The Feathered Serpent 2.5 and 2.6

The series concludes with its most blood-soaked installments yet. All three villains meet suitably grisly ends, two of the supporting cast get killed, and the makeup department gets to go overboard with blood and bruises because just about everybody else gets maimed. And this was a kids’ show. Man alive. I’ll defend Land of the Lost‘s crown as the greatest and most entertaining mindfreak for children on American television, and leagues superior to anything else we could watch in the seventies, but even at its most physically frightening – when characters are actually wounded (probably best seen in “The Search”) – it was never anywhere as gruesome or graphic as this.

But this wouldn’t have worked without the terrific acting and great performances throughout. Patrick Troughton’s at the top of his game as the villain, of course, especially when he loses his mind completely and convinces himself that he is no longer human, and his god “made flesh,” to use the cliche. I assured our son that when we see him next (in a little less than a month), he’ll be a hero again. But Brian Deacon and Granville Saxton were also really excellent in their roles, and this great script has so many twists and turns to keep everybody busy and while the outcome is never really in doubt, I spent a lot of time wondering exactly how the good guys were going to win.

That said, I think when I dust this off down the line for another screening, our kid won’t be joining me. I could see that he was riveted and paying attention while biting his lip, but when I asked whether there was anything about this that he liked, he replied “I liked it when Nasca didn’t survive!”

The Feathered Serpent 2.3 and 2.4

Things get worse, and worse, and worse. The coronation crowns of Chichen Itza are lost, the villains have captured Tozo, they’ve poisoned one of the city’s wells with a drug that causes madness, and the evil Nasca has enslaved the good, blind priest.

Our son retreated to the other sofa and curled his lip in a combination of frustration and fear. After several minutes, we asked “Are you afraid something bad is going to happen?”

And he summed up The Feathered Serpent by growling “Something bad always happens!”

The Feathered Serpent 2.1 and 2.2

I confess that our son was not overly thrilled about the idea of returning to old Mexico for six more episodes of backstabbing, treachery, and ancient gods. He barely tolerated the first serial, mainly because the villain had the upper hand the entire time, and he doesn’t like villains. He grudgingly admitted that he liked the secret passages in the pyramids, but that was it.

Happily, despite the cliffhanger to part one leaving him bellowing “Oh, come on!” in frustration, he happily agreed that he enjoyed tonight’s installments much more than he was expecting. The second Feathered Serpent serial begins just minutes after the first one concluded. It was taped and shown almost two years later, in the spring of 1978, apparently because it took months to plan around all the very busy actors, including Patrick Troughton, Diane Keen, George Cormack, Richard Willis, and Brian Deacon, having gaps in their schedules at the same time.

That said, Troughton cruised through episode one in just about the easiest job of his career: playing a corpse. He’s not quite dead, it turns out, and the story’s two new villains, an absolutely hideous witch played with gusto by Sheila Burrell and a slaver played by an actor with the remarkably posh name of Granville Saxton, magically revive the evil priest. His resurrection didn’t surprise any adults watching, either in 1978 or today, but man alive, did it aggravate the kid.

With Nasca recovering – and after a fabulous scene where the weakened priest quietly recounts the horrors of the afterlife, where his god, furious with his failure, ripped his soul from his body with the claws of a jaguar – the heroes get on with their story. The Toltec Prince Huemac hopes to marry Empress Chimalma, but must survive a night in a trap-filled pyramid first. The traps are extremely clever and we all really enjoyed working the way out along with Huemac. Best of all, there’s a sequence that looked slipshod, and some behind-the-scenes visual effects trickery got too visible for the camera. Then it turns out that the audience was meant to see that. It was part of the narrative, and not behind-the-scenes at all. Neat trick!