Sleepy Hollow (1999)

I had decided long ago that the last Halloween before we wrap up here, I was going to introduce the kid to a couple of scary movies. I think Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow is easily one of his best films and was glad to revisit it. It was, however, considerably bloodier than I remembered it. It even ends with Christopher Walken getting to do a reverse-Ronald Lacey from Raiders of the Lost Ark and have all the decayed muscle and eyeballs and blood restored to him. I don’t know why I didn’t remember how much blood was in this, but our wide-eyed ten year-old probably isn’t going to forget it any time soon. He’s walking around very slowly this evening, and is in no hurry to try to go to sleep.

This wasn’t our son’s first proper horror movie. That would be The House on Haunted Hill, which unnerved him so much he left the theater. He confessed that he was ready for this nightmare to end after “about an hour.” We asked why he didn’t get up and leave, and he protested “I couldn’t!”

I think Burton really pulled off a terrific and incredibly fun scary adventure movie. It’s got an amazing cast, led by Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci and including such heavyweights as Michael Gambon, Richard E. Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, and, in too small of parts, Christopher Lee and Martin Landau. About the only flaw I have with this movie is that Lee and Jeffrey Jones didn’t switch roles. Well, and the music, about which I have complained enough in previous posts. It might be Depp’s finest performance.

The poor kid’s moving like he has weights on his feet and does not want to go to sleep. He yammered some excuse about poor behavior on Friday means that the fifth grade will suffer silent lunch tomorrow, and that’s why he doesn’t want to go to bed. I told him that next Saturday night’s movie will also be scary, but it won’t have any blood. Seems like cold comfort right now. Pleasant dreams.

Space: 1999 1.8 – Dragon’s Domain

Well, here’s a surprise. I figured since the kid insisted we watch Space: 1999 from time to time, I’d do up its most infamous child-scaring episode right, and we watched it together late at night with all the lights out. “Dragon’s Domain” is the one with the great screaming tentacled monster with the headlamp eye that skeletonizes its victims. But our boy is a much older boy than the boy who was once so very bothered by many of the monsters we’ve seen together. He was flatly and firmly unimpressed. So nine’s too old. You got kids of your own? Throw this at ’em earlier.

The kid said that he liked precisely two things about it. Recovering from getting clobbered the second time by the “Saint George” character who insists on fighting his dragon, Alan asks “What’s that guy got against me?” And among the models in the spaceship graveyard, our son spotted the same ship used by Julian Glover’s people in the previous episode, “Alpha Child.” That’s it.

But I thought this was the best of the first eight by a mile. I really like its scope. Much of it is a flashback to an incident in 1996-97 where “Saint George” takes off on a 14-month flight to visit a new planet in the solar system, along with Michael Sheard and two women. They find a graveyard of other spacecraft, but “Saint George” can’t get out of the cockpit while Sheard and the ladies are horrifically killed by the monster. The dude escapes, jettisoning the bulk of his ship, makes it home, and nobody believes him. 800 days into Moonbase Alpha’s journey, in between galaxies and nowhere near anything, “Saint George” has a nightmare of the monster again, because the big dude got hungry and parked his spiderweb of spaceships in the moon’s path. Seems a bit unlikely that a big dude powerful enough to do that could get whipped by an axe to the headlamp, but there you go.

Here’s the other thing I really liked, and it’s the show that Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade should have given us instead of this silly series. Douglas Wilmer plays the commissioner of Earth’s unified space program, and there’s a hell of a show here about putting together the funds to explore our own solar system, and finding seven or eight derelict alien spaceships on the other side of Pluto, with or without a big space monster. It’s somewhere that Anderson kind of looked at five years previously in his strange feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, but abandoned in favor of weird post-Kubrick metaphysics and philosophy about the strangeness of space. There’s even a little cameo by Bob Sherman, who’d later play the CIA guy in The Sandbaggers, as a newsreader for a show about the space program. I just think it’s a huge missed opportunity, because honestly, the nuts and bolts of how Moonbase Alpha got started is far, far more interesting to me than black suns and space rocks and rules of Luton.

But maybe I wouldn’t be focused on that had the big monster scared the pants off our son like it was meant to.

Space: 1999 1.5 – Death’s Other Dominion

So Space: 1999 has joined our son’s other little rotation of shows that we occasionally watch together in the afternoons, which reminds me of just how incredibly spoiled for choice the kids of today are. Remember all those afternoons in the late seventies when you felt like putting down the toys and books or coming in from outside playing for some TV time, and you just had to cross your fingers there was something better than F Troop on? Children today will never know our ennui.

Anyway, I decided against writing about the other shows we occasionally look at together, in part because who needs the extra work, and in part because Space: 1999 is usually so uninspiringly stupid. Not even a groovy guest star might have tempted me. He and I could watch BRIAN BLESSED in anything and I don’t have to write about it. I could even pass on the opportunity to make a joke about the possibility of spending eight hundred-plus years in the company of Valerie Leon, eternally thirty years young. Or a joke about one actor’s obvious hairpiece, or another about carved from ice on a distant planet or not, these dudes have the most 1970s pad I’ve ever seen.

No, I mention “Death’s Other Dominion” today for another reason. In this story, the Alphans deal with a time warp or something not really explained and meet the members of a lost expedition from Earth. From the Alphans perspective, all contact was lost just fifteen years previously, but for the people of Ultima Thule, it’s been about 880 years and they have not aged a day. Experiments to understand their immortality have left some of their number slowly vegetating in a distant cave as “the revered ones,” their minds completely gone as they twitch silently or rock side to side. And this really got under the kid’s skin in an unexpected and devilish way. Just before Tubi took an ad break, our son got up and went to the other sofa, eyes wide, as he said “This has really, really creeped me out.”

He was still so bothered by the implications and the visuals that when the episode comes to its thunderously memorable and incredibly grisly climax, he was less bothered by that freaky moment than the shuffling, mindless men and women walking back and forth in an ice cave, forever. I remembered the ending from when I first saw this one as a teenager – it foreshadows the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark in a chilling way – but had completely forgotten the cave of the revered ones. Funny what sticks with you. This might stick with him for quite some time.

Space: 1999 1.1 – Breakaway

Two nights ago, the episode of Xena that we watched had a really cheesy and corny ending with our heroines talking about how they’re lost without each other. The kid gagged, and, in that kid way, refused to stop talking about how corny it was. He asked Marie and me whether we’d ever seen an ending as corny as that. That’s not the sort of list either of us make, so we couldn’t answer.

But then I remembered. Ah yes, “The Rules of Luton” on Space: 1999. It ends, as much TV in the seventies did, with people smiling and cracking a joke, this one coming at the end of fifty minutes of our heroes being on the receiving end of three pissed off telepathic trees and forced to reenact the plot of the Star Trek episode “Arena.” Space: 1999 was always stupid, but the second season, when they tried to be as much like Trek as the law would allow as they boldly went where no moon had gone before, was really, really stupid. And then that episode ended with Martin Landau yukking about picking flowers.

(To drive home the point, when I say telepathic trees, I’m not kidding. This wasn’t stuffing Stanley Adams into a carrot costume, this was a photo of three trees with a actor’s voiceover.)

My story told, I thought that would be the end of Space: 1999 around these parts, but yesterday, something wild happened. The “how does this thing make any money” streaming channel Tubi TV announced it had acquired Dr. Slump. We live in an age of wonders. I opened up Tubi, saw that Arale-chan ain’t there yet, but lo and behold, there is 1999. So I called down the kid to show him the trees and the ending, which was stupid, but less corny and less freeze-frame-smiling than I remembered it, and the kid had two things to say. He wanted a toy of the Eagle transporter, and the title sequence was awesome. Correct, in fairness, on both counts.

But then I said “That title sequence is good, but the first season title sequence is iconic. Check this out.” And his brain exploded. He demanded that we watch the first episode.

I tried to say “Son, I’m telling you, this show is really stupid,” and what he said was conveyed quite silently and I heard it very loudly. What he said was “Old man, stop it. I just saw explosions and cool spaceships and rocking guitar and fast editing and people screaming and the moon being BLOWN OUT OF EARTH’S ORBIT and you are to STOP AT ONCE showing me girls with swords in New Zealand and GIVE ME EXPLODING MOON SPACESHIP ACTION IMMEDIATELY.”

So I said we’d have time Thursday afternoon. And here we are.

He really liked it and wants to see more. Which is reasonable; I enjoyed this from time to time when I was a kid, too. But the first episode is very slow, even by 1999 standards. It’s a long, long investigation into the strange deaths of several astronauts, and none of it is too scientifically ridiculous for a while. The cast is kind of solid: season one features Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse as the three leads. Morse is as awesome as he always was, just a terrific, watchable actor in anything. Prentis Hancock, Zienia Merton, and Nick Tate are the first season’s B-team. Guest stars this time include Roy Dotrice, Philip Madoc (for a single scene), and Shane Rimmer. I was saying just last month how Rimmer could usually be heard, uncredited, in shows from the period, and here he is without a credit today.

The explosions are well up to the impossibly high standards of Gerry Anderson’s visual effects wizards, the design is very good, and it’s all just so slow and lifeless and, most of all, dumb. But the space disaster business genuinely pleased the kid and he wants to see more. He might really, really start liking it when weirdo aliens show up. I’ll make sure all the lights are out when we get to the big tentacled thing that everybody remembers in “Dragon’s Domain.”

The Twilight Zone 5.29 – The Jeopardy Room

We watched a pretty entertaining little slice of Cold War paranoia written by Rod Serling this afternoon. I picked this one because Martin Landau is in it. He plays a Soviet defector who’s been tracked down by a dandy of an assassin played by John Van Dreelen. Landau’s trapped in a shabby hotel room with a bomb somewhere in it, and a sniper across the alley ready to gun him down if he tries to flee. This is a fun little game of psychology and desperation, and our son really enjoyed wondering along with Landau where the bomb could be.

We paused early on to give him a little more to understand, since we picked up on the context of the accents and the wardrobe and the character names. We did get one bit quite wrong, though. I thought Landau was playing a spy; the defection angle hadn’t actually occurred to me before the adversaries actually meet face to face!

The Twilight Zone 1.3 – Mr. Denton on Doomsday

As with last night’s viewing, you might make the argument that six years old is also a little too young to catch the nuances and subtleties in The Twilight Zone, but I think our son is mature enough. I think that there are some very important moral lessons to be found among the frights and the fun. I was in middle school when I read the screenplay to “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” and it made a lifelong and positive impact on me. I don’t think six years old is too young at all to be taught the lessons of that important story.

My brother-in-law gifted me with the “Complete, Definitive Collection” edition two Christmases ago. The set is downright amazing, with beautifully restored prints that include many of the sponsors’ messages and “stay tuned for The Danny Thomas Show” spots that were all chopped out for syndication. So I sat down with an episode guide and selected about fifty episodes that we’ll watch for the blog, including old favorites like “Maple Street” and “The Invaders” along with many that I didn’t know but which have some great old guest stars. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is one of these. It features Martin Landau and Doug McClure in supporting roles. McClure doesn’t have a great chance to shine, but Landau is brilliantly unhinged and believably dangerous.

But the episode belongs to Dan Duryea, who plays the town drunk, a former gunslinger who grew to hate his life, and Malcolm Atterbury, in the role of a traveling salesman called Henry J. Fate. The name’s a bit on the nose there, but I like how Rod Serling, who wrote this installment, anticipated the way that audiences would be looking for a twist and, gently, subverted it just a little bit. It’s a story about how guns probably aren’t the answer and, as our son will hear when he meets Yoda next month, “wars never made anyone great.”

No, the way the world’s been acting lately, six isn’t too young to hear this.

Anyway, I’ve picked fourteen episodes from the first season of The Twilight Zone and we’re going to watch them in two batches over the next three months. I won’t claim that this first episode was a big thrill – he hasn’t seen much in the way of westerns, and so the world presented in this installment was quite removed from his experience and took a little getting used to – but he enjoyed it, and so did I.