The Bionic Woman 1.14 – The Ghosthunter

I wonder how the producers of this show decided what would be acceptable fantasy elements and what would be outlandish enough to make the characters question it. Bionics, robots, space aliens, psychic powers, those are all okay and understandable, but ghosts? Admittedly, by this point in the two shows, it’s Steve who has seen all the really bizarre stuff, but if there is a ghost in Essexville, Massachusetts haunting a descendant of a woman who was executed in nearby Salem, are you honestly going to tell me it’s that much more wild than those aliens with the toxic skin who crashed on Earth?

This isn’t a bad story at all. It’s the first season finale, written and directed by the show’s producer, Kenneth Johnson, and it looks like an end-of-season cheapie, with only four guest speaking parts, but it’s well-made and effective. Especially so for our son, who, for the first time in ages, got really upset by the frights. About a half an hour after we finished watching it, he started weeping because he was “freaked out” and didn’t want to get ready for bed!

But before the frights, he was absolutely outraged by another moment. Jaime and her boyfriend-of-the-week take a canoe into the lake for some grown-up time away from the boyfriend’s daughter, who looks to be about twelve or so. He suggests that she take a nap. Our son didn’t appreciate that at all. “You should never leave a kid alone! Never!” he shouted. We don’t even joke about going in to pay for our gasoline without him. I almost told him that forty years ago, parents did leave their kids alone like that, but I decided against it. The world’s insane enough now without letting him know what degenerates we were in the seventies.

We’ll be taking a short break from the two Bionic series, but will resume with seasons four and two at the end of the month!

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part five)

“The Dæmons” is rightly criticized for its ending, but not for the right part of the ending. The problem isn’t the incredibly rushed and ridiculous part where Jo’s offer of self-sacrifice confuses Azal so much that he immediately starts shouting “Does not relate” – if he were a computer in a sixties drama like The Prisoner or Star Trek, he’d say “compute” – and then self-destructs, most of what he says lost in a whirl of keyboards and special sounds and actor Stephen Thorne bellowing.

No, the problem is all the film stuff they did before the studio session. It’s not just Jo retrieving her clothes from the pub when she was forced to change in the church, it’s the whole way everybody in the village just smiles and grins about all these soldiers turning up, their church exploding, and their new vicar being led away at gunpoint, and then decide it’s time for a nice fertility dance around the maypole. I guess it makes a decent enough image for the season finale, but there’s a pretty big church down the road from us, with their playground across the street, and if their building got blown up by a twenty foot tall 100,000 year-old dæmon from space, I bet that the parishioners wouldn’t be in a big rush to start a game of softball.

On the other hand, Nicholas Courtney is just incredibly entertaining in this episode. He steals the show right out from under Roger Delgado – no easy task – with his frustrated, rational, sensible responses to each new problem. And the fight with Bok is really impressive, too. Our son loved the explosions, both hitting Bok with a rocket from a bazooka and the great big one that destroys the church.

I don’t know whether it’s an old wives’ tale or Terrance Dicks pulling our leg, but there’s a great old story that the BBC received several complaints about blowing up that church for the sake of a silly entertainment show. You watch that today and know that it’s a miniature – a darn good one, mind, but still a miniature – and can’t believe that anybody, no matter how lousy the reception was on their antenna in 1971 to make them think the visual was better than it was, could possibly think they’d actually blow up a real church. But then you remember the stories about old ladies beating up Barry Morse with their handbags demanding he leave that nice Dr. Kimble alone, and all the telegrams the US Coast Guard received asking them to rescue Gilligan and the castaways, and you accept that yes, the BBC probably did get some angry phone calls.

We’ll start watching season nine of Doctor Who in September. Stay tuned!

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Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Our summer season of Star Wars cash-ins comes to a crashing finale with the much-maligned Battle Beyond the Stars, a movie so derivative that it recycles sound effects from Battlestar Galactica, making it a cash-in of a cash-in. It’s also a remake of The Magnificent Seven, with George Peppard in the Steve McQueen role and Robert Vaughn in the Robert Vaughn role, which was itself a remake of The Seven Samurai… could you tell that Roger Corman produced this?

Actually, one of the most delightfully Cormanesque qualities of this movie is that all of the principal actors, except for John Saxon, who plays the Vader Villan Sador, were probably only required on set at the same time exactly once. Saxon never interacts with any of the principal characters, who also include Richard Thomas, Sybil Danning, Marta Kristen, and Sam Jaffe, who plays a cyborg. I think that if I were casting a movie in 1980, Sam Jaffe would not be the first name I’d come up with to work for about eight hours as a disembodied head stuck on top of a bunch of wires and machinery.

I can’t credit this turkey with much of anything myself, except that I was genuinely impressed with at least the first two-thirds of the script, which is lean and mean and moves absurdly fast, all character and nuance chopped for the bare bones of a fast-moving plot. It makes a huge error in breaking the battle against Sador into two chunks; the momentum vanishes when they return to the planet Akir (as in Akira Kurosawa) for the respite between fights with Sador. The last half-hour of the movie drags.

But it certainly didn’t drag when I was ten or so. This was one of those movies that was shown on HBO about thirty times over a couple of months and I saw most or all of it about twenty-nine of those times. I don’t know why bits of it were so unfamiliar this time around, though. I’d forgotten all about the collective-consciousness aliens who join the fight, but remembered Sybil Danning’s last line exactly. This is a movie that you watch when you’re a kid for all the space explosions and the illicit thrill of some mildly bad language because your parents see this and assume it’s more kiddie space junk and they don’t need to monitor it.

There are other cute little bits. I like that John Saxon’s character is in search of a new arm, and there’s one of the all-time great “Show me more of this Earth thing you call kissing” scenes between Thomas and Darlanne Fluegel, in a very early role. George Peppard’s Cowboy character has a belt that dispenses scotch, soda, and ice.

I nearly fell asleep during the last half hour, and my wife cringed and winced through the mess, as indeed she did with all the other outer space dramas we’ve watched this summer. But our son whooped and hollered and punched the air and had the best time in the galaxy again. He has, in that delightful way of six year-olds, decided that each and every one of the eight silly movies we watched during this season of cash-ins was better than the previous one, and this – this! – was the best of them all. I’d say that it’s not half as good as Starcrash or Message From Space, but it’s his opinion that counts the most.

We’ll head back to Earth for our next few Sunday movies, but we’ll let him see the actual sequel to Star Wars one day next month, so stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (parts three and four)

There is probably a thing or ten to dislike about each of the four Doctor Who serials that Barry Letts and Robert Sloman co-wrote, but while none of them are my favorites, I really enjoy the way that each captures a little essence of the early seventies in a perfect way. Even “The Time Monster,” which I probably enjoy more than anybody else, not that I’m going to call it art or anything.

“The Dæmons” is a lot like the Bigfoot episodes of the Bionic shows in that regard. From the bit in part one where Jo says that this really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, they’re off in a story that couldn’t have been made in any other era. Of course there’s a Satanic coven sacrificing chickens underneath the village church. This was made in 1971, so I’d expect nothing less.

In About Time, Tat Wood assembled what I think is the best ever timeline of the UNIT stories, and he figures season eight as taking place from October 1971 to May 1 1973. This has to be May 1, because the Doctor gets caught up in the village’s sinister May Day celebrations. Wood also noted that this means that “The Dæmons” takes place on the same day as the events in the remarkable 1973 film The Wicker Man. What a delightful happy accident! “The Dæmons” uses some of the same iconography as horror films of the period, including, of course, The Devil Rides Out, Witchfinder General, Virgin Witch, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man then served as the last word on the sinister subject, incorporating all that came before, including this Who adventure.

Because I have a mild interest in period horror films like these, and some of the other stuff that Hammer, Tigon, and their competitors released in the late sixties and early seventies – 1971’s Lady Frankenstein is another, but that may have more to do with Rosalba Neri than much else – my son has been aware of me talking about old horror movies but not getting to see them. He asked what a horror movie was earlier this year, and I think my explanation satisfied his curiosity completely. But one day down the line, he’ll probably look into scary movies. He may be quite some time in finding the interest in sampling creaky old stuff like the old Hammers or The Devil’s Wedding Night – Neri again – but if he ever does, the fear that “The Dæmons” sparked in him might just pop up in a little corner of his memory somewhere. Some of these scenes have him absolutely petrified, and he says, firmly, that this is the scariest Doctor Who story ever.

Not a bad little introduction to horror movies then, is it?

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part two)

I think that Bok the gargoyle is one of the great Doctor Who monsters of his day. He makes a tremendously horrifying first appearance at the end of part two of this story. Our kid was behind the sofa like a rocket and he’s grousing that this is not a good story, because it’s far too scary.

But with fear comes imagination. He’s let us know that since gargoyles are made from stone, then the Doctor will have to use a rock hammer against the menace. “And those weigh 20,000 pounds!”

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part one)

“The Dæmons” was the final story of Doctor Who‘s eighth season, and the first of four serials to be co-written by producer Barry Letts and his colleague Robert Sloman, who usually got the screen credit due to BBC regulations. This one’s got a pseudonym, Guy Leopold, attached. It was directed by Christopher Barry and the cast and crew had such a great time making it that it became the center of a million loving anecdotes and, in time, received wisdom among the fans of the early seventies turned this into one of the all-time Who classics.

I remember that in the early nineties, when a colorized “Dæmons” was finally shown again in the UK, there was a big backlash against it. It’s a story that really doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but it’s still a very, very fun story with lots of great moments. The problem was that for years and years, newer and younger fans in Britain had to put up with blowhards talking about the good old days, and how “The Dæmons” was an unparalleled UNIT classic, unlike all this eighties rubbish. The myth was just enormous. In the US, where the black-and-white TV movie compilation, with its massive editing error midway through it, was shown in most markets, we could see this story wasn’t the greatest thing ever, just a fun romp with lots of location filming and the Master leading a Satanic coven in a remote English village while posing as the new vicar.

A lot of this, it must be said, went over our son’s head, but he really impressed us with one observation. That’s the actress Damaris Hayman above as Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, who warns of doom and disaster should an archaeological dig in the Devil’s Hump barrow continue. Our son spotted the ankh that she wears around her neck and noted that it’s the same symbol that Jessica wears in Logan’s Run. I can’t swear that I would have noticed that if he hadn’t pointed it out to us!

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Logan’s Run 1.13 – Turnabout

Our son enjoyed this much, much more than the previous episode of Logan’s Run. It’s got some good action scenes, including Francis having a desert canyon shootout with a pursuing posse, and later having a darn good swordfight with guest star Gerald McRaney. He was a few years away from his co-starring role in Simon & Simon. This was just one of more than a dozen times in the seventies where he played some villain’s main muscle.

This was, however, perhaps the only time in the seventies that McRaney played a baddie in quasi-middle Eastern garb. This society is interesting in that they’d met some runners from the City of Domes before. The runners stayed a couple of nights on their way to Sanctuary, and caused such a ruckus of wild, free ideas among these uptight turban-and-veil types that they closed their borders. The word Islam isn’t mentioned, but it’s pretty clear.

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The Bionic Woman 1.11 – Fly Jaime

I selected the episodes of the bionic series that we’d watch quite some time ago. I chose the ones with the big-name villains, and the ones with interesting guest stars. Spencer Milligan, Vito Scotti, and Christopher George are in this one. I didn’t pay attention to what the stories were actually about.

But I’m glad I picked this one for the novelty. It’s a remake of Mann Rubin’s story from the first season of Six, “Survival of the Fittest,” only with Jaime and Rudy Wells in trouble, and not Steve and Oscar. They even have the medical student who needs redemption, a wound that needs cauterizing via the wires in a bionic finger, and the producers hired the same three actors for the airplane’s crew so that they could reuse some footage of them bouncing around a cockpit and shouting “Mayday!” About the only thing new to this story is Scotti’s character, a swooning romantic fool named Romero who’s besotted with Jaime.

Marie had a late day and came home about six minutes before the end of the story. “Didn’t we watch this story just a few months ago with different characters?” she asked. If he noticed, our son didn’t say a word. He was thrilled by the plane crash and scared of the snake as though they were brand new problems.

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