Saturday, May 05, 2012

I'm on Movie Geeks United...

Movie Geeks United examines the legacy of the 1984 rock classic, Purple Rain (and subject of my latest book) in its new episode, now airing.  Jamey DuVall and I recorded the interview a few weeks ago, and had a great talk about the film, and about musicals, circa the mid-1980s.

Saturday Morning Cult TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Battle for Freedom." (December 1, 1979)

“Battle for Freedom,” the final episode of Jason of Star Command (1978 – 1979) really pulls out all the stops.  The episode features several new miniatures, a grand space battle (with more space craft per shot than we’ve seen before…), some terrific character interaction, and, finally, even a sense of resolution.

In this installment, Commander Stone (John Russell) is intercepted by Dragos while en route to Fleet Command to accept a medal for his outstanding service.  Dragos holds Stone hostage and informs Jason, now acting Commander of Star Command, that Stone will not be released unless Jason cedes the peaceful planet Chryton to the tyrant.

Chryton’s prime consul, Jo-neen, visiting Star Command, officially requests protection for her planet.  Jason attempts to stall Dragos, leaving Parsafoot in command while he searches the D-2 Star System for Stone.  Unfortunately, the planets in that system have strange effects on humanoids.  Jason and Samantha take an antidote created by Parsafoot and head out to rescue their superior officer.

On the planet, Jason and Samantha find Commander Stone, but he has lost his memory.  Jason is able to help Stone recover his identity. In part he does so by reminding Stone of Dragos – the man who forced Stone’s people from their planet -- and in part by reminding him that he is “the best commanding officer Star Command has ever had.”

As Jason, Samantha and Commander Stone leave the planet in the D2 system, Parsafoot launches a fleet of Star Command drones to meet Dragos’ attack fleet in space and defend Chryton.  It’s a rout, but the defeated Dragos has one last trick up his sleeve.  He attempts to use a deadly anti-matter ray or “projector” to blast Jason’s Star-Fire into another dimension.  Jason uses a nearby red dwarf to reflect the beam, and Dragos instead is cast away into another reality “for a long, long time.”

You might expect a Saturday morning’s kid show, at the end of a long season, to do a bottle show or something rather modest, having run out of budgetary resources.  Instead, Jason of Star Command goes out in grand style, with a whole host of new special effects and miniatures.  For the first time, we see the unmanned Star Command drones, and by the half-dozen, no less.  We also see Dragos’ fearsome battle stations in orbit of Chryton. 

And, of course, we get the final tango between the deadly Dragonstar and Jason’s zippy Star-Fire.  There are more miniature shots – and of greater complexity – in this twenty-minute segment than in the last several episodes of the season put together.

Although certainly the intention would have been to have another season of episodes, “Battle for Freedom” provides a nice sense of closure to the Saturday morning series.  The socially-inept Parsafoot begins a romantic relationship with Jo-neen, and more importantly, Jason and Commander Stone finally seem comfortable with another.  They have some nice banter in “Battle for Freedom,” and come to an acceptance, you might say, of their different way of doing things.   They started out as uncomfortable allies at the beginning of season two, and end the same season with a strong sense of mutual respect.  In this regard, the cast change from James Doohan as Commander Canarvin to John Russell as Commander Stone really works in the series’ favor.  So much so, in fact, I’m inclined to agree with Jason’s explicit assessment: Stone is the better commander.

And, of course, Dragos is finally defeated in this valedictory episode.  As the villain disappears, shouting maniacally “some day…Jason…” it’s clear he could return, had the series come back.  But as the final episode of the show, the defeat of Dragos also plays as a final victory.  The scourge of the universe is gone. 

Watching Jason of Star Command today, it never lets you forget it was made for children.  The stories are simple and straight-forward, so much so that they become rather boring at times for an adult.  Yet – from time to time – the character interaction is really great, particularly as it pertains to Stone and Jason.  More to the point, the special effects remain astonishing examples of 1970s post-Star Wars state of the art.  They compare favorably, in fact, with prime time efforts such as Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981).

 I can’t say I wouldn’t have appreciated more thematic depth in a lot of these second season episodes, but again…these shows were designed for kids.  Right now, my five year old son Joel is into Transformers, Ben 10 and other modern franchises, but if he ever gets into the realm of space adventures, Jason of Star Command is a perfect gateway.  

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cult Movie Review: The Blood of Heroes (1989)

“Life is hard everywhere.”

-          The Blood of the Heroes (1989)

I commenced this week on the blog with a survey of the Cult-TV faces of “sports and fitness,” and shall now close it with a look back at The Blood of Heroes (1989), a film concerning a particularly vicious sport called “Jugger.” 

Since I watched and reviewed Rollerball (1975) a few months ago, I’ve been fascinated with the future of professional sports. We know that professional sports will likely remain extremely commercial and profitable going forward, but the contemporary and ongoing scandal involving Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints also suggests that, perhaps, sports are growing more brutal.

In case you haven’t heard, Williams is the fellow who coached his football players to “kill the head” so that “the body” would die.  He also encouraged his players to rough up an opposing player with a concussion.

Not exactly “good sport” is it? 

And people say that horror films incite violence…

Regardless, The Blood of Heroes is a violent and enthralling post-apocalyptic film.  In some senses, it’s actually the Rocky (1976) of the dystopia genre, because it gets the audience squarely behind its underdog heroes, and resolves in an incredibly hard-fought victory, with the heroic athletes bloodied but unbroken. 

Unusually, the film is also a rite-of-passage story with a strong female character, Joan Chen’s Kidda, holding center stage.  Most often, even in today’s cinema, the hero’s journey is a male one, but Kidda and her dreams of a better life pulse at the heart of the film’s action.  Rutger Hauer portrays an experienced Jugger player named Sallow, but in many ways, this veteran actor takes on the supporting role of the “wise elder,” revealing to Kidda the ropes of the game, and, importantly, the politics behind the game.

Reviews for The Blood of Heroes were mixed upon theatrical release.  Vincent Canby at The New York Times championed the film and wrote that it is “entertainingly grim and, in an upside-down way, romantic.”

 Time-Out, meanwhile, noted that The Blood of Heroes (a.k.a. The Salute of the Jugger) offered little to look at and nothing worth hearing.

In this instance, I agree with Canby’s conclusion. 

Although characterization in the film is ultimately subordinate to the frequent and violent jugger matches, one nevertheless develops genuine affection for the players here: Hauer, Chen, Vincent D’Onofrio and Delroy Lindo. 

And although it is easy to gaze at the film and conclude that the narrative is somewhat meandering or plot-less, this episodic quality, this loose structure, actually works in the film’s favor.  Watching The Blood of Heroes, you are afforded a real taste of the Jugger’s life, from the wearying nomadic existence, to the violence and intensity of the sport, to the seemingly-endless ritual of tending to wounds and bruises after a match.   The film repeats this sequence of events over and over, until you feel like you’re right there with the athletes, sweating and bleeding alongside them.

Perhaps The Blood of Heroes’ underlying message isn’t entirely deep, but it is, nevertheless worthwhile. The film suggests we are all tougher than we think, and that even when the forces of the world seem aligned against us, we’ll keep fighting and striving for something better than the status quo.

Play hard, you'll forget the fear.”

The Blood of Heroes is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which (most) folks no longer have the time or luxury to think about professional sports, at least as we understand them now.  The world’s infrastructure has collapsed following a series of wars, and folks no longer remember the “Golden Age of the 20th century” or “the miraculous technology or cruel wars that followed.” 

Accordingly, the popular game of Jugger removes the commercialism and professionalism of modern-day sports, but amps up the brutality angle.  In this violent game, a team consisting of several players -- a “qwik,” a “chain,” an “enforcer” and a “slicer” -- battles an opposing team.  The match is bloody and violent, and doesn’t end until the winning team manages to place a dog skull on a pike, or stake.  Roving Jugger teams subsist by beating local teams, and collecting tributes for their victories.

The film follows a group of nomadic players, led by taciturn Sallow (Hauer).  His team comes upon a farming community where a passionate young woman, Kidda (Chen) wants to join the team as “qwik.”  Kidda boasts dreams of playing in “the League,” inside one of the nine cities.  Sallow himself was once in “the League” but was expelled from high society for his inappropriate behavior with a lord’s concubine.  Since that time, Sallow has eschewed contact with the cities, but he nonetheless tells Kidda a challenge can be issued to the city’s team.  If the team accepts…they’re in!

After several victories, Sallow’s team travels to a city to mount such a challenge, but the wronged Lord – named Vile – still wants Sallow punished and humiliated.  He instructs the city’s team leader, Gonzo, to blind Sallow during the match, and then, essentially to beat him to a pulp.

The match in the city commences in bloody fashion, and for Kidda and Sallow, their future is on the line…

“Juggers can't fuck after the game. It doesn't work. Unless you like to rub wounds against wounds.”

In the introduction to this review, I mentioned Rocky as a clear antecedent to The Blood of Heroes, but perhaps, in terms of sports movies, I also should have made notation of Bull Durham (1987) too.  In that classic baseball movie – one of the best ever made -- a player named Crash (Kevin Costner) is cast out of the minor leagues and sent down to the Single A division to mentor a promising player, one who could make it all the way to the majors.  As that player rises, Crash hopes to rise again too…

In very, very broad strokes, The Blood of Heroes follows a similar sort of outline, with an aging player, tossed from the big leagues, coming to mentor a young, promising player in a smaller, less professional venue.  Sallow and Kidda represent those characters here, but in both situations there’s this the idea of a cycle: of the old, wiser player not only tutoring the young, but returning to the world that, at some point, wronged him.  In terms of visuals, The Blood of Heroes, written and directed by David Peoples, clearly owes a lot to The Road Warrior (1982) aesthetic, and yet thematically it is much more a sports movie than a science fiction epic.

Here – as in real life – athletic prowess is one of the few ways one can successfully bridge the gap in an unequal economic system.  In the film, we see the immaculately-dressed, immaculately-cleaned upper class citizens of the underground city, and can contrast their aristocratic look with that of the Juggers, who are leathery, filthy, wind-blown, and marred by scars and bruises.  Just as is the case in our society, the upper classes are willing to pay handsomely to be entertained by good athletes, and thus a sense of class warfare seems present in all interactions.  One upper-class woman likes to decorate her porcelain skin with the blood of Jugger players, and so there’s also an impression of a vampire-like over-class lording it over the under-class. .

Uniquely, at its valedictory moment, The Blood of Heroes visually mirrors to its spiritual cinematic antecedent, the aforementioned Rollerball.  There, in the final battle, James Caan’s player Jonathan E, defeated the last enemy player right in front of his nemesis, an executive played by John Houseman.  Specifically, he checked the opposing player into the glass barrier separating him from Houseman.

Here, director Peoples’ stages a nearly identical shot, with Sallow taking out Gonzo, just inches from Vile, in front of Vile’s box seats (behind a kind of protective cage).

In both cases is the same idea is transmitted: the notion of individualism trumping established order, or authority. 

In both cases, defiance beats obedience.

If anything at all undercuts the success of The Blood of Heroes, it is the final triumphal note, however, the film sounds after Sallow and Kidda win the day.  Immediately, the vulture-like upper class descends upon them, congratulating the players, flirting with them, chatting them up.  The implication is that Sallow, Kidda and the others are now in like flint, and welcomed into a life of comfort and luxury.

But really, aren’t these Jugger players letting the establishment absorb them, at this point, and becoming part of the corrupt 1% percent in the process?  Aren’t they, by joining the league, playing the aristocracy’s game?  I like some of the early shots set in the city, where Sallow and Kidda are literally on the outside looking in (through bars on the windows) at the upper class, but the ending seems to undercut this crucial sense of outsider-ism. 

It seems that the real point of the movie is (or should be…) that reaching the top doesn’t necessarily put you where you want to be. 

Once you get there, you realize you’re still trapped playing another man’s sport.

Aside from that complaint, The Blood of Heroes is a rousing sports movie in a dystopian setting.  Shot in Australia, the film makes the most of its picturesque exteriors, and we see every variation of jugger match known to man.  The game is played in the scorching sun, and in the rain and mud.  There’s also some interesting symbolism in the film in the form of the game itself: a literalization of the notion of picking over the bones of a dead world.  That’s what Jugger is, literally, a battle to win a skull, a bone…something dead and useless.   

The Blood of Heroes is a visceral and involving film, in my judgment, and one made doubly so by the twin decisions to keep dialogue to a minimum and to not over-burden the narrative with more incident or detail than necessary.  As I wrote above, the film is extremely episodic and repetitive: travel, play, sew up wounds.  Rinse and repeat.  If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you can fall into synch with the movie’s distinctive, almost-trance-like rhythm and literally almost feel what it’s like to dwell in this world of sweat, dirt and blood.

And given the alternative of those porcelain-skinned, aristocratic vampires, you may even come to agree with Sallow’s opinion that scarred skin – like this violent but memorable film -- is strangely beautiful in its own way.

Movie Trailer: The Blood of Heroes (1989)

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

"This is stupid. We should be fucking and drinking by now."

- The Blood of Heroes (1989)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The (Cult-TV) War on Men: Seven Female-Dominated Societies that Have it in for Males

In the national discourse there's been a lot of talk about the War on Women lately.  

For instance, not long ago, Congress held a committee meeting about birth control and no women were present. Then, a Republican candidate for President, Rick Santorum, made the claim that women are "too emotional" for combat assignments in the military.  Then Virginia considered passing a law that would - literally -- force non-medically-necessary "trans-vaginal" penetration upon women seeking to have an abortion.  

Finally, when asked if he supported equal pay for women in the form of the Lily Ledbetter Act, Presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney whiffed because he needed more time to interface with the vast, remote computer bank storing all of his previously-held positions on the issue.  Accessing…Accessing…

While this war on women continues, no end in sight, into Election 2012, cult television history reminds us precisely where this kind of talk could be headed.  Unless we're very, very careful, women will strike back and wage a War on Men.

And men will lose that war...badly.

In the sincere hope of preventing such an unfortunate eventuality and brokering a truce in this ongoing battle between the sexes, I thus offer up a tour of the “War on Men:” seven of the most memorable Matriarchies in cult-television history. 

You’ll note that many of these female-dominated cultures -- oddly -- play rather distinctly as kinky male fantasies rather than as legitimate, consistent visions of female rule. 

Or didn’t you realize that the first order of the day when women rule the planet is the imposition of a new dress code?

Cat-suits and whips for all!

1. “The Confederacy of Ruth” (Planet Earth [1974]). In this post-apocalyptic pilot/TV-movie from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Dylan Hunt (John Saxon) attempts to rescue a PAX doctor from “The Confederacy of Ruth,” a female dominated society. 

The culture is ruled by the dictatorial Marg (Diana Muldaur), and all men are considered property, and called “Dinks.”  The men are also routinely drugged by their women to make them compliant and untroubled by their status as slaves.  Once Dylan kicks off the effects of the drug, he turns on his manly charm and teaches Marg a thing or two about…dinks.

Planet Earth asked the memorable question: “women’s lib? Or women’s lib gone mad?!”

2. "Medusa" (Star Maidens [1975]).  In this short-lived German/British series created by Eric Paice, the planet Medusa drifts in space, and its inhabitants dwell in an underground metropolis.  There, women rule, and men serve as domestic servants.  Two slaves, Shem (Gareth Thomas) and Adam (Pierre Brice) decide they are tired of being taken for granted (“who takes care of the kids?!”) and make a beeline for nearby Earth. 

Their female masters pursue, but are troubled by the fact that Earth is ruled by men (!).  Indeed, the Medusan mistresses claim such a set-up is in “violation of all common sense.”  Considering the Earth a “great disappointment,” the Medusan Matriarchy sets out to retrieve Shem and Adam.  If they fail, a new, illegal “men’s liberation movement” could take hold on Medusa, overturning the apple cart.

3. Entra" (Space: 1999: "Devil's Planet" [1976]).  In this second season episode of Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999, Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) is captured by Elizia (Hildegard Neil), the warden, governor and absolute ruler of the prison colony of Entra.  The prisoners incarcerated there are all men -- political dissidents who spoke against female rule, apparently -- and are now guarded by cat-suited Amazon women who viciously wield whips.  

The prisoners' only opportunity to escape this hellish life is to survive sadistic Elizia's vicious game, "The Hunt."  If a prisoner does survive being hunted by Elizia and her women on the inhospitable moon’s forest surface -- being both outnumbered and out-equipped -- he can be transported back to the home world, his sentence is commuted.  

The only problem: a plague has decimated the home world, Ellna, killing all living beings.  So when Elizia beams the victorious political dissidents back home, she's actually issuing the troublesome men a death sentence.  

4."Turnabout" (The Fantastic Journey [1977]).  In this episode of the short-lived TV series set in the Bermuda Triangle, Queen Hayalana (Joan Collins) finally tires of her brutish husband and his stupid men, and with the help of a powerful computer called "The Complex," zaps all the males of the province away to a null zone, or pocket universe.  

Promising "an end to male domination," Hayalana then captures the series' heroes, Varian (Jared Martin), Dr. Willaway (Roddy McDowall), Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann) and Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), and plans to keep them as “breeding stock.”  To convince these visiting men to remain docile and cooperative, this cold-hearted queen then poisons their food, and tells the men they will only receive the antidote only if they comply with her wishes. 

Hayalana’s plans come crashing down however, when none of the women in the province are capable of controlling “The Complex,” a computer built by…you guessed it, a man.

5. "Xantia" (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century [1979]: "Planet of the Amazon Women.") Buck (Gil Gerard) is captured by gorgeous slave traders and auctioned off to the highest bidder in this first season episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  You see, all the men of Xantia have either been killed in one of their incessant wars, or are being held prisoner by the planet’s enemy: the Ruathans.  Thus the women of Xantia need some *ahem* company, not to mention some men to do all the physical labor. 

Watch as Buck is stripped down to his chest, and the women “bidders” at his auction coo and gasp over his manly physique!

6. "Adore" (Otherworld [1985]: "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar.")  In this episode of the 1985 cult series, Otherworld, a militantly female society rules the roost in the province of “Adore,” founded by a female Zone Trooper commandment, Livia.  

The men in “Adore” do not even know how to read, and the "gender stratification" laws discourage marriage.  A “gender patrol” walks the streets, maintaining order, and girls ogle slave men in the popular magazine, “Available Hunk.” 

And, of course, there’s the Gender Arcade, the marketplace where men are greased up, stripped down, and sold to the highest bidder. 

When the patriarch of the Sterling family, Hal (Sam Groom), objects to the status of males as second-class citizens, a woman in power reminds him to: “keep in mind that this is a conservative part of town and will resist compromise.”  When Hal’s wife, June (Gretchen Corbett) sticks up for him, the same women sneers: “Oh…I understand…you’re progressives.” 

7. "Angel One." (Star Trek: The Next Generation [1987]:"Angel One.") In this first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise D visits the Matriarchy of “Angel One” in hopes of finding out if survivors of a freighter, the Odin, landed there.  They find out that a group of men did survive, and are making trouble for the female leadership. 

Mistress Baeta (Karen Montgomery) – or “the elected one” – pronounces the death sentence for the survivors of the Odin and any women unwise enough to attempt to alter the peace of Angel One’s female-dominated society.   Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) steps in to argue against the death penalty.  Ultimately, he is persuasive...perhaps because Mistress Baeta still remembers the space stud in his colorful, open-chest blouse and earrings…

Finally, besides Star Maidens, another series also featured female-dominated world as its setting: Norman Lear's All that Glitters (1977), starring Linda Gray and Greg Evigan.  I've never seen it, but would love to get my hands on a few episodes.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Collectible of the Week: Star Hawk (Ideal; 1970 and 1977)

Last week for the collectible of the week I remembered the Darth Vader-esque Knight of Darkness, from Ideal’s “Star Team” line in 1977.  This week, I want to offer a closer look at another cool space toy in that same line (carefully labeled to include the copyright dates of both 1970 and 1977). 

Here it is: the Star Hawk, the “Star Team spaceship with motorized hatch and space-like sounds.”

This large red and gray flying saucer-type craft came “complete with Zeroid, moveable landing pods, revolving platform, exit ramp and clear dome.” 

And “Zeroid’s spaceship, the Star Hawk transports your Zeroid from one daring adventure to the next.  When you activate the special motor, the hatch slides open, landing pods go into position, exit ramp lowers, and space-like sounds announce the arrival of Zeroid, to help you save the day.”

As for the Zeroid himself -- one of the Knight’s nemeses along with ZEM-21 -- he is a modified version of the popular (and now incredibly expensive...) 1960s Zeroid line.  He’s a “highly detailed action robot with moveable arms. ZEROID rolls on a twin-tread base.  Flip on his special flishing signal lamp and send messages to his friends.”

I wrote last week how my grandparents bought me the Star Hawk (w/Zeroid), the Knight of Darkness and ZEM-21, and at first I was disappointed with the generous gift because I would have preferred the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader, R2-D2 and C3PO.  But it wasn’t long before I became intrigued by these Star Wars knock-off toys, and came to see that they allowed me to create my own play universe.  In particular, I remember that the Knight of Darkness camped out in G.I. Joe’s Adventure Team Headquarters.   

Today, I’m really glad I still have these particular toys in my home office.  Even today, Zeroid’s dome lights up, and the Star Hawk hatch still slides open (with a springy rat-a-tat sound).  The decals are coming off now, after all these years, but these toys remain…ideal for the imagination.  My son Joel loves them, particularly the Zeroid and his ship, the Star Hawk.

Cloned from a Mutual Zygote: Stargate of Forever

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Horror Lexicon #12: Are You Ready for Your Close-up? (The Video Camera)

One of my favorite lines in all of horror cinema comes from The Blair Witch Project (1999).  Josh (Joshua Leonard) gazes through a video camera view-finder at Heather (Heather Donohue) and trenchantly notes that the picture isn’t “quite reality.” 

He’s right, of course.  And that’s part of the reasons we love movies so much.  For ninety minutes or two hours, the camera becomes our eyes, and what we see through that camera isn’t quite reality.  It’s heightened reality.  It’s manipulated reality.  It’s shaped and edited reality.

Given how crucially important film grammar is in constructing an effective horror film, in crafting a sense of escalating unease and terror, it’s only natural, perhaps, that the camera itself has become an important player and topic of debate within the texts of many popular horror films. 

Thanks in part to technological improvements, the portable home video camera became affordable and lightweight in the mid-1980s.  Accordingly, a revolution in home movies began, and very shortly, this trend “trickled down” into horror movie narratives.  Videographers or amateur movie makers started out by appearing in the “victim pool” of mid-1980s horror films (April Fool’s Day [1986], Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan [1989]), but more than that the camera soon became a player itself in the longstanding social argument about the value of horror as a genre.

Consider Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989), and the notorious scene in which Otis (Tom Towles) and Henry (Michael Rooker) go out “hunting” and kill a randomly-selected suburban family.  They record the horrific murder and rape spree on their camcorder and later -- while drinking a few beers -- kick back and watch their blood-thirsty escapades.  Otis even rewinds the tape, thoroughly entertained:  “I want to see it again.” 

The issue here is quite simply this: do we, as human beings, actually revel in the suffering of other people?  Does the video camera actually transform another person’s suffering into our entertainment?  This isn’t just a horror movie question, either.  This is a real life question.  Consider how often the grotesque footage of Saddam Hussein’s dead, bloody sons was replayed on cable television.  Or think how often the terror of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC were rerun in the days following the horrific event.  Do we, by watching recorded events, become complicit in a news event?  That’s certainly the territory of such films as Ringu (1998) and The Ring (2002).

A similar was developed in Flatliners (1990). There, a yuppie doctor-in-training, Joe Hurley (William Baldwin) secretly filmed all of his sexual conquests, and then watched and relived them later.  He had taken a liberty with his “lovers” and would have to pay for that moral trespass. His actions had consequences.  The video camera could be used to commit a crime, an invasion of personal space and privacy.

In the aforementioned Blair Witch Project (1999), the video-camera, as Josh notes, functions as a shield, distancing the viewer from unpleasant reality.  Josh notes that the camera offers a “filtered reality” in which one can “pretend everything isn’t quite the way it is.”  

In other words, the act of perceiving reality through a camera lens distances oneself from the objects and situations perceived.  In a non-horror setting, this was actually the subtext for the final episode of the popular sitcom Seinfeld in 1998.  Jerry and his friends watched a crime being conducted (a car-jacking) through a video camera, but did not intervene to actually stop the crime as it was occurring.  The apparently-passive act of gazing through the camera enabled George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry to see themselves as being somehow apart from reality, and apart from community, even from the law itself.  There was no need to help the victim of a crime.  They were merely…watching, as they would a TV show.

With the heyday of found footage films upon us (including [REC], Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Apollo 18 and the like) we as viewers are asked again and again to reckon with the role of the camera in our lives, and in horrific scenarios. 

But where The Blair Witch Project asks us to assemble a sense of order out of grainy pixelized images that didn’t make sense in a conventional fashion and didn’t reveal anything about the looming threat (the Blair Witch), these later examples of the form strive more for certainty than uncertainty.  The Demon in Paranormal Activity (2009), for example, presents for a full-frame close-up at the end of the film, just so the audience gets its money’s worth out of a “creature feature.”  This (dumb...) ending belies the fact that more people own cameras now than at any time in human history, and nobody has ever, anywhere, recorded footage of a demon.    Films like Paranormal Activity don’t use the camera to reveal how our eyes can lie, only to assure that audience expectations are met.

The camera can also be a social good in the horror film.  It can be a tool of investigation and observation (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Poltergeist), but more often the point of many horror films is that you can’t really hide from terror behind the eye-piece.  The camera may be a filter, but, in the final analysis, it’s a filter that doesn’t protect you.  Beyond the camera lens, life is happening in all its unpredictable, horrific, and sometimes wondrous forms.

The greatest terror associated with the video camera is that it could be all that survives a terrible event, a witness to death, and to your very end.  Years later, your footage might be found...

The video camera and videographer appear in (but are not limited to) such films as: Dead of Winter (1985), April Fool’s Day (1986), Slaughter High (1986), Cellar Dweller (1988), Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master (1989), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989), Flatliners (1990), Mr. Frost (1990), Puppet Master 2 (1991), Basket Case 3: Progeny (1992), Prom Night IV: Deliver us From Evil (1992), Man’s Best Friend (1993) Brainscan (1994), Scream (1996), Anaconda (1997), Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Scream 2 (1997), Ringu (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), The Descent (2006),  [REC] (2007) Diary of the Dead (2007), Cloverfield (2008), Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), Apollo 18 (2011).

Movie Trailer: Stake Land (2010)

Theme Song of the Week: Once a Hero (1987)

Monday, April 30, 2012

And Even More Purple Rain: Music on Film Reviews

My latest book, Purple Rain: Music on Film, is still bringing in some nice reviews.  Here's the latest batch, in case you're still planning to order the book, and need a little push...

"This book is not just for fans of Prince or Purple Rain. It is a great companion to a film that changed music and the film industry. Reading it makes you want to watch Purple Rain with a new set of eyes. One in a series, this book is one to keep and read over again. It had so many great little facts as well as bigger ones, that you won't get them all in the first read through."

"Muir expounds not only on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the film, but also on how The Kid shares many positive and negative personality traits as Prince himself. Overall, the book is an indispensable book for anyone who is a fan of Prince, his music and his films."

Don't forget, Purple Rain: Music on Film is available at here, at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Sports and Fitness

Throughout cult-tv history, we have witnessed our colorful heroes indulging in team sports and individual acts of fitness. The primary idea here is one of staying fit, of keeping in good shape.  In Star Trek’s future, the healthy officer of Starfleet don’t give short shrift to physical exercise, and we’ve witnessed on more than one ship how the officers utilize the ship’s gymnasium (“Charlie X”) or conduct their daily work-out routine (“The Price.”)
In terms of training and fitness, the universe of Gerry Anderson was much the same. The pilots of S.H.A.D.O. were seen to work-out rigorously in exmples of physical readiness (“Ordeal”) in UFO. And on Space: 1999’s Moonbase Alpha, a weight room was depicted in one episode (“Testament of Arkadia”) though it was really a light redressing of Commander Koenig’s office.

In other programs, alien versions of sports have appeared.  The Colonial Warriors of the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) doubled as athletes, for instance, in a basketball-styled game called Triad that appeared in episodes such as “War of the Gods” and “Murder on the Rising Star.”  In the re-made Battlestar Galactica of the last decade, "Triad" became "Pyramid" instead.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981) likewise revealed a veritable panoply of alien and futuristic sports in the first season episode, “Olympiad.”  In truth, this story was a Cold War allegory about an athlete attempting to defect from a repressive alien civilization, a stand-in for our then-rival, the Soviet Union.  

“Olympiad” aired in 1980, the same year that President Carter oversaw the boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  

The Buck Rogers allegory not only spoke of the political climate of the day, it introduced the world to futuristic variations of boxing, the high jump, and even the luge competition. In this case, the luge -- or astro-slalom - was a spaceship navigating a corridor of space force fields! Although the episode dealt with freedom, and a culture that did not value freedom, it also offered hope since all the planets of the galaxy still came together every four years to celebrate the Olympiad.

In the more horror-oriented cult-tv programs, sports and fitness have often been entry points into terrifying story possibilities.  In Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season installment, “Go Fish,” members of the Sunnydale High swim team were (under their coach’s guidance…) inhaling a chemical to improve speed and endurance in the water.  However, the substance was actually transforming the boys (including Prison Break's Wentworth Miller...) into reptilian creatures from the black lagoon.  Once more, a metaphor was at work under the surface, only here it concerned performance-enhancing steroids and school athletic programs. 

Smallville’s early episode “Hothead” charted a similar path.  When Clark (Tom Welling) joined the football team over his father’s objections, he discovered that the athletes were relaxing in a sauna that utilized the green meteor rocks, or Kryptonite.
Sometimes instances of sports and fitness on cult television are meant only as informative expressions of a character’s off-duty hobbies or pursuits.   Involvements in sports and exercise provide a little sideways peek at familiar characters, in new venues. We saw Fox Mulder play basketball frequently on The X-Files. Captain Picard practiced fencing (“We’ll Always Have Paris”) and rode horses (“Starship Mine,” “Pen Pals”) on Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Commander Koenig seemed to favor Kendo in Space: 1999

Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) on Deep Space Nine was a Starfleet officer who had made sports an important part of his life.  A lifelong fan of baseball, Sisko viewed the sport not just as a hobby...but as a passion and a guiding philosophy.  He kept a prized baseball (signed by Buck Bokai of the London King) on his desk outside Ops, and in one episode, "Take Me out the Holosuite," put together a team -- the Niners -- to compete against Captain Solok and a team of Vulcans.