Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Attack Of The Crab Monsters

You are well forgiven for not remembering a TV series called THE NEW PEOPLE, as practically nobody has seen it since ABC cancelled it in 1970 after telecasting just 17 episodes. Since it was a 45-minute series, it has never been rerun, and it seems only the pilot exists in bootleg form. I wrote about it last year, but if you don't want to go back and quickly read that post, it was basically the same format as LOST, except it attempted to be about something.

In a nutshell, an airplane carrying American college students to Southeast Asia crashes on a remote Pacific island, killing all the adults. Luckily (?), the island was an abandoned American bomb testing site that contained a full-scale replica of a typical American town, including buildings, food, water and streets. It looked conveniently like a Hollywood backlot, which allowed producer Aaron Spelling to shoot inexpensively without going to Hawaii, as LOST did. On the island, the several dozen young survivors had to learn to create their own society without the mistrusted over-30s to watch over them.

An intriguing premise, alright, though it's possible the pilot's preachy script by Rod Serling and bitchy characters may have helped sink the series prematurely. I'd rather see a remake of this than LOST, as the concept remains as vital as ever. The series failed, but its short run spawned some tie-ins, including two Dell comic books and an original novel written by William Johnston using the pseudonym Alex Steele. Johnston wrote dozens of TV tie-ins based on series like GET SMART, THE FLYING NUN, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, THE BRADY BUNCH, THEN CAME BRONSON, ROOM 222, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, F TROOP, BEWITCHED, THE MONKEES, IRONSIDE and many others. THEY CAME FROM THE SEA, the first and only novel based on THE NEW PEOPLE, is probably not typical of the TV show.

Basically a horror novel, THEY CAME FROM THE SEA, a Tempo Books original timed to the show's September 1969 premiere, is about spooky mutant crabs that invade the island. About the size of a catcher's mitt with a dozen claws, eyes at the end of stalks, and covered in black hair, these crabs move slowly, but surely come ashore in a pack of thousands, if not a million. They strike quickly with a tongue-like lash that causes swelling, intense pain, and almost instant death.

When one of the youths, racist football star Bull (played by Lee J. Lambert in the pilot), somehow survives a crab attack, he intimidates most of the others into becoming their king-like leader, threatening to sic the crabs on them in their sleep unless they do as he commands. Retreating into the hills to avoid the crabs, which are slowly moving towards the town, Bull rules from atop a rocky makeshift throne.

Meanwhile, the few who weren't bullied by Bull remain in town, including angry black Washington (David Moses), ex-Marine George (Peter Ratray), demure Barbara (Brenda Sykes), rich bitch Susan (Tiffany Bolling), and medical student Hanson, who didn't appear in the pilot, but may have been based on the doctor played by Richard Dreyfuss in the second episode. Hanson has to stay to attend to Robert Lee (Zooey Hall), a crab victim who managed to stay alive, but just barely, in a coma. With Bull ruling his roost above them on the hill and the crab monsters stalking them from the beach, the students left in town have a lot on their plates to accomplish if they want to stay alive.

One would think the show's creators would have a sympathetic view towards youth, but Serling's script for the pilot (which may have been altered, as the show aired with Serling's pen name in the credits) and Johnston's novel both produce characters that are disorganized, distrustful, violent and generally unlikable. Washington appears incapable of completing a sentence that doesn't contain a bitter remark about racism, and that most of the community would blindly follow the lunkheaded, stubborn, bigoted Bull into the hills seems far-fetched to me.

However, at 150 pages, THEY CAME FROM THE SEA seems perfectly paced as a TV episode, and Johnston manages a tad of suspense in a book he probably popped together in about a week. I bought it for $1 at a local used bookstore, and was surprised when the woman behind the counter asked me if I had ever seen the show. I told her I had a DVD of the pilot episode, and she replied that she had seen it during its initial run, but had never met anyone else who had. Small world.


TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

I've never seen the show, but had to say that I was shocked that:

A: You found a copy of the book


B: You have a used bookstore in your area!

Reading all these great book reviews makes me wish I had more than Barnes and Nobles around me.

Marty McKee said...

There are actually three used book stores here in Champaign-Urbana. Where I found the NEW PEOPLE book actually had three copies of it! All were in very good shape too, as if nobody had read them in 30 years (which makes sense). About 40 minutes from here in Forsyth, Illinois is a wonderful used book store called The Old Book Barn, which is a great place to hang out with a very big selection. One thing The Old Book Barn has that the C-U stores don't is a large collection of men's adventure paperbacks.