In 1976, a strange box with a big red button shows up at the home of cash-strapped suburbanites Diaz and Marsden. Mysterious stranger Langella, (missing half his face from a lightning strike) tells them if they hit the red button somebody they don’t know will die and they’ll get a million dollars.
Writer-director Kelly uses Matheson’s story as his jumping off point, but exceeds the goodwill of the morality tale after about 30 minutes. After that, it’s the kitchen sink approach with a NASA conspiracy, heavy-handed literature symbolism, spontaneous nosebleeds, a spooky Santa Claus (don’t ask) and enough strangeness to make David Lynch proud.
Simply lop out all the riddles and red herrings and this would be a nice tight little thriller. In fact, it was … when the story was turned into a 1986 Twilight Zone episode.
And even then, Matheson was allegedly so upset the producers changed the ending of the story, that he removed his credit in favor of the pseudonym “Logan Swanson.” But he’s credited here so I’m guessing he’s okay with the Martians …? (Warner Bros.)
— DENNIS WILLIS