Sunday, April 23, 2017

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: Introductory Sequence



The Planet of the Apes feature film franchise tackles a number of significant issues.  

The films gaze at the ways that theocratic states suppress the truth (Planet [1968], Beneath [1970]) and punish truth-sayers, for instance. They also look intently at race relations (Conquest [1972], Battle [1973]).

And virtually all of the films tackle an anti-nukes, anti-war theme.

The TV series -- which ran for just one season in 1974 -- perhaps wisely chose to narrow the franchise focus some.  

Planet of the Apes, the series, primarily concerns two human astronauts and their chimpanzee friend, Galen, interfacing with the Ape Society and contemplating, essentially, class or race differences.  

In this universe, humans are second-class citizens with no wealth, no rights, and no equality. The apes, by contrast, control all of the society's assets. The apes believe and disseminate propaganda about humans, and consider them an inferior species.

The introductory montage dynamically sets-up the premise for the series (astronauts traveling to a future Earth ruled by apes), but more than it, it dramatically visualizes the startling gap in power between races.  

In the opening montage, humans are on the run and constantly imperiled, and the Apes are un-moving avatars of force, power, and strength.

The Planet of the Apes montage commences with a view of a star in space.  We get some lens flare to suggest the impact or power of the star, and then find ourselves ensconced in a spaceship control room.


On the upper-right hand side of the screen, we get two legends.  

One marks Earth-time; the other ship-time.  

These two numbers will begin to diverge dramatically as the spaceship experiences turbulence (a result of its proximity to the star?), and the crew experiences a time warp.


As the astronauts grow concerned at the wild turbulence their ship experiences and as ship-time and Earth-time begin to diverge, we get a new legend on-screen in red: "Abort Mission."

The extreme close-ups of the astronauts, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) signal the extreme danger.



The ship's (computer...) warnings grow more plaintive in the next series of shots, as the spaceship is flung through the time warp.  

Ship-time and Earth-time are continuing to diverge, but the "ABORT MISSION" red alert signal is larger in the frame.  The danger is growing exponentially.


The next several frames represent a light show of sorts, as the crew experiences the strobing, bright lights of the time warp.   Once more, the time differential grows.





At the outer edge of the time warp, the time differential is now huge. It is August 1980 by the astronauts' reckoning, but May 23, 3000 by Earth time.  

A ghost in space appears, shadowy and indistinct at first...




In the next shot, twin dangers are linked.  

The star we saw at the beginning of the montage appears again, but captured in its lens flare this time s the recognizable image of an intelligent ape.  

The time warp has brought these unlucky astronauts to the Age of the Ape...and accordingly, we get the series title over a view of beautiful Earth: Planet of the Apes.




The next shot reveals the spaceship's dizzying descent into Earth's atmosphere.  But Earth is a new world. It is now 3084.



To signify the "law" of that new world, we get an extreme close-up of a gorilla soldier.  

He is centered in the frame and un-moving, a position and pose suggesting unyielding, constant power.  From this angle, the ape is literally looking down his nose at us, as all apes look down at all humans in this world.


Next, we get a wider shot of the ape soldier.  He is seated on a horse, with one arm jutting up into the air in a pose of victory. He is holding a tool of power as well: a rifle.  

Once more, he does not move, but remains frozen in the frame.  Behind him -- in a double-exposure effect -- the sun seems to be going down.

The orange-colored sky suggests autumn, and the sunset suggests an end to the age of man.  This image means that ape is triumphant, and man is sinking...fast.  The ape has eclipsed man.



Next, we meet our heroes on the run.  In the first shot, Galen flees the ape regime.


The blocking is significant in the next few shots.  

Three apes sit perched atop a hill (another position of dominance), while the astronauts run for their lives.  

Again, the apes are perfectly still -- suggesting permanence -- while the humans are on the move, fleeing.  It is no accident that the apes don't move in this intro, but the fugitives, the humans, move constantly.  This is a metaphor for the power structure of Ape Society.




In the following frames, we meet our cast members.




Next, the real power on the Planet of the Apes comes into focus.  An ape rifle coalesces as, behind it, the day of humanity recedes.




The last several shots of the montage continue in the same vein. They reveal the gorilla soldier -- and his weaponry -- dominant in an orange, autumnal sky.  

The Age of Man has passed.  Welcome to the Planet of the Apes!




Below, the Planet of the Apes montage in living color:




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "Take Me to Your Rabbit."



As Mark (Butch Patrick) attempts to build and launch a rocket to escape Lidsville once and for all, Hoo-Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) and Raunchy Rabbit are in an accident -- a lightning strike – that scrambles Hoo Doo’s “zap” powers.

Now Raunchy Rabbit gets that power, and the incompetent bunny lets the power go to his head. Desperate to regain his powers, Hoo-Doo tries to steal back his powers by pretending to be a lovely female bunny…

Meanwhile, Mark and Weenie, realizing that Raunchy Rabbit is not as evil as Hoo-Doo is, decides to through the lepus an inauguration party to get on his good side…



Okay. Where to start?

This is one weird episode of the 1970’s Sid and Marty Krofft series, Lidsville.  

No more than a “sap without a zap,” Hoo-Doo loses everything, and most regain his position of power. He uses a tried-and-true technique (for Bugs Bunny, anyway…) dressing up like a female rabbit and attempting to draw Raunchy Rabbit’s attention.

The last portion of the episode involves Hoo-Doo in drag, flirting (successfully) with a clearly stimulated Raunchy Rabbit. It’s all a little creepy and perverse.


Once again, too, Mark makes an attempt to leave Lidsville only to be stymied. He builds a rocket to escape the world, but when Hoo-Doo gets his mojo back, the villain blows it up.  So first of all, Mark apparently has the know-how to build a rocket, and all the equipment and supplies necessary.  

Secondly, why doesn’t he try, after this adventure is over, to build a second one?

Intriguingly, politics are still a factor in the “underneath” social commentary of this live-action series.  Consider that the denizens of Lidsville take a look at their choices for “leader:” Hoo-Doo or Raunchy, and decide to get behind Raunchy.  

What have they done here?

Well, in the time-honored tradition of many U.S. Presidential elections, they have selected the lesser of two evils!


Next Week: “Have I Got a Girl for Hoo-Doo

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Ghost Busters: "The Vampire's Apprentice" (November 8, 1975)



In this episode, “The Vampire’s Apprentice,” the Ghost Buster triumvirate -- Spenser (Larry Storch), Tracy (Bob Burns) and Kong (Forrest Tucker) -- challenges Countess Dracula (Dena Dietrich) and Count Dracula (Billy Holmes).  

In this case, Dracula is portrayed as a senile old bat.  At one point in the episode, his fangs even get corked. Also, his sonar-like hearing is apparently really bad.  And when he goes to bed in his coffin, Dracula can't go to sleep because he's "afraid of the light," and needs to be told a story.

This evil duo masquerades as the Count and Countess of Luxembourg, but the Ghost Busters see through the façade, and confront them at their castle, which -- as always -- is conveniently located next to a creepy (cardboard) grave yard.




The humor in this episode of The Ghost Busters, also as in all episodes, feels as antique as Old Dracula himself.

This story labors on the obvious, like “stake (as in wooden…) vs. “steak” (as in to eat) misunderstandings.  At one point, the Countess of Dracula (Dena Deitrich) quips “be subtle.” Unfortunately, that’s advice the episode and the series never take.

One of the story oddities featured in this episode:

One bite by a vampire makes you undead. A second bite, however, returns you to a human state.  

That’s confusing, even to vampires, no?  Now let me see, did I bite you three times or four?


Next week: "Jekyll and Hyde: Together For the First Time."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cult-Movie Review: Night of the Lepus (1972)



The horror cinema of the 1970s is filled with tales depicting Earth’s imminent destruction at the hands (or paws...) of…animals.   

But make no mistake: while Mother Nature may launch her animal armies against us, it is mankind himself that is to blame for her righteous vengeance  By polluting natural environments, by dumping toxic wastes, and by using pesticide, he has only brought upon his own destruction.

Message: it is not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

The Revenge of Nature Cycle may have started as the “when animals attack” genre, a movement exemplified by films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), or Willard (1972).  

But by the mid-point of the decade, filmmakers were almost constantly coupling vicious animal behavior with man’s massive and on-going mistreatment of the environment.

Accordingly, polluting man battles amphibians in Frogs (1972).  

Pesticide-spraying man battles spiders in Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).  

Toxic-waste dumping man faces insect rebellion in Empire of the Ants (1977).  

Other films of the same ilk including The Bug (1975), Squirm (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), and perhaps the most infamous revenge of nature movie of all: Night of the Lepus.

In Night of the Lepus -- a film derived from the satirical novel, The Year of the Angry Rabbit (1964) by Russell Braddon -- the careless mistake of two scientists results in the spread of a dangerous hormone that can cause “genetic deformity.” It becomes unloosed on the out-of-control giant rabbit population of Arizona. 

Before long, the ranchers and law enforcement officials near Ajo are waging a war against giant carnivorous bunnies with teeth the size of “saber tooth tigers.”

The guiding principle behind the movie, and indeed, behind the Revenge of Nature cycle is sound, and not entirely new in the 1970s.  Just as the original Godzilla (1954) is about a monster that represents out-of-control atomic power -- the opening of Pandora's Box, so-to-speak, the bunnies represent out-of-control science and irresponsible man tampering in God's domain, in Night of the Lepus.  

The big problem with the film is that as avatars of fear, rabbits are rather un-intimidating creatures.  Even with red paint splattered on their whiskery mouths. 

Ants, spiders, worms, and even frogs seem more appropriately terrifying.  And Night of the Lepus does itself no favors by showing the “enlarged” rabbits on screen constantly with tiresomely repeat or stock footage. 

 In fact, these giant rabbits hop around -- or rather “stampede” -- across miniature sets in slow-motion, in full view of the camera for long, dull stretches of the running time, and the result is underwhelming to say the least.


“Mommy, what’s a control group?”

A newscaster on TV hosts a special report about the “imbalance in the animal world,” and a “plague of rabbits” infesting Australia.  He then describes how the same situation is bedeviling the residents of Arizona.

There, rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is seeing his land overrun by ever-multiplying rabbits.  One day, his favorite steed trips on a rabbit hole, breaks its leg, and must be put down, and that’s the last straw. Cole asks a friend, Elgin Clark (De Forest Kelley), to help him solve the crisis.

Elgin contacts two scientists who work with animals, Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry Bennett (Janet Leigh).  With their daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) alongside them, the scientists examine the problem and begin to experiment with hormones in an attempt to suppress the mating drive of the rabbits.  The experiment doesn't work, and the scientists mix up a new concoction with results they can't predict, as they readily admit.

Unfortunately, Amanda accidentally frees an affected rabbit, Romeo, from captivity, and the new hormone it carries causes a mutant strain of giant rabbit to rapidly develop.

The Bennetts, Elgin and Cole attempt to stop the onslaught of the rabbits, even blowing up a mine-shaft where they have made their home.  

But a herd of giant carnivorous rabbits escape from this trap, and make a run for Ajo, where they have the capacity to do major damage in terms of life and property value.



“There’s a herd of killer rabbit headed this way!”

You may not realize it, but if you have watched The Matrix (1999), you have seen, at least momentarily, imagery from Night of the Lepus.  

The movie plays on-screen during the scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) visits the Oracle, and sees children bending spoons.  The subtle suggestion is that a movie like Night of the Lepus -- about a “herd of killer rabbit” -- could only exist in a weird facsimile of reality.

That’s a good point, because Night of the Lepus is surely one of the most unintentionally hilarious horror movies of its day, particularly with Amanda, the Bennett’s little girl, asking exposition-heavy questions such as “Mommy, what’s a control group?” or speaking for the audience and noting “I like rabbits!"

Even the humorless narrator of the “Rabbit War” news report at the film’s beginning adds to the film's unintentional sense of humor by noting that these “cuddly pets” could become a terrible “menace.” 

As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to refer to your monster as “cuddly,” because an adjective like that undercuts the sense of horror. In a movie about slobbering, jumping, man-eating rabbits, the word cuddly should simply never be spoken at all.

Another moment of funny dialogue comes from Whitman who worries “Heaven help us if any of them [rabbits] get away before we know the effects of this serum.”

Guess what happens in the very next scene?

If you said that one of the affected rabbits gets loose, you are absolutely right. Amanda switches rabbits without her parents realizing it, and then the infected rabbit gets loose after Amanda keeps it as a pet for a time.  The Bennets are not merely lousy scientists, they are lousy parents too, for taking Amanda to work with them and not paying attention to her actions. It's clear they recognize what dangers could await if a rabbit escapes.

Even Janet Leigh, the great star of Psycho (1960) seems diminished by the film’s ridiculous dialogue. When she comforts Amanda after a lepus attack she soothes her.  It’s gone,” she assures her daughter.  “The rabbit is gone.”

Yes dear, the cuddly pet rabbit is gone now, and you have nothing to fear.  

Again, this is a fear that should not be named, specifically.  Even the very word, "rabbit," doesn't promote scares.

Let's be clear: Night of the Lepus features a monster that would be difficult to make scary under the absolute best of circumstances, but the movie doesn’t create or promote the best of circumstances. Director William Claxton allows for the rabbit scenes to linger on-creen -- in slow motion -- for long spells, and any illusion that they are giant, or dangerous, is lost because of their familiarity.  In fact, you get to the point where you start to recognize the rabbits.  There's the black one, the orange one, and so forth.  

And as the friendly-seeming rabbits hop across miniature sets it is painfully obvious that they are not gargantuan. The sound effects that accompany their runs  may “sound like a cattle stampede” to bystanders, but that too is kind of funny.

I should be clear, it’s not just that the shots linger beyond reason, in agonizing slow-motion, it’s that they repeat.  A scene with rabbits leaping a chasm is seen at least twice, and many scenes of the rabbits traversing a highway seem to repeat as well. Either that or are the roads are so similar as to be visually indistinguishable.



Director William Claxton -- a talent who directed several outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959 -1965) including the sensitive “I Sing the Body Electric” --  seems to approach this horror film as more of a Western, right down to Hill’s motivation for fighting the rabbits (the death of a horse), and some attractive, even picturesque landscape shots.  The rabbits are treated more as a stampede of out-of-control animals than as a threat resulting from science-run-amok, and nature’s reprisal.

Now, on one hand, treating the film’s threat as fairly realistic could be a good thing…if the monsters inspired fear. 

But on the other hand, Claxton goes way over-the-top in terms of fake-looking gore, a step which moves the film out of the zone of realism. The scene vacillates between deadly dull conversations and over-the-top moments of ridiculous violence, and the approach is not pleasing.

As one might expect from this approach, critics weren’t terribly impressed with the results of Claxton’s efforts.  

Roger Greenspun, writing in The New York Times, noted the “technical laziness,” “stupid story” and “dumb direction,” a kind of trifecta of utter terrible-ness. 

Alan Frank, in 1982, treated the film more gently, though drew the same conclusion, noting that the “enlarged rabbits” don’t “really carry a genuine monstrous charge.

Watching the film again for the first time since I wrote Horror Films of the 1970's I felt a little bad for the out-dated wonders of Night of the Lepus. The movie features a lot of likable performers in it -- it’s great to see De Forest Kelley again, for instance -- and it surely capitalizes on the eco-terror Zeitgeist of its moment.  

And yet beyond that, this is a horror film unable to enunciate even a single moment of authentic horror.

Almost funnier than the movie itself is the trailer, which discusses a “night of total terror” and a “devil creature.”  It asks “what happened the night science made its greatest mistake?”

Well, what happens when the horror film makes a great mistake?  

Movie Trailer: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: "Escape from Tomorrow" (September 13, 1974)


In the fall of 1974, the Planet of the Apes film franchise moved to CBS network television for fourteen hour long episodes.  Considering that a new film in the series, War on the Planet of the Apes (2017) is coming in a few short months, I thought it might be nice to revisit the series now.

Planet of the Apes - the series - featured the continuing adventures of human astronauts Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Pete Burke (Jim Naughton), in the far-flung year of 3085 (starting March 21, 3085, if we're to believe the spaceship chronometer...) on a world run by intelligent, talking simians.

In "Escape from Tomorrow," the introductory episode written by Art Wallace and directed by Don Weis, we begin with an old man (in a bad wig) being pursued by a child chimpanzee and his pet dog in a rural setting.

My first thought watching this sequence was that it was an apparent canon violation since Conquest of the Planet of the Apes had established that a space plague had arrived on Earth in the late 20th century and killed off all the cats and dogs. It was the death of "beloved pets," in fact, that led humans to enslave apes...which would then lead to the uprising of the gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans.

This fact seems like something that the producers of the series should have taken care to remember, since it is a lynch pin of apes continuity.  On the other hand, this sequence occurs a thousand years after the plague, so I suppose it is possible that "life has found a way," (to quote the Jurassic Park films), and dogs have re-entered the chain of life on Earth.

Putting aside this sloppy faux pas, the story continues as the old man hears a strange aircraft overhead and then finds the crash site of a spaceship in a nearby field.

He rescues two astronauts (Virdon and Burke), but the third (Jones) is dead. When the shaken, disoriented astronauts awaken, the old man explains to the humans that apes rule this planet and that humans (who still have the power of speech here) are inferior underlings.

Alan immediately wants to find a way to return home to his family (a wife and son). He recounts how the ship experienced radioactive turbulence near Alpha Centauri and he ordered Jones to activate the homing beacon. Burke is more defeatist. "This is home now, and you know it," he says. His words, however, carry a double meaning even he is not aware of.


After the Old Man presents the astronauts with a book of pictures from New York City in the year 2505 (another troublesome continuity point that contradicts the movies...), the astronauts realize that they have returned home indeed; that the planet of the apes...is Earth.

As the episode progresses, Alan and Pete meet Galen (Roddy McDowall) a friendly chimpanzee and member of the ape aristocracy who possesses many misconceptions about human beings, never having gotten to really know any.

Worse, the astronauts face off with Urko (Mark Lenard), the chief security officer in Ape City who wants them dead. Now. Chief Counselor Zaius (Booth Colman) is willing to keep the astronauts alive, if only to learn of their technology and find a way to keep them from influencing the primitive humans of his world. Zaius is worried that the astronauts' love of freedom and independence will transfer to the indigenous humans and foster an uprising.

In this episode's scenes with Zaius and Urko, the writers accomplish something interesting and forward-thinking for episodic television in 1974. They began to develop - from this first episode - series mysteries that presumably would have been solved had the series lasted more than half-a-season.

For instance, during a confidential tete-a-tete, Zaius asks Galen "did you ever have a recurring nightmare?" He then launches into a discussion of the fact that other human astronauts have arrived on the planet before (and again, it can't be the characters [like Taylor or Brent] we saw in the original films, because those events occurred in 3978...almost a thousand years after the events of the TV series).


"Another ship, Zaius," states Urko, "it's hard to believe."

One can imagine that had the series lasted, viewers would have heard much more about these other astronauts and their (apparently-not-very-pleasant...) adventures on the planet of the apes. If that had been the case, the series would have been all the stronger for it.

"Escape from Tomorrow" ends with Virdon, Burke and Galen allied and on the run, while Ape forces destroy their spacecraft.

Fortunately for the humans, Virdon has recovered a small magnetic computer disk from the ship which -- if they can find a computer in this post apocalyptic topsy-turvy world -- might help them find a way back to their time.

Future episodes involve the triumvirate traveling from one human province to another, in search of technology that can help them return to the Earth of the past.

In the episode "The Legacy," the humans find working computers and a hologram of a 'future' human in a nearly destroyed 20th century city, but still aren't able to glean the information they require for a trip home.


The original Planet of the Apes films serve as brilliant social commentary on the turbulent late 1960's and early 1970's. They concern (among other things): nuclear war, man's self-destructive nature, and the pitfalls and total hypocrisy of religious zealotry.

By contrast, the television series limits its commentary to one fascinating subject: the issue of race relations, of a class society separated by race and species.

This is an important point, considering this was the era after the Watts Riots and the Camden Riots (1971). The Civil Rights Movement was coming to an end for all intents and purposes, and suddenly here's a sci-fi TV show about "species" stereotypes and irrational, implacable biases.

"Escape from Tomorrow" is illuminating in the language it utilizes to describe humans, here deemed the "lesser" or "inferior" class. Both humans themselves and the ruling apes make pervasive derogatory comments in "Escape from Tomorrow" that we -- living today -- would certainly understand as bigoted or as examples of stereotypes.

"Humans know their place," one chimpanzee prefect notes, "that musn't change. They'd begin to think they're as good as we are..."

A nearby village, Chollo, is described (by a human...) as "the village where humans are supposed to live," in other words, a ghetto.

Galen describes humans as "laborers, farmers and servants" -- migrant workers, essentially -- and was always taught to believe that they are an inferior breed. To suggest otherwise is heresy and treason on this world. But Galen is inquisitive and smart and looks beyond the stereotypes, finally.

His experience with Alan and Burke makes him realize that human beings have feelings and dreams and hopes too. He asks Zaius's human serf what it is "like to be human" and then confronts Zaius after he learns that human beings have a history of technical and scientific achievement. "Why Zaius?" He asks. "Why should truth be against the law?"


Galen also suggests that "maybe the world would be better if no creature" were deemed superior to another. This point-of-view makes him a strong ally for the fugitive astronauts, but his objective, inquisitive nature also makes him a radical and fugitive among his own people. 

Another element of the Planet of the Apes series also seems to derive from another 1970's real life source: Watergate.

Namely, Zaius and Urko engage in a secret cover-up to destroy the spaceship and keep knowledge of the astronauts a secret from the general populace. In other words, the ape ruling class is working against its people (both human and simian).

The apes live in a rigidly conservative or traditional society here, one where the status quo must remain intact at all costs, and the aristocracy lives in mortal dread of losing control, of seeing their imposed "natural" order change. "Heresy" and "treason" are common accusations for those who reject ape dogma. The idea of a cover-up and an authoritarian government (it's legal if the president says its legal...) surely reflect the era of Nixon's imperial presidency. All of that was coming to a head in 1974 America as this series aired.

Yet too often on the Planet of the Apes TV series, the story lines and plot details felt uninspired and repetitive. It all usually came down to one of the three heroes captured by the apes and then rescued by the other two cohorts before the hour was up.

And yet, I remember this series with tremendous fondness and affection because it possesses a great deal of value in terms of depicting a society separated by class and race. By putting white humans in the inferior position, the series makes quite a few trenchant points.

Ultimately, that's the purpose of good science fiction, to comment on society, and here the set-up is nearly Swiftian. On top of these elements, the series features good actors and a modestly well-drawn future world, thanks in part to the costumes left over from the feature films and the occasional use of stock footage (for Ape City exteriors, for instance).

I suppose to enjoy the Planet of the Apes series to its fullest, you must forgive the repetitive, action-oriented storytelling a bit and be willing to look for the underlying points, the subtext.

These factors are present in most episodes (especially "The Trap," one that finds a gorilla and a human -- Urko and Burke -- trapped in an underground subway system together...), but also just a tiny resonance in quite a few programs.  If this series had lasted more than half-a-season, perhaps we would have seen the underlying social commentary rise to the surface more frequently.

I hope you'll join me as I blog the entire series. Next week: "The Gladiators."

Cult-TV Movie Review: She Waits (1972)



A very private man, Mark Wilson (David McCallum) returns to his childhood home with his new wife, Laura (Patty Duke).  Upon his return, however, his sick old mother, Sarah (Dorothy McGuire) insists that he and his new bride leave the premises at once.

Mark’s mother believes that the spirit of Mark’s first, dead wife, Elaine, still dwells in the house, and wants to torment Laura and Mark.  The house-keeper, Miss Medina (Beulah Bondi), however, believes that Sarah is sick, and getting worse.

Mark dismisses all these concerns, even as he introduces Laura to his old friend, David Brody (James Callahan), who also knew Elaine. 

Soon, however, Laura begins to grow uncomfortable in the house. She hears strange noises, and voices, for instance.

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson realizes that she has miscalculated Elaine’s dark plan.  The roving, vengeful spirit now plans to possess Laura, and murder Mark, whom she blames for her own death.


“Maybe when you move closer to death, death moves closer to you.”

She Wait…and she isn’t the only one. 

Watching this TV movie (which originally aired on CBS, on January 28, 1972), the audience waits -- and waits interminably -- for anything exciting or intriguing to occur.

But the wait is largely in vain.

A story of spirit possession, She Waits (1972) is one of the most long-winded and dull of the early 1970’s made-for-TV horror films. Basically, the movie sets down in the Wilson family house, and rarely leaves that setting.  Although it is possible that a feeling of claustrophobia was what director Delbert Mann and writer Art Wallace were seeking here, the result is nonetheless disappointing. At 74 minutes, She Waits feel practically endless.

Basically, She Waits features no real action, no real explanation for the survival of Elaine’s spirit in the house, and no real horror, either. Despite a fine, competent cast that includes McCallum and Duke, the characters here are exceptionally dull-witted, failing to put two-and-two together for a long time. McCallum’s Mark keeps talking to Elaine, his first wife, as if she is still Laura, his second wife, even after she has told him differently.  And this happens despite the fact Laura -- to all external signs -- is a completely changed person.  If he doesn’t hear her words, Mark doesn’t seem to notice the extreme changes in Laura’s demeanor and tone.

Even the resolution of the story is disappointing as well. Basically, the evil spirit, Elaine, is “talked” out of existence, so that Laura may re-possess her own body.

Excessively talky and slow, She Waits plays like a much less-interesting version of “The Bride Possessed,” the pilot episode of One Step Beyond (1959), but at least that tale featured more action and characterization. Here, Laura begins to realize that she is being manipulated and taunted by a dead woman, but the possession takes forever, and there are red herrings, like an apparently-haunted music box.

Weirdly, the story doesn’t make much sense, either. For example, even the dead woman doesn’t seem to understand her own back-story (or death, for that matter).  

As the film eventually reveals, Mark didn’t kill his first wife -- as even his mother suspects -- but rather she died at the hands of David Brody, who was having an affair with his best friend’s wife.  The spirit of Elaine doesn’t recognize this secret until the final act, and so she has waited years -- existing beyond the grave -- to wreak revenge on a man who didn’t even deserve it.
She Waits boasts some interest for two reasons, primarily. 

The first is that the movie seems like a modern-day, supernatural variation on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847).  Here, as is the case in the novel, a naïve young woman comes into the established home of a mysterious man.  And the dark force in that family home is actually his first wife. 

The primary difference between tales involves not just period details, but the nature of the first wife.  Here, Elaine is a spirit, not a living (mad) woman.

Secondly, She Waits seems to feature a sub-textual comment on the state of marriage in the 1970’s. This was the decade, lest we forget, when divorce became a much more normalized phenomenon in the American family.  This meant that, psychically-speaking, second husbands and second wives had to deal more frequently with the metaphorical “ghosts” of spouses past. 


She Waits is certainly a literal-reading of this concept, with Laura feeling competitive towards Mark’s first wife, Elaine, and Mark proving tight-lipped and evasive about his earlier marriage. The movie’s resolution point is the line of dialogue “Don’t the past come between us,” but that’s almost precisely what happens. Laura becomes possessed (and obsessed too…) with Mark’s previous romantic relationship. In the absence of direct communication from Mark, Laura is overpowered by the memory/spirit of Elaine, which still haunts the Wilson house.

There’s more than one kind of possession,” Dr. Carpenter (Lew Ayres) reports, and what he refers to here is the way that jealousy can consume someone, especially a second wife or husband. It’s just a shame that She Waits never finds a clever way to dramatize or resolve this story-line.

There are so many great supernatural TV-movies of the early 1970’s (see, for example, 1972’s Something Evil, directed by a young Steven Spielberg), but She Waits feels like a relic from the age of radio. Every piece of information is spoken, reiterated, and chewed over, and there are no compelling visuals exist side-by-side the talky script.

Although She Waits got a VHS release in the 1980’s courtesy of Prism Entertainment, it is one of the rare TV-films of its era that is not really worth seeking out.