Category Archives: king of the castle

King of the Castle 1.6 and 1.7

“Do we have to watch both parts tonight?” our son asked.

“Best to get it over with,” I replied.

Honestly, for all that’s visually interesting about King of the Castle from a technical standpoint, this really wasn’t very good. Talfryn Thomas was fun to watch, and while my heart sank as the usually reliable Fulton Mackay and Milton Johns’ characters reentered the story, at least Johns’ Frankenstein character “speaks” with a bizarre electronic howl.

But the main problem is that the hero of the story is such an unsympathetic drip. He gets pronounced “snivelling, whimpering” at one point in part seven and I said “yes.” He finally, and not at all surprisingly, exercises some self-confidence and control when he returns to the real world at the end. Then one of the ways they illustrate his newfound grownupness is by having him bin a big stack of Hotspur comics and a Howard the Duck # 5. The heathen.

Our son enjoyed parts three and four, kind of enjoyed part five, and pretty much hated the last two. Roland becomes the King of the Castle at the end of part five, spends part six demanding everybody conform to his rules and makes enemies of them all, and spends most of part seven in some oddball courtroom drama that plays like experimental theater before going home. He tried to avoid admitting that he was just plain bored by calling it “creepy,” but he really had nothing at all to say about it and is glad that it was over.

So no, that certainly wasn’t the best serial that HTV made in the seventies. I wish that The Georgian House existed in full. I bet that one was great!

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King of the Castle 1.5

I’ve teased HTV’s later serial Into the Labyrinth for redressing the same set every week, but at its core, that’s an imaginative and clever use of their very limited resources. King of the Castle is doing the same trick with a two-story set with a large central area and a mezzanine above and around it. It’s done service as the Frankenstein lab, the love witch’s lair, the kitchen, and now the central foyer of a medieval castle. We’ll look at the last two episodes later in the week, and I’m curious what they’ll do next.

Our son was pretty impatient with this one at first, but once it moves into that set for a pretty impressive swordfight, he really started to get into it. He doesn’t like it as much as he likes Labyrinth, but it’s got a few fun surprises.

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King of the Castle 1.3 and 1.4

Marie gave up on this serial after the unbelievable awfulness of episode two, so she’s not going to believe this, but this has become a much, much more interesting production without Fulton Mackay’s overacting. In episode three, young Roland deals with a beautiful witch who schemes to shrink him and add him to a collection of captive children, and in episode four, he is trapped in a steamy scullery with several disheveled children under the thumb of a guard who screams “work makes you free!” at them and forces them to do repetitive, meaningless chores.

It’s not quite as visually bizarre as the second part, which makes it less interesting for me, but the special effects crew pulled off an impressive-for-the-1977-tech trick of shrinking the kid, trapping him under a crystal ball, and then having him walk the globe off a table. After the Frankenstein horrors and the bullying of the first two parts, this has become a more conventional adventure story, and, much like Into the Labyrinth, it’s pitched just right at eight year-olds. Our kid really got into Roland’s escape from the love witch, and hissed “yes!” as he got to a safe spot in the wall.

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King of the Castle 1.1 and 1.2

Back now to 1977, for a seven-part serial made by HTV which our son calls “absolutely scary” and his mother calls “actively painful.” King of the Castle was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had made the fantastic Sky for HTV two years previously and, like Sky, it really should have made it to Nickelodeon’s Third Eye anthology. It’s a freaky, supernatural and very weird story. I don’t agree with either my wife or my son about it so far. I think it’s very peculiar and odd, and even though it’s lining up to climax with a “gasp! it was all… a dream!” ending, I’m curious to see where it’s going before it gets there.

At least it starts out well enough. King of the Castle stars Philip Da Costa as the son of a saxophone player who’s got a scholarship to a local, exclusive school, although he’d rather read comics – the props department mocked up a Mummy’s Tomb cover and pasted it atop a seventies Marvel UK title but didn’t bother to dress the back of the magazine and its ads for other Marvel comics – and keep a low profile. His family’s moved to the top floor of a ten-story apartment building and the elevator’s out of order and a tough teen called Ripper has his gang of bullies ready to cause trouble on the staircases. Providing support are some generally very reliable character actors, including Milton Johns, Fulton Mackay, and Talfryn Thomas.

Interestingly, episode one is almost entirely filmed on location on 16mm film. It’s only right at the end when our young hero backs into the out-of-order elevator and it plummets to lower levels that the videotape starts. Up to this point, our son had watched with a mix of sympathy and frustration – our kid has always hated bullies on TV and movies – and the instant the world changed into a creepy dungeon with cobwebs, bizarre sound effects, and overlay on top of overlay on top of overlay as the guy running the video mixer loses his mind, he got incredibly scared and hid.

No pictures will convey how weird this looks. I imagine most of our readers are familiar enough with the sort of image-atop-image visuals of seventies videotape, whether you can picture the blue-screen worlds of Sid and Marty Krofft or, most precisely, the alien ship/environment in Doctor Who‘s “Claws of Axos,” which was also written by Baker and Martin. Now take that look and go nuts. In part two, Da Costa and Talfryn Thomas, now playing a different character with a similar set of keys, navigate through cramped environments with lots of curtains or obstacles to block a clear shot, like an amusement park haunted house, but then other elements are chromakeyed on top of those, and other visuals on top of those. By the time we get to the Frankenstein castle where Mackay’s otherworld character lives, they’re keying lava lamp blobs on top of erlenmeyer flasks full of green food coloring and then keying firecracker sparks on top of those.

But I’ll grant my wife one point: it’s one thing to suffer through a bad performance from an otherwise unknown actor – take Mordred in “Battlefield,” please – but seeing a really good actor like Fulton Mackay go so over the top in this wretched performance really is painful. At least he’s doing it on a downright weird set and there’s lots of other things to look at. Like Milton Johns’ Frankenstein monster in a Ronald McDonald wig. Really.

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