Twilight Zone Marathon: “Disney’s Tower of Terror”

ImageWelcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! Let me preface this review with two things: One, my boyfriend challenged me to watch and review this movie, and two, I have never been on the ride itself. I know it’s based on Twilight Zone and have seen photos and such, but because I’m prone to motion sickness I’ve never had the courage to take it on. With that said, we’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s get to it. This is “Disney’s Tower of Terror.”

For those who don’t know, the Tower of Terror ride in Hollywood Studios revolves around a Twilight Zone-ish plot involving the ghosts of a crashed elevator. And, like many of their rides, a movie loosely based on it was made in 1997 starring Steve Guttenberg and a young Kirsten Dunst. Unfortunately, it was also a made-for-TV family friendly film, making it fall in line with the poorer Disney ride films.

The plot is this: Buzzy Crocker (Guttenberg), a disgraced former news photographer, has been bumming around doing fake stories for tabloids with his niece, Anna. When an old lady named Abigail comes to him with a ghost story about the Hollywood Hotel, Buzzy jumps at the chance to create the biggest story of his life. But, unfortunately for him, the ghosts ARE real and they need a little help crossing over. Will Buzzy give them the help they need, or will he be too wrapped up in helping his career?

I went into this movie knowing the poor reputation it had, and while there were some aspects I felt were done well, it had many problems. The plot creates this elaborate story where a witch cast a spell causing the guests (basically taken from the ride) to die on the elevator. There are several twists within the film, most of them happening even before the end to, I guess, create a big climax. They all felt shoved in and I thought they would’ve been stronger (by kids movie terms) if they had been paced out. I also felt the story would’ve been more interesting if we’d spent more time with the ghosts instead of bumbling around with Buzzy wanting to jumpstart his career.

Speaking of Buzzy, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t stand Guttenberg as an actor. His reactions to the ghosts and spooky happenings seemed to be either slight confusion or dull surprise. Buzzy as a character was your stereotypical dick who learns his lesson in the end. And, as a supposed photographer/former journalist, he failed to really research Abigail and her story. That slack gets picked up by his former editor/apparent ex. I just found Buzzy uninteresting and moronic as the main lead.

On the flipside, I did enjoy Anna. Dunst had a relatively crappy script to work from, but she’s still a good actress and does her best here. Anna is also a good character in that she actually investigates and gets stuff done, unlike her dopey uncle. While she fell prey to a couple inane moments, I thought she would’ve made a better lead character than Buzzy.

Abigail was portrayed pretty well, although she gets very hokey and a bit hammy at times during the movie. Because she’s one of the few living people from the night the guests were killed, a few of the plot developments surround her, and for the most part they work, Still, her character was more a plot device than anything. I won’t say much more about her to spoil anything, of course.

The only other individual character I’ll talk about is the quintessential comic relief. In this film, it’s Chris “Q” Todd, the grandson of one of the guests who died. While he does play a major role in the climax, his main role is to act like a scaredy-cat and suck at fixing things. He does get a couple funny lines, but mostly I felt he was useless. Even when he finally became useful, I felt the only reason he’d been there was for that one moment. It seemed like the movie wouldn’t have missed much otherwise without him.

Finally, there are the ghosts themselves. One is a child star, two are a couple, one is the bellhop and the other is the star’s nanny. There is a red herring placed around one of the ghosts which was not bad. I thought all the ghosts were interesting and wished the movie would’ve focused more on them. The child star does play a central part in the plot, which was decently done. But it felt as though the subplot of Buzzy’s career got in the way of their story.

Aside from some bouts of bad acting, I thought the script was okay. I felt it could’ve been a more interesting story if it was treated with better acting and a stronger plot. Having a movie based on a ride with no Twilight Zone elements beyond twists (if that even counts) felt like a missed opportunity. Maybe it was a copyright thing, but it was disappointing. I have heard that the basic Twilight Zone-esque story for the ride is pretty good, so that only alleviated my disappointment when there was no sort of reference here, not even a shot of the TV show.

I do have a few positives about the movie, however. The acting and writing is good in places and the ending for the ghosts is heartwarming. The effects, despite being cheesy, weren’t as bad as I expected them to be and there wasn’t an overabundance of them. I loved the use of the Tower itself and the references to the actual ride (barring the Twilight Zone stuff). It had a good, spooky setting that made use of the basic plot elements from the ride.

Overall, though, I can’t say I’d recommend “Disney’s Tower of Terror” unless you enjoy cheesy, kinda bad films or movies based on anything Disney. One of my major issues with it is that, as a kids movie, it seems to talk down to its core audience by outright saying what has clearly happened on-screen. It drove me nuts, and while the argument of “Kids will watch anything” has some validity, this felt like it fell into the “Kids are dumb” trap. Maybe that wasn’t the intention, but it might have benefited greatly from not pointing out the obvious so much. In that regard, this one’s forgettable at best and pretty bad at worst.

So, that’s the end of my Twilight Zone Marathon. I hope you enjoyed following my journey into this classic show (and meh movie). Who knows? Maybe I’ll do something like this again next year. Until then, I’ll be taking a long break from anything Twilight Zone-related. Have a happy Halloween and thanks for reading!

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Twilight Zone Marathon: “The Obsolete Man”

ImageWelcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! Today marks the final day of official Twilight Zone episodes, as I have something different planned to wrap up the month tomorrow. In the meantime, today’s episode features Burgess Meredith and in essence books once again. There are a lot of themes in this one, so let’s get right to it. Let’s look at “The Obsolete Man.”

Librarian Romney Wordsworth has only two days left before execution. He lives in a totalitarian state which considers his occupation obsolete and criminal. This is due to literacy having been eliminated by them. Romney must now choose his method of execution. Will he somehow manage to get out of it, or will he go out in a dignified manner?

This was a brilliant episode. It’s not scary or overly tense, but it looks at humankind in terms of politics, religion and purpose in life. It’s an episode with many themes that I thought would end up making me bored, but the actors carry it out so well that I was invested from start to finish. The ending is a bit of a twist and a karmic one at that, and I can easily say it’s one of the best of its kind I’ve seen to date.

The main characters are the Chancellor, a representative of the state, and Romney himself. The Chancellor and in essence the state are horrible, disbelieving in literature and even God. The Chancellor goes so far to say that guys like Hitler and Stalin had the right idea but didn’t go far enough, which is the basis of this new government. But the Chancellor himself is revealed to be a pathetic man, and I had no sympathy for him by the end.

Compared to Meredith’s previous performance, I preferred him here. Romney is smart, resourceful and clever. He turns the Chancellor’s own words against him when he ultimately has him trapped in a bomb-laden room with him. While in court in the beginning, he stands up for himself as a human being and defends his beliefs in literature and God despite protests. I really liked this character and Meredith’s performance kept me invested the whole way.

This is a story that’s simplistic (yes, the running word for this month) in plot and execution, but it’s done effectively. The story takes place between court and Romney’s room, and the strength of it comes from the characters and dialogue. The ending was a perfect cap to it and the characters as well. I honestly can’t think of any complaints I had with this one.

Overall, “The Obsolete Man” is a great story with an interesting take on politics and government. Even if you’re like me and aren’t interested in that stuff, this is an enjoyable, thought-provoking episode regardless. I would recommend this to anyone.

Twilight Zone Marathon: “The Little People”

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Welcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! The concept of playing God is both cool and terrifying. Many shows, movies and even video games allow for the possibility of it and show the creation and devastation that can be involved. Today’s episode is another example of that, only set in the reaches of space. This is “The Little People.”

Commander William Fletcher and his copilot Peter Craig are forced to make an emergency landing in a canyon far into space after a meteor storm damages their rocket. While there, Craig discovers a microscopic civilization and begins damaging their town. He invokes fear into them to make them consider him a god, much to his delight and Fletcher’s horror. Will Fletcher be able to stop him and get him back home, or is he too late for either?

Despite knowing the twist to this one, I thought it was a good psychological story. The pacing was pretty good even if the story itself was pretty simplistic, focusing on them finding the civilization and Craig’s downward spiral. The effects were also pretty good as well, which I’m guessing were miniatures.

We only have two characters to talk about, so let’s get to it. Of the two, I preferred Commander Fletcher, although both were well-acted. Being the leader, he’s smart, resourceful and authoritative. I also liked that he was sympathetic toward the little people. He even has sympathy for Craig as he goes more power-hungry, even going so far to call him “buddy” in an effort to try bringing him home. I’m not sure if that was to imply that they’d been together long, but it showed he was the more caring person of the two.

Peter Craig was a mix for me, in that I felt sorry for him and at the same time hated him. On one hand, he’d always wished to be the leader in his life and have that special authority. But on the other, from the get-go he’s unappreciative and grumpy. His attitude only worsens when he gets his hands on power over the little people. Even before the twist occurs, he’s basically gone insane with power and laughing it up like he’s the Joker. I didn’t feel overly sorry for him by the end.

Speaking of which, the twist is karmic but also a bit tragic. I won’t give away what happens, but considering the events of the story it felt clever and fit with the tone. I do kinda wish we could’ve seen a bit more of the civilization, but the hints of it we do see are well done.

Overall, “The Little People” is a relatable story that I think anyone can enjoy. It really shows how people love to be in control and what they might do if they have more power than they deserve. It’s a neat concept and one I would recommend checking out.

Twilight Zone Marathon: “A Most Unusual Camera”

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Welcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! Today’s episode kinda reminds me of an old Goosebumps book, “Say Cheese and Die!” It poses a simple question: What would you do with a camera that can predict the future? Let’s find out just that in “A Most Unusual Camera.”

Chester and Paula Diedrich are two burglers who have just robbed a curio store. Among a bunch of junk they stolen is an antique camera. They soon discover that the pictures taken with it show future events. With Paula’s brother and ex-con Woodward, they try to exploit the camera for their benefit. Will these crooks live a life of ease, or could they be setting themselves up for a fall?

As you may have noticed by now, I can’t stand unlikable characters in this show, and once again this episode is no exception. However, like the previous episode, I enjoyed the ending for its good, karmic punch. It’s just a shame I keep running into these, although a lot of the problem is my own perceptions of characters. In regards to that, the plot is once again simplistic, focusing on their goals of becoming rich.

Speaking of characters, let’s take a look at them. Ex-con Woodward comes into the story once they’ve discovered the camera’s secret and serves as the third wheel. He’s a completely stereotypical moron who’s always one step behind them. He honestly contributes nothing of use to the story aside from the fears associated with him being an ex-con.

Chester and Paula have few personality differences between them, though Chester is a bit grumpy and is basically the leader. As husband and wife, there’s no real warmth or love to their relationship, just a lot of bickering. It felt like there was little chemistry between them, and I was more than happy to see theirs and Woodward’s ultimate fates.

The main plot mostly involves them using the camera for betting and winning on horse races, though it’s soon discovered that the camera can only take 10 pictures per person. This eventually leads up to the ending and twist. I found the twist both karmic and a bit jarring, mostly because another party comes into the mix and their purpose for doing so comes out only after a second appearance on-screen. I wish more creative uses could’ve been found with the camera, Much like with the stopwatch in “A Kind of Stopwatch”, it just felt like a wasted opportunity.

Overall, “A Most Unusual Camera” was a bit disappointing, even if I did enjoy the ending. The characters aren’t very interesting and the plot doesn’t pick up till the karmic yet kinda bizarre ending. I don’t think I can fully recommend this one, even as a karma story. There have just been better, more interesting choices from the Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone Marathon: “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”

ImageWelcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! What if you had the ability to exchange things to get what you want? Not just physical things like money or valuables, but also looks or personalities. Today’s episode features a man who can do just that. This is easily one of the longest titles of Twilight Zone, “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.”

Salvadore “Sal” Ross is a crass, quick to anger car washer who wants to live a happy life with high-class social worker Leah. She likes him but doesn’t think he’s compassionate enough to be with. While at the hospital treating a broken hand, he discovers he can exchange his injury for another man’s cold just buy making a deal with him. Sal soon uses this to get everything he wants and soon tries to win Leah’s heart. Will he succeed, or is he in over his head?

I had mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, the premise was interesting and made for a good temptation story. On the other, I found the main character unlikable that I didn’t feel like rooting for him. The story is simplistic because it follows Sal’s goal of getting with Leah, which worked okay. And the twist ending was a great dose of karma and moral lesson.

The main characters are Sal, Leah, and Mr. Maitland, Leah’s wheelchair-bound father. We learn some of Mr. Maitland’s backstory via a conversation between him and Sal. Leah takes her father over Sal all the time because of his compassion and need for care. The father is a good person, however, so it’s done more as a daughter to a father thing.

Leah came off as snobby to me at first, but as the story went on, I started to see things from her perspective and sympathize with her. She does care for Sal, but also feels his rough disposition makes him incapable of truly caring about people. I kinda wish the episode didn’t end with the twist, because I would’ve liked to see how she’d react to it all.

And finally we come to Sal. I wanted to root for this guy and kinda did at the start (because Leah seemed snobby). However, once he gets his “gift”, his colors start to really come out. He treats Leah like she’s a prize to be won and makes all these deals for his selfish goal of winning her. Needless to say, that karma that occurs in the twist felt completely justified for me. I’m still not sure if the intention was to dislike him throughout the story, but I definitely did.

Like I said, disliking the main character made it harder to root for him and his actions. The episode mostly revolves around Sal making deals to get rich, stay young and improve his manner of speaking. These deals mostly involve trading money to people, who have to take the brunt of it. For example, the hospital dealing involves him giving his broken hand to an old man, who laments that it won’t heal due to his age. Sal practically laughs at him and waltzes off. You can see why I grew to dislike him just from that.

Overall, “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” was an interesting idea, but Sal was just so unlikable that it left me feeling unsympathetic for him by the end. The concept of trading things was neat and something I’d never seen before, but it felt dampened by tying it into Sal’s story. I suppose in hindsight it acts as a life lesson about the dangers of being someone you’re not. For me, this episode was average and I would only recommend it if you want a karmic story.

Twilight Zone Marathon: “Printer’s Devil”

ImageWelcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! We’ve come to the second of the two hour-long episodes I’ve decided to look at from Season 4. Today’s episode explores the idea of selling your soul to get what you want. And, as many people know, there is always a price attached. What will it be here? This is “Printer’s Devil.”

Douglas Winter is at the end of his rope trying to save his failing newspaper business. Bills and debts have stacked up and he wishes there was a way to fix everything. It’s not until he meets a strange man named Mr. Smith that things start to turn around.  But he eventually claims to be the devil and wants Doug’s soul. Could this man really be the devil, and if so what will become of Doug’s soul and business?

I have to admit, I found myself enjoying this episode even more than “The New Exhibit.” A lot of that was because of the subject matter, which interested me since I took journalism in college. But another reason was for the great acting from the main characters. The ending was also clever if a bit ambiguous. And, once again, the pacing was well done considering the long length.

The main characters here are Doug, Mr. Smith and Doug’s secretary/sorta girlfriend Jackie. Starting with Jackie, I thought she was an alright character. She’s a bit of a nag, but she stands by her man and wants to see him succeed. She even laments that Mr. Smith and the paper’s newfound fame has changed him for the worse. The only time I found her irritating was near the end when she has to invoke being scared. It came off shrill to me.

Doug was well-acted and really came across in how desperate and worn down he was in the beginning. He does become more self-assured and confident as he gains success, but oddly enough I couldn’t really see how he’d changed from Jackie’s perspective. He was a bit grumpy and snappish, so maybe it was referring to that. Regardless, he has a bigger role to play in the ending that solidified the character to me. This being Twilight Zone, the ending could’ve gone many ways for his type of character, but it ultimately worked out.

Finally, we have the supposed devil, Mr. Smith. This guy was perfectly acted, being charismatic and a bit creepy at the appropriate times. The chemistry between him and Doug kept me fully invested in the episode because of how well done it was. He’s just an average-looking guy, but Mr. Smith had that confidence about him that draws you into the character and his actions. He had an appropriate role in the ending as well that wasn’t too overdone and felt right for the character.

As I said before, the pacing in this episode was great. Not once did I feel bored or impatient for things to happen. Everything fell into place and there was a good build-up to the ending. The tone was also consistent. The ending was part action, part cleverness and was enjoyable, though it had an ambiguity to it that kinda made me wish for more. Then again, I suppose that’s the mark of a good ending to a good episode.

I really have few complaints about this one. The idea of a possible devil mixed with the use of journalism is something I never thought I’d see, but it worked really well. Overall, I think “Printer’s Devil” is an episode everyone can enjoy. I’m not sure how well Season 4 did in terms of classics, but I feel this one deserves a recommendation.

Twilight Zone Marathon: “Stopover In A Quiet Town”

ImageWelcome to my Twilight Zone Marathon! Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to visit a town you’re unfamiliar with, whether on accident or purpose? Many would take comfort in the familiar because you never know what you might end up dealing with. Today’s episode gives us that in the form of a strange, quiet town. That’s right, this is “Stopover In A Quiet Town.”

Bob and Millie Frazer wake up hungover one morning to discover they’re in a stranger’s house in a town they’ve never seen before. While looking around, they discover no one seems to be in it and it’s far too quiet. On top of that, every object seems to be fake. Where could they be, and will they be able to leave?

This is another episode where I knew the twist, though I think anyone could figure it out even if they didn’t know it. Still, I enjoyed this episode after seeing it all the way through. The town kinda reminded me of that fake town in “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” and had a similar eerie vibe. The whole episode takes place with the couple trying to find a way out of the town in various believable ways: First by trying to find other people, then by finding a car, then a train and finally trying to run out of town.

Bob and Millie were good characters, made better that they were a loving, believable couple. Individually, Millie was slightly shrill at times and Bob was kinda a grump, but they both acted accordingly to the situation and each other. They even try to figure out their situation with a few logical guesses. While we don’t learn much about them beyond the previous night’s party, I liked them and rooted for their escape.

The town was very picturesque, and, like I said earlier, carried a sense of eeriness to it. This falls perfectly in line with the twist ending, which was more clever in context. This is a story that could’ve been taken many different ways, and I feel the one they chose was creative and well done.

My only gripe for this one is a certain sound that the couple hears throughout the episode. I won’t spoil it as it plays into the twist, and it’s thankfully not overly abused, but it irritated me. I almost wished they’d been in complete silence, but that’s a minor nitpick at best.

Overall, it’s easy to see why people like “Stopover In A Quiet Town.” The characters are likable, the town is interesting and the plot is pretty creative. I think this is an episode I could recommend to anyone for its sheer simplicity.