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The Twilight Zone 1.18 – Gramma / Personal Demons / Cold Reading

Last night, our son was fairly ambivalent about our selection from The Twilight Zone. Tonight, we finished our week-long trip to the eighties Zone with a segment that scared the devil out of him and a segment that ranks as his all-time favorite story from this series.

“Gramma” is a Harlan Ellison adaptation of a then-recent short story by Stephen King. It’s tight, cramped, claustrophobic and practically the whole half-hour is carried by a young actor called Barret Oliver who is freaking out about being trapped in his remote house alone with his huge, wheezing, asthmatic bed-ridden grandmother, who may be a beast or a witch or an Old One. Our son was petrified. He told us, bluntly, that he never, ever wants to see this again.

But then there was “Cold Reading,” which was so fun that he was disappointed that there isn’t a sequel. In this one, a live radio show called Dick Noble, African Explorer gets interrupted by a voodoo totem that makes every sound effect in the production come true, with rain, macaws, jungle drummers, and monkeys causing havoc in the studio. The impresario in charge of the show is pleased at last with the authenticity he’s long craved, but his ability to rewrite on the fly gets called up for duty before the actors can get to the pages with the earthquakes and plane crashes. This was silly enough for our son to love to pieces.

Between the two, there was a bit of self-indulgence on the part of writer Rockne S. O’Bannon, who contributed a story about a writer, also called Rockne S. O’Bannon, who is desperately looking for an original idea and tormented by a gang of creatures in monks’ robes that only he can see. Martin Balsam plays the fictional O’Bannon, and Clive Revill his agent.

That’s all from the eighties Zone for a good while, although we may step back in and look at some later episodes down the line. I thought these were a little uneven, much like the original series, but there were some good performances and good ideas, and “A Message from Charity” and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” were as great as I remembered them.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.7 – Teacher’s Aide / Paladin of the Lost Hour

“Teacher’s Aide” is… well, I really do try to be positive, so I’ll just say it’s about a teacher who gets possessed by a gargoyle. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Tales from the Darkside.

It’s paired, however, with one of the best known segments of the 1985 Zone, the absolutely beautiful “Paladin of the Lost Hour.” It’s almost entirely a two-hander, written by Harlan Ellison and starring Danny Kaye and Glynn Turman. Kaye plays a lonely old homeless widower with a gigantic secret, and Turman plays a Vietnam veteran with a traumatic case of survivors’ guilt. After Turman’s character saves the old man from a mugging, the sweet old man helps himself into his life, feeding him wonderful beef stew and sharing stories.

The interesting science fiction twist might not have been so overshadowed in Ellison’s original short story, but onscreen, bearing in mind my fascination with actors and their craft, it’s almost an afterthought because Turman and Kaye are just so amazingly good. They could have spent their thirty-odd minutes discussing anything at all and I think it would have been time well spent. But in this subtle, sweet, and life-affirming little tale, they make some real magic.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.1 – Shatterday / A Little Peace and Quiet

We interrupt this blog. We control the horizontal, we control the v– oh, wait, that was the other show.

But we are going to interrupt things just a hair and do something a little different. This is Twilight Zone week at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, and tonight and for the next six evenings, we’re going to watch seven highlights from the first season of the 1985 revival of the series. This ran at 8 pm Friday nights in the 1985-86 season on CBS, leading more than one person to ask what in creation this show was doing on so early.

They led with their big guns. “Shatterday” stars Bruce Willis, who was on the brink of becoming one of TV’s biggest names, in a script by Alan Brennert based on a short story by Harlan Ellison. It, and the second story that made up the new Zone‘s first hour, was directed by Wes Craven. Willis, Ellison, and Craven: I’d say that’s your 1985 dream team right there. And interestingly, even though this program’s called The Twilight Zone, with its more frequent dips into the supernatural and horror and its presentation of two or three different teleplays within each hour, it sometimes feels more like a revamp of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery than new episodes of Zone.

Marie wasn’t all that taken with either of these first stories, and our son was mostly subdued by the first story, but I thought they were both terrific. “Shatterday” begins with Willis’s very, very 80s PR hack phoning a friend but dialing his own number by mistake. He hears his own voice answer. The person on the other end is him… a calmer, gentler, more thoughtful him. Can there be space in the city for both of them?

Our son enjoyed the second story a lot more. In “A Little Peace and Quiet,” a frantic housewife with four needy kids and an even more needy husband unearths a medallion that can stop time and give her the chance to breathe. In retrospect, I should have seen where this one was going – they telegraphed the heck out of it – but I was so fascinated by the possibilities of where it could go, with the mom gradually using the device more and more, for increasingly selfish reasons, that I missed the writing on the wall. Craven staged a couple of completely amazing set pieces, with crowds of people frozen in time. The first of the two is done for comedy and the second one isn’t. If he’d stuck that second scene in one of his Nightmare on Elm Street movies, people would call it one of that series’ high points.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part six)

Over the last week, I didn’t stop to praise Morris Perry for his terrific, all-business performance as the nasty Captain Dent of IMC. I love everything about his work here. He’s obliged to be a very different kind of villain than the charming and fun Master, and so he’s ruthless, unsmiling, and straightforward. He simply doesn’t care that he’s sending the colonists to their certain deaths. Alive or dead, as long as they’re out of his way, it doesn’t matter.

The other high point to this story is one of the definitive examples of the Master trying to tempt the Doctor into joining him. This happens several times throughout the series, but it’s usually kind of rushed. Here, Delgado and Pertwee get a lot to chew on, and it’s a really great scene.

It’s a little undermined by the frankly bonkers climax to the problem, as the strange little alien who lives inside the doomsday weapon just decides to have the Doctor destroy the weapon, and, with it, their entire city, rather than let the weapon fall into the Master’s hands. Maybe they spent so much time with the lovely Doctor-Master interplay that they didn’t have any room to develop this decision, which also seems to involve recalling all the primitives and priests to their deaths as well.

I mentioned a few days back that Malcolm Hulke’s eventual novelization of this story, renamed Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, was one of the great triumphs of the line of books. In the US, this was one of ten titles licensed by Pinnacle Books and given very weird new cover artwork and a glowing introductory chapter written by Harlan Ellison. I found the first four books in Pinnacle’s line in a nearby Starvin’ Marvin’s convenience store and gas station and reread them until they fell apart. I loved Ellison’s introduction – he apparently greatly preferred the Doctor to either Luke Skywalker or Kimball Kinnison from Lensman, though why he singled those two characters out for abuse, I couldn’t tell you – in part because it gave this odd-looking show that we watched late at night on PBS a really impressive seal of approval.

The first three of those books, the others being the novelizations of “Day of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” were adaptations of stories that our PBS station, WGTV, hadn’t yet purchased. It’s an understatement to say that the visuals I concocted in my head, helped by that dopey artwork, were far wilder and just plain better than what the BBC could create in 1971. I think that Hulke described the primitives as having six fingers on each hand, and this was reflected on the cover, where the basic, spear-carrying primitive was a shirtless Tarzan dude and the mole-like priest became a rat-faced monk. The story was just amazing, real Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff. Of course the BBC couldn’t match it, but what they did really wasn’t all that bad.

It really could have used Susan Jameson, though.

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Logan’s Run 1.7 – Crypt

The grown-ups in the room sat up straight when we saw Harlan Ellison’s name in the credits. He wrote the original story of “Crypt,” with Al Hayes finishing the teleplay, and Ellison can typically be relied upon for something very interesting. He contributed a story with six scientists, frozen in cryogenic sleep for two hundred years and all suffering from an ancient plague, awakened today with only enough anti-toxin for three of them. Complications ensue when one of the six might be an impostor. One of the six is definitely a murderer, and then there were five.

I think the grown-ups might have been more entertained than our six year-old critic. The moral dilemma surrounding who will live was a bit over his head, and he also immediately identified the impostor. I’m not sure how he was able to nail his guess so accurately, but whodunits often lose their luster once you figure ’em out.

Of minor note: one of the six scientists is an engineer played by Christopher Stone, who was apparently contractually bound to appear as a guest star on every single prime-time drama made for American TV in the seventies. You know that guy with a mustache who was always being aggressive and rude? That guy. I believe we’ll see him again once or twice down the line.

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