Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "Is There a Mayor in the House?"

The town of Lidsville doesn’t appreciated being taxed by the villainous Hoo-Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly), and so the people vow to elect a mayor to protect them from tyranny.

Mark (Butch Patrick) is considered for the position, but he doesn’t feel right about accepting it since he wants to leave; to return home.

While the people of Lidsville seek another serviceable candidate, Hoo-Doo learns of the plans for citizen representation, and enlists his own (crooked) candidate: Mr Big.

Although Hoo-Doo promises  “an open and honest election,” he tricks the residents into voting for Mr. Big.

Once Mr. Big is in office, His Honor breaks all of his promises to the people to raises wages and lower taxes. Instead, he decides that a highway should run through the town.

Unfortunately, Mr. Big makes this plan without Hoo-Doo’s endorsement, and so Mark, Weenie (Billie Hayes) and others decide it is time to frame Mr. Big, and have Hoo-Doo remove him from office himself.

“Is there a Mayor in the House?” is another enjoyable episode of the trippy Lidsville (1971-1973), and one that operates on more than one level of meaning. 

On the surface level, of course, this is a goofy comedy and kid’s show. It features lots of shtick, lots of pratfalls, and its requisite share of bad puns.

On a deeper level, we get -- like last week’s show -- an indictment of modern life, and in particular, political reality.

Here, there is a candidate, Mr. Big, who lies to get into office, and then, once he has power, promptly forgets the people.  Secretly, of course, Mr. Big, and is the tool of special interests (Hoo-Doo), even though he ran what might be called a populist campaign.  Isn’t that always the way it is?

Also, we get Mark as “an impartial election monitor,” but for all his good intentions, Hoo-Doo still “fixes” the election for his candidate.  Again, this shouldn’t seem alien in the era of Citizens United, when freedom of speech is the same thing as money, and expensive donors can all but bankroll or buy candidates for political office.

Intriguingly, Mr.  Big is brought down not when the people turn against him. They were always against him, and tricked into voting for him (against their best interest). Instead, Mr. Big goes down when he acts independently of the special interest that purchased his office for him.

It’s amazing that this level of cynicism about politics makes it into a Saturday morning TV series, and a delight that it does, as well. I’ll be on the look-out, in future examples, for more satire and commentary.

Next week: “Take Me to Your Rabbit.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Ghost Busters: "They Went Thataway" (November 1, 1975)

In "They Went Thataway," the ghosts of Wild West legends Billy the Kid (Marty Ingels) and Belle Starr (Brooke Tucker) materialize in the local grave-yard and begin their search for new gang members.

When The Ghost Busters learn from Zero about their new nemeses, Spenser (Larry Storch) and Tracy (Bob Burns) respond by watching old TV westerns as research.

Before long, there is a confrontation at the old castle, where Billy and Belle are hiding out. Spenser, Tracy and Kong (Forrest Tucker) pretend to be cowboys (and a horse!) by singing "Home on the Range" to the Old West spirits, before de-materializing the deadly duo.

This is yet another extremely silly episode of the live-action, slapstick Filmation series The Ghost Busters. At this juncture on the program, the series writers were resorting to non-monster-based ghosts, such as Billy the Kid and Belle Starr, and future episodes would involve the Red Baron and his grease monkey, and Eric the Viking and Brunhilda. The thought being, perhaps, that these well-known (and historical or literary) characters were visually distinctive enough to make interesting antagonists.

Nonetheless, "They Went Thataway" qualifies as one of the less interesting installments, even though Belle Starr is played by Forrest Tucker's daughter, and the episode manages to rib some Western movie cliches.  

As is the case in many of these stories, the ghosts don't even qualify as bad, let alone evil, so de-materializing them and sending them to the Great Beyond seems unnecessary and a little cruel-hearted.

Next week: "The Vampire's Apprentice."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Logan's Run: The Series in The Press

Ranking Logan's Run: The Series Best to Worst

Logan’s Run: The Series (1977-1978) ran for a mere 14-episodes in the mid-seventies, and certainly had its share of stinkers.  Still, some episodes are also quite good, and hold up well. At this point, I've reviewed each of the installments individually, and hopefully, in detail.

Today, I present my rankings, best-to-worst, of the series installments.

Great Episodes:

“Crypt.” This is the absolute best episode of the series. It originates with a story by Harlan Ellison, and sees Logan, Jessica and REM being forced to contend with a difficult choice.  They are asked to save the lives of several scientists and leaders who have been in suspended animation for years. However, there is a mole in the group. One of the individuals is a murderer. 

The episode is so notable for REM’s use of deductive reasoning in the final act, and for Logan’s statement of principle near the episode climax. Specifically, Logan won’t make an “ends justify the means” decision again, because that’s what he saw happen every day at the City of the Domes.  He will never again tether himself to a corrupt ideal. He will not murder because it is convenient, or because it serves a cause.  This is a statement of principle that suggests the character has grown and learned from his experiences.

“Man out of Time.” This episode, by David Gerrold (under the pseudonym Noah Ward) finds Logan, Jessica and REM contending with David Eakins, a scientist from another time who is visiting the future to determine what finally causes the holocaust that destroys civilization. He finds, to his horror, that his work inventing time travel is the cause of the world’s destruction.

The episode is so powerful because audiences finally get a history of the Holocaust (and its reasons), and even some background on the mysterious “Sanctuary Project,” which clearly ties in with Logan and Jessica’s search for “Sanctuary.”  This episode begins to build an historical mythology for the series that is highly-intriguing.

Good Episodes:

“Pilot.” This story does a solid job of adapting the 1976 film to TV restrictions of the age. The pilot re-introduces the audience to Logan, Jessica, Francis and the City of Domes, while simultaneously adding new ideas to the franchise. 

The Council of Elders is a fascinating and welcome addition, specifically. Those who sit on the council are the ultimate hypocrites, allowed to enter old age peacefully, while their people die at thirty, hoping for renewal.  Those on the council promise Francis a seat there if he delivers the runners Logan and Jessica to Carousel.  The pilot episode also introduces the solar car, and REM, who is quite possibly the best character on the series.  

Production values are strong, and more than that, the series shows real promise. There’s a great ironic scene here in which a freezing Logan and Jessica throw piles of American dollars on the fire, unaware of its value.  The point is made through imagery. War destroys everything. If the world is destroyed, currency and monetary wealth no longer carry value.

“Carousel.” Although burdened by an awkward set-up in which an advanced pacifist society erases Logan’s memory with an amnesia dart, the rest of the episode is quite strong, re-introducing the City of Domes setting to good effect.  

The episode looks hard at Logan and his development as an empathetic person. He learned to question his job, his life, and his society when he first ran. If he were to be robbed of his memory of those selections, would he learn again to question, or would he stagnate, falling back into the role of Sandman?  

We learn, in this case, that questioning authority, and his culture, is part of Logan’s gestalt. He chooses to grow, a second time.

“The Judas Goat.”  Another strong episode that revels in series mythology and history.  The series reintroduces the New You plastic surgery laser seen in the film, and then introduces to the series to the first Runner.  

We learn that the first runner began his escape only years earlier, thus revealing that “running” is a recent phenomenon in the City of Domes (the hints of a broader change taking place, as people question the order of things).  The episode also introduces the idea of Logan and Jessica returning to their home to make meaningful change there.  This is a powerful idea.  Instead of "running," Logan needs to confront his past.

“Futurepast.” This episode -- which on the surface is an android romance between REM and Ariana (Mariette Hartley) -- is actually the most visually stylish of all Logan’s Run entries.  

At a futuristic sleep clinic, Jessica and Logan fall into unending slumber and encounter nightmares that reveal their inner selves. Logan’s dreams are mostly stock footage clips from earlier episodes, but Jessica’s dreams involve the mother she never knew, and a Boogeyman representing Death.  The imagery is carefully and symbolically vetted, making the episode a visual treat.  This episode really looks great, even in 2017.

Mediocre Episodes:

“The Innocent.” This story is sort of like Star Trek’s “Charlie X” meets Stephen King’s Carrie. 

An adolescent girl living only with robots, in a hidden bunker, encounters Logan, and falls in love.  Because of her inexperience and jealousy, however, she becomes a danger to the runners.  

The story ends on a dopey note, with Logan encouraging the adolescent girl to go out and see the post-apocalyptic world, while not actually inviting her to travel with him.  This seems awfully dangerous, given the characters he's encountered! 

The robot designs in "The Innocent" are also some of the worst in TV history.  And yet, the episode boasts some powerful moments, as Jessica is viewed as a “rival” for Logan’s affections.

Bad Episodes:

“Half-a-Life.” Star Trek’s “The Enemy Within” gets purposelessly recycled here, with the Runners encountering a society where people extract their “evil” half using a transporter-like device. Jessica is forced to undergo the process, and Logan and REM must put her back together again.  

So…the post-apocalyptic world possesses transporter technology, converting and duplicating matter?  

That could come in handy in the re-building or feeding of the planet.  Instead, we get a Trek retread.

The Collectors.”  Two aliens who are collecting specimens from throughout the galaxy to bring back to a zoo on their home world attempt to capture Logan and Jessica for their collection by creating the illusion of Sanctuary for them.  

Although Jessica falls for the delusion hook, line and sinker, Logan questions what he is seeing. 

The parts of the episode that work effectively involve the false Sanctuary setting. The parts that don’t succeed involve the aliens and their captives. Aliens don’t really have a place in Logan’s Run, but here they are, anyway.

"Capture." Logan Run's thoroughly unimpressive and unmemorable stab at The Most Dangerous Game, a long-standing TV trope. 

A hunter and his mate capture Logan and Francis, and the former friends must now work together to survive the hunt. Not offensive so much as it is thoroughly predictable, and unambitious. It's a Most Dangerous Game story that meets a My Enemy/My Ally Story.  We've seen it all before, and we've seen it vetted in a more effective way.

“Fear Factor.” The Runners encounter an insane asylum of the future, and the lead doctor wants to control Jessica’s mind. 

When Logan and REM try to stop him, they are dropped into a torture chamber under the hospital.   

Here we encounter another poorly-conceived culture, with no grounding in reality, or history. Why is a mental hospital operating out in the middle of nowhere, with a full staff? Where does it get its power from? Where do the doctors train for their vocation?  

 “Night Visitors.” The Runners encounter a house occupied by Satan-worshipers, who want to use Jessica’s body as a vessel for a dead woman. 

In this tale, REM -- the android of logic and reason -- concludes that the house is haunted, and is inhabited by ghosts. It's a real low-point for the character's dignity.

Logan and Jessica, meanwhile, don’t bat an eye at the concept of ghosts, despite the fact that they should have no awareness of ghosts at all. There are no dead people in the City of Domes, ater all….everybody renews (one for one).

“Turnabout.” A story that at first attempts to concern religious extremism quickly becomes a mindless run-around, with endless rescues and captures, and even a sword fight.

“Stargate.” Likely the worst episode of the series. This one sees Logan and Jessica single-handedly stopping an alien invasion, while REM timidly acquiesces to disassembly by the extra-terrestrial conquerors.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Logan's Run 40th Anniversary Blogging: "Stargate" (February 6, 1978)

“Stargate” is the final episode of Logan’s Run: The Series (1977-1978), and the installment is a rough and disappointing note to go out on.  It’s another story about aliens on Earth (much like the ill-conceived “The Collectors.”)

At least that story played with a core idea of this franchise: what is Sanctuary? What should it look like?

“Stargate” isn’t grounded in any of the series’ good ideas at all.

Instead, this narrative requires our heroes -- who, let’s remember, are largely inexperienced in the world because of their sheltered City of the Dome upbringing -- to defeat an alien invasion single-handedly. Even REM is pretty useless.

In this story. Logan (Gregory Harrison), Jessica (Heather Menzies) and REM (Donald Moffat) encounter another city in the desert (like “Turnabout’s” Zidor).

This one is run, however, by aliens who wear thermal clothing because they can't stand the cold of Earth's atmosphere. They want to invade the planet, and remake it to their preferences.  They also possess a "stargate" or transporter which can bring aliens to Earth, but it's broken, and they need some of REM's parts to repair it.

The aliens start disassembling REM to use his pieces, but Logan and Jessica seek the help of a human survivor of the city, and attempt to set things right, preventing the alien invasion. This is especially important because they know that they will soon be "replaced" by alien doppelgangers in thermal suits, if they fail.

There are so many disappointing aspects of this story, it is difficult to know where to begin an analysis.  

First, REM seems way off here. He is captured by the alien leader, played by Paul Carr, and then basically submits to disassembly.  He never loses the pleasant, faintly insipid smile from his face, as he is slowly taken apart.  This seems weird, and wrong.  Even an android should have some form of survival instinct.  REM should be protective of his pieces, but he just willingly lets the aliens take his arm, and other bits. No matter what they take, however, he continues to function, so he can speak and relate to the other characters.

Remember how the android Bishop felt, half-destroyed in Alien3? He would have rather been nothing than live half-a-life. And Data, of course, would not have submitted willingly to his disassembly on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He would have fought it (see: "The Measure of a Man.")

An episode like this makes it much more difficult to respect REM as a sentient being, since he apparently has so little respect for himself or his body.  And, again, his behavior here doesn’t seem to ring true with knowledge from previous episodes. At the very least, REM must continue to exist so he can protect Logan and Jessica. He knows that.

Secondly, one has to wonder -- again -- why the series is offering hackneyed alien invasion stories.  Logan’s Run concerns a future dystopia, post-holocaust, as human survivors begin the process of reaching out to communicate with another. That step of contact/communication might be seen as the first step towards re-building civilization.  There is so much for the series to explore on Earth without involving visitors from other worlds.  It could explore the City of Domes, it could discuss what Sanctuary really means, it could adapt elements of the novel (Box!). It could feature civilizations that didn’t learn the lessons of the holocaust.

Instead, we get evil, invading aliens.  And the aliens in “Stargate” look absolutely ridiculous in their puffy thermal wear, as they try to cause global warming and make Earth’s temperature more to their liking.

And, as I’ve written before, episodes such as "Stargate" proceed from an incorrect assumption about the characters and their nature.  Logan and Jessica are not Starfleet officers. They are not scientists stationed on a moon base. They are not explorers or diplomats in any way, shape or form.  

They are, essentially, innocents experiencing the outside world for the first time. And yet we are to believe that they are capable of launching revolutions, stopping alien invasions, and so on.  It’s ridiculous that they can go into a situation like the one in "Stargate," and, basically, save the world.  

The premise is simply not true to what Logan’s Run is supposed to be about; which is discovery, or self-discovery, in Logan and Jessica’s case.

I will say this for the episode: the scene in “Stargate” in which the doppelgangers of Logan and Jessica melt away, like wax dummies, is effectively creepy.  It’s just too bad the imagery comes in service of a terrible story, one of Logan’s Run’s absolute worst.

Looking back at the series today, it’s clear that the best episodes are those which try to explore the intrinsic concepts of the franchise: war, dystopia, refugees, desperation, etc.  The episodes that try to be like Star Trek (1966-1969), only with flame guns and solar cars, are those that drag the series down towards mediocrity.

So Logan’s Run ends, as so many series once did, with no sense of closure or completion. 

How would I have ended things for our runners?  

Well, I would have ended the series with Logan and Jessica realizing that they can’t find “Sanctuary” on the run; that they have to make it for themselves.  I would have ended the series with them returning to the City of Domes, and launching a strategy to overturn the corrupt State, and make it their long-hoped for “Sanctuary.”

I’ll be presenting my list of Logan’s Run episodes -- best to worst -- tomorrow morning.

Next week at this time, I begin my look back at another 1970’s post-apocalyptic series: Planet of the Apes (1974).

Cult-TV Movie Review: Satan's Triangle (1975)

“Within the last thirty years just off the east coast of the United States, more than a thousand men, women and children have vanished from the face of the Earth. No one knows how or why. This is one explanation.”

-Title Card, Satan’s Triangle (1975).

A coast guard rescue copter out of Miami flies to the dead center of the Devil’s Triangle in response to a distress call from a yacht, the Requite. Aboard the copter are pilots Lt. J. Haig (Doug McClure) and Pagnolini (Michael Conrad).

They soon find the yacht adrift in the Triangle, with the corpse of a Catholic priest, Father Martin (Alejandro Rey) swinging from the main mast. When the helicopter begins to develop engine problems, Haig decides to board the ship, and Pagnolini returns to port for repairs..

Upon exploring the dark vessel, Haig discovers more oddities. In one room, a corpse seems to be levitating in mid-air, his face frozen in terror.

The only survivor on the yacht is lovely Eva (Kim Novak), a prostitute who tells Haig her strange story. She reports that the yacht encountered Father Martin, adrift and alone.  Once the priest came aboard, however, the crew abandoned ship, leaving only the captain (Ed Lauter) and the passengers. 

Then, one at a time, the passengers -- including the man that Eva was with -- began to die horribly, and some in apparently supernatural fashion.

Haig is a non-believer, however, and refuses to believe that the Devil is at work in these waters, even though Eva warns that “there is no way off this damn boat.”

Haig is able to convince her that there is no supernatural intervention by providing logical explanations for all the deaths, even the one involving a levitation (the man is speared on a sword fish…).

Eva acquiesces, and the couple make love.

Soon, Pagnolini returns to rescue the survivors. But aboard the helicopter, J. Haig experiences his first face-to-face encounter with the Devil…

Satan’s Triangle (1975) is another one of those weird and wonderful made-for-TV movies of the 1970’s that is scarier than it has any right to be. 

Satan’s Triangle is scary beyond the meager resources that went into its making. It is scary despite the network restrictions on violence limiting filmmakers working in those years.  It remains scary, even though audiences realize the TV-movie is also, oddly, hokey.

When I study the made-for-TV film today, I assess that it works so well, in part, because of the film techniques it utilizes. 

Satan’s Triangle is in no way, shape or form a found-footage film, but nonetheless there is an almost documentary feeling to the film’s early scenes. The camera is perched in control rooms, in cockpits, and it captures all the action without much by way of dialogue or overly theatrical acting. In these early sections, artificiality is reduced.

Satan's Triangle, at first, feels more like a movie documenting the Coast Guard and a rescue mission than it does a movie about the devil. When Haig takes a rescue basket (via winch) to the deck of the stranded yacht, the camera captures it all in one long take, and water even splashes on the lens several times.  The characters don’t comment much, or talk unnecessarily, and so we are left to assess the images alone for their verisimilitude.

These moments hold up to scrutiny.

On the soundtrack, meanwhile is a weird, ubiquitous howling sound. Is it just the wind? Or is it…Satan?

The pseudo-documentary feel by director Sutton Roley changes once Haig is inside the ship; in the belly of the beast, as it were. The movie suddenly takes on a more overt (and theatrical) “haunted house” feel with dim-lighting, strange noises and odd occurrences. The appearance of the levitating body, for example, is quite shocking. 

There’s one amazing shot here in which the (levitating) face of the deceased man -- face frozen in a rictus of terror -- is perched in the foreground, and Haig and Eva are in the background. It’s a super-imposition of terror, and evil, over normality.

The movie also attempts to craft a legitimate theme, arguing rationality vs. irrationality. The script ultimately comes to explain every “supernatural” event as a factor of the natural world. The blow-back from firing a flare gun is what knocked Father Martin from the mast, and killed him.  The “levitating” man is just speared on a fish, suspended by the sword. Even the crew disappearances are explained (via speculative flashbacks.)

In short, Satan’s Triangle goes to great pains to establish that the world is not an irrational, supernatural one.  It may even convince you.

Until the bottom falls out.  

Until the movie collapses -- or perhaps ascends -- into a final scene of bizarre, utter madness. Haig finds that he has returned to the helicopter not with Eva but with the Devil.  Eva's body has been discovered on the ship with the rescuers. Instead, the pilot has brought the devil to the helicopter, in the form of Father Martin.

The Devil then attacks, and events descend deeper into chaos.  This denouement features a real dream-like, or more appropriately, nightmare-like quality.  Again, this third act functions as a very strong contrast to the almost-documentary feel of the movie’s start, and is thus doubly effective.

There are no real special effects to speak of in the finale, except an exceptionally nice stunt fall, as Haig is driven by Satan from the copter to the ocean far below. Instead of effects, the movie relies on Conrad’s ability to convey terror, and Rey’s expressive capacity to depict bug-eyed evil.

It all works perfectly.

I have peers, particularly a brother-in-law, who saw this film on ABC on January 14, 1975, and swear, to this day, that Satan’s Triangle is the most terrifying movie they’ve ever seen. Having not seen it as an impressionable child, I don’t know that I would make exactly the same claim.

Instead, I’ll just say that Satan’s Triangle, a low-budget, 74 minute made-for-TV movie, is eerily effective, and surprisingly well-made.  The film techniques save the day or at least this is "one explanation," for the movie's cult-status.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ertl Space Shuttle

Lego Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle GAF Viewmaster

Trading Cards of the Week: Space Shots

Model Kit of the Week: Space Shuttle (Revell)

Board Game of the Week: Space Shuttle 101

Board Game of the Week: Space Shuttle - The Game

Lunch Box of the Week: Enterprise Orbiter