Genres: Anthology, creepy drama
Director: Wes Craven, others
I get the feeling twist-loving director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village) might have taken in some of these fun '80s Twilight Zone episodes back in the day. For someone who had grown up with shows like Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, here was a wake-up call that there could be more to entertainment than talking cars, chase scenes, fisticuffs and explosions.
Though the quality is wildly uneven, it's worth enduring the bad to get to the good, and some viewers will marvel at the caliber of actors on display here: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand, Martin Landau and John Carradine are just a few of the big names. There's a novelty factor to this, as well: "Look! It's Geordi and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation in the same episode!" And then there are the writers, including peerless talent like Harlan Ellison, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Trash novelist Sidney Sheldon manages a surprisingly good entry starring William Peterson (CSI) and McDormand (Fargo) in which people have got hold of the secret of life and whisper it into the ears of others, driving them stark raving mad.
Each hour-long episode typically includes two or three self-contained stories, a handful of which rely on a last-minute twist or sudden shift in the viewer's perception of what has transpired, such as "The Shadow Man," about a boy who discovers that a spooky figure comes out from under his bed at night and slinks around town. That's one of the three that I remember making a strong impression on me when I watched the show on CBS. Another is "A Message from Charity," in which a present-day teen is able to communicate with a girl in 1700 whose knowledge of the future gets her accused of being a witch. The third is "Button, Button," in which a couple (including a feisty Mare Winningham) receives a small box with a button that if pressed earns them $200,000, but the catch is someone they don't know will die. Some installments rely on a quirky novelty, such as "A Little Peace and Quiet," in which a fed-up housewife (or homemaker, as we tactfully put it in obituaries) while gardening digs up a medallion that gives her the power to freeze time. There's also some dark humor in stories like "The Uncle Devil Show," in which a children's video has kids wield black magic under the noses of oblivious parents. Ellison turns in some moving character pieces, including "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty," in which a man transported back in time tries to offer advice to himself as a boy. A few monster episodes are gems, as well, including one in which a boy finds that an old man new to the neighborhood seems to be a vampire. For anyone interested in '80s television and dark themes, this is a pleasant way to pass some quality couch time. &&1/2 for the casual viewer and &&&1/2 for those who get a pang of nostalgia from this yields the &&& verdict.
// DVD notes // Twenty-four one-hour episodes from season one on CBS on six DVDs. Some episodes are presented in stereo, and some are in mono. Many feature exhaustive audio commentaries for the obsessed fan with members of the creative team, including Craven, Ellison, Philip DeGuere, Alan Brennert, Bradford May and others. In a brief interview, Wes Craven talks about the great mix of talent that went into the production and calls it one of the projects he's most proud of. A subsequent DVD set includes the later syndicated episodes.