Twilight Zone: The Movie (John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller / U.S., 1983):

John Landis’ preamble beautifully crystallizes Rod Serling’s vintage metaphysics ("between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge") as a merry sing-along on a dark road, with Albert Brooks unwisely asking Dan Aykroyd for a scare. His own contribution to this omnibus of super-sized revamps of the show’s most famous episodes, however, is ghastly. The Stanley Kramerisms of his tale of a bigot’s comeuppance -- a racist blowhard (Vic Morrow) is chased by Nazis in Vichy France, nearly hanged by Klansmen in the South, and shot at by Yankee G.I.s in Vietnam -- would be appalling even without the pall of behind-the-scenes tragedy hanging over it. Steven Spielberg’s "Kick the Can" twinkle-a-ton is just as awful, a moist chunk of retirement-home whimsy with Scatman Crothers doing Magical Negro duty for a batch of wrinkled kvetchers. (The material is exacerbated in Cocoon, then gruesomely exorcised in Hook.) But the last two segments are genuine bits of magnificence. Joe Dante’s take on "It’s a Good Life" puts the world at the mercy of a prepubescent tyrant (Jeremy Licht), the psychic product of cartoons and junk food; his "family" (including Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Cartwright) are cowering prisoners with frozen smiles, a teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) passes through and gets trapped in the dollhouse. Dante’s demonically saturated giddiness is a dry-run for Gremlins, building breathlessly to the magisterial image of the cracked TV set excreting pop malevolence. If Dante’s episode is an acrid Tex Avery cyclone (with a dash of Un Chien Andalou), George Miller’s version of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is founded on Robert Clampett (Falling Hare). The challenge is to keep up the kineticism of Mad Max in the cramped spaces of an airplane quaking through turbulence; Miller does it with lightning flash, swirling camera movements, and John Lithgow’s contorted tour de force as the one passenger able to see the imp dismantling the turbines outside. "The fifth dimension" receives the hero with a straitjacket and a wink. With Bill Quinn, Helen Shaw, Martin Garner, Murray Mathelson, William Schallert, Dick Miller, and Jon Larroquette.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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