Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tribute: Glen Larson (1937 - 2014)

The press is now reporting that legendary TV writer and producer Glen A. Larson has passed away.

Mr. Larson wrote for such classic sixties programming as The Fugitive (1966) and It Takes a Thief (1968) but in the 1970s created and developed several TV series that remain noteworthy to science fiction fans.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Larson created the original Battlestar Galactica (1978), and wrote the movie that updated Buck Rogers (1979 - 1981) for the post-Star Wars age. 

In the 1980s, Mr. Larson created such well-known sci-fi series as Knight Rider (1982 - 1986), Manimal (1983), and Automan (1983).  

His last genre series was the syndicated superhero program, Nightman (1997 - 1999).

Mr. Larson's career outside sci-fi was remarkable too. In the seventies he developed The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries for television, and also produced Alias Smith and Jones (1971 - 1973). 

He also created and produced Quincy M.E.(1976 - 1983), Magnum P.I. (1980 - 1988) and The Fall Guy (1981 - 1986) to name just three popular programs from his stable.

Larson's series, especially in the sci-fi genre, were extremely popular on original broadcast, and remain so with an enthusiastic generation of fans.  

Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider, in particular, have been remade already, and likely will be re-made yet again, a fact which suggests that the writer/producer tapped into something universal and powerful with these particular stories.

At this time, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to Mr. Larson's family and loved ones, and remind them that television, a technological art form, will permit Glen Larson's imagination and artistry to live on for decades and generations to come.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Korg 70,000 B.C.: "The Guide"

In “The Guide,” the second episode aired of Korg 70,000 B.C. (1974), young Tor (Charles Morteo) is captured by a blind hunter from a different tribe. The adult hunter wants to get back to The River People, and needs Tor to guide him safely through the jungle.

Unfortunately, Tor knows that once he is with the River People, they will enslave him and make him a hunter. He will never see his own family again.

Korg (Jim Malinda) and Bok (Bill Ewing) pursue the hunter and Tor, realizing they must rescue the boy before he reaches the River People.

“The Guide” is a solid second outing for Korg 70,000 B.C. and a much better episode than “Trapped.”  Here, Tor, a young boy, reckons with the reality of his dangerous, prehistoric world.

Specifically, Tor knows that no “strange family” would help him return home, even though he is a child. Instead, he would forever be an “alien” in another tribe.  

The Guide” nicely captures Tor’s sense of fear of being separated from his family, and balancing that sense of terror with his sense of compassion for the blinded, desperate hunter.

Ultimately, Tor is able to balance his fear and his humanity (Neanderthal-ity?) He leads the blind hunter into a river, and escapes, but then goes back to guide the flailing man to safety. The episode is called “The Guide” and Tor acts in this episode as both reluctant, involuntary guide, and later as a willing one. 

In the end, the hunter’s sight returns and all is well, a fragile peace established.  Most episodes end in this positive way, with some social good being established between Korg’s family and another, and that’s as it should be for a kid’s show. 

The nice part is that the better episodes of Korg also feature a strong sense of danger so that we can understand -- while ensconced in our comfortable world of safety and security -- what it is like to live in a world not fully understood, where death lurks around every corner.

Next week: “The Exile.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr: "To Walk a Mile"

In “To Walk a Mile,” BraveStarr remembers a lesson from the Shaman. When he was a young man, he put on Shaman’s moccasins so he would know how it feels to walk in “another man’s shoes.”

This lesson proves important in a current investigation. Out at a desert waterhole, bandits have been attacking and robbing prospectors.  Although BraveStarr catches Two-Face in the act of robbing a man and his son, the man refuses to press charges against the outlaw.

That man, it turns out, is the former marshal of Rigel 7, Lucas Conway, who turned in his badge after he was responsible for the accidental death of his deputy.

But when Two-Face captures Conway’s son, Mark, and threatens him with death by boiling lava, Conway knows it is time to rejoin the fight…

“To Walk a Mile” is almost a note-for-note remake of an earlier BraveStarr episode, “No Drums, No Trumpets.” 

In that episode, as you may recall, a former marshal and his young daughter land on New Texas to settle, and run afoul of a bandit named Sandstorm. The family wishes to settle on unclaimed farm land in Peaceful Valley, but Sandstorm wants the property himself.

Complicating the matter, the former lawman -- who once served New Arizona Space Command -- refuses to carry a gun or fight his enemies, because he once killed a criminal in the line of duty. Now his daughter considers him a coward for his reluctance to confront his enemies.

When the lawman’s daughter is kidnapped, however, the former marshal takes up arms, and he joins BraveStarr in an attempt to defeat Sandstorm and claim Peaceful Valley.

So, both “To Walk a Mile” and “No Drums, No Trumpet” involve a lawman who has hung up his badge and six-shooters, a kidnapped child (though the sex of the child changes), and a threat from a bandit, either Sandstorm or Two-Face.  In both cases, the lawman is reluctant to fight because of a tragedy in his past involving an accidental death.

“No Drums, No Trumpets” was the seventh episode of BraveStarr, and “To Walk a Mile” is the seventeenth, according to the order presented on the official DVD.  So there’s just a ten episode gap between two very similar stories.

Although “To Walk a Mile” isn’t bad by any means, “No Drums, No Trumpets” felt like a more interesting and valuable episode, in part because it focused on the (ex) marshal’s decision not to carry a gun anymore, a decision which put a fine point on the matter of violence, and how violence is used by legal authorities.  That violence comes at a cost to the psyche, even when it may be considered justified by society at large. And when accidental death occurs because of that violence, the feelings of guilt and shame can be extreme, and difficult to overcome.  “No Drums, No Trumpets” captures this anti-violence idea well, and a bit more directly.

One thing that really works about "To Walk a Mile," is the design of Robo-Shooter, Two-Faces evil minion. That's one cool robot.

Friday, November 14, 2014

At Flashbak: Compared to this, Carrie was an Angel: Five Unforgettable Carrie Knock-Offs

My new list at Flashbak remembers five memorable knock-offs of Brian De Palma's Carrie.

"Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), based on the novel by Stephen King was a huge box office success, and a critically-acclaimed initiative as well.

With his accomplished visual sense, De Palma created an unforgettable portrait of adolescent, high-school cruelty. The film was Lord of the Flies in a locker room, but starring mean girls instead of wild boys. In her review for New Yorker, Pauline Kael noted that prior to De Palma's film, "no one else has ever caught the thrill that teenagers get from a dirty joke and sustained it for a whole picture.”

Not surprisingly, many horror filmmakers were inspired by the film and its high school horror setting and characters. By 1978, they had distilled the very essence of Carrie as a creative work, and sought to re-package and resell the film’s magic with only minor modifications. 

Carrie’s crucial ingredients include an unpopular adolescent (often named in the film’s title), bullying members of the popular teen crowd, the central adolescent’s revenge -- brought about by non-natural means -- and the savage turn-back, in which the lead character is consumed by his or her own power and hatred.

Often, the lead character’s unhappy family life is also featured in these films.

With these conceits in mind, below are five of the most memorable knock-offs of Carrie."

Space 1999: The Complete Second Season (in HD) Coming Soon

Den of Geek reports:

"Networking Releasing has confirmed that it will release the long-awaited Space: 1999 - The Complete Second Series, digitally restored in high definition, on Blu-ray and DVD in Autumn 2015."

In the meantime, the series' only two parter, "The Bringers of Wonders" will be available this Christmas on blu-ray, along with the compilation movie "Destination: Moonbase Alpha."

Here's a preview of how the second season will look in high-definition.

The Girdler Guide: The Manitou (1978)

William Girdler’s final film, The Manitou (1978), is just about the craziest knock-off of The Exorcist (1973) yet fashioned, and as a result, the director’s most entertaining cinematic effort. 

Every frame seems infused with the director’s gonzo desire to push the limits and dazzle the audience, and accordingly The Manitou zig-zags merrily between inventive special effects sequences and over-the-top moments of bloody horror. What the movie sacrifices in coherence, it thus gains in terms of jaw-dropping spectacle.

Underneath it all, the film's story and its consequences are utterly ridiculous, but that fact doesn’t stop Girdler from going for broke with his dedicated, throw-everything-out-and-see-what-sticks approach to the material. Because of the director’s non-conventional, open and inventive approach to the material, Girdler stages some moments -- such as a creepy séance and a levitating old lady -- with real ingenuity.

The Manitou is in no way a great movie, which seems to be my refrain this week on the blog (see: The Legend of Boggy Creek), and yet it ably demonstrates how Girdler was growing with each opportunity behind the camera, and gaining a sense of confidence in his work.  

Writing of The Manitou, film scholar John Brosnan observed in Starburst #8 (1979) that it is “basically very silly.” 

He added “it’s too slow in places; it lacks an internal logic, the dialogue is often embarrassing…but in the long run none of this matters because the movie succeeds in being entertaining.”  

He also notes that the last thirty minutes of the film are a high point, a “mind-blowing barrage of special effects, each one more outrageous than the last.” On all these points, he is absolutely correct.

I thus maintain that Girdler’s early death (in a helicopter accident…) was not only a terrible personal tragedy, but a loss for the genre. I just can’t help but believe that had the Kentucky filmmaker lived, he would have made some very memorable genre movies in the 1980s; films that we'd all be talking about and reviewing on blogs to this day.

As it stands, The Manitou -- so visually-daring and yet also bizarre story-wise -- is Girdler’s last hurrah. The film is weird and wild -- incredibly variable in quality -- and a lot of fun. And that description perhaps, is the best epitaph for Girdler’s career in movie horror.

“It kind of…moves, sometimes.”

A woman named Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) is admitted to a San Francisco hospital because of a strange, expanding growth on her back.  

At first, the growth is believed to be a tumor, but Dr. Hughes (Jon Cedar) and Dr. McEvoy (Paul Mantee) determine that it is not actually a growth, but a fetus.

Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis) a fortune teller and friend of Karen’s is disturbed that the constantly-growing fetus-thing can’t be removed by any conventional means. Dr. Hughes attempts surgery, but cuts his own hand during the operation. Later, a hospital laser grows crazy and starts blasting the operating theater during a second removal attempt.

After consulting with a medium and a historian Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith), Erskine recruits Native American medicine man John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) to fight the thing growing inside of Karen.  

As it turns out, this weird “baby” is the reincarnated form of an ancient, evil medicine man called Misquamacus. Misquamacus is angry because x-rays have mutated him, and he emerges from Karen’s back deformed, hideous, and seeking power.

Planning to take over the world, Misquamacus summons several manitou -- evil spirits, including the Lizard God, The North Wind, and Satan himself.

But, as Harry realizes, every object in the world possesses a manitou, and he hopes to harvest the hospital’s equipment to strike back against Misquamacus before he grows invincible.

“Love is one of the strongest medicines there is.”

The Manitou
features several notable trademarks of the 1970s cinema, including the possession/exorcism scene (familiar not just from The Exorcist, but also Girdler’s Abby), the “birth” or hospital delivery scene gone wrong (It’s Alive), and finally, the zippy laser beams of George Lucas’s Star Wars.  

On that last front, the movie's final battle witnesses a (topless) Strasberg perched atop her hospital bed, shooting colored lasers from her finger-tips at a hovering Misquamacus. The battle takes place not against the backdrop of the San Francisco hospital, but the entire cosmos itself.  All the universe is the (weird) background for this story...

That’s just the final touch, however, in Girdler’s crazy kaleidoscope. 

My favorite scene in the film is the one in which a little, blue-haired old lady arrives to have her fortune read at Harry’s apartment, and is suddenly possessed by Misquamacus. 

Without warning, this senior citizen busts a move, commencing a Native American rain dance (which alone is a sight to behold...), and then levitates through Harry’s apartment, out into the upstairs hallway.  

Finally, the spirit hurls her down the stairs, taking much of the staircase banister with her body, absolutely pulping the construction. The scene escalates from off-kilter to bizarre to I-can’t-quite-believe-what-I’m-seeing insane in just a few minutes.  And the levitation effects still hold up.

Another moment that is splendidly orchestrated finds Harry attempting a séance with his friends, including a medium. 

During the séance, Misquamacus appears, but not in any conventional sense.  Rather than using wispy opticals or visual effects to represent the spirit, Girdler tries something truly original instead.  The black-top of the table at the center of the séance is replaced, invisibly, with a pool of black oil, and very slowly (and creepily…) Misquamacus’s head rises from the table (a real head, covered in the oil) to face his supplicants. The demon sort of “shapes” himself out of the table, and it isn’t an effect that I've seen used before in this particular setting.

But there’s still more. One whole ward of the San Francisco hospital is transformed into an Arctic wasteland, covered in ice and snow. 

And then there’s the incredible moment when the computer manitou -- battling Misquamacus -- explodes and Dr. Hughes suddenly explodes with it on screen. He just goes up in flames.

Even the birthing scene is a great gross out moment. Misquamacus casts of Karen like an old sweater and splatters onto the hospital floor before slithering away, off-screen.

In my review of The Manitou in Horror Films of the 1970s, I termed Girdler’s last effort a “fun house of film gimmicks,” and today that description seems appropriate. It looks to me like the filmmaker and his team had a ball thinking of the wackiest, most unconventional ways to attack the horror sequences. Not all the effects work, but the creativity is admirable.

I haven’t read the novel by Graham Masterson upon which the film was based, but I must presume that it made sense, and connected its narrative together well. The same cannot be said of the cinematic version. 

For example: why was Karen picked as the “mother” for this resurrection?  Why do some Manitou oppose Misquamacus, while other support his cause? More importantly, what is his cause, really?  If he is powerful enough to summon Satan as a minion, he must be fearsome and strong, and yet he is undone by…the power of love?

In the end, however, such questions matter not.  This “Manitou,” as one character notes, “has momentum…”

The sad thing is that with The Manitou proving such a hit, Girdler had momentum in his career too. I would have loved to see what the filmmaker did with that that currency, and I wonders still, sometimes, of the strange destinations he had planned for future audiences.

Movie Trailer: The Manitou (1978)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cult Movie Review: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

I suspect that I owe my long-standing love of the horror genre to two productions that I encountered as a youngster.

The first is the “Dragon’s Domain” episode of Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977), about a deadly monster luring astronaut victims to their death in a graveyard of lost spaceships. 

The second is that ode to Arkansas’s variation on Big Foot, The Legend of Boggy Creek. (1972) from regional director Charlie B. Pierce. 

I saw this film at a drive-in when I was four or five years old, and memories of it have stayed with me ever since. 

My Mom and Dad took my sister Lara and me to a local drive-in theater in Essex County New Jersey to see a double-feature. The first film was some forgettable kid’s flick (probably a Herbie movie, or some such thing…). But after it ended, Lara and I were supposed to go to sleep in the back seat of the car for the duration of the second movie.

But the second movie happened to be The Legend of Boggy Creek, and I remember persistently peeking at the screen -- over my parents’ seats and shoulders -- watching in horror as the film’s events unfolded

I wondered not only what I would see on that giant screen, but what the movie would dare show me. As a kid, I was tantalized by the notion that I might really see Bigfoot, or discover convincing evidence that he existed.

Even as an adult, I can summon some moments from that drive-in viewing of The Legend of Boggy Creek quite vividly. I remember a little blond-haired boy running through a wide-open field, stopped suddenly in his tracks by the roars of the Sasquatch creature. 

And I recall the trademark scene in which the Fouke Monster attacks a man (sitting on a toilet) in a cabin bathroom. That description may sound laughable, but when I was four or five, there was nothing laughable at all about that attack. My attention was riveted to the screen.

The funny thing about “Dragon’s Domain” and the Legend of Boggy Creek is that the two productions actually share in common a good, scary idea: that there are things as yet unknown to modern, civilized man; things that we haven’t yet quantified, analyzed, processed, or thoroughly understood. 

That monster in Space: 1999 for instance, didn’t register on sensors or scanners, and so no one could prove it really lived…or, at story’s end, that it had really died.

And the Fouke Monster, despite his recurring appearances in and around Boggy Creek, has never been photographed or captured. Despite the best efforts of photographers, police, reporters and the like, he is still a myth, a shadow-figure existing outside the bounds of rational belief.

I suppose some very primal or basic part of my psychic gestalt loves horror films because they implicitly concern this idea that something magical and abnormal can yet exist in our technological, overpopulated, hyper-connected world. By nature, I am more a skeptic than a believer, yet I live in the hope that my skepticism will be proven wrong, not by some amorphous acceptance of blind faith, but through the auspices of science and technology.

In short, I want Nessie and Big Foot and the Mothman to be real. And I want science to find them.

Because if these quasi-mythical cryptids are proven to exist, then there is a chance that there are other things -- other beings -- out there that science hasn’t yet proved either, and the possibility, I suppose, that there is more to this human existence than readily meets the eye. 

Today, “Dragon’s Domain” actually holds up a hell of a lot better than does The Legend of Boggy Creek, but it is fair to note in any review of the film that I have a strong affection and fondness it, even if I can’t say with a straight face that it’s a particularly good film.

What the film gets right, and notes in a beautiful, even poetic way, is that there are areas of natural beauty on this Earth where man has not spoiled everything, and not seen everything. The moments in the film that track with that idea are, quite simply, beautiful and resonant.

But before long, The Legend of Boggy Creek gets lost in weird, unintentionally humorous folk songs about the monster, and travels down other narrative blind alleys too. The evidence of the monster’s existence, similarly, is so patently unpersuasive as to be hysterically funny.

In short, The Legend of Boggy Creek is a movie every fan of horror (and regional filmmaking, to boot), ought to see, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great work of art.  It is, however, an unforgettable one.

“…A right pleasant place to live…until the sun goes down.”

A mellifluous-voiced narrator named Jim (Vern Stierman), describes his home town of Fouke -- which borders on the Texas/Arkansas border and houses a population of less than four hundred. It’s the home to many simple, down-to-Earth folk, and also, alarmingly, a hairy man-beast, the “Fouke Monster.”

Jim recalls a time in his child-hood when he heard the monster’s roar and felt fear, and then launches into an on-screen examination of the creature’s history near Boggy Creek.

Several members of the Crabtree family have, for instance, reported seeing it. One man is certain he shot it.

Jim recounts for the audience the story of a night that the monster approached the house of Mary Beth Searcy (Judy Dalton), and the time a cabin fell under siege from the beast. 

Although hunting expeditions and dogs have searched out the monster, it has never been seen again.  

But Jim is satisfied that somewhere out in the night, the Fouke Monster still roams…

“He always travels the creeks. That’s one of the first things we learned about him.”

The Legend of Boggy Creek opens with some remarkable photography. The camera (ensconced on a slow-moving boat) prowls the Arkansas swamp, its eye falling on turtles, beavers, snakes, and other denizens of the wild.

These “nature” shots vividly capture the unspoiled beauty of the region, and set-up the film’s central conceit, that there’s “still a bit of wilderness” and still “some mysteries” to explore in the far corners of the world. 

Here, in this untamed, unexplored terrain, there be dragons.

The next scene, in order, is just as strong, for certain. Old Jimmy remembers back to his youth, and his one-time run across a giant field, when he first heard the cry of the monster.

I was seven years old when I first heard him scream,” says Jim.  “I was scared then, and I’m scared now.”  

This line is not only chilling, but the images that go alongside it are remarkably evocative of childhood, a time of discovery, freedom, and even sometimes fear.

Pierce’s camera follows little blond-haired Billy on his run through the woods and field, and times, the audience actually tracks right alongside him, from above, as if positioned from a low-flying helicopter. 

These well-crafted shots suggest the boy’s momentum, his isolation, and the size of the wide-open field.

Again, the feeling is that out there, beyond the horizon, possibilities and mysteries lurk. The shots of Jimmy running through the field, untended by parents, unprotected by society, remind me very much of feelings that many of us experienced children in the 1970s, when we first left the confines of home (and the eyes of Mom and Dad) to go play. 

For me, there were railroad tracks and a field near my suburban house in New Jersey, and my parents would often permit me and my friends to play there, under the bright blue sky, for hours at a spell. The path along those tracks became an opportunity for play and discovery, and the occasional jolt, for certain (hobos!). 

The opening moments of The Legend of Boggy Creek ably and artfully suggest both the liberty of childhood -- when your time was your own, and discovering the world was a constant adventure -- and the outer limits of that liberty: the fear of interfacing with something mysterious or truly scary.

I admire the first several sequences of The Legend of Boggy Creek for so ably, and with such stunning imagery, capturing these not easily-described notions  Many more expensive films fail to resonate so effectively, or capture these feelings of childhood so lyrically and memorably.

But before long, The Legend of Boggy Creek starts to fall apart.

Is it a coincidence that so many of the residents who have seen the creature are named Crabtree?  The film introduces us to Smoky, Fred, Travis and James Crabtree, who all have stories to tell us about the Fouke Monster.  The story doesn’t stand up, since so many witnesses come from one family.

Similarly, the monster’s activities -- stealing pigs, turning over flower pats, and causing a fatal heart attack in a family cat -- don’t exactly rise to the standard of “hair raising” encounters with the Fouke Monster.  These sequences don’t provide one-to-one evidence that the beast was responsible for the damage.  Is it the monster’s fault the cat died of fright?

And the folk songs, which elevate Travis Crabtree and the Monster to quasi-mythical status, undercut the film’s questing, even elegiac tone.  It’s difficult to take the search for the monster seriously when the soundtrack singer warbles “Here the sulfur river flows…this is where the creature goes…safe within the world he knows.”

By the same token, descriptions of the monster’s “sour, pig-pen” stench tend to undercut the horror of the storytelling.

It seems apparent that The Legend of Boggy Creek owes both its remarkable strengths and its notable weaknesses to its nature as a low-budget, regional film. It is not an extruded-by-committee Hollywood product. Accordingly, there are moments of pure beauty and even poetry here that a Hollywood film might not stop to recognize or plumb.  But then there are also the described moments of bizarre, laughable narration and action that, similarly, would get re-shot if overseen by the movie industry.

To love The Legend of Boggy Creek -- as I do love it -- you must take the good with the bad, and understand how those qualities are all wrapped together in an inseparable, once-in-a-life-time cinematic package. 

The Legend of Boggy Creek is a time capsule of the 1970s, and yet it is more than that too. At its best, it is a reminder to all of us that there are more things on Heaven and Earth than is dreamed of by our science.

And more so, the film reminds of a wondrous quality about children. Childhood represents a time in which people are, without reservation, open to the possibility of magic in their everyday lives. 

Kids can even find that magic right over there, down by Boggy Creek...

Movie Trailer: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At Flashbak: Five Pop Culture Highlights of the Bigfoot Craze of the 1970s

My new article at Flashbak remembers five highlights of the Bigfoot Craze of the 1970s.

"In 2014, the cryptid Bigfoot or “Sasquatch” has made something of a comeback, having appeared in two high-profile horror films of the found footage variety: Willow Creek and Eduardo Sanchez’s Exists.

But even this renaissance in Bigfoot entertainment cannot compare with the heyday of the creature’s popularity in the 1970s.  During the disco decade, America went through a veritable Big Foot craze in which the popular (but apparently reclusive…) monster was everywhere, from kids toys and Saturday morning television, to movies and documentaries. In fact, some movie fans have suggested that Chewbacca’s appearance in Star Wars is an ode, in fact, to the popularity of Bigfoot.

Accordingly, below are presented five highlights of the 1970s Bigfoot Craze:"

From the Archive: Land of the Giants (1968 - 1970): "Crash"

The final Irwin Allen sci-fi TV initiative of the 1960s, Land of the Giant (1968 - 1970) ran for two seasons and fifty-one hour-long episodes on ABC, and involved a group of desperate castaways trapped on a dangerous world of gigantic humanoids and other over-sized threats.

The first episode of Land of the Giants, written by Anthony Wilson and directed by Irwin Allen, "Crash" commences on the far future date of June 12, 1983.  

A sub-orbital ship, The Spindrift, encounters "solar turbulence" upon final sub-orbital approach to London.  Before long, the small vessel crashes on a strange world, and the crew and passengers encounter the peculiar dangers of this planet, namely giant spiders, cats, lizards...and (apparently) humans.

The Spindrift crew contingent includes Gary Conway as Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway), co-pilot Dan Erickson (Don Marshall), and Betty (Heather Young), the stewardess or flight attendant.  

The passengers include the Dr. Smith-like trouble-maker, Alexander Fitzhugh (Kurt Kaszner), a young boy, Barry (Stefan Arngrim), the beautiful Valerie (Deanna Lund), and an impatient businessman, Mark Wilson (Don Matheson).

In "Crash," Steve and Valerie are captured while exploring the jungle surrounding the downed Spindrift and abducted to a laboratory inside a scientist's (Dan Watters) insect specimen container.  

The alien scientist -- a dead ringer for a young George Lucas -- discovers his unusual trophies, and straps the helpless captives to specimen slides, where he prods the helpless humans with scalpel and pencil.  

In short order, Dan and Mark engineer a rescue, exploding a gas line in the giant's laboratory as a distraction.

All together once more, the Spindrift team takes refuge in a garbage dump, even as an angry dog nears...

Like much of Irwin Allen's work in cult television, Land of the Giants is long on production values and action, and short on inventive character development or social commentary. Here, in the premiere episode, the same existential threat repeats again and again. In "The Crash," our heroes are endangered by one gigantic creature after another, which leaves the women screaming in terror.  

It gets a bit old before even the first hour is over...

Despite the relative emptiness of the narrative in terms of stock characters and villains, "Crash" remains quite an accomplishment in terms of special effects and production design.  

The mist-enshrouded jungle studio set, for example, is colossal, and more-than-convincing for its day.  

Additionally,  it's important to recall that Land of the Giants was crafted well before the age of CGI and digital effects, so the over-sized sets and props all had to be constructed, and then meticulously matched with "regular"-sized live-action footage.  By and large, the special effects haven't aged very much at all, and are still incredibly effective.  This is as it should be: each episode of Land of the Giants was budgeted at a then-whopping $250,000 dollars.

Sometimes, the strong effects actually do create high drama.Good tension arises in "Crash," for instance, when the George Lucas lookalike giant pursues the escaping Earthers to a small gutter, and then stretches his arm into the tunnel after them, shouting "come back." The scene represents a dazzling and effective blend of viewpoints and effect techniques.  

In terms of the continuing series, "Crash" also sets the tenor for Land of the Giants.  Here, Steve and Valerie quickly debate about whether or not they should attempt peaceful communication with the planet's giants.  Valerie wants to try, but Steve insists they will merely be treated as "six inch tall" freaks. 

Very rapidly, it is Steve's view of things that legitimized by the events of the episode, since even a scientist is not inclined to treat the tiny people very well.

By episode's end, the castaways from the Spindrift, including Barry's dog, Chipper, end up at "the bottom of the barrel," a garbage dump, and encounter a vicious dog there.   Already the die is cast: this is a world of danger, and the giants are to be treated as enemies.

Over the course of two years, Land of the Giants presented much information (some of it contradictory, if memory serves) about the planet of the Giants.  The Giants, for instance, had an awareness of Earth's existence and were also conscious that transit between the two worlds was possible.  Yet, at the same time, the giants did not seem to be as technologically-advanced as Earth of 1983.  

Various episodes of the series saw the castaways either attempting to repair their ship and leave the dangerous planet, or effect change on the planet itself, which seemed to be ruled by a repressive totalitarian state.

I grew up watching Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, but not The Time Tunnel or Land of the Giants.  Accordingly, I find the latter two programs a bit difficult to "get into" today, and even a bit empty in terms of ideas, characters and situations.  In short, I admire how Land of the Giants looks in terms of design and execution, but that isn't enough to keep me tuned in for the full fifty-one hours.  

Rather, I see Land of the Giants as intriguing because it fits entirely Allen's basic formula in science fiction television: showcasing, essentially, how technology can go wrong, stranding people in time, outer space, or other hostile environmental domains.  

In at least three of Allen's programs -- excluding Voyage --  the technologically-superior people end up forsaking the advanced tools of technology to "live off the land," more or less, and embrace a more primitive, pioneer life-style.  I suspect Allen's TV work looks this way, in part, because of the popularity of the Western genre on television in the 1960s.  

But also, as you can detect in many Star Trek episodes of the day ("The Ultimate Computer," for instance), there existed a general distrust of technological progress in the late 1960s, mainly in the form of computers and automation.  

I submit that Lost in Space, Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants all key off both the rampant techno-phobia of the decade while also hoping, contrarily, to tap the "Camelot"-styled optimism of the age as well.  These two opposing impulses make Allen's series somewhat schizophrenic, but also damned interesting, at least in terms of analysis, or interpretation.