Twilight Zone: The Movie was released in 1983 with the hope of being a new series franchise for Universal Pictures. The idea of taking tales from the classic 60s Twilight Zone episodes and updating them was dreamed up by John Landis and Steven Spielberg. Four stories were prepared with an introduction setting the tone for the film.
Landis directed the prologue with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in an ambulance, and the first segment, meant to be about a bigot who experiences what oppressed races suffered over history. Joe Dante (most famous for Gremlins) directed a story about a boy whose every wish could come true. Spielberg filmed a story with old people rediscovering their youth through their childhood games. And George Miller (Mad Max) refilmed 'Terror at 40,000 Feet', in which John Lithgow plays a man afraid of flying seeing a monster on the wings of the plane he's in (William Shatner starred in the original version, giving a hammy performance well-spoofed by Lithgow).
Most principle photography was finished (except for Dante's segment) when, at 3 a.m. on 23 July 1982, in Indian Dunes, California, Landis was filming a sequence placed in a river in Vietnam. Vic Morrow's bigot character found himself saving two vietnamese children (being played by immigrant children up way past their bedtime, and past the time children were permitted on set) in the midst of a full scale bombing. Landis had instructed his effects crew to increase the amount of explosives detonating along the river, and insistently instructing the filming helicoptor down to about ten feet above Morrow, carrying the two children. An explosion from the side of the river sent a column of fire into the 'coptor, which crashed, injuring the crew inside it, decapitating Morrow with its rotor, and crushing to death the two children.
With most of the film already shot, the movie was still released with the first story edited to a pessimistic slant: the Vietnam redemption was cut, and Morrow's bigot ends up trapped in a cattle car moving off to a Nazi concentration camp. The film did relatively well, thanks to the infamy of the accident, although Universal dropped all their plans to continue it as a movie series. Soon after the accident, Spielberg withdrew from credit for the idea of the film, and instead began producing the television series Amazing Stories, which updated tales from the classic 60's magazine. Landis continued filming, following Twilight Zone with Trading Places and Micheal Jackson's Thriller video. He eventually stood trial for child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. The ten month trial ended with his acquittal on all counts. Child-labour laws in California were changed to provide for increased safety measures and enforcement.
The film is filled with entertaining moments and performances, excepting the morbid first segment. It is narrated by Burgess Merideth, includes Scatman Cruthers in the Speilberg segment, and Rod Serling's wife cameos as an annoyed passenger on the plane. You might even spot John Larroquette as a member of the K.K.K. in the first segment (well, if he took the sheet off) and the original Will Robinson, Bill Mumy (who, TenMinJoe reminds me, starred in the original episode), in the Dante story. (Dick Miller also appears with Mumy, and, as in Gremlins, plays with a TV remote.) Subliminals were used in Miller's segment, including a blip with Lithgow's eyes popping out of his head when he first sees the monster. However, the film also serves as an example for the lengths maverick directors will go to get their perfect shot on film.