Saturday, April 27, 2013

Monument(al) Destruction #11: Galactica 1980: "Galactica Discovers Earth"

Cult-TV Gallery: Vasquez Rocks

The Outer Limits: "The Zanti Misfits."

Star Trek: "Arena."

The Invaders

Shazam: "The Treasure."

Logan's Run

Buck Rogers: "Flight of the War Witch Part I."

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis."

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Who Watches the Watchers."

Space: Above and Beyond.

Star Trek: Voyager

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Primeval."


Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Treasure" (October 19, 1974)

In “The Treasure,” Billy (Michael Gray) and Mentor (Les Tremayne) learn that thieves have been stealing Native American treasures from sacred ground, and desecrating “the desert,” which is a prime concern of the Elders, who declare the territory “rich” in Indian “history.” 

Billy and Mentor team up with a Native American boy, Johnny and his grandfather to stop the thieves, and preserve “the beauty of the land.”  The thieves, however, nearly escape from a nearby airport…until Captain Marvel stops them.

Like almost every episode of Shazam’s first season thus far, “The Treasure” features no interior locations, only exteriors. 

What makes “The Treasure” fun, however, is the nature of the location shooting.  The episode is shot at the famous Vasquez Rocks, home of the Zanti Misfits (The Outer Limits), the Gorn (Star Trek), and other cult-TV series including The Invaders, Space: Above and Beyond, and Alias.  The famous angled/pointed mountain rock can be seen in “The Treasure” but from a different angle than featured in most programs.  Here, Mentor’s RV -- with the Captain Marvel lightning bolt emblazoned on the hood -- drives down a path right in front of that craggy outcropping.

Otherwise, “The Treasure” is distinguished primarily by its more-accomplished than-usual final action scene.  Here, Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick) chases down a fast-moving plane on the runway, grabs a rudder, and brings the craft to a dead stop.  Through the use of fast-motion photography and a few other tricks, the super heroics actually come off looking rather impressive.

And for those cataloging such factors, “The Treasure” marks the second time in seven episodes (after “The Brothers”) in which Billy’s secret identity as Captain Marvel is learned by an outsider. In this case, it’s the trustworthy Grandfather who knows the truth.

In terms of my retrospective here on the blog, I must confess that Shazam is monumentally uninteresting after seven episodes, and therefore difficult to commit to on a long term basis.  The episodes are preachy, predictable and uninteresting.  There’s not much variation in storytelling.

I’m thinking I’ll get through the first season (nine episodes to go…) and then switch to another Saturday morning series… 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy 30th Anniversary to Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

Destinies Host Dr. Howard Margolin (left) and JKM (right) share a con panel in 2004

Destinies-The Voice of Science Fiction celebrates its 30th anniversary today at  11:00 PM on 90.1FM, WUSB, Stony Brook (net0casting at, with a one-hour special featuring encore readings by authors Ross Rosenfeld (The Stolen Kingdom), William Latham (Space: 1999-Alpha), Patrick Thomas (Fairy Rides the Lightning), and Drew Henriksen (Dragons and Science). 

Also, new music by composers Murray Gold (Doctor Who), Frederik Wiedmann (Green Lantern-The Animated Series), Marco Beltrami (Warm Bodies), and Dennis Dreith (Creep Van) will be featured. Plus, Synergy's version of "Classical Gas" and the results of Christopher DeFilippis' "Sci-Fi Madness" in volume 2, number 136 of "DeFlip Side." 

After the broadcast, the show will be archived for free at

I have been a big fan of Destinies since the year 2000 when I first began listening, and I'm an even bigger fan of its always-prepared, always-smart host, Dr. Howard Margolin.  If you can, check out the show tonight and help celebrate the anniversary.

Comic Review: To Hell You Ride, Issue #4

To Hell You Ride, the five-part comic-book epic by Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake roars back into the pop-culture spotlight with the publication of its fourth issue on May 14…in just a few short weeks.

This fourth issue of this inventive horror series finds Jim Shipp’s quarantined town still under siege by the government’s black helicopters, and now by foreign nationals who have been authorized to kill Americans with impunity in order to contain the crisis. 

The contaminated snow which is responsible for the deaths and the consequent occupation has caused the town to become “divided against itself,” a metaphor, perhaps for America today, almost universally caught in the grip of fear.  That fear, interestingly, is termed an “addiction” in the comic, and addiction ties in with the saga’s running themes, I submit, about contamination and also avarice.   To Hell You Ride implies a modern society overdosing on fear, greed, and violence.

The same emergency has also created two breeds of people, notes the narration: The Insiders, who hide behind locked doors and are afraid of the snow, and the Outsiders who are afraid of the heat that the draconian presence of martial law now brings to them.  Instead of unifying as a single, strong force, the Insiders and Outsiders turn on each other with lethal ferocity.

Sheriff Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen character, essentially -- finds himself in an impossible situation here, attempting to preserve his town as it once was while all Hell breaks loose.  Armed mobs have begun wandering the streets, opening fire on others, and this issue witnesses the death of a major protagonist. 

Finally, the story ends with the ominous notation that “The End is Here,” a reflection of the fact that the final chapter of the saga is upon us.

One thematic conceit underlying this issue of To Hell You Ride is the nature of time itself.  The narration which opens the book notes that time is “not an arrow.  It does not fly straight from past to future.”  

Instead, the audience learns, “Time is a web…everything it touches sends out vibrations.” 

If this information is parsed in terms of story specifics, I take it to mean that the actions which occurred long ago -- and which initiated the curse -- have caused reverberations through time itself, climaxing with the town divided dangerously against itself in the present.  Everyone is suffering because of the actions committed long ago, when the land was sacrificed for the white man’s avarice.  That act was the rock thrown into the placid waters of time, and the shock waves have only begun to crash against the shores of “now.”

Intriguingly, this fourth chapter of the saga also introduces the “Spider,” the creature/being who strides atop the web of time, and I found this character to be a sinister reflection, oddly enough, of the other corrupt humans we’ve seen so far, in the story, namely Blackwash and the (now-deceased) Mayor Cubby Boyers. 

To write too much more about The Spider and the fourth issue’s narrative would ruin some of the surprises, but suffice it to say that To Hell You Ride still possesses the power to shock and awe, and to deeply unsettle.  There’s a pulse-quickening momentum behind the pages here, an inevitability that can’t be denied. 

As I read the tale, I kept thinking “the die is cast,” and (in the spirit of a favorite Henriksen movie, Pumpkinhead), that the curse is going to run its course, with all the damage that “course” entails. 

With that sense of inevitability in mind, the last frame of Issue #4 is very ominous because of what it portends for another protagonist, and I get the feeling that things are not exactly going to end well.

I’ll be eagerly anticipating the final chapter of To Hell You Ride, and remembering, specifically, the fourth issue’s words about death.

Death is not an end, only a change in shape, a shift in worlds.

I have a feeling that this particular nugget of wisdom will play powerfully in the finale…

Order your copy here!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Collectible of the Week: Terminator 2 Playset: Bio-Flesh Regenerator (Kenner; 1991)

The year 1991 brought a whole line of new Kenner toys -- including vehicles and action figures -- based on James Cameron’s blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day.   One of the neatest of these toys was the Bio-Flesh Regenerator Playset which offered kids the opportunity to “Mold and Destroy your own Terminator!”

As the box describes the set, “The Bio-Flesh Regenerator was created in the year 2030. This awesome unit is used to completely cover the metal skeleton of the TERMINATOR with real skin to make him totally undetectable to humans.”

The Bio-Flesh Regenerator “Molds Ten Figures,” “Comes with six battle weapons,” and “Skin actually comes off in Battles.”  The box also notes that the set includes: one playset, two Endoskeleton Action Figures, two Cans of Non-Toxic Bio-Flesh Refills, one Trim Knife, and six Weapons.”

“Create your own Terminator…then tear him apart in battle!”

I recently bought a Bio-Flesh Regenerator for Joel, still in its original box.  Amazingly, the flesh “powder” is still intact.  We tried using the regenerator, but the play set kept leaking, which disappointed Joel tremendously, as he wanted tear apart his fleshy terminator in battle.  Instead, the Terminator just kind of cameo out goopy.  Also, it should be noted that the endoskeletons are not pose-able and feature no articulated parts whatsoever, which is also a bit of a bummer.

I understand that the idea of the Bio-Flesh Regenerator was updated for Terminator: Salvation (2009), with a “Cyber Skin” playset.  I wonder if it worked any better…

Model Kits of the Week: SeaQuest DSV (1993)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cult Movie Review: Oblivion (2013)

[Note: Spoilers ahead. Swim at your own risk.]

In imagining Earth’s future, Oblivion (2013) reaches back to the sci-fi cinema’s past. 

This big-budget summer film stars Tom Cruise as a heroic character, Jack Harper, caught in a corrupt “future” establishment and coming to learn that reality isn’t quite what it appears. 

Jack is a drone repairman, or Tech 49, precisely, working out of a luxurious sky-base over the ruins of Earth following a great war with unseen aliens called “Scavs” or “Scavengers.”  If Jack doesn’t keep several drones operating constantly, these aliens will return and pulp the giant fusion reactors which are sucking the world’s oceans dry, and are desperately needed by man if he is to make an exodus to Titan, Saturn’s moon and begin anew.

Students of the sci-fi movies of yesteryear will immediately recognize many of the creative touches in Oblivion.  Jack is a hero not entirely unlike Zed (Sean Connery) in Zardoz (1974) or Logan 5 (Michael York) in Logan’s Run (1976).  He’s smart and curious enough to recognize the things “wrong” at the edge of his periphery on 2077A.D post-war Earth, but not quite smart and curious enough to buck the system…until pushed to do so.

In diagramming Jack’s journey of self-discovery, Oblivion quotes extensively from many other films of the same historical period as the examples I noted above. 

Early in the film, for instance, Jack finds a dark hole leading down into the ruins of the New York Library, and -- if you’re old enough -- you may recall James Franciscus making a similar trek into Under New York in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). 

There’s a subplot, too, involving cloning that reminded me of The Clonus Horror (1978).

But frankly, Oblivion is an equal opportunity “borrower.”  It cribs images and themes from the 1980s and 1990s as well as the 1970s.  The finale replays the climactic moments of Independence Day (1996), for instance, while featuring a subplot about human memory and an “artificial” romantic relationship that harks back to Total Recall (1990).   One aspect of the plot’s resolution involves a “surprise” straight out of 2009’s Moon.

And last but not least, Oblivion’s final, explosive confrontation pits Cruise’s Jack against, essentially, a large-scale version of HAL from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), right down to the dulcet mimicry of a “comforting” human voice recreated by machine, and that famous, glowing red eye.

Thus the burning question regarding Oblivion remains this one: Does the film earn all these appropriations, and weave them into something worthy and meaningful?  Does it transform itself beyond pastiche, and stretch instead…towards transcendence? 

Or is just a collection of ingredients in search of coherence?

The answers are decidedly mixed. 

Certainly, Oblivion is dazzling to behold.  The vast majority of the visuals featured here are absolutely astonishing, from the Mount Olympus-like Station 49 perch with it bubble-like swimming pool, to the “monument(al)destruction” of Earth landmarks like the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty. 

Earth’s “new,” post-apocalyptic terrain is legitimately incredible to behold and there is not a moment or instant of phoniness to be pinpointed.  I especially enjoyed the shots of a shattered moon hanging in orbit, a constant reminder of the planet’s devastation.

But to its detriment, Oblivion doesn’t really trust its audience that much, which -- in fairness -- has probably grown out of the habit of watching such 1970s dystopian/anti-hero fare.  Accordingly, Oblivion spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on aerial dogfights between Jack’s fighter plane and automated attack drones instead of its hero’s existential angst.  The climactic battle in an abandoned industrial factory/headquarters that is apparently also a section of the New York Metropolitan Library (!) is so pro-forma and dull I checked my watch twice during it. 

By this point in the story, such “action” pyrotechnics are not only unnecessary and distracting, but an insult to the intelligence.  A quick third-act rewrite could have immediately established that a nuke had to be flown up manually to the orbiting “Tet” or HAL device, thus necessitating Jack’s sacrifice.  Fifteen minutes of running time could have been saved, and as I like to remind film students from time to time, the trick to making a good film -- as simple as it sounds -- is to put the good stuff closer together, and cut out the stuff that doesn’t work, even if the stuff that doesn’t work happens to be an expensive action scene.

Similarly, Oblivion involves a love story, one that spotlights flashes of Jack’s “wiped” memory resurfacing in dreams and nightmares.  At the ruined Empire State Building with his true love, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), Jack recounts his wedding proposal to her there…in another lifetime.  The two characters recite the emotionally-resonant dialogue of that rendezvous, accompanied by evocative black-and-white images of New York City As It Once Was.  It’s touching and well-done, no question.

But then the very next scene shows us the exact same sequence of events at the Empire State Building except in color, with the same two characters – and the audience too – experiencing the proposal a second time. 

This interlude -- conveying a message already laboriously explained and completely understood -- brings the movie to a grinding halt.  Again, a third act rewrite, or even a judicious post-production edit, would have left the movie with just one of those proposal scenes, not two in immediate succession.

I wonder, is there anyone out there who didn’t “get it” after the first scene?

I don’t have anything personal against Tom Cruise and I have certainly enjoyed his performances over the years in legitimately great sci-fi movies such as Minority Report (2002) or War of the Worlds (2005)., but his impressive ripped physique, chiseled good looks and stolid demeanor all tend to work against Oblivion and the character he plays.

Cruise is so taciturn and physically dominant a presence that he doesn’t often seem in real danger, and never seems genuinely surprised or shocked by the revelation that his life is not what he thinks it is.  This is where I must hark back to Moon (2009), and Sam Rockwell’s performance.  

There, Rockwell also played a “tech guy” working a boring but mysterious routine for unseen overlords, and coming to terms with a surprise about his nature…and his destiny.  But he was able to invest the role with a deeper sense of humanity and surprise.  In his eyes, the audience registered disbelief, regret, anger, and finally defiance.

This is where “blockbuster” thinking tends to spoil a good science fiction film, and Oblivion is truly only a few degrees away from being a good science fiction film. 

A more introspective, more thoughtful, less Adonis-like -- and probably less bankable -- lead actor might have been able to invest the film with genuine pathos, personality and humanity, and provide the audience more to hold onto at each step of the journey.  With Cruise in the lead role, projecting little interior personality, the audience simply spends Oblivion’s first hour waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the narrative’s (predictable) surprise to be extruded on cue, as though from the auspices of The Industrial Screenwriter-a-tron 3000.(TM)

The film’s final act, and thus its ultimate meaning, also gets muddled because of Jack’s true nature.  I admire Oblivion for making the argument that a clone with the same memories can be, essentially, the same person as the original article.  That’s an argument that would not have found traction, say, in a run-of-the-mill genre actioner like The Sixth Day (2000). 

But the same clone gambit takes away the magnificence and impact of Jack’s self-sacrifice to provide -- in another instance of summer blockbuster-style thinking -- an unreservedly happy ending.  This is the Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) ending all over again. 

Sad that Data died in a blaze of glory to save the Enterprise one last time?  Well, we’ve got a ready-made replacement for Data right here -- down to all his memories -- so you don’t have to grapple with any sad feelings while you leave the theater. 

One key aspect of the 1970s sci-fi cinema that Oblivion hopes to emulate is, indeed, downbeat endings.  Beneath the Planet of the Apes wasn’t afraid to kill Taylor (Charlton Heston) or destroy the Earth.  The Omega Man (1971) also ended with a heroic self-sacrifice.  Soylent Green (1973) was even more down-beat in its final, notorious ending. 

Oblivion wants to nod and pay tribute to all these dark gems of these 1970s classics, but it doesn’t earn the same respect because it wants, simultaneously -- and more than anything else -- to relentlessly crowd-please.  The desire for a successful commercial outcome overpowers the desire to make real art, or make a real storytelling statement.

What truly seems missing from the science fiction cinema today is, alas, this idea of transcendence. 

Folks can pick on and dismiss Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) all they want, but that was a film that didn’t end with an act of destruction as the saving grace of mankind, by point of contrast.  The aforementioned The Omega Man, too, concerned the idea of a man transcending his limitations and experience to achieve something truly timeless and noble for the planet…even if he couldn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his act. 

Oblivion is a movie about a guy doing the impossible, making that sacrifice and then, miraculously, still getting the girl of his dreams, a child, and a beautiful house by the lake.

And by the way, there’s a truly great scene at that house by the lake.  Julia tells Jack about the time he told her about their future together.  They would live in that house, fight and quarrel, grow fat and old…and then die together.  The world would eventually forget them, but they would be together for a time, and that would be enough.

After explaining so poignantly and naturally the reality of our human life, it’s a shame that Oblivion must resort to relentless drone battles and a canned happy ending.  It thus bows to the exigencies of movie blockbuster nature, not human nature.  To make a comparison, it’s as if if Romeo and Juliet ended, and then suddenly Romeo and Juliet’s clones fell in love, resumed up the romance, and bought a nice summer house in Verona.

I’ve read many critics championing Oblivion by lauding the fact that it isn’t a sequel, a remake or a reboot.  In my opinion, that’s a pretty low standard for praising a movie, even if it is a great PR tactic.  The fact is, the movie is passable and enjoyable summer entertainment.  But its quality doesn’t go far beyond that threshold.

But if Oblivion isn’t a sequel, remake or reboot, is it actually an original…or a “clone” instead?  

Movie Trailer: Oblivion (2013)

Theme Song of the Week: Fireball XL5 (1962)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Late Night Blogging: The Exorcist Movie Trailers

Ask JKM a Question: Do You Dare Walk These Steps Again? (Exorcist III)

A reader named Chuck writes:

“First, I am a huge fan of your blog (as I write while reading it instead of doing work at my desk). Second, I realize that the answer to my question my already exist in your book Horror Films of the 1990s, which I confess I do not own (though 1970s sits prominently on my shelf).

But, anyway, here goes: I was having a conversation with a friend in my LCS, and I told him that, in my opinion, The Exorcist III was one of the best, scariest, movies no one ever talks about. This immediately led down the road to “no, The Exorcist was too good to ever need a sequel in the first place” or “Exorcist 2 was horrible, and the prequels were bad too”, etc., etc.

I am interested to know what your feelings were/are regarding William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III (which was based on his book “Legion” I believe).

But more importantly, I am just curious as to why no one seems to have caught-up to how good it was (in my opinion—I realize you may disagree) so many years later. Was it too long? Was it that the previous sequel was just so bad? Or was it because it was so different from the original film, people just don’t know what to make of it?

To me, you just have to completely divorce yourself from the word “Exorcist” in the title, and look at it as a distinct, original film. The Exorcist is really just back-story here. I always loved how the really scary elements were never actually shown on-screen. Instead, you were more-or-less forced to imagine them in your own mind (although the old lady crawling on the ceiling still makes me uneasy). Plus, the acting quality is obvious. That initial dialogue scene where Detective Kinderman (George C. Scott) “meets” The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) in Cell 11, was something marvelous. In fact, I would love to hear your thoughts on that scene in particular.”

Chuck, this is a great question and a timely one indeed, since only recently I read (on The Huffington Post, I believe), commentary from William Friedkin -- a director I deeply admire -- diminishing the Exorcist follow-ups, including Exorcist III.

I do review Exorcist III (1990) in Horror Films of the 1990s, and it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I agree with your contention that it is a superb horror film, and, in fact, a worthy follow-up to The Exorcist (1973).

I write in Horror Films of the 1990s the following about the film:

“Deliberately eschewing flash and hipness, this modest sequel embodies the age-old cinema virtues of seriousness, good performances and spooky atmospherics. When considered together, the elements forge an overriding sense of doom and gloom, of autumn fast approaching, of judgment day on the horizon.

Close-ups of flickering lights, a clock that stops suddenly, and disturbing Christian iconography may not sound like the ingredients of a successful 1990s horror film, and yet such touches contribute mightily to Exorcist III’s aesthetic gravitas, aptly voiced in the film’s exhortation that “the whole world is a homicide victim.”

Indeed, Exorcist III obsesses on an old, aged world, one cracking and tearing at the seams because, once more to quote the intelligent dialogue, “everything’s relative” and there appears to be a worrisome numbing of the globe’s “moral sense.”  As evidence for this assertion, we see the Devil (or at least his minions) seep effortlessly into the ruined bodies of the old and infirm at a grand, gothic Georgetown Hospital…”

I also point out in the same review that the line of dialogue “It’s very late” is repeated in the film twice, and that it seems to be the core idea of the movie: there’s nothing new left on Earth but atrocity and more atrocity, and accordingly, all the characters are grappling with ghosts; ghosts of the past; ghosts of friends, and the ghost, of course, of the Gemini Killer.

For me, Exorcist III works for the very reasons I enumerate there.

It’s as if Kinderman (Scott) and the world itself are exhausted -- even crushed -- by the horrors they witness on a seemingly routine basis.  That exhaustion is spiritual, but also reflected in many characters’ physicality. Scott looks old and drained and tired, as do other performers.  The idea here is that those who have lived a long life in this “rotten” world grow so weak and vulnerable that the Devil uses their doubt…and slips inside them.  It’s a great idea for a horror movie, and an intriguing reflection of the “child possessed” that we see in the original Exorcist.   Here, it’s not someone representing tomorrow who suffers, but someone who has lived through all our (difficult) yesterdays.

The specific scene you discuss -- a lengthy back-and-forth between Kinderman and the Gemini Killer --rewards patience and attention, and works on at least two levels.  The first level is a policeman/suspect interview, of course.  The second level is a spiritual one, involving a mortal and an immortal, a demon, hashing things out.  The performances are strong, as you would expect from Dourif and Scott, but what few critics have mentioned is that this very scene in essence paves the way for many similar sequences in horror films and TV programs throughout the 1990s. 

The lengthy sit-down interview between a law enforcement professional and serial killer who seems more-than (and less-than) human is a dramatic, narrative device that later dominated The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and even one of my all-time favorite shows, Millennium (1996 – 1999).  Sure, there are antecedents other than Exorcist III -- like Michael Mann’s Manhunter in the late 1980s -- but the exact dynamic of serial-killer-possible-demon-in-wait seems to emerge from this particular film.

Why didn’t Exorcist III find more critical acceptance then, in 1990?  And why hasn’t it now?

Back in the 1990s, the old critical guard was still in control of mainstream media, and by-and-large this group treated every sequel as a meritless cash-grab.  The same critics also treated virtually every horror film as “beneath contempt.”

Today, I suspect we’ve gone too far in the other direction, with Internet-based critics bending over to welcome every fan-boy sequel without thought or reflection as to its artistic merit or social value. 

But Exorcist III fit into the pre-existing narrative of “sequels = bad; horror film sequels = worse” and paid the price.  The fact that Boorman’s The Heretic (1977) was also poorly received made the narrative even more appealing, especially to stressed-out reviewers on a deadline.

I also suspect that a core group of horror fans were also disappointed that this sequel didn’t follow in line with more Exorcist-style head spinning and pea soup vomit.  Still, the jolts in Exorcist III are considerable. You mention the old lady on the ceiling, but there’s also that brilliant jump scare involving a distant, cloaked figure emerging suddenly from a patient room to claim a victim.  These jolts, however, are not exactly graphic or gory in nature.  I suspect a certain contingent of Exorcist fans wanted buckets of puke and other nasty manifestations of Old Scratch rather than a quiet, intelligent film about the nature of evil. 

I feel that Exorcist III is more appreciated today than it was on release, but all films possess an historical context that surrounds them like a bubble.  Only few films escape the shape and form of that bubble, or see a re-consideration, after the fact, of their reputation. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is one such film, but so far, Exorcist III hasn’t been hauled out and re-examined as fully.  Writing Horror Films of the 1990s, I also learned that some hardcore horror fans hate the era 1990 – 1999 in film history, and don’t revisit it as frequently as the 1970s or 1980s…or even the 2000s.

Yet I would argue that The Exorcist and Exorcist III actually work rather well in tandem.  By my estimation, The Exorcist works so well because of Friedkin’s documentary-style approach.  The travel sequences in Iraq and the (terrifying…) visit to a metropolitan hospital in 1970s New York enhance the picture’s reality, which comes in handy for the final act, with its levitating beds and other pyrotechnics.

Exorcist III, in a different way, feels like a lengthy philosophical debate about man and mortality.  To some extent, The Exorcist is a visceral experience as a realistic, near-documentary/travelogue, and Exorcist III is a cerebral one, contextualizing the earlier events and shading their meaning more deeply and thoroughly.

I admire both films, to tell you the truth, though for different reasons.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Birds and The Bees

I’m calling this week’s entry “The Cult-TV Faces of The Birds and the Bees” because if I simply used the term “Sex” I’m afraid that Facebook would classify my blog as spam, or I’d get visited by Russian porn sites on a regular basis (which already happens a lot, for some reason  I can’t fathom…).

Regardless, America has always held a kind of puritanical attitude about the depiction of sex in art.  This approach contrasts greatly with many honored works in Antiquity, including Lysistrata by Aristophanes, for instance. 

But Cult Television -- at least over the last few decades -- has delved more fully into the topic of the “birds and the bees,” and explored the role of sex in American society, as well the sexual lives of series dramatis personae, on many occasions.

These sexual stories haven’t always been direct or up-front to be certain.  One of the most famous “birds and the bees” shots in cult-TV history comes from the third season Star Trek (1966 – 1969) episode “Wink of an Eye.” 

The scene commences with Captain Kirk (William Shatner), still in uniform, wriggling back into his stylish black Starfleet boots, while sitting on  the corner of his bed.  Behind him, his lover, Deela (Kathie Brown) combs her hair in front of a mirror.  This is about as explicit as matters of “sex” ever got in 1960s genre television, though in fairness, “Amok Time” aired a year earlier and it dealt with Pon Farr, or the Vulcan sex drive.  Still, the upshot of that episode is that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) did not have sex.  In “Wink of an Eye” it is pretty clear precisely what Captain Kirk has been...up to.

By the time of The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), sex was more accepted as a topic for television programs, even in the genre. In the third season episode “The Price,” Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) beds a scoundrel named Devononi Ral (Matt McCoy), and comes to regret it.  The episode shows the two frolicking in bed, and there’s a heavy emphasis on Ral rubbing shiny lotion on Troi’s feet, but the scene is still pretty tame by today’s standards.

In 1993, the first season episode of The X-Files titled “Gender Bender” used sexual attraction as a key plot point. Here, a strange killer -- able to be either male or female, depending on desire -- began picking up and seducing lovers at clubs in Washington D.C. and Virginia. Unfortunately, to make love to this being – part of an alien sect called “The Kindred” – was to die since intercourse with humans caused extreme cardiac arrest.  Also, in the course of the episode, we learn that the aliens can attract humans by releasing human pheromones.  At one point, Scully (Gillian Anderson) is affected by the pheromones, and nearly suffers the same fate as the murder/sex victims.

In the first season of the 1995 Outer Limits remake, an episode called “Caught in the Act” starred Alyssa Milano and also involved aliens…and sex.   Here, a college student, Hannah (Milano) is surprised when an alien object crashes into her dorm room and possesses her…making her crave sexual intercourse.  She feeds the beast within, seducing willing male partners, but those partners -- like the ones in “Gender Bender” -- die during the act and are absorbed by Hannah.  Finally, only the power of true love is able to defeat the alien’s ravenous sexual appetite.

The British sci-fi series Torchwood (2006 – 2011) vetted a very similar story as its second episode, called “Day One.”  Here, Jack (John Barrowman), Gwen (Eve Myles) and the rest of the team had to hunt down an invading alien in Cardiff that could possess different humans, and “absorb” their forms through the act of sex.  A first act assignation in a club bathroom and its...climax...demonstrates the kind of explosive sex depicted in the episode.

In its first season, Millennium (1996 – 1999) dealt explicitly with sexual hang-ups in the episode titled “Loin Like a Hunting Flame.”  Here, a madman abducted young, attractive couples at raves and clubs, and video-taped their sexual intercourse.  He was doing so, uniquely, as practice or education, so he could finally have sex with his long-suffering wife, following a disastrous honeymoon night years earlier. 

These days, there's a sex scene or two, it seems, in every episode of True Blood or Game of Thrones.

The Cult-TV Faces of: The Birds and The Bees

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: "Wink of an Eye."

Identified by BT: Kolchak: The Night Stalker: "Demon in Lace."

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Price."

Not Identified: The X-Files: "Gender Bender."

Not Identified: The Outer Limits (New): "Caught in the Act."

Identified by Josef Karl: Millennium: "Loin like a Hunting Flame."

Identified by SGB: Farscape.

Identified by SGB: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Identified by William Mercado: Star Trek: Enterprise.

Identified by Chadzilla: Torchwood: "Day One."

Not Identified: BSG (New).

Identified by BT: Dexter.

Identified by Terri Wilson: True Blood.

Identified by BT: Game of Thrones.