Monday, October 05, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Which Movie Franchise Should be Resurrected Next?

A reader named Ellen writes:

“With the return of Mad Max, Poltergeist and Jurassic Park this past summer, what movie franchise would you like most to see resurrected and why?”

Ellen, that’s a great question, but in a way also a difficult one to answer too. As your words suggest, everything old is indeed new again. 

Star Wars is back. Star Trek is back. Terminator is back too.

Planet of the Apes is ongoing, and in the last five or six years, such sturdy horror franchises as Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th (2009) and Child’s Play have all had entries made as well. 

A new Phantasm is in the offing, a new Alien is coming soon, and The Evil Dead and The X-Files are landing on TV soon.

It is a time of absolute plenty for long-time franchise fans, and I’m not complaining at all. I’m eagerly looking forward to the return of classic movie series and TV shows in these various formats.
But accordingly, it is difficult to think of a movie franchise that hasn’t returned to life of late. Of course, I would love to see Millennium (1996 – 1999) revived as either a movie or TV series, but it isn’t technically a movie franchise, so that doesn’t answer your question, specifically.

Reaching back into my own youth, I suppose one possibility is Logan’s Run.

I was a fan of both the 1976 movie starring Michael York and the short-run TV series, as well as all the books.  There’s plenty of material to mine in a Logan’s Run update, and there have been discussions about remaking that film for at least fifteen years, with no apparent progress.  I would love to see a new Logan’s Run, perhaps one based very closely on the book (making 21 the age of Last Day instead of 30), in part because our culture is so youth-centric.  I feel a strong work of art could be made if it focuses on the idea of what is lost in a civilization obsessed with youth.

Also, I would love to see sequels to Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and John Carter (2012).  On the former front, Kurt Russell still looks fantastic, and he could easily spearhead another Jack Burton film or two.  And John Carter has a rich literary legacy upon which to craft many sequels. 

Others may quibble with my next choice, but I can’t help but long for a Back to the Future IV, as well.  It could feature an older Marty McFly taking one last time travel trip with the Doc to save the future.  I know some see the BTTF trilogy as a perfect franchise in no need of a new chapter.  But Zemeckis is such a strong filmmaker in terms of how he deploys new and developing technologies, and it would be fascinating to watch how a Back to the Future IV weaves in and out of the existing trilogy as it stands today.

Otherwise, I can’t think of many classic movie franchises that are dormant at the moment.

How does Jaws V: The Next Generation (Like Father Like Son…) grab you?

Nah, I didn’t think so...

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Suns

The sun is the star at the center of our solar system, a source of light, heat, and energy. A ball of hot plasma, the sun has a mass more than 300,000 times that of Earth. Sometimes, stars in other solar systems are also referred to as “suns.”

Both our sun, and others, have appeared frequently in cult-television history.

Famously, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode “The Midnight Sun” involves a reality wherein our Earth is plummeting towards the sun, causing record temperature spikes. The episode’s surprise ending is that this reality is a dream. In truth, the Earth is moving away from the sun, towards a freezing death in deep space.

In Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973), “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” involves another stellar disaster. Based on Margaret St. Clair’s (1911-1995) short story, first published in 1950, this episode tells the tale of a boy, Herbie (Clint Howard), with precognitive abilities.  He can accurately predict earthquakes and other disasters, and becomes a TV celebrity.  One day, however, Herbie goes silent, refusing to offer his prediction about tomorrow.

After being coerced to offer such a prediction, he paints a rosy picture of mankind’s future. In truth, this is a lie.The psychic has actually seen that in one day’s time, the sun will go supernova, destroying Earth and the human race.

In Star Trek’s (1966-1969) “All Our Yesterdays,”  the U.S.S. Enterprise visits an alien planet called Sarpeidon, in danger from a sun that, similarly, is about to go supernova. 

A thriving culture once existed on Sarpeidon, but all its inhabitants have, during the emergency, escaped into the past using a device called The Atavachron.  Spock, McCoy and Kirk end up using the device too, but must get back to the present before the supernova occurs.  This task is complicated by the fact that Spock, now in Sarpeidon’s ice age, has fallen in love with a beautiful exile, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley).

The Land of the Lost (1974-1977) second season episode “The Longest Day” involves a pylon malfunction which causes Altrusia’s sun to remain frozen in the sky. Without a cool night, the Sleesktak life-cycle (involving the Altrusian moth) is disrupted.  The Marshalls must fix the damaged matrix table and restore balance to the pocket universe.

The opening montage of Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001), features a beautiful shot of Janeway’s ship passing near a Delta Quadrant star, and a coronal ejection. 

And the children's’ series Teletubbies (1997-2001) featured the sun (with a baby face at the center) as one of the central personalities.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Suns

Identified by SGB: The Twilight Zone: "The Midnight Sun"

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: "All Our Yesterdays."

Identified by SGB: Rod Serling's Night Gallery; "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes"

Identified by SGB: Planet of the Apes TV Series

Identified by SGB: Land of the Lost: "Elsewhen."

Identified by SGB: Jason of Star Command

Identified by SGB: Space:1999 "Breakaway."

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Star Blazers

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Voyager.

Identified by SGB: Futurama.

Identified by SGB: Teletubbies!

Identified by Pierre Fontaine Doctor Who.

Identified by SGB: Battlestar Galactica

Sunday, October 04, 2015

At Flashbak: Sci-Fi TV: 1977

My second article at Flashbak this week remembers the obscure science fiction series of the year 1977.  

This was a great year for one-season wonders. Indeed, I remember these series with great fondness (particularly, The Fantastic Journey).

"For my third installment in this blog series about forgotten sci-fi television, I cast my gaze upon 1977, the year that Star Wars (1977) premiered and became an international sensation.

On TV, meanwhile, creators were still attempting to figure out how to create the next show like Star Trek, a series that, even in syndicated reruns, remained intensely popular.

Two of the 1977 series examined here attempt to resurrect Trek’s “civilization of the week,” format, only with travelers on foot or in a hover-car, moving from culture to culture, society to society.  The third is a parody of Trek tropes, one featuring comical interaction with strange aliens..."

Continue reading at Flashbak.

At Flashbak: Sci-Fi TV - 1982

This week at Flashbak, I continued my blog series about obscure or forgotten sci-fi TV series. This year, I looked back at the year 1982.  It was a great year for sci-fi and horror movies; not such a great year for TV.

The series I look back at are: The Phoenix, The Powers of Matthew Star, and Voyagers! 

All these series survived for just one season. The Phoenix and The Powers of Matthew Star were series about humanoid aliens on Earth, and Voyagers concerned time travel.  

Looking back today, The Powers of Matthew Star looks like a prehistoric version of Smallville (2000 - 2011) or Roswell (1999 - 2002). The series also had interesting creative personnel (including Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig).

I watched all of these series on their original run and was disappointed when they were canceled. I'd love to have DVD or blu-ray (or heck, even streaming...) releases of these obscure programs.

You can read the whole post at Flashbak.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Chapter Two: Prisoners of Dragos" (September 16, 1978)

In the second fifteen minute installment of Jason of Star Command (1979-1980), titled “Prisoner of Dragos,” we meet the series’ charismatic villain for the first time.  

As played by Sid Haig, Dragos is quite evil, and quite dedicated to his plan of “total conquest” of “the entire galaxy.” He also seems to have quite an array of technology (including eye lasers...) at his disposal.  

As part of his plan of galactic conquest, Dragos knocks Jason (Craig Littler) unconscious and fashions a duplicate known as an “energy clone.” Once programmed, this individual will look and act exactly as Jason would, all while furthering Drago’s agenda of chaos.

Worse, as Jason discovers, the Commander Canarvin (James Doohan) he rescued in the previous story was also an energy clone.  Now, that villain has been returned to Star Command while the real Canarvin languishes in the Dragonship prison...

“Prisoner of Dragos” moves at a fast-clip, a lot like an old pulpy movie cliffhanger, but this episode is notable for adding some sets and characters to the drama. We meet Dragos for the first time, and also see the interior of his magnificent and monstrous Dragon Ship. 

I find it interesting that the Dragon Ship -- like the Star Command -- is built upon an asteroid, in this time a kind of orange-hued one.  I wonder if space vessel construction occurs on asteroids on this scale because of the need for gravity.  The giant asteroids of Space Academy/Star Command and the Dragonship may provide such gravity, thus preserving the “ships” energy for other crucial tasks or services (including life support, weapons, and defense.) 

Still, the Dragon Ship hails from a “dark mysterious” galaxy, and so the fact that it shares a construction technique with Earth technology suggests something vital, I think about in-universe space travel.  

At any rate, it’s fun to speculate about.

This episode also introducesthe crucial plot-twist of the series’ Year One narrative.  

Energy clones belonging to Dragos have infiltrated important positions in Star Command, and this replacement has been carried out in secret.  In 1980, this very idea -- android duplicates – was the crucial plot-point in the TV series Beyond Westworld.   More recently, the idea found play in the re-booted, post-9/11 Battlestar Galactica re-imagination.  Considering the evil dictator/terrorist villain and this sleeper cell sub-plot, it is fair to state that Jason of Star Command is ahead of its time.

On a more literal level, throughout this season, “energy clones” cause a lot of trouble for Star Command and Jason, and here our hero must undergo the duplication process himself.

Fans of Space Academy (1977) may also realize by this juncture that the source of Filmation's inspiration has changed from Star Trek to Star Wars.  This episode -- like all episodes of the first season of Jason of Star Command -- is more interested in capture, rescue and battles, than in the examination of human morality and confrontation with diverse alien cultures.

Still, Jason is swashbuckling fun.

Next episode: “Escape from Dragos.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "Castaways in Time and Space" (September 17, 1977)

This week, on Space Academy, Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) and cadet Laura Gentry (Pamelyn Ferdin) investigate a nearby black hole from the relative safety of their Seeker. Investigative results are "negative," but then the ship disappears inside the black hole, and the personnel are feared lost.

Meanwhile, back on Space Academy, Laura's brother Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott) is desperate to rescue his sister but meets with resistance from Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson), a new cadet on the team. 

He's from a "pioneer planet" where "survival was the name of the game" and he hasn't gotten used to being part of a team yet. He only wants to look after himself.

But Chris is adamant, and on a Seeker mission with Jerome,  Tee Gar Soom and Peepo, the resident robot...) 

Gentry detects Laura's presence via their unusual mind-linking ability. His Seeker travels to "star speed" through the black hole, and emerges on the other side, at a desolate planet. 

There, on the surface, the team confronts a giant creature. The creature is angry, and capable of rendering itself invisible for short spells. 

Paul saves the day by distracting the creature while Chris and Tee Gar rescue Laura and Commander Gampu. In other words, he thinks of others before himself.

Space Academy’s (1977) second episode, “Castaways in Time and Space” might seem like a basic or rudimentary space opera tale, but it is very strong in terms of its handling of the series characters.

The narrative concerns a Seeker -- with Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin) and Gampu (Jonathan Harris) aboard –inadvertently traveling through a black hole and becoming stranded on an alien world.  Laura’s brother, Chris (Ric Carrott) is desperate to rescue her, but is thwarted at times by the new recruit, Paul (Ty Henderson), who possesses a different moral compass.

As I’ve noted before, I teach a college level course, Introduction to Intercultural Communications, and what it concerns is the fact that we shouldn’t always judge others by the standards of our culture, if they are from another one. 

Instead, we should understand and respect other cultural traditions, just as we would like to see our traditions similarly respected.  That’s what the dynamic between Paul and Chris really concerns here: two cadets from very different cultures, working together on the same mission.  Chris misunderstands Paul’s behavior as being selfish, or even cowardly, when in fact, Paul is from a planet where survival is difficult, and he possesses a different -- but not necessarily inferior -- code of ethics. 

In the end, Paul is true blue, of course, and proves that he is a hero, regardless of his cultural differences, and that’s a great message to send to kids (or adults for that matter). We might not always go at problems the same way as our neighbors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other, or achieve great success side-by-side.

In terms of special effects, Space Academy again impresses. Here, the alien life-form that lives on the planet on the other side of the black hole is rendered using stop-motion animation, and there’s even a scene involving a Seeker crash on the planet surface.  Overall, the series compares very favorably to other (more expensive) American sci-fi series of the era, including Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981).

Two things age “Castaways in Time and Space.”  The first is slang.  

One of the characters in the drama is called a “turkey,” which is in perfect keeping with the 1977 real life context, but not so good for the 40th century or so.  

And Loki and Peepo play a very primitive-looking computer game version of Tic-Tac-Toe.

Next week: "Hide and Seek."

Friday, October 02, 2015

Found Footage Friday: Frankenstein's Army (2013)

Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster are experiencing quite a resurgence lately in the modern found footage film format. For instance, The Frankenstein Theory (2013) imagined Adam, the Monster, lurking in the 21st century Arctic (and still seeking a mate).

And the absolutely genius -- and mad -- Frankenstein’s Army (2013) imagines that a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein continues his ancestor’s twisted work creating life (or abominations, depending on your point of view) in World War II Europe.

I liked and enjoyed The Frankenstein Theory, though it is very much in keeping with conventional found-footage film standards. Basically, that film involves the hunting down, in our high-tech modern age, of a local legend by a film crew in an isolated environment. 

Frankenstein’s Army is similar -- narratively speaking -- to that description, but is a period piece. More importantly, Frankenstein's Army is visually like no film ever conceived or executed. Director Richard Raaphurst’s movie boasts an anarchic energy in terms of both execution and visual imagery that renders it a truly disturbing and unique cinematic experience.

Meanwhile, matters of plot and character in Frankenstein’s Army are secondary to the idea of this film as an immersive, first-person experience, a first person tour of Hell on Earth.

Specifically, the film involves Russian soldiers (including a filmmaker) stumbling upon Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory facility and encountering -- one after the other -- the most horrific, imaginative, astounding monsters you can imagine.

These inventive and insane creatures are crafted with practical make-up, prosthetics and bizarre costumes -- no CGI whatsoever -- and the film wallows in messy blood and guts too. 

Accordingly, Frankenstein’s Army is sickening and nasty, but it is nonetheless a film you won’t be able to look away from.  The visuals are, in a word, amazing.  And as weird and perverse as they clearly are, they are also grounded in solid production values and presentation.  For example, the film benefits from a washed-out color canvas that suggests World War II propaganda films, and the period details are observed accurately.

Rewardingly, there’s also a thematic method to the film’s visual madness. In the closing moments of Frankenstein’s Army, Dr. Frankenstein brushes off a soldier's commentary that he’s insane for transforming human soldiers into cyborg monstrosities. 

Why is he so dismissive?

Well, how can anyone accurately make the case that his madness is that awful in a world in which Nazis and Soviets are battling each other for world domination?

Why is this most individualistic mad scientist -- by any stretch -- sicker or more dangerous than those two destructive ideologies and their advocates? 

The answer, simply, is that he is not.  He’s small potatoes by comparison.

The Russian and German soldiers who have committed themselves (and indeed, their lives…) to murderous, genocidal regimes are thus exposed for what they are: hypocrites.  What they’re doing is fine and dandy, but Frankenstein’s transplant surgeries are insane?

Thus Frankenstein’s Army reveals a world of mad monsters and bloody transplant surgeries, and notes -- somewhat caustically -- that these creations are hardly more sinister or alarming than man’s propensity to destroy himself in wars over ideology and belief systems.

Frankenstein may be mad. But he is not alone in that condition.

It’s a mad, mad, mad world.

“You’re an educated man: what do you think is happening?”

A Soviet filmmaker, Dmitri (Alexander Mercury) is embedded with a platoon of soldiers as they advance into Germany during WWII. 

The group happens upon an industrial factory which is actually the laboratory of a mad scientist, Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden).  The mad scientist has been using live human beings and arcane machinery to create a new breed of super soldier.

In truth, Dmitri has known about Frankenstein all along, and is on a mission to recruit the scientist to the Soviet Union.  The good (or mad…) Doctor has different plans, however.  He decides that Dmitri should chronicle his creation of machine/man hybrid/super soldiers. 

Dmitri has no choice but to agree, and watches as some of the soldiers he has befriended go under the doctor’s bloody knife…

“A man of vision is always misunderstood.”                                                  

In terms of ingenuity and sheer variety, Frankenstein’s Army is the most impressive “creature” horror movie to come down the pike since Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990). 

This found footage film introduces viewers to an array of monstrous, hideous creations of remarkable breadth and depth.  The most notable is, perhaps, Mosquito, a giant black specter on serrated stilts with a functioning drill for a mouth.  This guy is truly fearsome in his Nazi helmet and gas-mask.

And Mosquito is just the bloody tip of the creature effects iceberg. 

One of my favorite monsters in the film is Propeller-head, a biped with a plane engine housing and functional propeller blades for a head.  As you can imagine, things get messy when Propeller-head is nearby.

Then there are other remarkable beings: Razor Teeth, Grinder, Hammerhead, Machete, and Dentist.  

One creature -- zompod? – is just a cauldron or container on tiny human legs. He dutifully follows Dr. Frankenstein about the lab, his pot-top opening and closing. He’s kind of a malevolent horror version of R2-D2.

These creepy creations are inventive, and beautifully show-cased.  They are successful boogeymen not merely because of their bizarre, steam-punk-ish appearance, but because they move about, on-set so convincingly. As I’ve written before, I can stomach CGI in science fiction films when the technology is utilized to create landscapes or alien vistas. 

But the horror genre is about flesh and blood, and CGI is too clean, too unreal, too lacking in gravity, to carry the right visual impact. Frankensttein’s Army is grounded in reality…crazy, sick, perverse reality, and I love the visceral, organic nature of the visualizations.

There’s a terrific, sustained shot late in the film wherein Dmitri runs deeper and deeper into the blighted industrial laboratory facility. He turns one corner, is confronted by a monster, turns another corner and encounters another monster, and so on.  This composition continues at impressive length, and generates tension at the same time that it introduces the colorful Frankenstein’s beasts. The immediacy of the first person camera is coupled with the shock of real, monstrous creatures coming out of the woodwork and the effect is electric.

Frankenstein’s Army settles down in a chamber of horrors during the final, extended scene after a lot of running around and violent death scenes. Frankenstein takes center stage himself, and the audience gets a close-up look at his insanity.  At one point, for instance he attempts to meld the frontal lobes of a Nazi and a Communist, in an attempt to bridge their different philosophies. 

On one hand, this is clearly insane.

On the other hand, Frankenstein’s approach of physically joining opposing view-points in one brai is an acknowledgment that humans have a difficult time understanding people who are different from them. Frankenstein attempts to forge peace by bringing the two opposing philosophies together in one organ.  His experiment is an utter failure -- and nuts, of course -- and yet at least he has peace in mind…somewhere.

It’s difficult to say the same thing for the other characters. Both the Nazis and the Soviets covet Dr. Frankenstein because he can help them destroy an enemy, not forge peace between people.  And the soldiers -- who on first blush may seem like innocent victims of a mad doctor -- have committed their very mortality to destroying other human beings.  In this light, and given the atrocities of World War II, it is difficult to make the claim that Frankenstein is any madder than the Nazis or the Soviets.  The life that Frankenstein creates is twisted and perverse, but he sees it (importantly) as work that will help and improve humanity. His motives are good, but his logic and reasoning are terrible.

The other characters in the film are largely delineated in terms of how they can use people for their own ends, whether pro-social or not. For example, Dmitri betrays his fellow soldiers and is on a secret mission for the Kremlin.  His mission is to recruit Frankenstein, or a loved one who is being held hostage will die.  But again, Dmitri is placing someone he knows (and presumably agrees with, philosophically) over the lives of others.  How is that any better than Frankenstein’s crazy plan for world peace?

I don’t approve of Frankenstein or his twisted experiments and ambitions. My point is merely that in a world of insane people, he hardly seems like the worst offender.  A catalog of atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin demonstrates that such madness exists in reality, and can be far worse than the creation of monsters.

Frankenstein’s Army impresses structurally because it works, essentially, as a tour guide of the most hellish place on Earth. Armies clash. People die. And then there’s Frankenstein’s experiments.  The first part of the film is all action, and the last part is a close-up look at one man’s particular brand of madness. Because of the backdrop of world war, it is impossible to see Frankenstein in a vacuum.  He is not an aberration; he is fully part of a world in which technology and ideology are being used to kill people by the millions.

The negative reviews for Frankenstein’s Army focus largely on the lack of a developed narrative and fully-dimensional characters.  I understand those complaints, but Frankenstein’s Army is a visual masterpiece that informs us about our world (or how our world looked, mid-20th century).  

For its uniqueness and creativity, for its commentary on real madness (world war), and for its amazing monsters, Frankenstein’s Army deserves attention, and the love of genre fans seeking something that is both old-school and revolutionary at the same time.