Thursday, June 23, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: John Carpenter's The Ward (2010)

During the last twenty years, or since 1994 at least, director John Carpenter's biggest problem may just have been that good is simply not good enough for many of his devoted admirers, and for many mainstream critics as well.  Myself included.

When gazing at Carpenter's career accomplishments, it's not difficult to discern why such high expectations endure.

This a man who has directed legitimately great action pictures (Assault on Precinct 13 [1976], Escape from New York [1981]), several superb horror films (Halloween [1978], The Fog [1980], The Thing [1982]) plus a plethora of films that are widely hailed as cult classics and gaining more respect and devotion by the year (Big Trouble in Little China [1986], Prince of Darkness [1987], They Live [1988] In The Mouth of Madness [1994]).  

Additionally, Carpenter's films are re-made by Hollywood virtually every day (not always to good effect). And at the height of his mainstream popularity in the late eighties, movies with even tenuous relationships to the director were being sold in television commercials on the basis of having originated from "the mind of John Carpenter." (Black Moon Rising).

So anticipation for a new Carpenter film is always sky high, and hungry horror fans desperately want him to deliver "another" Halloween or The Thing.  

Carpenter's first feature film in ten years (since Ghosts of Mars) won't satisfy that particular desire...if satisfaction of such a desire is even possible.

And yet, there should be no mistake about The Ward, either.   It's a handsome, sturdily-crafted genre film, and an effective yarn that, until the very end, cloaks its true nature suspensefully.  In some ways, John Carpenter's The Ward distinguishes itself most by what it is not, rather than what it is.  But more on that cryptic-sounding description in a moment.

"Welcome to Paradise"

The Ward tells the story of a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard) in the year 1966.  After intentionally burning down a white, rural farmhouse, she is taken to the imposing, grim North Bend Psychiatric Hospital. 

There, she is warehoused on a ward with a group of girls who have been similarly designated "lost causes."  The other girls show Kirsten the lay of the land, including "The Sad People:" a couple who occasionally look down mournfully at the girls from Dr. Stringer's (Jared Harris) office window. 

The girls in the ward are treated cruelly by the staff, and live on a steady diet of pills and electro-shock therapy.  Even more disturbing than that, there appears to be some kind of angry specter haunting the Ward: the decaying corpse of a former patient, Alice Hudson.

Alice apparently wants revenge against the current inhabitants of the ward for some unspecified wrong, and sets about capturing the by one.  After Alice takes her captives, they seem to disappear from the hospital, and Kristen can't get answers from the uncooperative, sullen staff.

"You can't get them to tell you anything around here," she is informed.

Finally, Alice comes calling for Kristen, a real "survivor."  Kristen confronts Dr. Stringer and demands from him the truth about Alice Hudson.

"I don't like the dark. Bad things happen in the dark."

Although some critics have pointed out surface similarities between John Carpenter's The Ward and another horror film of recent vintage from another big name director, the final resolution of the drama here is almost less important than the specifics of the journey.   First and foremost, The Ward seems to be a mood piece.

In particular, Carpenter's The Ward provides a detailed evocation of a bygone era (and also, therefore, that era's belief system).   With touches both small and meticulous, the film crafts a case regarding American society's abandonment of the mentally ill.  They are locked them away in fearsome places such as North Bend, a mid-20th Century facility that, today, seems both prehistoric and barbaric.  The film opens (over the main credits) with disturbing images (literary and visual) of the mistreatment of the mentally ill across the span of history.

Carpenter's camera lovingly lingers on the byzantine details of this unpleasant purgatory: on an antiquated intercom system, on an old record player, on the ward's one and only TV set (which plays scenes from the Bert I. Gordon movie, Tormented [1960]), and the crumbling, utilitarian, labyrinthine walls of the facility itself. 

Carpenter's camera probes, stalks and otherwise explores this setting relentlessly.  As viewers, we thus visually glean the idea of the Ward as a maze from which there is no escape.  There are paths up and down (a dumbwaiter in the basement; an uncooperative elevator to traverse floors) but there is never a way out.  The only exteriors in the film, after the prologue -- to the best of my memory -- are establishing shots, or one brief view of the courtyard.  But mostly John Carpenter's The Ward remains inside the belly of the beast.  And without giving away the denouement, this is an example of form expertly echoing content.

Since The Ward concerns mental illness, Carpenter also uses a wide variety of techniques to suggest the fracturing of sanity, or consensus reality.  He carves up the characters' already crumbling sense of  time and space with frequent dissolves and jump cuts.  Such visual styling make a point about the brevity of human life, but also the seemingly-eternal nature of North Bend by comparison.  Characters seem to jump and hiccup, shift and disappear, in the sands of time.  But the walls of North Bend are forever.

Above I noted that what John Carpenter's The Ward "isn't" is perhaps as critical as what the film "is."  Permit me to explain. This is a horror film entirely devoid of any self-referential twaddle, goofy self-conscious "look at me" moments, and many of the bells and whistles that have come to adorn the genre in the last few years. 

Instead, there's an almost old-fashioned sense of naivete to the characters and their setting here that, in terms of Carpenter's own career, harks back most closely to Halloween (1978).  The movie isn't over-girded with distractions and since there's no googling, no texting and no cell phones are present, The Ward's atmosphere is something akin to landing in a time warp

At times during the film, we feel like we are in 1966 too, in that mental ward of the damned (which to my eye, resembles Kubrick's Overlook from an exterior perspective...) right alongside Heard's Kristen.  Heard is pretty compelling in the film too (though I didn't care much for in Drive Angry), and here she closely resembles a young Tippi Hedren, especially when she pulls her hair back.

One scene in the film that perfectly captures the innocent nature of the film's characters.  The girls of the ward put on a record album and begin to dance together without self-consciousness.  It feels like a completely spontaneous, childish moment -- an outburst of joy -- right down to the upbeat nature of the 1960s rock music.  The scene only shifts to something darkwhen Carpenter unexpectedly switches angles on us -- to an ominous tracking shot moving, pushing into the room.  It's as if the reality of the maze, of North Bend itself encroaches on this bubble of innocence and shatters it before it can truly breathe or flower.

Some critics have commented negatively on Carpenter's ubiquitous, trademark tracking shots and pans, noting that they are overdone or in some way boredom-provoking. 

Again, I differ.  These shots effectively create an almost trance-like effect in the audience, lulling it into a false sense of security before the next jump scare, zinger or attack.   For all intents and purposes, The Ward is about visiting a very specific, pre-Internet world and getting trapped there for ninety minutes, unable to navigate a way out.  The devil is in the details and in the accomplished visual presentation. Carpenter truly aces this aspect of the film. 

I've also read some critics wonder why Carpenter made this film at all, and the answer seems plain based on the imagery of The Ward.  He had the unique opportunity to recreate the year 1966 on film, and a dark corner of 1966 at that.  Creating that era -- a moment from his own youth, even -- must have proven an irresistible assignment for the director, and the period details here are nothing shy of exquisite; from the knobs on the electroshock machine to the look of the glass drug syringes (which we see breaking human skin).

There's no doubt this is a different Carpenter than we have seen in some time.  For all their respective virtues, Vampires (1998) and even my beloved Ghosts of Mars (2001) featured at least some sense of cheesiness or cheeky humor.  Not The Ward.  This film is stripped down, efficient, and serious.

The only question then, becomes, are such virtues enough to earn Carpenter the approbation of audiences today?  Some fans may feel he has ably re-connected with his sense of focus, but has done so in the wrong vehicle: a predictable and fairly familiar story of mental illness and abuse.

I'm not sure this is the wrong vehicle, frankly.   While it's absolutely true that The Ward is not a cerebral, idea-a-minute effort such as Prince of Darkness, They Live, or even In The Mouth of Madness, The Ward does land us -- in visceral terms -- in a pretty horrific corner of the Earth.

In the last two days I've reviewed Dawning, a horror film by a newcomer, and The Ward, a horror film by a master.  Both directors and both productions superbly forge atmospheres of dread and pin down the specifics of a very frightening, limited location (a cabin the woods, and a mental hospital in the 1960s, respectively). 

Recent horror films such as My Bloody Valentine (2009), Friday the 13th (2009),  Piranha 3-D  (2010) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) have all failed rather egregiously in this regard.  My Bloody Valentine was set in a poor mining town, but that world never felt real and was never excavated in the slightest.  Setting was mere backdrop for the film's 3-D, coming-at-ya effects.  A Nightmare on Elm Street was gruesome, and yet never actually scary.  Piranha 3-D was stupid in an aggressive, muscular and fun fashion, and yet never for a moment did it create a world that audiences could believe in, recognize or "get into."

With efforts such as Dawning and Carpenter's The Ward it's possible (though not probable...) we're seeing the genre self-correct; moving back to a sturdier foundation, one constructed upon mood, atmosphere and close attention to details of mood and setting. 

The old pleasures of the horror film, you might even term these welcome touches. 

I certainly hope that's the case.  John Carpenter's films usually age remarkably well, rising above their flashier contemporary brethren and standing the test of time. 

There's absolutely no reason to suspect The Ward is going to be any different.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Dawning (2009)

I always appreciate horror films that accomplish a lot with very little, and director Gregg Holtgrewe's Dawning (2009) fits that bill rather nicely.  Dawning is an ultra low-budget, rough-around-the-edges affair, but one well worth seeking out if you're in the mood for something off-kilter.  Awkwardly-stated, it's sort of The Evil Dead (1983) meets The Blair Witch Project (1999)...only with no special effects and no monsters.

Well, that's not a completely accurate description. 

There are monsters in this film, but at times they appear to be of the personal, self-doubting, human variety rather than the demonic one.

In short, Dawning concerns a dysfunctional family that comes together for a weekend retreat in the woods but soon encounters Something Evil. 

That evil is either an invisible, monstrous creature that seizes on interpersonal weakness and human foibles, or the Monster from the family's collective Id: the self-doubt of the dramatis personae made manifest; a sense of personal paranoia that grows and grows and roils and roils until murder is the only possible outcome.

Dawning follows college-aged siblings Chris (Jonas Goslow) and Aurora (Najarra Townsend) as they visit their estranged father, Richard (David Coral) at his cabin in the woods.  The opening scenes hark back to both The Evil Dead and Romero's Night of the Living Dead as a solitary car traverses a patch of wilderness on an isolated highway.

Richard, the patriarch of the family and a recovering alcoholic, has separated from Chris and Aurora's mother and is now dating a woman named Laura (Christine Kellogg-Darrin).  Meanwhile, Chris is contemplating quitting school, and Aurora is still scarred by her parents' divorce and her father's lack of attention and devotion.  Laura feels that his children won't accept her as a substitute for Mom.  Each character, then, has some kind of demon to battle, and one which threatens to disturb the familial "peace."

As Chris and Aurora arrive at the remote cabin,  the happy family reunion quickly turns awkward with recriminations, guilt-trips, accusations, and innuendo.  Then, the family dog is mysteriously wounded while the family gathers for a camp fire to roast marshmallows.  The dog bleeds out and must be put down in a highly disturbing scene.  

After a time, another disturbance breaks the quiet solitude of the forest night.  A mad, armed stranger (Daniel J. Salmen) breaks into the cabin unexpectedly and holds the family at gunpoint.  "You can't leave," he tells them. "If you leave, you'll die."

"It's waiting," he insists, describing some unseen monster that apparently murdered his girlfriend.  This night visitor may or not be the murderer of the family dog.  And what he says about a monster may or may not be true. 

That's as much certainty as Dawning ever grants the audience.

The family attempts to overpower the stranger and notify the police about their predicament, but the phone lines are out, or at least behaving...strangely.  And bizarre, unearthly noises keep emanating from the woods and from the roof of the cabin.  After a time, each member of the family disappears into the woods.  And when they are seen again, they seem different...wrong.

Finally, Chris and Aurora try to reach  his car and flee the cabin, but the unseen force pursues.
Soon, dawn will break, but will anyone be left alive to see it?

There are no recognizable actors in Dawning, no monster special effects, no major stunts,  and the narrative does not develop in any conventional or recognizable Hollywood fashion. 

I reckon the last bit, at least, is a good thing. 

Buttressed by an unsettling musical score, some excellent cinematography and a lot of really canny editing, Dawning proves an arresting and suspenseful experience.  I've never seen another film deploy this particular technique before, but at several critical junctures during Dawning, characters hear their own worst thoughts vocalized in the voices of their beloved family members. 

Now, in the actual cuts, we never actually witness those family members speaking such unkind, ugly words. It's all craftily accomplished so that it becomes plain that the characters are hearing opinions that have never actually been stated by another human being. 

Those insults and attacks are either the Monster's doing or simple human insecurities somehow being broadcast.   But the effect is insidious: like having a nagging, betraying, personal Iago in your ear at all times, saying just the thing to confirm your own low opinion of yourself.

It's all rather unsettling, and highly imaginative, and Dawning plays diabolically on the idea that something evil is tearing this family unit apart, and that it thrives on division and insecurity.  In today's environment, with so much anger and division poisoning the national dialogue, the film also erects a powerful case that we are all hearing our own ugliness echoing in our heads, assuming it comes from others, and then striking back. 

As I stated above, it's quite possible there is no monster in the film, just a sweeping, multiplying sense of mistrust and dysfunction.  Even the film's revelatory shot -- seen in a flash of lightning -- could be no more than a phantasm.  From one point of view, it's as if all the dysfunction of the family coheres into a supernatural entity and then threatens its creator.   The component parts of this particular Beast are substance abuse, resentment over divorce, anger over Richard's brand of judgmental machismo and other aspects of interpersonal strife and alienation. 

Again, I can't stress enough that Dawning is a really low-budget horror film, one that stretches its meager budget to the fullest, but which can't really show you anything besides some very troubled characters arguing inside a small cabin for eighty minutes.  For some viewers, this clearly won't be enough.

Yet Dawning will get under your skin and discomfort you -- in large part because of the ambiguity of the monster -- if you attempt to engage with it and meet it half-way.  Given the hostile response by some to The Blair Witch Project, I suspect this film will not play well with everyone precisely because it leaves so much to the imagination, and determinedly defines so little.  It's the polar opposite of most genre films being made today.  No fast-cuts, no elaborate special effects, and little concentration on grue and guts. 

The film's performances are serviceable and sometimes more than that, in the case of the impressive Goslow. But in so many significant ways, Holtgrewe is the real star of Dawning.  As a director, he's got a strong eye for composition, and the unique ability to craft frightening images just by carefully observing natural vistas, or holding a shot perhaps a little longer than usual.  Dawning ably and gamely plays with form, and as a result doesn't look, feel, or sound like the average, processed genre film.

In fact, it may "dawn" on you during a viewing of Dawning that many genre films of considerably higher budget could learn a thing or two about crafting atmosphere and suspense from this little diamond-in-the-rough. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CULT TV FLASHBACK #135: The Bionic Woman: "Doomsday is Tomorrow" (1977)

A touchstone for Generation X'ers, Kenneth Johnson's The Bionic Woman aired for three popular seasons (two on ABC and one on NBC) and fifty-seven hour-long episodes.  The series depicted the continuing adventures of Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), the world's first bionic woman. 

The character of Jaime was first introduced on a popular two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man before she headlined her own spin-off. 

To re-cap the series premise quickly: Jaime is a tennis pro and girlfriend to Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) before a skydiving accident nearly kills her. 

At Steve's urging, government official Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) arrange for Jaime to receive experimental bionic replacements for her shattered legs, a destroyed arm, and an ear.   These bionic parts grant Jaime superhuman strength, speed, and hearing.

In return for these life-saving mechanical prosthetics, Jaime agrees to work from time-to-time for Oscar at the O.S.I. (Office of Scientific Investigation) on dangerous assignments involving espionage, crime and international diplomacy.  Unfortunately she has almost no memory of her previous romantic relationship with Steve.

No cheap spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973 - 1978), The Bionic Woman emerged rather fully from the shadow of the Lee Majors series during its high-quality second season.  In that memorable span, lead character Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) faced a bionic opponent equally as powerful as Ted Cassidy's Bionic Bigfoot: the famous "Fembots" (in a three parter, "Kill Oscar.")  Wagner also nabbed a well-deserved Emmy Award for her (double) performance in the suspenseful episode "Deadly Ringer."

However, perhaps the finest episode of The Bionic Woman remains "Doomsday is Tomorrow," a spectacular two-parter written, produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson.   

This epic installment traps Jaime in a vast subterranean complex and pits her  in a duel against a powerful super-computer programmed "to win" at all costs. 

In this case, the computer's victory means the detonation of a doomsday device, and the destruction of all life on Earth.

In "Doomsday is Tomorrow," the pacifist inventor of a new "cobalt bomb," Dr. Elijah Cooper (Lew Ayres) breaks onto airwaves around the globe to announce that he has developed another weapon that can literally destroy the world.  He then summons four respected nuclear physicists to visit his complex in the American northwest and confirm his frightening story.

The OSI's Jaime Sommers masquerades as a French scientist, and accompanies Dr Wells to the Dakota Base.  There, they learn that the 78-year old Cooper has indeed created a "doomsday device;" one based on a toxic new isotope that can create a shroud of deadly radioactive particles in the upper atmosphere when combined with a cobalt bomb detonation. 

A man of peace, Cooper has no desire to actually kill all life on Earth.  Rather, he is hoping to blackmail the warring nations of the world into a final, lasting peace.  For the only thing that can trigger Cooper's doomsday device is the "air burst of a nuclear bomb." 

So long as no country in the world deploys a nuclear bomb or conducts nuclear testing, Earth and mankind are safe.

Growing increasingly infirm, Dr. Cooper entrusts the care and protection of his doomsday device to a "master computer" called ALEX 7000.  Alex is the "highest form of computer art" and can defend himself and his facility with lethal force. 

Unfortunately, Alex is also incapable of human emotions or feelings, which means that he will fulfill his matter what. 

"I am programmed to show no mercy," Alex reports to Jaime.

Almost immediately after Cooper's warning is broadcast, a small Middle-Eastern country led by the suspicious Satari (David Opatoshu) violates Dr. Cooper's terms and conditions by detonating a test nuke.  Satari believes that the doomsday device is merely a ruse to keep Third-World countries out of the nuclear "club."  Almost immediately, the test blast activates Alex 7000's countdown clock. 

In six hours, the Earth will be destroyed...

Jaime Sommers and a Russian agent (Kenneth O'Brien) attempt to infiltrate Alex's vast complex, and run a veritable obstacle course of deadly defense mechanisms.   In short order, they must evade laser beams, navigate a mine-field, elude machine gun fire, and more.  The Russian agent is injured in the attempt, leaving Jaime alone to stop the final countdown to global destruction.

Inside, Jaime  meets with Dr. Cooper as the old man dies, and as Alex 7000 vows to defeat her at all costs.  Feeling confident of his abilities, Alex 7000 informs Jamie that she will never reach sub-level 8, where his central memory core and the doomsday device are stored. 

But Jamie makes a game effort of it, evading incineration underneath the engine of a fiery rocket, escaping through a corridor of fire-fighting foam that removes all oxygen from the chamber, and even repairing her own damaged bionics following an injury.

Finally, Jamie reaches the core and confronts Alex one last time.  Unfortunately, events spiral out of control.  A B-52 bomber has been launched and is en route to the facility, carrying a nuclear bomb that could also, in conjunction with Cooper's weapon, irradiate the planet...

Today, "Doomsday is Tomorrow" still plays as tense, ambitious and worthwhile, despite the Cold War context of the U.S. and Soviet Union in perpetual rivalry.  What makes the tale hold up rather well is the fact that these two Super Powers cooperate, in the age of detente, and both act responsibly to avoid Armageddon.  It's not just Us vs. Them, Yanks vs. Commies. 

Here, the catalyst for near global-disaster is actually a Third World country trying to "catch-up" to  the U.S. and Russia.  It's interesting: Satari's nation is clearly responsible for its own transgression, and yet the warring Super Powers are also at fault too, at least indirectly.  America and Russia have shown the world the respect and deference afforded nuclear nations.  Who wouldn't desire  the same respect and deference?

In 2011, this type of scenario is probably even more likely than it was in 1977 (think of Iran's attempt to develop nuclear weapons; or North Korea's repeated efforts to launch missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.)   In The Bionic Woman, entry in the nuclear club is a right of passage that Satari believes will afford his country prestige.  Instead, those attempts initiate a countdown to worldwide disaster.  In real life, the same could happen.  It wouldn't be a doomsday device, of course, causing the problem, but the threat of a regional nuclear war, one that could blossom out of control very quickly as the big players (China, the U.S.) pick sides.

If you've seen this two-part episode of The Bionic Woman (and I don't want to spoil the ending...), you know that it boasts an incredibly powerful anti-war message.  Lew Ayres -- Hollywood's most famous pacifist -- plays the role of Cooper, and it's easy to see why the well-known conscientious objector  took the part, given how things turn out. 

The message, of "Doomsday is Tomorrow," as voiced by Cooper and written with care by Johnson is that human beings never feel more alive or more in love with life than when they are attending a funeral and thus really, truly contemplating what death means.  On a global scale, Cooper has arranged not Doomsday, but the proverbial opportunity for reflection.

This anti-war (and anti-nuke) episode of The Bionic Woman also comments on another 1970s worry; the fear of "technology run amok," also seen in such contemporary films as The Andromeda Strain (1971), Westworld (1971), Demon Seed (1977) and other productions. 

Although Dr. Cooper is legitimately a pacifist he makes a terrible mistake in judgment by entrusting his machine, Alex 7000, with the future of the human race.  Unable to measure or understand the value of life -- as Jaime points out to the super-computer -- Alex 7000 treats Armageddon as a game, and nothing more.  It's a contest simply to be won, a view of computer "thinking" that forecasts the 1983 blockbuster, War Games.  There the message about nuclear war was that the only way to win was "not to play."

Based in equal measures on Kubrick's Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Colossus from Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Alex 7000 is the avatar for all our fears about automation, and about machines controlling the destiny of mankind.

In The Bionic Woman's "Doomsday is Tomorrow," it's a little bit more than that as well.  Oscar Goldman and Dr. Wells devise a back-up plan to save the world, assuming that Jaime fails.  Unfortunately, their answer to saving the world is another nuclear bomb detonation...and it is the very thing that nearly kills everyone.  Alex 7000 jams communications with the in-flight B-52, and so the plane cannot be recalled...even after the primary threat is passed.  Again, man's dependence on his technology is the issue, in both the case of Cooper and even series hero Oscar Goldman.

Jaime Sommers, explicitly described in this episode's dialogue as "a cyborg," represents a pointed contrast to both Oscar and Cooper.  Where they have ceded their lives, essentially, to the control of the machine, Jamie is different. 

She controls the machines (the bionics) in her body. She is fully integrated with them and thus her human, emotional mind still holds sway over how the machines work.  In other words, in Jamie's case it is a human who harnesses the machine; not vice-versa.   In this episode, we see Jaime out-think, out-perform and out-feel the Alex 7000, proving the superiority of human judgment.  

As always, Wagner makes an incredibly charismatic and likable lead, and in this episode, Jaime is nearly driven to despair by her inability to beat the powerful machine, which commands a huge complex and vast store of resources. 

There are a few moments in the second part of "Doomsday is Tomorrow" in which we see Jamie just inches away from losing her composure, and Wagner isn't afraid to play those moments for all their drama and power.

Yet -- importantly -- there's nothing "edgy" or "angry" about this Bionic Woman, to use the terms Wagner herself applied to the moribund 2007 remake.  This Jaime is just a regular human being with extraordinary abilities, and the belief that she alone can help (since Steve Austin, a strong ally, is currently stationed on Skylab...).  Today, as the 2007 version proved, Jaime would be rageful, hungering for revenge against an enemy, and saddled with a boatload of personal "baggage."

But Wagner's performances here (and throughout the series) prove a valuable point: Jaime doesn't have to be moody or angsty for audiences to identify with her or her important  missions.  She doesn't need manufactured "issues" for us to root for her success. 

Instead, Kenneth Johnson's intelligent  writing and Wagner's human, good-humored performance are more than enough to accomplish that.  All the bells and whistles of today's dramatic conceits are unnecessary, and worse, cliche.  All superheroes don't need to be revenge-a-holics and rage-a-holics.  Sometimes they can just be people called by destiny to help.  Sometimes they can just be people doing their best in a tough or even seemingly impossible situation.  That's Jaime Sommers, in a very real way, and it's certainly no coincidence that another great female superhero (the vampire slaying sort) is also named Summers.  Jaime was one of the first -- and still one of the best -- of this breed.

I first saw "Doomsday is Tomorrow" as a child (I believe I had just turned eight), and I must admit that it scared the crap out of me.  In part this is because Alex 7000 holds all the cards, and is one tough nemesis.  In part it is also because the episode suggests that our world is just twenty-four hours from Armageddon.  When Alex 7000's countdown to destruction arrives at zero, the episode cuts to a long-shot view of the Earth, and there's silence on the soundtrack.  A sense of anticipation, and fear too, accompanies the edit. According to movie and TV convention, the next shot should be of the planet blowing up.

Thanks to Jamie Sommers, the Earth avoids that fate here, but the haunting last words of the episode were enough to give me pause as a child.

"But what about tomorrow?"

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Cult-TV Faces of: The Computer

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: The Twilight Zone: "The Old Man in the Cave"

Identified by Brian: The Twilight Zone: "From Agnes with Love"

Identified by Brian: WOTAN in Doctor Who "The War Machines."

Identified by Brian, Batman (1966-1969): The Bat Computer

Identified by Brian: Landru in Star Trek's "Return of the Archons"

Identified by Brian: The M-5 in Star Trek "The Ultimate Computer"

Identified by Brian: The Oracle in Star Trek's "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky."

Identified by Brian: The General in "The Prisoner, "The General"

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: S.I.D. in Gerry Anderson's UFO.

Identified by Brian: The Starlost: "Voyage of Discovery"

Identified by Greg Melli Jone: The G.E.E.C. in The Super Friends.

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: Planet of the Apes: "The Legacy."

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: Space:1999 "The Black Sun"

Identified by Brian: Space:1999 "Brian the Brain."

Identified by Brian: Ark II: "Omega."

Identified by Brian: "Logan's Run" (The TV series)

Identified by Brian: The Bionic Woman (1977): "Doomsday is Tomorrow."

Identified by Brian: Vanessa in Quark: "Vanessa 38-24-36."

Identified by Brian: Orace in Blake's 7: "Orac."

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: C.O.R.A. in Battlestar Galactica: "The Long Patrol"

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: Dr. Theopolis in Buck Rogers: "Awakening."

Identified by Greg Melli Jones: KITT in Knight Rider.

Identified by Dr. Howard Margolin: The C.O.S. in The X-Files: "Ghost in the Machine"

Not identified: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "I Robot, You Jane"

Identified by Le0pard13: The X-Files: "Kill Switch"

Identified by Dr. Howard Margolin: Gene Roddenbery's Andromeda.

Not identified: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "The Turk."