Vintage Cable Box: Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983

TZClam

“You wanna see something REALLY scary?”

Twilight Zone the Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), Warner Bros.

I popped in the old Warner Brothers clamshell VHS tape of this, because I wanted to watch the movie as I remembered it when I saw it on cable television in 1984.  Of course I had to play it on my old tube TV (the only way to watch a videotape, or a Laserdisc, or a DVD), and the first thing I notice (after the FBI warning) is the Warner Brothers logo, those post-modern oval or stadium shapes forming the W and the B coming toward the screen, devouring the frame while the first chords of Creedence Clearwater Revival play.

We fade up slowly on a deserted road and then the lights of a car passing by.  Inside is hitchhiker Dan Aykroyd and driver Albert Brooks.  To pass the time, they play games of trivia, TV theme songs, and then finally settle on a discussion about Twilight Zone, where they reference key episodes.  After multiple viewings, it only occurs to me now that the movie is commenting upon the television series in a real-world capacity, in meta fashion, but in the style of Twilight Zone.

We start with “Time Out”, written and directed by John Landis, and starring the late Vic Morrow.  Landis also wrote and directed the prologue, and co-produced the film as a whole with Steven Spielberg.  It’s hard not to review this episode without thinking of Morrow’s tragic death during shooting, but I will try.  Though heavy-handed with a lecturing tone, Morrow’s performance is among the strongest I’ve ever seen.  He plays an “angry man,” to use narrator Burgess Meredith’s words, with “a chip on his shoulder the size of the national debt.”

After angrily calling out Jews and blacks as the source of his uniquely American problems, he is transported back and forth through time being given a taste of his own medicine.  Landis places him in the shoes of a Jew during wartime France, and then as a black man in the South, and then as an enemy combatant in Vietnam.  Morrow died when the rotor blades on a helicopter during an intensely energetic barrage of explosions de-laminated and the vehicle spun into ankle-deep water, killing him and two children he was carrying.

It’s fair to say the film’s production was severely altered due to the tragedy, as the narrative of Landis’ screenplay (which had originally included a scene of vindication for Morrow’s character) was changed drastically so that the only scenes remaining (the only complete scenes Morrow shot) are simply examples of catharsis with little to no structure.  Vic Morrow gives an incredible performance, and it’s sad to think of the resurgence his career would’ve enjoyed.  Landis and his producers were acquitted on charges of manslaughter in 1986, and while most people like to think his career suffered after this incident, he made several highly-successful movies after this, including Spies Like Us and Coming To America.

Steven Spielberg’s somewhat sentimental remake of “Kick the Can” improves upon the source material by capturing the spirit of youth, as viewed through the eyes of the elderly.  The great character actor Bill Quinn plays a bitter old man who watches his fellow denizens at Sunnyvale Retirement Home turn into children under the guidance of new resident Mr. Bloom (jovial Scatman Crothers).  Rather than end the proceedings in pathos and irony as the third season episode did, Spielberg (and screenwriters Richard Matheson & Melissa Mathison) decide to bring them back to senior citizenry with “fresh young minds.”  The next day, all but one of the elderly folk have transformed back, and Quinn learns a nice lesson about staying young at heart, while Mr. Bloom is off on his next merry adventure.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this episode (and the movie) is spectacular.

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When I was a kid, I loved this next episode: an updating of the classic “It’s a Good Life”.  Mostly because I dug the idea of a kid around my age with insane psychic god-like powers wreaking havoc upon his rented family and a hapless schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan), who had the “misfortune” of nearly running him over.  She takes him back to his house, where his frightened family anxiously awaits his return.  He has televisions in every room playing cartoons.  His supper consists of peanut butter, candy apples, and ice cream.  His sister (Cherie Currie!) has no mouth (but she must scream), and when he gets angry, conjures horrifying creatures to scare the Hell out of everybody for his amusement.  Where Billy Mumy’s version of the child was more monster than boy, the child in this episode is simply an incorrigible brat who needs guidance and structure in his life.  Director Joe Dante populates his episode with great character actors from the past like William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry (who had all appeared in original episodes), and Dick Miller.  This is still a fun episode to watch.

We wind it up with what is perhaps the movie’s strongest entry, a remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring John Lithgow in an Oscar-worthy performance, directed by George Miller (The Road Warrior).  Lithgow plays a white-knuckle passenger on an airliner convinced he sees a man (ultimately a gremlin) on the wing of the plane.  There are some subtle differences between this remake and the original starring William Shatner.  For one, in the Shatner version, his wife is traveling with him, and second, he is recovering from a previous nervous breakdown.  I feel the film version is stronger because Lithgow doesn’t foreshadow any particular breakdown, and his performance is a gradual build-up not to insanity but bravery as he takes matters in his own hands and attempts to vanquish the creature (as Shatner did).  The film version is much more visceral than the original directed by Richard Donner.  It’s interesting the best episodes from the movie were directed by relative novices, compared to the input of Spielberg and Landis.  They both meet the same fate, however, as they are carted off to a loony bin while the airplane’s mechanical crew try to figure out where all the damage to the craft came from.

For a decent stinger prologue, Lithgow’s ambulance driver is none other than Dan Aykroyd from the prologue.  He puts on some Creedence and away we go!  Vic Morrow’s death overshadowed any possible success this movie might have enjoyed, and destroyed any chance of a new film franchise.  Though there were reboots in 1985 and 2002, neither they nor this film stack up to the original series.  I must admit this is how I was introduced to the series.  I was aware of the show, but it never played where I lived, at least until after this movie debuted on cable television.  The series played in constant rotation on Channel 11 WPIX New York, and that’s how I was able to watch it before I got the DVDs.

What can be said about Rod Serling’s immortal Twilight Zone that hasn’t been said already?  I loved the show so much I started my own podcast about it, in which a guest and I discuss two episodes every week.  A new season of “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” starts tomorrow!  Sorry about the plug.  I had to do it.  Today is the one-year anniversary for “Vintage Cable Box”.  Hard to believe I started this enterprise a year ago with reviews for Swamp Thing, Easy Money, and Porky’s.  If you want to check out my past reviews, go to this handy archive.  Again, sorry for the plug!

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release.  The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu Ray formats.  The accompanying essay obviously down-plays Vic Morrow’s death (“the late Vic Morrow”) as though his passing was not connected to the production.  The film is compared to Creepshow from 1982.  Both movies are referenced as “… the state of the art in cinema horror …”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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“The Painted Face”

Painted-Face

Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Nicole Phelps
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “9PM” by Howard Shore (from the 1985 film, “After Hours” directed by Martin Scorsese) and dialogue sampled from “The After Hours”.
Audio Clips: “Science Fiction/Double Feature” (Richard O’Brien/Richard Hartley) (from the 1975 film, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” directed by Jim Sharman), “Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery” (a 1997 film starring Mike Meyers), “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (a 1983 film starring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd), The Odd Couple “It’s All Over Now, Baby Bird”, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (Albert Hammond, Diane Warren) (from the 1987 album “No Protection” by Starship), “Mr. Bevis”, “The After Hours”.

Recorded January 26, 2016

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 37:19 Direct Download

Vintage Cable Box: “It Came From Hollywood”, 1982

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“You see?  You see?  Your stupid minds!  Stupid!  Stupid!”

itcamefromhollywood

“It Came From Hollywood”, 1982 (Dan Aykroyd), Paramount Pictures

In a throwaway sketch straight out of “Kentucky Fried Movie” or Second City, Gilda Radner hears a report of an escaped Gorilla. She is instructed to lock her doors, shut her windows, extinguish all fires and above all, remain calm. She manages to destroy her house in the process of keeping herself safe. Gilda introduces and provides commentary for movies about lunatic gorillas, man from the jungle, giant monkeys, and robot-gorillas.

Dan Aykroyd is a soldier from another planet on a survey mission, scouting a destroyed Earth (actually it appears to be the Paramount backlot) and providing insight into silly low-budget (and some big-budget) movies about alien invasions, ranging from “Teenagers From Outer Space” to the original “War of the Worlds”, as well as something Aykroyd identifies as “Attack of the Pipe-Welders”.

Cheech & Chong go to the movies. Chong purchases a garbage-can sized bucket of popcorn. They watch “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, “The Amazing Colossal Man”, and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”. They also get away with some off-color humor and dirty puns. John Candy presents an affectionate (if snarky) tribute to the movies of Ed Wood. Gilda shows up again to show us some very cheap musicals, most of which I had never known about, which is astonishing to me. One clip of note is the enormously racist 1934 musical, “Wonder Bar”, complete with black-face minstrels and dancing slices of watermelon.

John Candy presents previews of coming attractions, where we get a taste of “The Hypnotic Eye”, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures (Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies)”, “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price, and “I Married A Monster From Outer Space”. We get a few exploitation movies as well, like “Black Belt Jones” (Right on!) and “Mars Needs Women”.

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Dan Aykroyd’s Troubled Teenagers profiles movies like “High School Hellcats”, hilarious morality plays about venereal disease and teenage pregnancy, and drug movies, “The Weird World of LSD” “Reefer Madness”, and “Marihuana” (I don’t know why it’s spelled like that either). Some of the material is repetitive, as in Cheech & Chong’s next segment, The Animal Kingdom Goes Berserk. Favorites of mine like “Son of Godzilla” and “The Beginning of the End” (with giant grasshoppers!) are featured. To complete the joke, Cheech & Chong smoke an enormous blunt.

“It Came From Hollywood” is in parts a tribute, a rebuke, an admonishment, and a document of bad movies, silly movies, terrible movies, as well as misguided filmmakers, atrocious performances, and crappy special effects. The headlining comedians offer zany commentary that serves as brilliant counterpoint to the often intentionally serious and unintentionally hilarious films featured in the movie. “It Came From Hollywood” was obviously an inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which a human, stuck in space with his three loyal robots, is forced to “riff” on bad movies sent to him by a mad scientist and his henchman.

Though most of the humor is meant to pad out the running time, and is often, flat and cringe-worthy, I have a soft spot in my heart for “It Came From Hollywood”. I learned how to make movies (and more importantly, how not to make them) watching movies like this. There weren’t many compilation movies made in those times. The only other movie I can recall from that period was “Terror In The Aisles” featuring Universal Pictures horror movies like “Frankenstein” all the way up to “The Thing”.

Because of rights issues involving many of the films shown in “It Came From Hollywood” (over 100 titles!), the film was never released on DVD, so it is extremely hard to find, but it is (for now) available on YouTube. It was nice going back to this movie to be reminded of why I love movies. I don’t care how bad they are. I love movies. I miss Gilda and John.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Doctor Detroit”, 1983

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“I make adjustments to the human spine.”

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“Doctor Detroit”, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), MCA/Universal

“Doctor Detroit” was a movie I had not known about until it premiered on cable television; Cinemax specifically. I had not seen advertisements or trailers for the movie, but I knew if Dan Aykroyd was in it, it had to be funny. He can make the most painfully bad movie much more palatable – even “Loose Cannons”. In reviewing the movie, and looking at my notes, I came to the conclusion that most movies are given MPAA ratings for tone more than content. There’ve been more than a few movies I’ve seen recently that appeared harmless to me, but were given restricted ratings for tone. A few simple edits, and these movies could be seen by children. Of course, this movie is about pimps and prostitutes, so you should probably exercise caution.

Every morning Dan Aykroyd’s professor Clifford Skridlow, power-walks six miles to Monroe College, where he teaches comparative literature. Smooth Walker, a big-time pimp (played by Howard “Johnny Fever” Hesseman) and his gaggle of Benetton-Ad prostitutes, run afoul of local crime boss, “Mom” (Kate Murtagh). He owes “Mom” $80,000, and he tells her he can’t pay because he’s already into another seedy character for much more money: the fictitious “Doctor Detroit”, which he makes up on-the-spot, referencing a photograph and a calendar in Mom’s office.

Now it’s up to Hesseman and his bevy of beauties to create the man behind the myth, and they choose none other than our power-walking professor, who has problems of his own, not the least of which is making sure a top endowment for his University is received before the college is closed. He shows them a good time at an Indian restaurant, and Hesseman shows Akyroyd an even better time in his penthouse apartment later than night, which ends with a bacchanal in a hot tub.

The next morning, a hungover Skridlow, is called to action when one of the girls is arrested. In a hilarious bit, he assumes the identity of a southern lawyer, complete with Colonel Sanders bow-tie and affected accent. After a quick trip to the college’s drama department, he assembles a costume (the contents of which are a wild wig of hair, glasses, shiny white shoes, a knight’s gauntlet and vambrace, and a lime-green leisure suit) and shakes “Mom” down, putting her in the hospital. He has a dream straight out of Freud that recalls the character he played on Saturday Night Live: Fred Garvin: Male Prostitute as well as one-half of the Wild & Crazy Guys with Steve Martin.

DOCTOR DETROIT, Kate Murtagh, Dan Aykroyd, Donna Dixon, 1983. (c)Universal Pictures

Would-be-pimp movies were a common theme in the early eighties. We had “Risky Business”, “The Rosebud Beach Hotel” (to be reviewed next time for Vintage Cable Box), and “Night Shift”, but Aykroyd’s talent carries these proceedings. If it were not for the content, this could’ve easily have been a Peter Sellers movie. Aykroyd is having tremendous fun in this role and in the various characters he concocts. An amazingly gifted actor, writer, and comedian, Aykroyd can be at times funny and tragic, intellectual and ineffectual, a hedonist, and a Zen monk, a poet, and a soldier.

T.K. Carter (of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”) plays Walker’s chauffeur, Diavolo. The girls that make up Walker’s ladies of the night are Fran Drescher (The Nanny), Donna Dixon, the future Mrs. Aykroyd, who appeared with him in “Spies Like Us” and “The Couch Trip”, Lynn Whitfield, who appeared in “Eve’s Bayou”, and Lydia Lei, who had previously appeared in “Hammett”. Michael Pressman would later direct “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”. Look for cameos from Blackie Dammett (“National Lampoon’s Class Reunion”) and James Brown.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.