Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens (1976), "The Proton Storm"

This week on Star Maidens, in a script penned by John Lucarotti (who wrote several fine episodes of the original Doctor Who in the 1960’s), the Earthling Liz (Liza Harrow) and her (male) assistant Rudy are held hostage by Octavia pending the release of Shem and Adam on Earth.

Fulvia (Judy Geeson) is unhappy when a deal can't be reached with the fugitives from Medusa and Earth's Dr. Evans (Derek Farr), but Octavia terminates the mission, and decides it is time to return home.

"What can you expect of a planet ruled by men?" she asks. I love how dismissive and terse Octavia is in her dealings with our planet. And yes, I have seen men speak about women in precisely this fashion, on more than one occasion.

Held hostage, Liz and Rudy get their first (involuntary) peek at the advanced world of Medusa. Once there, the Earthlings are promptly separated and Liz is treated like royalty while Rudy is relegated to the barracks in the men's quarters.  Rudy opines that he doesn’t know how long he can take it, forced to be submissive to women overlords.

"You mustn't concern yourself over a mere male," Fulvia suggests to Liz. "To love a man is to give him power over you. And he will only abuse that." 

Again, this remark seems a perfect “crack’d mirror” example for the kind of things men tell each other about women.

Rudy discovers that the men's quarters are pretty rudimentary, and that the servants spend most of their time playing an extra-terrestrial variation of chess. They seem to do so, however, by telepathy, since the pieces move about the board without ever being touched.  The script makes nothing of this development. It isn’t even commented upon.

 "The rules are simple," explains Octavia of the chess variation -- without cracking the slightest hint of a smile -- "The Queen is never captured." 

Rudy also learns that men once ruled on Medusa, during an epoch that Fulvia refers to as the planet's Dark Ages. Back then, there was nothing "but wars, violence, and greed."

Since women took over the planet, Medusa has -- by contrast -- seen centuries of peace and social and technological progress. This is a powerful argument for female rule, given the high technology and achievements of Medusa, especially in comparison with the warring, primitive Earth of 1976 that we see in the series

While Rudy and Liz learn the ways of Medusa, on Earth Shem and Adam state their conditions for returning home. Shem wants a full pardon from Octavia and his old job as mechanic back (aim high, brother!), while Adam wants no less than equal rights and equal opportunities, a request which Octavia finds "rebellious.”

Hoping to reunite with Adam, her former domestic, on Earth, Fulvia steals the space yacht Nemesis and plots a trajectory back to Earth, but a severe proton storm is directly on her course, somewhere between "Jupiter and Uranus". The storm is raging at "destruction point," but Fulvia decides they'll just have to "ride it out.”

I probably don’t need to point it out, but Fulvia’s self-destructive behavior is that of someone who has clearly fallen in love. Fulvia can warn Liz about love all she likes. But in terms of Adam, she has clearly not taken her own advice. She loves him so much that she risks her own death to see him again.

From Earth, Shem helps Fulvia safely navigate the deadly proton storm. But when Fulvia lands on Earth, Adam still can't bring himself to forgive his mistress, and he runs off alone into the woods.  This is the first indication in the series that Adam carries affectionate feelings for Fulvia.  He is unable to deal with his emotions, and rather than confront them, he runs off like a child.

Again, this act seems to confirm the Medusan interpretation of men as children that must be cared for. And again, this is often an attitude held by the patriarchs here on Earth.  More ‘crack’d mirror’ commentary, and it’s all to the good. 

As opposed to the last episode of Star Maidens I watched ("Nightmare Cannon"), this one isn't overtly high camp, and is played rather seriously and emotionally.

I've noticed that matters always seem to pick up dramatically on Medusa, whereas most of the material occurring on Earth just seems haphazard, or poorly conceived.

For instance, why is Dr. Evans -- an egghead scientist -- negotiating with alien leaders? Wouldn't the British government like to be in on that action?  

How about the UN? Or the U.S.? 

First contact with advanced aliens seems a matter of import that would not be left to local police, or a well-meaning (but inept) astronomer.  Also, spaceships from Medusa are regularly invading the airspace of Britain now, and with no response from the air force?

Social commentary is all good, especially when it is as funny as Star Maidens makes it, but this series also needs some grounding in reality.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Comic Book of the Week: Davy Crockett (Charlton)

Playset of the Week: Davy Crockett and the Alamo

Jigsaw Puzzle of the Week: Davy Crockett

Trading Cards of the Week: Davy Crockett (Topps; 1956)

Board Game of the Week: Davy Crockett Rescue Race (With Real Compass)

Lunch Box of the Week: Davy Crockett (Walt Disney)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Requiem for Methuselah" (February 14, 1969)

Stardate: 5843.7

The Enterprise is afflicted with a “raging epidemic” of Rigellian Fever, a disease with effects similar to the Bubonic Plague. Three crewmen are already dead, and twenty three sick.

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) needs to create an anti-toxin using Ryetelan, a substance that must be mined on a planetary surface. Fortunately, a world is located that contains this needed substance. 

Upon beaming down to collect it, however, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy are attacked by a hovering robot, M4, which is controlled by a less-than-friendly stranger who claims to own the planet, Flint (James Daly).

After being warned to leave the planet, Kirk describes the effects of Rigellian Fever, and Flint allows the party to stay, assigning M4 the task of mining and refining the Ryetalan. 

Meanwhile, the landing party is welcome at his palatial home.  There, Spock is impressed by Flint’s collection of antique items (including a rare Shakespeare first folio, and an original waltz by Johannes Brahms).

Captain Kirk, however, is more intrigued by Flint’s beautiful and highly-intelligent young ward, Rayna (Louise Sorel). They develop romantic feelings for one another, which was Flint’s plan all along.

As is soon revealed, Flint is an immortal man, known in different times as Solomon, Merlin, Da Vinci, and Brahms -- and Rayna is an android he has constructed to be his mate through the ages.  Kirk was to be her teacher in matters of human emotions, and love. But Rayna cannot bear to hurt either Kirk, or Flint, and a tragedy occurs…

“Requiem for Methuselah” has shown up on more than one reader top 20 Star Trek lists, as I look at them in preparation for posting next week.  I appreciate that many fans and critics see value in it.

I find "Requiem for Methuselah" a mediocre episode of Star Trek (1966-1969), but one enlivened and even made bearable a beautiful, even poetic ending that brings into clarity, again, the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Before the beautiful (and emotional ending), the episode depicts a thoroughly unbelievable love story for Kirk.

Kirk has fallen in love before on the series, notably in “City on the Edge of Forever,” and (while not quite himself), in “The Paradise Syndrome.” We can easily understand why he falls in love in both cases, and also how he remains the man that he is: a leader and a figure of duty.  In “City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk gives up his love, Edith, because of his strong sense of duty. In “The Paradise Syndrome,” Kirk is restored to his senses after Miramanee is fatally injured, and must say goodbye to her too.

In neither case did Captain Kirk descend into self-pitying hysterics, or beg his would-be-lover to come back to the Enterprise with him.  Here, that’s exactly what he does. “Come with me. I offer you happiness,” Kirk says.

There must be no part of the Kirk we know who thinks this arrangement could possibly work. This is not The Next Generation era with families aboard Starfleet vessels. Rayna can't go with him, except as a passenger bound for a starbase or colony.  Is he contemplating resigning his command?

It’s a totally unbelievable, unrealistic moment for the character. As I said, we have seen Kirk in love, and he isn’t this guy. Kirk absolutely knows that as captain of the Enterprise, he cannot afford such a distraction as Rayna.  His words in “The Naked Time” made it clear that the only woman that he has time for, as captain, is named Enterprise. Kirk may be lonely, but he acts here in a contrived way suitable only for, well, a Valentine's Day episode of Star Trek (see: the episode's original air date).

Now he’s begging Rayna to come back to the Enterprise? So he can give up command (his first, best destiny?)  

It’s just not believable in the slightest. Kirk never begged Edith to come back with him. (And had she tried, she might have lived, let's face it. She was functionally dead in that timeline. In the 23rd century, she could have had a life, if the Guardian permitted it.)

Worse, William Shatner “acts” Kirk’s desperation and histrionics in a way strangely similar to his performances in “The Enterprise Incident” (when he is pretending to be mad), and “Turnabout Intruder” (when Kirk has been replaced by someone who is, genuinely, mad). Because of this choice, the captain doesn’t seem like the captain we know at all, but rather someone we can’t recognize as the man of duty and command.  This fellow is unrealistic, impractical, and self-pitying (“You used me! I can’t love her…but I do love her.”)

The impressive coda, which I noted above, attempts to repair some of the damage wrought by the episode, by Kirk’s notation that “we put on a pretty poor show.” But it’s not enough.

Scotty didn’t act like Scotty during his love affair in “The Lights of Zetar, and Kirk doesn’t really act like Kirk in “Requiem for Methuselah.”  

When Spock gets his turn at a love story in the third season, in “All Our Yesterdays,” at least there is a reason that he acts out of character (he is thrust to the distant past, and sympathetically acts like the Vulcans of that time period; as a barbarian).

This re-watch has proven to me that Star Trek in the third season is much stronger than many fans, writers, and historians have suggested. However, I will say that the preponderance of romantic stories (ostensibly to draw in female viewers) does not serve the series particularly well. I would pick “Requiem for Methuselah” as the worst of the bunch because the writing (and acting) is so out-of-character for Kirk. 

Other aspects of the episode are confusing too.

I understand why McCoy should oversee the refining of the Ryetalan on the planet, but certainly he isn’t needed to mine it? A team of crew-people should have beam down with the tools necessary. All they need to find the substance is a tricorder, right?  But then, when McCoy is actually needed, he doesn’t oversee the refining of the Ryetalan, and precious time is lost.

Also, I must confess that I find the scene in which Flint shrinks the Enterprise to the size of an AMT model kit (!) and Kirk looks in through the view screen to see the crew frozen, hopelessly campy by today’s standards.  With a few notable exceptions, Star Trek generally avoids this type of silliness.

Lastly, what exactly is Flint's plan? To have Kirk awaken Rayna's emotions and then take over, in his stead?  This is an immortal man who must be well-acquainted with human nature. He should have taken an alternate strategy.  Flint should have let Kirk and Rayna have a fling, and then let Kirk leave the planet, as he would have, in short order. He could then comfort Rayna, and eventually present himself as alternative.

In 6,000 years Flint has never learned a lick of patience?

Beyond these issues, however, I must clearly acknowledge the impact or influence this episode has had on film and television. The concept of an android who feels strong emotions, and then short-circuits, is a veritable trope of the format at this point. 

We have seen it on Space: 1999 (1975-1977) in “One Moment of Humanity,” in The Fantastic Journey (1977) in “Beyond the Mountain” and, quite touchingly, in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (1987-1994) “The Offspring.” 

That’s only one arena where “Requiem for Methuselah” has been an inspiration. The story of a lonely immortal, marching through history in isolation is, frankly, the very bread and butter of the Highlander franchise, both on film and in television.

But my highest praise for the episode involves the coda.

First, I will acknowledge that I find it absolutely impossible to believe that Kirk spirals into a depression over Rayna, given that he did no such thing over Edith Keeler or Miramanee. I wonder, did Spock need to make him forget them too?

However, given the script, I believe that the final scene is an excellent one. Kirk falls asleep in his quarters, while Bones and Spock stand at his door. McCoy then speaks with Spock about the utter irrationality of love. He discusses the things "love can drive a man to do.”  He then says he is sorrier for Spock than he is for Kirk, because while Kirk may feel pain, Spock will never understand love.

Then, after McCoy leaves, Spock proves that he absolutely understands the nature of love. 

He walks to his friend in pain, and conducts a mind-meld, telling Kirk to “forget.”  This is, simply, an act of love, a beautiful act from a man who professes not to understand human emotion. Spock sees his friend in pain, and he takes away that pain.

The set-up of the episode and the performance of the love story are inelegant at best, but the last five minutes of “Requiem for Methuselah” find Star Trek at its finest, showcasing the unique chemistry of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triangle.

Next week is my Star Trek anniversary celebration! 

Please make sure to send me a list of your top-twenty Star Trek episodes (with explanation for your choices!) at as soon as possible.  I'll post them all week long!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cult-TV Theme Watch: My Enemy, My Ally

What does it mean when I write about “my enemy, my ally?

Two committed enemies are forced to work together to extract themselves from a difficult, life-threatening spot despite their extreme differences.

You may have seen this dramatic idea played out, large scale -- human pilot against alien Drac -- in Wolfgang Peterson's epic film, Enemy Mine (1985). But a similar tale has also been a staple of sci-fi TV programs across the decades.

This "My Enemy/My Ally" narrative conceit proved especially popular during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Perhaps it was a coded reflection of the Global Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a conflict that separated the world into two intractable sides, and ideologies.

Since many cult TV programs are geared explicitly towards the idea of imagining and presenting a better, more positive future -- pointing towards the evolution and growth of our species -- this explanation certainly makes abundant sense.

Episodes of the "My Enemy/My Ally" variety often suggest that -- once thrown together into a life-threatening scenario -- enemies can find a common bond if only they leave their pre-existing, hostile, cultural beliefs behind.

The notion is that understanding and trust are seeds that can grow inside people over time, and even blossom into peaceful co-existence, tolerance and hopefully, real friendship. In the era of mutually assured destruction, it was powerful for sci-fi television to suggest that -- just by being thrown together into a common danger with our mortal enemies -- we could prevent nuclear annihilation.

By personally knowing our enemy, we could make a better choice...for the planet.

Gazing back across the decades, you can see several examples of this My Enemy/My Ally story template.

For instance, in the year 1970, an episode of the jingoistic (but utterly brilliant...) Gerry Anderson series U.F.O. saw S.H.A.D.O. astronaut Paul Foster and an alien pilot work together to survive on the desolate lunar surface following a battle, in the installment called "Survival." Different ideologies/different agenda, but a mutual, positive purpose outside the political confines of a larger war-between-the-planets.

Then, in 1974, a first season episode of the Krofft Saturday morning TV series Land of the Lost found a Sleestak named S'latch and human protagonist Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan) trapped in a deep, smoky pit inside the Lost City.

Again, these two opposing individuals had to learn to trust, and to work together, to escape...before the Sleestak God made them lunch. When S'latch was wounded during an escape attempt, Rick Marshall rescued the Sleestak from the pit, and earned the creature's loyalty and friendship.

The same year saw an intelligent simian of future Earth, General Urko (Mark Lenard) team up with a human astronaut from the past, Peter Burke (James Naughton) in the Planet of the Apes series episode “The Trap.

Likewise, in "The Return of Starbuck," an episode of Galactica: 1980 from May of '80, Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and a Cylon enemy crash-landed on a barren planet after (another) pitched space battle. A lonely Starbuck re-programmed "Cy" to become an ally, and they kept each other company for a time...until Cy gave his life to save his human friend from further Cylon troops.

As late as November of 1989, Star Trek: The Next Generation took a stab at this "My Enemy/My Ally"-fashioned narrative.

In "The Enemy," Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) became trapped on an inhospitable world, Galorndon Core, with only a zealous Romulan soldier for company. The sub-plot of two enemies finding understanding on the isolated planet was artfully balanced against a story of Worf refusing to give aid to an injured, dying Romulan aboard the Enterprise. On the surface: enemies helping one another, their mutual existences threatened. On the Enterprise (and inside the "culture war" between the Federation and the Romulans...), one man/Klingon just couldn't let go of the hate-filled past.

But on the planet, hate was forgotten, at least briefly.

The Cult-TV Faces of: My Enemy, My Ally

Identified by Hugh: Lost in Space.

Identified by SFF: UFO: "Survival."

Identified by Will Perez: Mission Impossible.

Identified by Hugh: Planet of the Apes: "The Trap."

Identified by Hugh: Land of the Lost.

Identified by Hugh: Jason of Star Command.

Identified by Hugh: Galactica 1980; "The Return of Starbuck."

Identified by Hugh: Buck Rogers "Time of the Hawk."

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

Identified by Hugh: DS9.

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files.

Identified by Hugh: The Walking Dead.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tribute: Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

I am deeply saddened this morning to report the death of horror film director, and icon, Tobe Hooper (1943 - 2017).

For me, Hooper is indisputably one of the five most significant auteurs of modern horror cinema (1970's to present)  alongside the likes of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero, and David Cronenberg.  

Now, Craven, Romero, and Hooper have all left this mortal coil.

But Tobe Hooper, in particular, has always broken my heart, because -- even up until weeks before his death -- the director was never given the credit he deserved by either the industry or some film writers, and fans. 

The "Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist [1982])" meme always held back his reputation, I feel, unfairly. 

Some of the evidence to support the assertion that Hooper didn't direct Poltergeist are the result of misinterpretation of photos, or the mistaken belief that Hooper never directed a movie as strong as the 1982 horror film, so he couldn't have been responsible for it.

Yet Hooper also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), Salem's Lot (1978), The Funhouse (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986) and the cult-hit Lifeforce (1985).  A case can be made for the brilliance of any or all those pictures.

A tribute to a deceased artist is likely not the best or most appropriate place to re-litigate an old, ugly matter, however.

Rather, it is a place to appreciate the artistry of a maestro. And that is exactly what I feel Hooper was: a master.  

His horror films always felt dangerous; always felt edgy, and Hooper's understanding of film grammar was second to none. Unappreciated by the industry, and by film writers in his life, I hope these people will seriously, upon his passing, make an effort to re-evaluate his work, and consider Hooper's place in film and horror history.

I will end this tribute with a few short words that capture perfectly the nature of Hooper's underappreciated cinematic genius. 

These words are from L.M Kit Carson (Film Comment: "Saw Thru," July/August 1986, pages 9-12).

"Hooper was a new deal - simply this; no deal. Hooper was a scare-director who was methodically unsafe, who the audience (You) finally just couldn't trust...He'd go too far, then go farther...and go farther again, and kick it again...then get in an extra kick, then it's over...then one more kick...No deal, friend."

Or as I like to say, just watch the final act of Poltergeist. No deal, friend.

So here's to the great Tobe Hooper, the "no deal" horror director whose films terrified and inspired a generation of movie-goers.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Cryogenic Man" (October 23, 1976)

Ark II conjures up a surprisingly sharp and witty installment this Saturday morning with “The Cryogenic Man,” an episode guest starring Gilligan’s Island actor Jim Backus -- Thurston Howell himself -- as “Arnold Pool.”  Pool is a twentieth-century business tycoon awakened into the twenty-fifth century, along with his assistant, Norman Funk (John Fiedler).

In “The Cryogenic Man,” Jonah, Ruth, Samuel and Adam revive these two men from five hundred years in the past, and the episode pauses first for a Planet of the Apes joke.  Upon seeing Adam, the talking chimpanzee, Pool exclaims “Good grief, we’ve been taken over by apes.”

After that nice self-reflexive bit of humor, the tale gets down to the meat of its social commentary.  Pool takes one look around the primitive village that represents his new home and asks: “Where are the high rises?  And the shopping centers?  Where are the stores?”  These are the things that a rich man of the twentieth century misses first, the teleplay notes.

Then, Pool promptly asks the confused leader of the village whether he is a “Democrat or a Republican.”  Ruth’s answer is charming and forthright: “There are no Democrats and Republicans anymore…”

Even though he’s awakened into a new and post-apocalyptic world, the entitled Pool believes he can still buy happiness with his vast fortune.  He offers the villagers cold hard cash (ten dollars an hour) to build him a big new house in the center of town.  Naturally, they’ve never even seen money. 

They’re a sick group,” Pool notes condescendingly.  “They don’t know what money is.” 

Before long, Pool learns that the villagers are starving, and can’t grow food successfully because of contaminated soil.  The problem is that their village stands on the location of Pool’s old industrial factory, where he produced a product known as Pool’s Power Plant, a kind of “miracle grow” for vegetation. 

Unfortunately, as Ruth confirms, the product is actually a toxic chemical; one harmful to human beings.

Rather than accept the facts, Pool derides the Ark II crew as “bureaucrats” not “scientists,” and warns that bureaucrats will always take “food” from people’s mouths.   He then instructs the villagers to trap Ruth and Jonah in the cryogenic chambers.

While Samuel and Adam attempt to rescue Ruth and Jonah from their enforced slumber, Pool starts up his factory, and it begins to spew poison into the atmosphere, thereby creating another serious problem.

Finally, the Ark II crew shuts down the factory (with a well-placed laser blast), and Pool promises to change his ways; to think about ecology, not just making money. 

At episode’s end, Jonah notes in his log that we can either “make the same mistakes over and over again…or learn and grow.”

“The Cryogenic Man” is particularly prescient in understanding a dynamic that we are, alas, all too familiar with today.  A businessman who stands to make vast sums of money wishes to deride “scientific findings” as socialist “bureaucracy” and ignore hard evidence…with the safety of the community endangered as a result of his selfishness. 

I guess Ark II saw the same problem in 1976, and made this episode in response.  But it’s discouraging that we haven’t taken many steps to change the problem in the intervening thirty-six years.  It’s one thing to be in favor of capitalism, another entirely to be in favor of irresponsible, unfettered capitalism.  One person’s right to personal wealth ends, I submit, when that quest harms another person’s right to breathe clean air, or drink clean water.   

But overall, today’s world suggests that Jonah’s belief that we can “learn and grow” has not yet come to pass in the real world.  Instead, we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over.

In terms of Ark II, this episode’s wholly unexpected sense of humor leavens the didacticism a bit. The writing here is clearer and edgier than many installments, making this one of the series’ smartest entries.

Finally, the idea of a money-hungry, irresponsible businessman awaking up in a future sans capitalism is an idea that also appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), in the first season finale, “The Neutral Zone.”

Next week: “Don Quixote.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Benita, the Beautiful?" (December 26, 1970)

In “Benita, the Beautiful?” Peter Platter holds a beauty contest Uptown.

The winner will become a movie star in Flicker Town, starring in a movie musical. Naturally, Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) enters the contest, and plans to eliminate all the competition.

On the night of the contest, Gina Lolla Wattage and Joy (Caroline Ellis) fail to show up as contestants, and the Bugaloos realize that they have met with foul play at the hands of Benita and her minions.

The male Bugaloos and Sparky (Billy Barty) rush to Benita’s Jukebox and find the duo tied and gagged beneath a trap door.

The Bugaloos race to the contest, and then realize that they should let Benita win the contest after all. 
If she does win, she’ll be out of their hair, in Flicker Town. 

The Bugaloos decide to campaign for Benita to win, but at the last minute, another contestant enters the pageant: Funky Rat’s sister, Brumhilda.

Well, the plot of this episode is, basically, the same as the one we saw in “Our Home is our Hassle.” A contest of some type is in the offing, and Benita wants to win it. The variation occurs in the telling of this particular tale. In “Benita the Beautiful” viewers aren’t privy to the specifics of the villain’s plan. 

We don’t know what has happened to Joy or Gina, or where they are trapped.

The other twist in the story is that the Bugaloos act in a more tactical fashion than is usually the case. They decide to let Benita have her way -- winning the contest -- so that they will be rid of her once and for all. 

Of course, Benita doesn’t seem like she would make a good “Miss Out of this World.”

The episode enlarges the “world” of the Bugaloos in some ways, both successful and not. 

On the former front, the episode discusses “Flicker Town,” a place beyond the forest and uptown where movies (starring insects?) are made.

On the latter front, we meet some audience members and denizens of Uptown in this story, and they are white-board cut outs. These cut-outs are obviously two dimensional, and lacking the detail of color.  They look shoddy against the colorful wardrobes and sets.

The song of the week “Flicker Town” is all about Joy entering the beauty contest.  Here it is in its entirety:

Next week: “Now You See ‘Em, Now You Don’t.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens (1976): "Nightmare Cannon"

Star Maidens' tongue-in-cheek story-telling style continues with episode three, “Nightmare Cannon,” written by Eric Paice and directed by Wolfgang Storch.

"Nightmare Cannon" commences as Medusan refugees Shem (Gareth Thomas) and Adam (Pierre Brice) -- free in England -- commandeer medieval Wessex Castle and hide there (after freezing a kindly security guard they mistake for a Baron.  They still hope to escape the clutches of their would-be captors and female overlords from Medusa, Fulvia (Judy Geeson) and Octavia (Christiane Kruger).

Meanwhile, Earth scientist Liz Becker (Liza Harrow) and her German (and highly-excitable) assistant Rudi (Christian Quadflieg) take advantage of the fact that the Medusan women left the door to their advanced spaceship, Nemesis, wide-open.

The Earthers sneak aboard, and Rudi is promptly blinded by a high-tech control panel while snapping photos of the advanced technology. 

His impaired physical condition requires the aid of an absolutely terrifying robot physician. This female doctor boasts long wiry needles on the end of her fingers, has dead white eyes, wears horrific blue lipstick and speaks with a metallic inhuman voice. Apparently, the people of Medusa have never heard of a good bedside manner.

Using her "man finder" device (which -- remember -- hunts down men by scent...), Octavia tracks Adam and Shem to the castle and decides to re-capture them by firing a Medusan device called a "nightmare cannon.”

It is explained that this device "projects" a series of sonic sounds at the target to "disturb the hypothalamus" and cause visual hallucinations and nightmares.

In the castle, Shem and Adam rapidly experience hallucinations, seeing weird phantasms of Octavia and Fulvia. This sequence includes the worst special effects yet seen on the series, as the faces of the Medusan ladies are superimposed awkwardly over live footage in the castle (and at one point, even inside the clanking armor of medieval knights).

While all this is going on, the English government finally sends a representative to the scene (the Minister for Interior Security). About time. 

One might think that advanced aliens armed with immobilizing stun guns, nightmare-cannons, Nemesis spaceships, and "man finders" might be a matter of interest and some import to the national government. So far, no high official on Earth, from any nation, seems interested in opening diplomatic relations with Medusa.

Finally, the episode ends with the Nemesis taking to space, with Liz and Rudy aboard, which, we shall see next week, culminates with a welcome visit to Medusa.

Medusan Factoids revealed in "Nightmare Cannon":

*Taking life is against the Medusa’s religion. (But scaring people with the nightmare cannon is apparently perfectly fine)

.*According to Octavia, the English language can be learned by an "educated" Medusan in five minutes. This explains why universal translators are apparently not necessary, and there is no language barrier between Terrans and Medusans.

*Medusan proverb/quote: The male's fear of the female on Medusa is "the key to good government." This makes perfect sense in a repressive, tyrannical society. Those in power don’t want respect or input, they desire the fear of their citizenry, so that they may remain in power.

Overall, I have to note that, at this point, Star Maidens is not nearly as intriguing as my memories from childhood suggest. “Nemesis” and “Nightmare Cannon” are largely earthbound, with very little in terms of Keith Wilson’s production design to recommend it.  Also, there is very little here in terms of miniature/live-action special effects of quality. The alien robot, however, did appear in many periodicals and stills of the mid-1970’s, and is appropriately terrifying.

Next week, back to Medusa (yay!) in “The Proton Storm.”

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...