The StoryTeller 1.6 – The Soldier and Death

It’s possible that the only time I ever saw anything of The Jim Henson Hour when it was on was April 28, 1989. It was Friday night and I was seventeen years old. I had a driver’s license and I was usually out with my friends on Fridays, but I half-recall seeing some Muppets and a bit of a Storyteller on the TV in my folks’ kitchen, and so I think there must have been a night I didn’t go out (shocking but true, there were occasionally evenings where an obnoxious loudmouth like me could not get a date), but my parents did, because they were freaking always out at parties between 1987-1997, and I had the television on when I cooked myself a Lean Cuisine or something before taking it into the den, where a VCR awaited me, and I could watch some Avengers or Doctor Who on VHS while I ate.

Seventeen year-olds were certainly not the target audience for this program. As I’d mentioned previously, teenagerhood had stolen away my interest in Muppets, so I wasn’t paying attention. If Disney+ were to add this series, which is sadly very, very unlikely, I’d watch all twelve Hours in a single evening, but that wasn’t the case in 1989. Nobody was watching.

So the third Hour featured a MuppeTelevision installment that guest-starred Willard Scott and Jane Pauley from NBC’s Today Show, along with the sixth StoryTeller: “The Soldier and Death.” It’s a magnificent half hour, and if I’d sensibly sat my butt in the kitchen and watched it that night in 1989, I wouldn’t have waited until 2021 to see the rest of this series. It stars Bob Peck as a soldier returning from some far distant war whose kindness earns him the gift of a large sack. Anything he commands to enter the sack – geese, devils, death itself – does as commanded. This has repercussions.

I might have enjoyed this every bit as much as “Hans My Hedgehog.” It was worth a thirty-two year wait, but I hope none of you good readers are silly enough to wait that long. Go get yerselves a copy now.

Young Indiana Jones 3.4 – Transylvania, 1918

Happy (belated) Halloween! Tonight we watched the seasonally appropriate tale of Indiana Jones’s first encounter with the supernatural, as written by Jonathan Hensleigh. Indy and an American officer are ordered into Transylvania to investigate reports that a General Targo is amassing a separatist Romanian army.

I hadn’t seen this story before, but what I did know led me to wonder whether this was about to become a tip of the hat to a classic serial from the pages of 2000 AD called Fiends of the Eastern Front, written by Gerry Finley-Day and drawn by the late, great Carlos Ezquerra. That’s about a mysterious company of Romanians who turn out to be vampires.

Sadly, General Targo is not an earlier incarnation of Fiends’ Costanza, but he is, of course, a vampire. He’s either a new incarnation of Vlad the Impaler or he really admires the guy’s style. The tone is pure early seventies Hammer – I was most reminded of Countess Dracula – and it’s very gory and very graphic and it creeped the absolute life out of our son, who first went behind the sofa and ended up in another room.

While I mention Hammer, that’s only to note the look and feel. The script is based on the original legends of vampire behavior, and the incredibly specific way to kill them (stake through the heart at a crossroads, for example) rather than on 20th Century film versions. But if I might be allowed one more Hammer comparison, Bob Peck is interesting as Targo, but he’s no Christopher Lee!