While 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie wasn't the super mega blockbuster hit that some had hoped for, it was nevertheless enough to get CBS to bring back Rod Serling's most famous creation in 1985. This second series lasted three seasons and offered up one hundred and ten episodes. The series saw Charles Aidman step in to narrate, with Serling having passed in 1975. When Aidman himself passed away, Robin Ward was brought on to narrate the third season (he also redid the narration for the first two seasons when they were syndicated, though this set thankfully contains Aidman's original voice work). When series began, each episode ran an hour in length and presented two or three stories within its running time save for a few Season Two episodes that ran a half an hour. When a third season was made and put out for syndication, those episodes ran a half an hour and contained a single story. None other than The Grateful Dead stepped up to the plate and created new theme music, based on Bernard Herrmann's classic original, for this series. The show went off the air in 1989.
The series is a mix bag from start to finish. While it's definitely a lot better than the 2002 revamp, it isn't nearly as good as the original. Having said that, there's enough here that works to make this set worth checking out. Some of the stories are excellent and there's a lot of interesting people involved in the series in terms of the acting, the directing and the writing credits. Let's take a look at a few of the story highlights from each season.
The season starts off strong with Shatterday, an interesting, twisty tale of a man who calls home only to find that his phone is answered by… himself. A Little Peace And Quiet shows what happens when an overworked and stressed out housewife finds she can stop time whenever she wants. Wordplay benefits from an interesting concept wherein a man starts hearing normal, everyday words used in a completely different context than everyone around him and then has to communicate with others when his son needs to get to the hospital. Children's Zoo is a humorously creepy shot about what happens when a girl from an abusive home gets to take her parents to the zoo, while Nightcrawlers (probably the best story in the entire series) shows us just how tough it can be to leave the war overseas for returning vets who saw active duty. Examination Day is a short but clever piece that examines the perils of futuristic government overreach while Teacher's Aid, if not exactly good, offers the chance to see Adrianne Barbeau turn into a demon and slam gangbangers into lockers. Dealer's Choice sees a group of card players suspect that their dealer is Satan himself, while The Shadow Man sees a boy make an unusual alliance with the ‘thing' that lives in the dark in his room. I Of Newton sees a math teacher match wits with a demon while Night Of The Meek remakes the classic episode of the same name from the original series. A Small Talent For War sees humanity judged by its alien creators while Gramma sees a kid start to believe that his kindly old grandmother is in fact some sort of monster. Dead Run sees a truck driver have to make a delivery of soul to ol' Scratch, while Shadow Play is another interesting remake of a classic original series episode.
The Once And Future King sees an Elvis impersonator time travel to get to meet the man himself, Aqua Vita is a cautionary tale about the quest for eternal youth and beauty, The After Hours is another original series remake and The Toys Of Caliban shows what happens when a mentally challenged boy develops supernatural powers. The Road Less Travelled follows a man who copped out of the draft soon haunted by a ghost he recognizes from his past, The Junction sees a miner get trapped in a mine with another man who claims to have been there for over seventy years and Joyride sees for mischievous teenagers take a dead man's car out for a spin with a sinister conclusion. The season closes with The Girl I Married, a piece where a successful couple who work as lawyers lose the spark in their relationship only to find it rekindled when they somehow come into contact with younger versions of themselves.
The Curious Case Of Edgar Witherspoon see the titular man forced to tidy up his cluttered apartment, the fate of the world is at stake! The Hunters sees a female archeologist explore a cave covered in paintings where a boy recently disappeared only to see the cave itself seem to become alive in its own strange way. Memories sees a female hypnotist come to the realization that maybe the help she's given her clients wasn't so helpful after all, The Hellgramite Method sees a man with a drinking problem forced to choose if he wants to keep drinking or if he wants to live, 20/20 Vision sees a banker able to see the future through the eyeglasses he recently cracked and Appointment On Route 17 sees a man get a heart transplant and then fall for a vaguely familiar waitress. Something In The Walls see the latest addition to the staff at a mental hospital counsel a patient who is convinced that there's something in her walls, A Game Of Pool remakes the classic episode of the same name from the original series, The Wall sees the military open up a portal that leads to another planet and Rendezvous In A Dark Place sees an aging woman obsess over death. The season and the series ends with Father And Son Game wherein a man getting on in years has his brain transplanted into a younger body, only to then have to deal with the after effects wherein his own son takes issue with the morality of his decision.
As mentioned earlier, there's a lot of talent involved in this version of The Twilight Zone. As episodes play out, pay attention to the writing credits and you'll notice a lot of familiar names like Harlan Ellison, J. Michael Straczynski, J. M. DeMatteis, Steven Barnes, Charles Beaumont, Greg Bear, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert McCammon, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Michael Reaves, George R. R. Martin, Rockne S. O'Bannon, Jeremy Bertrand Finch, Paul Chitlik, Martin Pasko, Gordon Mitchell, Theodore Sturgeon and Serling himself. Lots of big names in there not just from film and TV writing but from comic book and sci-fi authors as well. Behind the camera there were also some noteworthy directors involved in the show, like Wes Craven (who also contributed a few scripts), William Friedkin, Tommy Lee Wallace, Robert Downey, Peter Medak, Paul Lynch, Joe Dante, John Milius, Allan Arkush, John D. Hancock, Bill Duke, Curtis Harrington and Atom Egoyan. And then, of course, there is the cast, which features plenty of A-list talent from decades of film and television work. A few notables include Bruce Willis, Robert Klein, Meg Foster, Season Hubley, Dee Wallace Stone, Helen Mirren, Adrienne Barbeau, Danny Kaye, Piper Laurie, M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Hedaya, Morgan Freeman, Jeffrey Jones, Sherman Hemsley, Pam Dawber, Robert Carradine, Elliott Gould, Gerrit Graham, Martin Balsam, Tim Thomerson, Jenny Agutter, Fred Savage, George Wendt, Joe Mantegna, Harry Morgan, Eddie Albert, William Sanderson, Michael Moriarty, Dean Stockwell, Janet Leigh and many more.
Of course, there are plenty of other episodes in the run, but those not mentioned do tend to be less impressive and/or memorable. One of the big things that strikes you as you watch this material is how unusually predictable a lot of this stuff is. Maybe it's because most of us will be familiar with the original series before delving into this eighties run and are therefore trained to a certain extent to expect the unexpected. Honestly though, a lot of it is just plain easy to figure out and when that is the case, much of the suspense and enjoyment out of watching a series like this begins to evaporate. It's really just a very uneven run, mixing in a few more misses than hits but remaining interesting due to the hindsight inherent in seeing some of the interesting people affiliated with the show honing their craft here. If the production values seem a little dated by mid-eighties era digital effects and dated fashions, so be it. This is in many ways a product of its time, but when the series is good, it's very good indeed. It's just a shame that the show never got to be as consistent as its predecessor.
It's worth noting that all of this material was released on DVD back in 2005 by Image Entertainment, the first season as a standalone set and the second and third seasons bundled together. This reissue from CBS appears to be identical to the old Image releases and in fact the discs even show the old Image logo before the main menus load. Having said that, if you want the technical details and info on the extras in this complete series collection, read on…
The Twilight Zone: The Complete 80s Series arrives on DVD in its original 1.33. fullframe broadcast aspect ratio. Although this series was shot on film, it was then transferred to video tape for editing, effects and post production work. It's from those tape sources that CBS has done their transfers for the series, so you have to go into this with your expectations in check. Detail is soft and sometimes things are a little smeary. Colors look less than great and blacks tend to crush out other details in many of the darker scenes from throughout the run. Having said that, this is all watchable, just know going in that the picture quality here is below typical DVD standards (the noticeable compression artifacts don't help things much) and that it will look more like the tape sources that had to be used.
The English language Dolby Digital tracks are sometimes mono and sometimes stereo, it depends on the episode. Regardless of how many channels are used, the audio quality here is decent enough. Rnage is limited, even in the stereo tracks, but dialogue is generally clean, clear and easy to follow. The series' opening music sounds appropriately eerie and the foley and sound effects used throughout the show are succinct enough to work. English closed captioning is provided for seasons two and three but not for season one.
Let's go through the extras on the set by season, starting with Season One. The bulk of the extras for this run are the commentary tracks, most of which involve members of the writing team. Fans of the series will get a kick out of listening in on how and why the stories turned out the way that they did here. It's also a treat to have Harlan Ellison in on quite a few of these episodes, flying solo, and giving his typically blunt take on things (he has some less than kind words about his dealings with CBS executives!). The commentaries contain a lot of information and tend to be both informative and quite engaging.
Episode 1: Shatterday with Wes Craven, Alan Brennert, Philip DeGuere, Bradford May; Shatterday with-Harlan Ellison / A Little Peace And Quiet with Wes Craven, Philip DeGuere, Bradford May.
Episode 2: Wordplay with Wes Craven and Philip DeGuere) / Chameleon with Wes Craven, James Crocker and Philip DeGuere.
Episode 4: Nightcrawlers with Bradford May and Philip DeGuere.
Episode 6: Examination Day with Philip DeGuere) / A Message From Charity with Alan Brennert and Kerry Noonan.
Episode 7: Paladin Of The Lost Hour with Harlan Ellison.
Episode 8: The Burning Man with J.D. Feigelson, James Crocker and Alan Brennert) / Dealer's Choice with Wes Craven and Philip DeGuere.
Episode 9: Wong's Lost And Found Emporium with Alan Brennert and William Wu.
Episode 11: One Life, Furnished In Early Poverty with Harlan Ellison.
Episode 12: Her Pilgrim Soul with Wes Craven, James Crocker and Alan Brennert / I of Newton with Alan Brennert.
Episode 13: The Star with Alan Brennert.
Episode 14: The Little People Of Killany Woods with J.D. Feigelson, James Crocker and Alan Brennert.
Episode 17: Quarantine with Philip DeGuere.
Episode 18: Gramma with Philip DeGuere and Bradford May; Gramma with Harlan Ellison.
Episode 19: Dead Run with Alan Brennert and Greg Bear.
Season One also includes a fourteen minute interview with none other than Wes Craven in which he talks all too briefly about his work on the series early on and more specifically about some of the stories he had a hand in bringing to life. There are also a few still galleries scattered about the Season One discs.
Extras for Season Two are similar, with the commentary tracks doing most of the heavy lifting.
Episode 6: Nightsong with Bradford May and Philip DeGuere.
Episode 12: The Road Less Travelled with Wes Craven and Philip DeGuere.
Episode 13: The Card with Bradford May, Philip DeGuere and Michael Cassutt.
Episode 18: Time and Teresa Golowitz with Alan Brennert.
There are also a few minutes of deleted scenes included for the Nightsong, The Road Less Travelled, The Card and Time and Teresa Golowitz episodes.
There are no extras at all for any of the Season Three episodes.
Each disc in the set contains menus and episode selection and within the episode selection submenus you can then choose to watch the episode in its entirety or watch a specific story.
The Twilight Zone: The Complete 80s Series can't hold a candle to the original Serling run, a classic series in which this revamped version is forever doomed to be compared to. However, there's enough genuinely good material in here to make it easy enough to overlook a few stinkers and a good chunk of material that is simply ‘okay.' The fact that the series has a lot of interesting people involved both in front of and behind the camera helps to give this some replay value and curiosity value. The DVD presentation would seem to be about as good as it's going to get in terms of presentation, and while the set isn't stacked with extras, the commentary tracks are typically interesting and informative. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.