Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1975): "The Curfew Shall Ring Tonight"

In “The Curfew Shall Ring Tonight,” Sigmund nearly gets caught by Zelda (Mary Wickes) while eating a sandwich in the kitchen. When the sea monster makes his escape, he also breaks her favorite salad bowl.  Now he must raise enough money to fix it, with the boys’ help.

Meanwhile, at the cave, Water Confright, the Sea Monster news anchor creature, announces on the shellovision that there is a curfew ordered for all local monsters. At the same time, in the human world, a curfew is announced by the sheriff because of “teenage trouble” in the area.

Now the boys and Sigmund must sneak out of the house by night, and go down to the monster cave to acquire Sigmund’s savings of fifty clams, to repair the broken salad bowl.

This episode of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1975), at least, doesn’t borrow a plot from The Bugaloos.  Not much more can be said for “The Curfew Shall Ring Tonight” except that Sigmund’s clumsiness again precipitates a misadventure (“Oh, I did it again!” is quickly becoming the titular character’s refrain.). And said misadventure, inevitably takes him, and his human friends, down to the sea caves at Dead Man’s Point for an encounter with the hapless monster family.

There are no new monster suit this weeks, only the some humorous new monster names to chew over. I mentioned Water Confright (Walter Cronkite) above, but we also learn that the monster sheriff of Dead Man’s Point is Sheriff Shrock.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this episode, and the series overall, is the mirror premising. What happens in the human world is almost always reflected in the tale by what is happening in the monster world. The value of this mirror premising, if it isn’t apparent, is that we see how family fears, and problems, even loves and losses, are all the same, regardless of species differences. Some families may consist of “monsters” to the eye, but be totally recognizable in terms of human foibles and phobias. In a weird way, this is a 1970’s affirmation of diversity. Sigmund’s family may consist of monsters, but they have feelings too, right?

Another truly intriguing aspect of this episode.  The episode seems to be a variation on a poem from 1867, Rose Hartwick Thorpe's "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight."  That's a remarkably obscure literary reference to be included in a Saturday morning series about sea monsters!

Next week: “Sweet Mama Redecorates.”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Memory Bank: Star Trek: Voyager: The Arcade Game (2002)

Imagine my delight and surprise, recently, when I was at a local bowling alley in Charlotte with my family, and strayed into a mini-arcade to find a deluxe cabinet version of this fifteen year old franchise game.  

Since the game was still playable, I knew I needed to snap some photos and feature them all here on the blog.

Star Trek: Voyager: The Arcade Game was released in 2002 (after the end of the actual TV series), by Monaco Entertainment and Team Play Inc. It's a first person shooter (FPS)-styled game, though re-modeled appropriately for Star Trek concepts.  The guns (presumably phasers) don't have to be reloaded but rather re-modulated instead (think: fighting the Borg.)

The enemies in the game hail straight from the series, but are not just the Collective, however, but also Species 8472, and the Hirogen.  There also some...imaginative new aliens.

Additionally, some game modules involve space combat with the Borg and feature the customized shuttle, the Delta Flyer. 

In short, if you are a fan of Voyager, this is a great game, in no small part because it recreates the settings (like Voyager's bridge) and characters (Borg, especially, down to their First Contact sphere) of the series.

I was glad to see this game still in service!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Spanish Moss Murders" (December 6, 1974)

In “The Spanish Moss Murders by Al Friedman and David Chase, it is nearly July 4th.  In Chicago, however, there is little reason to celebrate, as a series of mysterious murders plague the city. Each of the victims, from a lovely sleep research center assistant to the celebrated chef at the ritzy Chez Voltaire, is found with a crushed torso and covered in a leafy substance: Spanish Moss.

Kolchak (Darren McGavin) investigates and determines that the brutal crimes stem from Louisiana legend, from the old Cajun myth of “Pere Malfait,” a local boogeyman and “Bad Father.”

Kolchak immerses himself in the details of the old legend, including the fashioning of a weapon to stop the beast: a spear made from authentic bayou gumwood. 

He then faces off against Pere Malfait in the dark sewers.

Although the monster of the week (again) doesn’t bear close inspection in 2018, “The Spanish Moss Murders” has nonetheless always been one of my favorite installments of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). 

In part this is because the photography of the monster is quite powerful at points. The suit isn't great, but there are moments in the climactic sewer fight that nonetheless prove powerful.

Also, I enjoy the nature of the monster itself.  This swamp being -- from what I can determine, anyway -- was created just for the TV series, and therefore is not actually a local legend. That’s disappointing.  However, what I find tantalizing about the monster this week is that Pere Melfait is manifested from the dreams (or nightmares) of a man who has been in a constant state of REM sleep.  In other words, the monster is matter, made from a troubled mind.

There are many legends of regional swamp monsters (see: The Legend of Boggy Creek), so even the fact that Pere Malfait is not a real legend, doesn’t prove terribly troublesome in terms of the episode’s effectiveness.  The key idea here is that a man, afraid of his nighttime bogeyman, actually creates that boogeyman in the flesh. He creates what he fears. This is an idea that has had significant currency in horror movies and TV films in the last several decades.  From Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), to Augustus Cole in The X-Files episode “Sleepless,” to the very premise of the (short-lived) horror series Sleepwalkers, all such stories, including this one, tie the “realm” of REM sleep to the manifestation of consensus reality monsters.

The resolution to the mystery here is gathering information. And since Kolchak is a journalist, this is perfect. When Kolchak learns the myth of Pere Malfait, he also learns how to destroy the beast.  If the beast is manifested from a story, then it can also be killed by the resolution of that story; by the method used in that story. In some sense, tales like the one depicted seem to be about our ability to impose both chaos and order over our reality.  We can generate in the flesh monsters that terrify us, but we can also using the same mind, find ways to overcome that terror. I am reminded of Rod Serling’s definition of The Twilight Zone.  It includes “the pit of man’s fears” and “the summit of his knowledge.”  Both those places are housed in the conscious, and unconscious mind.

Perhaps this episode works so well, too, because of the “bedtime” story aspect.  Bedtime stories are frequently terrifying, and the idea of a bedtime story made real captures our sense of irrational, childhood fears. When we go sleep, even as adults, we are vulnerable, susceptible to things that, in waking consciousness, have no real power over us.

This episode is also particularly well-cast, with Severn Darden playing the fussy, unimaginative sleep scientist who doesn’t realize what terrors his work has wrought, and Keenan Wynn as the police authority of the week.  Wynn’s detective, Captain Siska, is particularly funny in this episode as -- in perfect 70’s fashion -- he has been to “Group Therapy” to control his anger.  He even says to Kolchak, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” 

But after a few hours of contending with Kolchak’s wild theories and aggressive investigation, the poor captain relapses into outright, out-of-control rage.  You can’t really blame him.

Next week: “The Energy Eater.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Childhood's End: A Farewell to Toys "R" Us

This summer, America's children, and all children at heart -- meaning adults like me -- were forced to grow up in a most dramatic and unpleasant way. 

We had to say goodbye to Toys R. Us, an American institution since 1948. The store filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and now, in summer 2018, remains nothing but a cherished memory. The doors to this particular dreamland have been permanently shut.

But Toys R Us was just a store, some people might say, right? A temple to consumerism, and one that hooked our children young.

To which I would reply: not so fast.  Toys R. Us was a lot more than that.

For many of us, Toys R Us was a place where imagination and dreams took root, and where they began to sprout, to bloom. It was a place that led to hours, years, and even decades of make-believe and fun. I grew up in New Jersey and some of my earliest memories are of visiting Toys R. Us stores in Totowa, or Paramus with my sister and my parents.

Why was Toys R. Us so special? What made it significantly different from the toy section in Target, or Walmart? What made it different from

For children, Toys R Us was a place constructed just for them: a store devoted entirely to their interests and it told the world that they -- that children -- were important. Their interests were important too. In a world that moves fast and is always on the move, that message is one that is significant.  So I suppose you can conclude that Toys R Us was a place where children mattered, and made children realize that they mattered.  

And it was a temple in a way, I concede, but not merely to consumerism. It was a mecca of fun, excitement, and most importantly, possibilities. It was row after row, aisle after aisle, of creativity made manifest in the newest and best toys.  From bikes to trains to video games, it was the greatest toy store there is...or was.

For adults, like me, Toys R Us has become something else too: a legacy. My son Joel was born in 2006, and I have been taking him to the store since he was an infant. 

For approximately eight years, we have had a standing summer ritual. As soon as the summer starts, and either I am off from work, or Joel is out of school, we pick a day, drive up to Concorde, N.C., together and visit the Toys R. Us there. We arrive just as it opens, and then spend an hour or so, checking out the newest action figures, or Legos. We then go out to lunch together, and drive home with bags filled of toys, or video games, or Nerf guns.  

In my childhood, of course, Toys R. Us was the place of Star Wars toys, or Micronauts, or Star Trek. For Joel, the store has fueled his interest in Transformers, Pokemon, Star Wars (again), Marvel, Nintendo, and, perhaps greatest of all, Lego. For both of our childhoods, I know nothing is better than arriving home with a new toy or two, and beginning a brand new adventure and letting our imaginations run wild.

A visit to Toys R. Us is about the toys, sure, but it is also about me and my son being together, and sharing interests and imagination.

I suspect it is precisely this way for many fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters too. 

So Joel and I had our last visit to Toys R. Us together in May of 2018.

My wife won't allow me to post photos of Joel on the Internet yet, but I do have a photo of him there on the final visit, and it is a little sad, to tell the truth. He is an eleven year old boy standing in the center of largely empty aisles, looking somewhat downcast at the state of the store. 

We actually had an opportunity to go back one more time after that, a few weeks ago, and Joel didn't want to go back.  He said he would rather remember the store the way it was, than see it at the very end, "cannibalized" in his words.

I will confess I felt a lump in my throat on our last visit, as we drove away from the store, and awareness settled in that it was the last time I would be there with my boy.

And that he would never take his son to Toys R. Us. 

And that a generation of American kids would grow up without a place, in every state and city, devoted just to them; reminding them how important they are, and how much they matter to us, and our posterity.

We can look at all the reasons why Toys R. Us closed. Perhaps it was mismanagement. Perhaps it was changing times, or the competition of the Internet.  But it is a crying shame that our culture no longer has the time or interest in a 60 year old, American institution designed for children.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, and all good things must come to an end.  I am grateful that this store has been a part of my life, and my son's too. But I am sad that this particular tradition ends here, when other children still need it. 

I'm not ready for Toys R. Us to go. To coin a phrase:  "I don't wanna grow up."

So, one final refrain: