Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Night That Panicked America / Demons Of The Mind

I'll continue telling you about my SoCal vacation later, but tonight I'd like to wish you a happy Halloween. I spent the evening watching a pair of appropriately themed movies. In fact, what could be more appropriate than THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA, a 1975 made-for-TV dramatization of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater's legendary WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast that freaked out a nation.

32 years ago tonight, ABC broadcast THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA, which is a pseudo-documentary-style retelling of the unbelievable events of October 30, 1938. That night, an estimated 6 million American radio listeners heard CBS' MERCURY THEATER ON THE AIR's adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, as written by Howard Koch and directed by Welles. Welles gave the story a hard, realistic edge by presenting it as a series of fake newscasts, describing how Martian ships were landing in New Jersey, murdering thousands of citizens, including police officers and soldiers, and then spreading out across the East Coast, even occupying New York City. At least a million listeners believed Welles' broadcast to be real and panicked, packing up their families and fleeing their homes.

It seems inconceivable today that people would believe such an outlandish story to be real, but director Joseph Sargent and screenwriters Nicholas Meyer and Anthony Wilson are convincing in their storytelling. Much of THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA's running time is devoted to a re-creation of the radio play, and stars actor Paul Shenar as Welles and familiar character actors like Ron Rifkin, Walker Edmiston, Granville Van Dusen and Casey Kasem as some of the Mercury players. These scenes are the film's strength, as Sargent cuts back and forth between the CBS Radio studio in New York and the public's terrible reaction to the show.

Some of these vignettes are more appealing than others, and some are even played for comedy. Most haunting is Vic Morrow (top-billed) and Eileen Brennan's story of an estranged married couple that put aside their bitter feelings for one another and come together to rescue their children from the Martian horde. Other stories include a New Jersey farmer (ROOM 222's Michael Constantine) and his son (a pre-THREE'S COMPANY John Ritter), who wants to go to Europe to fight the Germans before the war spreads to the United States, and young lovers Cliff DeYoung and Meredith Baxter-Birney, whose impending marriage is threatened by her minister father (Will Geer), who refuses to allow her to marry a Catholic.

Welles' original radio play is often re-broadcast around this time of year, sometimes in a re-creation using contemporary actors, but usually in its original recording. If you get a chance to hear it, please do so. The high level of drama and suspense is astonishing.

I also watched a horror film today, but an offbeat one. 1971's DEMONS OF THE MIND is one of Hammer's more intriguing and little-watched films. It barely received U.S. distribution, and played to few audiences until Anchor Bay released it on DVD a few years ago. I watched a dark, but uncut, Canadian TV print, which may have been taken from a VHS master. It probably plays better on DVD, where at least Hammer's typically lush sets and costumes can be seen to their full extent.

Like many Hammers, DEMONS opens slowly and builds to a suitably violent ending. Set in 19th-century Bavaria, Baron Zorn (Robert Hardy) keeps his two children Emil (Shane Briant) and Elizabeth (the extraordinarily beautiful Gillian Hills) locked away in separate rooms, terrified that their late mother, a suicide victim, passed along to them a curse. The fact that the two share incestuous feelings may have something to do with Zorn's fears too. Zorn's sister Hilda (Yvonne Mitchell) uses barbaric bleeding rites to keep Elizabeth anemic and weak after an escape attempt leads to her one-night stand with Carl (former Manfred Mann musician Paul Jones), who falls for her and tries to rescue her from her cruel father.

DEMONS isn't a typical horror movie, even though it offers several brutal murders and an appropriately gory climax. Performances by old pros Hardy and Patrick Magee as a quack hired by Zorn to cure his children are sharp, and Harry Robertson's music adds a touch of class. It's too unusual to strongly recommend, however, and Briant's placid performance is a good indicator of why Hammer's attempt to mold him into the new Peter Cushing fell flat. It's not a bad movie at all, but certainly an uninvolving one.

And what did you watch on Halloween?

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Karloff? Sidekick?"

I was excited to record Edward D. Wood Jr.'s amazing BRIDE OF THE MONSTER on Turner Classic Movies this month. To celebrate Halloween, here's a short clip of Bela Lugosi, um, emoting during the film:

And here's Martin Landau in his Oscar-winning performance as Lugosi in Tim Burton's autobiographical film ED WOOD. This clip may not be safe for work, so headphones on, please:

And switching gears, here's the very good trailer for FRIDAY THE 13TH, one of the most influential and financially successful horror movies ever made. One reason it's a great trailer is that it lays out for you exactly what the movie is about. It's to director Sean Cunningham's credit that the actual film lives up to the spooky trailer.

Although technically not the very first "body count" film (I suppose 1964's Italian BLOOD AND BLACK LACE may have been the first), it was the first to reach a wide mainstream American audience via a major Hollywood distributor, Paramount. Cunningham's ragged slasher has spawned ten sequels to date, as well as countless homages, ripoffs and parodies. What's tricky about watching it today is trying to see it through 1980 eyes, when the storyline of vapid teenage camp counselors being systematically sliced and diced (courtesy of Tom Savini's makeup expertise) must have seemed fresh and exciting. I didn't find the film to be terribly good, and it really plays more like a copy of F13, rather than the massively influential moneymaker that it is. Tolemite and I were excited a few months ago to watch an uncut "X-rated" version that contains more of Savini's gore, and I think the movie plays even better that way, if only to admire the technical finesse involved in the special effects.

The plot is fairly simple, drawing as it does from a variety of influences, including PSYCHO, BLACK CHRISTMAS and the Italian horror movies of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Seven good-looking teens (presumably college aged) hire on to serve as summer camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, nicknamed "Camp Blood" by the locals because of a pair of unsolved murders that occurred there more than 20 years before that has left the facility abandoned until now. Haunted by the camp's grisly legend, as well as the drowning death of a young boy named Jason Voorhees that happened a year before the murders, the seven kids decide to spend the two weeks before the campers are due to arrive drinking, getting high and having sex. And by now, you all know what happens to teens who engage in that sort of activity in a remote area where a serial killer may be loose.

What's surprising about F13 all these years later is how tame Savini's gore effects seem. Whereas they were quite notorious in 1980, leading to much controversy and protests, the FX were clearly cut somewhat to appease the MPAA and earn the film an R rating for Paramount. He's done better work elsewhere, such as in the unrated MANIAC and DAWN OF THE DEAD, but those films were likely seen only by horror buffs. Paramount's push and the R rating opened Savini's craft up to countless audiences who had probably never seen throats slit or bodies slashed with such graphic impunity, and the shocking death of one character who has his throat punctured by an arrow was probably quite a shocker to them. F13's secret weapon may be Harry Manfredini, however, the composer whose "ch-ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha-ha" score has since been copied to death. Manfredini's music is very good and keeps one's nerves consistently jangled, even when not much is happening on screen. That much of F13's success is due to Manfredini's music is clear when you consider he became typecast as a "horror composer" and was invited back for nearly all the sequels.

FRIDAY THE 13TH does what it sets out to do--kill many young people in relatively shocking fashion--and it does so reasonably well. The killer's revelation had long been spoiled for me (by SCREAM, if nothing else), and the very effective final shock was a staple of the period (see PHANTASM, CARRIE...) and was reenacted in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, as well as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. Believe it or not, FRIDAY THE 13TH was the 18th highest-grossing film of 1980.

Back From Cali

Welcome back to Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot. I'm Marty McKee, your host. I'm back after an all-too-brief vacation in Southern California, where the weather every day was 86 degrees and clear skies, while Champaign-Urbana was battling 42-degree temperatures and downpouring rain. Some Californians say they become bored with the beautiful weather, but I surely don't understand how.

I flew out from St. Louis on Friday night, the 20th of October, and settled into my temporary residence at the home of good friends Chris and Sara Dowell and their little girl Grace. On Saturday, the four of us set out on our first sightseeing foray to visit some celebrity gravesites.

First up was Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. As we were feeling the spirit of Halloween, our first order of business was to pay respect to the great horror star Bela Lugosi:
Oddly, Bela's grave lies about three stones down from Bing Crosby's. We also saw stones for Rita Hayworth, Walter Brennan, Sharon Tate (so sad), John Ford, Bonita Granville, Jack Wrather and Rosalind Russell, among others. Inside the mausoleum, we made a point of finding John Candy's resting place, which is just above that of Fred MacMurray and June Haver. Holy Cross is a beautiful place, a sprawling green landscape on a hill with a spectacular view of the city.

Westwood Village, on the other hand, is an unusual cemetary. It's located smack dab in the middle of the city, surrounded by highrises and accessible only by navigating around a parking lot. It's practically hidden from casual pedestrians, but marks the resting place for many top Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe, whose grave is probably America's most visited. Some graves, such as Rodney Dangerfield, Carroll O'Connor (buried with his wife and stepson Hugh), Walter Matthau, James Coburn and Bob Crane, are relatively lavish. George C. Scott's is completely unmarked (I think we found it). Eddie Albert is there, and I wondered about the whereabouts of his recently deceased son Edward. Burt Lancaster's is surprisingly tiny, just another square in one of the urn gardens (very near the equally small stone of Janet Margolin, a beautiful and interesting '70s actress taken from us well before her time). Dean Martin and Christopher George are among the stars in the mausoleum. So is Steve Ihnat, who is buried with his son Stefan, who was born the same year his father died. So sad. See the link above to read a list of prominent Hollywood personalities buried in Westwood Village, many of whom I didn't notice.

An unusual way to begin a vacation, perhaps, but as a film fan, I found it a nice way to pay respect to favorites who had meant much to me in life.

The evening found us at Hamburger Hamlet, where I ordered...steak. The World Series started that night, but I didn't see much of it (any of the games, really). I never got used to the concept of sporting events beginning two hours "early"; watching the Fighting Illini football game at 10am was as foreign an experience as seeing the end of a World Series game and then going out for dinner.

On Sunday, I spotted the first celebrities of my trip--three of them, in fact--and I visited two of science fiction's most recognizable filming locations. More to come.

P.S. The "greatest film ever made" referenced below? ROAD HOUSE, of course!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'm On My Break

"Stay on it."

Name that movie. Hint: it's the greatest movie ever made. Really.

I'm taking several days off from blogging, most likely the rest of October. Have a great Halloween, and I'll be back sometime during the first week of November.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Glenn Is, Sadly, In The News

Back in February, on the old blog, I posted about the retirement of CBS News' Christopher Glenn. Tonight I learn that Glenn has passed away from liver cancer, much too soon, at age 68. Please do yourself a favor. Read CBS' obituary and learn about what a remarkable man and great broadcaster he was. In my blog posting on the old Web site, I talked about how much IN THE NEWS meant to me, a series mentioned in the CBS obit:

He was the reporter/narrator for the over 5,000 broadcasts of the Emmy Award-winning program In The News, aimed at kids and sandwiched between entertainment programs on Saturday mornings from 1971 through 1986.

"We're a little didactic, we try to teach in some way," Glenn once said of the series. "A surprise bonus," he said, was the adults who tuned in, many telling him that they really understood a news event for the first time after watching "In the News."

Yeah, Vaughn Rules

Here's a neat little 30-second clip. THE PROTECTORS is out on DVD and is worth checking out, at least a handful of episodes. Long before the current HUSTLE, Robert Vaughn went to England to star in a television series, and one not far removed from THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., in which he played his signature role of secret agent Napoleon Solo. In THE PROTECTORS, which premiered in Great Britain in 1972, Vaughn played Harry Rule, an American sleuth based in London who frequently solved tough cases with the aid of an Italian contessa (Nyree Dawn Porter) and a Parisian police detective (Tony Anholt).

With each episode running a mere half-hour, THE PROTECTORS moves along at a very fast clip, jumping from one location and one action sequence to the next with wild abandon, often to the detriment of its characters. Vaughn later expressed displeasure with the series, although it holds up pretty well today. I suspect that the formula might eventually run dry if you watch the entire run; I've only seen four or five episodes, but enjoyed them quite a bit.

THE PROTECTORS ran for two seasons and 52 episodes on ATV. It also aired in the U.S. in syndication beginning in 1974. It's barely remembered today, at least here in America, and would probably surprise unsuspecting audiences giving it a whirl on DVD. The rapidly paced adventures were frequently helmed by successful action/suspense/horror movie directors like John Hough (DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY), Roy Ward Baker (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and Don Chaffey (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.). Star Vaughn even helmed an episode or two, likely a bone tossed his way to keep him from bitching about scripts.

Here's the short but snappy opening titles to THE PROTECTORS. Some things to notice:
  • That yellow car crashing was an accident that occurred when a stunt went wrong. No one was injured, and the director (Hough, I think) decided to use the take.
  • I don't believe that bridge explosion ever appeared in an episode. It wasn't that unusual for producers to insert gratuitous action into a title sequence to perk up audiences' eyeballs.
  • I think Vaughn's dog appeared only in the pilot. With less than a half-hour to present each adventure, there was little time for lounging around the house, and with many episodes being shot on location all over Europe, the characters' home lives were rarely touched upon.
  • Tony Anholt gets no respect, does he?

The brassy theme is by, I believe, John Cameron.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Wonder Computer Of The 1980s

Do you have 30 seconds to see Bill Shatner selling the "wonder computer of the 1980s"? For under $300!

With a real computer keyboard!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Joe Buck Is A Stupid Son Of A Bitch

Joe Buck twice tonight used the word "terrific" to describe the pitching performance of New York Mets starter Oliver Perez.

Perez's pitching line tonight:
5 2/3 IP, 9H, 5ER, 1BB, 3K, 3HR, 1.767 WHIP

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Maybe I'm Racist, 'Cause I Don't Get It

You, like me, were probably surprised (and probably elated) to not hear Steve Lyons in the Fox broadcast booth during this afternoon's A's/Tigers American League Championship Series Game 4. Here's why "Psycho" didn't work today.

Here's the relevant part:
In the second inning of Friday's game between Detroit and Oakland, Piniella talked about the success light-hitting A's infielder Marco Scutaro had in the first round of the playoffs. Piniella said that slugger Frank Thomas and Eric Chavez needed to contribute, comparing Scutaro's production to finding a "wallet on Friday" and hoping it happened again the next week.

Later, Piniella said the A's needed Thomas to get "en fuego" - hot in Spanish - because he was currently "frio" - or cold. After Brennaman praised Piniella for being bilingual, Lyons spoke up.

Lyons said that Piniella was "hablaing Espanol" - butchering the conjugation for the word "to speak" - and added, "I still can't find my wallet."

"I don't understand him, and I don't want to sit too close to him now," Lyons continued.

Fox executives told Lyons after the game he had been fired.

Fox hasn't said, and I'm not exactly certain where the offense lies. I certainly don't think Lyons was saying that Hispanics steal wallets. If it's the "hablaing Espanol" part, well, that sounds silly, but hardly racist. Do they think Lyons doesn't want to sit next to a Hispanic man? I dunno.

I guess it's possible that Pinella was pissed off and complained to somebody, but I doubt Lou has the power to get somebody fired. Really, I barely understand what the hell Lyons was talking about anyway. His dialogue doesn't make any sense, but the vibe I get is a lunkhead joshing around.

I should be clear--Steve Lyons is a terrible baseball announcer and fully deserves to be fired, but because he's bad at his job. It's also important to note that he has been reprimanded before by Fox for comments he once made about Jewish player Shawn Green.

What's really important is that we won't have to listen to Lyons' idiocy and lack of baseball knowledge on Fox telecasts anymore. And for that, I say, thank you, Fox.

While we're on the subject, who the hell is Ken Rosenthal? He's barely more polished than the Boom Goes the Dynamite Guy. I never heard of Rosenthal before these playoffs, and I hope I never hear about him again.

Oh, and Tim McCarver sucks. But you knew that already.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dave Grusin Kicks Ass

Here's Grusin's kickass jazz theme to the Robert Wagner TV series IT TAKES A THIEF:

One of Wagner's many hit TV series, IT TAKES A THIEF was an amusing riff off the Hitchcock film TO CATCH A THIEF. Debuting on ABC in January 1968, the hour series starred "R.J." as Alexander Mundy, a super-suave cat burglar who is captured and sentenced to prison. A top-secret U.S. government agency, led by Malachi Throne, recruits Mundy to use his skills to aid him in participating in espionage missions overseas. The show was light fare that didn't take itself too seriously, just like its star. Wagner pretty much played "Robert Wagner," the same as he did later in SWITCH and HART TO HART, which is fine, since nobody is better at playing Robert Wagner than Robert Wagner was.

And few composers were better at concocting groovin' jazz for movies and television than Dave Grusin.

Monday, October 09, 2006

That's CHELL-y, PetroCHELLi.

When is THE LAWYER coming to DVD? To the best of my knowledge, the 1970 mystery has never received any home video release, not even VHS, and I have only seen it on a long-ago A&E airing around 1989. It put Barry Newman on the map as a leading man, it spawned a television series spinoff (also starring Newman), and presumably made some dough for Paramount. With lawyer shows being all the rage on TV these days, it seems likely THE LAWYER could be a successful DVD.

It's been quite awhile since I've seen THE LAWYER, and I don't remember the details, but it was basically PERRY MASON MEETS RASHOMON. A woman named Wilma Harrison (played by future SCTV cast member Mary Wilcox) is murdered, and flamboyant defense attorney Tony Petrocelli (Newman) defends the man accused of the killing. The gimmick is in the way director Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE) tells the story: by having the various suspects narrate their account of the murder and showing it to us. Then, at the climax, we see the murder once again as Petrocelli describes the crime as it actually happened. I recall the movie as a decently played courtroom drama, and the cast is a good one, albeit TV-level: Robert Colbert (TIME TUNNEL), Diana Muldaur, Harold Gould, Ken Swofford, William Sylvester, Booth Colman as the judge.

I assume THE LAWYER must have been a hit, because four years later, it became an NBC series titled PETROCELLI. Newman returned to Arizona to reprise the title role (besides this and THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, have any other prime-time network series filmed in Arizona?) with Susan Howard playing his wife and Albert Salmi as his comic-relief legman (about a year after PETROCELLI's cancellation, Howard and Salmi acted together in the drive-in classic MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS with fellow TV stars John Saxon, William Conrad and Maureen McCormick). Lalo Schifrin composed the exciting theme for a title sequence that shows Petrocelli cruising through the desert in a sweet...camper?

PETROCELLI ran just two seasons, although it was a solid legal show with occasional action sequences and plenty of opportunities for Newman to play colorful. Among the series' guest stars were Rick Nelson, William Shatner and a young Harrison Ford.

Newman seems to have been an in-demand leading man in films before taking the lead in PETROCELLI. In those days, one either acted in features or in television, but rarely went back and forth the way actors do today. Newman followed up THE LAWYER with one of the greatest cult hits of all time:

VANISHING POINT was a hit both with action fans and the existential "head" crowd, and it likely made a mint for 20th Century Fox, which continued to play it in theaters more than three years later on a double bill with DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY. VANISHING POINT, about a speed freak cop named Kowalski (Newman) on a non-stop chase across the desert, is essential viewing for car buffs in particular and is out on DVD with a commentary by director Richard Sarafian.

After VANISHING POINT came FEAR IS THE KEY, an accurate adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel that also features a kickass car chase, one of the best in a decade filled with them. Once again, Newman leads police on a dangerous chase filmed at high speeds. Suzy Kendall, John Vernon and a young Ben Kingsley (making his film debut) make up the supporting cast. Like THE LAWYER, FEAR IS THE KEY is also not on DVD. It was available on a now-OOP VHS from Key Home Video, but it's very difficult to find and often sells at a high price on eBay.

I haven't seen THE SALZBURG CONNECTION, Newman's next film, which is another adaptation of a spy novel, this one penned by Helen MacInnes. I'm not certain about FEAR, but I believe SALZBURG was not a box-office success. That, combined with the allure of a regular paycheck and an opportunity to have fun with the charismatic Tony Petrocelli role, may have been the incentive for Newman to jump into a regular TV gig.

Now approaching 70, Newman has retained his masculine good looks and continues to work regularly in supporting roles. He had a great role in THE LIMEY and landed decent screen time in Hollywood blockbusters BOWFINGER, DAYLIGHT and 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS. Newman has also guest-starred on THE O.C. in a recurring role.

Recommended Barry Newman Viewing:
PETROCELLI (1974-76)
THE LIMEY (1999)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I Have Witnessed Genius And Its Name Is Arizal

If you know me at all, by now you must have realized that THE STABILIZER is the most amazing motion picture ever produced. An insane mixture of violence, incomprehensible plotting, absurd Woodian dialogue and hilarious costuming, THE STABILIZER was made sometime during the early 1980s in Indonesia by a director known only as Arizal. It's packed with wall-to-wall violence and is perhaps the most hilariously awful film I've ever seen. It literally has drawn tears of laughter from me.

I don't know who the hell Arizal is, but I will make a point of watching any movie with his name on it. This afternoon, I saw LETHAL HUNTER, which was apparently made a few years after THE STABILIZER and is almost as brilliant. Arizal even managed to lure some Big American Stars for this followup. Christopher Mitchum (son of Robert), who sleepwalked his way through many a Crappy Movie in his day (Italy's THE MEAN MACHINE being one of the more memorable), signed on to play Jake Carver, whom I believe is supposed to be a U.S. government operative. He's after some valuable microfilm that is almost stolen in the opening scene when a villain drives his dune buggy off the roof of a building and into an office in the building next door and starts shooting his Uzi at the guys with the microfilm!

A scumbag named "Tom Selleck" (!) gets the microfilm and begins negotiating with two sides: Carver and an evil badass named Judas, played by American karate champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace in a wildly OTT performance. Selleck is played by the Great Peter O'Brien, whom you should remember as the Rambo wannabe in the mesh shirt and poofy mullet from THE STABILIZER and THE INTRUDER. The microfilm (we never find out what's on it) turns up missing, and everyone else in the film starts beating the shit out of one another in their efforts to find it. Arizal presents car chases, whippings, crashes, exploding cars, exploding buildings, helicopters, gun battles, kung fu fights (Mitchum's character performing ninja-style backflips is hilariously stupid), all kinds of wall-to-wall action footage guaranteed to keep you awake and laughing. Lines like "Fine, die a motherfucking nobody" and "You kill the bad guys. You are a lethal hunter" prove that Arizal hasn't lost his touch for out-of-his-fucking-mind dialogue.

It perhaps isn't as great as THE STABILIZER (what the hell could be?), but, Jesus, LETHAL HUNTER is not to be missed. It's right up there with SAMURAI COP for sheer batshit insanity.

Another terrible movie with a well-earned reputation for being funny is DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK, recently out on DVD from Dark Sky. Its director, Lawrence D. Foldes, was just 19 when he helmed this confusing and ambitious gore pic in the Los Angeles area, primarily the old Paramount ranch and Griffith Park (including Bronson Caverns).

It opens "16,000 years ago" with two caveperson siblings being stricken by a curse that dooms them to a life of immortality. To remain young-looking, they kill teenagers and chomp on their entrails to drain their youth. The only way the two can ever die is if one has a female child and sacrifices her on her 16th birthday. Gar ("Crackers Phinn," obviously a nom de plume) plans to do just that, and makes it happen by stalking a cute blonde (Linnea Quigley in her first of many films that required her to perform full-frontal nudity) and mesmerizing her into marriage. His devotion to their daughter Bondi (Tamara Taylor) earns Linnea's resentment, and a fight between the parents spurs Bondi to run away from home on her 16th birthday.

Surviving a rape attempt by potheads in a shitty custom van by using the power of The Force locked inside her magic amulet to explode the van, Bondi ends up at an abandoned cabin hidden inside Griffith Park, where dozens of children have gone missing over the centuries. The cabin's only inhabitants are Nick (Meeno Peluce from TV's VOYAGERS), a wiseass 10-year-old; Cowboy, a wimpy teen; and--coincidentally--Gar's sister Tre. Tre, usually seen in a gray wig and an eyepatch, is played by a pseudonymous actress named "Barbara Monker." In his audio commentary, director Foldes claims that "Monker" is actually famous actress Barbara Bain, who starred with her then-husband Martin Landau in the TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (for which she won three Emmys) and SPACE: 1999. I believe this claim to be absolute bullshit. It's true that Bain's career (and Landau's, for that matter) was no great shakes in 1979 when DON'T GO IN THE PARK was filmed, but just a glance at the actress in the film proves that she is not Bain. I'm not certain whether Foldes is mistaken or is trying to pull the wool over our eyes (and DVD moderator David Gregory doesn't challenge Foldes' assertion), but he is wrong, no doubt about it.

Aldo Ray, a former Academy Award nominee on hard times in 1979, pops up briefly as an investigative reporter looking into the mysterious Griffith Park deaths who tries to rescue Nick from his homelessness. More murders occur until the far-out climax inside Bronson Caverns that includes zombies, fire, eye lasers (!) and more ridiculousness. It's pretty obvious that Foldes and his co-writer Linwood Chase had no fucking idea what they were doing when they snapped this picture together, but if it was any better, it would probably be less entertaining.

Foldes went on to direct more bad movies, including NIGHTFORCE, a laugh-inducing ripoff of WAR GAMES in which a bunch of rich college kids (including Linda Blair, James Van Patten and Chad McQueen) drive to Central America to rescue their female friend, who has been kidnapped by terrorists, after her dickless father, a U.S. senator played by Cameron Mitchell (!), refuses to pay her ransom.

Oh, and I also saw C.H.O.M.P.S. this weekend, which I guess fulfills an old dream of mine. This Hanna-Barbera live-action comedy played theatrically in 1979, and I kinda wanted to see it because it was about a robot crime-fighting dog with super powers. Uh, sure, why wouldn't I want to see that? I never did though, and, for some reason, over the years I never caught up with it. Finally, after more than 25 years, I have seen C.H.O.M.P.S., thanks to Netflix. And, um, it's about as good as I suspected. It's typical slapstick of the type that Disney was doing a lot in those days with films like THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG and GUS.

C.H.O.M.P.S. stars LAND OF THE LOST's Wesley Eure (just coming off the grimy horror flick THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, a complete 180 from the sweetness of C.H.O.M.P.S.) as a super-smart security expert who invents a Canine Home Protection System that looks like a cute dog. Its powers include super-strength (it knocks a truck over), X-ray vision, super-speed and explosive-detection. Naturally, some bad guys try to steal C.H.O.M.P.S., but the robot Rover knocks them all on their asses, figuratively speaking. Super-cutie Valerie Bertinelli (ONE DAY AT A TIME) is the female lead, probably another reason I wanted to see this as a kid, and Conrad Bain (DIFF'RENT STROKES) plays Eure's boss. Also yukking it up are Chuck McCann ("Hi, guy!") and Red Buttons as the bumbling burglars, Jim Backus as Bain's rival, and Larry Bishop, most recently seen stealing KILL BILL, VOL. 2 as Michael Madsen's strip-club boss, as Eure's rival for Val's affections.

C.H.O.M.P.S. is actually kinda cute and fun and would likely still entertain children, as it has a lot of harmless action scenes with the robot doggie doing its tricks. Hoyt Curtin's score sounds exactly like a typical DYNOMUTT episode, which makes sense when you think about it. MGM's DVD is a bonus in that it resurrects American International Picture's original PG cut, even though the DVD packaging promises a G rating. When C.H.O.M.P.S. first came out in the summer of 1979, it was rated PG because of a mean rival dog who "talked" to the audience, occasionally using mild swear words like "shit" and "up your pooper." AIP redubbed that dialogue and re-released C.H.O.M.P.S. at Christmas time in a G-rated cut. MGM, as it often does with its DVDs, whether purposely or not, used the original PG version for the DVD, just like when they released the R-rated SWAMP THING, the X-rated REVENGE OF THE NINJA and an early version of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS with full-frontal Ingrid Pitt nudity.

Whew. So did anyone actually read all that?

Shatner Got Boobs?

I've been looking for this commercial ever since I saw it airing during one of the baseball playoff games. Talk about newsworthy--why has no one been talking about this? William Shatner is playing Captain Kirk in 2006!

Here's one I've never seen nor even heard of. I wonder how it escaped my attention. Probably because it's British and has likely never been screened on American television. I'm guessing this is from around 1990, and not only has Shatner back in Kirk's uniform, but James Doohan as Scotty. And lots of action!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tigers 8, Yankees 3

I wonder who's more pissed off right now--George Steinbrenner or the president of Fox Sports?

It's a good thing Tim McCarver didn't broadcast the game, or else he probably would have broken down in tears.

What Is Communism?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Two More Cult Figures Gone

It was just recently that I posted about a film called THE LOSERS, an interesting 1970 drive-in classic that slaps bikers smack dap into the middle of the Vietnam War. THE LOSERS was written by Alan Caillou, a screenwriter, novelist, director and actor who died this week at the ripe old age of 92. In addition to THE LOSERS, Caillou's most notable screenwriting credit is KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, a surprisingly tense and well-made horror movie that stars William Shatner as Rack Hansen, a small-town veterinarian who finds himself inexplicably battling to survive an influx of raging tarantulas in his sleepy California town. Caillou also wrote and acted in episodes of THE RAT PATROL, THRILLER and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. He was also an author of pulpy adventure novels; one, 1969's ASSAULT ON LOVELESS featuring two-fisted Cabot Cain, is in my collection.

Another sad loss is actress Tamara Dobson, who died the day after Caillou at age 59. She had been out of the public eye for awhile, leading some of her fans to wonder whether she had already passed away. Instead, she had been residing in New York, battling the multiple sclerosis that eventually killed her.

At 6'2", Dobson cut a striking figure, hitting it big as a fashion model before turning to movies. She made few films, but her first major role was the one that stuck with her forever. As the title character in the sassy CLEOPATRA JONES, Dobson joined Pam Grier (COFFY) as one of the few women to draw an audience in action films. The 1973 blaxploitation classic cast Tamara as a government agent who strikes against druglord Shelley Winters. Always seen wearing the latest styles in clothing and makeup, there was no looking at anyone else whenever Dobson was on-screen, a physical scene-stealing that likely led to clashes with the reliably troublesome Winters.

Dobson returned in the even better sequel, CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD. The first film has long been available on a now-inexpensive Warner Brothers DVD, but CASINO OF GOLD can only be seen on an OOP Warners VHS tape, where director Chuck Bail's widescreen action has been cropped to pan-and-scan.

If you're of a certain age, you might remember Dobson as a regular on the Saturday-morning sci-fi series JASON OF STAR COMMAND (with James Doohan and Sid Haig!). She was also a prisoner named Dutchess who has it in for Sybil Danning in the jawdroppingly must-see sleaze pic CHAINED HEAT with Linda Blair, John Vernon, Henry Silva, Stella Stevens, Monique Gabrielle and other reliable cult actors.

T.J. Hooker Says Drugs Are Bad, Mmmkay?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

NBC's Promos Blow

Tonight's LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT featured a Special Guest Appearance by the great movie actress Leslie Caron, who starred with Gene Kelly in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS more than fifty years ago and earned two Academy Award nominations for roles in LILI and THE L-SHAPED ROOM. Not one of NBC's on-air promos that I saw--and I saw several of them--mentioned Caron's performance. I admit that Leslie Caron means nothing to most television watchers under 40 (50?), but it's also true that the demographics for the L&O series tend to run high, and I refuse to believe that an appearance by a legendary movie star who hasn't appeared on episodic television in twenty years ago is not worthy of being marketed to the show's audience. If she was worth hiring, I believe she's worth marketing.

Ironically, in the same L&O promos I saw, NBC was touting a guest turn by Brooke Shields in the L&O: CRIMINAL INTENT episode that ran just prior to L&O: SVU. I realize that Shields had a long-running (but terrible) sitcom, SUDDENLY SUSAN, on NBC, but it would take some hard evidence to convince me that L&O fans are more excited about seeing Brooke Shields than Leslie Caron.

Appearing with Caron in the episode were James Naughton, a stage star with many TV appearances over the past three decades (including a lead role in the shortlived PLANET OF THE APES series!), Charles Shaughnessy, Fran Drescher's love interest on THE NANNY, and film star Connie Nielsen, filling in for star Mariska Hargitay during her maternity leave.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why The Hell Isn't Lobo On DVD?

There once was a TV series called B.J. AND THE BEAR. It was about a handsome young truck driver named B.J. (Greg Evigan) who hauled his rig across the country accompanied by his pet monkey named Bear. No, I'm not kidding. Occasionally popping up to hassle B.J. was a corrupt Southern sheriff named Elroy P. Lobo, who was portrayed by the great veteran character actor Claude Akins, who was usually cast as heavies.

During this time, NBC was notorious for having the worst ratings in television, obviously because they were airing shows about monkey semi drivers. Someone must have decided that the Lobo character was appealing, and Akins was given a one-hour spinoff series titled THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO. The title character's lawlessness was toned down somewhat so that Lobo was now basically a money-hungry schemer. Mills Watson, who almost always played sleazy bad guys, was cast as comic-relief bumbling deputy Perkins, and fresh-faced Brian Kerwin came in to play honest, naive deputy Hawkins.

SHERIFF LOBO might have been silly, but it did have a fun opening title sequence. Frankie Laine (RAWHIDE) belts out the theme, which was probably written by Stu Phillips.

I haven't seen any SHERIFF LOBOs since they originally aired over two full seasons from 1979-1981, but how can you resist episode titles like "Dean Martin and the Moonshiners," "Who's the Sexiest Girl in the World?", "The Roller Disco Karate Kaper," and "Airsick--1981?"