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.
Saturday, March 09, 2013
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Herculoids: "The Pirates" (1967)
Herculoids (1967 – 1969) aired on Saturday mornings before I was born,
but I watched it endlessly in reruns as a kid, and have always had affection
for it. The series visuals were designed
by Alex Toth, the artist behind Space Ghost and other H.B. efforts.
is set on the distant, jungle world of Azmot.
There, a human family consisting of Zandor (Mike Road), his wife, Tara
(Virginia Gregg) and son Dorno (Ted Eccles) defend the unspoiled planet from technologically-advanced
invaders. They do so with the assistance
of several colorful and dynamic alien creatures.
aliens are: Zok, the flying dragon, Igoo, a giant stone ape-like creature,
Tundro the rhino-ceratops, and last but not least, the playful protoplasmic
adult and child, Gloop and Gleep.
Possessed of more than a mere rudimentary intelligence, all these bizarre
creatures rally when faced with external menaces.
Gloop and Gleep
it is never spoken or explicitly stated on screen, The Herculoids appears to
be a space age variation on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan mythos.
wild, unspoiled Azmot represents Africa at the turn of the 19th-20th
century, and Zandor is the lord of this particular jungle. In the Tarzan story, Tarzan was sometimes accompanied
by his wife, Jane, and son Jack, and those characters have clear counterparts
here in Tara and Dorno. The aliens that
Zandor communicates with on the series -- Zok, Igoo, Tundro and Gloop and Gleep
-- represent the wild animals of the jungle, the apes and elephants,
specifically, that Tarzan cooperated with.
many Tarzan narratives, particularly the films, the “white man” invades Tarzan’s
jungle with his technology and imperialistic/capitalistic philosophy, only to
be beaten back by Tarzan’s efforts. That
element is also preserved in The Herculoids, with Zandor and his
family constantly resisting space age incursion and high technology, and using
the “primitive” qualities of team work and cooperation to do so.
the episode “The Pirates,” this dynamic is asserted. A group of hostile space pirates board a
spaceship in flight while the crew is asleep in suspended animation, and steal
a treasure. They hope to bury the loot
on Zandor’s world, Azmot.
on Azmot, these pointy-eared, goggled pirates abduct Dorno, “the perfect
hostage” to make Zandor comply with their demands. But Gloop rescues the boy, and Igoo smashes
the spaceship, sending the pirates careening into a mountainside.
Herculoids gaze at the wreckage and Dorno asks about the treasure. Zandor notes: “we’ll leave it there and forget it.
And hope no one ever finds it.”
The point is, of course, that material wealth means nothing to the
the didactic Saturday morning program of the 1970s, such as Shazam
of the Lost, The Herculoids is all action all the time.
short, ten minute installments consist of a constant jazzy soundtrack, cacophonous
prehistoric grunting and roaring, and space-age sound effects. The visuals are, delightfully, incredibly
pulpy in nature. The invading aliens man
“flying torpedoes,” arm themselves with ray guns, and possess green skin and
pointed ears. The technology is basic
mid-1960s futuristic, meaning stream-lined rocket ships with fins, and large
computer banks. I have a tremendous love
for this old-fashioned “future” look, and also love the alien monsters of The
problem of course is that the stories are incredibly repetitive, and not much character
background is provided. Even “The
Pirates” doesn’t really make a point of providing closure. Are the pirates killed when their spaceship
crashes into the mountain? Are they
captured? What happens to them?
the series characters and situations raise questions. Why have Zandor and his family shunned
civilization in the space age? As “The
Pirates” suggests, Zandor is known throughout the galaxy. Who is
he?A soldier who once fought in a
galactic war? A vanquished leader?
movie adaptations of beloved franchises can be dicey, a live-action version of The
Herculoids would be great assuming it maintains the design of the
characters, puts some flesh on the Tarzan flourishes, and gives a little
background on the outer space milieu, and Zandor’s past. I know that new Tarzan movies are currently in
the works, but audiences have demonstrated (in the instances of The
Shadow, The Phantom, The Rocketeer, and Sky Captain and the World of
Tomorrow) that they don’t want to go back to a previous age for modern
captures the essence of the Tarzan universe, while also setting the story in
the far-flung future.