Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Twilight Zone Movie

When I was a kid, the Twilight Zone scared the crap out of me.

Aside from being masters of the chilling final line/image, there was something sinister about the notion that you could be going along, living your buttoned-down fifties life, and suddenly the Dark Gods of Narrative decide to hit you upside the head with the irony stick. Plus, considering the climate and the technology, they were forced to rely on actual storytelling and imagination instead of gore and cliches. Good stuff.

Anyway, I thought I'd give the Twilight Zone movie a spin. It's been awhile, y'know? Time to go visit an old friend.

I liked the really cool back-and-forth patter in the opening story between the driver and his demonic passenger. The doomed driver and his mysterious passenger are clearly old friends, and their exchange feels very natural as it descends into very creepy territory.

As to the first full tale, the sad saga of a racist confronted with oppression through history, made notorious by the death of actor Vic Morrow and two children in an on-set accident, it's pretty good but there's something missing. There's always been a strong moralistic thread running through The Twilight Zone. Characters are supposed to start ignorant and come to wisdom, usually at a horrible cost. I never got the sense that Vic Morrow's frustrated salesman actually grew as a person. He got jerked around a bunch, then he got dragged off to the concentration camp. Still, it's well shot and has that classic episode feel.

The second one, by Steven Spielberg, bugged the living crap out of me. Yeah, I know,
Twilight Zone isn't all gloom and doom and the Dark Gods of Narrative can sometimes turn a kind hand, but this was really too much. It's pretty much every horrible saccharine thing Spielberg is known for, all awkward Hallmark-card sentimentality wrapped up in goofy morals and fluttery wind instruments. The only time the story affected me was when the grumpy old coot who refused to join the others begged to be set free. That was pretty good. Everything else, meh.

Story three, about the kid with the freaky cartoon powers, is probably the best original story in the movie. It's been copied and parodied a thousand times since, but the original still holds a lot of freak-the-shit-outta-me, from the creepy forced cheer of the family to the mouthless girl alone in the room to the horrible cartoon images the kid conjures up. It's a really, really good piece of horror filmmaking. My only quibble is with the ending, which takes a much happier tone than situation would logically warrant. Anthony has clearly used his powers kill before, and the notion that he was just waiting for someone to teach him is a bit absurd. Sure, he rides off into the sunrise with his new teacher but the second she crosses Anthony, he's going to feed him to a cartoon werewolf.

The last story...oooh. I hate flying. I don't like being up high, turbulence terrifies me, and every time I get near an airport I have a minor panic attack. Some people think John Lithgow is overacting to the point of comedy, but I am totally on board with the level of claustrophobic panic Lithgow displays. Plus, I like the way they shot the creature. It's a vague shape, the wind and storms buffeting it around as it goes about it's gruesome work. Yeah. Good stuff.

Anyway, there ya go. Good stuff on this one. If you see one anthology horror/sci-fi movie based on a TV show from the early sixties, make it this one.

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