Monday, June 30, 2014

At Anorak: Ten Ridiculous (But Awesome) Horror Movie Tag-Lines of the 1980s

My new article at Anorak is up, remembering some of the crazy (and inventive) tag-lines from 1980s horror cinema.

Here's a snippet (and here's the url: )

 IF the Seventies proved a fertile time for imaginative horror filmmakers, the 1980s very much represented a new age of plenty, a span wherein every idea that had worked in a movie once before was hauled out a second, third and sometimes fourth time.
And because of the home video revolution and VHS technology, new filmmakers had the opportunity to get their movies seen by more eyes than ever before.
In terms of the decade’s horror then, there was more of everything to enjoy: more slasher films, more Jaws films, and more holiday-themed horrors too.
And once again the marketers writing copy for horror movie posters broached the unenviable task of selling films that otherwise might not have merited audience attention if judged by quality alone.  Sometimes, a great tag-line could still fill a theater, or make the difference at a rental store counter.
So without further prologue here are ten ridiculous and yet utterly brilliant horror movie taglines from the 1980s, the great decade of excess:

Memory Bank: America's Bicentennial Celebration

With July 4th, 2014 and Independence Day fast approaching, I thought it might be an opportune to remember America's Bicentennial celebration of 1976. 

I remember the occasion, 38-years ago, well.  I was six years old, and the Bicentennial -- the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence -- was all the craze, all over the country. I was in Kindergarten at the time, and much of our class work was geared towards the Bicentennial and remembering the beginnings of our country.

At the time, Gerald Ford -- an unelected President, ironically -- was Commander-in-Chief, and he spoke meaningfully in Philadelphia, on the occasion, about the aspirations of the first Americans.  He tallied them as personal freedom, self-government, and national unity.

I also remember that my family participated in a costume contest and parade for the Bicentennial at Forest Avenue Primary School in Glen Ridge, the town where I lived.  You can see us all in the photo from that occasion, above.  I'm the little guy up front.  My mother sewed all the costumes from scratch, and my Dad's survived until just a few years ago.

Today we usually see costumes such as these worn only by the Tea Party, but during the Bicentennial madness of 1976, tri-corn hats hadn't yet been appropriated by any one political movement. They were for everyone who wanted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our nation.

Actually, the Bicentennial was celebrated in all kinds of ways back in 1976. There were Bicentennial coins (quarters, I believe...) a Bicentennial lottery (in my home state of New Jersey) and even Super Bowl X got into the ac twith players from the Steelers and Cowboys wearing Bicentennial patches. There were Bicentennial TV commercials, and more.

Below, you'll find some video clips from this special birthday event in modern American history. Honestly, I can't believe that this was almost forty years ago. Sometimes I can remember it all so clearly.  

I will be 106 if I live to see America's Tricentennial...but I'm eating right and exercising in hopes of making the date. I hope I'll see you there.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Old Glory

“Old Glory” is a commonly-held nickname for The Stars-and-Stripes, or the American flag. 

Old Glory can refer not only to the American flag in general, but a specific flag belonging to a 19th century sea Captain, William Driver.

Although many cult-tv programs are set on different worlds, or even in different realities, Old Glory has nonetheless made a number of memorable appearances through-out history.

Every week, on the opener of Adventures of Superman (1951 – 1958) for instance, the Man of Steel was seen to be standing before a fluttering American flag.  This great hero from Krypton stands for “Truth, Justice, and the American way.” The presence of Old Glory puts a fine point on those values.

Another famous guest appearance by Old Glory involves Star Trek (1966 – 1969). A second season story called “The Omega Glory” finds Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) visiting a parallel Earth from some weird post-apocalyptic future. 

There, the Yangs (Yankees) and Kohms (Communists) have fought a devastating war for generations.  But the Yangs keep hope alive with some of their holy relics, which include a copy of the U.S. Constitution, and a slightly worse-for-wear example of Old Glory.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), an episode called “The Royale” commences with Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) Enterprise of the 24th century recovering a unique piece of debris from a destroyed spaceship.  The debris is marked “NASA” and shows the American flag…

The premiere episode of the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975), “Flames of Doom,” features a shot reminiscent of the 1968 feature film’s memorable visualizations. Specifically, a team of astronauts lands on a far-future world run by intelligent, talking apes.  But first, the astronauts encounter the inhospitable Forbidden Zone and explore it in an inflatable life raft. 

Beside the raft, the astronauts plant the American flag.

Recently, the new version of Doctor Who (2005 - ) featured a two-part story, “Day of the Moon” set in 1969 America, on the eve of the Moon landing, and many sequences featured Old Glory in the background.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Old Glory

Identified by Hugh: Adventures of Superman

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "The Omega Glory."

Identified by Hugh: Return to the Planet of the Apes: "Flames of Doom."

Identified by Hugh: Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter).

Identified by Hugh: Schoolhouse Rock: "Tyrannosaurus Debt"

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Royale."

Identified by Hugh: The Simpsons.

Identified by Hugh: Beavis and Butthead.

Identified by SGB: Ren and Stimpy.


Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Enterprise.

Identified by SGB: Smallville.

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Day of the Moon."

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

“Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before, or since, tall words proudly saying: “We the People.”…These words and the words that follow were not written only for Yangs, but for the Kohms as well. They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing…”

- Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) in Star Trek: “The Omega Glory.”

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Advert Art #23

The Five Most Horrific Failed Space Missions in Cult-TV History

In the vast immensities of cosmic space, bold adventurers streak their way to join battle with strange enemies on strange worlds: the alien, the unknown, perhaps even the invisible, armed only with Man's earthbound knowledge...”

-          The Control Voice narration to “The Invisible Enemy” on The Outer Limits (1964).

Earlier in the week, I wrote about “The Invisible Enemy,” an episode of the science-fiction/horror anthology The Outer Limits (1963 – 1965). 

I described it as being part of a favorite sub-genre: the failed outer space expedition.   

In stories of this type, courageous astronauts brave the dangers of the void in their rockets and spaceships, and discover not wonders of nature…but the very horrors of Hell itself.

Films have visited this trope in such efforts as Alien (1979), and the recent Europa Report (2013), but this list focuses on TV instead, a realm where the failed space expedition trope has seen many iterations.  

Many cult-television series are actually predicated on the concept of a “failed” space expedition, from Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) and The Starlost (1973 – 1974), to Planet of the Apes (1974 – 1975), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981) and Farscape (1999 – 2003). 

Not all those series, however, tread in the terrain of pure terror: the unexpected conjunction of amazing high technology with Gothic “monsters” in an arena that should be reasonable, scientific, and wondrous…but determinedly isn’t.  Highly-trained and resourceful astronauts in these episodes suddenly find themselves confronting things that shouldn't exist at all; things like ghosts, dragons, and vampires.

Other TV series (not featured below) offer variations on the formula, but don’t necessarily focus on spaceships: Doctor Who’s “The Waters of Mars,” for instance, concerns a base on Mars that falls to an implacable alien horror called “The Flood.”  

In terms of categorization, a good “failed space expedition” story not only terrifies, it sets up a high level of danger for those who discover the expedition's aftermath, and must tread (warily…) in its footsteps.

So without further introduction, here are my selections for the five most horrific failed space expeditions in cult-television history. 

To be included on my list, the mission must end in abject failure, and with lots and lots of death and destruction.  These are my choices, but no doubts others will choose other episodes.

5.The final journey of the U.S.S. Essex (“Power Play,” Star Trek: The Next Generation [1992]):   

Nearly 200 years before the days of NCC-1701-D, a Daedalus class starship called U.S.S. Essex, encounters terror on Mab-Bu IV and is never heard from again. 

When the Enterprise answers its distress call two centuries later, the captain of the Essex and his top crew are reportedly alive, albeit in a strange form.  They “survive” as disembodied “ghosts” inside a planet-wide storm.  

The truth is much more bizarre, however.  The planet is actually a penal colony containing the Ux-Mal’s most monstrous (but non-corporeal) criminals.  The Essex captain and his ship died generations ago, when the prisoners seized the ship, and it failed to escape the planet’s gravity well.

This is one of my all-time favorite Next Generation episodes because it boasts no preachy messages, and the Enterprise crew spends the hour trying to figure out exactly whom it is dealing with when Troi, Data, and O’Brien are apparently possessed by the Essex’s command crew.  

But in terms of the failed space mission premise, I love “Power Play” because it points out the danger of space travel in early Starfleet history.  Here, a starship “boldly went where non had gone” and encountered new life forms of a most malicious variety.  Star Trek isn't a universe where one expects to find "ghosts," but that's a good term for the merciless aliens Picard combats here.  This episode also offers one of the few instances in the series when it is possible to resolve a situation by peaceful diplomacy, and talking to an enemy.

4.The ill-fated mission of the M-1 (“The Invisible Enemy” The Outer Limits [1964]):

In the year 2021, the M-1 rocket lands successfully on Mars.  But this giant step for space exploration ends in terror, when the first astronaut on the Martian surface screams in terror, and then disappears without a trace.  The second astronaut heads out to the surface, and meets the same mysterious fate. 

Six years later, the crew of the M-2 discovers the grisly disposition of those unlucky men.  They encountered dragon-like shark creatures that “swim” the sandy terrain of the red planet.  Now, the four-man crew of the M2 is similarly imperiled by the over-sized, carnivorous beasts. 

This episode of the classic anthology series plays adeptly on the fear that something might exist beneath our very feet, something that could pull us down into the very ground itself, and destroy us.  And the episode’s final revelation -- of a whole school of the sand-sharks laying in wait -- is unforgettable in terms of its imagery.

Here there be dragons...

3. The bizarre fate of the E-89 (“Death Ship,” The Twilight Zone [1961])

This mysterious and unsettling story from the late Richard Matheson occurs in the year 1997, as three astronauts -- Captain Ross (Jack Klugman), Lt. Mason (Ross Martin), and Lt. Carter (Frederic Beir) -- visit a distant planet and are afforded an unwelcome glimpse of their own future.  
On the surface of the planet is a wreckage of a spaceship…their spaceship.  Captain Ross believes that they have somehow "circumnavigated" time and arrived on the planet in their own near future, perhaps as the result of a time warp.  
Now the question remains, how does the ship’s crew avoid a future in which it is fated to die?
Unlike the other stories on this list, “Death Ship” involves no overt “monster.”  There are no sand sharks, ghosts, vampires or other creatures to contend with.  Instead the crew’s nemesis is time itself, and perhaps that is an even scarier enemy.  As I wrote in my review of the episode, "Death Ship" is a great story because it arrives at its shocking ending side-ways.
The episode features all the trappings of futuristic science fiction drama, with discussions of time travel and alien life, but as is so often the case on The Twilight Zone (and in the work of Richard Matheson) the resolution of the enigma involves the very nature of man; the metaphysical not the technological. 
In crafting a tale of a protagonist and captain who sees what he wants to see, and the men who follow him in that (tunnel) vision, Matheson's "Death Ship" takes the mysteries of outer space and links them right back to the essential nature of humanity, right here on Earth. For a time it looks like the story is about "fear -- the "death fear" as one character describes it -- but the tale actually involves the acceptance of the unacceptable in our lives...and in our deaths.
This is one of the darker corners of The Twilight Zone, no doubt.

2. The last voyage of the I.S. Demeter (“Space Vampire” Buck Rogers in the 25th Century [1980])
An unknown presence -- believed to be the “Denebian virus” or “EL7” -- begins to kill the passengers and crew of the I.S. Demeter in “Space Vampire.”   

Although the last survivors hold out hope that they can reach their destination alive, it is not to be.  All hands have perished by the time the vessel passes through Stargate Nine and reaches Theta Station.   Their murderer is a strange vampiric entity called a Vorvon, known in legends for “draining the souls” of the living. 

On Theta Station, Buck (Gil Gerard) watches the Demeter’s captain’s log, and realizes the horror that now lurks on the station. 

The Demeter is named after the ship that transports the un-dead count to England in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and serves much the same purpose in this entry of the 1979-1981 series: setting the stage for the next appearance (and escalation) of a terrifying entity.

Where most episodes of Buck Rogers are light-hearted and breezy (and quite enjoyble so...), an atmosphere of  absolute gloom and dread hangs over "Space Vampire," especially the sections involving the Demeter.  There is an air of ghastly inevitably here as the captain reports death after death, until the Vorvon finally comes for her...

1.The horror of the Ultra Probe (“Dragon’s Domain,” Space:1999 [1975])

It is impossible for me to measure how deeply or profoundly this episode of Space:1999 impacted my psyche when I first saw it as a young lad (at the tender age of five).  I suspect, in fact, that “Dragon’s Domain” is the very production that catalyzed my life-long love of horror and science fiction.

“Dragon’s Domain,” by Christopher Penfold, depicts the tragedy of the ill-fated Ultra Probe, which began its weeks-long voyage to the newly-discovered planet, Ultra, in the year 1996. 

In orbit of the planet, however, the astronaut crew discovers a mysterious “parking lot” of alien spaceships. When docking with one such mystery ship, however, something...alien...gets inside the Ultra Probe (commanded by Tony Cellini), something horrible.

That horrible thing is a tentacled, slimy nightmare that can hypnotize the living, and...then devour them.  But even that isn’t the end of the terror.  After eating the crew, this monster spits out the corpses’ steaming bones from its orange-hot maw.  

The resulting image: a smoldering skeleton on a high-tech spaceship deck, is one that has remained with me my whole life, and captures perfectly the magic of the “failed space expedition story.”

You look at that image (below..) and wonder, how in the cosmos can this happen?  How can mankind achieve his highest aspiration -- the stars themselves – and end up like this? Merely charred food for something unimaginably horrific, unimaginably monstrous?

In the course of “Dragon’s Domain,” Tony Cellini gets a second chance to face his monster, and even when fully seen for a second bout, the creature loses none of his ghastly power.  The creature squirms, wriggles, shoots out fluid (ick…) before consuming its final victim.  In the end, the truth is that the parking lot of spaceships was a spider's web, and that this monster was the spider itself.

The story ends with a final, frightful thought to carry with you into your nightly slumber.  If the astronauts never determined, via their advanced scientific instruments, that the creature was alive... how could anyone be sure that it was really dead?

Alas, fans of failed space expeditions never got the TV sequel to "Dragon's Domain" that this chilling ending so perfectly set-up.

Other contenders for this list include "The Satan Pit," a Doctor Who story in which a team of space miners (again operating from a base, not a ship) excavate a "Beast" that is, in fact, the Devil, and "Planet of Evil," another Doctor Who story set at the edge of the known universe, and featuring an anti-matter universe.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr (1987 - 1988): "Memories"

In “Memories,” Fort Kerium newspaper man Angus McBride gets a report of alien slavers in the solar system.  He investigates and learns that an alien ship has landed on New Texas along with its “cargo:” goat-men slave-people called Krangs.

Angus is captured by the Slavers in short order.  Before BraveStarr and Jamie can rescue him, however, a “blaster-packing” “star marine,” Commander Kate, arrives to take over rescue operations.  

She dismisses BraveStarr and Jamie as "amateurs," but when she learns that Jamie is Angus’s daughter, she changes her tune.  It turns out that once upon a time, Kate and Angus were in love. But that was a long time ago...

Jamie feels threatened by this information, even though her mother Eileen has been dead for a decade. 

After Angus is rescued and the Slavers defeated, Angus and Kate marry. Having overcome her concerns and wishing for her father to be happy, Jamie -- in her capacity as local judge -- officiates at the ceremony.

“Memories” is a nice little character piece, and a surprisingly adult story for a kid’s cartoon.  We learn a lot about Angus here, for instance namely his curiosity and propensity for trouble.  More than that, we learn of his intense feelings of loneliness since the death of his beloved wife.

There’s also some nice conflict in “Memories,” since Jamie isn’t too keen on the idea of her father re-marrying.  But delightfully, BraveStarr doesn’t remain locked in amber, forever trapped in the status quo and never willing to take chances.

Instead, the series embraces the concept of change, and Angus, indeed, marries the tough-talking, highly competent star marine.  

We don’t get as much background information in “Memories” about BraveStarr himself, but we do learn that he never had the opportunity to know his parents, a fact which softens Jamie in terms of her relationship with Kate.

It’s worth noting here, perhaps, that BraveStarr was made in 1987 and yet it seems fully “modern” in its non-judgmental depiction of gender and ethnicity.  

The hero of the series is a Native American, but he doesn’t speak in embarrassing Pidgeon English (like Tonto, for instance).  A tough-as-nails star marine is an older woman with a gray streak in her hair, and the town judge is a young woman.  

Similarly, Angus -- the newspaper man -- is an older man, and yet still allowed to be seen in terms of romance and love.  

In short, the series just completely demolishes Western-style stereotypes and conventional depictions of heroes.  It's a "new frontier" indeed.

Next week: “The Day the Town was Taken.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Monster Squad (1976): "The Weatherman"

In “The Weatherman,” Walt and the Monsters are concerned when a freak snow storm hits the city….in July. 

Before long, the culprit has made his demands. A villain called “The Weatherman” (Avery Schreiber) wants to be unanimously elected President of the United States, or else he will force the country to endure severe weather for months.  He plans to bury Wisconsin in ice, for example.

The Monster Squad learns that the Weatherman is headquartered in an old U.S. Government weather research center, and confronts him there.  The group learns that he has armed himself with a weapon called a “thunder-buss” that can freeze living tissue.

Unfortunately, the Wolf Man falls prey to the device, meaning that Dracula and Frankenstein must not only defeat the villain of the week, but thaw out their frozen friend as well.

As Monster Squad (1976) winds down (we’re in the home stretch, folks…I promise…), some hidden writer agendas are clearly coming to the series forefront, and those who like to complain about the liberal media indoctrinating kids should be happy at the counter-weight, I suppose. 

Specifically, two weeks ago “The Wizard” complained about the government making bad real estate deals and screwing citizens, while “The Weatherman” depicts the government as incompetent, leaving vacant (for criminal use…) a deadly weather research lab.

And when Werewolf, Frankenstein and Dracula go to the facility, they are asked to sign-in on the guest list…in triplicate.  “Well, it’s only to be expected in a government installation,” The Werewolf quips. 

Perhaps the increasingly apparent dislike of the American Government in the 1970s is not unexpected here, given what the nation had gone through in the two years prior to 1976, specifically the Watergate Scandal and an ignominious withdrawal in the Vietnam War. 

Still, it’s a little shocking to see the anti-government jokes starting to come hot and heavy in a Saturday morning kid’s show.  But hey, Fred Grandy -- Walt in this series -- eventually became a Republican congressman, right?   Perhaps he developed his political philosophy here, in the wax museum…

Seriously, the next time someone complains about liberals indoctrinating children, remind them that conservatives do it too, in fare like 1976’s Monster Squad.

Two other points for consideration here: As I noted recently, Dracula is almost entirely flesh-toned now, his white pancake make-up barely coating his skin. 

And secondly, both this episode and “The Skull” have featured references -- visual or textual -- to the Invisible Man.  In this episode we see him in the Wax Museum behind the Crime Computer, and in “The Skull” the King Toot mummy is unwrapped to reveal no one…or perhaps, the Invisible Man.

If Monster Squad had survived, I wonder if the Invisible Man would have joined the team.

Next week: “Lawrence of Moravia.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: No Blade of Grass (1970)

The relatively obscure 1970 science fiction film No Blade of Grass is a cutthroat post-apocalyptic vision which forecasts films such as The Road Warrior (1981), and which deals meaningfully with the idea that our modern civilization is fragile because it is based on an easily compromised premise: the satisfaction of a full stomach. 

When there is no food, there is no society, and no civilized behavior.

In this adaptation of John Christopher’s 1965 novel The Death of Grass a British man, John Custance (Nigel Davenport) witnesses the end of that social contract occur as one-hundred million people die of starvation worldwide.  A famine is destroying grass and wheat.

And without wheat, livestock dies. 

And without livestock, humanity’s very future is jeopardized. 

With anarchy spreading rapidly and some states like China resorting to mass-murder -- essentially killing many to save a few -- Custance attempts to preserve his family (symbolizing the future…) at any cost. 

Yet John’s quest can’t really be termed successful.  His wife and young daughter are savagely raped on the road by other travelers, and he murders an innocent family much like his own for food stocks, which amounts to no more than a loaf of bread.  Eventually, John even makes war against his own biological brother to gain a foothold in this strange and savage new world.

This nearly forty-five year-old film presents a caustic, blistering look at human nature, and the ungracious way our species may countenance its end. But No Blade of Grass is also one of my all-time favorite science fiction films of the 1970s, and a cinematic work of art that Paul Simpson (The Rough Guide to Cult Movies) accurately termed “a tense and provocative” picture.

Writing in The Montreal Gazette, film critic Jacob Siskind called No Blade of Grass one of the most terrifying motion pictures he had ever seen, “uncomfortable real,” and “something that should not be missed.

Both of these reviews capture the tense, uneasy, disturbing nature of a film that more science fiction fans should acquaint themselves with.

An unidentified virus begins killing grass, white, rice and barley in Asia, and then rapidly spreads across the globe, causing a famine of vast proportions in the civilized world.

One family -- the Custances -- decides to abandon London when there is news that China has bombed its urban population in a last-ditch attempt to save “the Chinese nation.”  The Custances believe the English government could do the same thing.

John Custance (Davenport), his wife Ann (Jean Wallace) and their daughter Mary (Lynn Frederick) make a survival run through the English countryside for the distant farm of John’s brother.  The family is joined en route by a man named Pirrie (May) who is good with a gun but prone to instability and violence. 

On their way to hopeful sanctuary, the Custances face the total collapse of law and order in England, and fight rapists, motorcycle gangs, and other hazards.  Finally, when John meets up with his brother, he finds that even the bonds of family can’t overcome the fear and dread surrounding the famine and burgeoning apocalypse.

All along, No Blade of Grass forecasts just how bad things are going to get by flashing forward to -- in blood-red imagery -- upcoming violent confrontations.  Just when the family has overcome one life-or-death crisis, another one is signaled in shades of scarlet terror. 

Although I remain unconvinced, generally, of the efficacy of fast-forwards in a narrative structure, they are deployed well in No Blade of Grass.  The flash-cuts suggest the end of optimism and hope.  Future days will be no better than these days.  In fact, they may very well be worse. If the present seems bad, the movie promises, the future will be much, much worse.

Similarly, during moments of extreme violence -- such as a confrontation with a roving biker gang --director Cornel Wilde flips the imagery to its negative, so that the screen fills with blacks and grays.  Suddenly, those committing the violence, and even those defending themselves, resemble inhuman monsters.  The shades of gray not only de-humanize the characters at their most savage, they remind audiences that moral absolutes no longer exist in a world of famine.

Before No Blade of Grass is done, Custance and his family members have murdered soldiers, nations have bombed their populations to oblivion to keep a few handpicked survivors fed, and a brother has launched a war for resources against a biological brother. 

In tactless, brutal terms, the film depicts total, utter anarchy, and the collapse of decency.  We witness a live birth on camera (and you can see the baby’s head crowning…), and generally the film spares its audience no indignity, no terror, no hard truth. The scene involving the rape of Mrs. Custance and her daughter is especially difficult to watch.  The rapists hold the women down, rip off their under-clothes, commit their acts of brutality and the camera doesn’t flinch or cut-away.

Wilde’s point is plain. When anarchy arrives, no one will be spared. Not mothers. Not daughters.  Not families.  When civilization goes so will go modern medicine, electricity grocery stores, mass transit and every law but the law of the jungle.  The film suggests these taken-for-granted modern conveniences and constructs are all but fragile dominoes, falling one after the other after the other. 

“Everything’s different now, boys…we have to fight to survive,” one character states in the film, and indeed that’s true.  The “old law” evaporates and the law of the jungle reigns supreme.  Those who can’t adapt quickly to the New World Order die quickly instead.  

Accordingly, one of the most disturbing moments in the film finds Custance’s teenage daughter, Mary, leaving behind her former, civilized, and gentle boyfriend in favor of the sociopath-murderer, Pirrie.

Despite the fact that he killed his own wife in a fit of rage and is obviously unstable, Pirrie’s apparent physical “strength” and tough demeanor makes Mary feel safe.  She knows he will protect her. Ardent feminists will not appreciate this moment in the film, to be certain, but so many of today’s constructs including equality of the sexes simply would not survive all-out, universal anarchy.  Women like Mary, in the film’s blunt terminology, carry “a survival kit” between their legs.  Sex becomes one of the few tools they can use to assert power, or find protection. 

As the preceding description suggests, No Blade of Grass is caustic and sharply observed.  One early scene reveals an abandoned Rolls Royce scuttled on the side of the road, but a voice-over from an old TV commercial accompanies the imagery so that the moment suggests just how utterly meaningless the old conventions are in the New Order.  What role is there for luxury transportation when there is no food, anywhere?  No gasoline? No restaurants to drive to?

Another, equally brutal moment intercuts a report of children dying of starvation in the Third World with extreme close-up images of avaricious restaurant diners eating gourmet food in an upscale London restaurant.  The unmistakable point is forged in the sledge-hammer cutting, in the slamming contrast.

It is easy to observe other people’s children dying of famine and do nothing about it. Pass the salt…

The cause of the civilization-destroying virus in No Blade of Grass is, in true 1970s fashion, mankind himself.  A (dated) folk song opens the film and establishes how little mankind has done to “save the Earth.” 

This funereal composition is accompanied by a montage of images of real-life pollution.  We see documentary-like footage of spewing tail-pipes, traffic jams, smog hanging over cities, brown water, dead fish, crop dusters, nuclear reactors, factories spewing chemicals and other late 20th century horrors that somehow we manage to put out of our minds, and imagine can’t harm the planet. 

But according to No Blade of Grass there was a secret revolution: “One day the polluted Earth couldn’t take it anymore.”

And Mother Nature struck back.

Chilling and in-your-face, No Blade of Grass is one of the most unforgettable science fiction films of the 1970s. It is made more so by the fact that its protagonists -- whom we are meant to closely identify with -- are ultimately no better or nobler than anyone they encounter on the road. 

The Custances prize their survival above all else, and take steps to assure it that we, as civilized people, should abhor.  They become murderers with relative ease and speed.

 But who could say that you or I would choose differently given such global, dangerous anarchy?

That folk song in the film that I mentioned earlier features a lyric that goes “It’s the end of love.”  In No Blade of Grass, that’s an understatement. In this film, mankind confronts his mortality and the results aren’t pretty.  I hope if something like this disaster ever does happen, we can face the end with more dignity and grace and far less bloodshed.

20 Years Ago: The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

“They are an army unlike any other, crusading across the stars toward a place called UnderVerse, their promised land, a constellation of dar...