

Although bizarre, the story is kind of interesting. A psychic researcher sends the mind of a prostitute back in time in an effort to study her past-life experiences. So the film takes place in the Middle Ages and we soon discover that the prostitute’s older self is going to be killed over suspicions that she’s a witch. The psychic sends himself back in time to convince the prostitute to avoid death but in doing so, her future incarnations can never exist. Ultimately, the psychic ends up stranded in the past.

I wouldn’t call the plot wholly original or anything but it is kind of ambitious for a cheap-o ’50s motion picture.

While the acting isn’t good, it also isn’t atrocious. We also get to see a very young Billy Barty and Dick Miller.

Overall, this is far from Corman’s best but I think that this is a notable picture in his oeuvre, as it almost feels like a spiritual predecessor to his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the 1960s, which would primarily star Vincent Price and were some of his absolute best pictures.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s other late ’50s/early ’60s films, as well as his Poe adaptations.

Film Review: Explorers (1985)

Release Date: July 12th, 1985
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Eric Luke
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“It’s asking for coordinates on x-, y- and z-axes to locate a point in space relative to its terminal. How did you dream this?” – Wolfgang Müller

The Explorers was one of my favorite movies in the mid-’80s. It kind of fit in with all those other kid adventure movies like E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialThe Goonies and Monster Squad. These kid films did really well back then and they all sort of just tapped into something that films didn’t do as good before the decade. I guess that’s why Stranger Things and the modern It movie have built up solid fan bases off of the nostalgia for these sort of films and stories.

This movie is no different and it also came from the imagination of Joe Dante. Ultimately, this feels like a Spielberg film too but he wasn’t even involved but maybe Dante’s experience working with Spielberg on Gremlins, a year earlier, kept that magic mojo going.

The plot follows three boys and their attempt at building a spaceship. Yeah, it is really fantastical and unrealistic but the movie is more about imagination and childhood than the going to space bit. Granted, they do go to space and meet aliens but even then, this is still about youthful imagination, living your dreams no matter how ridiculous they may be and never losing hope in yourself. It’s a metaphor, y’all!

What makes this movie so fantastic is that you do see this through the eyes of children but you also see it through the eyes of an adult, in this case the super talented and underutilized Dick Miller. Miller’s character, an old man that once had dreams and aspirations similar to the kids, discovers what these kids are up to and when he witnesses them succeed, he is living vicariously through them and tapping into something he hasn’t felt in decades. It’s pretty f’n touching and Miller really conveyed the right emotions in playing this part. While Miller’s role in the movie isn’t very big, it’s central to the most pivotal message this film tries to communicate to its audience.

The special effects in this are really good and I loved the sets and the creature effects on the aliens, once these kids journeyed to their spaceship.

Spoiler alert, the aliens are friendly and as the film rolls on, you come to discover that they’re just kids to. So the Earth kids and the alien kids meet and you see that they’re not too dissimilar. The alien kids are also driven to go on adventures and discover the universe with childlike enthusiasm. Plus, Robert Picardo was awesome as the male alien, even if you couldn’t see him under the bulky costume.

I like watching this film as an adult because it keeps me grounded by making me remember the ideals and view of the universe I had when I was a kid. Watching this as an adult is similar to being in the shoes of the Dick Miller character.

This is one of Joe Dante’s best pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Flight of the NavigatorE.T the Extra-TerrestrialD.A.R.Y.L., The Goonies, Monster Squad.

Film Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

Also known as: Killbots (Belgium/original US theatrical title), Robot Assassins (Spain), Shopping (France/West Germany), Supermarket Horror (Italy), Terror In Park Plaza (Portugal), R.O.B.O.T. (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, Angus Scrimm

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 95 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram.” – Rick

Chopping Mall is an unknown film that has grown a good cult following over the years. I saw it on VHS but not until the early ’90s. I’m not sure if it was readily available or distributed in the mid-’80s when it was originally released. It certainly didn’t play in a theater or drive-in near me because Southwest Florida in the ’80s was devoid of any real culture. Well, it still mostly is, thirty years later.

One cool thing about Chopping Mall is that its opening scene stars Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov as the Blands from Bartel’s 1982 movie Eating Raoul. It makes this a sort of crossover film. But then, Dick Miller also pops up as one of the many Walter Paisleys he’s played over the years. In any event, this had a lot of nods to the Roger Corman camp of talent but since his wife Julie was the producer, that makes sense.

The film also has a small role for Gerrit Graham, who popped up in horror movies a lot in the ’80s and ’90s. He even played the husband of Mary Woronov in TerrorVision. And then you also have Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame, as well as Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet.

The premise of this film sees a bunch teens decide to camp out in the local mall overnight, as some of them work at the furniture store where there are beds. You know, so the teens can do that sex stuff that always sets off the monsters in an ’80s splatter picture. What the teens don’t know is that the mall has three robot security guards who have gone on the fritz. This is like Short Circuit if there were three Johnny 5s and they all had a thirst for teenage blood.

This is a really short film but it is full of action, solid practical effects, cheesy non-practical effects, bad acting, hokey ’80s dialogue and breasts. There is also a fantastic head explosion that is Scanners level awesome.

I love Chopping Mall and even though it has that cult following I mentioned, most people have no idea that this crazy gem of a movie even exists.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Night of the CometTerrorVisionThe StuffNight of the Creeps

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.