Monthly Archives: March 2018

Where Time Began (1977)

More than a year ago, I let our son know that we’d see several variations on the classic Jules Verne tale Journey to the Center of the Earth. If the one with James Mason was too long, and it was, here’s a leaner 90-minute version that gets to where it needs to go in a comparative rush, and then adds lots more dinosaurs, among other things.

I saw Where Time Began six or seven times on HBO in 1979 or 1980 and gradually forgot that the film existed. It’s a Spanish film directed by Juan Piquer Simón and these days it usually trades under a title that’s a closer translation of the original name: Viaje al centro de la Tierra, or The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The movie stars Kenneth More along with Pep Munné, Ivonne Sentis, and Jack Taylor, which is why this film got a recharge in my memory circuits. About a year and a half ago, I was reading up on the films of Jess Franco, and Taylor, who starred in at least three of Franco’s movies, got a little sidebar. I then remembered Where Time Began, kind of. I mainly remembered it as the movie with the giant tortoises and the poisonous dust, which is very surprising because these are unbelievably minor plot points. The movie spends about fifty seconds total on the two things!

Our son enjoyed this more than I was expecting. Some of these older films don’t quite have the punch with him that I thought that they might. The faster pace and gee-wow effects of modern movies just appeal more to kids. But he didn’t see through the really hopeless monster effects of this movie at all. Two sea monsters get into a bloody battle and he was riveted. If you’ve got a six or seven year-old at home, this is definitely one to consider watching, because ours was fascinated by everything in it: quicksand, caves, sea monsters, dinosaur graveyards, giant tortoises, whirlpools, volcanoes, and, apparently because the 1976 King Kong was making giant apes trendy again, there’s a thirty foot tall gorilla as well. That’s not in Verne’s novel, is it?

There’s one little addition to the movie’s sequence of events that really did surprise me. It’s a small scene that doesn’t seem to have a great deal of impact on the narrative, but it’s almost as weird as that “what the heck did I just watch” finale of The Black Hole. In this version, Professor Lindenbrock’s party meets just one other person underground, a taciturn man named Orson played by Jack Taylor. He keeps to himself and speaks briefly about his own experiments, and after the giant gorilla business, he shows Munné and Sentis something downright weird. Miles beneath the Earth’s surface, there’s a bizarre super-scientific city. Through a telescope, the young people see that the people in the city are all identical to Orson. He swears them to secrecy and the odd sight is indeed never mentioned again.

A lot of this movie seems like the director was throwing everything at the screen to see what would stick. We were never bored, but it did feel like some of the danger was a little too distant. We see some monsters only very briefly, and some never menace our heroes at all, as though the film didn’t have the resources to actually do anything with them. But this is a movie for kids to watch and to enjoy safe little frights. Just having the crocodile-like head of some beast roar and retreat is all that’s needed for some viewers. If you’re a grownup, you might want to obtain the service of a kid before watching this version!

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The Twilight Zone 3.26 – Little Girl Lost

Thumbs down from our son this morning, as Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost” dumps a six year-old girl named Tina into a portal in her bedroom wall, and only her disembodied voice can be heard. Robert Sampson and Sarah Marshall play her terrified parents, and Charles Aidman is either a family friend or an uncle, a physicist who theorizes that Tina is trapped in the fourth or the fifth dimension.

I had the feeling this might hit a little close to home, but a safe fright here and there is what television’s for at this age. But this was “too crazy” and he wasn’t happy with the story at all. Just as well I’m not planning to show him Poltergeist anytime soon. But I cautioned him to not fall into any walls as he went to get dressed, and his mother chided me for trying to make him afraid of things that aren’t there.

Some other things of interest this morning: Tina’s parents share a bed, which you didn’t see on television all that often in 1962. And speaking of beds, not only is Tina’s bed insanely high off the floor – all the better for the cameras to capture Sampson and Marshall looking under it – but despite having enough room under there to store a wagon, a two-story dollhouse, a clothes trunk, a basketball, and every plush animal that’s ever been stuffed, there’s nothing under this bed at all. I know television in the classic days was almost always likely to present us with spotlessly clean homes, otherwise the judgmental jerks in the 1960s audience would sneer at the housewife tasked with keeping them uncluttered, but I’ve chosen to believe that the portal ate all the toys that Tina kept under her bed. When the portal made its way to a “Treehouse of Horror” on The Simpsons about thirty years later, Homer was probably tripping over Tina’s long-lost shoes.

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MacGyver 2.1 – The Human Factor

Our son really likes MacGyver, and why shouldn’t he? It’s perfect for kids, with an inventive hero who doesn’t use guns and no real shocks or scares in the stories. Plus, his mom likes it, and he sure does like his mom, even if he somehow thinks that she has spent three years lying to him about how covering your face with a washcloth will keep shampoo out of your eyes, the blasted kid. So she and I have selected another ten episode run, this time from the second season.

“The Human Factor” is the only episode of this show I’d ever seen, and I wasn’t taken enough to watch it again. I tuned in for this one in the fall of 1986 (or possibly on a repeat) because somebody at the Atlanta Doctor Who club, Terminus TARDIS, had said that it was a tip of the hat to the show’s former producer Terry Nation and had little waist-high “Daleks” in it. They’re in the service of a supercomputer that’s lost its marbles and wants to kill Mac and guest star June Chadwick, who you may recall from V and This is Spinal Tap.

It’s fun to see the little drones with gun-eyes shooting lasers at our hero while the supercomputer is saying “Eliminate!” It’s a little less fun to see a garbage room with an acid bath beneath the floor, which opens when 280 pounds of weight piles up. Daleks and fake floors above pits of acid? This is meant to be a top security military base, but it seems to have been designed by a middle school boy in between Dungeons & Dragons evenings. At one point, Mac walks on a tightrope above a pressure-sensitive floor, and later there’s a corridor with a laser beam “gate,” and later still they sneak around in a ventilation shaft. I guess the budget must not have run to trained crocodiles with chainsaws, because that’s where this very, very silly episode was heading.

We asked our son whether the drones reminded him of anything. He shouted “Daleks!” Good. I’d have been worried if they didn’t.

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The Avengers 5.7 – The Living Dead

It’s not much of a downside, I’ll grant you, but one downside to planning ahead a couple of weeks for this blog is that I start overthinking about certain episodes, or I get the title stuck in my head, which will often get a song with the same name stuck in my head. So I’ve had Suede’s “The Living Dead” playing in my brain for weeks. There are worse fates, I guess. Still, I’ll be glad now that we’ve moved on, and hopefully the song’s been exorcised.

Well, our son really enjoyed this one. “The Living Dead” is a Brian Clemens script from a story by Anthony Marriott. This is the second time this season that somebody who’d worked with Gerry Anderson’s team got an idea going and Clemens finished it. Marriott was at the time working on the hugely successful detective series Public Eye for the Associated British Corporation. It does have a very off-kilter climax, though. He loved the tension as Steed stoically faces a firing squad while Mrs. Peel is beating the daylights out of three different people and rushing to the rescue. Then she mows nine people down with a machine gun! You certainly didn’t see very many women on TV in the sixties doing that!

“The Living Dead” is a good story, but not one of my favorites. There’s not quite enough wit and fun in it for my liking, but the only real flaw in the production is the same one that stood out in “The Hour That Never Was”. We’re shown a photo of a man who’s been dead for five years, and it’s a photo of actor Edward Underdown. If you guess that the character isn’t actually dead, you’re right! Other famous faces in the story include Pamela Ann Davy, Julian Glover, and Howard Marion-Crawford.

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The Twilight Zone 3.24 – To Serve Man

You might ask yourself, wasn’t our son a little young to start watching The Twilight Zone? And honestly, there have been times that the cultural divide of nearly sixty years has seemed awfully vast for such a small boy, but I wanted to get started when he was six because the twist of “To Serve Man” is one of those that just about everybody learns before they actually see the story.

I’m genuinely curious, readers. If you’re in your forties or younger, did you ever get to see this unspoiled? It’s like the end of Citizen Kane. If you didn’t see this in the sixties, you heard the twist before you could see it.

And so I thought I was able to sneak this under the bar and apparently I failed. Our son exclaimed “I knew it! I knew it!” And this is not how he responds to the devilish twists of The Twilight Zone. He insisted that he knew where this one was going as soon as he heard the title. So this morning, I was looking over a gargantuan list of movies and TV shows that have referenced the Kanamits’ cookbook. It’s in Madagascar. Madafreakinggascar! My wife was hurrying to finish making her lunch and get out the door. “Has he seen Madagascar in afterschool care?!” I grumbled. “That would explain it,” she said. “He did seen very sincere last night.”

And to think I gave that dumb movie a pass for the wonderful gag about flinging poo at Tom Wolfe!

Anyway, the surprisingly large cast of “To Serve Man” includes Lloyd Bochner and Susan Cummings, with Richard Kiel as the main Kanamit and Joseph Ruskin, uncredited, as the alien’s voice. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling from a story by Damon Knight. Some of the special effects were repurposed from Ray Harryhausen’s 1956 movie Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, which is a much better movie than you’d expect from one with a name that silly. It’s a pretty good episode.

You know, I’ve held off showing him Planet of the Apes because the gorillas are so amazingly cruel. I’ll try to accept the probability that some fool cartoon with breakdancing pigs or linedancing antelopes has referenced the end of that one as well.

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Thunderbirds are Go 2.18 – Grandma Tourismo

The third season of Thunderbirds are Go will actually be starting this weekend in the UK, so I suppose we’d better watch a few more of these since we might have a new DVD set this summer. Briefly then, this episode, which was written by Amy Wolfram, is a badly-needed star outing for Grandma Tracy. It’s a great character piece set around a very neat pair of rescues in the middle of a powerful sandstorm. She may not bake the tastiest cookies, and her tracksuits might not be all that fashionable, but anybody who can drive the Mole that well has my respect!

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Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (parts five and six)

So season thirteen concluded with a bang and a joke. This story was too scary for our son to ever want to see again – that’s this season in a nutshell – but he enjoyed the explosions and the Doctor and Sarah sharing a smile at the coda. I actually gave him a heads-up that the composting machine that frightened him, and absolutely everybody else who watched this, in episode four would be back to menace Sarah tonight, but that she’d be fine. The scene really is an amazingly tense one, with Tony Beckley’s character doomed, but he and Tom Baker fighting with amazing desperation.

The entire production is just terrific. I really enjoy the visuals and the music, and how the actors are playing this situation entirely believably. They’re trapped and terrified and I think this really rubbed off on our son. This and “Pyramids of Mars” are just wall-to-wall shocks. What a great, great season. Except for the last half of “The Android Invasion,” but 24 out of 26 episodes is an excellent run.

Speaking of “The Android Invasion,” I was saying how we wuz robbed of a farewell scene where the Doctor tells his friends that he’s moving on. Isn’t it strange that when the Doctor escapes from Harrison Chase’s estate, it’s to contact Sir Colin of the World Ecology Bureau? You and I know the production reason is “Because they’re paying that actor already and built the set for his office,” but he doesn’t make a beeline for a phone to call Harry, Benton, or Colonel Faraday. We hear that the Brigadier is in Geneva (still, or again, I wonder) and a Major Beresford is in charge, but why doesn’t the Doctor phone his other friends? The story opens with the Doctor already in the UK and visiting the World Ecology Bureau on somebody’s recommendation. Have he and Sarah been in England for some time, and he’d already told his friends goodbye and turned in the keys to his old lab? Is that why he wants to rush to Sir Colin, because he didn’t want to phone Harry a couple of days after figuring he was gone for good?

Anyway, a couple of goodbyes to note this time. This is the final Doctor Who story to be directed by the great Douglas Camfield, and the last of two to be written by Robert Banks Stewart. He’d go on to create two extremely popular crime dramas for the BBC, Shoestring and Bergerac. Camfield directed three episodes of Shoestring along with several other notable shows over the next eight years, including an eight-hour adaptation of Beau Geste, episodes of The Sweeney, The Professionals, and Danger UXB, and the acclaimed miniseries The Nightmare Man. Readers may recall that Camfield had a heart condition that waylaid him during production of the Who serial “Inferno” in 1970. He died of a heart attack in 1984, aged 52. When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand the fuss about Camfield. When I later felt the energy and the tension that crackles through his stories, I got it. He brought out some of the very best performances from all of the actors and really made these last two serials in particular something very special. Doctor Who often rises above the quality of its production, but it would be many years before the show would have a director who could kick things up quite as high as Douglas Camfield could do it.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who for all those in the audience with a nervous disposition, but stay tuned! We’re planning to start season fourteen in just a couple of weeks!

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Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (parts three and four)

The story moves back to England for its middle parts, making this kind of unique in the seventies Earth stories in that it’s an actual globetrotter. Most alien invasions of the planet head straight for the UK. This one came to Antarctica tens of thousands of years ago.

And once the show comes back to familiar ground, the horror quotient just skyrockets. Our son absolutely hated the cliffhanger to part three, when it looks like the Krynoid pod is going to infect Sarah, and part four is just wall-to-wall terror. The big composting machine had him running upstairs to his own room. He came back down just in time to see the infected man, Keeler, lose every trace of his humanity. It’s a terrific shock moment, with the butler dropping his tray at the sight of a huge, angry, green monster in the room. He bolted upstairs again.
“Yeah, I’m not surprised. That really was a scary scene,” his mother said.

Conventional wisdom has it that the larger size Krynoid, which is a throbbing green mass about twelve feet high, isn’t the most convincing monster, but our son swears that’s the scariest moment yet. This is a great story, even if our son’s fear factor meant that we were a little bit distracted.

In lighter news, Sylvia Coleridge joins the cast as a daffy old lady, because that’s what she specialized in playing. There’s a repeat of the “And the music’s terrible” gag that was used in the previous story. Then, the Doctor was sick of the Sisterhood singing their hit “Sacred Fire, Sacred Flame.” This time, Tony Beckley’s character is playing Chick Corea’s keyboard parts from Miles Davis’s 1970 Fillmore West show because he thinks it will help his plants grow. Don’t believe me? Compare Beckley’s noise in that scene to “Masqualero” on Black Beauty. He’s lucky his plants don’t strangle him to death.

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