Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Valley of the Dinosaurs: "To Fly a Kite" (November 30, 1974)

In “To Fly a Kite,” the Butlers are surprised to see their raft’s first aid kit floating in the black lagoon.  They attempt to retrieve it, only to see a pack of rats run-off with it, rolling it into the wild and out of sight.

Worse, an angry Iguanadon -- Kataras -- is close-by, angrily prowling for food.  When Mr. and Mrs. Butler finally get their hands on the kit, they must retreat to a tree-top to escape the dinosaur.

When Lok is injured and suffers blood poisoning on the far side of a raging river, it becomes imperative to get the kit’s medicine to him. John uses smelling salts to distract Kataras, and then has Greg build a kite to transport the needed supplies over the water…

There’s a nice spin on the Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974) formula this week, in “To Fly a Kite.”  

Usually, the Butlers and Gorak are menaced by giant creatures. This week, “prehistoric pack rats” as John calls them, make off with their medical kit.

The Butlers then spend a good portion of the episode following those rats, trying to pick up gear that has fallen out of the kit in the process.  Then they get run up a tree by an angry Iguanadon.

Some days you get the bear.  Some days the bear gets you.

As I write here every week or thereabouts, Valley of the Dinosaurs features two recurring leitmotifs. One involves science helping out, in a pinch.  The other involves the primitive and modern family coming together as a unit, as a community of sorts.

Both plot-lines get developed here. First, the Butlers explain the significance of the first aid kit to Gara and Gorak, who are confused by it. Nobody is sick, so why is it so important to retrieve it?  

The Butlers answer that the kit's medicine could prevent future outbreaks of Malaria, like the one that hit the village some time ago.  Gorak and Gara also understand the importance of the medicine when Lok is injured, and he must have it to survive.

Secondly, the plot involves everyone pulling together -- and traversing a deadly, raging river -- to save Lok.  One for all, and all for one.

Finally, in terms of continuity, “To Fly a Kite” makes note that the Butlers have been in the valley for several months, putting a time frame on their adventures so far.

Next week: "Test Flight."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: ElectraWoman and DynaGirl: "Ali Baba" (October 23, October 30, 1976)

In “Ali Baba,” Lori (Deidre Hall) and Judy (Judy Strangis) are covering a scientist’s convention when they receive word from Frank (Norman Alden) in the Electra-Base that a noted Russian scientist, Namakov, has vanished along with his plane.

This is a terrifying development, because the professor was carrying his new “Metamorphis” formula with him.  This chemical can turn people and animals into their opposites.  A gentle person will become aggressive, and so on.

ElectraWoman and DynaGirl soon discover the truth.  The professor and his formula are now in the hands of the evil supervillain, Ali Baba (Malachi Throne) and his minion, a Djinni (Sid Haig).

This evil duo captures DynaGirl and utilizes the Metamorphis formula on her, transforming the energetic and kind young woman into the most evil of super-villains. 

Worse, with her knowledge of Crime Scope, Electra Base and the Electra Comps, DynaGirl could help Ali Baba take over the world.

The fate of Earth will be decided in the "final showdown" between ElectraWoman and DynaGirl.

Bolstered by a terrifying, go-for-broke performance from series co-start Judy Strangis, “Ali Baba” is another solid episode of this campy superhero series of the 1970s.  

In this story, DynaGirl is possessed by evil, and promptly makes for the most memorable and wicked of the series’ super villains thus far.  Her choices as a performer here aren't subtle or nuanced, but -- sheesh -- they're effective!  

Strangis goes bug-eyed and wears a malevolent ear-to-ear, toothy grin for her scenes as the corrupted DynaGirl. Her energetic performance is also boosted by weird pancake make-up that gives her face a ghostly, life-less tenor.  In short, this iteration of DynaGirl is really, truly, creepy.

Even Ali Baba himself is impressed.  “You’re more evil than I dared hope for,” he says to Dyna Girl, surprised.

It’s funny to consider that “Ali Baba” also features great character actors Sid Haig and Malachi Throne, in guest-starring roles…but that a little pig-tailed performer, Strangis, effectively steals the show.

“Ali Baba” also succeeds to the degree it does because the episode feels surprising, and once more, not simply formulaic. 

When ElectraWoman is threatened with being buried alive (in a chamber rapidly filling with sand…), she attempts to use her ElectraComp. 

But DynaGirl -- pretending to be her sweet self -- calls Frank in ElectraBase and tells him to de-activate it; that ElectraWoman is the one who has been changed. Thinking nothing is amiss, he complies.

Since, as I also noted last week, the ElectraComps are basically crutches for the series writers, this development makes the episode feel more dangerous than usual. 

There’s a feeling, at times, that ElectraWoman has been outmaneuvered, betrayed by her sidekick and most trusted friend.  The final showdown isn't much more than ElectraWoman and DynaGirl shooting beams at each other with their ElectraComps, but the final battle still feels least if you love Saturday morning TV shows of the 1970s.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Found Footage Friday: Creep (2015)

(Beware of spoilers!)

In the past, more than one reader here on the blog has questioned my unswerving love for the found footage format. 

When asked, my answer, is always the same:  I believe that the found footage format is incredibly versatile, and that it affords the filmmaker -- especially the indie filmmaker -- ample opportunity to explore and innovate across many genres. Because of the experiential aspect of found footage, the filmmaker can also make films that feel simultaneously urgent and intimate.

Think about it.

We’ve already had a found-footage kaiju movie (Cloverfield [2008]), a superhero movie (Chronicle [2012] and time travel movie (Project Almanac [2015]). 

In the horror genre alone, we’ve seen many sub-genres revived in and adapted to the found footage format as well.

We’ve had the evil kids found-footage film (Home Movie [2008]), the environmental horror film (The Bay [2012]), and even the space horror film (Apollo 11 [2011] and Europa Report [2012]). 

All the old monsters -- from vampires (Affliction [2014]) to werewolves (Wer [2014]) to Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein Theory [2013]) -- have been re-interpreted through the lens and parameters of found footage too.

Now, Patrick Brice’s and Mark Duplass’s Creep (2015) arrives and provides the found footage horror film its latest shot in the arm. This is a wickedly funny, and deeply disturbing genre film about the (apparently) blurry line between friendship and, well, stalking.

Creep’s first half hour, in particular, is hysterically funny, in large part due to Mark Duplass’s incredible, unblinking performance as the over-sharing, boundary-jumping, infinitely needy Josef. Then, the film’s last hour escalates from real humor to queasy discomfort to outright horror, to, finally, weird human tragedy.

In this process of narrative transformation, Creep offers  audiences one of the most human, intimate and thoughtful found footage movies yet produced, and gives the format one of its greatest -- and most unexpected -- boogeymen.

 “I have a weird sense of humor.”

An amateur videographer, Aaron (Patrick Brice) answers a Craigslist ad for a day’s worth of work.  

He travels to Crestline, a nice lakeside community, to meet his client. At first, Aaron finds nobody home at the resort house, only an axe positioned menacingly in the front yard.

Soon, however, Aaron is startled by the appearance of Josef (Mark Duplass) an overly-enthusiastic, prematurely intimate man in tight exercise pants who outlines the details of the job for him. 

Basically, Josef is dying of cancer. He has only weeks to live, but his wife, Angela, is pregnant with their unborn child…whom Josef has named “Buddy.” 

Inspired by the film My Life (1993) starring Michael Keaton, Josef wants Aaron to film a day in his life, so his son will know him.  They are making a tape for Buddy.

Aaron agrees, and follows Josef to his bathroom, where he strips naked and proceeds to take a “tubby” (a bath), demonstrating for the camera how he would bathe his baby.

Later, Josef shows Aaron a creepy wolf mask in his closet, and says that it is “Peach Fuzz,” a gift from his father. Josef then performs the Peach Fuzz dance, hoping to demonstrate that the monster is harmless.

At the end of a long day of filming, Aaron can’t find his car keys, and quickly becomes convinced that Josef has taken them, so that he can’t leave, that he can’t go home.  

With night falling, Aaron drugs Josef with Benedryl and searches for his keys. 

When the unconscious Josef’s phone rings, however, Aaron answers it and talks to Angela.  It turns out she is not his wife, but his sister.  And that everything Josef has told Aaron is a lie.  "My brother has problems," Angela tells Aaron.

Now Aaron must escape the house, and escape Josef’s influence on his life. 

“Embrace your inner wolf.”

Creep is absolutely riveting from the film’s opening scenes because the filmmakers knowingly, sadistically, and quite humorously push audience buttons about anti-social or inappropriate behaviors.  

Josef has no sense of personal privacy or modesty, and he keeps imposing his friendship on Aaron. At first, he pushes himself on Aaron with an inappropriate hug, immediately after meeting him.  But before long, he is naked in front of his new friend, revealing his secret shame over a pancake lunch, and telling weird, weird stories about animal porn and his wife, Angela.

We've all met a cat like this one. Someone who assumes trust, friendship, and acceptance just a bit too fast; just a bit too fully. This kind of person never seems to recognize personal barriers, or comfort levels.  Josef is that guy, blissfully blowing past invisible social barriers and decorum.

Mark Duplass is incredibly convincing here as a man who appears to have no sense of awareness that he may be coming off as strange, or even a little peculiar.  But the point is that, in the first act, Josef is inappropriate and weird, but not grievously threatening. We are alarmed by and amused by his actions, but not fearful.  

Not yet.

Yes, Josef overshares. Yes, his exercise pants are too tight.  Yes, the whole tubby experience is odd and immodest to say the least.  But at the same time that Josef is weird and off-putting, he is desperate and needy.  

He is dying, we believe, and wants to connect with Buddy, his unborn son.  He also wants to connect with Aaron, a new friend.  Josef’s philosophy in life seems to be that since he has so little time left on this Earth, he has no time for pleasantries, or the usual route of making friends.  He jumps right past introductions and assumes the right to hug, reveal secrets, and, importantly, make demands.

Given his (apparent) situation -- his cancer -- we can't entirely blame him for cutting to the chase, even though we quibble with his behavior.  There's a part of us that likes him, despite his weirdness. He seems to be living life to its fullest, because he knows he will soon be dead.

But then the movie pivots.  

Josef starts to grow more dangerous to Aaron, and -- after the phone call with Angela -- we start to fear him.  

But that fear has a companion.  There's a fascination we feel for Josef, and it's clear that Aaron feels it too. We want to see more of him.  We want to know what he is doing, and why he is doing it. 

He has “forced” himself -- a metaphor for emotional rape, perhaps? -- into our consciousness and he can’t be easily removed.  

Twice in the film, Aaron reports dreams in which he and Josef are together. In his dream, they sit side-by-side in a heart-shaped natural spring, wearing wolf masks. Then, Josef gives Aaron a “tubby,” treating him as a child.  But the water turns to blood.

And yes, this dream is prophetic, or at least a warning.  Consider, Aaron -- a "buddy" of Josef's -- is now metaphorically the son or child of Josef. That subordinate position is expressed in Aaron's dream because he is wearing the mask of a wolf child, and he is the one given a bath.  Like a parent, Josef controls Aaron's life. But the dream speaks of friendship (a duo together in a heart) as well as menace (water turned bloody). 

It’s not difficult to understand that Josef, for all his weirdness, is incredibly charismatic and that, somehow, Aaron has come to care for him, and what happens to him.  

Indeed, there’s no way to interpret or read the film’s climactic scene except to understand that Aaron is drawn to Josef despite all his reservations about him. Josef notes this himself, and says that Aaron is the best person who ever lived, and that he is his “favorite” of all his marks.  Why?  Because Aaron always believes that Josef is good.

Importantly, there are opportunities in the film for Aaron to break away completely from Josef, but he doesn’t pursue them as aggressively as he should.  In the end, he seems -- in some weird way -- to acquiesce to his fate; to the fate foretold by his dreams.

Creep is an intelligent and thoughtful film because it suggests, in its own subtle way, that Aaron may be the movie’s titular creep.  When he can’t find his car keys, he drugs Josef. He doesn’t try to negotiate; he doesn’t ask that Josef help him in a search.  He jumps right to the Benedryl.  That’s odd, isn't it?

Similarly, he makes a baffling decision, near the climax, to meet Josef at the lake, and without any real precautions in place. A video camera set to record, and a phone with 911 on speed dial are not ample defenses against a real person, and Josef must certainly be aware of this fact.

Are creeps drawn to creeps? 

I suppose that’s one possible interpretation of the film, and one possible reading of the complicated relationship between Josef and Aaron. Aaron certainly has ample reason to get away and distrust Josef early on, from a revelation at a restaurant that Aaron has photographed him without his knowledge, to his strange reveals about his wife, animal porn, and the Peach Fuzz mask as a sex toy.

One thing is for certain.  Once Aaron and Josef get into each other’s life, there’s no going back to the way things were.  Aaron may be a “professional” or experienced victim, and -- as we learn -- Josef is an expert liar, and a serial stalker.

So though Josef tells Aaron to embrace his inner wolf (perhaps in a way to save his life, even subconsciously…) the fact that is plain from the film is that Aaron possesses only an inner sheep. He is completely sucked in by Josef’s over-the-top, privacy-invading persona.  There's some part of him that wants to play his appointed role.

I’ve seen some reviews compare Creep to Fatal Attraction (1987), but the central relationship is different. In Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas’s character cheats on his wife (Ann Archer), and was in the relationship with Glenn Close’s nut-case psycho only for sex. In Creep, by comparison, Aaron -- comfortable in the role of victim, apparently -- lets Josef encroach further and further, until it is too late. Yes, he's alarmed by Josef's stalking (and videos...) and contacts the police for help.  But Josef's protests seem half-hearted and in the end, he fulfills his psychological purpose of "inner sheep" at the lake.

When Josef first meets Aaron in the film, he pays him a wad of cash for his services as a videographer.  He tells his new friend that their relationship is no longer a business transaction, but rather “a journey.” The amazing thing about Creep is that it posits complimentary journeys.  An inner wolf finds an inner sheep, and for one death is coming.

In bad found footage films, characters run around lost in the woods screaming at each other, tripping over demons that yank them around on wires.  

In good found footage films, like Creep, we get a close-up glimpse of madness, but also other human qualities.  The film’s final scene with Josef eulogizing Aaron is haunting, because, for the first time in 80 minutes or so, he is honest and upfront about who he is, and how he feels.  He takes off the mask, and reveals himself as the most human of monsters.

Movie Trailer: Creep (2015)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

The late Pauline Kael once dismissed the British sci-fi film The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) with the descriptor "dreary," which seems, frankly, a bit uncharitable. 

I much prefer the reading of New York Magazine's critic, who noted (on November 2, 1970), that the Alan Cooke film represents "top grade" science fiction and features a "superb" performance by Terence Stamp. 

Indeed, this is very much how I view the film. 

But even New York's description is merely the tip of the ice-berg. The Mind of Mr. Soames is a thoughtful, intense, and deeply sad film about human nature.

To its credit, The Mind of Mr. Soames works simultaneously on two fronts regarding that theme.

In the first case, the film explores the character of a grown man -- Soames (Stamp) -- who has been asleep in a coma his whole life, and has therefore never known love, or any social connection at all, for that matter. He awakens as a child in a man's body, and is "educated" by two very different parents: a cruel, stern doctor, and a permissive, loving, but often absent one.

Secondly, The Mind of Mr. Soames revolves around the social value (or lack of said value..) of the press: 20th century television, newspapers and other mass-communications.  Upon Soames' awakening from his coma, a camera crew follows him everywhere, and the masses get to vicariously experience his every success, his every failure. His permission is never sought. 

In this case, we must wonder if those of us raised in "civilization" actually possess the quality of empathy, or, rather, simply like to watch the suffering of others as our entertainment.

So poor Mr. Soames can't be whole without the tutelage of society, nor can be accepted in a cruel, fast-moving, technological world of little surprisingly little empathy.  He is, simply, damned twice.

 The Mind of Mr. Soames may "drag in spots" and be "occasionally self-conscious," like the authors of Twenty All-Time Great Science Fiction Films note (Arlington House; 1982), but I prefer to see this work of art in another way.   

It's a genre classic from a more patient, more cerebral age.

At England's Midland Research Institute, Dr. Maitland  (Nigel Davenport) and a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) embark upon a unique experiment. John Soames (Terence Stamp) has been in a coma since birth, and never once opened his eyes. 

Now, a new surgical technique allows Bergen to awaken the thirty-five year old man for the first time. 

The surgery is an incredible success, and before the eyes of a curious TV camera crew, Soames enters the world of the conscious.. 

Maitland enrolls the grown “baby” into a rigorous instructional program, attempting to teach him all the knowledge and important lessons of life in a mere six weeks.  

Soames soon stops thriving, however, burdened by the cold, loveless life demanded by Maitland's harsh regimen. 

Bergen attempts to teach Soames how to have fun -- how to play -- but the lesson goes awry when John escapes from custody and into the world at large, a world he is ill-prepared to understand.

There, outside the hospital, Soames is gazed upon with fear and disdain.  He realizes, even in his arrested emotional state, that he doesn't belong there.

The Mind of Mr. Soames is a thoughtful, lugubrious film that wonders about what it means to be human, and in particular, what happens to one of us who has never been nurtured, never known the love of parents, or family of any type. 

In the film, a cold and unemotional man, Dr. Maitland (Davenport) takes professional responsibility for an adult coma patient who has just awakened for the first time in his life.  But Maitland is not a fit parent. He is not able to contextualize himself as one, and provide the patient, John Soames, with the one thing he requires most: affection

Instead, Maitland nearly “teaches Mr. Soames to death” according to a more kindly doctor, Bergen.
Because Mr. Soames is trapped in a loveless, sterile, and rigid life, the film's director Alan Cooke often composes shots of the naïf behind bars or other barriers, providing a visual sense of his entrapment. He is like a fish in a bowl, an oddity or curiosity.  The visual barriers establish something else too.

Soames is always separated from others.  He is always alone. At a distance. He can never belong.

Early in the film, for instance, there’s a shot of Soames' face braced between the slats of a bed’s guard rail. 

A near-identical shot repeats near the climax, when Soames is seen posed behind the guard-rails of a busy road-way. These shots and angles indicate that John is eternally isolated from other people because of his odd life, because he has been raised, essentially, in a petri dish.

Maitland believes that knowledge and practice are enough to make a social outcast a functioning part of society. What Soames proves, however, is that life is to be lived. You can't make up with lessons in six weeks the experience of having a family, the experience of growing up.  Or, perhaps most importantly, the experience of being loved.

And yet we must wonder about those who have been raised within society too, as the film points out. The media views Soames as fodder for entertainment, or worse, a freak show. The camera crew proves a vexing, ubiquitous presence throughout his life. When Soames first opens his eyes for the first time, for example, the video camera is present, poking into his face and terrifying him. 

His fifteen minutes of fame start, essentially, at birth...

Later, when Dr. Bergen attempts to bring John back from the outside world, the camera’s blinding lights suddenly activate at just the moment he is about to surrender, and the shock causes John to experience a dangerous fit which wounds Bergen.  The inference is clear: the camera is a harmful influence, and so is, by extension, the media (or press) itself.

The Mind of Mr. Soames seems to suggest that John is cursed.  He lives a loveless life under the care of not a mother or father, but of the camera, as fodder for the masses. The pop culture is his parent, and it is a harsh, fickle care-giver. It will love him only so long as he is entertaining, or until something else -- something fresh -- comes along.

In some very strange way, The Mind of Mr. Soames also follows very closely the structural conceit of Trog (1970), a science fiction film about the discovery of the missing link in England, and its failure to be assimilated into man’s modern world by a scientist (Joan Crawford).  

There, Trog is found in a cave, trained to be docile, and then, once freed, considered a dangerous threat to society at large. Mr. Soames’ post-coma life in this film follows the same rough outline.  He awakes, is taught to be a civilized man by Maitland, escapes from custody, and is likewise judged a menace to society.  In this case, however, the "outsider" is clearly one of us; clearly a man.  But society can find nonetheless find no place for him.

In Trog, the missing link is killed, perhaps because of his non-human nature, whereas The Mind of Mr. Soames ends ambiguously with Soames back in custody, trying -- through a clasp of the hands-- to reach out emotionally to anyone willing to connect with him.  He has a long journey ahead of him, we are led to believe.  

And if any film ever deserved a sequel, it’s this one. It would be an incredible thing to revisit Mr. Soames after he has spent thirty years trying to assimilate, trying to conform to a society that so clearly and abundantly  derides him and his “alien” nature.
The Mind of Mr. Soames seems dated just a bit in 2015 because no sane or rational person -- and certainly not a psychologist -- would today undertake the education and socialization of John Soames in such a fashion as is depicted in the film. Maitland is evidently and patently a priggish bastard.  He refers to Soames like an animal specimen, saying to guards things like “You can put him back now.”

Certainly someone in authority would stop Maitland and consider that the man-child needs to be adopted by a mother or father, someone with a clear and vested interest in him as a person and not just as an experiment. 

All the problems with John arise from Maitland’s approach; from his inability to contextualize him as an individual and not a test-case for his rapid educational program.  In some way, The Mind of Mr. Soames is a Frankenstein or "Bad Father" movie, with Maitland adopting the role of Victor.

Furthermore, Soames is never adequately socialized in the film, and never really connects to anybody, because Maitland expressively forbids it. This approach seems highly unrealistic today, since we understand much more about what children need to mature in a healthy fashion.

Terence Stamp stars as John Soames and delivers a brave, unforgettable performance as an infant and child in a man’s body.  We watch him open his eyes for the first time, take his first steps, eat his first meal, and see his first girl.  There’s something haunting and lonely in Stamp’s eyes, and some audiences may be reminded of Charly (1969), a film which saw another innocent, played by Cliff Robertson, attempting to interface with normal adult society.  

The problem is, of course, that normal society can be so damned shitty at times. Here, a twitchy girl on a train accuses John of attacking her in her compartment, when he does no such thing.  He is just trying to be nice to her, in his own uninformed, innocent way. But society is about conformity, and conforming to rules. John, who is not trained and doesn't live by those rules, is considered a menace. He doesn't understand courtesy.  He doesn't understand "personal" space or privacy.  He just understands that he wants to be someone.

In part, the film suggests, Soames will never be normal or integrated in society simply because society simply won’t have him. He is more interesting as headline fodder (“can this baby kill?” reads one newspaper headline) or as television subject than as a human being.  

So if Maitland has failed to provide Soames an adequate mother, society has failed too to provide a nurturing community around him in which he is free to fail, and free to learn.

Robert Vaughn delivers the finest performance of his career here as the kindly Dr. Bergen.  Because he shows John so much kindness (and buys him Major Matt Mason toys!), one expects more from him than of the cold fish, Maitland, and is consequently more disappointed with him for not doing better by John. 

I suspect a lot of mothers suffer from this syndrome.  Almost a priori we expect them to demonstrate patience and love and support for their young, so when they come up short, they are easily blamed or tagged as failures. 

Traditionally, however, a father who does anything “extra” for his children tends to be lauded by society, because expectations for his investiture of time and energy tend to be much lower.  Once more, then, the film has something to say about parenting, and about how society sees parents. Bergen is a better man than Maitland, but we expect him to do even better because he knows and understands what it means to have a family.

The Mind of Mr. Soames is a very emotional film, but it oddly enough it is not particularly sentimental one.  There’s much restraint in its cerebral approach, and so the film’s issues of nature vs. nurture come naturally to the forefront. 

Upon countenancing the case study of John Soames, one can only deduce that a little more nurture, a little more love, would have gone a long way towards making this "baby" a whole person, and making his life worthwhile.   

So many science fiction movies concern identity, and the things that make us who we are.  The Mind of Mr. Soames suggests, likewise, that if socialization is absent from a child's upbringing, no amount of "learning" can make up for the deficit.

Movie Trailer: The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Monster Gallery: Lost in Space Season One


The Top Ten Episodes of Lost in Space, Season One

With all twenty-nine first season episodes of Lost in Space now behind me (and season two now looming…), I wanted to post a list of the top ten segments, by my reckoning. 

If you have any interest in revisiting the series on its fiftieth anniversary, but not devoting 29 hours to the enterprise, here’s where you start:

The Lost in Space Top Ten (Season One)

10. “The Keeper” (Part I): In this story, Michael Rennie guest-stars as an emotionless, regal alien bent on taking two Earth specimens back to his home world. Rennie delivers a strong performance, and the story is the template for many, many LIS stories to come.  In this type of tale, aliens arrive, trick the Robinsons, and try to leave the planet with one of the party. (“The Space Trader” is another example of this form, as is “His Majesty Smith.”)

09. “War of the Robots:” Robbie the Robot guest-stars in this episode, which sees B-9 ostracized from the Jupiter 2 settlement, out-moded by a mysterious Robotoid hiding many secrets.  This episode is just a heck of a lot of fun, in part because of the showdown between the two famous machine men.  But also, this is the episode that establishes the Robot as a sensitive and feeling individual, not just a thoughtless machine.

08. “The Challenge:” A very young Kurt Russell guest-stars as a young prince trying to prove his mettle to his father, played by an imposing Michael Ansara.  The story is actually one about fathers and sons, and contrasts the alien father-son relationship with Professor Robinson’s and Will’s.  This is actually the best Will Robinson episode of the first season, in my opinion.

07. “The Reluctant Stowaway.” This is the series premiere, which introduces Earth Control, the Jupiter 2, and all the characters, including the nefarious Dr. Smith.  The episode’s production values are astounding even by today’s standards, and the special effects still hold up well. The episode brilliantly sets up the series premise, and features a lot of tension.  Smith is at his coldest, most evil, in this episode.

06. “The Derelict.” The Jupiter 2, still lost in space (but before reaching Priplanus…) lands aboard a weird alien ship, and encounters creepy non-human aliens.  Naturally, Smith shoots one during first contact, and causes a near-catastrophe.  Like “The Reluctant Stowaway,” this early episode features remarkable special effects and sets, and also boasts a genuinely creepy vibe.  The alien spaceship is a haunted house of the stars, in a way, and I love the non-traditional design of the aliens.  They look like big, mobile, de-formed cells.

05. “Wish Upon a Star.”  Once more, this episode is a kind of template or prototype for many knock-off stories.  But here, a banished Dr. Smith finds an alien artifact that endows him with remarkable powers.  Unfortunately, he goes too far, and the owner -- a fearsome, faceless alien -- comes to retrieve his property. This episode features some genuinely atmospheric, genuinely terrifying moments.  Knock-off episodes include “His Majesty Smith” and “All That Glitters.”

04. “Follow the Leader.” This is another father-son story. Professor Robinson is possessed by a fearsome alien warrior, and in the end, young Will must remind Robinson of the love he feels for his family.  A parable, perhaps, for alcoholism, and its impact on the family unit.  This episode is brutal and direct, and features some moments of adult-interaction that non-fans of the series may find surprising in their intensity.

03. “The Magic Mirror.”  This is a beautiful fantasy story that focuses on Penny, and the notion that childhood must not be eternal, or stagnation sets in.  Inside a weird mirror is an alternate universe, and a Peter Pan figure (Michael Pollard) who will never grow up.  He wants Penny to stay with him in this alternate dimension, but she wisely comes to realize the danger of a life with no change, and no growth.

02. “The Sky is Falling.”  This superb episode is all about fear and ignorance, and the way that fear can make people act rashly towards strangers, or towards perceived enemies.  Here, an alien family lands on Priplanus, but when Will and the alien boy disappear, Smith foments for war.  He manipulates those around him, until hostilities – and casualties – seem imminent.

01.”My Friend, Mr Nobody.” A superb fairy tale about loneliness. Here Penny meets an imaginary friend who isn’t so imaginary, and finds that no one will believe her story of a friendly alien that will talk only to her.