Review: The New Twilight Zone – The Complete Collection / Cert: 12 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Jenny Agutter, Frances McDormand, William Petersen / Release Date: April 29th
Sixty-odd years on, the original Twilight Zone remains an iconic show, what with its stark black-and-white cinematography, its lean frontman Rod Serling, and its stories – dark fables packed with social commentary – which are to horror fans what the Great American Songbook is to music lovers. The '80s revival couldn't hope to equal that impact, but its three seasons have much to recommend them, as this mighty 13-disc box set amply demonstrates.
Season 1 is bursting with talent. Wes Craven directs and Bruce Willis guest stars in Shatterday, based on a short story by Harlan Ellison, about a slimy PR man tormented by a do-gooder doppelgänger (“Why are you doing this to me?” “You got it all wrong, you did this to yourself.”). Frances McDormand and William Petersen team up for the Warehouse 13-like Need to Know, a Sidney Sheldon story about a slick FBI agent coming to a hick town where everyone is going crazy for no apparent reason. Ralph Bellamy plays a dying vampire, Martin Balsam an exhausted TV writer who sees demons, and, in case you get the impression that the Twilight Zone is a men-only affair, Helen Mirren crops up in a spunkily feminist remake of the classic Charles Beaumont story Dead Man's Shoes. Beaumont's Shadow Play, about a prisoner repeatedly going through his trial and execution, also gets a redo, with Peter Coyote taking on the lead role originally played by Dennis Weaver.
There are some good straight SF stories, most notably Chameleon, featuring an excellent performance from Terry O'Quinn as a Nasa scientist who realizes that he has a shapeshifting alien in his isolation tank; grisly horror, courtesy of William Friedkin's Nightcrawlers (Friedkin being the only name director to really imprint his own visual style on an episode); and black comedy in Dealer's Choice (with Morgan Freeman) in which a bunch of blue collar stiffs finds themselves playing cards with the devil (“What's the devil doing in New Jersey?”).
Throughout Season 1, the real Twilight Zone is America itself, a country that has strayed from the path in its pursuit of a fast buck. With a message like that, it's hardly surprising that the show got into trouble commercially, and Season 2 is decidedly less starry. It does, however, benefit from a whole string of brilliant episodes penned by George R.R. Martin. In The Once and Future King, an Elvis impersonator takes a trip back to 1954 and meets his idol, only to discover he's a god-fearing momma's boy who wants to sing country music. The Toys of Caliban is a domestic drama about a backward child who can teleport anything he sees a picture of into his presence, much to the anxiety of his exhausted parents; its pay-off is the shock horror highlight of the entire box set. And then there's the thoughtful and literate The Road Less Travelled (directed by Wes Craven), in which a family man plagued with guilt about having dodged the Vietnam draft is visited by the “legless ghost” of an alternative, war-ravaged self.
The third and final season sees the show going back to basics with voice-over led morality tales, but it boasts fine performances from the likes of Bud Cort, Eddie Albert and Harry Morgan. Throughout its run, the '80s Twilight Zone was home to some beautifully crafted TV writing, and this remastered set is the next best thing to losing yourself in another dimension.
Extras: Deleted scenes / Bumpers