Thursday, October 17, 2019
In "Twiki is Missing," a space iceberg moves perilously near Earth, endangering the entire planet as an ion storm approaches.
Meanwhile, a tyrant named Kurt Belzac (John P. Ryan) runs a mine on Tauros that is the "sole supplier of an explosive called Blazium," and is tired of his persistent labor problems. He believes he can replace his human workers with robots such as Twiki. Accordingly, Belzac orders his trio of psychic enforcers to Earth to negotiate for Twiki, or if necessary, steal him.
When Buck (Gil Gerard) refuses to sell Twiki, arguing that he is a "friend," Stella (Eddie Benton) and her cohorts steal him and attempt to take him back to Tauros.
Buck follows Twiki back to Tauros, and learns that Belzac is holding Stella's son hostage. She must obey his commands, lest her boy be murdered. Buck enlists Stella's help to save Twiki, and acquire enough blazium to destroy the threat from the space berg.
With Stella on his side, Buck and Twiki return to earth to contend with the space berg.
"Twiki is Missing" is one of the lesser episodes of Buck Roger's first season. The story, at its heart, doesn't make a lot of sense. Isn't Twiki just one of many robots of the same model? Are his plans/blueprints available on the open market that Belzac could purchase so he doesn't have to resort to interstellar thievery? Are there other robots of the galactic civilization (like the ones we've seen in episodes such as "Cosmic Whiz Kid") not available or able to work in Belzac's mines?
The whole idea behind this story is that Belzac must "own" Twiki in particular, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I know Twiki has picked up Buck's habits and 20th century lingo, but it seems that these factors would make him more independent, and therefore less useful as a slave to be used in the mines.
Furthermore, the episode doesn't get at the heart of this scenario. Is Twiki sentient? Are the other robots like him sentient? Do they have rights? Is it wrong to use them as slaves, if they do have rights, and are sentient? These issues are not of interest to the makers of "Twiki is Missing."
Part of the reason that the story doesn't make tremendous sense is that we know so little about Twiki. Was he built by the computer council and other machines, such as Dr. Theopolis? We have seen a robot like him, such as Tina ("Cruise Ship to the Stars"), but very few others on Earth. Is his model out-moded? State of the art? Does every Earth citizen get a robot companion like him? As the audience, we simply don't have enough information to register this story on a deeper, more meaningful level. This is one example where Buck Rogers has provided so little information about a supporting character that a narrative about that character simply doesn't work.
The other plot line, a looming space berg, is no more successful. Here a giant iceberg moves through space, and will rip apart the atmosphere of the Earth if its re-entry is altered. At the last minute, Buck has to "eyeball" the iceberg's trajectory to get through the re-entry window. I know Buck is a great pilot, and a heck of a guy, but really? He's just going to eyeball a 10 billion ton iceberg with the correct amount of blazium, and "guess" the correct coordinates for the detonation?
Of course, he does just that.
Buck's either the most skilled and brilliant man alive, or the luckiest one. But just the fact that the episode's climax relies on him "eyeballing" this threat from space and successfully vanquishing it, speaks volumes about the level of the writing on the series at this point. One gets the impression that the writers might still have been obsessed with Star Wars, and the moment when Luke turns off his targeting computer to fire his proton torpedoes and destroy the Death Star. But at least Luke had the Force on his side. Buck just has his twentieth century "instincts." Once more, this is the idea of American Exceptionalism...in the future/in space, but it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Visually, "Twiki is Missing" is no great shakes. The blazium looks like painted styrofoam blocks. A 20th century micro-fiche machine doubles for a high-tech 25th century computer in a New Chicago laboratory, and when Twiki is lost in space, the special effects crew uses the Mego action figure, apparently, for the long-shots. There is a ramshackle, cobbled-together visual aspect to Buck Rogers that makes it look rather slapdash at times, and this is one of the worst episodes in terms of that unfortunate feature.
Next week: "A Dream of Jennifer."
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
In this week's installment of the 1970's horror anthology, The Evil Touch (1973-1974), an old woman, Constance (Mildred Natwick) is dying. Her young husband, Evan (Jack Thomson) has been poisoning her for months, in cahoots with his mistress, a nurse.
Constance learns the truth, and demands that Evan be honest with her about his behavior. "Everything I have is yours, unless you deceive me," she reminds him.
This confrontation occurs while the mistress is hiding in a nearby closet in their home. When Evan refuses to come clean about his affair, Constance demands that he brick-up the entrance to the closet immediately, trapping the mistress inside.
Evan has no choice to oblige. He seals his lover inside the closet.
Over the next several days, Constance experiences disturbing and frightening visions of the mistress lurking in the house, and on the property. In truth, this is all part of a plan to jolt -- or scare -- her to death.
But Constance has the last laugh. She finds the secret exit from the closet, and decides to brick that up too...with Evan and his lover trapped within.
The defeated lovers beg her for mercy, but Constance puts the last brick over the door, and leaves them to die together...
"Scared to Death" is a return to the favorite narrative of this particular series: a young man plots and executes the murder of a rich old woman. This story has been, literally, done to death on The Evil Touch. That fact established, "Scared to Death" is actually one of better iterations of the tale, despite the fact that it follows several other stories of the same type.
I credit the story's effectiveness to one particular detail: claustrophobia.
It is horrible to ponder a fate in which one has been sealed permanently in a small chamber, like a closet, behind unmovable bricks. There is simply no escape for those trapped.
"Scared to Death" also is more suspenseful than the average tale in this series. When Constance and Evan quarrel, and she makes her murderous demand (that he brick up the closet), one legitimately wonders how he will behave. Will he save his lover and risk his inheritance? Or, will he do as his wife demands, and throw his lover under the bus (or behind the brick wall, as it were)? Then, as the story develops, it becomes clear, that the brick wall is part of Evan's plan, because he knows of the secret exit from the closet. But again, the tables turn, and old Constance remembers the secret exit, and picks her moment to trap her deceitful husband and her lover in that tiny room.
"Scared to Death" has two drawbacks that pop to mind, and diminish this installment a bit.
The first is a matter of practicality. Constance taunts Evan and his lover as she puts in the final bricks to seal their fate. At this point, the brick wall would not yet have hardened, so to speak, since she is still working on it, and there is still a gap. Evan should just start kicking madly at the opening, to see if he can damage it, and escape. Since his life is at stake, one would think he and the nurse would grow more desperate, and attempt a physical rush at the still compromised wall before it is too late. They accept their grim fate a bit too easily, in my estimation.
The other problem in "Scared to Death" involves a lengthy voice over narration by Quayle at the mid-point. This narration explains what Constance is going through (when she keeps seeing the mistress), and how she believes she is going crazy, though she doesn't "believe in ghosts." This narrative interruption is entirely unnecessary as the visuals and Natwick's performance, convey this idea without any exposition. This is an example of not trusting the audience enough to get the story. "Scared to Death" would have been more powerful without the mid-point exposition.
As disappointing as it is to see another "old woman in jeopardy from young inheritor" tale featured on The Evil Touch, "Scared to Death" is an effective story because of its particular details, particularly the idea of Evan and his mistress feeling like "caged animals," because they can't escape from Constance. That reality, in the end, becomes literal, rather than metaphorical.
Next week: "Dear Beloved Monster."
Monday, October 14, 2019
Twenty five years ago, Wes Craven celebrated the tenth anniversary of the creation of his most popular boogeyman: Fred Krueger.
The tenth birthday of cinematic boogeyman Freddy Krueger should have been a big deal to start with, that's for sure.
The tenth birthday of cinematic boogeyman Freddy Krueger should have been a big deal to start with, that's for sure.
Well, in the late 1980's, Freddy Krueger veritably ruled the box office and the horror genre, thanks in large part to three or four very talented people: Wes Craven, who gave birth to Freddy, Robert Englund, who gave the silver screen monster body and personality, and talents like Heather Langenkamp and Lisa Wilcox, who, on more than one occasion, gave Krueger worthy nemeses.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Freddy was truly flattered throughout the eighties. In the latter part of the decade, every new issue of Fangoria seemed to trumpet the arrival of "a new
Freddy, a boogeymen challenger to knock Krueger from his long-held king’s throne.
Freddy, a boogeymen challenger to knock Krueger from his long-held king’s throne.
The candidates didn’t end up being so imposing, from Harris (Richard Lynch), the cult-guru of Bad Dreams (1988), to I Madman’s (1989) Malcolm Brand. Even Craven himself took a shot at toppling Freddy with his new monster: Horace Pinker (the great Mitch Pileggi) in 1989’s Shocker.
But by 1991, somehow, Freddy Krueger was played out. The last series film, Freddy’s Dead (1991), was a disaster, and his TV show (Freddy’s Nightmares) was cancelled after just two seasons.
After years holding on, and being praised as the best of the slasher pack, Freddy lost his cultural currency.
So New Line Studios did the only thing that made sense. It went back to Freddy’s dad, Wes Craven, one more time, and he devised a new twist on his most beloved character. Craven revived the series, -- at least from an artistic stand-point -- with the brilliant Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994).
As Kim Newman pointed out in Sight and Sound (Jan 1, 1995, pg.62), “The major achievement of the film, given the complicated mix of in-jokery and philosophy and the by-now familiar nature of Freddy’s schtick, is that Craven manages to make things scary again.”
That was a big deal, considering the fact that after five sequels, Freddy had become more circus ringmaster than slashing, menacing murderer.
But even better, New Nightmare was scary in a smart way. The New York Post’s Thelma Adams observed that it is a “rippingly good movie-within-a-movie, a pop Day for Nightmare.” Indeed, the film’s is-it-real-or-is-it-a-movie approach to the action might very well be seen as the missing link binding 1980s slashers to the most popular horror franchise of the 1990s: Scream (1996).
I love New Nightmare, however, not merely because it is scary, and not merely because it plays with our understanding of reality (and indeed, franchise history).
Rather, I adore the film because it speaks meaningfully about the horror film’s place in American society. It erects, brilliantly, in my estimation, a pro-social case for the horror film as art.
Horror films offer a very necessary catharsis for our society, states the film's thesis. The monsters that we don’t capture on the screen will haunt us in real life. Thus horror movies not only “bottle” such monsters, butthey help children grapple with the idea of evil in a way that does not endanger them, and, to the contrary, shows them how to survive.
A good scary story is more than entertainment. It is a journey survived, an obstacle overcome, a mountain climbed. A good horror movie can demonstrate how, once destroyed, order can be restored. It can shows us that monsters are defeatable, just as life's troubles can be defeated.
In case you couldn't tell, I love this film, and everything it stands -- and fights -- for.
"Every kid knows who Freddy is. He's like Santa Claus. Or King Kong."
Former horror movie star Heather Langenkamp grows agitated when, following an earthquake in Los Angeles, she learns that her young son, Dylan (Miko Hughes) has been watching her Nightmare on Elm Street films.
Worse, she is being stalked by an obscene phone caller, and is having nightmares about Freddy.
Before long, it seems as Freddy (Robert Englund) himself is crossing over into our reality, and using Dylan as a vessel to do so.
Desperate, Heather seeks the advice of her friend, John Saxon (himself) and horror movie guru, Wes Craven (himself), who suggests that it is time for the actress to reprise her role of Nancy Thompson if she hopes to defeat an ancient demon that has taken the shape of Freddy Krueger.
"I think the only way to stop him is to make another movie."
At its most basic form, Wes Craven's New Nightmare is a parent’s personal journey towards enlightenment.
As the film commences, Heather obsessively protects her son Dylan from the danger of “scary movies,” of horror films, that she perceives.
She admits that she wouldn’t allow Dylan to see her own motion pictures, namely Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, and that she is uncertain about “doing horror roles" because of their impact on Dylan and other children his age.
She thus makes an argument that all horror film fans have heard again and again. Horror movies are bad! They are bad for society, and bad for young eyes!
Additionally, Heather does not understand why her boy -- here representing all of America’s children -- is drawn to scary stories in the first place. Regarding Hansel & Gretel, Heather declares, “it’s so violent, I don’t know why you like it.”
Horror movie fans have heard that one too.
I get this one all the time, especially when I reveal how much I appreciate Last House on the Left (1972), or Straw Dogs (1971).
How can someone so gentle, so nice, actually like movies filled with such horrible violence?
Well, unlike a lot of folks, I prefer all my horrible violence to be on screen, not in real life. I work out my fears, my anxieties in these movies, imagining the unimaginable, and feeling a catharsis when I have survived it.
But back to the movie.
As a result of his mother’s repression of horror films and bedtime stories, young Dylan becomes partially possessed by the demons he has only half-glimpsed in these apparent fiction.
Because he has not seen the entire picture, the whole film A Nightmare on Elm Street, he has not witnessed his mother defeat Freddy’s evil. He is therefore left vulnerable to evil influences and emotions. He has nowhere to put that "horror" and no way to achieve closure.
To illustrate this point, Craven’s screenplay has Dylan awaken as if from a trance each time Heather turns off the television to censor his viewing. His need for security is shattered, and Dylan screams in horror.
Significantly, he is not frightened by the images of terror unfolding on the screen, but because his mother has robbed him of narrative closure; of the knowledge that, in the end, evil is defeated and the world is returned to normal.
Similarly, as Heather reads Hansel and Gretel to Dylan for the umpteenth time, he orders her to finish the story before he goes to sleep.
“Say how they find their way home, it’s important,” he insists.
Craven’s implication here is that children like to be scared and that stimulating horror stories/films serve as an outlet for this need. By seeing a scary story all the way through to its conclusion, children learn that they too can beat scary influences in real life. Horror makes them aware that they will survive.
The form is cathartic, in addition to being fun.
As the plot of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare develops, Heather realizes that, as Craven eloquently puts it, an evil repressed can sometimes break through into “safe” reality. A woman who has refused to allow her child to see horror films is then thrust unexpectedly into the position of defending them.
“I’m convinced that those films can send an unstable child over the edge!” the well-meaning but parochial Dr. Heffner declares, but the horror Dylan faces is not imagined bur real, ironically, because the Freddy films are no longer being made in the 1990s.
When they were produced in the 1980s, the series served as a healthy outlet for teenage fears and anxieties. Since they have stopped, evil has escaped into the real world and is doing massive damage.
Craven explores this theme of horror as acceptable, even desirable outlet for fear by crafting an ongoing parallel between his Elm Street universe and the grim childhood story Hansel and Gretel.
Since Hansel and Gretel is deemed acceptable “bedtime reading” by most parents, a Nightmare on Elm Street is, by extension, also acceptable. And like the witch in the scary fairy tale, Freddy Krueger even tries to shove Dylan into an oven and in the film’s denouement is cooked himself.
In stalking the young boy, Freddy declares, “I’m gonna eat you up!” and that he has some “gingerbread” for the boy, and these moments heighten the film’s similarity to written folklore.
The film’s conclusion is the final reiteration of this leitmotif as Heather and Dyaln sit together and read the New Nightmare script from start to finish as the camera gently pulls away from the duo, both safe and sound.
This reading provides closure and vanquishes Freddy forever to the world of imagination…or at least until people stop making horror movies about this particular demon once more.
Rich in theme and intellectual heft, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare not only examines parental responsibility and the healthy aspects of the horror film, it is also profoundly self-referential in its commentary on the world of Hollywood filmmaking. Freddy masks, costumes, gloves and affectionate fan signs are all seen on the talk show stage. Memorabilia from the Elm Street line, including reference books, action figures and paintings are seen in executive Bob Shaye’s office, and fans like the creepy limo driver pop up everywhere and startle poor Heather in the tradition of Freddy himself.
Craven pointedly contrasts the fanaticism of some fans with the blasé attitude of those who make the films and profit from them.
“That thing puts bread on our table,” Chase reminds Heather when she petulantly objects to Freddy’s new razor glove.
“The fans, god bless ‘em, they’re clamoring for more,” Bob Shaye laughs, realizing that he has a money-making bonanza in this particular franchise.
Indeed, the very fact that the tenth anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street is a plot point in the film speaks to both fan devotion and executive greed. Amusingly, Craven bites the hand that feed him here. At the same time that he makes another horror sequel for New Line and Shaye, he criticizes the company for literally running Freddy into the ground.
Freddy has returned to the real world not just because of repression, but because his mythos has become overly familiar, too watered down by mainstream concerns to be scary anymore.
Even as New Nightmare slams past sequels, it is loaded with references visual and verbal to past entries in the Elm Street film cycle. It is a movie about transformation and alternate reality bleeding in to ours, so by the movie’s climax Heather’s world has turned into the world of the 1984 film. John Saxon is suddenly her father, her blond babysitter dies like blond Tina died, and so on. Heather's hair even goes gray again, and she finds herself inadvertently repeating dialogue from the original film such as “whatever you do, don’t fall asleep” and “screw your pass!”
The first Nightmare on Elm Street is not the only series entry referenced here.
Dr. Heffner, the disbelieving professional, echoes Dr. Elizabeth Simms in Dream Warriors (1987), who felt that Freddy wasn’t real but rather a byproduct of “rampant” adolescent sexuality.
The roadside death of a male protagonist, Chase, is reminiscent of Alice’s boyfriend Dan and his death in The Dream Child (1989), down to the inclusion of a pick-up truck in the sequence. Another repetition from the fifth film is the subplot that a child can serve as a vessel of evil, one which Freddy can operate.
Finally, Heather’s comment to Dylan that people can only enter other people’s dreams in the movies represents a sly put-down of the premise of Dream Warriors.
By re-interpreting these standards of the Nightmare on Elm Street film series, New Nightmare transcends the familiar mythos and actually becomes oddly unpredictable. Viewers believe they know all the twists, but all the twists are, themselves, twisted and given new meaning (and thus power) in their revision.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare contains many intricate realities. For instance, the audience here is watching a horror movie concerning an actress planning to play herself in a horror movie. Fictional and real worlds overlap, and this is buttressed by the presence of Nick Corri, Robert Englund, Sara Risher, Craven and others, all playing themselves in the drama.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare also succeeds on a primal, childhood level. It plays on fears of the dark, monsters, “what’s under the bed,” anxieties about hospitals, and more. It also deftly blends humor with the fear of losing a child, that which is most valuable and innocent in the world.
So credit Wes Craven -- 25 years ago -- for doing something here that many thought was impossible on Freddy K's tenth birthday.
He breathed new life into an old monster, and an old form too.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Thursday, October 10, 2019
In "Ardala Returns," Buck (Gil Gerard) and Twiki (Mel Blanc/Felix Silla) are lured into Earth orbit by the mysterious presence of a 20th century satellite from 1996, despite the fact that Dr. Huer's (Tim O'Connor) historical records show "no further records" of space flight following Buck's disappearance and the holocaust.
The satellite is a trick, and Buck and Twiki are captured by Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) aboard the Draconia. The Draconians have been unable to find pilots to fly Kane's (Michael Ansara) new hatchet design fighter, and, in fact, seven pilots have died attempting to do so. In Lab 23, Ardala has Buck duplicated as three separate zygote replicas, hoping that they can fly the fighters, and will also prove more romantically pliable than the original article. However, their thought processes are scrambled, making each replica imperfect in his own unique way.
Buck and Twiki attempt escape from the Draconia, but a zygote makes it back to Earth, where it is expected to self-destruct in New Chicago. Fortunately, Wilma (Erin Gray) sees through the ruse in time.
But even with one Zygote destroyed, Buck must outwit, outfight, and outfly his dangerous doppelgängers.
It's always nice to see Princess Ardala and Killer Kane again, even if "Ardala Returns" doesn't hold up as a great episode of this 1970's space opera. The story involves, essentially, the idea that there is only one Buck Rogers, and that even exact duplicates can't successfully replicate his unique sense of humor and joie de vivre. He is "the master mold."
There was a huge fascination or obsession in 1960's and 1970's sci-fi TV with "exact duplicates" of heroic characters, and many episode plot-lines seem designed solely to see if the main character's friends or sidekicks can detect the difference.
Duplicates of Captain Kirk populated many episodes of Star Trek including "What are Little Girls Made Of," "The Enemy Within," and "Whom Gods Destroy." In Space:1999, a duplicate of John Koenig terrorized Moonbase Alpha in "Seeds of Destruction." Even as late as Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Datalore," in 1987, the same idea of villainous doppelgängers was popular and common-place.
Much like the android-making process of "What are Little Girls Made of," the duplication process of the human mind in "Ardala's Return" is successfully scrambled, meaning that Buck's friends can tell him from the genuine article without too much difficulty. For one thing, the zygotes get Earth colloquialisms all wrong.
Gil Gerard seems to have a good time playing the "imperfect" versions of the series' titular character in "Ardala Returns," even if those same imperfect models exasperate Ardala. The episode also features some emotional genuineness, which is nice for a change. Buck tells Ardala that love isn't something that two people can try to make happen. Ardala isn't having it however, noting that she may be a Draconian princess, but she still has feelings. She is also offended to be rejected again and again by Buck.
One thing is for certain: in both "Escape from Wedded Bliss" and "Ardala Returns," one feels sorry for Ardala. She is a beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman, and yet she is lonely, and can't get past her entirely unhealthy obsession with Buck Rogers. One gets the feeling that Ardala would really start to be her best self if she could just get past this fascination with the 20th century astronaut. He has made his feelings plain, and yet she still can't move on.
The special effects (mostly split screens and doubles) in "Ardala Returns" don't hold up all that well today, but this is a mostly inoffensive, fast-moving episode. The bits with Buck's "Ping Pool" table are actually pretty amusing. Ping pool is a weird combination of Ping Pong and Pool, just as it sounds. A ping pong paddle is used (as is a net), but the ball is a pool ball, which makes the paddle wholly inadequate in terms of game play.
Next week: "Twiki is Missing."
Tuesday, October 08, 2019
In "Marci," a teenage girl, the titular Marci Quinton (Elizabeth Crosby), is upset when her father John (Peter Gwynne) remarries following the accidental death of his first wife. While Marci apparently mourns the death of her mother, Elizabeth (Susan Strasberg), the new wife, attempts to adjust to life in the Quinton family.
Marci makes it clear, however, that Elizabeth is not welcome. She is fiercely competitive over her father's affection. When Elizabeth attempts to explain to John about the fact that her daughter is possessive and cruel, he rejects her counsel. After Elizabeth is nearly killed in an accident of her own, she resorts to playing Marci's own game, attempting to real the truth about the girl.
In the end, Elizabeth learns that Marci murdered her own biological mother, who was pregnant with another child, rather than face competition for her father's love. When Elizabeth attempts to make John see the truth about Marci, he learns that the girl has an unexpected ally...
"Marci" is a creepy and effective episode of the 1970's anthology The Evil Touch. It concerns a girl who is "calculating" and "vicious," in the words of host Anthony Quayle. Marci is locked in combat with Elizabeth, who finds herself in a "contest for her life and sanity with a mere child." The episode plays out like a chess game, though Quayle describes it in Shakespearean terms with a reference to Titus Andronicus.
Once more the subject of an episode of this Australian-made series is murder, and the focus is the family unit. At least here, its not about the money one stands to inherit, or take from a dying old woman.
Instead, "Marci" explores the father-daughter bond in a really creepy way, with the final punctuation being that John himself is a willing partner in Marci's efforts. Quayle's closing narration finds Elizabeth dead and Marci dead, and John remanded to a "private home" for those with "neurotic disorders."
Today what seems most intriguing about the episode is not the third act twist that John would rather kill Elizabeth than see Marci take responsibility for her murderous actions, but rather the way that John gaslights Elizabeth throughout the narrative. He knows full well about Marci's murderous actions, and yet keeps telling Elizabeth she is the one who is crazy. "I always thought you are such a stable person," he says. turning responsibility on her for his daughter's actions.
"Marci" is a fun episode, primarily because one sympathizes with Elizabeth's character, and because the twist is so shocking and murderous. John just goes ballistic, making his true loyalties known, and then the episode ends. One thing is for sure: sweet Elizabeth did not deserve any of what she gets.
Overall, this episode plays better than the last few installments of the series, but next week it's back to scaring little old ladies in "Scared to Death."
In "Twiki is Missing," a space iceberg moves perilously near Earth, endangering the entire planet as an ion storm approaches....