Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy

"Time to play!"

Cutting to the heart of the matter, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is a crisply-argued and impressive companion to the Hellraiser film series, one that's extensively researched and in spots, genuinely fascinating.

Paul Kane's treatise kicks off with a droll and welcome foreword from Pinhead himself, actor Doug Bradley. The Spiked One recounts an anecdote that I found particularly about the true "origin" of Hellraiser IV's odd plot line. Yeah, that was the franchise entry that saw Pinhead arrive in outer case you forgot that particular travesty.

Kane's introduction is terrific too. I always appreciate an author who goes after his subject matter with enthusiasm and passion...but honesty too. For instance, Kane makes no bones about this book's audience. The contents, he suggests "are only for those with a craving, a passion to learn about the Hellraiser mythos, primarily the cinematic interpretations, but also its intrusions into other artistic and cultural forms."

In other words, don't buy this book for Mum. Unless she happens to be a leather fetishist...

But, hey I'm in that "craving" Hellraiser camp! I count myself a devoted admirer of the original Hellraiser (1987), a film that beautifully charts the pitfalls of obsessive, tragic love. Some of the scenes in the latter half of the film, particularly those which feature Julia bludgeoning would-be lovers with a hammer - live in the memory quite vividly. Getting right down to it, Julia - a frigid woman - commits murder again and again in the movie so she can get off, so she can again screw the one man, Frank, who knew how to bring her to orgasm. That's...great stuff pure and simple. The Lament Configuration, Pinhead and all the flying hooks and chains are just window dressing to a terrific human story.

So yeah, I'm among those who do want to know more about this film series. Although, honesty requires me to note the following: I feel the franchise suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Hellraiser is pure genius. Hellbound (the sequel) is good bloody fun. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth...less fun and less scary. And it's right on down the drain from there, up to and including the direct-to-DVD "movies" of recent vintage. I don't know whether this is a popular view to hold or not, but I feel I should admit my disdain for some of the latter productions in the cycle.

Writing in his preface, Kane detects the legacy of Hellraiser in such productions as Cube, Event Horizon, White Noise, and on TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation (the Borg..) and Farscape (the look of Scorpius), and I felt this was a valid point. But, showing the danger of pinpointing one production as "origin point," he also points out that Dune featured creatures (in the Spice Guild) who may have influenced the look of the cenobites.

I particularly enjoyed the author's analysis of the Cenobites in Chapter 3 ("Demons to Some"). Kane points out an interesting factoid here: Pinhead and his minions only appear on screen for seven minutes in the original Hellraiser. I don't think I realized that, but it makes sense. We fear what we can't see; what isn't seen often, and these boogeyman are scarier in short bursts. These "repulsively glamorous" creations, Kane suggests, are actually personifications of our dreams and fears. Pinhead the author sees as a vision of defilement and the fear of penetration (by nails...). Butterball, he suggests, is a vision of gluttony gone crazy, and Chatterer symbolizes the fear of being devoured. The female Cenobite, he suggests (with a vaginal gash in her throat...) is symbolically representative of a fear of women!

Personally, I really dig this kind of cinematic analysis, and especially appreciated how Kane examines Hellbound as an Orpheus type-story. This is a personal love of mine, and one of these days I'm going to write that book I've been putting off: The Orpheus Myth in the Horror Film (see my review of Silent Hill for another example of Orpheus re-told within the genre.)

Perhaps what I appreciated most about The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is that Kane writes clearly and efficiently. He is effusive and supportive when he can be (and hell, why not?) but he takes strong, objective stands as well. For instance, he notes that time has not been kind to the two jump scares in the original Hellraiser and calls them "obvious" and "unnecessary."

Another interesting chapter here is called "The Road to Hell" and it gazes at the biography/history of creator Clive Barker. It discusses early movie failures (such as Rawhead Rex) and takes us through Barker's decision to direct his own novella, "The Hellbound Heart" as Hellraiser for the screen. I'm fascinated by Clive Barker and by the fact that other than Hellraiser, his movies (like Lord of Illusions and Nightbreed) have been creative failures. So the background detail on this great writer is most welcome.

If you have a fascination with the Hellraiser mythology, you'll find this an informative text, and a great companion. My only nitpick (and it's just that, a nitpick), is that Kane makes one of the same mistakes I did in my early film and TV books. He takes up valuable "analysis" space by writing, in exhaustive detail, about the film/tv credits of every bit actor who ever stumbled into a Hellraiser film. I only bring up this matter because I used to do this too and wish that someone had told me sooner (and nicely...) to stop doing that. It's commendable to be complete, but most critics won't be kind about it, and will accuse these passages of being it filler. Believe me, I memorized the reviews...

Still, that's an incredibly minor quibble with an otherwise delightful study of the Hellraiser films. Kane promises in his intro that he has "such sights" to show us, and - unlike Kirsty (at least according to Uncle Frank in Hellbound) - he "delivers." Well done.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

TRADING CARD CLOSE-UP # 10: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I'll never forget those early, heady days when I was in second grade, immediately after the release of Star Wars (1977). It was a time when I hoped and dreamed every new science fiction movie would thrill me in the same way.

Didn't happen with Starship Invasions (1977), which I made my parents take me to see in the theater (d'oh!!!) and still haven't lived down. My Mom and Dad for years were able to make jokes about the moment in that film (in a grocery store) when an alien's "killing ray" makes a little girl commit bloody evisceration..of a tomato.

And since I was at the tender age of eight at the time, that thrill didn't really happen with Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), either. Why? Lots of talking, it was too scary, and where were the cute robots? Hmm???

Of course, in a few short years, I viewed Close Encounters of the Third Kind again, and was ready for it. I was going to write that I had matured, but let's face facts...I've never matured.

On a later viewing, circa 1981 or so, I could admire the glorious, thrilling and hopeful film Spielberg had crafted. And the scene wherein young Barry is "abducted" from his house at night - with the eerie apricot alien light bleeding into the home - is a high-water mark in terms of cinematic scares. And I can appreciate now Richard Dreyfuss's slowly-going-bonkers method performance. I understand his obsession, though (as of yet...), I haven't created a giant trash-can diorama of Devil's Tower. I'm just waiting till Joel is older, so he can help. I think it would like nice in the living room...

Even as a kid, however, I was thrilled and awe-struck by the film's ending at Devil's Tower. The arrival of the alien mothership, and humanity's attempt to make first contact with an alien species still gets me veklempt. I remember sitting in the theater disappointed that we didn't get to go aboard that giant chandelier spaceship in the original cut (we had to wait for the Special Edition...) but was an awesome climax.

So today, for my trading card close-up of the week, I'm featuring Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not just because I so seriously admire the film as a work of 1970s art, but because - of all the sci-fi movies I covet - this is likely the only one that I can claim a personal connection with

No, not because I've been abducted by aliens. But because on a cross-country trip with my family in 1979, my parents took me to Wyoming to visit Devil's Tower...the site of the alien rendezvous in the film. I'll never forget the shivers I felt when I first saw that giant monolith for the first time in real life. The outcropping was huge and totally imposing.

Yet actually getting to Devil's Tower was somewhat harrowing, because the only road leading to the mountain was overrun by darting and running prairie dogs. I'm not kidding. There were tons of little prairie dogs bolting in front of our van. Sadly we struck a was impossible to miss them. That didn't exactly make us feel happy.

Then, when we got to Devil's Tower, the family took a tour around the base of the mountain. Again, I was disappointed, this time that I wouldn't be able to climb the rock edifice, like the characters in the film. But the final disappointment occurred for me when we reached the other side of Devil's Tower! There was no landing pad for UFOs!!! The movie lied. Where was the airforce base?

Dammit! Still, the trip was lively, if for no other reason than a tour guide told us to watch out for rattle snakes, and that got everybody nervous.

So in memory of that great family trip, and - of course - the film too, here for your viewing pleasure are three trading cards, numbered 21, 40, and 41 of the climax from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, trademarked Columbia Pictures, 1978.

See that mountain? I've been there...

Post # 666

I'm not superstitious or anything. Just thought I'd mark this occasion. And make you all aware...this is my blog's 666th post. So, be careful after you read it, all right? Don't let any crows eat your eyeballs out today, or anything.

To celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime moment on the blog, relish this quote about the Armageddon (featured in The Omen): "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666."

Nothing else to see here. Move along. Oh, and watch out for falling sheets of plate glass...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Destinies Interview Live!

The podcast for Friday night's episode of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction is now available at CaptainPhil's Destinies page.

I thought the show was excellent. As usual, Howard (our host), asked extremely astute and well-informed questions. And, as is typical for him, he also made me laugh quite a bit.

Here's the link.

Thanks again, Howard! I had a great time and it was a terrific honor to return to your fine program.


If you've seen photos of my office (click here), or have checked out my numerous posts on "retro toy" flashbacks, you know I'm something of a collector. Actually, I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to collecting...just ask my wife.

But anyway, one thing that I haven't blogged about yet in terms of my collections is...autographs.

Like many other sci-fi and horror fans, I've begun to establish a nice collection of star/filmmaker autographs. This is one of those things I've kind of fallen into, primarily by the good grace of friends. One of the best and most delightful aspects of my writing career is truly the connections I've made with other writers and fans, and I've been very lucky on too many occasions to count - to have wonderful conventioneers and writers acquire autographs (and photos for that matte
r...) for me.

For instance, my wonderful friend Phil Merkel, over at
CaptainPhil, is a Space:1999 fan commander and generous fellow. I've known him since we met in Los Angeles in 1999, and recently he procured for me a signed autograph of William Katt! You can see from the image, the autograph is made out to me, and the photo features the House star in full Greatest American Hero regalia. How cool is that? Especially considering that I wrote The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Another writer friend, G.L. Norris, was a regular correspondent for Cinescape in the early years of the 21st century, and almost every month he (brilliantly...) covered the goings-on over at the Voyager set on the Paramount lot. He got me this great autographed photo from Kate Mulgrew. I didn't always like the series but I've always believed Mulgrew was a great talent, and I loved
her character. I just wish the writing had always lived up to the casting and characterization.

Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei came to visit King's Dominion, an amusement park in Virginia, in 1992, when I lived in that state, and a co-worker of mine at the Supreme Court of Virginia kindly dispatched herself to get me an autograph. Unsolicited.

See -- it's the collection that builds itself! Of course, on occasion, I've nabbed my own autographs too (I'm not a complete mooch). At the Main Mission convention in Manhattan in 2000, for instance, I got Zienia Merton, (Sandra Benes) of Space:1999 fame to sign a page of the article on the series I'd written for Cinescape.

Not pictured, but in my collection, I also have autographs from special effects genius Tom Sullivan, the man who created the Necronomicon (and so much more...) from Evil Dead. Another prize of in my stash is an a
utographed copy of the original This is Spinal Tap script, signed by cinematographer extraordinaire, Peter Smokler. I also kept an e-mail from Kevin Smith, saying he enjoyed my book, An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith, and a signed letter from William Nolan after I interviewed him for my "vintage vision" Cinescape article on Logan's Run. I've also got thank you cards from the late great One Step Beyond director, John Newland, and The Funhouse barker himself, Kevin Conway.

And, I also collect the John Hancocks of my favorite writers and media personalities. Which means, I've got autographed books from Joseph Maddrey (Nightmares in Red, White and Blue), David Szulkin (Wes Craven's Last House on the Left), MaryAnn Johanson (The Totally Geeky Guide to Princess Bride), and Howard Margolin, host of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.

Anyone out ther collect autographs? Who ya got? The autograph I don't have, but want (desperately)? Lance Henriksen, star of one of my favorite series, Millennium...

Friday, February 23, 2007

The House Between: Preview for Episode # 2, "Settled"

Hey folks,

Offered up on the blog today is a preview for The House Between, episode # 2, "Settled," which airs right here - next Friday, March 2nd - on the blog. Hope these clips whet your appetite to watch!

I'll be blogging my director's notes and observations on "Settled" next week too. Although I love all seven episodes, "Settled" is one of my personal favorites, for a number of reasons. But I'll write about all that next week.

In the meantime, watch this clip, and please don't forget to tune into Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction tonight at 11:30 pm, EST. Our host, Dr. Howard Margolin will be interviewing me about The House Between for my seventh appearance on Destinies. I'm looking forward to the show, and hope you'll listen in.

Tune in here, tonight.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

COMIC-BOOK FLASHBACK # 6: "The Computer Masters of Metropolis"

Now this is a very different sort of superhero crossover. Back in 1982, Radio Shack ("the biggest name in little computers") and DC Comics - the home of icons Superman and Wonder Woman - joined forces to promote the future of home computing, and in particular, the TRS-80. The result is a bizarre, "educational" adventure that I think is sort of funny to remember today, especially given that so much about both comic-books and computers has changed in the intervening 25 years.

Superman and Wonder Woman star in "The Computer Masters of Metropolis," written by Paul Kupperberg and featuring art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte. Our story opens with Alec and Shanna - two corn-fed American middle schoolers - happily tapping away on their TRS 80s in class ("It sure beats using a pen and paper, that's for sure!" enthuses Alec...).

That day, their surprise visitor in class is none other than Wonder Woman, who promises to take the whole class to the World's Fair of 1982, being held in Metropolis. The theme of the fair is the celebration of the "advancements of science and technology in the 1980s."

Meanwhile, Superman is already scoping out the World's Fair and has learned from the man running it, Mr. Murphy, that Lex Luthor has made a threat against the celebration. You see, Luthor believed he should get some prime exhibition space at the fair since he considers himself the leading mind in science. But Murphy refused to support the criminal's aspirations, and now Luthor threatens to destroy the fair unless paid a billion dollars. Yikes!

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman visits the fair with her class, and recounts the history of these new-fangled devices known as "computers." "Computers had their beginning in the United States," she recounts, "when the world's first all electronic unit was completed in the fall of 1945." After explaining how computers are utilized on the new NASA space shuttle, Wonder Woman goes on to ponder the future of the devices.

This is the part of the story I especially enjoyed reading today. She suggests computers will one day share "everything from national weather reports to up-to-the-minute news reports from a major wire services." Boldly, the heroine even predicts that one day people will "play games...with people thousands of miles away," and that "you can go shopping through a computerized catalog."

You know, I think she has a point. Is this where Al Gore got the idea to create the Internet?

Anyway, Luthor rigs a trap for Superman at the Planetarium. He exposes the Man of Steel to "red solar radiation," which is "the only force capable of robbing" Superman of his "powers instantly." I guess Luthor's just been waiting for the right opportunity - like a snub from the World's Fair - to spring his trap on Supes.

With Superman in trouble, the imperiled hero from Krypton calls in help from middle-schoolers Alec and Shanna and their trusty TRS-80. With the computer's help, they stop Luthor, and when Mr. Murphy presents the Key to the World's Fair to Superman and Wonder Woman, they demure...suggesting the prize should go to Alex and Shanna and the TRS 80, the new "computer masters" of "Metropolis."

This educational comic-book also features a student guide to computer lingo with a glossary of terms like "basic," "byte," "cassette"(!), "RAM" and "software." There's even a "Quick Quiz" in the back of the mag, to make certain that students get "programmed" to love their TRS-80s..

While it's a worthwhile endeavor for DC Comics to attempt to make computers "cool" way back in the day, by employing their greatest heroes for the cause, today the whole thing reads like a ridiculous promotion not for computers, but for the TRS 80. I guess Superman, Wonder Woman and all the rest of the superheroes might as well hang up their cowls and go home, now that the crafty TRS-80 is on the scene!

That sort of thinking weakens Superman more quickly than red solar energy, I'd wager. It's sort of humiliating to see these great heroes depending on a specific (and now dated...) technology to solve their problems, rather than their wits and smarts.

But the magazine is still fun, even with the opening advertisement entitled "Continuing Education in Computers," which implores readers to "Ask about Radio Shack's Scholarships for Teachers."

Note: This blog brought to you courtesy of of my new computer overlord, the TRS-80...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The House Between on Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

Hey everybody, I'll be returning to that stellar radio program, Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction this Friday night, February the 23rd, at 11:30 pm, EST.

The stalwart host, Dr. Howard Margolin, and I will be discussing my new Internet series, The House Between. Howard's watched the first episode, "Arrived" and I'm looking forward to chatting with him about the series. Hope you've watched by now too. If not, check it out right now.

In the past, I've been on Destinies to discuss my original Space:1999 novel, The Forsaken, Horror Films of the 1970s, Terror Television and The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, but this will be my first appearance there as an editor/director as well as writer! So I'm really looking forward to the show, and hope you'll tune in.

You can catch the action on WUSB 901. FM, on Destinies, this Friday night right here. Don't forget.

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 28: Beauty and the Beast (1987): "Once Upon a Time in the City of New York

Twenty years ago, all the way back in 1987, a fairy tale came to vivid and beautiful life on our television sets. This was the year that Star Trek returned (The Next Generation), but it was also the year that the story of "Beauty and the Beast" was re-imagined for prime-time television on CBS. The series ran for three years and drew good ratings for a time. More to the point, it earned a great deal of fan devotion. Now - at long last - the romantic vision returns, this time on DVD.

Today, watching the pilot episode of the series for the first time in two decades, one can determine clearly why the series was so beloved. Beauty and the Beast is indeed a fairy tale, a very specific form of "escapism." Accordingly the series opens with a delightful conjunction of fantasy and reality. The opening legend reads: "Once upon a time," the classic first line of all great fairy tales, and then adds for good measure " the city of New York," thus making viewers aware this will be a modern story. In other words, a fairy tale with a twist.

In 1987 (as today...) we desperately needed good, moral fairy tales like the one this series provided. Urban crime rates were at their highest in (recorded) American history, and the "greed is good decade" had taken its toll on the country and the economy. At the top of the social ladder were the yuppies - young upwardly mobile professionals - vying for stock options and corner offices, and at the bottom of the heap were Ronald Reagan's forgotten Americans, the homeless whom publicly he deemed "homeless by choice." Their ranks swelled in the 1980s. By the millions. This was also the time of Gordon Gekko, or in real life, Ivan Boesky. It was an era when criminals made millions on Wall Street, and when violent wildings occurred in Central Park. It was a time (much like today...) of fear. And, it must be pointed out, Beauty and the Beast came to television just when racism - and racial tension - was again becoming major national news. There was the Howard Beach incident of December 20, 1986 and the Tawana Brawley incident of November 28, 1987, to name but two such attention-grabbing headlines. But the issue was clear: the racial divide had not been healed in America. And what is "racism" if not the "fear of the other," the person who is "different" from one's self? Beauty and The Beast successful addresses and incorporates all these facets of American culture in the late 1980s, and so today practically reads as a time capsule of the epoch.

So imagine if you will, one Friday night in 1987. When - without warning or preamble - a glorious world appears on your television set, a classic fairy tale made modern and relevant. In this first episode by Ron Koslow (and directed by the brilliant Richard Franklin, of Psycho 2 fame), the ugly "above" world of New York, that of corporations and yuppies, is revealed (literally...) to be a nightmare for lead character Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton). She's stuck with a smarmy business-man fiancee, Tom (Ray Wise), working a thankless job as a corporate lawyer, and wondering what her life is really all about. After an argument with Tom, Catherine leaves a party early one night and runs smack into the realities of street crime. She's abducted by several thugs, taken to a van...and cut with a knife. Her face scarred, she's dumped in a park and left to die...bleeding. Later, when she re-imagines this crime as a dream phantasm, Catherine sees Tom and his circle of friends mocking her. Her co-workers do so as well. They have no sympathy for the victim of a violent crime, and instead mock her. Why? Well, because she's scarred, and in 1980s America (the U.S.A. of aerobics and Perfect [1985]) the one thing you can't be if you hope to be ugly.

Near death that terrible night, Catherine is miraculously rescued by an unusual stranger. On this strange, fog-shrouded evening, a colossal, shadowy figure named Vincent rescues her and brings her to his subterranean home, to the world underneath. To the world where the poor and disenfranchised live...unnoticed....forgotten. But Vincent's world, beneath the city and beneath the subways, is not one of sadness, desolation or hopelessness. On the contrary, as he establishes to Catherine quite early in the show, "You're safe here." In this underworld, he claims "no one can hurt you." Which is quite different from the street crime above, and the white-collar crime of Tom's world. Catherine feels safe there, and begins a friendship with Vincent, who reads to her passages from Great Expectations while her wounds heal.

You probably know the rest of the story. Vincent (Ron Perlman) is a survivor too, a strange, hulking lion-man. And he develops a bond with Catherine, an empathic one. So that even once she's healed and returned to the world above (now re-born with purpose as a crusading district attorney...), he is still "bonded" to her.

That synopsis may sound cheesy, but this is a fantasy after all, and a lovely one at that. Vincent makes for a glorious hero, not just physically powerful, but also gentle and intellectual and highly moral. And Catherine, of course, is strong and resourceful. A perfect fantasy (and TV couple). But what makes Beauty and the Beast such a wonderful and rewarding viewing experience, even today, isn't just the romance, it's the very world the TV series so carefully forges. Like Star Trek, this is a highly moral universe, one about people who work hard to do the right thing and take care of each other. Even when it isn't easy to do that. It's a fantasy utopia, in a sense, but Beauty and the Beast crafts a world, like that of the 23rd Century, that viewers can feel good about escaping to.

With admiration, I noted how Koslow's screenplay for the pilot creates the character of Vincent and how Perlman interprets it. He's a man of deep feelings, with a deep-seated sense of right and wrong. Unlike many heroes of our cynical time, when Vincent commits violence, it's clear he feels shame. Here, we see it in a close-up of his eyes after he's killed a thug trying to hurt Catherine. For him, violence isn't something to be relished. No, it's part of his dark side; not the good side that his father (Roy Dotrice) says boasts "the soul of a doctor." I also like how Vincent sees New York, or "the world above." It's a world of "frightened people," he says, where his face - a different face - reflects the "aloneness" of others. This is great fairy tale stuff, and almost explicitly a comment on racism. Vincent hides in the shadows, lives in darkness, not because he is ugly (he isn't...), but merely because he is different. And differences - in this world - are to be feared.

Although now twenty years old, Beauty and the Beast, especially in this pilot (the only episode of the set I've watched so far...), is dominated by great production values and filled with wondrous sets. There are long spiral staircases leading down, down into the golden-bronze underworld. There are libraries stacked with books, cut from solid rock. In one iconic shot composed entirely for its visual poetry and dynamism, Catherine is depicted walking away from Vincent - in silhouette - into a blue ray of light.

Also, there's a brilliantly crafted moment in the middle of the show wherein Vincent begins to describe the fairy tale world beneath the city, "where the people care for one another." Instead of focusing on a close-up of the character, or of Catherine, for that matter, director Franklin chooses instead to to pan across Vincent's room...a place of books and trinkets and statuary. We "see" the world he is describing as he describes it. Many moments in this pilot feel equally cinematic.

The writing here is also surprisingly good...and often downright poetic. There will be those cynics who can't stomach the genuine sense of romance on display here, the slightly purple prose, the syrupy music. Yet Beauty and the Beast isn't just a fairy tale, it's a romance...a love story. So, if you ask me, the violins are perfectly appropriate, and even welcome. And I believe the series writers' were correct to make Vincent speak in a manner of almost Shakespearean classicism and greatness. The purpose of a program like this is indeed "wish fulfillment," the idea that we can step into a tunnel and walk into a utopian world below the streets, Vincent's world. It would not be appealing or interesting if everyone there spoke in the exact same manner as those of the "above" world.

No, the romance between Catherine and Vincent is timeless, tragic and touching, and therefore their mode of expression must be grand, rarefied and poetic. We've seen sparks fly on television before (the banter of Moonlighting, the back and forth of The X-Files), but rarely before (and rarely since...) has a love story been vetted for the masses with such an august sense of style, and such an authentic heartbeat. There's a literary feeling to the writing here that is almost startling. The dialogue feels like it would be better read in a book then actually spoken by actors. But, by the same token, it's highly individual and original...a look and feel all it's own. Some people really won't like it, or may term it over-the-top and corny. But hey, I can appreciate a show that wears it's heart on its sleeve. And I hope you can too. If you can, experience Beauty and the Beast again. All you'll need to enjoy it is an open heart.

And a box of kleenex.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 54: Whitman Frame-Tray Puzzles

"It's Kid Tested!" blares the logo (a smiley face wearing a W-shaped crown...) for the venerable Whitman "Frame-Tray" Puzzles, a mainstay of jigsaw puzzles from the last forty years.

I don't know about you, but I own a bunch of these very basic Whitman puzzles (for very young kids, apparently, since you can put them together with your eyes about two seconds).

Why collect such simple jigsaw puzzles? Well, because - of course - the Whitman company developed them using pop-culture characters and situations from science fiction television and superhero comics.

The frame tray puzzle format, which "develops coordination and motor control" consists usually of just ten pieces or thereabouts, so again it's not much of a puzzle. But the art - I think - is terrific pop culture kitsch. I love this stuff...

Just last weekend, my parents found for me at a yard sale a Superman frame-tray puzzle, copyrighted from the year 1966. The puzzle depicts the Man of Steel (my favorite superhero...) walloping a very 1960s version of a menacing robot (complete with flying transistors and widgets!)

Other superhero frame-tray puzzles from Whitman dramatize the adventures of Batman and The Hulk, among others. Non-superhero characters that figure in the line include everyone from Porky Pig and Little Lulu to Zorro.

I also have in my office collection, three Frame-Tray puzzles from the years 1978 and 1979, and in particular Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As you'll see from the puzzle faces, the images are not actually from the movie, but rather the TV show. The Trek logo, however, is straight from the Robert Wise-directed movie.

On the first one of these Whitman Frame-Tray puzzles, you'll see there's a Tholian ship on the viewscreen. There's also a mistake: That's Spock in the command chair (I can see the pointed ears...) but he's wearing a golden jersey, not his typical blue one. Oopsy.

The second Trek "Frame tray puzzle" depicted here (and noted as being from Merrigold Press...) is also my favorite of the ones I own. It reveals Captain James T. Kirk in a series-era space suit (seen in the third season episode "The Tholian Web") taking a space walk. An engine nacelle from the U.S.S. Enterprise is visible in the background.

He's also carrying some sort of glowing box, which I *think* is the Medusan ambassador from "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" If so, he should be wearing a visor, just for safety...

The third puzzle from Trek reveals a landing party getting ready to beam down, and the crew is wearing uniforms with back packs, if I'm not mistaken. I also think that's Nurse Chapel on the platform, and there aren't that many collectibles which featur her character, so that's cool.

Other sci-fi series that eventually got the Whitman Frame-Tray Puzzle treatment include Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981). I think Disney's The Black Hole (also 1979) may have one of these puzzles too, but I haven't seen it.

Again, these may not be the most grown-up of puzzles, but they'll pretty much be the first ones I let my young son, Joel play with. I've got to hook him early on Star Trek...and I've got just the stash (and the puzzles...) to do it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Episode #1: "Arrived"

This is the first installment of the sci-fi serial, THE HOUSE BETWEEN. In the first episode, "Arrived," written and directed by John Kenneth Muir, singer-songwriter Astrid (Kim Breeding) awakens to find herself in a strange, empty old house. Among those she encounters in it are a strange squatter in the kitchen, Arlo (Jim Blanton), the "one step at a time" scientist, Bill T. Clark (Tony Mercer) and the difficult, secretive Travis (Lee Hansen). This is the first of seven episodes in the first season, produced by Joseph Maddrey. From the Lulu Show LLC

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The House Between "Arrives" tomorrow

The House Between premieres tomorrow, with the first installment, "Arrived." Assuming no technical delays or glitches (yeah, right!) the show should be uploaded and "on the air" by noon. We'll see. Please be patient, and check back here a lot tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy some behind-the-scenes photos from the making of the show. Some of these you may have seen before, others perhaps not. In the photo to the left, the cast and crew is in the foyer, setting up a shot in "the house at the end of the universe."

Left: Tony Mercer (Bill Clark; far left ) readies himself for action, while special effects guru Rob Floyd (center) applies finishing touches to Florent Christol's (Sange; right) make-up. From Episode # 6: "Trashed." Why is Sange tied to the staircase? It's just that kinda show...

Another view from "Trashed." Tony's laid out on the floor, while Alicia Wood (Theresa), Lee Hansen (Travis), Kim Breeding (Astrid) and Flo (Sange) wait for me to call action.

Alicia and Jim (Arlo) prep for a shot in the kitchen. I *believe* this is from episode 2, "Settled," during shooting of what I called "the trial" scene.

Kathryn (left, producer and my very pregnant wife...) watches while Lee, center low, tapes his so-called "hostage video." Lighting co-directors Bobby and Kevin are watching from the door frame. Tony paces in the kitchen, going through his paces for a lengthy monologue.

Before we even started shooting, on the night of June 3rd, Rob Floyd (right, back to us) was choreographing stunts. Here, Jim (Arlo) and Kim (Astrid) rehearse for their first meeting.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The House Between: Two Days To Go

The countdown to the premiere of "Arrived" continues. Right here, Friday morning (and on The House Between page), the first installment of the seven-part first season commences. I hope you'll join me for the show!

To let you know a little bit about "Arrived" (my director's notes, so to speak), the introductory tale went through four drafts, the last dated May 18, 2006. I incorporated the very clever notes of my exec producer, Kathryn, and on June 4th, 2006 we began shooting the 38 page script. This is also the only episode we did a cast reading for too. It was a valuable experience, and I wish we had continued the process. time! No time!

Gazing back at the script, which introduces the characters and concepts of the series, I recall now that we didn't shoot one scene in "Arrived", numbered 9E (starting on page 34). It's a two-page sequence between Astrid (Kim Breeding) and Bill T. Clark (Tony Mercer), set in her bedroom, that we ultimately deemed expendable. Why? Well, that was our first day of shooting, we shot for sixteen hours to get the episode in the can (which runs at 29 minutes) and everybody agreed that the scene - though charming - was somewhat redundant and didn't add much to the story or the relationships. One of these days, I'm going to corral Kim and Tony to do an audio reading of it, for the DVD Extras. I still like the scene and wish we had it, if for no other reason than to further define the boundaries of the "friendship" between Bill and Astrid. Knowing where we "end" with this subplot, it would be interesting to have more stuff to define the "beginning"

What are my other memories about shooting "Arrived?" Well, the very first shot of the day - the first day of the show - one of our very hot lamps fell over and burned a spot in the carpet. That wasn't fun, but our lighting directors are both brilliant and inventive. Kevin and Bobby designed the "look" for the show, based on a one sentence description I gave them, that I wanted shadows to be "the furniture" in the house. These guys delivered, and delivered big time.

After that initial mishap, it felt like pretty smooth, if grueling - sailing. My fellow director of photography, Rick Coulter, and I both had scrupulously prepared shot lists for the entire day, the entire episode. I'd estimate we followed them till about 12:00 noon or so, until we realized that they were actually slowing things down, and pretty darn impractical in the face of reality. You know how generals say a war plan doesn't survive it's first encounter with the battleground? Well, in my experience, neither do storyboards and shot lists. I think it's fair to say we kept an eye on the lists when we got into a pickle that day, but mostly, we were gaining confidence and figuring out the logistics of how to shoot as we went. I had a shot list for day two, "Settled" and never looked at it.

From what I hear from the actors, our "Arrived" day was one of the toughest and most nerve wracking, especially for Tony Mercer, Lee Hansen and Alicia A. Wood, who basically had to wait long spells in the green room until we were ready for them. I don't think Tony and Lee went before the cameras until well into the afternoon. And Alicia was there for the last, late late shot of the day. Not that the others had it easy, either. Jim had a big dialogue scene early in the day, starting with a physical confrontation (beautifully choreographed by Rob Floyd), and Kim started out the day and the show...mostly nude. How's that for an intimidating debut?

My wife, Kathryn, the executive producer on this endeavor, never liked "Arrived" on paper as much as the later scripts, but even she has been bowled over by how well it flows, how well it cuts together, and what great performances the actors deliver. Yes, this is a super-low budget show, with seven half-hour episodes shot in seven days, but much is achieved in spite of limitations. Even if on later days we were more experienced, quicker, and better equipped to leap over hurdles. For me, there is just something magical about this first chapter.

So, in preparation for The House Between, Episode 1: "Arrived" on Friday, check out this selection of series clips again:

Friday, February 09, 2007

The House Between teaser clip: Violator!

Well, this is it. It's the last weekly teaser "clip" before my new online sci-fi drama, The House Between officially goes live in its premiere next Friday, February 16th. But before "Arrived" debuts here and on the web (watch this space!!!), enjoy clip # 5: "Violator!"

This is a clip from episode # 6, "Trashed." A mysterious and sinister visitor in the house (played by Florent Christol), makes serious trouble for Astrid (Kim Breeding).
And what trouble it is!

But see for yourself...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Muir Land of the Lost Articles in Filmfax Plus!

Hey everybody, I've got a series of interviews about the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost in Filmfax Plus this month (the January/March '07 issue). The magazine is doing a nice series about one of my favorite disco decade shows, titled "Rediscovering Land of the Lost," which continues next issue.

Author Frank Garcia contributed an article, including an interview with Larry Niven and David Gerrold, and I submitted a series of interviews (from 2001 and 2002...) from series creators. I interviewed third season writer Sam Roeca, third season producer Jon Kubichan, series co-creator Allan Foshko, director Bob Lally, executive producer Albert Tenzer and theme song composer Linda Laurie.

The magazine is available now, so check it out. It's another great issue, which also features articles on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Twilight Zone.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The House Between: The Seance

Today we continue our countdown to the premiere of my dramatic, independently produced online sci-fi series, The House Between with another "sneak peek."

In this week's compiation clip from The House Between, we're introduced to the mysterious character named Theresa (played by Alicia A. Wood). We see (and hear...) Theresa in action as she conducts a seance with the other denizens trapped in the mysterious house.


National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...