Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pop Art: Coloring Books (Land of the Lost Edition)

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Scarab" (November 27, 1976)

“Scarab” is the “evil Chaka” episode of Land of the Lost.  And while it is a little strange to see the kindly Pakuni (Philip Paley) acting so violently and anti-socially, the installment works as a cautionary tale, especially for children.  It’s all too easy, as Jack Marshall (Ron Harper) notes at one point, to let bad behavior grow and grow until it becomes self-destructive.

In “The Scarab,” Chaka doesn’t want to do his daily chores at the temple homestead.  Instead, he decides to capture a golden scarab that has caught his fancy.  Chaka captures the insectoid, which is some weird “variety of beetle.”  But when he mishandles it…it stings him.  The sting, alas, transforms Chaka into a violent, deceitful individual.  He puts out the fire in the Marshall’s temple, even as a thunderstorm approaches. He turns over shelves.  He directs Grumpy into his friends’ path.  He even runs to the Lost City and steals the head of the Oracle from The Library of Skulls.  And when confronted about his misdeeds, Chaka is unrepentant.

The Sleestak capture Will (Wesley Eure).  They blame him for the theft of the Voice of Wisdom from the Library of Skulls, and threaten to drop him into the Pit unless the Marshalls find and return the skull.  However, Enik saw Chaka steal the skull, and warns the Marshalls that the Paku has offended the Gods. Now Chaka must atone for his mistreatment of the beetle.  The Marshalls help Chaka do just that, offering the golden scarab flowers.

In the end, Will escapes and Chaka is returned to normal just as a thunderstorm comes down on the Land of the Lost.

One thing I never want to do while writing these reviews of Land of the Lost is forget that the series is, by time-slot and design, conceived for children.  Sometimes the series is so well-done and so intelligent that it is indeed easy to forget that.  While I don’t think “Scarab” is a particularly strong entry in the Land of the Lost canon, I can nonetheless see its didactic value.  In short, a lot of kids feel that if they do something wrong, they can’t come back from that something.  Instead, they are now simply “bad” and must live up (or down…) to that reputation.  That’s very much what happens to Chaka here. He’s unable to recover, until the Marshalls help, from a kind of anti-social death spiral.

Although some elements of “The Scarab” don’t really work very well -- such as the idea of soliciting favor from an insect as the cure to a sting -- the episode certainly makes its point.  I especially appreciate how Jack and even Enik [Walker Edmiston], for a change) don’t pass judgment on Chaka.  Instead, they try to help; to talk to him. This is indeed what we expect from adults and caretakers: patience and love.

Speaking of Enik, this episode represents the Altrusian’s last appearance in the series.

Next week, the final episode of Land of the Lost: “Medicine Man.”

Friday, February 15, 2013

Women in Horror Month #2: Carrie (1976)

Although he had directed many fine feature films before this 1976 thriller (including the exquisite Sisters [1973] and Phantom of the Paradise [1974]), it was Carrie that truly landed Brian De Palma on the cinematic A list.

The director's critically and financially successful adaptation of the Stephen King novel not only assured De Palma a long and storied career in Hollywood, it also set off a virtual blizzard of celluloid King adaptations vetted by high-profile film directors (Tobe Hooper and Salem's Lot [1978], Stanley Kubrick and The Shining [1980], David Cronenberg and The Dead Zone [1981], George Romero and Creepshow [1982], John Carpenter and Christine [1983], Rob Reiner and Misery, etc.). This is a horror trend that endured well into the 1990s, and even to into this decade, though to perhaps a less-significant degree.

Carrie proved so resonant as a horror genre initiative, in fact, that it spawned a fad, a significant  number of B movie imitations. These were films about wronged, lonely teens seeking bloody vengeance against their cruel school mates. These films had titles such as Ruby (1977), Jennifer (1978), Laserblast (1978) and Evilspeak (1981)

With his keen and accomplished visual sense, De Palma creates an intimate portrait in Carrie of this aforementioned adolescent, high-school cruelty. It's Lord of the Flies in a locker room...only with mean girls instead of wild boys. In her review of the film for New Yorker, critic Pauline Kael noted that prior to De Palma's film, "no one else has ever caught the thrill that teenagers get from a dirty joke and sustained it for a whole picture," terming Carrie a "terrifyingly lyrical thriller."

Most critics strongly agreed with the assessment that King's novel found perfect expression in De Palma's capable hands. Film Quarterly, Volume XXI (page 32) in 1977 noted that "De Palma develops his familiar motifs of exploitation, guilt and sexual repression with a sure hand, so that his visual fireworks for the first time do not seem themselves obsessional and out of control." Roger Ebert wrote in his review of January 1, 1976 that: Brian De Palma's Carrie is an absolutely spellbinding horror movie, with a shock at the end that's the best thing along those lines since the shark leaped aboard in Jaws. It's also (and this is what makes it so good) an observant human portrait. This girl Carrie isn't another stereotyped product of the horror production line; she's a shy, pretty, and complicated high school senior who's a lot like kids we once knew."

Today, no less than three major sequences in Carrie have entered the pop-culture lexicon (and endured there for over thirty years.) These three sequences are so well-directed, so brilliantly-staged that they jump immediately to mind when considering the film. More importantly, they visually support the film's narrative: forging an understanding of Carrie's world and what it means, in some cases, to "grow up." Those scenes are set in a girl's locker room, at the senior prom, and finally, (ominously...) grave side.

We're All Very Sorry For This Incident: The Curse of Blood

In part, Carrie works so splendidly, because of the universality of the high school experience. Sometimes it feels like high school is a realm where cruelty -- along with apathy -- has become institutionalized.

Teenagers often seem to boast a sixth sense (or is it a killer instinct?) about those students who are less well-adjusted, who come from bad homes, or who are just more sensitive...and therefore vulnerable. And then those kids are ridiculed, teased, shunned and mocked sometimes, to the point of sadism.

Probably nothing could expose this milieu more clearly (or more artfully) than the locker room scene that opens Carrie. After a game of volleyball (shot from a high angle, as if to clue in the audience to the fact that something terrible is soon to occur...), De Palma cuts to the gym locker room. The steam from the showers softens the image on screen, providing the impression of a lulling dream, or even a sexual fantasy. Immediately, we start to understand how high school represents a time of sexual awakening.

As the camera pans right, accompanied by the romantic strains of Pino Donaggio's score, the audience sees gorgeous young women frolicking, nude or half-nude after their exertions on the court. As I wrote in Horror Films of the 1970s, this is an "erotic image of wood nymphs at play," one intended to arouse, titillate and stimulate. But as the camera moves past this fanciful action in a forward motion, we soon spy Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) alone in a shower. It's a strangely solitary, personal and erotic moment too. The young woman caresses herself in slow-motion. Glistening water drops decorate her euphoric face. A phallic-shaped shower-head sprays water down upon her.

Carrie's hands wander innocently down to her stomach, then her legs -- and, as curious viewers -- we wonder how far this scene is going to go. As Carrie's hands continue to spiral downwards to her legs, scarlet blood suddenly stains her skin, mixing with the pounding water. It's menstrual blood. On her fingers, on her legs. On the floor.

This is a typical De Palma bait-and-switch, a deliberate reversal or undoing of expectations. Those males in the audience aroused by the sight of female nudity are no doubt -- much like the disturbed school principal featured in the next scene -- not at all aroused by the visual of a high school girl getting her period. A sexy fantasy has given way to common reality

The dream-like nature of this sequence dissipates quickly now, giving way to abject horror. Carrie does not know or understanding what is happening to her. She believes she is dying. From a subjective point-of-view shot, we now see harsh reality: the other high school girls categorically reject Carries' entreaties for help and the "misty" look of the scene has evaporated. With startling cruelty, the girls even toss tampons at the desperate Carrie. We get close-ups of taunting, ugly faces, and hear the girls' mean chants. Those beautiful bodies in the slow-motion dream have given way to the cruel reality of high school. Mocking, teasing, the mob mentality. Like pack animals, the teen girls can smell the weak number in their pack...and go in for the kill.

This scene serves a few important narrative functions. First, the visual obsession on young, sexy bodies (and Carrie's body, in particular...) serve to note the full extent of this character's burgeoning womanhood. Though shy and awkward, Carrie is also beautiful in an innocent way...stepping into the realm of sexual maturity with awkwardness.

Secondly, the hurling of the tampons and the close-ups of twisted, evil faces mocking Carrie help to dramatize what a delicate, uncomfortable, embarrassing time this can be for those undergoing puberty. Through the cruelty of the girls in the locker room, we comes to sympathize for Carrie's feelings of isolation and separation. In addition to her sexual maturation, this scene charts Carrie's first steps into "psychic" maturity as well. Her outrage at the cruel treatment causes a telekinetic burst: the shattering of a lamp bulb over the shower enclosure. This is clear foreshadowing...

Another scene -- less showy and far less notorious than the locker room sequence -- also reveals much about Carrie's school life and builds on our compassion. The only bright light in Carrie White's world is her quiet, heretofore secret affection for classmate Tommy Ross (William Katt). De Palma finds a unique way to connect these characters visually the first time that they share a scene. In English Class, Tommy is highlighted in the foreground of one shot, in an extreme close-up. Meanwhile, Carrie is depicted as diminutive and tiny, in the background of the self-same shot. Interpreting what our eyes see, he is thus paramount -- a towering paragon -- and she is literally almost a midget, an after-thought in distant orbit of his "star." Yet importantly, the characters share the same frame. De Palma's choice of shots here expresses Carrie's own (insecure) view of self. To her, Tommy is "big" and "shiny," at center stage, while she is "small" and far from attention. Almost unseen.

In Horror and Science Fiction Films II (Scarecrow Press, 1982, page 52), critic Donald C Willis noted that "it's debatable who's meaner to Carrie - her fellow students or her director, who draws out their elaborate prank for 90 minutes, then lovingly shoots its penultimate slow motion."

I understand his point, but, as always, we should ask the question "why?" I submit that that De Palma makes much of the film a torturous build-up to Carrie's moment of explosive rage not so we can mock her; but so we sympathize with her. The film spends much time on Carrie's home life with her stark-raving-crazy mother (Piper Laurie), a zealous, Christian, fundamentalist freak. Between these harrowing home sequences and those set in high school, the audience rightly wonders how much this poor girl can endure Then, De Palma grants us that gleaming moment of hope as Tommy and Carrie appear to develop a meaningful relationship. De Palma again pulls a bait-and-switch (with his lying camera, dammit!), letting the hope linger in our minds that perhaps, just perhaps, Carrie has found the very kindred spirit who will allow her to join the rest of the world and vanquish her intense loneliness and awkwardness. Of course, this is not to be...

Split-Screen Prom Queen

De Palma is renowned for the cleverness of his climactic set-pieces, and Carrie gives us one of his most terrifying, and his most accomplished. His camera prowls the prom as Carrie and Tommy attend the dance and Carrie -- for the first time in the movie -- is all smiles. She is still tender, vulnerable, but her hopes have been raised (as have ours). The gym coach, Mrs. Collins (Buckley) even shares a tender story with Carrie about her own prom.

This is the brand of personal, human story another horror film might not pause to record with such meticulous attention, but again, De Palma pulls the rug right out from under us (and his characters). Mrs. Collins' anecdote -- like the dream-like moment in the shower, or like the hope of a relationship with Tommy -- encourages us in the hope that Carrie is going to have a beautiful experience too. To that end, De Palma's camera dizzily revolves around the happy couple (Carrie and Tommy) as they dance together.

At first, these camera revolutions are euphoric and romantic, an intoxicating moment of hope realized, dreams come true. But then the rotating accelerates, out of control, faster and faster. Because of the off-kilter, fast-moving camera, we just know things are not going to go well. When De Palma's camera then tracks one of the mean girls, P.J. Soles, onto the stage, and the camera determinedly banks up to the rafters, to a shaky pail filled with pig's blood, our hearts sink.

The trap is set.

And again, De Palma gives us a happy moment. Carrie and Tommy are crowned king and queen of the prom, and this revelation is shot using triumphant slow-motion photography. Only this time, we don't feel dreamy or intoxicated...or even triumphant. On the contrary, we're agonized. We know what is coming now, and the slow-motion victory lap drags out our tight-throated feelings of anticipation and dread to an almost unbearable degree. We see what is going to happen but we can't stop it. Now the film marches inexorably towards terror, and the explosion of Carrie's monstrous rage; the force of her anger.

When Carrie is finally "crowned" in pig's blood on stage, the horrifying moment is a specific reflection of the locker-room/shower debacle at the beginning of the film, wherein Carrie first confronted the flowing of her vaginal blood; her messy, confusing entrance into adulthood. Her mother has told her that blood represents sin ("First comes the blood, then comes the sin,") so imagine poor Carrie's terror at being covered in such blood in public; worse -- on stage. By loving Tommy, she must fear, she has again brought the flowing of blood.

Carrie's climactic psychic outburst is depicted utilizing one of De Palma's favorite techniques: the split screen. In this case, the split-screen connotes the instantaneous, light speed transmission of telekinesis; the cause-and-effect relationship of the psychic power. Visualized in one side of the frame, Carrie turns her head, widens her eyes, and casts her gaze upon a specific tormentor. In the other side of the frame, we see the simultaneous psychic effect of the murderous gaze. Someone falls down, someone catches fire, or there is an explosion.

The prom apocalypse also flashily reflects the film's themes. Adults in Carrie are depicted in various shades of negativity. They are colored as uncaring (the principal, who can't remember Carrie's name), utterly mad (Mrs. White), sedated and drunk (Mrs. Snell), or heartless and bitter (Carrie's mocking English teacher). At their very best, the adults might come off as capricious, like Mrs. Collins, whose draconian punishment of the mean girls spawns the revenge against Carrie.

But now that Carrie is an adult -- covered in blood -- we can therefore no longer sympathize with her. Accordingly, she goes beyond the bounds of the "sane" during her incredible telekinetic attack, killing friends (Mrs. Collins) and foes without distinguishing between them. The innocent and the guilty both fall to her wrath and in the end, that's what makes Carrie a monster adult monster like all those around her. De Palma has proven successful at making Carrie sympathetic until this point, until Carrie's "real" entrance into adulthood. The world has taught Carrie to be cruel, and at the Prom, she learns that lesson too well.

Carrie White Burns in Hell. Or, Did You Ever Stop to think that Carrie White Has Feelings?

The third "famous" moment in Carrie arrives at film's end. It's possibly the best sting-in-the-tail/tale ending ever captured on film. It's certainly the most-imitated. Shot in misty slow-motion (again like the locker room sequence preamble...), Sue Snell (Amy Irving) lovingly deposits flowers on Carrie's grave. Her intentions had been good; and despite all the horror Carrie wrought, Sue still has some residual feelings of compassion for the girl who everybody teased. But then, without warning, Sue is pulled down into the grave by Carrie's groping, burned claw. The message: even the innocent must fear Carrie, because she has lost control of her hate.

Sue awakens from the nightmare, traumatized and terrified, and the movie ends with heart-pumping, breathless intensity. We understand that Sue will never be the same; will never view the world the same way. If Carrie has moved into adulthood in the film; so has Sue. She has learned that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Carrie is a terrifying film dominated by the three memorable scenes I have outlined in this review (the locker room opening; the prom set-piece, and the terrifying coda). But it is more than that too.

Again, as I wrote in Horror Films of the 1970s, what you ultimately take away from Brian De Palma's adaptation is a sense of growing frustration with a world that allows good people to be tormented and then turned into monsters themselves. Carrie was so harried, so abused by everyone in her life that she finally retaliated with the very force of hatred she despised so much in others. In charting this story, Stephen King and Brian De Palma chart a cycle of violence. They remind us how children turn to us -- adults -- for guidance and compassion. How they turn to us as role models, and how they sometimes fall through the cracks and find themselves lost, rudderless..emulating only the worst angels of human nature.

De Palma executes Carrie like a perfectly-realized cruel practical joke indeed; but not to debauch us; not to make us gawk or laugh at lonely Carrie White. On the contrary, De Palma victimizes the audience, much as Carrie is herself victimized throughout this harrowing film. He reminds us that in youth (and indeed, adulthood) we've all had to contend with our own Chris Hargensons and Billly Nolans: people who are cruel simply for the sake of cruelty. With his dream visions shattered by harsh reality, with his dazzling split screens, even with his anticipatory, anxiety-provoking slow-motion photography, De Palma reminds us to stop and remember that other people have feelings too.

Carrie White burned in Hell all right. But that Hell was called high school. And the real thing could hardly have been worse than gym class.

Movie Trailer: Carrie (1976)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Comic-Book Review: To Hell You Ride #3

The third issue of Dark Horse’s horror comic–book series from Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake, To Hell You Ride, premieres tomorrow, on February 13th, and it’s a pleasure to report that the story continues to intrigue, and to escalate in intensity and vivid imagery.

The third issue commences with the execution of a man -- a father -- in 1939. It’s a particularly empty and useless death, and that is likely the thematic point. An act of officially-sanctioned murder always destroys more than one life, and can satisfy blood-lust but rarely bring true justice.  In this instance, capital punishment actually sets the path for another life (and perhaps another and another…).  The unnecessary and unjust nature of this death also points to the fact that even in America, some citizens are considered moreequal” than others.  Others are merely…disposable.

To Hell You Ride’s story then shifts to present day as the catastrophic, biological “curse” we saw rear its head in Issue Two returns to gorily claim several drunken revelers in a hot tub.  I loved this out-and-out horror scene because it deals with several genre tropes (like “the breast part of the movie” convention) in very direct fashion, and then ends in visceral, sickening fashion.  This is a scene you could easily imagine on the silver screen, and it is really wicked fun.

Later in the issue, the same flesh-melting force rises again, destroying the corpulent Mayor Boyer immediately after he declares that his town is absolutely, 100% safe.  It’s an ironic moment, of course, and Boyer’s death reveals the authors’ effective sense of gallows or black humor.  Long-time horror comic fans will love this moment for another reason.  The idea of the unjust and avaricious getting their (supernatural?) comeuppance plays like a narrative element from a 1960s E.C. Comic.

As the story continues, the military swoops in with black helicopters, and attempts to quarantine the contaminated town.  The military captures and tests denizens… and even picks-off with snipers those who attempt to flee.  Leading this violent initiative is a malevolent force of darkness named “Blackwash.”  

Before the issue is done, Blackwash gets to utter the famous George W. Bush-ian line: “either you’re with me or against me. I have to protect the nation.” 

In (effective) response, kindly Jim Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen surrogate in appearance and nature -- responds that the people under fire by Blackwash are the nation.  How can violence perpetrated against the spirit and body of the nation be misconstrued as national security or protection?

This third issue of To Hell You Ride contains much more action and horror imagery than did the previous entries combined, yet it continues to develop several cerebral themes.  Specifically, the narrative features several parallel tracks of time.  The notion explored is that time doesn’t have a beginning or an ending, but rather a non-linear structure.  Here Two-Dogs, a character who speaks to his dead ancestors, notes that the idea of “changing fate” is one of white, or western culture.   Fate can’t be changed. Time doesn’t work that way.

The crucial word or idea of last issue, I felt, was “contamination.”  The land was contaminated by the greedy, by the oblivious, by the entitled and the indulged.  In this issue, it looks like the term contamination has been superseded by the word “empathy.” 

Empathy, of course, is the action of understanding; of being aware of or sensitive to someone or something else.  Empathy might also be described as the vicarious experiencing of the feelings and thoughts of another person of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

I highlighted the words in that definition I found most pertinent.

If we couple the authors’ focus on Mother Nature sending man “messages” with the idea of parallel time tracks, plus empathy -- the experience of another, either in the past or the present -- we begin to excavate the secret, beating heart of To Hell You Ride.   As as the definition makes clear, empathy is the quality of understanding without explicit explanation or enunciation.  That definition is, actually, the mode of communication of this comic-book.  Through powerful narrative voice and striking, spiky imagery, the comic tells its tale, but it doesn’t make obvious all the connections for the readers.

That’s our job. To pull all the threads together.

So far, this is how I see things.  Regarding the curse: those who have caused suffering…suffer themselves.  They are not immune to the pain they introduce to the world, and eventually it strikes them too.  You can’t unloose evil in the world without it boomeranging back on you.

I feel the story will develop significantly from this point in issue #4 and #5. Right now we are seeing a curse played out, but without all the details of what it is, or if it can be stopped.  This curse causes the suffering of those who don’t listen, don’t care, and don’t empathize with others.  But mostly, it afflicts those who have shunned, slighted, and mocked Mother Nature.  Those folks aren't listening to the messages.

I suspect this conceit will evolve and grow, and become even more pronounced as the comic winds to its shattering conclusion.  What I feel we will soon start to understand better here is how nature connects all of us (and thus the fabric in this tapestry), and how, through empathy, that “connection” can be something greater or better than mere “contamination.”

Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just reading the breadcrumbs as they drop, as these master storytellers lead us towards the horizon of understanding.   We'll all have a chance to review these analyses after the last issue, and the story is over.

To Hell You Ride Issue # 3 goes on sale tomorrow, so check it out!  

As before, I wholeheartedly recommend reading all the issues back-to-back so one can glean a full sense of the story’s epic flow.  The story is building in momentum with each passing page, and to get the full effect of that momentum, it’s best to start at the beginning.

Theme Song of the Week: The Girl from Tomorrow

Monday, February 11, 2013

Late Night Blogging: Mummy Movies

Ask JKM a Question: A Different Ending for Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001)?

Regular reader, SGB, wrote this on Friday, during Go Ape Day!:

As you celebrate the anniversary of the release of the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, what would be your opinion regarding Tim Burton's Planet of The Apes 2001 if the film’s opening scene had instead been the crash landing of Leo at the Lincoln/Thade Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

That means that the film would have been examining what happened on Earth and had plenty of social commentary regarding apes inserted into our modern technology society? I think this would have been fascinating.

Thank you, John.”

SGB, that idea sounds preferable to the film we actually got in 2001.

The Burton film played the Lincoln/Thade Memorial ending as a kind of gimmicky punch-line that was largely unrelated to the central narrative.  It plays as a gimmick, an attempt to (lamely) match the original’s Statue of Liberty imagery.

Now, if the last shot had been the first shot as you suggest -- an astronaut returning to Earth in our present and finding an advanced simian society -- we would have been a lot closer to the Pierre Boulle book, which still hasn’t been adapted faithfully.  I still hope that a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes) takes this approach. It could, technically, because the prequel script makes mention of a missing space mission as Caesar plans his revolution.  You just know it’s going to return to Earth in 3000 or thereabouts to find ape supreme.

I believe that original Boulle book could be adapted faithfully, even today, with a few new flourishes to account for developments like the net and social media, and a splendid satire would emerge side-by-side with the requisite action elements.  

The thing is, Burton’s film was actually close in some ways.  The Boulle book ended with Ulysses (the Taylor figure) returning from a distant world to find Earth populated by intelligent apes.  The idea was that apes were destined to rise everywhere, wherever intelligent life existed.

So the Lincoln Memorial Ending isn’t that different from the ending of the book, except the book had the opportunity to contextualize its conclusion. Ulysses and Nova escaped from Earth and desperately went looking for a world, any world, where humans would be supreme.  The final joke?  His words were being read by space-faring chimpanzees, ones immediately dismissed his story as a fairy tale.

I really wish Burton had found a way to go with that ending.  Some may not have liked it in comparison to the Statue of Liberty ending, but it would have had the cover of being faithful to the original text.

In short, however, I would love to see a Planet of the Apes (not unlike the animated series) where a technologically-advanced ape culture is featured.  That is, in fact, what Boulle intended in Monkey Planet.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Mummies

A mummy is the preserved corpse of an animal or person.  The preservation may be due to use of chemicals, or unintentional, caused by freak environmental factors.  The mummy remains one of the most famous monsters in the horror movie pantheon, and as such has appeared on cult-television throughout the decades.

On classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) mummies made an unusual appearance in the beloved 1975 serial “Pyramids of Mars.”  There, an alien god, Sutekh the Destroyer, used mummy servants -- robots -- as his hands on Earth.  His plan was to escape entrapment on Mars.

The legend of the mummy was re-cast in a humorous light for Steven Spielberg’s 1985 anthology series, Amazing Stories (1985 – 1987).  “Mummy, Daddy,” by Earl Pomerantz aired on October 27, 1985, and featured a movie actor dressed as a mummy in bandages.  The actor learned that his wife was going into labor, and had to cross the countryside to reach her at the hospital.  In the process, the actor was mistaken for a real mummy, and pursued by torch-wielding villagers right out of James Whale’s Frankenstein.

In Tales from the Crypt’s (1989 – 1996), “Lower Berth,” written by Fred Dekker and directed by Kevin Yagher, the Crypt Keeper revealed his twisted origin story this tale of a circus freak who found love with the mummified corpse of a long-dead princess.  The episode aired on HBO for the first time in July of 1990.

One of the best episodes of She-Wolf of London (1990), “The Bogman of Leitchmour Heath,” written by Anthony Adams and directed by Roger Cheveley, aired in syndication in October of 1990.  The episode concerned a mummy found in a small, rural farm town in England  Under the auspices of black magic, the bog-man (Atticus) was being used to kill the enemies of a local necromancer when Randi (Kate Hodge) and Professor Matheson (Neil Dickson) investigated.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) featured a mummy in its second season entry, “Inca Mummy Girl (October 6, 1997), which involved Xander (Nicholas Brendan) falling in love with an exchange student who was actually a Peruvian mummy.  The mummy, Ampata (Ara Celi) could maintain her appearance as a teenager only by absorbing the life-force of other Sunnydale students. 

On the original Ben 10 (2006 – 2008), one of Ben’s enemies is called “BenMummy.”  Two of the hero’s other enemies are BenVictor (The Frankenstein monster) and BenWolf, a werewolf.  All of these Universal-ish Monsters ulatimately find their way into Tennyson’s omnitrix.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Mummies

Identified by Hugh: Scooby Doo Where are You?

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: The Pyramids of Mars.

Identified by SGB: Tales from the Darkside: "The Grave Robbers."

Identified by Hugh: Amazing Stories: "Mummy, Daddy."




Identified by Sirrus: Star Trek Voyager: "Emanations."

Identified by Carl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Inca Mummy Girl."

Identified by Sirrus: Mummies Alive!


Identified by SGB: BenMummy on Ben 10.

Television and Cinema Verities #57

“I had played Winston Smith in ’1984′ on television, and the next thing I played ‘Doctor Who’. I was doing it in the cinema while Bill Hartnell was doing it on TV! That’s the way it goes. It was no surprise to me to learn that the first ‘Doctor Who’ film was in the top twenty box office hits of 1965, despite the panning the critics gave us. That’s why they made the sequel and why they spent twice as much money on it. Those films are among my favourites because they brought me popularity with younger children. They’d say their parents didn’t want to meet me in a dark alley but ‘Doctor Who’ changed that. After all, he is one of the most heroic and successful parts an actor can play. That’s one of the main reasons the series had such a long run on TV. I am very grateful for having been part of such a success story.”

The late, great Peter Cushing, on his heroic turn as Doctor Who in Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sci-Fi Cityscapes #9: Mongo (Flash Gordon [1980])

Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "Farthing's Comet" (December 22, 1973)

Although the competition for the title (particularly from “And Only Man is Vile”) is fierce, “Farthing’s Comet” may just qualify as the very worst episode of The Starlost I've reviewed so far.

Now just pause and let that idea sink in for a moment.  

“Farthing’s Comet” is the worst episode of The Starlost, at least thus far, and there are only two weeks to go.  I make this distinction because, again, the writers and producers of the series seem to have forgotten its very premise, make no explanation for the characters’ behavior and knowledge, and simply stonewall and obfuscate in one important instance, utterly failing to explain a critical plot-point.

In “Farthing’s Comet,” Devon (Keir Dullea), Garth (Robin Ward) and Rachel (Gay Rowan) are buffeted when asteroids begin to strike the Earth Ship Ark.  The control sphere directs them to an astronomical dome, where Dr. Linus Farthing (Edward Andrews) reports that the ship is on an imminent collision course with a comet.  

Farthing and his associate, Dr. McBride (Linda Sorensen) can do nothing to stop the collision course, or avert the other collision course (the one with a Class G Solar Star).  But Devon and his friends refuse to give up.  Garth pilots a spaceship to the Ark exterior and a damaged thruster unit.  And under McBride and Farthing’s direction, Devon repairs it.  The re-activated thruster moves the Ark out of harm’s way, and all is well.

If you’ve been following my reviews of The Starlost, you can detect from the synopsis above that some things are seriously wrong here.

For the record, allow me to enumerate them:

Garth, Devon and Rachel are space Quakers, essentially, from an agrarian community called Cypress Falls.  We have seen no indication that they have been trained in any high-tech skills.  

Yet in this episode, Garth successfully launches, maneuvers, and docks a small spaceship around the Ark’s outer skin.  Similarly, Devon, though under direction, is able to repair advanced circuitry, and maneuver safely about on a dangerous spacewalk.  Zero-gravity training, as it turns out, is apparently a core Mennonite skill.

Regarding the characters' sudden competency, it’s as though the makers of the series have forgotten (again...) that these folks come from a place of ignorance (but curiosity), not a place of technical know-how.  I wouldn’t rate it as a problem for the heroes to evidence these new skills if some verbal notation had been made that they were in training, or running simulations at that school we saw back in the episode “Children of Methuselah.”  With no notation, however, it’s just baffling and unconvincing that these interstellar Amish folks can find their way around state-of-the-art technology.

Secondly, McBride and Farthing discuss the fact that she designed the space suit that Devon wears.  How is this possible?  This episode occurs over four hundred years after the accident that crippled the Ark.  How are these two original denizens of the Ark even still alive?  If McBride and Farthing and  were in suspended animation, the episode should make a note of that fact.  If instead they took the “immortality” pill mentioned in “Children of Methuselah,” the episode should make note of that too.  Instead, this episode just progresses as though it is completely normal for Devon and his friends to find two original Ark crew-members in a nearby dome, even though half-a-millennia has passed since the Ark's construction.

Thirdly, Farthing and McBridge have given up on the idea that the Ark’s course can be changed to avert the collision with the class G Solar star.  Yet, knowing that the ship is doomed, they continue to conduct research on the nearby comet.  Why? What good is that scientific information regarding comets if the Ark, and everyone aboard with access to that information, is going to be destroyed?

This one gets worse.  Much worse.  Farthing reports at one point that that the Ark’s course cannot be changed. A little later, however, he admits that he changed the Ark’s course, putting it in line with the comet and endangering the ship.  So he is indeed able to adjust the ship’s course.    Presumably, the only thing stopping him from saving the Ark from the collision with the star, then, is the fact that the reactors are down. Right?

And yet, in this episode, Devon, Garth and Rachel fly out in their spaceship and repair that reactor, so the Ark can be saved, and the collision with the comet averted.  If the collision with the comet could be averted, as it is in this episode, why not the collision with the star?  Wouldn’t one course setting (away from both comet and star?) suffice in terms of setting a safe trajectory?

I am a patient person, and I hope a patient critic too, but this episode of The Starlost is absolutely maddening.  It attributes knowledge to characters who shouldn’t have that knowledge, forgets the history/continuity/background of the series, and does creative somersaults to avoid the obvious conclusion that Farthing can save the Ark from the collision with the star.

One little bright spot to report: This episode features some great footage of the Earth Ship Ark miniature, a vast, highly-detailed model.  It appears in McBride's control room, and is really amazing to behold.

Next week: “The Beehive.”