Saturday, April 04, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "Funny Gal" (November 22, 1975)

In “Funny Gal” an episode of The Secrets of Isis (1975 - 1976), an overweight young woman, Carrie Anson (Sandra Vacey), hides behind humor to cloak her feelings of insecurity.  

A friend of hers attempts to launch a campaign to make her student council president, but Carrie messes it up with her self-deprecating, silly sense of humor.

In one last ditch attempt to win, Carrie makes a scene. She steels Rick’s boat, the Star Tracker, and heads out to sea, just as a deadly storm moves in.  Quickly, Carrie becomes stranded....

Realizing that she can’t both stop the storm and recover the boat at the same time, Isis (Joanna Cameron) seeks the assistance of a superhero friend: Captain Marvel (John Davey).

It’s a cross-over episode of Isis!  

Here, our remarkable Andrea Thomas, secretly an Egyptian Goddess, summons Captain Marvel of the sibling Filmation series, Shazam!, to help out in a pinch.  It’s undeniably fun to see the two superheroes join up, even for a time, though the excuse is pretty lame.  Isis has handled tougher situations than this alone before, for certain.

But still, any excuse to get Captain Marvel and Isis together is fine with me.  As a child, I remember watching this episode, and loving the team-up, despite the general lameness of the affair.  Here, Tut --the crow -- goes, on Isis’s orders, to find the good captain.

Our message of the week here in "Funny Gal" is that you can’t love others until you really learn to yourself, and it proverb is applied to a girl named Carrie at high school (no, not that Carrie!). Isis reminds Carrie that she is worthy of being love for many reasons, including her mind and her sense of humor.

Also interesting here is the conclusion of the episode, which finds Rick “comparing” meek Mrs. Thomas to mighty Isis, and finding her wanting.  Andrea shoots back that maybe she should compare Rick to Captain Marvel, and see how he likes it. Zing!

That’s an exceedingly good point and it gets at, in a humorous fashion, the way that our culture is particularly hard on women for their looks, and not nearly so tough on men.  

Alas, it's a shame the episode doesn't get at another key point.  Carrie isn't fat, or even overweight at all.  It would be nice if someone stated that fact flat out.

Next week, the atrociously-titled "Girl Driver."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Mystery Island (1977): "Valley of Fire"

In episode five of Mystery Island (1977), titled “Valley of Fire,” the robot P.O.P.S. (voiced by Frank Welker) is a captive of the island’s indigenous mud-people. They believe him to be a deity.

Soon, however, P.O.P.S. is rescued by a Lava Man. The Lava Man is returning a favor since he was saved by P.O.P.S. and his friends in a previous episode.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange’s (Michael Kermoyan) lead minion, Krieg, attempts to steal the much-sought after robot for his master…

Mystery Island -- a segment of The Skatebrids (1977 – 1978) -- plays best (meaning least painfully....) if you consider it a kind of campy 1930s pulp serial, only filmed in color. 

The focus of each fifteen-minute segment is action and some lame humor, but there is no depth whatsoever in terms of the storytelling or the characterization. Instead, it's all just a run-around with captures, rescues, captures, and rescues.

Dr. Strange, from his “Cave of Science,” is always trying to capture P.O.P.S. and the robot -- who notes here that it is “hard being a God” -- is always getting through one scrape after another with his trio of human friends.  

Here, a kind act (the rescue of the Lava Man) is rewarded, and the beat goes on.

Frankly, there’s not a whole lot more to say about “Valley of Fire,” beyond noting that it is pure, pulpy phantasmagoria.  

If the next few episodes don’t get better -- or at least more interesting -- I think I’m going to move on to the next 1970s Saturday morning series I’ve been wanting to re-visit (or at least the few episodes available on YouTube: Run, Joe Run).

Next week on Mystery Island, episode #6: “Sentinels of Time.”

Friday, April 03, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Well, this is my “versus” or “vs.” week on the blog, I guess you could say. In the past few days I’ve reviewed both Alien vs. Predator films, and today I turn my attention to another slug-fest, 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason

Globally speaking, the overriding creative impulse behind such cinematic monster meet-ups seems to be the pent-up fan-desire or built-in coolness factor associated with such clashes.

These films answer, first and foremost, the question…wouldn’t it be cool to see (fill in the blank) fight (fill in the blank)?

As I noted in terms of AVP (2004), those aren’t the most artistic or dramatic motives underlining a work of art, or even a popular entertainment. 

And because “versus” movies tend to feature two separate continuities, the screenplay writers involved also have to pack in a lot of supporting material, and make certain that each monster or participant is given a moment of glory.

One thing I observed, having watched AVP and Freddy vs. Jason this week is that these match-ups or contests do tend, at the very least, to reveal a new shade of the characters. 

In both versus films, one “villain” unexpectedly becomes the hero or champion, while the other is dismissed as irredeemable or evil.  

For example, in AVP, the Predator, Scar, joins up with Alexa (Sanaa Lathan), working with a human to defeat the real bad guys: aliens. And Jason adopts a similar role in Freddy vs. Jason, proving to be the slasher/monster that humans can -- if not work with -- then at least manipulate towards their own end. 

Indeed, Freddy vs. Jason is the first film in the Friday the 13th continuity to attempt to drive the audience’s empathy towards the hockey-masked slasher and not away from him. Here, we get a dream sequence revealing Jason to be a bullied, neglected, ostracized child.

Freddy, by contrast (and like the aliens) is sinister and unrepentant. He’s the “real” monster, the true evil that must be defeated.

As you may recall, I was pretty ambivalent about AVP.  

I feel that it shines in comparison to AVPR, and that it possesses some qualities that make it worthwhile, notably the imagination of the flashback sequences, and Lance Henriksen’s very human performance.

By contrast, Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t even have that much going for it.

The human characters here are paper-thin, even though it is always nice to see the remarkable Katharine Isabelle (and I’ve been enjoying her performances as Margo in Hannibal).  

Also, Jason Mewes should probably sue the makers of the film for appropriating without permission his silver screen persona in a few key scenes.

Beyond the fact that the human characters are either dull or derivative, Freddy vs. Jason genuinely lacks scares too. The final battle at Crystal Lake is shot well, and it's really bloody, but it isn’t scary.  

An unexpected side-effect of these monster-on-monster smack-downs, then, seems to be that terror dissipates, and two franchises are actually compromised rather than improved.

When a studio green-lights a project like Freddy vs. Jason, it no doubt expects to revitalize two franchises for the price of one.  

Funny how that is almost never the real-world result...

Even the attempt to be faithful to Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th lore is only partially successful in Freddy vs. Jason.  There’s quite a bit of rewriting (or ret-conning) going on here to get the two monsters into the same world (either dreams or reality), and the ret-cons don’t always fit with the established canon.

Most disturbingly, Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of fun about this clash of the titans. A lot of the Elm Street sequels got by on a wing and a prayer, action set-pieces and a wicked sense of humor.  

But Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t express any sort of joy in Freddy’s return. We get lame one liners and all, but there's a sense that the filmmakers don't really love or fully understand the appeal of the material.

Freddy vs. Jason ends, finally, with no real winners.

“Welcome to my nightmare.”

In Hell, mass murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) laments his inability to impact the children of the real world.  The people of Springwood have forgotten his reign of terror, so he needs someone  to revive his fearsome legend.

He finds that someone in mad-dog killer Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger), the slasher of Crystal Lake. Imitating Jason’s Mother, Freddy convinces Jason to travel to Springwood and begin a killing spree; one designed to revive the memory of Freddy.

On Elm Street in Springwood, teenage Lori (Monica Keena) and her friend Kia (Kelly Rowland) soon realize that the town is being stalked by not one boogeyman, but two.  

Lori’s old boyfriend, Will (Jason Ritter) joins them, after escaping Westin Hills Sanitarium, to help bury Freddy and Jason permanently.

“It’s time to put this bad dog to sleep for good.”

Freddy vs. Jason opens and closes strong, I’ll give it that.  

The film commences with the words of the most unreliable of all narrators, Freddy Krueger, and in broad but effective strokes, re-tells the origin stories of Freddy and Jason.  The film squeezes a lot of information into this colorful montage, and it works surprisingly well.  It’s an interesting device to have Freddy talking to us directly, telling us his (warped) side of his own story, and it opens the film on a high note.  It feels like a fresh take.

But after that ingenious opener, we meet our lead (teen) characters, and they are all as milquetoast as humanly possible. Lori is our standard feisty final girlTm and Will is the “outsider” (but always loyal...) boyfriend.  There’s also your obligatory co-culture “best friend,” in this case African-American Kia.  These characters are so dull and so uninteresting, in part, because they don’t honor the tradition of either supporting franchise.

Actresses such as Heather Langenkamp, Amy Steel, Patricia Arquette, and Lisa Wilcox …all demonstrated how a solid, thoughtful performer could take a lead character in a slasher film and imbue that character with life, energy and individuality.  That lesson has been forgotten here.  Lori's most memorable trait is, alas, physical: her porn star (collagen?) lips. 

The filmmakers also seem bound and determined to feature elements or call-backs to previous franchise entries including 1428 Elm Street, Westin Hills Sanitarium, Hypnocil, the Freddy Worm, Jason’s mother, and Camp Blood, but they would have been wiser to focus on creating human characters that we can care about, or can invest our energy in. 

I will readily admit that the Elm Street sequels are of variable quality, but they are -- oddly -- enlivened by pro-social portrayals of insightful and courageous young women.  Alice, the Dream Master, fights Freddy, it's true, but also goes through the process of self-actualization. Nancy Thompson, similarly, gets cast as horror's Prince of Denmark (or Princess), Hamlet, tasked with going through the lies of her morally questionable parents. 

These characters had weight and individuality, and made the films more than mere "dead teenager" movies.

I would be hard-pressed to find teens less interesting than those featured in Freddy vs. Jason.

For example, let's go back to the horrid Jason Mewes knock-off. That’s what he is, and there's no way to deny it. He’s a lookalike/sound-alike doing the Mewes’ shtick. Since that’s all he is, why didn’t the filmmakers actually just hire Jason Mewes himself? 

Because we know that persona from the New Jersey Cycle (six films and counting), we would at least register him as an authentic human being and not a cipher. Instead, I can't ever see Freddy vs. Jason's stoner as a human being or person, just as a rip-off, a derivative clone.  I'm taken out of the movie's narrative every time I look at him in his stolen clothes.

And, let's face it, love or hate the Mewes persona, the actor would have added a clear sense of fun to the proceedings. Imagine watching Mewes go up against Jason. It's impossible not to smile at the thought.

In another creative area all together, the movie's screenplay hems and haws. The movie wants to studiously avoid giving us a clear winner in the fight.  Freddy gets his moment in the sun, turning Jason into a human pinball in the dream world.  Then Jason gets his glorious moment, decapitating Freddy and emerging from the water in (a beautifully-shot, beautifully-visualized) epilogue.  

But Freddy winks at the camera, just so we don’t draw too strong a conclusion about the victor. 

Did Freddy and Jason have it in their contracts that neither one could win? What's the fun of setting up a fight like this if no one can be crowned the winner?

Again, what I found most intriguing about Freddy vs. Jason -- and it may not have even been intentional -- is that when these characters are thrown together, we, as viewers, make judgment calls about the true villainy of our two starring monsters.  

Jason seems compelled to maim and murder, but it feels instinctual…like it is part of his wiring.  

Freddy, by contrast, relishes in his badness. He intellectualizes it, seeks out ways to increase his range, and manipulates others.  

So Jason is the shark in Jaws, and Freddy is Hannibal Lecter.  Fact to face, I judge Freddy the more evil of these two monsters, and almost (at least in this film...) can’t blame Jason for what he does. The sympathetic flashbacks make it clear that his vengeance is righteous, or at least justified.

So if you get in Jason’s way, yes, he will kill you (as Kia learns).  But Freddy will seek you out, and find ways to get you, regardless of where you are, what you are doing, or why you are there. He's a puppet master and a schemer.

Again, this comparison would not exist if we didn’t have the monsters sharing the same story.

Still, some of the ret-conning doesn’t work.  

I know the filmmakers want each monster to have “Kryptonite,” the thing/element that stops him.  Freddy’s kryptonite is fire, and I get that.  He died in fire.  But now, suddenly, Jason is afraid of water?  I know he drowned in Crystal Lake in 1980, but many previous films have revealed him emerging from the lake, or attacking skinny dippers in the water (Part VII is one example of the latter).  But now he can’t even approach water without paralyzing terror?   

That just doesn’t pass the smell test.

I enjoyed the battles in AVP and similarly I enjoy the fight between Freddy vs. Jason here.  At least in this case, gore is not shorted.  The wide-ranging final fight -- from cabin to construction site to the lake -- lives up to expectations in terms of violence and bloody depiction of violence.

My problem is -- again like AVP -- that the whole movie is constructed around a fifteen minute fight. The rest of the movie is just filler.  Dumb filler at that.  There should be a TV series called “Versus” where all great movie monsters can fight one another with glorious special effects and extreme destruction, sparing us the necessity of seeing whole movies built for a single serving purpose.

Bottom line: Freddy vs. Jason isn’t fun enough or scary enough to honor its parent franchises.

But it is bloody enough.

Some days, that will do, I suppose.  

And I should note, I’ve watched Freddy vs. Jason probably five times over the years, always thinking that on the next re-visit I’ll see something new or change my mind about its overall quality.

And I always come out feeling disappointed.  

Yep, it’s time to put this bad dog to sleep for good.

Movie Trailer: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Long ago -- and according to legend -- the great Sigourney Weaver put down the Ripley role because 20th Century Fox envisioned a new direction for the Alien series.

What was that new direction?

Aliens vs. Predators. 

Perhaps apocryphally, perhaps truthfully, Weaver noted that she believed aliens belonged in the darkest, most isolated corners of deep space, not jumping out from behind haystacks on Earth.

Aliens vs. Predator Requiem (2007) is the movie she had the foresight to imagine.

It’s the aliens-jumping-out-of-haystacks film.

And it is no exaggeration to note that Requiem is godawful. It represents franchise-scuttling at a heretofore unimaginable, apocalyptic level.

To put it another way, this is the worst-shot major film that I’ve reviewed in ten years of blogging, and the most disappointing too. 

Often, I write here that a horror film fails because it lacks suspense or tension.  AVPR can’t even reach the quality threshold where that’s a legitimate issue. The movie is incompetently lit, making important details impossible to determine, and the narrative is incoherent and contradictory.

The film never bothers to build towards anything significant, and scenes start and stop without rhyme or reason.

“You know, when I was your age, I used to have these awful nightmares.”

AVPR is the tale of several aliens and one predator set loose in a small Colorado town in the early twenty-first century.  

Basically, the Pred-Alien that hatched at the end of AVP (2004) causes a ruckus on a predator ship in orbit and it crashes in Colorado. A bunch of face-huggers get loose in the woods, thus spawning more aliens, and the Predators send one of their own (from their home planet...) to clean up the mess.

Caught in the middle of this war are a bunch of horny teenagers, a former juvenile delinquent named Dallas (get it?) and sexy, confident Reiko Aylesworth as a tough-as-nails Iraq War vet. 

They all attempt to escape the sleepy burg of Gunnison, while the U.S. Government puts a fatal strategy into effect, one that will contain the spread of the alien forces.

“This plan is stupid.”

The most trenchant observation I can make regarding AVPR is that it represents the first film in either classic horror franchise that feels it necessary to spotlight teenagers skinny-dipping in a high school pool after hours.

And yep, these horny teens are attacked by swimming aliens there.

Once upon a time, neither franchise required stripping high-schoolers to draw enthusiastic audiences.

Once upon a time, both franchises were intelligent, beautifully-designed meditations on the darker angels of human nature.  But now -- all the sudden -- we’re asked to sympathize with the angst and ennui of a pizza delivery boy who wants to date a girl he’s always liked.

Because that’s the reason I go to see Alien and Predator films.

As I wrote in my post the other day, Alien 3 (1992) was about the fact that survival isn't always a "win." One could also gaze at Aliens (1986) as a metaphor for American arrogance during the Vietnam War. And the original Alien (1979) was about, in some subconscious sense, human sexuality co-opted by a nasty xenomorph.

Even 1997's Alien Resurrection -- for all of its problems -- offered some worthwhile commentary on the morality of human cloning, and the way that man had unwittingly become more like the xenomorphs by corrupting the life-cycle of other beings.

But the best that AVPR can muster is to steal a page from the 1980s slasher film formula: vice (sex) precedes slice-and-dice or in this case, attack by alien.

I find this element of the movie immensely depressing; that the Rolls Royce and Cadillac of horror franchises settle for Friday the 13th-style scenarios that are so hackneyed they were being mocked by Scream nearly twenty years ago.

Now don’t get me wrong, please. I happen to like many of the Friday the 13th films. The “Dead teenager” formula absolutely has a purpose and a kind of validity to it in appropriate circumstances.  But I hate to see Alien lobotomized into the equivalent of a bad slasher flick.  Especially one that so readily dispenses with series continuity.

On that front, consider the modifications presented by the Pred-Alien. It has developed, genetically-speaking to eschew the egg and face-hugger stages of development. Now it simply kisses its prey and pumps embryos into the throat, leading right to the chest-burster stage.  

I see this unnecessary alteration as emblematic of the film’s lack of patience. AVPR isn’t willing to take its time, make its characters sympathetic, or generate real feelings of terror and unease.  Instead, it just wants to barrel away, skipping the things that would have made the film more than an extended wrestling match.  The Pred-Alien’s evolution is a symbol of this lack of patience.

AVPR never bothers to explain how an infusion of Predator DNA permits this change in the alien’s nature.  Since the answer is never given,  I suspect that the filmmakers decided to do something “cool” rather than something faithful or dramatically motivated.  Here, we get a scene where a few chest-bursters erupt out of a pregnant woman in labor, and that, I suppose, fulfills “the cool factor.”

Another question: why does Predator technology -- and even the spaceship interior – suddenly look completely different than how it looked at the end of Alien vs. Predator?

AVPR also puts the final nail in the long-erosion of the "un-killable alien" meme first realized by Ridley Scott in 1979. In his original film, the alien couldn't be killed, and couldn't even be stopped. You just had to get away from leave it behind floating in space.

Yet here teenagers with hand-guns literally blow aliens away left and right.

Twenty-first century weaponry is more than efficacious blowing up these once unstoppable beasts. The trademark xenomorph -- once a genuine Terror from the Id -- is now just a big "bug" to be swatted with our state-of-the-art hardware. Forget the fact that it took advanced, futuristic hardware like smart guns and pulse rifles in Aliens to do the same job.

Nope, now we can do it with good old-fashioned, conventional shotguns and pistols. 

Among other problems, this fact dishonors Ripley’s four-movie journey. She fought the alien without weapons. She fought the alien with weapons too.  She even laid down her life to prevent the aliens from reaching Earth, and impacting innocent families. 


The xenomorphs were so dangerous that they could destroy everything, imperil all life.  They were a perfect (and perfectly hostile) life-form, and if they reached our cities…it was game over.

Well, AVPR undercuts Ripley’s meaningful sacrifice by putting aliens on Earth -- and making them containable -- before Ripley was even born.  This “sequel” film fails egregiously because it rewrites the saga in a way that makes Ripley’s choice to die rather than birth a queen seem inconsequential.

If aliens can be put down by shot-guns, what’s the big deal?

Also, I strongly dislike how the aliens move in this film. They are almost universally seen on all-fours, as though they are banana-headed dogs, rather than the upright drones of the earlier films.

The Predator fares slightly better in the film, though he operates by no sense of logic I can discern. This Predator arrives on Earth with the mission to "clean up" the mess. We periodically see him spilling some kind of glowing blue acid stuff on the corpses so as to cover the tracks of both the aliens and his own kind.

It's his mission, we presume -- from this act of destroying the evidence -- to hide the incursion of extra-terrestrials on Earth.

Given this task, the fact that the predator skins a police deputy and hangs his corpse from a tree --- to be found by the sheriff -- doesn't make a lot of sense. Why go out of your way to destroy all evidence of your presence, and then leave behind a bloody, hanging corpse in a tree?

That's just one incredible gap in situational logic, but there are bigger fish to fry here.

Before seeing the movie, for instance, I read a number of reviews from unhappy fans indicating that the film was poorly shot: that it was too dark.

I thought this was just fan griping.

 It isn't. 

I know of no modern-day corollaries for this overt failure in a major, big-budget production. But for some reason, AVPR is terribly, terribly under-lit throughout. Even the daylight scenes are hard to see. You'll spend the entire movie squinting, trying to make-out the crappy action.  This is a movie that actually hurts to watch. 

I mean that it physically hurts your eyes to pay attention.

In scene after scene, dark, indistinguishable figures clash with other dark, indistinguishable figures, all to the sound of squealing, gunfire and grunting. Rain falls, and we get the illumination we desire and need from brief instances of gunpowder flare and lightning strikes. 

But otherwise, we’re in the dark, literally.

Even now, some years later, I remain shocked that there was no quality control on the set in terms of the lighting; no review of dailies that revealed the film was too dark to countenance. Perhaps the film was darkened post-production because the monster suits weren’t up to scrutiny? I don’t know the reason for the problem, but the film is inarguably a visual disaster.

In the final analysis, AVPR isn't merely an insult to the intelligence, it's an insult to the great tradition and lineage of Alien and Predator films.

A requiem, by the way, is a hymn for the dead; a musical composition for the expired.

In this case, the "requiem" sung by AVPR is the death knell of not one, but two classic sci-fi film franchises.

Movie Trailer: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Late Night Blogging: Pufnstuf (1970) Movie Trailer

H.R. Pufnstuf: "The Wheely Bird"

In “The Wheely Bird,” Mayor Pufnstuf has his hands full dealing with a protest at the Candy Shop (“Make Candy, Not War!”), but faces bigger problems when he learns that Witchiepoo wants Jimmy (Jack Wild) and Freddy the flute “or else!

Freddy, realizing that Witchiepoo will never let Jimmy leave the island until the flute is in her hands, surrenders himself to the Witch.

Now PufnStuf and Jimmy must find a way to get the talking flute back. 

They remember the story of the Trojan Horse and promptly come up with a modern-day equivalent:
“The Wheely Bird.”

“The Wheely Bird,” the second episode of Sid and Marty Krofft's H.R. Pufnstuf (1969) is all about friendship, and the lengths that friends will go for one another.

In this case, Freddy gives himself up to evil Witchiepoo so Jimmy can go home. But contrarily, Jimmy refuses to leave the Living Island until he has rescued his friend.

To accentuate this tale of friendship, Jack Wild performs in “the Wheely Bird” -- about mid-way through, a tune called “How Lucky I Am,” which I remember, oddly enough, from my childhood.  I must have seen this episode at some point as a kid.  I also remember showing it to Joel when he was little.

In the end, another friend, Pufnstuf is able to win the day by taking Witchiepoo’s magic wand and arranging for a fair trade: Freddy (the talking flute), for the wand.  

And all’s well that ends well on the magic island.

Pop Art: H.R. Pufnstuff (Whitman Edition)

Pop Art: H.R. Pufnstuf (Gold Key Edition)

H.R. Pufnstuf Halloween Costume (Collegeville)

Jigsaw Puzzle of the Week: H.R. Pufnstuf (Junior Guild)

Lunch Box of the Week: H.R. Pufnstuf

Board Game of the Week: H.R. Pufnstuf (Milton Bradley)

Theme Song of the Week: H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Attack of the Monster Plants" (December 15, 1965)

In “Attack of the Monster Plants,” Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) deliberately withholds help from Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) when he is attacked by carnivorous plants and dragged into quick sand.

Robinson survives the experience and angrily banishes Smith from the settlement camp…again.  But Smith tries to work his way back into the good graces of the family by offering to duplicate the very fuel the Jupiter 2 needs, called Deutronium.  

To do so, Smith uses a plant that he has discovered that can duplicate matter.  These plants, however, thrive on Deutronium, and want the fuel for themselves.

Before long, Judy (Marta Kristen) is replicated by the plants, and seeks to get her hands on the Robinsons’ remaining supply of the fuel…

“Attack of the Monster Plants” is a strange and sometimes entrancing episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968). The episode actually works best on a kind of surreal, dream level. The visuals are sometimes remarkable.  At the very least, they are memorable and strange. 

For example, Judy Robinson takes a night-time stroll through a grove of giant flowers, goes to sleep inside one, and then a plant duplicate -- mimicking her appearance in every way -- sleepwalks through the remainder of the episode.  

For some reason, the night-time stroll, the amorphous menace, and the sense of strangeness all reminded me of I Walked with a Zombie (1943).  

Also, there's a weird subtext here worth mentioning. Judy goes to sleep one night normal, but wakes up strange and "alien."  Don West tries to approach her, but she is unapproachable in the extreme, remote and monstrous.

There’s some weird Gothic undertone here, a kind of strange Rappaccini’ Daughter angle to the whole thing. Judy, like that literary character is a beautiful being, physically, but a monster in another sense, someone dangerous and not what she seems.  

Watching "Attack of the Monster Plants," I felt that the agreeable, happy Judy had been put to sleep, and that a subconscious Judy, one who questions everything (her feelings for Don; her acceptance, even, of the group's dinner ritual...) replaces her. That isn't exactly the substance of the story, but it is one possible interpretation or reading of it.

On a literal level, alas, the episode is no great shakes.  For instance, “Attack of the Monster Plants” never explains, at all, why Judy goes to the grove and falls asleep in the giant plant to begin with.  

She seems to be hypnotized or under the spell of some force.  But we never learn what that force is, or how it is influencing her. Do the cyclamen plants have telepathy?  Why is Judy drawn to the plant grove?

And then, adding insult to injury, in the last act, we never learn what becomes of the duplicate Judy.  

Do the Robinsons kill her, an intruder in their midst? 

Does she shrivel up and die, like the rest of the plants?  

This is a huge plot thread to leave hanging, but “Attack of the Monster Plants” provides no resolution.  How would Maureen react, seeing her daughter dry up and wither before her eyes?  Or, contrarily, how would John feel, having to take a laser to the interloper?

A chance to really explore the characters and their relationships is lost.

And yet, I can't lie, this lack of answers also adds, in some weird way, to the commendable dream-quality of the episode. Everything here is surreal and unexplained, like a nightmare half-remembered.

Even the cyclamen plants -- these giant, weird plants -- are dream-like. They make disturbing, inhuman sounds, and the thought of being surrounded by them (or enveloped by them, as Judy is…) is unnerving in the extreme.

Once more, Smith is handled poorly by series writers. Here, he has the opportunity to save John Robinson, but instead leaves him to die.  He then returns to camp, and instead of telling the others that John is danger, pretends that everything is okay.  This is evil, and unforgivable.  Smith actually goes and makes small-talk with Will (Bill Mumy) while Will’s father is dying!

Then, once Smith has discovered that the plants can duplicate matter, he blackmails the family.  He decides that only he and West (Mark Goddard) will return home to Earth, and that the Robinsons will be stranded.  Again, his actions are not shaded by nuance. There aren’t two ways to interpret his behavior.  He is selfish to the point that he would put his life above the lives of the Robinsons.

After the events of this episode, how can the Robinsons continue to trust him?

That’s a sentence I seem to keep rewriting, in these reviews, and it’s a legitimate concern. For example, this is the third episode out of fourteen in which Smith has been banished (“The Oasis” and “Wish Upon a Star” are the earlier instances) from the camp, but then ends up back in the group.

Clearly, banishment is not a suitable or lasting answer to the problem of Dr. Smith.  

I have my solution: stick Smith in the cryo-tube on the Jupiter 2and keep him frozen until the crew gets back to Earth safely. Even  if that takes fifty years.

Next week: “Return from Outer Space.”