One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
week on Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977), the episode is titled “Cornered”
and it involves a fire-breathing dinosaur, nicknamed Torchy. This Dimetrodon-like dino arrives in the Lost
City and begins spraying flame into the Sleestak tunnels. Torchy also battles Big Alice, at least
briefly. The mighty Allosaurus turns
tail and leaves her territory in a hurry rather than confront the biological
Sleestak blame the Marshalls (again!) for the presence of Torchy in their
valley and Enik (Walker Edmiston) demands that the humans eliminate the threat
by nightfall. As leverage, Enik offers
Uncle Jack (Ron Harper) the cure to a mysterious illness that has felled Will
The young man was struck
by Torchy’s poisonous tail and now risks falling into an eternal sleep.Enik promises that if Torchy is dispatched by
sundown, he will give the Marshalls the cure.
Holly (Kathy Coleman) and Chaka (Philip Paley) in tow, Uncle Jack attempts to
lure Torchy out of the valley, using giant coal bricks as breadcrumbs. The mission is successful, and Will heals on
other words, Enik was tricking them…
“Cornered” is perhaps not as downright, upfront awful as “Survival Kit” or “The
Orb,” it’s pretty close.
more, the Sleestaks are out to destroy the Marshalls, despite a past history of
cooperation. And once again, Enik lets
himself be used as the Sleestak mouthpiece…as though he is just a slightly-less
evil member of that race.
actually grating to watch the scenes of the Sleestak Leader ordering Enik
around because these scenes forget that Enik is an evolved Altrusian from
another era, not a lapdog or lackey for the barbaric Sleestak. Why Enik allows himself to be used this way
is a mystery.
more, in “Cornered” we get a strange reference (from Uncle Jack) to Enik’s “famous logic,” an allusion not to the
real Enik, but to the “Mr. Spock Enik” that this season has introduced.
just when you think “Cornered” can’t possibly get any worse, Will wakes up and
sings a syrupy song while plucking the guitar.
At this juncture, the series loses any sense of respectability and dignity,
and emerges as ridiculous high-camp, going from fire-breathing dragons one
minute to terrible musical-numbers the next.
the episode just stops…mid-moment, as though in terminal embarrassment. The
final cut and lead-in to the end credits is jarring and sudden…but you can’t
blame the editor for pulling out.
don’t object in theory to the idea of a fire-breathing dinosaur in the Land of
the Lost, but as usual, the third season writers seem to forget that the land
boasts rules. Altrusia maintains a sense
of balance, and it is also closed universe.
Given these facts, where did Torchy come from? Why hasn’t he been seen before? I’d be perfectly happy to accept that the
earthquake of “Aftershock” stirred him from a long subterranean slumber. But no such explanation is provided.
(1979) is a
socially-conscious “environmental” horror movie from prestigious director John
Frankenheimer (1930 – 2002), the talent behind cinematic classics Birdman
of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven
Days in May (1964) and, more recently, Ronin (1998).
those films have in common a brand of technical precision and visual brilliance
that isn’t often paralleled, especially in today’s cinema.
the clumsy nature of Prophecy indeed remains a baffling
puzzle. The film is alternately
brilliant and inept in terms of staging, editing, direction, and pacing. Some scenes of suspense are absolutely
spell-binding, whereas many of the more visceral moments -- including an animal
attack on unsuspecting campers -- play as unintentionally hilarious.
I reviewed another environmental horror movie from a “mainstream” director, The
Bay (2012) by Barry Levinson. That film, however, managed to maintain a
consistent tone throughout, even if in the final analysis the director’s
message (about water contamination) played as more important than the movie’s
odd thing about Prophecy is that the film is so damned inconsistent. It’s a work of art of great, praise-worthy
highs and sad, sad lows.
one hand, the movie intelligently charts the uncomfortable nexus of big
business/government/environment/pollution, and on the other hand, it consumes
itself with gory moments of decapitation, bloody mutations, and other macabre tricks
of the trade. Now, I happen to like such
tricks of the trade, but Prophecy proves jarring at
significant junctures because it can’t stick to a particularly tone, either the
high-minded “cerebral” horror route, or the messy pathway of bleeding viscera.
I wrote in a Memory Bank post before Christmas, here, I remember well the year
1979 and the cinematic battle royale between Ridley Scott’s Alien
(1979) and Prophecy, two horror
films that involved (at least in their ad campaigns…) horrible monstrosities
hatched from eggs. Alien, however, ascended
to masterpiece status while Prophecy remains a cult oddity. Watching the two films back-to-back, one can
see why one effort succeeded and the other effort failed. Scott’s film
maintains a consistent tone of suspense, surprise and curiosity, while Prophecy
lurches from environmental polemic to soap opera, to mad monster party.
the time of the film’s release, critics were generally unkind to
Frankenheimer’s genre film too.
In The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote: “Mr. Frankenheimer treats
this material with the kind of majesty usually reserved for movies about
Cleopatra, Napoleon and General Patton. "Prophecy," which opens today
at Loews Astor Plaza and other theaters, is full of lingering lap-dissolves and
elegant camera movements that suggest history is being made. Leonard Rosenman's
soundtrack music is so grand it could be played at a coronation, and it's so loud
that it pierces the ears and threatens the head. None of this fits the movie, which includes a
fight between a man with an ax and a man with a portable power saw, and a
number of attacks by the mutant monsters on random campers and forest rangers
as well as on the film's principal players. For extra gore, there's the
obligatory decapitation and the strong suggestion that one fellow is bitten in
half at the waist.”
Writing in The New Yorker, Susan
Lardner likened the Frankenheimer horror film to an “ill-cut jigsaw puzzle re-assembled by force by someone who has lost a
few of the pieces.” (July 2, 1979, pages 66-67).
And writing for The Progressive, Kenneth
Turan noted the goofiness of the monster: “Unfortunately,
Prophecy begins to unravel the first
time we get a good look at the monster, a berserk mess that resembles a
nightmare version of Smokey the Bear.” (September 1979, pages 38 – 39).
Still, the film had at least one prominent
defender in Master of Horror Stephen King, who copped to having seen the film
three times. He felt that “settling into Prophecy is as comfortable as settling into an old easy-chair and
visiting with good friends.” While
he noted that the monster is “pretty hokey looking,” he admitted to loving the
“old monster” as a spiritual sister
Mighty Joe Young, or Gorgo. (Danse Macabre; A Berkley
Book; 1981, pages 205–206).
I should admit that I have seen this
particular film, myself, considerably more than three times, and that I possess
a kind of love/hate relationship with the bloody thing. Portions of Prophecy are
extraordinarily rendered, namely a scene of high-suspense set in an underground
tunnel, while other scenes are either cringe-worthy or intoxicating in their
badness, depending on your love of bad movie tropes. Prophecy is self-important and
preachy, yet it also possesses wondrous bad taste in terms of what it reveals on
Some might (accurately) note that I have
often praised horror movies on the blog that showcase just such lack of decorum. The problem arises, for this viewer anyway,
in balancing the film’s incredible highs and lows. I can appreciate bad taste
as much as the next fellow, but Prophecy is schizophrenic in
“Here everything grows big. Real big.”
In a forest in Maine, a rescue expedition
is murdered by an unseen monster.
Not long after, an environmentalist named
Rob (Robert Foxworth) is assigned to determine the destiny of that very forest,
because it is at the center of a dispute between American Indians and a local,
industrial paper mill. Rob visits the
forest with his wife, Maggie (Talia Shire) a cellist who has just learned that
she is pregnant, but is reluctant to reveal the information to her husband.
In Maine, Rob and Maggie meet Mr. Isely
(Richard Dysart), the paper mill owner, who tells them that lumberjacks and
rescuers have disappeared in the woods and that he feels the Indians are
responsible. He thinks they are
attempting to bring to life an ancient legend about a monster with the eyes of
a dragon, called Katadin. Rob soon meets
John Hawkes (Armande Assante), the leader of the local Native Americans, and is
not so certain his motives are impure.
Upon deeper investigation of the forest,
Rob learns that the Indian people are suffering from a host of unusual
maladies. Their babies are being born
deformed, and many locals are losing their mental faculties, as if suffering
from brain damage.
When Rob sees several mutated examples of
the local wildlife (including a giant tadpole…) he becomes convinced that the
paper mill is somehow contaminating the water supply. He finds evidence that mercury is being used
in the mill’s refining process because it is cheap and effective. However,
mercury contamination can also decimate healthy nervous systems. Worse, it can jump the placental barrier and
deform a developing fetus, a fact which terrifies Maggie since she has eaten
As Rob, Maggie, and Hawkes investigate
further, Katadin -- a giant, mutated bear
-- strikes again and again, even murdering a family of campers.
After Rob and Maggie take possession of
one of Katadin’s mutated offspring, the Mama Bear turns her murderous eye
towards their party, and a night of terror and death ensues.
“It’s not the hours. It’s the damned futility.”
Bad reputation to the contrary, there are
moments of pure beauty and sleek terror in Prophecy. The film was lensed in gorgeous, mountainous
British Columbia, and Frankenheimer and cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr.
certainly have an eye for capturing the picturesque terrain. The movie features moments of breathtaking
natural beauty, particularly in long, establishing shots. Much of the film’s running time is spent
outdoors, in mysterious terrains of heavy mist, or impenetrable black lakes.
In contrast to those moments, the film
also features moments of pure human ugliness.
The paper mill is first seen in a
long, moving establishing shot (from the vantage point of a helicopter in
flight, approaching), and its dominance over the natural landscape is evident
immediately. The approach to the
environment-destroying paper mill is accompanied by Leonard Rosenman’s
Wagnerian score, and the moment achieves a kind of portentous, ominous feel.
Similarly, I can’t write enough positive
words about a sustained scene, late in the film, during which Rob, Maggie,
Isely, Hawkes and a few others hide from Mama Katadin in a subterranean tunnel
These shots of terrified survivors are
artistically composed, making extraordinary use of foreground and background fields, to capture the terror of those
trapped in the caves. Frankenheimer’s
editor (Tom Rolf) cuts brilliantly from one shot of worried survivors’ faces to
another shot, to another…and the suspense builds and builds until it feels
I admire this sequence in
Prophecy in large part because it remembers that horror films must possess
peaks and valleys, cacophony and silences.
This scene represents the (brief) calm between surrounding storms, but
every moment of apparent “peace” is spent worrying about the next attack.
Just look at some of these beautiful
shots, pictured below. The blocking, the
color palette, the focus on faces near and far, big and small, sell the terror
of what remains unseen in the frame.
Note as well the image of the old Indian
man, Ramona’s grandfather M’rai (George Clutesi) as flames are reflected upon
his eye glasses. This is a shot that
visually reveals how his world has been destroyed; how his people’s “protector”
(Katadin) is actually but another destroyer, a monster.
Again, you’ve got to give the devil his due
here. Frankenheimer knows how to stage
and execute powerful visuals, and Prophecy features many such compositions.
Yet for every such moment of eloquent,
sterling visualization, Prophecy also features sequences of
horror that are, in a word, laughable.
The most ridiculous (and yet beloved…) of
these sequences involves the giant bear attack on a family of innocent
campers. The bear approaches the
sleeping campers, and one young camper -- wrapped
up in a yellow sleeping bag and resembling nothing so much as a giant banana (or
perhaps a condom…) -- tries to hop away from danger.
The hopping away from danger is funny
enough on its own, but then Katadin’s tail whacks the unlucky lad, hurtling him
into a rock at warp speed…where the camper literally explodes on-screen.
the camper and sleeping bag are pulped, feathers (from the sleeping bag, apparently),
rain down, blanketing the frame.
Generously speaking, the moment plays as high camp.
Or to put it another way, this scene is
hilarious in a way the filmmakers surely did not intend. We were not meant to laugh at the murder of
an innocent child, yet all the creative decisions in the scene are
Why make the unfortunate camper hop about
vainly in the sleeping bag, instead of unzipping the bag, exiting it, and
running from danger?
Why does the strike of Katadin’s tail hurl
the camper through the air at speeds defying the laws of Physics?
And why make the camper and bag literally explode,
and include the ridiculous sight of what appear to be chicken feathers falling
Listen, I love horror movies and also
boast a tremendous love for “bad” movies, or even genre movies that violate
decorum. But the sleeping bag scene is
so ridiculously vetted that it actually damages the credibility of Prophecy.
Similarly, the film’s valedictory moment
-- with a rubbery second mutant rearing
its ugly head -- ends Prophecy on a low note. The monster looks awful in the light of day,
under the full glare of sunlight, and the moment is simply a pitiful “sting in
the tail/tale” hoping against hope for a sequel.
Like the sleeping bag scene, the final punch of Prophecy is humorously
I wrote in Horror Films of the 1970s
(2002) that Prophecy is “sometimes
obvious, sometimes clever” in its approach to its thematic material, and
over a decade later, I feel I can stand by that assessment.
The film’s best scene is actually one far
away from the “monster movie” material, and set at a place of "real-life: human horror: the
paper mill. As if shooting a
documentary, Frankenheimer’s probing camera tours a real-life factory, a
massive industrial park dedicated to transforming nature’s logs into shredded
Filmed in both exterior and interior with
long informative pans across its grotesque girth, the mill is revealed to be an
ugly, dehumanizing place dedicated solely to environmental destruction. Chemicals such as chlorine are deployed here,
and the plant’s interior is bathed in an ugly, sterile, green-white light.
preaching is necessary here because one of the prime gifts of film as an art
form is its ability to reveal things to audiences that they have never seen
before, but which nonetheless exist. I’ve never been to a paper mill, but Prophecy
certainly makes a compelling case about one's capacity for destruction.
I also like how the film attempts to portray Isely’s character in
less-than-villainous terms. The paper
mill owner makes a memorable speech about supply and demand, one that reminded me of my
own career as a professional writer and consumer of paper.
written how many books? And how many
copies have been sold? How many pieces
of paper is that, exactly?
many trees destroyed is that?
I’m also on the fence here regarding
Frankenheimer’s treatment of Maggie.
This is a character that learns she is likely carrying a mutated
fetus in her womb. Maggie becomes so
obsessed with this (horrific) idea that she takes Katadin’s youngling as her own, essentially, during the
film’s last act, carrying it round on her shoulder and protecting it from
harm. At one point, the monster baby
seems to nurse from the blood on Maggie’s neck-wound, furthering the metaphor
of mother-and-child. Yet the film gives
the audience no catharsis regarding Maggie’s ultimate disposition.
Does she deliver the baby or undergo an abortion? Is the baby born
mutated or healthy? If it is mutated,
can Maggie and Rob love it anyway?
Prophecy doesn’t provide any information or
dramatic closure on this key character/plot point, instead focusing on that rubbery final
sting-in-the-tail/tale. In the end, the
dopey monster movie aspects of the film thus win out over the excavation of
character and theme. I sure hope Talia
Shire complained, because it's clear from her performance she gave the film her all.
Prophecy is one of those horror films that I return
to at least once or twice every five or so years, and I suspect that is the case
because there’s so much potential evident in the film.
In certain moments, Prophecy possesses a kind of
undeniable visual poetry. In other
moments, it is pure, unadulterated schlock.
I suppose that as an optimistic film
reviewer I return to Prophecy again and again because I
keep hoping to see something that I’ve missed or overlooked, or to discover that somehow the balance
of poetry to schlock has changed for the better.
As of this 2013 viewing, however, it hasn’t.
I’ll let you know in 2020 if I feel
differently. Meanwhile, below you'll find Prophecy sleeping bag kill in all its bloody glory.
“If there is one
thing that gives the series a broad, universal appeal, it’s that we are all
afraid of the same things.”
Carter, in Starlog #221: “X-aminations”
by James Swallow. (December 1995, page 31.)
virtually impossible for me to believe that Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993 – 2002)
premiered two decades ago this coming September. I still possess vivid memories of watching
the first season episodes on Fox TV (Channel 35) in Richmond, Virginia.
girlfriend (now wife) and I were engaged in 1993 and lived together for the first
time during that span in an apartment we rented in Henrico County, while I
commuted downtown every day to a job at the Supreme Court of Virginia.
also remember that the fall TV season of 1993 -- at least as described by the press -- was shaping up to be a genre
slugfest on Sunday nights between Steven Spielberg’s Sea Quest DSV (1993 –
1995) and ABC’s romantic superhero-lite adventure, Lois and Clark: The New
Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1996).
in their right mind would have or could have predicted back in September 1993
that a series about the paranormal -- airing
on upstart Fox -- would out-live both of the aforementioned high-profile genre
programs, and garner much more popularity and critical success than
fact, as I’ve written before, when most people remember TV in the 1990s, they
think, at least in my experience, of two specific series: Seinfeld and The
be using this year on the blog -- The X-Files twentieth anniversary --
to remember the latter series, which remains very much a benchmark for
series since The X-Files have built upon its considerable successes, but few
(if any) have surpassed the program or achieved the same level of wide cultural
X-Files is indeed the Star Trek of the 1990s, and
therefore one of the most important titles in the history of the genre, on a
par with The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, certainly.
Trek before it, The X-Files boasts a rabid and large
fan base, has made the transition to the big screen, and seen its storytelling
translated to the venues of comic-books, video games, and novels. Catchphrases from the series, (like “the truth
is out there,” “Trust No One,” and “I want to believe”) have become part of our
shared pop culture landscape as well. The X-Files also generated spin-offs
(including Millennium and The Lone Gunmen) and literally
dozens of (some quite worthy) imitators, from The Burning Zone to Prey to
World to the more recent Fringe.
you likely recall with clarity, The X-Files is the continuing story
of two F.B.I. agents of vastly different qualifications and temperaments, but a
common ground in the quality of curiosity.
one hand is the believer: Oxford-educated psychologist Fox Mulder (David
the other is Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a medical doctor and devout
Catholic who demands that all of Mulder’s “beliefs” about alleged paranormal
events achieve a high-threshold in terms of scientific accuracy and empirical evidence.
out of the F.B.I. Building’s basement in Washington D.C., Scully and Mulder --
utilizing their vastly different “seeing” lenses of skepticism and belief --
investigate during the course of the series alien
abduction (“Pilot,” “Duane Barry”),
demonology (“The Calusari,” “Die Hand der Verletz”), local legends (“The Jersey Devil”), weird genetic mutants (“Squeeze,” “The Host,” “Teliko,” “2Shy”), prehistoric or ancient monsters (“Ice,”
“Darkness Falls,” “Detour”), global
conspiracies (“Erlenmeyer Flask,” “The Red and the Black”), serial killers (“Irresistible,”
“Unruhe,” “Paper Hearts”) and even
vampires (“3,” “Bad Blood.”)
also explore cases involving astral
projection (“The Walk,”) reincarnation
(“Lazarus,” “The Field Where I Died”),
telepathy (“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Pusher”), and psychic surgery (“Milagro.”)
this thumbnail description of the premise and characters hardly does The
there have been other TV series about the paranormal (One Step Beyond [1959 –
1961], The Sixth Sense [1972 – 1973] and Beyond Reality [1991 –
1993] to name just three), so the subject matter isn’t necessarily the thing
that makes The X-Files so special.
That isn’t the key to the series’ continuing popularity.
X-Files’ intelligent writing -- which
assumed that audiences could keep up and pay attention -- was both cutting
edge (focused often on the details of forensic pathology), and emotionally
stars Duchovny and Anderson developed a scintillating chemistry and rapport over
time that made every new adventure a delight.
Scully and Mulder were partners…but also, in a way, competitors. They were dancers circling each other and in
some sense attempting to gain the higher ground in terms of their curiosity and
world view. The Mulder/Scully
back-and-forth repartee elevated each story of the paranormal or supernatural on
X-Files to a new level, one where it was the human condition itself – and our assumptions about it -- that was
up for debate.
creator Chris Carter once noted of his two protagonists: “They
[Mulder and Scully] are equal parts of my desire to believe in something and my
inability to believe in something. My
skepticism and my faith…I want, like a lot of people do, to have the experience
of witnessing a paranormal phenomenon.
At the same time, I want not to accept it, but to question it.” (David
Bischoff; Omni, December 1994, page
the points-of-view of characters Scully and Mulder then, the audience essentially
gets one “whole” person: a complete but conflicted world-view. It’s no surprise that the characters complete
one another, because they form, essentially, a well-rounded, curious outlook on
life. This creative writing structure --
with Mulder and Scully each voicing one
half of a “universal” personality -- plays an important role in the series’
would be remiss if I did not also mention the series’ photography, production
design and overall look. The series
regularly makes use of film grammar to visually create tension, forge suspense,
and develop an often trance-like mood or atmosphere.
is a certain kind of shot, for instance, that I associate irrevocably with The
X-Files. It involves a
low-perched camera, near floor level, untethered and on the prowl. The camera moves forward through unknown
terrain (a high tech office, a Victorian home, or anywhere else) and constantly
probes for something new -- something unseen or undetected -- in regular, daily
The low-perched camera, moving
forward into undiscovered countries thus mimics the series’ thematic material,
which concerns the exploration of “extreme possibilities.”
arrived, historically, at the beginning of an era when television was moving away
from standalone dramas to serials and “arcs.”
this means is that Mulder and Scully could not simply walk away from a case they
were investigating and forget all about it.
They didn’t begin their next story with no memory of what had happened
the contrary, many cases caused repercussions for the characters that would
last for seasons, or even for the duration of the series.For instance, Mulder underwent a
many-seasons-long search for his missing sister, Samantha, whom he believed had
been abducted by aliens.Scully was apparently
abducted by aliens in the second season, grappled with terminal cancer in the
fourth season, and struggled with problems of infertility in the later years.
cases were connected in other ways too, by a thread that X-Files fans have come to
understand as “The Mytharc.” These tales were of a global Syndicate or
Conspiracy prepping for an alien colonization of Earth. But like the Hydra,
this conspiracy of men had many heads, or many facets, and for years Mulder and
Scully nibbled around the edges of the master-plan, able to discern only pieces
of the larger puzzle.
in the age of Dexter, Mad Men, The Walking Dead and other serials, The
X-Files’ achievement of sustained, always-developing story lines may
not seem like a big deal. But The X-Files remains a critical
“bridge” series between the standalone era and the more heavily serialized
1994, critics had begun to detect that The X-Files was something
special. Writing for Omni in December of 1994 (pages 43 –
50), David Bischoff noted that “The direction is atmospheric, the scripts are
tight, the dialogue is crisp, the tone uneasy and grim….How can anyone not love
The New Leader, James Wolcott called The
X-Files “as scary as The Twilight Zone and much
sexier…What’s erotic about the show is its slow progression from reverie to
revelation, stopping just short of rapture.
It wants to swoon, but swooning would mean shutting its eyes, and
there’s so much to see.” (April 18, 1994, pages 98, - 100).
1999, TV Guide’s Matt Roush
accurately noted that “Many weeks…The X-Files is as good as any
movie,” and indeed, the horror genre suffered something of an identity crisis
in the 1990s while attempting to compete with Chris Carter’s sterling creation. Why go out to see an untested commodity (like
a new film), when The X-Files promised quality “scares” week-in and week-out?
forward into 2013, I’ll be writing at least one X-Files episode review a
week, and attempting to do this classic Chris Carter series justice. I’ll be picking my favorite episodes, but
also trying to pull from the various sub-genres this spectacular horror series
categories do feature many cross-overs and are (in no particular order):
Trust No One
category includes episodes in which the U.S. Government (and sometimes private
corporations) conduct secret experiments on citizens for nefarious
purposes.. Some of these stories
directly involve the Myth-Arc, but others do not.
Examples: “Eve,” “Ghost in the Machine,”
“Blood,” “Sleepless,” “Red Museum,” “F. Emasculata,” “Soft Light,” “Wetwired,”
“The Pine Bluff Variant,” “Drive,” and “Dreamland.”
Freaks of Nature
these stories, mutants and monsters feed on and otherwise exploit the human
populace.Some of the freaks of nature
are inbred and deformed (“Home”), whereas others are genetic mutations and
possibly a strange dark alley (or dead end…) of human evolution.Often the freaks are caused by human
irresponsibility (“The Host”), but other times they are merely trying to
fulfill a biological need (“2Shy,” “Teliko.”)In one instance, “Hungry,” the freak of the week’s point of view is
explored rather fully and found to be pitiable.
Examples: “Squeeze,” “Tooms,” “The Jersey
Devil,” “The Host,” “Humbug,” “D.P.O.,” “2Shy,” “Teliko,” “Home,” “Small
Potatoes,” “Leonard Betts,” “Detour.”
these stories, ancient ethnic legends are seen to have a basis in fact. This particular X-Files story-type plays
on the idea that Western-based “science” does not see the whole picture when it
comes to life (and death) on the planet.
In these tales, ethnic legends and curses from around the globe inevitably
prove true, even though they operate outside our concepts of reality and even
Examples: “Teso Dos Bichos,” “Kaddish,”
“Hell Money,” “El Mundo Gira,” “Badlaa.”
From the Dawn of
episodes concern life-forms from prehistory.
Unfortunately, they re-assert themselves in the present because of
climactic changes or man’s encroachment on long-standing territory. These life-forms are millions of years old
and exhibit qualities inimical to human survival. Sometimes, they exist in remote locations (a
volcano, or the Arctic, for example), and sometimes they are just around the
corner, in the Appalachians.
life is at the center of many X-Files stories, though ultimately
not validated empirically within the continuity (for the most part). There is some heavy overlap between aliens
and the Mytharc stories since the latter involve the colonization of Earth and
the restoration of an alien virus (the black oil) that was the planet’s
Examples: “Pilot,” “Space,” “E.B.E.,”
“Genderbender,” “Little Green Men,” “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” “Colony,”
“End Game,” “Talitha Cumi,” “Herrenvolk,” “War of the Coprophages,”
“Travelers,” “The Beginning,” “The Unnatural,” “Biogenesis.”
stories explore aspects of Christian mythology and ask questions about it. Is God real?
Is the Devil? Why can Mulder so
readily believe in aliens, monsters, and time loops but not in Scripture? Conversely, why does Scully permit herself
faith in Christian lore, but not the paranormal? Where is her precious science when it comes
to the Bible? This kind of story,
involving Christian mythology also exposes the protagonists’ inability to see
outside their own world-view.
Examples: “Miracle Man,” “Die Hand der
Verletzt,” “Revelations,” “All Souls,” “Terms of Endearment.”
The Serial Killer
style of X-Files tale was minimized late in the program’s run to
accommodate the format on Millennium (1996 – 1999). Originally, however, serial killers appeared
quite frequently on The X-Files to represent the “evil within” humanity.
astral projection to clairvoyance, from soul migration to astrology (the effect
of heavenly bodies on human bodies), The X-Files obsessed on psychic
phenomena throughout its nine year run.
Examples: “Fire,” “Beyond the Sea,”
“Shadows,” “Born Again,” “Lazarus,” “Young at Heart,” “Roland,” “The List,”
“The Walk,” “Excelsius Dei,” “Aubrey,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,”
“Oubliette,” “Syzygy,” “Pusher,” “The Field Where I Died,” “Elegy,”
“Kitsunegari,” “Mind’s Eye,” “Trevor,” “Milagro,” “Via Negativa.”
these stories, The X-Files charts the U.S. government’s association with
aliens, and secret plans for impending alien colonization. Mulder’s family history and association with
the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), as well as Scully’s abduction fit
into this subset of narrative.
brand of story features a large recurring/supporting cast, including Agent
Krycek (Nicholas Lea), The Well-Manicured Man, Agent Spender, and Cassandrea
Spender (Veronica Cartwright). There is
heavy overlap between this story type and the “Aliens” sub-type.
Examples: “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” “Duane
Barry,” “Ascension,” “Colony,” “End Game,” “Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way,”
“Paper Clip,” “Piper Maru,” “Apocrypha,” “Terma,” “Tunguska,” “Tempus Fugit,”
“Max,” “731,” “Nisei,” “Redux,” “Redux II,” “The End,” “Two Fathers, One Son.”
The Horror Standards/Tropes
television features a set of standard stories or tropes that are hauled out again and again. The X-Files demonstrates real wit
and innovation dealing with stories and characters that have appeared on Night
Gallery, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Tales from The Crypt,
standards include stories about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, crazy computers,
succubi, cannibalism, science run amok, time loops, evil dolls, and zombies.
Examples: “Shapes,” “The Ghost in the
Machine,” “3,” “Dod Kalm,” “Our Town,” “Avatar,” “Never Again,” “Post-Modern
Prometheus,” “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” “Bad Blood,” “Kill Switch,”
“Chinga,” “Monday,” “Millennium.”
I blog about The X-Files this year, I’ll be selecting stories from each
sub-set for retrospectives, and also posting a giant Mytharc post/survey at one
point, likely late in the year when I’ve re-watched all the episodes and have
something new (and hopefully intriguing…) to offer on the subject.
hope you’ll join me in remembering The X-Files this year. The truth is out there.
begin the survey soon with the first episode: “Pilot” (September 10, 1993).
form of television entertainment or programming that seems to have largely fallen
out of favor with the American public -- but which I remember from my childhood
in the 1970s -- is the variety show.
those who don’t remember variety shows, they represent an unholy blend or combination
of genres, but usually feature both comedy skits and musical production
seventies represent the last age of variety programs on the tube. Why did
these programs begin to diminish in popularity in the decade of Nixon and
Carter? One can only speculate, but the musical form lost its relevance perhaps because of the new film “reality” aesthetic of the late 1960s and
films featured more violence and seemed more gritty and realistic, as in the case
of the blockbuster hit The French Connection, or even Jaws. The musical
form -- which is all about artifice -- became less and less relevant in age
which prized naturalism over theatricality or artifice.
may also be that, in the 1970s, there was a growing belief among viewers at
home that the conventions of the variety show -- now colored in polyester and bell bottoms -- had grown stale, and
were threatening to descend into full-on, high-camp.
in disco decade, some variety programming managed to remain popular for a time. The most successful of these programs was no doubt
and Marie (1976 – 1979) starring the Osmonds. This ABC series ran for several years and
featured the likable, smiling young hosts singing both country and rock-and-roll
songs. I recall that, as a kid, I watched
the show for its relevant if not particularly good pop culture skits. In its time, Donny and Marie parodied Star
Wars and ABC’s Battlestar Galactica, for example.
The former featured R2-D2 and C3PO, plus Red Foxx (as Ben Kenobi) and Kris
Kristofferson as Han Solo.
attempted to duplicate Donny and Marie’s breakthrough
success with a second musical duo on The Captain and Tennille, which saw
such guest stars as John Travolta, Leonard Nimoy, Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope. The
series was canceled after a year, but the ratings never dropped, and several
Captain and Tennille specials followed.
and Marie and The Captain and Tennille were considered
popular enough to merit toy merchandise. Donny and Marie had action figures and a TV
studio available from Mattel, and Captain and Tennille Action figures were manufactured
and sold by Mego. Today, these items are all
highly-prized collectibles. One of the best toy/nostalgia blogs, Plaid Stallions, recently featured a look at the 1977 Donny and Marie Catalog, here.
of the truly bizarre variety shows of the 1970s was The Brady Bunch Variety Hour,
a spin-off of the popular sitcom, and sponsored by Sid and Marty Kroftt. The series featured the mixed-family in the unlikely role of disco singers and hosts. It (mercifully) lasted only a handful of episodes before a prompt cancellation and today remains
a strange television artifact. The
singing and dancing are awful for the most part, and more often than not the Bradys are decked
out in the tightest jump suits humanly possible.
about the last prominent variety show I can think of also came from Sid and
Marty Krofft: 1980’s Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters. This country-themed series ran for two
successful seasons, and I remember watching it every week in my house. I don’t know exactly why that was the case, since I’m not a
huge fan of country music…except that my family didn’t own a VCR yet.
the most successful variety program of the 1970s is the one still airing today:
Night Live (1975 - ). The series is billed today largely as a comedy, but pretty clearly it remains a mix of music
and comedy, and just tries to avoid the old-fashioned label of “variety” show.
please enjoy some of the weirder moments of the mid-1970s variety shows. They remain a (mostly) extinct relic of a
time long gone, and an aesthetic that has lost its relevance in the pop culture.