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.

Documentary Review: Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2004)

Release Date: September 4th, 2004 (Germany)
Directed by: Michael Palm
Written by: Michael Palm
Cast: Edgar G. Ulmer (voice, archive footage), Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ann Savage, John Saxon, William Schallert, Arianne Ulmer, Tom Weaver, Wim Wenders

Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corporation, Mischief Films, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), 77 Minutes

Review:

While I was perusing the offerings on the Criterion Channel, I came across this documentary about filmmaker, Edgar G. Ulmer.

This guy made magic in three of my favorite genres: horror, science fiction and film-noir. I believe that this documentary may actually be included on the Criterion Collection version of Detour.

What’s neat about it is that it features interviews and conversations with a lot of well known directors and actors that worked with or were influenced by Ulmer’s work behind the camera.

This also features his daughter who gives more intimate details on Ulmer, his life, her life as his daughter, as well as talking about her time in front of the camera with her father directing.

I really liked the conversation here between Joe Dante and John Landis. I also enjoyed the parts with John Saxon, Ann Savage, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

This was just a solid piece of work that really went through the man’s career with insight from some of the people who were there and others who had their own unique insight.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the documentary, so I put a trailer for Detour below, as it is my favorite Edgar G. Ulmer picture.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about horror, sci-fi and noir filmmakers.

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.

Documentary Review: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Allan Arkush, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, William Sadler, Robert Picardo, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Jonathan Haze, Jack Hill, Leonard Maltin, John Sayles, Mary Woronov

Autumn Rose Productions, End Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

If you don’t know who Dick Miller is or at least recognize his face, you were probably born after the year 2000. Even then, if you’ve ever watched a film before that time, you have most likely seen him at one point or a dozen.

Dick Miller was in everything from the 1950s through the 1990s. No, seriously, he was. Well, at least it seemed like he was in everything. The man has 180 credits to his name according to IMDb. Growing up in the ’80s, I saw him pop up a few times a year in the coolest movies of the time. The one that will always stand out the most for me was his part in Gremlins, which was the first time I remember seeing him. Every time I saw Mr. Miller after that was always a nice treat.

As I got older and went back and watched older films, especially when I found a love for Roger Corman’s pictures, I started to experience a younger and hip Dick Miller. He started his career in a lot of those early Roger Corman pictures and that association would serve him well, as all the young directors who rose to prominence, who were influenced by Corman, started hiring Miller for their films.

This documentary goes back and shows Miller’s early life, how he made the connection with Corman and how his career blossomed in unseen ways because of it. I love that it goes through his long history in films and interviews a lot of the people who were there alongside him. It also talks to the directors who hired him and have a love for his work.

Dick Miller is a guy that deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the films he was a part of. He was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and if he was in a movie it sort of legitimized it as cool. It didn’t matter when he got older either, as he took over the screen in his cameos in a lot of Joe Dante’s pictures.

That Guy Dick Miller is a pretty awesome documentary for fans who grew up watching this guy work. Even if you aren’t familiar with him, this is probably still enjoyable and will give you a solid appreciation for the man and the films he was a part of.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other showbiz documentaries: Corman’s World and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

Film Review: Sleepwalkers (1992)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers
Release Date: April 10th, 1992
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Ron Perlman, Glenn Shadix, Stephen King, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Mark Hamill

Columbia Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Stop looking at me! Stop looking at me you fucking cat!” – Charles Brady

I didn’t like this film when it came out way back in 1992. I was in middle school, at the time, and all the kids were obsessed with Stephen King. While I love many of the film adaptations of his work and did enjoy a couple of his stories, Sleepwalkers was not among King’s work that I found worthwhile. I did see it in the theater, after having my arm pulled by several friends and because I was crushing hard on Mädchen Amick back then, thanks to her character on Twin Peaks.

Seeing it all these years later was not a better experience. It didn’t age well, there wasn’t some sort of endearing or charming quality to the film and frankly, it was hard to sit through.

The special effects are pretty crappy. the transformation animations when the werecat characters’ faces shift is quick and fluid but just looks insanely hokey and bizarre. It is on par with something you would see in a music video from the same era. And while I’m aware that this movie had a modest budget, other similar horror films with modest budgets were doing better effects a dozen years earlier. Look at An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, for instance. Hell, look at the amazing effects in Fright Night, which came out in 1985, seven years before this.

The film also suffers from being completely bogged down by awful 1990s cliches. The fashion, the music, the overall style… it all just reeks of the worst things that decade had to offer. Sleepwalkers is teen horror at its worst and the 90s panache really just shovels a few extra pounds of shit into this gaping hole of a movie.

The creature effects, once the monsters appeared in their final form were okay. The werecat vampire monsters looked fairly cool but it wasn’t anything that could save the picture.

At least the film had cameos from several horror directors and also had small roles for Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill and Glenn Shadix.

So does Sleepwalkers deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? To quote the legendary professional wrestling manager Paul Bearer, “Ohhhhhhhh, yessssssss!” So the results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Rating: 9.25/10