Saturday, August 11, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: "Make Room for Big Daddy"


When they break Big Daddy's shell-o-vision set, Blurp and Slurp decide to run away and move in with Sigmund, who has just been given an old TV set for his club house residence.

When Sigmund's brothers take over the club-house, they play the TV much too loud, earning the ire of the nosy neighbor, old Miss Ettles (Margaret Hamilton). 

In attempt to get rid of Slurp and Blurp, Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott (Scott Kolden) leave a not for Big Daddy about where to find his sons.  Big Daddy runs the monsters off, but then decides he wants to live in the clubhouse, himself.

Johnny tape records the voice of Sweet Mama, finally, to scare off Big Daddy. 

But more problems arise: Miss Ettles has called the sheriff over the noise from the TV in the clubhouse.


"Make Room for Big Daddy" is a fun episode of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters that, much like other episodes, features the sea monster family more prominently than it does Sigmund. It is clear that the Sea Monsters have become the most popular, and most utilized characters on the series. Here, they set up residence in the Club House to enjoy the television.

Margaret Hamilton guest stars in this episode, and her final scene in the episode sees her coming face to face with Sigmund screaming in terror. Of course, Hamilton is best known for playing a monster, herself. She portrayed the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Otherwise, this story continues the series gag of featuring monster-related TV programs and films. Big Daddy wants to watch a movie called The Godzilla-Father (The Godfather [1972]), and a TV show called The Cod Squad.

Next week: "It's Your Move."

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "Horror in the Heights" (December 20, 1974)


On December 20, 1974, the short-lived ABC supernatural TV series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker aired one of its creepiest and most memorable installments.

In "Horror in the Heights," our Watergate-Era, crusading investigative reporter, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) combats a devilish creature who can appear to an unwary victim as that person's most trusted friend or relative.

Penned by Jimmy Sangster (The Horror of Frankenstein [1970], Fear in the Night [1972]), "Horror in the Heights" specifically concerns a mythical Indian beast called a "Rakshasa" preying on Jewish senior citizens in Roosevelt Heights, a section of Chicago that Kolchak (Darren McGavin) reports doesn't "appear in the city guidebook." That's probably so because municipal authorities don't want to draw attention to the poverty-ridden slum. It's a place, in the INS reporter's words, where "fixed incomes" battle "galloping inflation."

Lately, there have been a rash of deaths in the Heights, and the non-plussed police officers blame hungry rats for the corpses -- stripped of skin -- that seem to be popping up at an alarming rate. Senior citizen Harry Starman (Phil Silvers) has a different opinion, however. He believes that the owner of a local Indian Restaurant is actually a Nazi, and that this foreigner is behind the killings of the elderly locals. As his evidence Harry shows Kolchak the swastika graffiti painted all over the Heights, and particularly in the Hindu's backyard.


What Kolchak discovers, however, is that the Swastika is actually a Hindu symbol, one often deployed to "ward off evil spirits." And it isn't the rats doing the killing either, but rather the demonic Rakshasa or "flesh-eater."

Far from being a Nazi, the old Hindu has devoted sixty years of his life to hunting the Rakshasas, beasts who "send emissaries into the living world" to see if the time is ripe for a re-appearance.

And when, precisely is the time ripe for the Rakshasa's return? The old Indian confides in Kolchak that it will be an epoch of "mistrust," "moral decline" and "decadence."

In other words...now.

The only weapon that can destroy a Rakshasa is a crossbow loaded with steel bolts, but the Hindu warns Kolchak that the Rakshasa is fiendishly clever...that it can appear to its enemy in the guise of a person most trusted and most beloved.

Kolchak isn't certain he believes all this, but then-- in darkest night -- he spots his dear friend, elderly Miss Emily, alone in the dark before him. Kolchak tells her not to approach, but she reaches out for him gently, saying that she's frightened...



Like the best episodes of this exquisite old horror series, there's a seedy, twilight, slightly unhinged aura to "Horror in the Heights." Early in the episode, for instance, an old Jewish man named Buck is confronted by the Rakshasa after playing an illicit game of poker on Friday night. Gambling on Friday is against Hebrew edict, and the Rakshasa takes the form of Buck's guilt: as his disapproving rabbi. Caught in the act, the repentant old man confesses to his rabbi, and the beast...takes him.

In a clever composition, the monster appears as the smiling rabbi when Buck's back is to the camera. But when Buck's front is facing the camera (in the reverse angle...) we see the back of an inhuman, hulking creature...moving into an embrace of death.

Another creepy scene involves a sweet, bickering, elderly couple taking a detour through a dark alley by nightfall, and encountering the Rakshasa. The camera goes wobbly in an immediacy-provoking first-person subjective shot, and the blighted urban location is convincing...and menacing.



The underlying theme of the show is that, in modern society, the elderly are preyed upon by all sorts of "monsters." In real life, those monsters are called poverty or crime. In the twilight world of Kolchak, the monster is a Rakshasa, a living embodiment of an old man's fear that he doesn't know "who to trust" in a world that has passed him by. Kolchak and his boss, Vincenzo, argue about the reliability of Harry's beliefs and Kolchak points out that "Old doesn't have to be synonymous with senility."

Old Age is an issue also affecting the Hindu Rakshasa hunter, who has grown so infirm that he can no longer complete his life's work: destroying the monster. He says to Kolchak, in a line I love (and I'm afraid that we will all eventually relate to, over the years): "I never thought I would be old, but look at me now..."



Kolchak: The Night Stalker often trades in ethnic myth and lore (Native American, last week), and "Horror of the Heights" is no exception to that rule. There's some nice misdirection in the use of the Swastika, a symbol which has come to be associated with Nazis, hate-crime, racism and anti-Semitism. Here, the symbol -- in a Hindu incarnation -- represents the "Sun" and "grounded-ness." 

Similarly, the episode gets the ghoulish details of the Rakshasa mythology right: According to Wikipedia, "Rakshasas are notorious for disturbing sacrifices, desecrating graves, harassing priests, possessing human beings, and so on. Their fingernails are venomous, and they feed on human flesh and spoiled food. They are shape-changers, illusionists, and magicians."

Kolchak: The Night Stalker often made for rewarding viewing not merely because of the scary scenarios, or the seedy texture, but because of the colorful performances and overarching sense of gallows or black humor. That trait is in evidence here, too. Phil Silvers is terrific as the frightened Harry Starman, and there's a scene involving an obnoxious exterminator who eats a sandwich while spraying toxic chemicals on a yard. And Kolchak's interview of a bored waiter at the Indian Restaurant is droll to say the least.

Finally, "Horror in the Heights" ends in the manner of all truly chilling campfire stories; by explicitly reminding us that the terror is still out there. As Kolchak dictates the tale of the Rakshasa and Roosevelt Heights into his tape recorder, he looks up -- almost at us -- and reminds travelers to be wary should they ever be walking alone at night on a "lonely country road"... and happen to see their "favorite aunt" coming towards them in the moonlight.


Next week: "Mr. R.I.N.G."

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Coloring Book of the Week: The Banana Splits (Whitman)


Halloween Costume of the Week: The Banana Splits (Ben Cooper)


Comic-Book of the Week: The Banana Splits (Gold Key)


The Banana Splits Record Album (Kellogg's)


The Banana Splits Talking Telephone (Hasbro)


Board Game of the Week: The Banana Splits (Hasbro)


Lunch Box of the Week: The Banana Splits


Theme Song of the Week: The Banana Splits (1968-1970)

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Deadline Looming! Big Changes Ahead!



Hi everybody,

I have been meaning to write this for some time. 

First, I want to sincerely thank all the readers who have stuck with me this year, when I have had much less time to devote to the blog. I appreciate it so much. 

Right now, my semester is starting at my college, where I am Department Chair for Humanities and Social Sciences -- and hey, I'm teaching a horror film class this fall, as well as Intro to Communication and Public Speaking! 

But also, I have a book deadline approaching September 1st. 

I'm afraid that with all these responsibilities, the pickings here have been slimmer than I would prefer. Right now everything is at a fever pitch, and the blog has suffered for it.

So, I just want everybody to know what has been going on.

However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and am looking forward to September.  I am planning a major revamp, redesign, and rethink of the blog as I head into its fifteenth year. So basically, I'm recommitting to this form, and this conversation about popular culture. 

I think it is time to put to bed some categories of blog that I have been doing for eight or nine years (since my last rethink), and thus offer a new array of choices, both in video and written form. So I'm still going to write about films, TV shows, and toys, just change things up a bit in terms of how it is presented.

So, long story short: If you can hang with me and the blog in its current form for about one more month, it is my plan that things will pick up again, and we move to 3.0.  There will still be Kolchak and Saturday morning posts up, as well as other intermittent ones, in the meantime.

But look for some positive changes, and more content, when my deadline is passed and the semester is in progress.

Thank you again, for sticking around, and for your friendship. Now back to the show...

Best,
JKM

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: "Sweet Mama Redecorates"



Things go awry in the Sea Monster family cave when Sweet Mama demands new furniture to spruce the place up, and Big Daddy does not want to pay for replacements. The brothers come up with the idea to steal the furniture from Johnny and Scott's house instead.

The monsters swap Zelda's furniture with their rock furniture, causing a crisis for the human family. Sheriff Bevins is called in to stop the burglaries, but is unable to do so.

Meanwhile, back at the cave, Sweet Mama decides she does not like Zelda's furniture after all, and wants all new rock furniture. A frustrated (and cheap) Big Daddy thus issues the boys an ultimatum. If they pay him 100 clams (the price for new furniture), he will return Zelda's belongings.


"Sweet Mama Redecorates" is a fun episode of this classic Sid and Marty Krofft live-action series though, for the most part, it sidelines the titular character. Sigmund is hardly in this segment at all.  Instead, the focus is largely on the Sea Monsters, and Zelda and Sheriff Bevins have bigger than normal roles as well.

Sigmund's scene sees him expressing sadness at the thieving and bad behavior of his family. "I'd like to resign from the sea monsters, and become a porpoise," he declares.

Otherwise, the episode features some mildly humorous moments, including Zelda's description of the sea monster furniture as "early American rock pile."  

The Sea Monster TV show of the week is a soap opera called "As the Werewolf Turns." And another funny moment sees the monsters trying to figure out what an ironing board is. Big Daddy mistakes it for a bed.

Next week: "Make Room for Big Daddy."

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Energy Eater" (December 13, 1974)


Kolchak (Darren McGavin) attends a new hospital opening on the Lakeshore, only to learn at the dedication that the facility has been plagued by power surges and outages, and even patient deaths.

Carl looks into the mystery and realizes there is some dark energy, or power working in the hospital, possibly due to the fact that it is built on a geothermal fault. Kolchak also learns that several Native American construction workers left the premises during the building of the hospital, apparently spooked by something. He visits the former foreman, Jim Elkhorn (William Smith), a Lothario who tells Kolchak about the legend of Matchemonedo, an ancient myth, and perhaps God.

Carl learns from the recounting of the legend that Matchemonedo cannot survive in the cold. And to exorcise the hospital, he applies cold to a crack in the hospital floor, repelling the legend and forcing back into hibernation.  In the end, the hospital is closed, to be rebuild near a cold lake.


"The Energy Eater," while forecasting some story elements of The Manitou (1978), is nonetheless one of the weakest episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). 

The episode is poorly paced and deadly dull. Specifically, there are long spells in this segment wherein Kolchak is simply exploring/investigating the underbelly of the hospital, walking about alone. The great joy in this series typically involves the colorful character's "fly in the ointment" interaction with useless authority, or government and law enforcement officials. But in these suspense-less, slow moments, the series feels largely lobotomized, or toothless. Carl's appeal is that he is an every man -- and terrified of monsters, as we would be. He is a truth-seeker, seeing through PR, conspiracies, and double-talk.  If Kolchak isn't talking and pushing back against lies and bluster, there is little compelling reason to watch.

And it's a shame, because the episode, in theory, should work beautifully. Jim Elkhorn is a fun character, always on the make, looking for the next woman to bed...while forgetting Kolchak's first name. And Joyce Jillson plays an acerbic nurse who deadpans some funny lines of dialogue ("Of course people are dying...this is a hospital.")  These two individuals are fun quasi-allies for Kolchak, and the setting -- the most "modern medical facility in existence" -- should provide plenty of interest, and opportunity.

Perhaps it is the unseen, non-corporeal nature of the monster this week that scuttles the episode. The energy eater is an unseen force mostly, even though he "impresses" his creepy image on an x-ray.  But there is just no sense of presence, malevolence, personality or character for this monster-of-the-week, making him a dud. 


And the climax is poorly staged, basically consisting of just Darren McGavin in a hallway, alone, spraying a crack-in-the-floor with a fire extinguisher. The word underwhelming does not begin to describe the climax, or the nature of this week's threat.  It's all incredibly weak.  


Still, Miss Emily gets a nice scene at the INS, passionately arguing the importance of the senior citizen set.

Next week, one of the best Kolchak stories: "Horror in the Heights."