John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV
One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
The great James McLean -- one of my favorite scholars and friends in the world -- and I are now co-hosting an (irregular) cult-TV podcast called John and Jim's Excellent Journey. The podcast is devoted to classic, cult-TV, and our first episode is now available!
This entry looks at classic TV and, in particular, the TV shows of the late Glen Larson (1937-2014). We discuss Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, and Manimal, among other things.
But we are also a bit -- let's say undisciplined -- in our cult-TV ramblings.
Let me know if you like the podcast, and what other subjects you would like to see Jim and I cover!
“Fly Now, Vacuum Later,” Weenie the Genie (Billie Hayes) conjures a
magic/flying carpet to transport Mark (Butch Patrick) home.
Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) attempts to stop his escape by summoning, in
response, a giant flying vacuum cleaner. It intercepts the carpet in flight and
is forced to walk a plank atop Hoo Doo’s top hat HQ, and Weenie must arrange a
rescue, using the flying carpet.
just as I feared, Lidsville (1971 -1973) possesses no short term memory. Even
though last week a map promised an escape (via a golden ladder), that escape
possibility is not brought up in this, the very next episode.
the new plan is to use a flying carpet to escape.
by the end of the episode, the flying carpet isn’t even used for an escape
attempt, once Mark is rescued. Who wants
to bet that it too is forgotten, as an escape option, in next week’s episode?
problem, of course, is that each episode of the series seems to exist in its
own standalone universe. There’s no learning from show to show, no development
from episode-to-episode. Before anyone
states that programs didn’t develop like that in the 1970s, I would only point
out that Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost (1974-1977) did
feature a consistent universe, with consistent rules, and “set points” (like
pylons, or the Sleestak city) that were remembered by the Marshalls.
Lidsville, so far, isn’t in the same league.
episode is memorable mainly for the Charles Nelson Reilly Hoo Doo scenes. Here, he gets a musical number and sings “It’s
So Much Fun Being Rotten.” Also, the
actor breaks the fourth wall and makes eye contact with the camera on at least
two occasions. His performance is
certainly over-the-top, but it has the virtue of recognizing just how over the
top it actually is. He’s in on the joke.
episode, like last week’s, ends with Hoo Doo’s ritual humiliation.This doesn’t do much for his power to menace.
“The Dummy’s Revenge,” a ventriloquist called “The Phantom of Vaudeville” (Tim
Herbert) and his dummy, Elmo (Brian Berlin), materialize in the graveyard on
the outskirts of town, near the castle where they once lived. They have returned to the land of the living
to inflect revenge on the act that replaced them on stage, in audience affection.
(Larry Storch), Kong (Forrest Tucker) and Tracy (Bob Burns) are assigned by
Zero the task of stopping these ghosts.
When they announce themselves as ghost busters, however, the Phantom and
his dummy turn their wrath on them…so they pretend to be vaudeville stars.
the ensuing confrontation, the de-materializer doesn’t work and that the
phantom can only be destroyed by unmasking him…
help me, I’m starting to enjoy the goofy and sophomoric charms of The Ghost Busters (1975), a
cheap-jack Filmation live action series. This episode isn’t any better than any
of the others, and yet somehow, I am learning to tolerate the goofy shtick
we get the usual jokes: the self-destruct joke (of the mission tape), the file
cabinet joke, and the mistaken identity joke too. In this case, the Ghost Busters are mistaken
first for Vaudevillians, and then they wish to prove they are actually
vaudevillians, when the Phantom targets them as ghost hunters. The vaudeville act performed by Spenser, Kong,
and Tracy -- under duress -- in the ubiquitous haunted castle, isn’t half bad.
villains are also actually a bit creepy this time, although victims of the same
quirk. It’s not just a ventriloquist and
his dummy to fight here, but the ghost of a ventriloquist and the ghost of a
ventriloquist’s dummy. That’s just so
incredibly awkward, but a necessity, I suppose if the de-materializer is in the
picture. This week, however, the de-materializer doesn’t even work. I guess the powers that be felt these ghost
busters had to be constantly fighting ghosts, not other monsters of the week,
hence the fact that every monster -- whether mummy, vampire, Frankenstein
monster or ventriloquist’s dummy -- had to be a ghost.
Important note to architects of the
future:the space ark or "sleeper ark" is a very problematic
vehicle. At least, that is, if we are to believe the examples of science
fiction novels, TV series, and films focusing on the topic.
I’ve been thinking about this matter
recently, after watching 2016’s Passengers, which concerns a crisis
on just such a sleeper ship, the Avalon.
But way back in 1941, author Robert
Heinlein first demonstrated some of the pitfalls of the colossal, space ark in
two stories that would eventually form the novelOrphans of the Sky(1963). In that tale, the vast
for Proxima Centauri became pilot-less en route; and the passengers and flight
crew aboard her separated over time into distinct classes or sects (like the
mutants or "muties.") They even forgot they were aboard a ship.
After Heinlein, sci-fi television soon
took the lead in terms of huge space ark dramas. Cordwainer Bird (a.k.a. Harlan
Ellison) created the Canadian programThe
which concerned three Quakers learning that they were living not on a planet
surface, but rather in a dome that was part of a much larger vessel, an ark.
Led by a man named Devon (Keir Dullea),
these unlikely explorers discovered that the ark was actually on a collision
course with a star, and that it --like
the Vanguard-- was
essentially pilot-less. They spent the series visiting different domes (and
different cultures) and trying to control their ark.
In Johnny Byrne's "Mission of the
Darians," an episode ofSpace:
1999from 1975, the
errant Alphans came across the space ark of an alien race called the Darians.
There had been a nuclear disaster aboard the vast ark, transforming some crew
into mutants while leaving the remainder of the crew physically intact. Across
the centuries, the "pure" Darians resorted to cannibalism
and transplant surgery from the ranks of the mutants to stay alive; so they
could reach a "new Daria." The Darians rationalized this
exploitation of the lower caste for one reason. Carried about the ark was the
DNA gene bank of the entire Darian race. Theoretically, this gene bank would
ensure that, by landfall, the Darian race could re-constitute itself.
in Space" (also in 1975), another twist on the space ark format was
developed. Man's future generations -- the crew of a space station in this case
-- was being devoured while asleep in their cryo-tubes by a predatory race of alien
insectoids called The Wirrn.
There are other examples of this
narrative, both literary and video, including David Gerrold'sStar TreknovelThe Galactic Whirlpool(1980). And there’s also an example I
like very much, director Christian Alvart's harrowing horror film,Pandorum(2009), a recent permutation of the
InPandorum,the generational space arkElysiumdeparts from Earth in 2174,
bound for the only habitable planet ever discovered: distant Tanis. Early on
the Space Ark's journey, however, the crew receives a frightening message from
Mission Control on Earth. "You're all that's left. Good luck and god
And then, mysteriously, Earth blinks out
of existence. Perhaps -- as one crew member suggests -- the planetary disaster
was "nuclear" in origin. Or perhaps the demise of our world was
caused by an asteroid collision. Regardless, the 60,000 human colonists onElysiumare all that remains of the
human race...the seeds of our future. The
seeds of our hope.
The film then jumps to an undisclosed time
in the future. A likable technician, Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from extended
hyper-sleep in a state of disorientation, and suffering from temporary amnesia.
The ship itself is a wreck: no one is at the helm, and the bridge is locked and
Bower awakens another crew member on the
flight team, Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid), and together these two men learn that
the ship's reactor is going critical in a matter of hours. The ark -- and the
human passengers -- will be destroyed if the reactor can't be fixed. (And yes,
this is also the problem in Passengers!) While Payton attempts
to gain access to the bridge, Bower heads down into the ship's bowels, bound
for the reactor core. So, metaphorically speaking, his is an Orphean journey
into the Underworld.
And what Bower encounters throughout the
gigantic ship is terrifying indeed. A species of sub-human monsters has turned
the passenger section -- the cryo-chamber rooms -- into their hunting and
feeding grounds (like the Wirrn onDoctor
Who.) These beasts were once "sleepers" and colonists
themselves, but the synthetic accelerator that was pumped into their
cryo-chambers (to help them adapt to life on Tanis) has instead adapted them to
life aboard the ruined, out-of-control.Elysium.
These monsters -- who physically resemble
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars and Joss Whedon's Reavers -- have set nasty
booby-traps for flight crew members throughout the ark, often using live human
beings as bait.
There are some normal human survivors left
too, but they seem to possess no knowledge that they are even on board a ship (The
Starlost!). Eventually, Bower encounters a woman -- a scientist --
named Nadia who takes him to a laboratory where all of Earth's biological
heritage and legacy is stored;Pandorum'sequivalent of "Mission of the
Darians'" gene bank.
This biological legacy must be protected
or Earth is really and truly lost.
An unexpected twist in the familiar space
ark format arises from the film's unusual title:"Pandorum."
Pandorum is a feared disease of the mind
that sometimes afflicts astronauts in deep space. The illness begins with
quivering, shaking hands and then culminates with hysteria, paranoia and
violence. For a comparison, recall Michael Biehn suffering from the High
Pressure Nervous Syndreom in Cameron'sThe
is the space-borne equivalent.
There's an oddly beautiful -- if utterly horrifying
sequence -- regarding Pandorum early in the film's first act. Payton recounts
the tale --and we see it
unfold in flashback-- as a
crew member on another space mission goes irrevocably mad, and ejects all his
crew into space, in their separate sleep chambers (which, let's face it, are
the equivalent of space-bound coffins).
The film cuts to a spectacular long shot
from deep space as the troubled ship literally ejects hundreds of these tiny
flowering, technological spores. Then, at closer range, we detect a screaming
human inside one of these tubes and quickly realize he is headed into
oblivion...alive and conscious of his fate.
Simply stated,Pandorumis pandemonium.
And that quality is both the film's
greatest strength and the film's most troubling weakness.
The movie opens with total chaos and we --
like Bower himself -- have no idea what the hell is happening aboardElysium.We experience the horrors of the ark
alongside Bower, and it's a scarifying descent into a man-made, technological
Hell. Then there's some wild action and jolts that really get the blood rolling.
But before long, alas, the story starts to feel repetitive, and there are some
plot points that I would have preferred to see explored with deeper insight. I
don't exaggerate when I say that this movie is madness, violence, madness, more
violence, and more madness, until you feel whiplash. It's all a bit exhausting.
Pandorumis also, perhaps, stuffed with one
narrative u-turn too many (particularly the schizoid psyche of one character),
though I understand why he's present. This schizoid crew man reflects the
schizoid personality of the ship, as well as the new cultures that have sprung
up aboard her. I only wish this character's back story felt more organic and
less like ade rigueurthird act "twist." By film's
end,Pandorumis already ramped-up to insanity; it
doesn't need more of it.
However, I have always enjoyed stories
like the one dramatized here: stories of lost and imperiled space arks bound
for disaster. I love the intriguing concept of cultural identity, heritage and
history forgotten; and the accidental birth of a new social order, one based on
the environment at hand.Pandorumencompasses all that
(and indeed, will seem very familiar to fans ofSpace: 1999, The StarlostandDr. Who).
Outside the space ark template,Pandorumalso borrows fromThe Abyss,as I mentioned above, and even, to
much of the film involves traveling from one end of a damaged, dangerous vessel
to the other, facing all kinds of hazards on the trip.
An authentic horror film,Pandorumalso lingers on some
extreme violence and gore. In particular, there's one scene here that will
definitely cause nightmares: an innocent crew member awakes from cryo-sleep
only to be viciously set upon and devoured by the cannibals. Grotesque stuff,
but vivid and memorable.
Pandorummay not be a great movie, but it is a good
one; a hectic one that captures the essential elements of the space ark tale.
The lead character, Bower, is drawn well enough that he anchors most of the
crazy action...at least until the over-the-top climax, which relies on a
surprise you'll probably see coming a mile away.
Pandorumends with the legend "Tanis, Year
One." And instead of seeingElysium'sjourney end right there, I wanted
more...which probably indicates the movie is better than I'm giving it credit
for in this review. ButPandorummade no money at the box office and
critics hated it, so we'll probably never see "Tanis, Year Two."
To tell you the truth, that makes me sad.
This largely-effective, technologically updated re-telling of the classic space
ark adventure would make the perfect prologue to an updated "colonizing
a new planet at the edge of the galaxy" story. (I may just have to
wait for Alien: Covenant  for that tale).
Besides, there are lots of episodes ofDr. Who, Space: 1999andThe
mine for inspiration.Pandorummay ultimately be a derivative riff on
a familiar, oft-told science-fiction tale, but at least it isn't a remake, a
re-boot or a re-imagination. And in my book, that's what passes as
"original" in Hollywood these days.
It’s sort of intriguing to put Pandorum
side-by-side, and assess similarities, and differences.
another better-than-average episode of Logan’s Run (1977). I suspect this
is so because the writers/producers must have realized that viewers who like
the 1976 film are especially intrigued by the City of Domes, and its hedonistic
lifestyle. The world of the Sandmen, Runners, and Carousel itself is re-visited
here, taking audiences in effect, right back to the beginning of the whole
speak for myself in this regard. The most intriguing aspect, of Logan’s
Run, I find, is city life of the 23rd century. It is decadent,
strictly policed, highly-sexualized, “futuristic,” and nicely dystopian. People live in bliss, but it is an unknowing
bliss. They are lambs led to the slaughter.
But before the slaughter, they live out their dreams.
qualities that draw me repeatedly, to the ’76 film, and are less frequently
seen in the series, which mostly occurs outside the domes. When I think of the film, I think of Last
Day, Carousel, Nursery, New You, the Love Shop, and the mall-like environs.
When I think of the series, by contrast, I usually think of a solar craft
buzzing about dusty, natural locations.
So it is a
relief to see an episode that takes Logan (Gregory Harrison) and Jessica
(Heather Menzies) back to the place that they ran away from in the first place. The use of another mall location is actually quite smart, and it blends in seamlessly with the oft-seen stock footage from the movie.
The set-up for
the episode is a bit weird, to be certain, but it is just the trick to get our
characters back to the domain of Francis, Carousel, and the Council of Elders.
In a freak mishap, Logan gets shot with "memory warp" dart and forgets the entire last year of his
life. This is a weapon used by an
advanced race of human beings, who seek to prevent contact with outsiders.
Victims forget they ever encountered this civilization, or individuals from it.
his old buddy is now an amnesiac and doesn't recall his act of treason back at
the Domed City, Sandman Francis (Randy Powell) brings Logan back to the City to
renounce runners and Sanctuary. Meanwhile, Jessica and REM (Donald Moffat) must
negotiate their freedom from the weird locals who shot Logan with the memory
warp dart in the first place, return to the City of Domes, and rescue their
confused ally before he dies in an attempt to “renew.”
In the City of Domes, our amnesiac Logan undergoes a "truth" scan and
immediately picks up his old life as a swinging single. In particular, there's
a young denizen named "Sheila" (played by Melody Anderson,Flash Gordon'sDale Arden) who would like to pick up
precisely where they left off a year ago.
(with REM's help) that the way to get to Logan -- and spur his memory -- is to
seduce him, Jessica slicks back her hair, dresses up as a temptress, "Jerri
4" and pays a slinky visit to Logan's bachelor pad. But before anything
too much fun can happen, Jessica wimps out and reveals to Logan who she really
Logan, who was already figuring out, has his memory restored. He and his
friends escape the city, and continue their search for Sanctuary…
by which Logan loses his memory in “Carousel,” is really awkward. We are asked to believe that survivors of the
holocaust have mastered the equivalent of matter transporters, able to move
people back and forth through different dimensions, apparently. Again, this
idea fits in a Trek-like universe, where the technology is widespread (think:
The Alpha Quadrant).
But matter/energy conversion/transportation does not seem
at all like a logical or realistic development in a world recovering from a nuclear
holocaust. Once more, the careful viewer
must wonder how and where the technology for this -- or memory warp darts, for
that matter -- came about. What powers the transporters?
the memory warp darts even more closely, wouldn't affected enemies find it strange when
they can’t remember the last year of their lives, especially since the effect
is temporary (as we see with Logan)? Eventually, he recalls everything of his
previous year’s adventures with Jessica and REM.
So wouldn’t an enemy get over the effect of the
drug (even after a year), and get angry…seeking out those who robbed him or her
of his memory?
Watching this episode, I also felt sorry once more for Francis
(actor Randy Powell), our hapless pursuer. He could have killed Logan in this
episode and been done with the whole mission, but he doesn't do that. You get the sense
that he just wants Logan to come back to the City and be his best friend again.
And that's really sort of sad/pathetic. Francis can't seem to get over the past, and joining up with Logan isn't, apparently, an option he considers. Still, Francis's "humanity" if you can call that, makes him an interesting character, if not a strong villain.
I remember I
interviewed Dorothy Fontana once, and she said that hadLogan Runcontinued as a TV series, Logan and
Jessica would have converted Francis to their side, and all three of them would
have returned to the City of Domes to wage a war of insurrection against the
Council of Elders.
Too bad that
A plot like
that would have better served Francis, a character who is constantly made to
look either foolish or just plain incompetent. It also sounds like a cool way
to continue the show, especially since the "civilization of the week"
thing wasn't exactly going so well.
Going back to my original thesis in this review, I believe Logan’s Run
was popular initially, in particular, because of the City of Domes, and the exploration
of life there. I don’t believe that a
quest to find “Sanctuary” was ever quite as compelling as City of Domes technology
(like the flame guns), rituals (such as Carousel) or social developments (constant
casual sex as a pastime.)
Speaking of casual sex, it's a shame that this episode doesn't really allow Logan or Jessica to express their sexual sides. Jessica is just tricking Logan, all along. And Logan doesn't seem terribly interested. There should be some sparks flying here, in "Carousel," but there aren't.
Interestingly, at one point during "Carousel" Logan declares that
Sanctuary (his longtime goal...) is just a place"invented by runners to encourage
seeing this many episodes ofLogan's Runand watching the characters visit
dream clinics ("Futurepast"), psych wards ("Fear Factor"),
alien spaceships ("The Collectors") and the private estate of a
hunter ("The Capture"), you know, I think he's actually telling the
truth. Sanctuary isn’t a place, it’s an idea.
Does Logan know or realize that he's telling the truth in this moment? Is Logan aware he's on a wild goose
That's one of those questions that never gets answered on this
series. I would love it, at some point,
if Logan and Jessica could stop running, and realize, the City of Domes could be
sanctuary, if only they make the change they wish to see there.
Next week, we’re
into the series' final slide into incredibly weak episodes, beginning with (the dreadful) “Night Visitors.”
TV-movies of the 1970’s were veritably obsessed with matters of the occult, and
with psychic powers too. I reviewed Sweet, Sweet Rachel (1971) not long
ago, and now here’s another movie with similar themes and structure: Baffled!
Sweet Rachel before it, Baffled! concerns a person from our
Modern Age of Reason and Technology (The 20th and 21st
century) who becomes unexpectedly engulfed in a psychic “mystery” and must
solve a crime related to it. These films
are as much detective stories (or film
noirs, I suppose you could argue) as they are horror pictures. They involve
murder, robbery, and other criminal activity.
also like that earlier film, Baffled! is a bit slow-paced and
over-long. The pacing seems off at points, and some action beats don’t succeed,
either because of inadequate staging (bad rear projection) or a lack of
too was designed to be the pilot for an ongoing TV series. Sweet, Sweet Rachel went on to
become The Sixth Sense (1972), a series that starred Garry Collins and
lasted two seasons.
Baffled! never went on to series format,
even though the movie boasts some promise
exactly is that promise?
in the performances, specifically. Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire star as
the duo investigating the unusual supernatural events, and there’s some good,
interesting chemistry between the performers. For those of you who are familiar
with Nimoy primarily as the unemotional Spock on Star Trek (1966-1969), Baffled!
is a remarkable counterpoint. He’s charming, laidback, and quite funny in the
telefilm. Susan Hampshire, playing an occult expert, is surprisingly sweet and
innocent in the role, which is an interesting twist too. Where Alex Dreier and Gary Collins both
performed their “psychic” support roles with utter solemnity and seriousness,
Hampshire plays it all sincerely, but gently.
all, Baffled! is intriguing, but not great.
forces do exist. Always have…”
a competitive car race at the Pennsylvania Run, ace driver Tom Kovack (Nimoy)
runs off the road when he experiences a psychic vision of a woman in trouble,
in a manor house in England. An expert
in psychic phenomena and student of the occult, Michelle Brent (Hampshire)
meets with him later, and suggests to him that his vision was true; that he
possesses a “rare and mysterious insight.”
first, Kovack dismisses this possibility out-of-hand, but soon experiences a
second and a third vision. In one such
vision, he falls from the manor house -- which Michelle has identified real place,
Wyndham House in Devon -- into s turbulent ocean over the cliff-side. After the startling vision, Kovack discovers
that he is actually soaked.
he needs help to understand better what is happening to him, Kovack teams up
with Michelle, and they had to England together, to stay at Wyndham House and
is another guest staying there too, a famous movie star, Andrea Glenn (Vera
Miles). She is waiting for her estranged husband, and has brought their twelve-year
old daughter, Jennifer (Jewel Blanch) to the house as well.
Jennifer receives a necklace with a wolf-head pendant from her mysterious,
absent father, the girl seems to age dramatically in a day, acting like a
fifteen-year old, surly teenager.
Farraday (Rachel Roberts), who runs the house, however, starts to appear much
becomes convinced that Andrea was the woman in danger in his first vision, and
that some dark force has taken control of her daughter, Jennifer, and is
plotting against her.
Baffled! is one of those cases in which a
movie’s set-up is more intriguing, finally, than the actual plot or resolution
of the plot. After all is said and done, the psychic plot is just a gimmick and
the real motive here is for someone to acquire Andrea Glenn’s fortune.
best part of this telefilm is the first half-hour, wherein Tom Kovack
experiences his first psychic visions, and encounters Michelle, who encourages
him to pursue them. The writing is
strong, the performances a good, and there’s even a bit of a cinematic feel to
the film has settled down in the British manor house, by contrast, the movie
loses some of its interest, and comes to a near stand-still in terms of pacing.
Sweet, Sweet Rachel and its follow-up, The Sixth Sense, the
visuals in Baffled! aren’t even particularly stylish. Stylish, colorful
murder sequences enlivened both earlier productions, and yet are absent here.
movie’s real virtue is, frankly, Leonard Nimoy, who is so un-Spock-like here it
is astounding. Tom Kovack is a mellow
seventies bachelor (and race car driver), trying to make time with the ladies
and commenting ironically on everything that happens to him. I wouldn’t say that
Nimoy is Shatner-esque in the film, but he seems is downright effusive compared
to his buttoned down, controlled performances as the half-Vulcan.
mystery itself is a bit odd, and uninspiring, and director Philip Leacock fails
to wring substantial suspense from the action, even when Kovack and Michelle
become trapped in the bottom of the elevator shaft in Wyndham House. The film’s
ending -- and restoration of order -- can be seen coming a mile away, and
reflects the laws of the occult established as far back as The Picture of Dorian Gray
Baffled! also ends with a plug for a series
that would never come. After the mystery is solved at Wyndham House, Kovack and
Michelle decide to go their separate ways. But then -- just as he is getting in
his car – Tom conveniently experiences another vision that shows someone
(strangers) in danger. He summons Michelle, she jumps into his car, and they’re
off to solve another psychic case.
they’re a team!
a part of me that is sorry that Baffled didn’t make it to series so
we could see that team solve more intriguing mysteries. I would have loved to
see Nimoy and Hampshire work together again, and feel that if the episodes were
an hour instead of 90 minute, there would be less chance for the tediousness
that impacts some moments here.
is more of a curiosity than an artistically satisfying endeavor, and I can’t
help but wonder how history would have been different if the concept had become
a hit, and Nimoy became well-known not just for Star Trek, but for
playing a groovy, 1970s psychic investigator.