Thursday, May 12, 2011

CULT TV-MOVIE REVIEW: Crawlspace (1972)

The take away lesson from the 1972 made-for-TV movie Crawlspace is simple: don't take in strays.

Directed by the late, great John Newland (One Step Beyond, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark), Crawlspace is the unsettling tale of an elderly childless couple, Albert (Arthur Kennedy) and Alice Graves (Teresa Wright), who decide -- with almost no debate, really - to allow a young, unshaven stranger, Richard Atley (Tom Happer) to move into the crawlspace beneath their kitchen. 

The Graves know virtually nothing about Richard save that he is really good at chopping wood, and currently unemployed.

Guess who's coming to dinner?
Why would two seemingly sane adults make such an odd and rash decision involving a stranger in their own home? 

Well, the answer to that interrogative is part of this TV movie's unique and disquieting charm. 

The Graves live lonely, isolated, regretful lives, and Alice wishes the couple had raised children.  Biologically speaking, that ship has sailed, but the odd, vulnerable Richard provides Alice a surrogate for her desires.  As Albert notes late in the proceedings, Alice took the young man to her "bosom in some crazy menopausal fantasy."

Yep. That about sums it up. 

But why Albert enthusiastically goes along with this fantasy is another question all together.  Perhap he feels guilty that he never had a child with his wife. Now, he's bound and determined to give Alice what she wants.  Even if what she wants is pretty nuts...

But at first, Albert attempts to reject Richard, when the homeless man first shows up in the crawlspace of his remote, country house.  Albert puts a padlock on the cellar door when Richard is out in the woods.  But Richard returns, breaks the lock, and scrawls the word "God" on the cellar door.  Instead of calling the police, or even insisting that Richard leave their crawlspace at once, the old Graves then start showering their weirdo "lodger" with gifts: a new suit and home cooked meals.  They even invite Richard to Christmas dinner.

After Richard has moved in, Newland shoots a series of scenes in the basement, where Albert talks meaningfully with the off-screen, silent Richard.   As audience members, we're not even certain that Richard is in the crawlspace at that juncture.   All the conversations are deliberately one-sided, with Albert addressing, essentially, a darkened hole.    These scenes provoke anxiety, as we can only imagine what Richard is thinking while the old man addresses him.

In some weird way, these sequences are  also squarely on thematic point: a romanticized view of child-rearing, perhaps.  The Graves believe they can allow an adult (and a creepy one at that...) into their house, and that he will obey their rules.  They think they can just talk to him, and he will do what they want.   Anyone who's ever raised a kid knows it doesn't work quite that easy.  You can talk, but there's no guarantee your child will listen, let alone listen quietly and obey your edicts.  Here, it's downright weird to watch Albert -- alone in the frame (his space restricted by the angle of the shot) -- rationalizing his point-of-view to the off-screen Richard. 

You've got to take a bath today, Richard, because this crawlspace is under our kitchen, and putting off a terrible odor, you see...

As Crawlspace continues Richard's unstable and violent nature becomes apparent.   He chops up a local grocery store with an axe over an altercation involving a twenty-dollar bill. Later, Richard kills an obnoxious kid (again with the axe...) for that incident.  At this point, Albert and Alice repeatedly urge Richard to leave their house, but he refuses.  "Never.  Never ever," he insists.

Seems the Graves had it wrong, you see.  They aren't taking care of Richard.  He's taking care of them, or so he insists.  "I gotta take care of you.  I gotta keep you safe!"

As you might guess, the Graves' unconventional attempt at parenting finally ends in disaster.   When Albert croaks, "how did we get into this?," you may feel a little like laughing..or smacking your head.

Well, you did let a stranger move into your crawlspace, Mr. Graves...

Despite the patented weirdness of the movie's plot and character motivations, Crawlspace remains a pretty tense affair, enhanced by Newland's efficient use of P.O.V. exterior shots (at night). 

The film is lean too,  mostly involving just three characters in a contained space (the crawlspace and the house above).  At a running time of just 74 minutes, Crawlspace doesn't wear out its welcome, and on the contrary, may leave you feeling deeply unnerved. 

That anxiety arises not because Crawlspace is a movie about a psycho living in the basement, but because it's a movie about  a family that encourages a psycho to live in the basement.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not Bad for a Human signing today at Dark Delicacies

Don't forget:  Lance Henriksen and co-author Joseph Maddrey (along with Steve Niles, Mike Mignola and Bill Sienkiewicz) will be signing copies of the new Henriksen bio, Not Bad for a Human, tonight at 7:30 pm, PST.

The location is Dark Delicacies.  Don't miss out!

The View from my....viewscreen (#1)

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

"Risk... risk is our business. That's what relationships are all about. That's why we're out there."

- Free Enterprise (1998)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 93: Laser Attack (Milton Bradley; 1978)

In 1978 -- during the late age of electronic board games (and the dawn of the video game age..) -- Milton Bradley released Laser Attack, a "sensational space-age game" for ages "7 to adult." 

Here was the set-up for Laser Attack, as spelled out in the instructions:

"Our galaxy has been invaded by an alien Space Station whose powerful laser beam is drawing vital energy pods away from your spaceships." 

"Your mission is to attack and destroy this violator of the Inter-Galactic Peace Accord."

"You must gather up your scattered energy pods before you risk an assault on the Space Station.  Then, using your energy pods, you block its ports, causing the laser to overload and self-destruct."

The back of the Laser Attack box offers some recommendations for game play:

"For fantastic visual excitement, turn down the lights when you play Laser Attack.  In the dimness, the pulsating light of the laser is intensified as it shoots out from the hostile alien Space Station which has invaded our universe."

"Your mission as captain of an inter-galactic spacecraft is to attack the enemy Space Station and destroy its deadly laser beam."

"In your trek through space, gathering up your scattered forces, be aware of the danger you face.  Plot your course carefully through the Destruction Zone because your spaceship may be blasted by the laser and suffer the loss of one of your vital energy pods.  In the dark, if your translucent craft is struck by the dreaded laser, it will glow as if on fire!"

The dreaded space station in Laser Attack is a finely-detailed dome, and one molded entirely in black.  It operates on two double A batteries, and when a player spins the button at the top of the station, a light emanates from a line of key-hole shaped ports.    Moving the aforementioned "translucent" ships across the board, you must navigate the "damage zone" and finally "the destruction zone."  Then, you plug your energy pods into the station.

I received this unusual old game for Christmas when I was nine years old, and have never forgotten it.  As a kid, I basically just wanted the evil black space station as a toy, though the game was a lot of fun too.

Again, this borad game probably looks like a dinosaur in the age of high-tech video games.

But in 1978, Laser Attack was state of the art, and a must-have toy.  Anyone else have memories of playing this one?

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Cult-TV Faces of: Mom

Identified by Jane Considine: Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones): The Addams Family.

Identified by Jane Considine: Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster: The Munsters.

Identified by Jane Considine: June Lockhart as Maureen Robinson: Lost in Space.

Identified by Jane Considine: Jane Wyatt as Amanda Grayson in Star Trek: "Journey to Babel"

Identified by Meredith: Suzanne Neve as Mrs. Straker, UFO: "A Question of Priorities"

Identified by Doug La Lone: Erica Hagen as Mrs. Marshall, Land of the Lost: "Album"

Identified by Meredith: Cyd Hayman as Sue Crawford on Space:1999: "Alpha Child"

Identified by Will: Jane Seyour as Serina in Battlestar Galactica (original series)

Identified by Russ: Blair Tefkin as Robin in V: The Series ("Breakout")

Identified by n: Gretchen Corbett as June Sterling in Otherworld.

Identified by J.D.: Grace Zabriskie as Mrs. Palmer on Twin Peaks (pilot episode).

Identified by Russ: Dr. Jill Brock (Kathy Baker) in Picket Fences.

Identified by Anonymous: Nancy Paul as Sally Brogan on Space Precint

Identified by Will: Debrah Farentino as Devon Adair in Earth 2.

Identified by Russ: Catherine Black (Meghan Gallagher) in Millennium.

Identified by J.D.: Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Sommers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Identified by Russ: Gillian Anderson as Dr. Dana Scully in The X-Files.

Identified by Toby O'B and Jane Considine: Lena Olin as Irina Derevko in Alias.

Identified by Will: Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent, in Smallville.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Special Thanks; and a Blogathon comes to an end!

Joe Maddrey and I want to heartily thank everyone who participated in this week's amazing Blogathon. 

It's been a blast for the two of us, and we hope you enjoyed reading all the wonderful posts about Mr. Henriksen and his diverse career.    I would like to say a warm "job well done" and thanks to Joe, who has been a real and valuable partner through this process.  I've known Joe for six years now (hard to believe), and every time we get to work together on a project it's a true pleasure.

Joe and I also want to thank the one-and-only Mr. Lance Henriksen for proving such a rich source of inspiration to so many folks.  It's been amazing and very rewarding to see how deeply he's affected different viewers, and for what roles, in particular, this has been the case.

Last, but never, ever least, a special word of appreciation and gratitude goes out to all the hard-working participants in the Blogathon. 

These remarkable talents include

Michael Alatorre
Jim Blanton
Adam Chamberlain
Jane Considine
Troy Foreman
Mike Gencarelli
E.M. Gist
Jósef Karl Gunnarsson
Christine Hadden
William Johnson
Chris Kuchta
Unkle Lancifer
Ivan Lerner
J.D. Lafrance
Jim McLean
Alison Nastasi
Gordon Roberts
Brian Solomon
Dominik Starck
David Steece
Sean Summerfield
the Outlaw Vern
Terri Wilson.

Thank you all, so very much, for everything.  Let's do this again sometime...

The Vault of Horror: Vaultcast: the Lance Henriksen Interview

I can't think of a better note for the Lance Henriksen blogathon to exit out on than this terrific interview of Mr. Henriksen himself, conducted by the spectacular Brian Solomon of Vault of Horror. 

Earlier in the week, B-Sol presented a great review of Mr. Henriksen's biography, Not Bad for a Human,  and this interview truly makes for a wonderful punctuation to a week of L.H. 

Randomaniac: Spotlight on—Lance Henriksen in John Woo’s Hard Target

I had to step away from the Lance Henriksen blogathon briefly yesterday, and when I returned today I found more excellent posts to wrap up the week.

So -- here we go!  David Steece at Randomaniac presents "Spotlight on - Lance Henriksen in John Woo's Hard Target."

Lance Henriksen has been making, on average, three and a half movies a year for fifty years. He’s a true working man’s actor, and the sheer diversity of material that people have written about for this blogathon attests to that fact. Even more so than most beloved character actors, Lance has absolutely no fear of a bad script. Most of his movies are Z-grade; however, in every role I’ve seen him in, he brings an ambiguity to his characterization. His most famous role, as Bishop in the A+ Alien series is a case study in an actor fleshing out the murkiest areas of “personality” and “emotion.

Thanks, David, for an excellent contribution to the week-long celebration!

Happy Mother's Day!