Thursday, June 28, 2007

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Soylent Green (1973)

It's the year 2022. People are still the same. They'll do anything to get what they need. And what they need is the Soylent Green."

-Ad-line for Soylent Green.

In 2007, virtually every film lover with a good movie IQ knows the secret of Soylent Green. It's a punchline that is surpassed only by the climactic revelation of another Charlton Heston sci-fi film, 1968's Planet of the Apes. Still, our familiarity with the movie's final narrative "twist" does Soylent Green, directed ably by Richard Fleischer, a disservice. For the film is a brilliantly-crafted example of dystopic futurism; a daring vision second only, perhaps, to Blade Runner. And like that 1982 Ridley Scott classic, Soylent Green utilizes the parameters of a familiar genre - the police procedural - to weave its caustic story of a future world gone awry. This is a future noir; a detective story that has a devilish but cunning endgame: to lead us, bread crumb by bread crumb to a commentary on the "path" mankind is currently on; and a destiny it may not be able to evade if we don't change our ways. And soon.

Based on the novel "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison, Soylent Green evidences an authentic apocalypse mentality. It is a gloomy and perhaps prophetic vision of the year 2022. New York City is populated by some forty million people; 20 million of them out of work. The city streets are bathed constantly in a nausea-provoking yellow haze, a result of "the greenhouse effect" (global warming...), and the innumerable homeless denizens of this urban blight sleep on staircases, in parked cars, you name it, all the while suffering in roasting temperatures (the average daily temperature according to the film is 90 degrees.) The Big Apple experiences numerous power black-outs (sound familiar, Manhattanites?), yet it isn't just the city where things have turned bad. We also learn from the dialogue that the oceans "are dying," "polluted," and that there is very little good farmland remaining in America. As for Gramercy Park, all that's left of the foliage there is a pitiful sanctuary where a few anemic trees grow in relative safety. Food supplies are tight, and there is strict rationing of supplies. In what is perhaps its most visually-stunning sequnce, Soylent Green escorts the viewers to an outdoor urban market on a typical Tuesday ("Tuesday is Soylent Green Day!") and reveals what happens when supplies of food are exhausted. There's a riot, and a confrontation between helmeted police forces and the throngs of starving people. It looks like a WTO riot - times ten.

Just yesterday, the Associated Press reported that 50% percent of the world's population now lives in cities, so Soylent Green's phantasm of a stressed, overpopulated City-State, run by a craven politician, Governor Santini looks markedly more plausible today than it did in 1973; and certainly the climate-change apocalypse feels more relevant in the Zeitgeist of the 21st century too. But where Soylent Green truly acquires frisson as cinematic prophecy is in the depiction of "Two New Yorks" (or Two Americas, as Presidential candidate John Edwards might say.) To wit, there is no middle-class remaining in New York City. It's extinct. In this U.S., you're either part of the teeming, homeless, starving masses (who inhabit every nook and cranny in the metropolis...), or separated from the poor and the unpleasant squalor of street life in glorious and luxurious apartment complexes. There, in spacious air-conditioned quarters, the super-rich play video games on home consoles (another nice bit of prophecy for 1973...), enjoy hot and cold running water (another luxury denied the masses), purchase black market items like real vegetables and beef, and are protected by security systems. The Haves and the Have Mores have separated themselves from the rest of humanity, and ignore their plight. It's easy, what with the video games, the TVs, the refrigerators...

Charlton Heston - one of my favorite actors, though I despise most of his political stances - again fronts what is undeniably a leftist science-fiction vision, and does so as only Heston can: with swaggering charm, arrogance and unswerving intelligence. In this case, he plays Detective Thorn of the 14th Precinct; a man who is a product of his time; meaning that he is mostly ignorant of history and just trying to survive and do "his job." Thorn is just one among many corrupt cops. For instance, when he's assigned to the murder (actually an assassination) of a rich man, William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten) of the Soylent Corporate Board, Thorn steals as much as he can from the crime scene. He takes a bottle of bourbon, some refrigerated beef (a rare commodity), and a few reference books about Soylent Green, a tightly-rationed "miracle food" that is ostensibly based on Plankton and other sea life. Thorn also partakes of another luxury in Simonson's apartment - "The furniture." In this case, said furniture is a woman, Shirl (fetching Leigh Taylor Young), who comes with the apartment, regardless of tenant. Yep, in this future beautiful women are literally sex objects; their wares another luxury for those who can afford them. It's good to be rich.

Investigating the death of Simonson, Thorn is assisted by a "Police Book." Since electric power routinely goes out, there are no longer any reliable police information databases, google searches or electronic systems to rely on. Instead, every detective has an assistant or partner, a "book," a researcher who marshals what resources he can (including an elaborate Book Exchange") to learn about relevant suspects and perps. Thorn's "book" is named Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly man who remembers how things used to be: wide open spaces; beautiful oceans; untouched fields and so forth. He recalls a world of hot/cold running water, "real" butter and strawberry jam that didn't cost $150.00 per jar. In one of Soylent Green's finest and most memorable scenes, Sol prepares for Thorn a dinner like the ones he used to eat years earlier; one that includes crisp apples, beef stew, and other lost delicacies. The time and attention spent on what viewers today would consider a normal meal - but to these characters is an extravagance - makes a cogent point about a life of limited resources; and a booming population's overtaxing of the planet. These little things that we take for granted are suddenly big things; and suddenly as a viewr you realize how "lucky" we are in America; how we live in a world of plenty. A later scene involves Thorn taking his first hot shower in months (with Shirl as his companion; lucky guy...), and again, Soylent Green deploys simple imagery - it focuses on the small things - to establish a truly miserable future. But one which is not at all unrealistic or unbelievable.


The quiet, intimate nature of the dinner scene (and later the shower scene), not only do much to establish character relationships (for instance, Thorn doesn't know how to eat an apple...), but also reinforce that recurring idea of those things lost in this future; in the hustle-bustle of so-called "progress." It's all extremely touching and yet markedly unromantic and unsentimental. There's no candy-coating here about days that were better in the past; when the human animal was a better species. "People were always rotten," establishes Sol. "But the world was beautiful." In some ways, this dialogue makes the point of Soylent Green more eloquently - and more heart-wrenchingly - even than the famous coda.

Stylistically, Soylent Green is a more accomplished film than it has often been credit for being. It begins impressively with sepia tone images from American history. We see in old photographs the advancement of technology during the American century; the rapid progression from a rural, agricultural country to an industrialized one. The movie escorts us in this montage from Huckleberry Finn-style views of wide open spaces and serenity to - over just a few seconds of screen time - overpopulated, bustling modernity. As the montage continues, the images come at us faster and faster; form echoing content. The world of the cities, of airplanes, of cars, moves faster than the world of covered wagons and farmers so it's natural the images would move quicker. Again, it's a touching and surprisingly effective way to commence a science fiction film, and it puts a larger context upon the story. This montage reminds the viewer where we've been before taking us where we're going; into the uncertain future.

Later, the film's most often discussed scene, a depressed and hopeless Sol Roth goes "home," to a place in the middle of the city (which resembles a sports arena...) where he can be quickly and clenaly euthanized by the State. In this location, he's provided a twenty-minute death ceremony in what looks like an I-Max theater and salon, with the images of his youth projected all around him. Sol sees beautiful oceans, wild deer, endless fields of flowers and so forth, all while bathed in a light of his favorite color (orange) and to the tune of his favorite genre of music (classical; make that light classical). This death montage, like the montage at the beginning of the film, reminds audiences of the past; what has been lost in the modern technological age. It's important in the film not just as a tender goodbye to Sol. No, Thorn witnesses these scenes too...and weeps at the power of them. He is a man who has grown up in the "ugly" future world- a place literally devoid of nature - and come to accept the limitations of his world. He didn't know, nay "couldn't have known" what the world once was. And so his mentor, Sol, has passed on one final bit of wisdom to him; to the next generation: a natural vision of what human existence COULD be. Until Thorn sees this pastoral montage, he didn't really know that there was an option; didn't really understand what had been lost in the crush of industrialization and overpopulation.

Soylent Green is a film dominated by powerful, stunning imagery. One vision that struck me, and which I had forgotten about entirely, finds Thorn stumbling upon the corpse of a woman in an alley by dark of night. Strapped to her by a makeshift wire leash is her still-living - and weeping - child. This image speaks of the film's narrative context in a manner that dialogue or exposition simply cannot. The child was strapped to her mother, no doubt, because Mom didn't want them to be separated from one another in the maddeningly overpopulated streets - perhaps at the outdoor food market. So she jury-rigged this leash of sorts to keep them together. What Mom couldn't have predicted was that she would die (either of starvation or perhaps she was murdered...) and the child would be anchored to her; trapped. Good intentions have gone awry (likely another metaphor for the film's overriding theme: of something ostensibly good [technology and modernization] having unintended consequences.) But what is so meaningful about this image is that it remains wholly unsentimentalized. Nobody comments on the event or the tragedy. Heston's character "rescues" the child by taking the little moppet to a nearby church. But he says nothing. The movie has no comment on the child or the dead parent. This scene is so "normal" in the world of Soylent Green that it isn't worth a passing remark, even an exclamatory curse. If this had been a Spielberg film, we would have had Liam Neeson providing his "Oscar Moment," commenting on "how could we have come to this; how can we allow our children to suffer?" Soylent Green doesn't provide us with such catharsis.

In the cutthroat world of Soylent Green, there is no time to for such hand-wringing. Life is too difficult. Millions of tragedies go unnoticed on the streets every day, no doubt. Why is this any different? The film's ending also speaks to this truth in some fashion. The film offers a tight zoom on Thorn's bloody arm and hand as he is carried away on a stretcher. He shouts the truth for all to hear ("Soylent Green is made out of people") but he goes, essentially, unheard. We understand this because the film goes entirely black around his gnarled, dying hand, in essence restricting his presence in the frame. The frame itself has shrunk. The association with this image is that the truth in Soylent Green's world can't be heard; it holds only a "sliver" of space in the overlapping, multitudinous dialogue of a City-State overrun and failing.

If you're so inclined, you can gaze at the things Soylent Green gets wrong and laugh at the picture, I guess. Charlton Heston wears neckerchiefs throughout the film, an odd fashion choice. There are rotary phones in evidence too (in 2022!). That sort of thing. But it strikes me that on the balance, Soylent Green gets more right about "the future" than it gets wrong. It accurately predicts the erosion of the middle class, the obsession with global climate change, and the ever-growing and corrupting cathexis of politics with corporations (Soylent Green and Governor Santini are in on a deep dark conspiracy). The specter of "illegal immigration" and a "third world invasion" that some pundits now fear so greatly is also bubbling just beneath the surface here: look at how many of the extras are non-whites; non Europeans. In broad strokes, the film also addresses the danger and inevitability of a police state with a rapidly increasing population out of control, and more. In some senses, Soylent Green even points to the ubiquitous nature of entertainment...we even watch TV when we're about to die. Death is rendered palatable through the comfort of zoning out; of being - literally - a couch potato. In addition to these still-relevant themes, Soylent Green is a handsome production. There are some remarkably effective matte paintings in the film; ones that still hold up well. And Fleischer makes good use of his "extras," filling every frame and every moment of the film (save those at the spacious apartment at Chelsea west), with unkempt, exhausted-looking, world-weary bodies.

Soylent Green
presents an oppressive, dark future. There's no "out" for the characters (as there is in Blade Runner, for instance, with the inclusion of the off-world colonies and other worlds to explore.") Indeed, Shirl suggests "running" at some point to Thorn, and he rightfully replies "where are we going to go?" Every city in America is just like this city; and it is illegal to live the country. In bringing forward this point, Soylent Green suggests that if we don't change our ways - we will all be living in a purgatory of our own making.

I hadn't watched this film in a number of years, and I must admit, I was staggered by how powerful it is today; given the context of the 21st century. I highly recommend you watch it again if you are inclined. I would hope that critics would give it a second look too. So many "Best of" sci-fi movie lists are obsessed with the fairly recent: Star Wars, The Terminator or The Matrix. I would like to make the case that perhaps Soylent Green belongs on that list as well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

1970s TV Nostalgia...

YouTube is an amazing place. You can truly find ANYTHING there. Any relic from your youth is just there for the remembering and sampling...and it's amazing. Like E-Bay, YouTube offers the opportunity for us to waste hour upon hour reliving nostalgic remembrances from days and productions long forgotten.

My latest two YouTube finds are included in this post because they have some personal meaning for me; growing up a kid in the 1970s. I feel like these clips represent memories hidden deep in the recesses of my twisted brain. So proceed at your own peril.

The first clip (below) is the intro for "The 4:30 PM Movie," which aired every weekday in the late 1970s on WABC, Channel 7 in New York. Without exaggeration, this is the place where I first fell in love with movies. I remember being in kindergarten and being excited about Planet of the Apes week. The 4:30 movie aired Planet of the Apes (in two parts) on Monday and Tuesday, and then Beneath the Planet of the Apes on Wednesday, then Escape on Thursday, and Conquest on Friday. Other movies I saw for the first time on the 4:30 movie: Soylent Green, The Omega Man and The Green Slime. And every movie viewing experience- every wondrous movie viewing experience - was preceded by this very disco-decade intro clip. I don't know that it will mean much of anything to people who didn't grow up with it. But for me, it's like visiting an old friend.





The second clip (below) is from "Chiller" the WPIX 11 (out of New York) horror movie night that aired every weekend. If the 4:30 Movie introduced me to many movies in general, then Chiller introduced me to the world of horror. I'll never forget watching some terrifying black-and-white movie (and I still don't know what it is...) about invisible pterodactyl eggs hatching and the monsters killing people. This and other horrors awakened my youthful interest in the macabre. Just the very sight of this "intro" or header had me - at five years old - scurrying to the sofa and hiding my eyes behind my hands. It still freaks me out...




Funny how these clips just bring back a world of memories.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

King Kong over the Years

A couple of weeks ago, while we were shooting the second season of The House Between, my friend and fellow film scholar Kevin Flanagan coined a phrase I hadn't heard before: "threemakes." He began discussing films that had been re-made twice already, and mentioned as an example, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I immediately thought of King Kong. Just for fun, below you will see how King Kong (and his tale...) changed with the decades (the thirties; the seventies; and 2005). Also, this exercise serves, I submit, as a pretty good study of how movie trailers have changed with the times too.


Which King Kong do you think is the best film? And - as a separate question - which is your favorite Kong?






Saturday, June 23, 2007

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Valley of the Dinosaurs: "What Goes Up..."

The second half-hour episode of the animated series Valley of the Dinosaurs aired on September 14, 1974, and it opens with a stampede of angry dinosaurs - including a tyrannosaur derivatively named "Konga" - charging through the jungle. The prehistoric brutes are agitated because millions of over sized ants are on the march towards the valley.

Before you can say "Naked Jungle," the Butlers and their prehistoric friends are grappling with this new and troublesome issue. They realize that no force in the valley can stop the onslaught of the army ants, and so decide to create a defense line of "fire rocks" (or hot coals...) as a barrier between their cave and the marauding ants. "Back home, we'd just call the exterminator," quips Katie.

Mrs. Butler, however, suggests another more helpful alternative. She wants to create a hot air balloon that could transport both families and their pets to the mountaintop and out of harm's way. In short order, this mission is accomplished, Gorok makes a visit to the cave of "giant snakes" and steals their cast-off skins for the weaving of the balloon. Convenient, huh?

Disaster is averted when the Butlers and their prehistoric counterparts fly away in the balloon, and the ants obligingly retreat during a storm. Yes, the ants are literally - as one character notes - "eating and running."

As you might guess from this synopsis, "What Goes Up?" probably isn't Valley of the Dinosaurs' proudest moment. In part because it introduces the grave threat of the "tagas" or "targas'" (the ants...) but then cheerily sends them away at the end with very little damage done to any of the surrounding land or peoples (or dinosaurs, for that matter). Didn't the ants decimate the valley? The village? What made the ants turn and leave -- thunder and lightning? So the ants end up being nothing but a minor inconvenience, when it seems they could have (and should have) wreaked real havoc.

Also, if the Butlers can make a hot air balloon and fly to the cliff top -- why not fly out of the valley of the dinosaurs all together? One of the Butlers' actually suggests this notion in the episode, but then, at the end, the balloon is destroyed and Kim says something along the lines of "so much for going home." Why? Can't they just build another balloon? I mean, there's a cave full of giant snakes nearby, and their skins make for great balloons. Hello, people...

The use of the family pets (Digger and Glump) as stupid comic relief - doesn't really help matters either. Which is probably why most kids were tuning into Land of the Lost rather than this cartoon. Land of the Lost - though aimed at children - never talked down to them.

I also find it interesting that Land of the Lost habitually and purposefully made Holly (even though a whiner...) a character children could respect. She took a back-seat to nobody and was a positive role model for girls. There were episodes in which she saved her father and Will, or came up with the answer that would solve the problem of the week. I can't help but contrast that positive character with the women featured here. It's true that Mrs. Butler conceives and develops the balloon idea, but she is nonetheless relegated (along with the cave wife...) to gathering vegetables for much of the episode. And also, I noticed this week that in the opening credits of the show, only Mr. Butler and his son Greg are rowing the inflatable raft when it gets sucked into the whirlpool. The women are just sitting there idly. I object to this depiction not so much in terms of sexism, but realism. Imagine you're careening towards a vortex...wouldn't you start trying to paddle away from it, even if you didn't have an oar? Wouldn't you do...something?

Nah! Let us menfolk do this work!

Friday, June 22, 2007

TV REVIEW: John From Cincinnati

David Milch, the talent behind the late, lamented and brilliant HBO western Deadwood, returns to television with the disappointing John From Cincinnati, an often-intriguing but ultimately self-indulgent dramatic series that exhausts and baffles more frequently than it entertains.

Set at Imperial Beach, California, John from Cincinnati is the story of three generations in one dysfunctional, surfing family: The Yosts. There's Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood), a Surfer God who injured his knee many years ago and - with much bitterness - had to leave the sport. Then there's Mitch's son, Butchie (Threshold's Brian Van Holt), who revolutionized surfing, but had to leave the sport - with much bitterness - because of his bad boy ways, namely a heroin addiction. And finally, there's Butchie's son, Shaun (Greyson Fletcher), who is now a monosyllabic teenager and just starting his surfing career. However, he is badly injured during a competition at Huntington in episode 2 ("His Visit: Day 2.") Bitterness, we assume, to follow...

My first question: doesn't anything good or happy occur in the world of surfing? Apparently not.

Anyway, Mitch is married to one hot grandma, Cissy, played with energy by Rebecca De Mornay. She is tired of Mitch's bitching yet enabling at the same time. Still, at least Cissy demonstrates more humanity than her husband. Which is a blessing among the tedium.


Other regulars on the series include a troupe of good actors stuck in baffling, nonsensical and ultimately irrelevant supporting roles. Luiz Guzman plays motel manager Ramon and Willie Garson plays attorney Meyer Dickstein. They're two guys who hang out at the run-down El Camino Motel - where Butchie lives - and, like the proverbial Greek chorus comment on the action. Then there's the prone-to-anger slightly off-kilter Bill, played by Ed O'Neill, a friend of the Yosts, plus a "shark" in the world of professional surfing, Luke Perry's Linc Stark...who wants to sign-up Shaun.

Finally, there's that titular stranger in this not-terribly compelling circle, an innocent fellow named John Monad (Austin Nichols). He miraculously shows up one day, spouting wisdom like "The End is Near," and then intersects with the Yost family; Butchie in particular. He asks him repeatedly: "What do you want, Butchie?"

John, we soon learn, apparently possesses magic pants pockets. Yep, you read that right. Anything he needs - credit cards, cash, cell phones - just miraculously appear in his pockets when required. But this gag is nothing compared to John's quickly-grown-tiresome "stranger in a strange land" routine, which requires the young man to spout non-sequiturs and repeat the words of others, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. This is supposed to be funny and spiritual and meaningful, but the John character feels derivative; like a hunky hybrid of Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man routine and the Peter Sellers' shtick from Being There.

While John Monad - a Christ figure with miraculous powers - wanders about Imperial Beach with with the debauched Butchie, learning how to "dump out" (use a toilet...) and so forth, Mitch begins to sporadically levitate. Yep, you read that right too. On a couple of occasions, he finds himself hovering a few inches in the air. At first, he fears he has a brain tumor, but Butchie actually sees the miracle occur too, and confirms the levitation. Not that anybody seems to care, or make much note of the amazing event. "Just another day at the beach..." as one character notes.

The most impressive aspect of John From Cincinnati may just be the opening montage of ocean waves and surfing footage that looks culled from that classic, The Endless Summer. This montage establishes a 1970s kind of vibe, down to the presentation of the title in distinctive 1970s lettering, but - like so much of the show - even that's a blind alley. What's with the old surfing footage? Does it actually mean anything? Or is it, like the levitation, the magic pockets and other idiosyncrasies, merely an affectation?

At this point, it's difficult to tell, frankly. The two episodes that have aired thus far on HBO are lugubriously paced. Worse, many of the characters tend to scream, curse and swear at each other throughout the installments. Which wouldn't be bad, necessarily, except the shouting is supposed to be funny when in fact it's just downright monotonous. Also troubling is the fact that most of the characters aren't very likable, or even, really, tolerable. Mitch Yost, played by the great Bruce Greenwood, is a thoroughly unpleasant, unhappy individual (given to rumbling sour grapes comments such as "all my fans are in retirement homes.") Even sex with Grandma - the ever-hot Rebecca De Mornay - fails to rouse Mitch out of a self-centered stupor.

The much ballyhooed "spirituality" of John From Cincinnati at this point feels contrived, preposterous and pretentious. It plays awkwardly, like a deus ex machina; present more for plot convenience than any genuine sense of "belief" in a higher order. Not that the characters in this drama would notice Jesus Christ in their midst anyway. They're too self-involved, too arrogant, too unpleasant to look beyond their own petty problems and concerns.

Perhaps that's the point of the series, yet it seems a shame to bring a messiah down to Earth just to hitch him to a surfer-dude; a waste to land a savior in Imperial Beach if all he's doing is taking dumps and catching waves.

You get the feeling watching this disappointing drama unfold that John isn't the only one taking a dump.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bad Omens: Captions that Didn't Make the Cut...

In my books, Horror Films of the 1970s and Horror Films of the 1980s, I included some photographs and captions that didn't quite make the cut in the book. I thought the captions were funny, but perhaps they crossed a line of appropriateness (especially in a scholarly-type book...). Interestingly, both of the deleted or altered captions come from The Omen film series. What's that about?

In Horror Films of the 1970s, I captioned this photo (left) of Gregory Peck and Patrick Troughton (My favorite Time Lord...) with the phrase, "Pull My Finger." Too much?
















Then, in Horror Films of the 1980s, I captioned this portrait of the Anti-Christ (Sam Neill) from The Final Conflict: Omen III (1981) with the sentence: "He'll Get You in The End." For those who haven't seen the film, that's a not-very subtle reference to Damien's *ahem* preferences in the bedroom. If you've seen the film, hopefully you get it.

But anyway...just thought I'd share that with you today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico...and me.

One of the great things about writing books for a living is that over the years you encounter very interesting fellow authors who are also writing books, and whose paths intersect with yours. Such is the case of Brian P. Akers, a professor at Pasco Hernando Community College who, approximately a year-and-a-half ago, I guess, contacted me about my One Step Beyond research. In particular, he wanted to know about one episode of the series that I covered in my 2001 book, An Analytical Guide to TV's One Step Beyond.

You see, way back in 1961, One Step Beyond (also known as Alcoa Presents) aired one of its weirdest and most notorious installments. Although every other half-hour episode of this paranormal anthology is "fictionalized," this particular episode, "The Sacred Mushroom," was not. Instead, it was a legitimate documentary, a black-and-white travelogue of host John Newland and his camera crew heading down to a remote village in Mexico...for the purpose of sampling mushrooms and determining if they could endow the "user" with psychic powers. Even better, after the trip to Mexico, host Newland returned to America and a lab in Palo Alto, where he personally sampled the hallucinogenic "sacred mushrooms" and admitting feeling some...strange sensations.

Here's an excerpt from my interview with the late John Newland, covering "The Sacred Mushroom. (You can read the rest here.)

MUIR: That portion of the episode involved Dr. Barbara Brown (a neuro-pharmacologist), David Grey (A Hawaiian spiritual leader), Dr. Jeffrey Smith (a philosophy professor from Stanford) and Dr. Andrija Puharch sampling a mushroom called "X," given to them by a local with doctor called a brujo. The peyote was supposed to enhance psychic abilities, and it was pretty damn unusual to see people getting high on TV in 1961, wasn't it?

NEWLAND: Alcoa told us that the show was so bizarre, that we don't dare put it on the air.

MUIR: So how did you salvage the episode?

NEWLAND: Well, Puharich asked me to take the mushroom, and I was game, so we took a camera crew and drove to Palo Alto and Puharich's laboratory. Once there, I had three cameras rolling the whole time, and I told the cameramen to just keep shooting until we ran out of film. We decided to shoot and shoot and shoot and see what happened.

MUIR: Did you feel anything strange when you sampled the mushroom?

NEWLAND: I felt light-headed...and a sense of well being...the stuff was distilled. It was very powerful, but not poisonous, so I didn't have any trepidations.

MUIR: Were there after-effects?"

NEWLAND: I had flashbacks and hallucinatory moments for about a month...

This is quite the radical TV episode, as you can guess from my description and Mr. Newland's comments.. To see a major TV personality getting high on the air...well, it's an amazing thing. "The Sacred Mushroom" isn't just bizarre, isn't just odd...it's TV history. Anyway, Brian contacted me over a year ago to see if I had that particularly odd episode of One Step Beyond in my possession. I did, and gladly presented him a copy for his viewing pleasure and research. I'm happy to learn it proved useful in his research and even happier to see that his book The Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico has just been released by the University Press of America.

Here's the skinny, from the back of the book:


This work presents significant new readings in ethnomycology, a discipline that examines the role of fungi in human affairs. The greatest cultural and historical impact of mushrooms has resulted from psychoactive compounds found in certain species, and native interpretations of their mental effects in humans, as revealed through intensive multidisciplinary studies coordinated by the late R. Gordon Wasson, the father of ethnomycology.


Wasson's research in the 1950s led to the elucidation of mushroom cultism in Mexico, a phenomenon dismissed as unfounded rumor by "experts" only a few decades earlier. Discoveries made by Wasson and his collaborators intersect a staggering number of disciplines, so much so that individual fields have had difficulty assimilating them. The Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico presents six texts concerning the mushrooms. Five of them are translations of relevant scholarly sources in Spanish previously unavailable in English. The sixth is a transcript of "The Sacred Mushroom," a celebrated episode of the classic television series One Step Beyond. This television program my have been the only show in broadcast history in which the host ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and endured their effects on camera for the viewing pleasure of the home audience.


About Brian Akers: He has written a number of ethnomycology and fungal systematics published in scientific journals. He is a member of the Mycological Society of America and the North American Mycological Association.

I'll say this: Life is full of odd twists and turns. I never imagined when I wrote a reference guide to One Step Beyond, that I would one day see my work (and my name...) quoted in a book about hallucinogenic mushrooms. But I'm absolutely delighted about it. Congrats, Brian!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rue Morgue Likes Horror Films of the 1980s!

This month's issue of Rue Morgue (# 68) features a great article by John W. Bowen on my new book, Horror Films of the 1980s. You'll find it on page 63, in the Ninth Circle Books section.
Among the many nice things that Bowen writes, he notes that I've become one of horror "most widely read critics," and that my "indispensible" Horror Films of the 1970s earned "raves" everywhere. He goes on to note that this follow-up "could well be the definitive guide" for the 1980s. Wow!


Here's an excerpt: "As his foreward suggests, he pays special attention to the political subtext of the films he covers. He examines Poltergeist as a yuppie dream turned nightmare, while The Stepfather, Parents and A Nightmare on Elm Street are posited as a calculated slap in the face of Republican "family values" propaganda. He also maintains that body image issues surface in a variety of titles from Altered States to An American Werewolf in London to The Beast Within and beyond. Muir spends ample time identifying trends in '80s horror, particularly the slasher film..."


Rue Morgue #68 is on sale now, so check it out!

Library Journal likes Horror Films of the 1980s

Another great review just came in for Horror Films of the 1980s, this time from Library Journal.

Here's an excerpt:

Muir again plunges into the dark, following his Horror Films of the 1970s (McFarland, 2002), named an ALA Outstanding Reference Source in 2003. Appropriate to the so-called era of greed, he has this time added more of everything: films, background, appendixes, and critical analyses. Part 1 provides a concise, overarching summary of the decade's social and political climate; juxtaposed photos of President Ronald Reagan and A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger encapsulate the period's startling contradictions...A time line highlighting noteworthy current events accompanies each year and is followed by ample, witty, well-versed entries on films ranging from Poltergeist and Aliens to Cellar Dweller and Hide and Go Shriek...BOTTOM LINE: The summary in Part 1 would befit a college history lecture; the book as a whole is highly recommended..."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Valley of the Dinosaurs: "Forbidden Fruit"

"Deep in the heart of the Amazon, the Butler family was exploring an uncharted river canyon. Suddenly, caught up in a violent whirlpool, they were propelled through an underground cavern and flung into a hostile world of giant prehistoric creatures, a world that time forgot. Now befriended by a family of cave dwellers, each day is an adventure in survival for the Butlers in...the valley of the dinosaurs."
-Opening narration from Valley of the Dinosaurs

In the autumn of 1974, American children had a choice between watching stop-motion dinosaurs on the live-action Sid and Marty Krofft spectacular Land of the Lost or cartoon dinosaurs on Hanna-Barbera's similarly themed animated series Valley of the Dinosaurs.

The similarities between the two programs are quite interesting. Both shows involve modern American families on inflatable rafts "tumbling" down dangerous bodies of waters and ending up in prehistoric worlds. On Land of the Lost, it's the closed pocket universe of Altrusia; in Valley of the Dinosaurs, it's merely a hidden valley in the Amazon. Both series also involve contemporary, 20th century technological man interacting with more primitive "natural" creatures, whether a Neanderthal family in Valley or Chaka's people, the Pakuni.

The first half-hour episode of Valley of the Dinosaurs aired on Saturday, September 7, 1974 and was titled "Forbidden Fruit." This episode was directed by Charles A. Nichols and the writing team included Peter Dixon, Peter Germano, Dick Robbins and Jerry Thomas. Interestingly, the story editor on Valley of the Dinosaurs was Sam Roeca, who later served as story editor on the third season of Land of the Lost. Talk about closed pocket universes...

Anyway, the Butler family consists of white-haired patriarch, John Butler, his troublesome and prone-to-mischief son, Greg (who likes to say things such as "jumping jeepers!"), hot teenage daughter Katie, and the protective mother of the clan, Kim. The Butlers have also brought along their loyal dog, who resembles Scooby-Doo (remember, this is Hanna-Barbera too...), named Digger.

The thematic leitmotif of Valley of the Dinosaurs involves the Butler's learning to cooperate, respect and live alongside a "mirror" human family of primitive cavemen, which includes patriarch Gorok, hunky son Lok, and matriarch Gara, among others. Tana is the little cave-person girl and Greg's playmate. The cave family even cares for a pet Stegosaurus named, I believe -, if I heard it right - "Glump." Each episode involves one family teaching the other family a lesson in tolerance and diversity. The differences in evolution don't matter, the show informs us as viewers; we can still be "good neighbors."

For instance, "Forbidden Fruit" involves the Butler family discovering a stash of delicious tree-growing fruit. However, the cavemen, led by Gorok, forbid the family from eating it. Why? Well, apparently, a local brontosaurus is quite adamant about devouring all the fruit itself. Still, Greg fails to honor this edict and steals a basket of the fruit, which results in the angry brontosaur assaulting the home of the two families, an expansive mountain cavern. The attack by the dinosaur precipitates a cave-in, and then a flooding of the habitat. The two families must then work together to siphon water out of the cave, utilizing bamboo chutes that happen to be on hand. Greg feels guilty for breaking the cave man law and finds a way out to warn the village about the dinosaurs.

In the end, order is restored and Gorok provides viewers with the lesson of the week. "We have laws and customs," he reminds the Butlers. "You know things we do not, and we listen. We know things you do not...and you listen." Indeed, Gorok. Indeed. This episode also features the cave man realization that "The Butlers...they are strange...but nice."

While we ponder these thoughts, below - for your viewing pleasure - is the opening montage and theme to
Valley of the Dinosaurs:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

TV REVIEW: Traveler

Network programming in the 2006-2007 season seems to have taken a cue from television history. Although there are certainly more recent "man on the run" series such as Fox's Prison Break to point at, it appears that at least a few programs this year are authentic children of that classic TV venture, The Fugitive starring David Janssen and Barry Morse. Hopefully, you remember the concept of that sixties series: a reputable doctor (Janssen) is accused of murdering his wife, when in fact the real culprit is the mysterious one-armed man. Pursued by an intractable policeman (the cliched character I term "the hapless pursuer"), the "fugitive" of the title is on the run each week, trying to clear his name.

In 2007, the late and somewhat lamented Fox series Drive falls under the category of Fugitive child. In that adventure, Alex Tully (played by Nathan Fillion), finds his wife not murdered but vanished, and he's the prime suspect in her disappearance. He's then basically corralled into a cross-country road race. The prize at the finish line is learning what became of his wife....and also clearing his name. Sound familiar?

The new series, Traveler, airing on ABC is even more deeply cast in the mold of The Fugitive. Only the narrative here has been cannily updated for our fearful, "War on Terror" epoch. To wit, the series opens with three Yale graduates, Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer), Tyler Fog (,Logan Marshall-Green) and Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) playing a harmless prank in the Drexler Museum of Art in Manhattan. Only thing is their prank turns out to be the cover for a surprise terrorist attack organized - allegedly - by Will himself. There's a bombing at the museum, and video surveillance catches Jay and Tyler fleeing the scene; making them public enemy numbers 1 and 2. Now Jay and Tyler are wanted men, on the run from a whole cadre of hapless pursuers in the FBI. In this case, it's not Barry Morse playing the lead pursuer, but Agent Chambers as essayed by Steven Culp. Each week, Fog and Burchell attempt to clear their names and solve a little more of the mystery surrounding the bombing of the Drexler and their mysterious "friend," Will Traveler. This inevitably involves Lost-style flashbacks of the time Will, Tyler and Jay shared a house together on the Yale campus.

Primarily, Traveler has two elements in its favor. The first is that as Americans we indeed dwell in the age of paranoia, and so this new series may be reminiscent of The Fugitive, but it's The Fugitive on steroids. Specifically, series creator David Digilio makes trenchant use of current events to make viewers acutely aware that Burchell and Fog are in deep, deep trouble should they be caught. To wit, these suspects can be classified as "enemy combatants" by the Federal Government, and therefore need not ever even be brought to trial. They can just be "disappeared" and sent to Gitmo forever, never to be seen or heard from again. No charges even need to be brought. Back in the 1960s, Janssen's character at least would have been granted a trial, a fair hearing. Here, the fear and paranoia of the post-9/11 age grants a new kind of immediacy to the time worn The Fugitive premise. These men on the run are guaranteed no quarter, no protection of law...no civil rights as American citizens...nothing. As the protagonists on the show realize, the U.S. Constitution has been "shredded" in favor of security measures designed to "protect us." But what if you're accused of a crime and really are innocent? Humorously, the series also posits a President Shears running the country as our Unitary Executive. And "shears" after all, are what you use to cut a "bush," aren't they?

Traveler's other main "plus" is its pace and speed. This series powers through its running time each week like a runaway train, hardly leaving one time to catch his or her breath. The first episode featured a stunning chase across Manhattan rooftops, with FBI agent Marlow (Viola Davis) in hot pursuit of Fog. The second episode, which saw Burchell and Fog fleeing to "Elysium," the "off-the-radar" home of Tyler's rich but corrupt father, Carlton Fog (William Sadler) included a nighttime car chase that was beautifully edited and harrowingly paced. As an action show, Traveler's credentials are pretty much unimpeachable. One must never forget that this is a "chase" show, and such, it succeeds.

What doesn't work so well for Traveler is almost high-school the level of the writing, which stops to remind audiences at every turn of what just happened on-screen. The audience is granted a quick montage of events that just occurred, or that occurred recently, in case a viewer left the television for a potty break or something. Worse, the flashbacks all end with an important turn of phrase, like "what was Will doing down here?" Then, as we return to the present, that very phrase is repeated, just in case audiences missed it the first time. Short attention span is a problem, certainly, for some people. But for the rest of the audience, this constant rehashing of obvious plot points is not only unnecessary, but somewhat insulting. Traveler isn't the only serial this season that has resorted to this device: the canceled Kidnapped starring Jeremey Sisto utilized the exact same technique. And it was just as annoying there.

Secondly, the two series leads on Traveler - Matthew Bomer and Logan Marshall-Green - virtually redefine the term callow for modern audiences. They are impossibly good-looking, buff and heroic. But they don't register as real people...more like fraternity jocks. At times, when Traveler isn't very, very careful, it plays like the CW's Supernatural: two good-looking guys on the road dealing with "monsters," there real ones, here governmental ones.

The two-dimensionality of the leads on Traveler creates other problems for the series. For instance, it is virtually impossible to believe that agent Marlow, who positively exudes competence and intelligence, would not be able to catch these guys, especially given the resources of the FBI. I mentioned before "the hapless pursuer" cliche, and that's exactly what it is; and Traveler already suffers from it. By allowing the heroes to escape captivity each and every week, the writers of the series only succeed in making the villains look stupid and incompetent. The problem with that is that after a few instances of good guys evading the bad guys, the audience will start to take that victory for granted, and characters like Chambers and Marlow will lose their, teeth, looking ridiculous in the process.

Still, there's much potential to appreciate in Traveler. There's an interesting subplot about Jay's girlfriend, Kim Doherty (Pascale Hutton) and how she is forced to deal with the unwanted celebrity of being a terrorist's girlfriend. Remember how after (the still-unsolved...) Anthrax attacks following 9/11, John Ashcroft and his Justice Department named a professor at some college a "person of interest" in the case and then never bothered to clear him, or charge him? Kim lives in much the same pickle here, and again, it dovetails nicely with current events. This is the terrain where Traveler succeeds beyond expectations: in plucking elements of our national uncertainty about "War on Terror" tactics to generate a real conspiracy, suspense-trip. I hasten to add, it looks like the conspiracy here originates at the Department of Homeland Security.

At this point, it's too early to know for certain if Traveler is merely an action-packed summer treat, or a series that - between the action scenes - speaks importantly and cogently to our times, and will ultimately serve as a cultural time capsule.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Theme Song of the Week # 3: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Muir on the Allan Handelman Show!

A week ago Friday, while shooting The House Between, I had the pleasure of being a guest on Allan Handelman's "Rock Talk" to discuss my Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia. I found this timing particularly appropriate since I was dressed "in character" that day in leather pants from the 1980s. Yep - my first rock radio interview and I was wearing leather. Awesome. You can check out Allan's site here.

Anyway, Allan asked great questions about the book, and his audience called in with a number of fascinating queries too. We spent over an hour on the air discussing rock movies and had a great time. My buddy Lee Hansen, who plays Travis in The House Between took me to task for not including The Adventures of Ford Fairlane in my book, and don't you know - one of Allan's callers asked about that very film. Damn you, Hansen!!!!!!


Still, it was a great time, and I want to thank Allan for having me on his long-lived and celebrated show.

Monday, June 11, 2007

TV REVIEW: Meadowlands

What's the best way to describe Showtime's new dramatic series, Meadowlands? Well, let's see: there's a touch of The Prisoner in the setting, some Twin Peaks-style eccentricities, the ferocity and violence of The Sopranos, and loads of kinky, psychologically-disturbing sex and sexual innuendo.

I don't know that I can write a better description than that. From the title of this new series, I assumed the program would involve a family escaping New Jersey, but quite the contrary, "Meadowlands" is actually an isolated little community in the UK, one populated entirely by ex-cons; men and women ensconced in the witness protection program. As the first episode opens, viewers are introduced to a family moving into the community, and a perfect yellow house there. The Brogans arrive at their "new life" with black masks on...a nice touch, since they aren't supposed to know the location of Meadowlands.

Aside from their legal transgressions, the Brogans have some personal issues. The father of this dysfunctional family unit, Danny (David Morrissey), not only has a sordid criminal history but a propensity for violence and dishonesty. "We can't have shrinks and doctors getting into our lives right now," he says at one point, indicating the secrets and lies at the heart of the Brogan clan. Danny's wife is the beautiful Evelyn (Lucy Cohu), and she immediately catches the eye of Meadowsland's unhappily married general physician, Dr. David York (Tristan Gemmill). David is married to caustic Abigail (Emma Davies), who spends her evenings giving head to the town handyman. But more on him in a minute...

Meanwhile, the two Brogan kids have their own set of "issues." Young Mark (Harry Treadaway) wears gloves at all times because his hands were burned in a fire. And - occasionally - Mark he likes to dress up in his sister's clothes and make-up. Mark doesn't talk much (or comb his hair much, either...) and in the first episode, he engages in some kinky voyeurism, watching his busy-body neighbor Brenda Ogilvie (Melanie Hill), strip down to her bra and panties.

Pretty Zoe Brogan (Felicity Jones) is a bit healthier than her messed-up brother, but undergoing a typical teenage rebellion, nonetheless. In Meadowlands - where everyone is a crook, however - that kind of rebellion is dangerous. To wit, upon arrival in the community, Zoe falls in love with a dangerous cat called Jack "Of All Trades" Donnelly (Tom Hardy). Handyman Jack (the guy having sex with Abigail...) offers to fix Zoe's plumbing for her and then informs her that he specializes in "tongue and groove," not to mention double entendre. When Danny finds Donnelly sniffing around his daughter, Jack says to Brogan that "if she's old enough to bleed, she's old enough to butcher!" That comment naturally precipitates a fight. Even though Jack and her Dad don't get along, Zoe comes to believe that she is the only person who can "save" Jack. That plan comes to an unfortunate end...

Other characters in Meadowlands include Brogan's "handler," Samantha (Nina Sosanya), who monitors the Brogans from a safe distance in a motel control room outside the community. And then there's my favorite character, the diabolical lawman of Meadowlands, Det. Bernard Wintersgill (Ralph Brown). He's one lawman you don't want to cross, as both Jack and Danny find out separately in upcoming episodes of the series.

Although Meadowlands is ostensibly "off the radar," and therefore "the safest place on Earth," it is a hotbed for interpersonal conflict. Why? Because everyone there "has a past" that he or she is trying to escape. In one episode, Danny believes he sees the man who was present at the fire that scarred Mark. In another episode, Danny is ruthlessly tortured and interrogated over the disappearance of a main character. In one installment of the series, there is a brutal near-rape followed by a bloody murder. It's not easy stuff to stomach, and yet the drama is compelling.

The Twin Peaks aspect of Meadowlands comes into play with some of the off-the-wall touches. There's a weird Meadowlands welcome for the Brogans, the Meadowlands shag, for instance. Another strange moment involves the introduction of Brenda's daughter, Jezebel (Ellie Smith). All the build-up leads the audience to believe she will be the most gorgeous young woman you've ever seen. The truth is...well, you'll have to watch for yourself.

A violent soap-opera with a wicked sense of humor and irony, Meadowlands is perfectly-positioned to fill in for The Tudors, which just completed its triumphant first season on Showtime. I won't claim Meadowlands is light viewing, however. It's twisted and terrific stuff, even if you need a scorecard to keep up with all the characters and which ones are cheating on whom. If you give the show a chance, I think you'll find the overlapping plots and carefully excavation of family secrets a worthwhile endeavor. Meadowlands premieres on Showtime, Sunday June 17th at 10:00 pm.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

McFarland New Titles: June

The Films of Larry Buchanan

Films such as The Naked Witch, Zontar, The Thing From Venus and Mars Needs Women have gained large cult followings, and movies like A Bullet For Pretty Boy, Free, White and 21 and Goodbye, Norma Jean became box office hits. Still, no other independent filmmaker of the latter 20th century may elicit such a disparity of response from general movie audiences and cult film buffs alike as the late, legendary Larry Buchanan.This study, the first serious examination of Buchanan’s body of work, addresses consistent themes such as the end of suburbia, the rebel outsider, the oppressive establishment, the curse of fame, and “creatures of destruction”. The highly political subtext found in virtually every one of the filmmaker’s projects is also explored. Chapters are devoted to more than 20 of Buchanan’s films; information on some of the unfinished, unreleased (and in at least one case), deliberately destroyed projects is offered, as well. Photographs illustrating nearly all the films are included.

The Mexican Cinema of Darkness

Following the national and international upheaval and tragedy in 1968, Mexican “trash cinema” began to shift away from the masked wrester genre and towards darker, more explicit films, and disturbing visions of the modern world: films which can be called “avant-exploitation.” This work covers six of those films: El Topo, Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, Guyana, Crime of the Century, Birds of Prey, and Santa Sangre.







In the world of slapstick comedy, few are more beloved than the Three Stooges. Throughout their 190 short films, they consistently delivered physical, verbal and situational comedy in new and creative ways. Following the trio from outer space to ancient Rome, this volume provides an in-depth look at their comedy and its impact on twentieth century art, culture and thought. This analysis reveals new insights into the language, literary structure, politics, race, gender, ethnicity and even psychology of the classic shorts. It discusses the elements of surrealism within the Stooges films, exploring the many ways in which they created their own reality regardless of time and space. The portrayal of women and minorities and the role of the mistake in Stooges’ works are also addressed. Moreover, the book examines the impact that the Columbia Studios style and the austerity of its Short Subjects Department had on the work of the Three Stooges, films that ironically have outlasted more costly and celebrated productions.


This collection of essays analyzes the many ways in which comic book and film superheroes have been revised or rewritten in response to changes in real-world politics, social mores, and popular culture. Among many topics covered are the jingoistic origin of Captain America in the wake of the McCarthy hearings, the post–World War II fantasy-feminist role of Wonder Woman, and the Nietzschean influences on the “sidekick revolt” in the 2004 film The Incredibles.

Producing The House Between's Second Season


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gale-Thomson likes Horror Films of the 1980s

Another good review of Horror Films of the 1980s, here.

An excerpt: "Like Jason, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, John Kenneth Muir keeps returning to horror films for a little more fiendish fun. In this episode, Muir surveys 300 films of the 1980's, or as he calls it, the "Dead Teenager Decade."...Muir closely examines organizing principles, plot devices, and the use of conventional characters. He looks hard for points to praise, but never lets sloppy work go without comment...Muir weaves contemporary commentary, thoughtful analyses and humor into a true art form. His entertaining guide will find fans in academic and public libraries. "

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 29: Korg 70,000 BC (1974-1975)

Here's a retro-blast from the past, a Saturday morning live-action adventure/fantasy series from Hanna-Barbera. Created by the late Fred Freiberger, Korg 70,000 BC ran for one season on ABC nearly 33 years ago. The series follows the adventures of a neanderthal family headed by the hunter Korg (Jim Malinda). The others in his tribe included his wife, Mara (Naomi Pollack), hunter Bok (Bill Ewing), daughter Ree (Janelle Pransky) and sons Tane (Christopher Man) and Tor (Charles Morteo). Korg ran from September 7, 1974 to late August 1975.

Burgess Meredith served as series narrator, and at the climax of each story, his gravelly voice gently assured viewers that the preceding tale was "based on assumptions and theories" based on Neanderthal "artifacts" discovered by modern man, since the Neanderthals left nothing else by which to learn about them.

Each episode of this half-hour series usually featured a relatively simple story, and one that seemed to concern family values. Although it is shocking to see prehistoric cave dwellers speaking perfect English (!) in the series, it nonetheless had its share of unique installments. In one, a wounded neanderthal from the nearby "River People" found himself going blind after a bad fall, and thus abducted Korg's youngest son, Tor, to lead him home. Korg and Bok followed in hot pursuit to save the boy, but the conflict was resolved without conflict or violence, a staple of Saturday morning television in the 1970s. Understanding was forged and the episode ended up on a happy note with the hunter's sight restored, as Korg and clan escorted him home.

Another Korg episode, written by Dick Robbins, was shot at Vasquez Rocks, the location of so many Star Trek episodes, including "arena." In this tale, Korg and his friends faced a "struggle for survival," according to the narrator, "a constant" back in that time. In particular, Korg and Bok hunt a very fake-looking black bear and it badly wounds Bok. This causes the great warrior to lose his sense of courage, a sort of prehistoric case of PTSD, so Korg concocts a vision from their God "The Great Unseen One," to restore Bok's strength. In particular, he must drink the blood of the bear that injured him. The episode culminates with a weird ritual as the triumphant Bok and Korg dance around with the bear's severed head. That sounds awfully un-PC for kid's television, but there you have it. The subtext of this episode is also fascinating, since Korg, in the coda, comes clean to wife Mara that he invented the vision so as to help his friend. One is left with the notion that this kind of trickery may indeed be the way that man began to conceive "religion."

Although there are occasionally some nice shots of wildlife, Korg 70,000 BC's biggest deficit is that it looks to be filmed in contemporary and familiar Southern California, not a dangerous prehistoric landscape. That said, the caveman make-up holds up pretty well (at least as well as Worf's make-up on TNG.). The stories are simple ones, simply told, but relatively engaging, if you can get over the sight of Neanderthals speaking Pidgin English. The non-violence is a bit hard to swallow too, especially since these people had not even yet "discovered" the missionary position. So think of this as Quest for Fire rated G, on Saturday mornings.

Although not available on DVD or VHS at this time, Korg 70,000 BC is worth remembering not just because it's a very different kind of Saturday morning TV show, but because it did spawn a merchandising blitz during its day. I remember playing the Korg board game, and there was also a Korg lunchbox available, if I remember correctly. As a kid I watched Korg religiously, though I was always disappointed that the cavemen didn't fight dinosaurs. Which is probably why I liked Land of the Lost better, even if Korg 70,000 BC took pains to present its material as accurately as possible for kid's television. Below is the opening montage from the series:



Sunday, June 03, 2007

I Survived The House Between...

If I had to design a T-shirt to best explain the experience of shooting The House Between season two, it would read as the title of this post does. We just finished up a grueling, exhausting week of principle photography. The whole team re-assembled from last year, plus a great new actor/character...but it was no picnic.

Our week started off in difficult fashion. On the night before we were to begin shooting, our principle camera broke down, necessitating an expensive new purchase. As it turned out, we were able to nursemaid the old camera through the shoot, and not use the new camera, which I can return, but still - it made for some hairy moments. Until we finished the final shot the last day, I wondered when and if the camera would stop working for good. The camera's intermittent glitch also slowed down shooting here and there, which was a delay we didn't need.

That was just the beginning. During the shoot, no less than four people dealt with illness, including one actor who came down with a really bad fever, and still soldiered through a full 14-hour work day. At points, I was afraid we were going to have to prop him up into the scenes...he literally appeared to be on the verge of collapse. On another day, we woke up to find another actor was also ill, and unable to work. We had to rewrite our back-up or "bonus" script, omitting his character save for one scene. It all worked out just fine, but there were some stomach-churning moments there for cast and crew. We were concerned for our friends, and also wondering what the hell was going to happen.

Yikes.

It's far too early for me to digest the entire experience. At this point, I haven't even uploaded the photos from my digital camera as I had intended. I said it a few times this week, but it was almost as if we used up all our good luck last year, when everything went so smoothly.

Of course, as my supportive producer, Joe Maddrey reminded me, the difficulties this year actually reflected the content to a high degree. This is the "middle" year of The House Between and considerably darker than last year's shows in some important ways. Everybody kept comparing it to The Empire Strikes Back in terms of the tone. If we all survive and recover, the third season will hopefully reflect the content I want there...which should be somewhat less grim. We'll see.

Anyway, the amazing thing is that we filmed eight new episodes. Most of the scripts were 42 pages long. One script was 44 pages. The new season now includes the following shows:

2.1. "Returned"
2.2 "Separated"
2.3. "Reunited"
2.4. "Estranged'
2.5. "Populated"
2.6. "Distressed"
2.7. "Caged"
2.8. "Ruined"

What I can say for certain is that I am eternally grateful to my cast and crew, the people who kept going and never stopped, no matter how tiring and stressful things got. The performances all came through great, and the make-up, lighting and camera work looks terrific on the material I've previewed. Hopefully, my plans for a "bigger, better" Season Two will really come through. I know that everybody really gave it their all...and ultimately that's the first step.