Twilight Zone: The Movie—Visions Lost in the Twilight Zone
by Ross Plesset
This summer marks the 25th anniversary of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Generally, the film was and continues to be perceived as a mixed bag, perhaps an inherent risk with anthology films. However, Twilight Zone: The Movie might have been more uniformly satisfying to a greater number of people had circumstances been different during production--had the helicopter accident, which killed actor Vic Morrow and two young children, never occurred.
Because of the accident, John Landis's story was restructured in a way which, by that late time, did not make sense. Also, according to various accounts, co-producer and co-director Steven Spielberg lost any enthusiasm for the project due to the crash. And unable to get out of his contract with Warner Bros., directed his episode half-heartedly. (Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case by Stephen Farber and Marc Green, page 173)
The idea of bringing Twilight Zone to the big screen goes back as far as the 1960s. “For years Rod planned to make a theatrical Twilight Zone,” said Carol Serling. (Twilight Zone Magazine, April 1983) However, ”he never had the time to put it all together.” On at least two occasions, though, Mr. Serling wrote synopses. In each instance, he envisioned multiple stories. Also, “I would host this motion picture in much the same manner as the TV series operated,” he wrote.
Some of Serling's proposed stories were ultimately produced, in color, for Night Gallery: “Eyes,” concerning a blind woman hellbent on attaining sight (which, coincidently,was Steven Spielberg's directorial debut for TV) and “The Escape Route,” about a Nazi war criminal hiding in South America.
A third premise proposed by Serling was never realized. His wife described it as “a story about an alien who lands on Earth and is hounded and hunted by adults and befriended by a child. (Sound familiar? E.T.?)”
Another of Serling's proposed segments involved time travel and ultimately became the basis of the Irwin Allen-produced feature The Time Travelers (1976). (Like the other stories, Serling envisioned this being filmed in black and white, but it, too, was ultimately made in color.)
Serling later came up with another set of segments for a Twilight Zone movie. One of them, about a woman whose mundane life is disrupted when she begins to see her future on a movie theater screen, bears resemblance to a story used in the Gold Key Twilight Zone comic book (no. 61, January 1975). Apparently, none of the other stories in this group were ever used. (All of them are described by Serling himself in the April 1983 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine.)
Warner Bros., the studio which ultimately made the Twilight Zone movie, did not take an interest in the property until years after Rod Serling's passing. By the early '80s the movie rights had been acquired from Carol Serling, and development began.
Initially, the plan was to do a single feature-length story rather than an anthology. Miracle Mile, an existing script by Steve De Jarnatt, concerns an individual who knows that a nuclear bomb is going to go off in Los Angeles and tries to avert it. Studio vice-president Mark Rosenberg said that this script came “very close” to being produced. However, Warner Bros. wanted to soften the script's grim ending, and the writer strongly disagreed. (Farber and Green, page 60) (De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile was ultimately produced in 1988 without any connection to Twilight Zone.)
In January of 1982, there was a shake-up in the Warner Bros. regime. Among the filmmakers being courted was Steven Spielberg, who took took a strong interest in the Twilight Zone property. However, rather than a single two-hour story, he preferred multiple segments with different directors helming them(1). John Landis, who shared Spielberg's passion for Twilight Zone, became involved as co-producer/co-director with Spielberg. Joe Dante was the next director to get involved.
“There was a lot of talk about [remaking] old episodes,” Dante recently recalled. “I didn't really want to do an old episode—I thought there [were] so many great stories that hadn't been done on the Twilight Zone that you could do four new stories. But I think that for whatever reason the studio insisted on doing remakes.”
“Steven's first thought was to remake “It's a Good Life,” about the little kid with truly awful powers,” said Dante closer to the time (Cinefex #14). “That's the segment I ultimately inherited.”
When the movie was formerly announced, it was presented as a mixture of old and new stories. Spielberg and Landis were to direct the originals.
Landis would also provide a short subject, which would open and close the film(2). “It's based on a short film I've always wanted to make called “Real Scary” [the final title was Really Scary],” Landis said to writer Paul M. Sammon. “And now I get to put it into a feature! That was a wonderful opportunity for me because, as you know, there's just no market for shorts today.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, October 1983)
In early June of 1982, George Miller was announced as the fourth director on the film (Hollywood Reporter, June 1, 1982). He would remake the classic '60s episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, another segment which Spielberg wanted to see in the movie. “That story was originally only going to be 10 minutes long,” recalled Dante. “It was the same story, but it was going to be reduced to 10 minutes. It ended up, of course, becoming the last story and longer.”
The budget for the entire film was fairly low, an estimated $10 million, with $2.5 million alloted to each of the four segments. The relatively short production was set to begin that summer, with a release initially targeted for the '82 Christmas season.
There was much enthusiasm and optimism as the film was being prepared. “If the first one works, there could be a Twilight Zone movie every year—several segments of differing lengths from several different writers and directors,” Dante suggested in Prevue magazine (issue #49). “Before the accident, everyone was talking about sequels,” recalled Carol Serling, “and that idea was forgotten.” (Farber and Green, page 172)
John Landis's original script, entitled “Time Out”(3), was to be the film's first installment and the first to be filmed. Time Out was also the most serious of the stories. The premise concerned a racist man named Bill Connor, who blames his financial woes on other races. He is then forced, vis-a-vis the Twilight Zone, to endure problems far worse than his own, problems faced by the very people he scapegoats.
“In Time Out I wanted to be true to the spirit of the old TZ show and to inject a lot of Serling's own politics and morality into that episode,” Landis told Twilight Zone Magazine (October 1983). “It's the only political or moral episode in the film, actually.”
Not long before his involvement in Twilight Zone, Landis had expressed interest in doing a serious project. “I'm offered every goddamn comedy script in town,“' he said to an audience at the American Film Institute. “I want to be offered Ordinary People.” (Special Effects by Ron LaBrecque, page 4)
Landis completed his first draft in April 1982 and proceeded to refine it. However, in June, studio production executives Lucy Fisher and Terry Semel expressed concern that audiences might feel alienated by such an unsympathetic character as Bill. “They were concerned that I painted Bill so harsh,” Landis later explained. “His character was so ugly. They said: 'He is so unsympathetic. Why watch the episode? What are you trying to prove?' And I thought they were right. We discussed ways of literally having [Bill] redeemed.”
The filmmaker added a new sequence where Bill finds himself, for a second time, in the thick of the U.S.-Vietnam conflict circa 1967. This time, he encounters two indigenous children in an otherwise deserted village. “At first he's weary of them, but then he asks them for help,” Landis said. “Through talking with them and through the dialog with these children, he comes to not just an intellectual but [an] emotional realization that these children are in the same position he's in, that they are victims, too. And he understands that.“ An American helicopter appears and recognizing Bill as Vietcong, attacks. The village is quickly destroyed. “And this is were Bill, instead of just running away or hiding, does something heroic, he redeems himself and rescues the children,” Landis continued.
This was how “Time Out” was both scripted and filmed. (The accident occurred during the filming of the above-described scene on the last night of production(3).) The specifics of Bill's transformation can be found in Landis's script. The following synopsis and script excerpts are based on his revised screenplay of June 22, 1982 (which was an exhibit at the 1986-87 trial concerning the on-set deaths):
The script begins much like the final film, with Bill entering a cocktail lounge, distressed about having been turned down for a much-needed promotion. He proceeds to make a number of very audible racist remarks. (In this version of the script, some of Bill's statements are even more extreme and hateful: “Hitler had the right idea. You just kill all of them.” His friend Larry adds: “That's where we screwed up in Viet Nam [sic], right there. If we just killed them all, we would've won.”)
Bill considers himself a loyal, patriotic American, having fought in Vietnam (in the final film, he is a veteran of Korea). However, he feels that others are obstructing him from partaking in the American dream.
An African-American patron expresses increasing displeasure about having to hear these remarks.
Also, as in the movie, Bill storms out of the bar and finds himself in German-occupied France circa 1941. Nazi soldiers believe him to be a Jew, and a chase ensues. Next, Bill finds himself in the shoes of an African American in the American South, mid-century. Barely escaping a lynching by Ku Klux Klansmen, he is viciously hunted down. Finding himself next in a Vietnamese jungle in 1967, Bill gets fired upon by American G.I.s., who believe him to be Vietcong.
The major deviations between Landis's script and the released film begin here: after a grenade blast in Vietnam sends Bill flying back to 1941 France...
“A German soldier fires, hitting Bill in the leg. Bill goes down landing into water!
EXT. JUNGLE SWAMP – NIGHT
Bill stands, his arm and leg aching, and tries to get his bearings. He can see no one and hears no one. Slowly and painfully he makes his way through the swamp.
EXT. ASIAN RIVER – NIGHT
Bill carefully enters the area but finds no one. The place is deserted. After verifying that he is alone, he sits down on the ground his back leaning against the wall of a hut. He hears something. Looking around in panic, he sees two SMALL CHILDREN, Viet Namese [sic], a Boy three years old, and a Girl maybe five. [The children used in the final production were ages six and seven, respectively.] They are both ill-clothed, nearly naked.
The Boy and the Girl walk over to Bill. Bill stands and looks around very worried.
Where are your parents?
The Boy and Girl just look at him.
Where is everybody? Where are your people?
The kids just look at him.
Are you by yourselves?
The Boy takes Bill’s hand.
I need help. Can you help me? Can
you take me to somewhere safe?
Bill realizes that these kids are as helpless as he is.
Do you have any food? I guess you
don’t have any beer either.
Bill’s arm hurts and he sits back down. The Boy sits next to him and immediately falls asleep on Bill’s lap.
Is this your brother?
The girl stares.
I won’t hurt you baby. I’m just as
lost and scared as you are.
The little Girl hands Bill a broken and Naked Barbie Doll.
Thank you honey. Thank you very
Suddenly LOUD NOISE and WIND as a HUEY HELICOPTER appears from over the cliff and hovers over the village. Bill stands as both kids cling to him in terror.
Help us! I’ve got children down here.
HELICOPTER’S P.O.V. – NIGHT
Bill waving his arms.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT
The machine gun mounted in the copter opens fire on Bill. He grabs the kids and runs for cover.
Stop it! I’ve got children here!
Stop it! Stop it!
Bill clutching the kids crouches behind the hut. The helicopter turns on a powerful spotlight and hovers over the river sweeping it with beams.
I’ll keep you safe kids, I promise.
Nothing will hurt you. I swear to
The helicopter makes another pass and then one of the huts EXPLODES in a spectacular fireball.
Bill, holding a child in each arm, makes a Herculean effort and runs for the shallow river.
ASIAN RIVER – NIGHT
The helicopter spots them and guns blazing, heads toward the river. As Bill carrying the kids desperately makes his way through the water, the helicopter makes several passes strafing the area.
Bill makes it to the shore and sees a wooden shed. Making a super-human attempt he manages to set all three of them inside. He stacks the wood inside against the door, then huddles with the kids in the corner.
Don’t worry you guys. I won’t let
them hurt you.
EXT. SHED – THE WOODS – NIGHT
The shed is now in the pine woods. Dogs barking, torches burning, the pick-ups arrive. The Klan surrounds the small shed.
We got us a nigger in the wood pile!
Let’s burn him!
No I want him alive. His black ass is
Grabbing axes they start chopping down the door.
INT. SHED – NIGHT
The door begins to splinter under the axes. The door shatters and the Nazi soldiers grab Bill and pull him out.
EXT. FRIEGHT YARD – NIGHT
It is raining. Bill fights brutal handling by the German soldiers.
The kids! What did you do with the
He desperately looks around for the children but sees only the busy Nazi depot.
What's happening to me!
He is thrown against a wall and a yellow Star of David is pinned to his chest. Bill grabs a guard by the shoulders.
I have to save those kids. Dammit!
Don’t you understand?
The other guard clubs him with his rifle and bill falls to the ground.
I won’t let you do this to me!
He is dragged over to a freight car loaded with other people wearing yellow stars.
I have to save those kids!
He’s thrown into the freight car and the door clangs shut.
Looking out between the slats Bill gains new strength.
BILL’S P.O.V. THROUGH SLATS – EXT. COCKTAIL LOUNGE – NIGHT
He sees Larry and Ray exit the bar.
EXT. FREIGHT CAR – NIGHT
As the train pulls out, Bill thrusts his good arm through the slats of the railroad car trying to reach his friends.
Larry! Ray! Help me! Help me!
EXT. COCKTAIL LOUNGE – NIGHT
Ray and Larry have just exited the bar.
RAY’S P.O.V. – NIGHT
Bill is clipped by a car in the street in front of the bar. He is thrown violently to the curb.
EXT. COCKTAIL LOUNGE – NIGHT
Are you all right?
I’ll get an ambulance.
Larry rushes off.
Are you okay man? Can I help?
Bill looks at Ray and the Black Patron in wonder. He then looks down at the broken Barbie Doll in his hand.
The Driver of the car comes up to Ray who’s cradling Bill’s head.
He just stepped in front of me.
I didn’t see him. It wasn’t my fault.
Bill just looks at the Doll.
Crane up and back as a police car pulls up – pan up to the sky.
As was noted earlier, this script was filmed essentially as written. However, in the wake of the on-set tragedy, there was some doubt that Twilight Zone: The Movie would be finished at all. “I thought they'd canceled the movie,” recalled Dante. “I figured they weren't going to go ahead and finish it, but they did for whatever reason. And it geared back up [in late September].”
Even as work on the movie resumed, there was uncertainty about whether Landis's segment would be included. “Nobody thought the Landis segment would stay in,” said Michelle Zeisel, production secretary for Joe Dante and George Miller. (Farber and Green, 171)
As Landis recently related, the question was: “Do we keep this in the movie? Do we not keep this in the movie?” (John Landis by Giulia D'Angelo Vallan, page 108)
“There was a conversation at one point whether airing John's segment would have a negative effect on the commercial results of the film,” said Warner Bros. then-vice-president Mark Rosenberg. “Eventually we decided to keep John's segment in.” (Farber and Green 171-172)
“[U]ltimately, we decided that it would be really outrageous to Vic Morrow if we just [left] it out of the picture completely,” Landis continued. “We decided not to use any of the scenes with the children. It was a very difficult situation. (Vallan, page 108) . . . [It's] missing a third.” (Vallan, page 106)
The removal of the children necessitated a major alteration to the segment's ending—a reversion to Landis's initial concept in where Bill remains trapped in his hellish journey through time and space. Compelling arguments have been made favoring this ending over the one that was abandoned (an example can be found in Farber and Green's book on page 68). However, had this been the intended resolution, presumably Morrow would have played his role differently, and the script would have made Bill significantly more deserving of his ultimate fate.
The reasons for these changes are not entirely clear (although the concerns expressed above by Rosenberg seem a likely factor). When the Los Angeles Times asked Warner Bros. why the children and helicopter scenes were omitted, the studio would not comment, citing legal reasons. (Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1983)
This unintended alteration to the story was noticed by film reviewers. Variety remarked of Time Out that the “intent is noble, and dramatic situations faced by Morrow are intense.” However, ”having made its point early on, sequence misses catharsis which was reportedly part of the [episode] to begin with, wherein the [bigot] would experience a change of heart. Morrow strongly conveys the insecurity lying shallow beneath the character's aggressive hatefulness, but dramatically, payoff is thin.” (Variety, June 14, 1983)
In “Tampering Tempers Zone” from the UCLA Daily Bruin, Marc Weinberg wrote: “It is said that sufficient footage existed to construct the scene as originally intended—for Morrow's character to change—and that but a [minimal] amount of 'shooting around Morrow' would have been required to complete the sequence. One must wonder if everyone might not have been better served completing the episode. As tragic as Morrow's death was, it seems even more tragic that he died making something so utterly unintelligible.” (UCLA Daily Bruin, June 2, 1983)
(Perhaps so, but all of the directors involved in the film have echoed Spielberg's statement, “No movie is worth dying for.” In any case, the intent here is to explore Twilight Zone: The Movie had the accident never occurred.)
As Landis prepared to film his segment during the spring and early summer of 1982, Spielberg worked with veteran Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson on another original story, one that Spielberg himself came up with involving Halloween. (Originally, Spielberg wanted to direct this story for MGM (Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride, 342), apparently without any connection to Twilight Zone.)
Work on the Spielberg-Matheson project proceeded well into the summer of 1982. During an interview for Starlog magazine, which focused on the by-then phenomenal success of E.T., Spielberg said of his Twilight Zone segment, “[W]e have all these monsters we have to build.” (Starlog #62)
These monsters were going to be created by Craig Reardon, who had recently worked with Spielberg on Poltergeist and created the blood-thirsty creature in the Twilight Zone prologue. “Spielberg was originally going to do an original story that he and Richard Matheson had cooked up, a fairly harrowing tale of retribution,” Reardon recently recalled. “Like Kick the Can [the story Spielberg ultimately directed], it was a story involving kids. However, Kick the Can, as you know, was originally almost exclusively focused on old people living in retirement home, yearning for the freedom and fun they remembered from their youth.
“…Basically, this is a neighborhood bully, whose costume happens to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Trick or treat isn't enough for him--he runs amok across the streets on Halloween, egging houses, leaving burning bags of dog manure on the front porch; stealing bags from other kids; and single-handedly ruining the holiday for everyone he can, enjoying every minute of his mischief. That is, until … a few strange things commence to happen.
“It's been years since I read the script, but I remember a postbox lurching at him; I remember a little girl in a witch's costume suddenly growing into an ugly, full-sized witch lurching out to seize him. I remember the streets full of 'REAL' werewolves and patched-together Frankenstein Monsters and vampires, all stalking him in earnest. I remember a doorknob attempting to BITE his hand when he tries to take refuge in his own house. [Matheson likened this whole sequence to a Hieronymous Bosch painting (Twilight Zone Magazine, October 1983)] And ultimately, I remember that when he thinks he is safe in his own home, safe at last from the unexpected horrors which have transformed his neighborhood into a living hell, he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the hall mirror, and he sees Quasimodo-----the real thing. His simple makeup and costume are gone. He IS Quasimodo!
“Horrified, he runs out of the house in total disorientation, and the monsters catch sight of him, and we last see them in close pursuit as he stumbles on his twisted legs across a large vacant lot with the huge October moon in the sky beyond
“I was DYING to do this segment, needless to say. It was canceled, however, allegedly on account of the terrible disaster that befell the John Landis episode, and the death of Vic Morrow and especially the two children. Suddenly, another episode requiring filming at night with children seemed very ill-advised, and as I understood it, that was the death knell of that particular tale.”
Other people involved in the movie also believed the accident was a factor in the cancellation of this segment.
However, near the time, Matheson said: “They told me it was too expensive to shoot. If this film makes a lot of money, maybe they'll use it in the next one.”(Fangoria #31)
Dante noted that in addition to all of the monster effects, “an entire city block would have to have been built for the segment,” and “after all, Twilight Zone was only a moderately-budgeted film.” (Cinefex #14).
After this story was abandoned, Spielberg reportedly decided to remake the classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which would have been less expensive. However, in the aftermath of the on-set tragedy, “Maple Street” might have seemed too realistic with its nighttime commotion, special effects, and child actors. Also, by this time, Spielberg may have felt that the movie needed to be lighter--and “Maple Street” is unsettling to say the least.
But whatever script Spielberg would have undertaken apparently would have suffered at least somewhat from the tremendous impact the accident had on him and his subsequent oss of interest in the entire project. “This has been the most interesting year of my film career,” he later told writer Dale Pollock. “It has mixed the best, the success of E.T., with the worst, the Twilight Zone tragedy. A mixture of tragedy and grief. It has made me grow up a little bit more. The accident cast a pall on all 150 people who worked on this production. We are still just sick to the center of our souls.” (Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1983)
He ultimately, he chose to remake “Kick the Can,” which according to various crew members, was directed half-heartedly and as quickly as possible. “His heart just wasn't in it anymore,” said first assistant director Patrick Kehoe (Farber and Green, 174). “It probably is accurate to say that Mr. Spielberg's heart wasn't in the movie after the accident,”stated Spielberg's then-secretary Kathy Switzer. “[A]t the time, I didn't know Mr. Spielberg well enough to make a judgment about how he felt emotionally. I do know it was a very sad time.”
Spielberg scholar Joseph McBride suggested a possible connection between the director's approach to Kick the Can and his self-described growing up due to the accident. “‘Kick the Can’ represents a further step in Spielberg's maturation process,“ McBride said. “Under the sobering influence of events of the previous summer, he made a bittersweet film about the need to turn one's back on childhood and accept the coming of age.” (McBride, 352)
Like Landis's “Time Out,” Spielberg's “Kick the Can” has received mixed reactions from audiences and reviewers. To its credit, the remake addresses an issue that George Clayton Johnson, author of the original story had pondered: what would happen to these people after they have become children again?
The film's other directors, Joe Dante and George Miller, were reportedly affected by the accident, too, but they tried to make the best of it. “Joe and George tried to ignore the accident,” said production secretary Michelle Zeisel to Farber and Green. “They tried to go out and make a good movie. If anything, the accident made them want to do a great movie, to balance it in some way.” (Farber and Green, page 172)
According to Dante, he and Miller, who were relatively new to studio fillmaking, were actually given greater freedom as a result of the tragedy. “[T]he movie became sort of persona non grata at Warner Bros., I mean nobody wanted to be responsible for it,” he told Latino Review (http://www.latinoreview.com/news.php?id=868).
Also, Dante's creative input was not exclusive to his own segment. Early in Twilight Zone's development, there was a desire to give Rod Serling a presence in some way, but just how this would be realized evolved. Early on, there was a rumor about unused Twilight Zone narration footage that could be incorporated into the film(4). (Cinefantastique, volume 13 number 1/September-October 1982)
Dante recalled that “in the rough cut, we tried to use existing [audio] narrations of Serling by recutting them, and we just didn't have enough material to be able to make it apply correctly to the stories, particularly the first one, which wasn't a Twilight Zone in syndication. … We really tried hard, it was quite an effort. Finally we just gave up. . . so that idea got dropped. I said: 'Let's get Burgess Meredith because he's so identified with the show. He did some of the best episodes.' I think there was the [connection for] the audience with this familiar voice. And so we got Burgess to do it.”
(Ultimately, Serling's voice was heard at the movie's end, and his image seen subliminally inside the eyeball in the opening montage.)
When Twilight Zone: The Movie was released on June 24, 1983, there seemed to be a consensus that the latter two episodes, along with Landis's prologue, were the film's highlights (although, every segment has had fans). Ultimately, Twilight Zone: The Movie seemed to fall short of the expectations preceding the helicopter tragedy, and it certainly turned out differently than planned.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone was revisited several times in the ensuing 25 years. Perhaps the most notable of these endeavors was the CBS series revival of 1985-87. Under producer Phil DeGuere, an astonishing amount of talent was assembled, including Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke, just to name a few. And whatever one may have thought of this series, the scripts were creative and at times bold. Various episodes were thwarted by CBS executives, including Alan Brennert's The Third Sex (which he later incorporated into his 1990 book Her Pilgrim Soul and Other Stories) and Harlan Ellison's adaptation of Curt Clark's short story Nackles, which would have been Ellison's solo debut as a director. (Clark's Nackles story, Ellison's script adaptation, and Ellison's recounting of CBS's censorship all appeared in the February 1987 issue of of Twilight Zone Magazine.)
When the series was extended through 1988-89 under producer J. Michael Straczynski, Walter Koenig wrote a script about a woman haunted by the ghost of her deceased father who had sexually abused her. However, it, too, was considered “too hot,” as Stracyzsinski recalled, and never filmed. (Shortly thereafter, Koenig read the teleplay on Mike Hodel's Hour 25 on KPFK radio in Los Angeles.)
At the time of this writing, Warner Bros. and Leonardo DiCaprio were in preliminary stages in developing another Twilight Zone motion picture, this time one with a single two-hour story.
My research regarding unused material in Twilight Zone: The Movie is ongoing. If anyone has additional information to share, please contact me at Drlao@yahoo.com. Thank you.
(1) Although Twilight Zone: The Movie was intended to be an anthology, “originally the concept was that characters from one episode would appear in another, so that it wasn't just a series of freestanding stories,” Dante explained. “It was all linked together. So it seemed like it was a long piece.”
An example of this can be found in an early draft of the Kick the Can remake, which begins with:
“The last shot of the previous Twilight Zone segment [presumably Landis's Time Out]. Then suddenly, Rod Serling walks onto screen and begins his moral summation of the episode.
“PULL BACK to reveal that the screen is a television set.
“PULL BACK FURTHER to reveal the set in in the corner of the bleak Recreation Room of Sunnyvale Retirement Home.
“Rod Serling's voice fades out as the voice of MR. GREY PANTHER comes up. . . “
The ending of this script was written so that it could segue to either Miller's episode (i.e., a crack of lightning seen in the background behind Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) or Dante's (“… We see the heroine's car from Joe Dante's segment drive down the street.”)
Another proposed segue between Spielberg and Dante's episodes would have been more elaborate. When Spielberg was planning his Halloween tale, the closing shot would have been an aerial view of a chase through a neighborhood. This would have become a video arcade game played by Anthony (Jeremy Licht) of It's a Good Life.
At yet another point in the film's development, Dante's episode was going to come after Miller's “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” So, as John Valentine (John Lithgow) would have been taken in an ambulance, we would have seen a hospital with Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlain) on her way out.
This segue was actually filmed but never used because the order of the episodes was shuffled yet again. Dante regretted the loss of this scene with Helen. “Her mother has just died, and she is giving up teaching,” Dante explained. “All she wants to do is go out into the world and learn things. This was all shot, but we had to cut it out when the episodes were shifted. Now It's a Good Life opens with the Burgess Meredith narration over the second scene of my episode.” (Cinefex #14)
During the final reordering of the segments, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was positioned after “It's a Good Life.” Accordingly, Dante planned yet another segue. “The end of my episode was supposed to have a thunderclap over that last image to give the impression that not all was going to be flowers. … It was going to be a little bit more ominous. And then the thunderclap was going to lead into George's [segment]. For whatever reason I wasn't there one day, and they mixed out the thunderclap. … It just got lost in the shuffle.”
(2) The closing portion of Really Scary changed when the movie's episodes were switched around. Because Dante's segment was originally going to be last, the closing tag with Dan Aykroyd was to involve Helen Foley, and this was filmed by Dante at the same time Landis directed the prologue. Thus, at the conclusion of It's a Good Life, “the house is destroyed, the boy is gone when the house [goes away], [and] Helen Foley is wandering around,” Dane explained. “She's on a road, and she gets picked up by Dan Aykroyd, and he says to her, 'Do you want to see something really scary?'
“Kathleen [Quinlain]was there at that location, and I was there, and we shot that ending. It was the same place they shot the beginning [Malibu Hills].”
When this version of the closing tag was abandoned, Dante had the luxury of revising his ending.
(3) Early on, a competing title was The Bigot (Twilight Zone Magazine, October 1983).
(4) By a very strange, Twilight Zone-like coincidence, an early sketch of the Vietnamese village set by Gregory Pickrell featured a crashed helicopter, forecasting what was to transpire. When questioned about this drawing, the filmmakers explained they were exploring “ways to show the village had previously been attacked.” (Variety, July 12, 1983)
(4) Evidently, some thought was indeed given to using footage of Serling, as illustrated in the script excerpt in footnote #1. However, given that this film was made many years before Forrest Gump (1994) or even before the very early colorization techniques used in the revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985), raises questions about what would have been possible. Although, the integration of old and new footage in Woody Allen's Zelig (1983) demonstrated that resourcefulness, ingenuity, and creativity can compensate for technical limitations.
Many years later, Dante got an opportunity to use footage of Serling in a new context. “I did a little version of that for the ride, the [Twilight Zone] Tower of Terror, for which I did the ride-show. In that one, I took the intro to “It's a Good Life” and used as much of it [Serling's image] on-camera as I could until it started to diverge, and then we cut away. And then we had a Serling voice imitator dub him, so it sounded like was [narrating] our ride.”