Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vamps, Camp, And A Bit Of A Scamp

The most famous mixture of horror and blaxploitation benefits heavily from a catchy title and William Marshall’s marvelous, dignified performance as 18th-century African prince Mamuwalde. American International released BLACULA to enthusiastic crowds in 1972.

150 years after he was cursed by Count Dracula (Charles Macauley) and imprisoned in the Count’s catacombs, two stereotypically swishy interior decorators inadvertently bring Mamuwalde to Los Angeles and free him from his coffin. Between neck-bitings and frantic chase scenes, Mamuwalde meets the reincarnation of his long-dead wife (Vonetta McGee in a dual role), transforms into an (animated) bat, and is successfully stalked by suave scientist Thalmus Rasulala and skeptical cop Gordon Pinsent.

William Crain was extremely young when he directed BLACULA and certainly one of the few black directors working in the horror genre. His inexperience shows in the pacing and some clunky camera placements, but he really got a huge break from Marshall, who dominates the picture with his regal bearing and sympathetic performance. Likewise, the handsome Rasulala is a formidable foe, and I think it’s an interesting touch that his character catches on to the reality of a real live vampire stalking L.A. long before most movie heroes would in the same situation.

AIP made good coin with this low-budget meller that spawned a sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, a year later and inspired imitators like BLACKENSTEIN and DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE. Ketty Lester, Elisha Cook Jr. (as a coroner with a hook hand), and Ji-Tu Cumbuka (as a character named Big Skillet!) also star. Gene Page composed the funky score, and the Hues Corporation (which later went to #1 with “Rock the Boat”) perform.

Leave it to Hammer, which became internationally famous for its Christopher Lee Dracula pictures, and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers to produce the world’s first kung-fu vampire flick, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, in 1973.

When it finally came to the U.S. six years later, Dynamite Entertainment cut it to shreds, keeping all the sex and violence, but leaving the story nigh incomprehensible, and saddling it with the campy title THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA. While some of the early dialogue scenes are real slogs to sit through, this enjoyably sleazy horror film deserved a better fate.

In 1908, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) teams up with his fey son (Robin Stewart), a Scandinavian beauty (Julie Ege), a cute Chinese girl (Shih Szu), and seven badass kung fu fighters to save a Chinese village from being ravaged by skull-faced vamps being led by Count Dracula (a dubbed John Forbes-Robertson landed the part when Christopher Lee said no).

The makeup on the Chinese-descended hopping vampires is impressively creepy, and scenes of these moldy beasts draining the blood from nude women into a boiling cauldron are impressive. So are the various fight scenes staged not by veteran director Baker, but stuntmen Chia Tang and Chia-Liang Liu. Don Houghton’s plot is difficult to follow, due to some turgid exposition, but if you’re patient, the movie really pays off (though the final battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is unconscionably anti-climactic).

By the time 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES was released, Hammer’s style of Gothic horror was passé, and even the addition of then-trendy martial arts action wasn’t enough to lure audiences. The movie died on both sides of the Atlantic, and we had to wait until 1992’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for another kung fu vampire flick.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back To 42nd Street

Synapse is back with its fifth wild, wacky, and macabre collection of grindhouse trailers packaged under its 42ND STREET FOREVER banner. I previously reviewed Volume 3 and Volume 4, and I'm pleased to say that Volume 5, which is subtitled ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE CINEMA, is just as insane and fun as the earlier volumes.

But first, what is the Alamo Drafthouse? Simply, it's a franchise of three "brew-and-view" movie theaters based in Austin, Texas and owned by Tim League. The Alamo is something of a Shangri-La for fans of cult movies with its regular revival showings of obscure exploitation pictures and a true dedication to preserving the history of these mostly forgotten treasures. 42ND STREET FOREVER, VOLUME 5 not only collects a diverse variety of drive-in and exploitation trailers from the Alamo's vast archive, but also contains a documentary about the theater and an audio commentary featuring League and two of his programmers, Zack Carlson and Lars Nilsen.

But first, the trailers…

• And what an amazing opening. A bearded Charlton Heston, resplendent in a velour tennis outfit with wide red collars, advises parents on the MPAA ratings system, talking about all the “fine, significant films” that have been rated G. Nice of Chuck to interrupt his game for us.

• A LIFE OF NINJA—“You expect me to believe the killer’s a ninja?” Scantily clad women, including some wrestling in mud, populate this crazy trailer for a dubbed Hong Kong flick backed by Stu Phillips music stolen from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Swordfights, sexual innuendo, flying ninja, glowing eyes, and a fighter big enough to fit Bolo Yeung in his loincloth make this picture a must-see.

• Angela Mao stars in STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS, which is voiced by one of my favorite trailer narrators (if anyone knows his name, please let me know). I’ve seen this trailer several times, but it’s cool, featuring lots of chopsocky action. Cinemation released it.

• “Viva Chiba!” Sonny looks quite natty, kicking tons of ass in a three-piece suit in THE BODYGUARD. Adolph Caesar narrates: “Faster than Ali! Meaner than Bruce Lee! Sonny Chiba, the Streetfighter, is the dirty, mean murder machine! The meanest, bloodiest, most violent, ass-kicking, arm-ripping mother yet!” The hyperbole actually isn’t too far over the top, as Sonny really does rip some dude’s arm right off!

• Shaw Brothers produced MAD MONKEY KUNG FU that introduces “three types of monkey boxing—a step beyond kung fu.” At the very least, it’s a magnificent title. It looks pretty silly though. “An action picture you cannot afford to miss!”

• Star Ross Hagen narrates WONDER WOMEN, which stars Nancy Kwan as a mad scientist transforming sexy babes into sexy babe robots. Hagen gets beaten up by lots of hot women in this Philippines production with shurikens, cockfighting, chicks shooting machine guns, Hagen as a Bond wannabe, and Vic Diaz.

• LUCKY SEVEN made me laugh with its cast of kung fu children smacking each other around and putting the adult actors through slapsticky action and odd pedophile jokes. I bet it’s not much fun for viewers over ten, but the trailer has some amusing moments, including real kids doing dangerous-looking stunts. The kids have names like Little Fatty, Bumpkin, and Little Chili. Some of the stunts are awesome.

• Want windsurfing, fake beards, and burly fisticuffs? Check out Franco Nero wrestling a shark in THE SHARK HUNTER.

• BIRDS DO IT, BEES DO IT—“The intimate story of animal courtship, mating, and family instincts throughout the world.” Yep, a David Wolper documentary about animals fucking. It humorously warns that it’s too explicit to ever be shown on television, but also urges the whole family to see it together.

• Boob fans need to see LET’S DO IT! about a guy named Freddy who attracts a lot of women. Director Bert I. Gordon’s idea of filmmaking is to point the camera at his starlets’ chests, not that I’m complaining (much).

• CHATTERBOX has a one-of-a-kind premise: a sexy young woman (Candice Rialson) wakes up one morning to discover her vagina can talk. And sing. Well. So well that she becomes a Hollywood star. Believe it or not, CHATTERBOX is really a sweet movie, but some believe the film’s outrageous premise helped kill the effervescent Rialson’s Hollywood career.

• DANISH LOVE ACTS—Well, what more do I need to say? The title is the concept.

• Character actor Harold Gould voices GROUP MARRIAGE, a Stephanie Rothman comedy with Claudia Jennings. The trailer contains fewer exploitative elements than you may expect, though enough to make it look intriguing. It does manage to get a car explosion in there.

• VIOLATED—A “hard-hitting, shocking” film with scenes “too powerful” to be shown, so the trailer is just narration of copy crawling over a dead woman. Wonder if any audiences were fooled?

• Girls dressed as clowns setting a man and his car on fire? I’m intrigued. It’s Harry Novak’s CAGED VIRGINS, which is a French thriller directed by Jean Rollin and distributed (dubbed) in the U.S. by Boxoffice International. Plenty of nudity and hammy acting.

• Sonny Chiba is back, along with Vic Morrow (!), in the goofy U.S./Japan co-production MESSAGE FROM SPACE, which was one of the first major STAR WARS rip-offs. Spectacle, not the stars, is the selling point of this colorful, action-packed space fantasy. Vic says, “I buried my career!”, which he probably thought was true.

• THE TERRORNAUTS is a British SF movie with unconvincing spaceship models and Dalek-like robots that threaten people. Looks kinda dull, actually, but the trailer delivers some campy laughs.

• MIND WARP: AN INFINITY OF TERROR—Better known as GALAXY OF TERROR, MIND WARP was one of several titles Roger Corman heaped upon this cheap SF thriller in an effort to find an audience. Fondly remembered by some fans today, it strangely isn’t on DVD, despite a name cast (Edward Albert, Sid Haig, Erin Moran, Ray Walston), some gore, a notorious worm rape scene, an unusual premise, and decent special effects. It was cool to see the trailer for the first time.

• MEGAFORCE proudly proclaims to be from the director of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and CANNONBALL RUN, which didn’t help this klutzy action pic become a hit. “The good guys always win! Even in the ‘80s.” Also not on DVD.

• ZEBRA FORCE looks surprisingly badass with lots of slow-motion if not exactly competent action sequences, stunts, and blood squibs. “The most deadly commandos ever to blast their way across the screen in a battle with the mob!” Sounds cool to me. I gotta see it, even though it compares itself (inaccurately, I’m sure) to BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

• BLAZING BATTLE—I have no idea what this wild action film is or what it’s about. It appears to be an Indonesian production about some badass wrecking havoc in the jungle during World War II. Fans of THE STABILIZER will probably get a big kick out of it, and I wanna see this one too. Explosions, impalements, and eye-gougings reign supreme.

• JAMES TONT: OPERAZIONE U.N.O.—This Italian Sixties spy spoof is presented in Italian with English subtitles, which means it may never have played in the U.S. Too bad. It looks fun with a gimmick Volkswagen that drives underwater, X-ray specs, a hand that comes out of a toilet, bikini babes, and a song that sounds hilariously like Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.”

• More Sonny Chiba in INTERNATIONAL SECRET POLICE: THE DIAMOND TRAP, a poorly but amusingly translated Sixties trailer with stuff blowing up real good.

• MACHINE GUN MCCAIN—John Cassavetes, Britt Eklund, Gena Rowlands, and Peter Falk star in this spaghetti crime flick that looks as though it delivers the violent goods. Cassavetes and Falk dub themselves, but everyone else appears to be a European actor dubbed by the usual gang.

• STACEY—“the James Blonde bombshell”—is an entertaining Andy Sidaris actioner starring the stunning Anne Randall, who didn’t make nearly as many movies as she should have. Fast cars, exploding signs, and many, many breasts populate Sidaris’ first movie, which he later remade as MALIBU EXPRESS.

• Anthony Eisley is spy Harry Sennett in LIGHTNING BOLT, a decent Italian spy flick that redeems its dull first half with a lively second half. Eisley wisecracks his way through the trailer for this “Technicolor supercharger.”

• Oh, no, not a Joseph Lai production! MISSION THUNDERBOLT is another goofy, confusing, and barely watchable mishmash of various unfinished films that filled video stores in the 1980s. Did this actually play theatrically? Sure looks like it. This one has a bad guy in a monster mask, a female assassin, hot tub nudity (“introducing Summer Coba”), and enough craziness to make me actually want to watch it. God help Godfrey Ho.

• THE 3 SUPERMEN IN THE WEST is one of many slapstick action movies about Italian superheroes who bounce on invisible trampolines and right wrongs. I’d like to know how they make it to the American West in this one, though the cringeworthy “humor” evident in the trailer doesn’t inspire me to find out.

• PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW packs more titillation into its trailer than most films do in their entirety. Drive-in fans will adore brief shots of ‘70s queens Joanna Cameron, Barbara Leigh, Joy Bang, Margaret Markov, and other beautiful women in this Roger Vadim-directed murder mystery with an all-star cast. Looks like a real blast.

• Gorgeous women jumping in slow motion? That’s what I took away from the PUTNEY SWOPE trailer. And a really funny song that must have interested audiences in this well-known X-rated comedy by Robert Downey.

• NORMAN, IS THAT YOU?—SANFORD AND SON’s Redd Foxx headlines this MGM comedy about a man in a mid-life crisis who discovers his son is a “Tinkerbell.” HILL STREET BLUES’ Mike Warren and Dennis Dugan play the gay couple, Pearl Bailey is Foxx’s wife, and Tamara Dobson is a hooker. Looks like it may be funny, though horribly dated.

• I’m not a fan of REDNECK COUNTY, which was also released as POOR PRETTY EDDIE, but the trailer delivers cheap thrills. Leslie Uggams is a singer who is stranded and brutalized and unable to find justice from a small-town mayor (Dub Taylor) and sheriff (Slim Pickens). Shots of Uggams undressing let you know where this movie is coming from.

• MOONRUNNERS looks like every DUKES OF HAZZARD episode you’ve seen. Which is because it was the inspiration for the popular CBS show. Kiel Martin and Jim Mitchum are the fun-loving cousins who drive fast, love hard, and have tons of fun in the ‘shine business.

• THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is a black-and-white Czech film that doesn’t really seem to fit the 42ND STREET FOREVER format. It’s an expensive-looking fantasy that appears to be, you know, good. Neat visual effects and imaginative art direction.

• THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE—You may get whiplash going from the extravagant Jules Verne film to this cheapjack kiddie flick with acting and production values on the level of a typical VD film. The graphics use the BEWITCHED font.

• PINOCCHIO’S BIRTHDAY PARTY looks even cheaper and more idiotic than MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE, if such a thing is possible. Scary puppets and stop-motion animation mix with bad live-action performers, including a chipper fairy who comes across as squirmingly erotic. What is wrong with me? Won the Children’s Film of the Year award at the 1974 Atlanta International Film Festival! I wonder what else competed there.

• More kiddie nightmare fodder in THE MAGIC KITE about, I think, a weird monkey man who takes some kids to China. I’m afraid. Xerox released it!

• THE SECRET OF MAGIC ISLAND compares itself to PETER PAN and THE WIZARD OF OZ. Its cast of singing animals is more creepy than enchanting. You gotta see the “villainous space-age monkey!” “In wonderful color!”

• How did the Burroughs family lawyer miss this one? KARZAN, MASTER OF THE JUNGLE is a terrible ripoff of You Know Who. See the bad actor pretend to wrestle a rattlesnake. See the coordination-challenged fight scenes. Johnny Kissmuller, Jr. (!) is Karzan.

• A Lee Majors Viking movie? Who bankrolled this? I actually saw THE NORSEMAN at the drive-in when I was a kid, but fell asleep and never saw the end of it. Majors should never be allowed anywhere near a period piece. Deacon Jones (!), Cornel Wilde, and Jack Elam co-star in this adventure by the director of THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.

• SORCERESS—Jack Hill directed and disowned this fantasy he directed for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It isn’t very good, and it recycles James Horner’s very familiar BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS score. The trailer is amusing though, and features sexy twin sisters fighting topless, animated lightning bolts, zombies, and an incomprehensible story. I’d watch this movie. If I hadn’t already seen it, that is.

• TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM teams up over-the-hill stars Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, John Carradine, Louis Hayward, Broderick Crawford, and more in a hokey-looking old-fashioned horror flick. “Are they alive, or are they dead?” Is he talking about the monsters or the old actors?

• One of many sleazy flicks to capitalize on the Charles Manson murders was THE MANSON MASSACRE, which received this short spot showcasing chanting young women. “Uncut, uncensored!”

• Joan Collins stars in THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, which finds a nun going mano-a-mano with a baby in his crib. AIP released what looks like a silly EXORCIST ripoff.

• SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK—Dead rock stars on Alcatraz come back to life to haunt teenagers. Or something like that. Devo provided music, and Toni Basil is in it.

The self-serving documentary REMEMBER THE ALAMO is a real strokefest that plays like Synapse head Don May was paying off a bet. The Alamo Drafthouse seems like a great place to see a movie though.

The two previous 42ND STREET FOREVER collections featured entertaining and informative commentary tracks by Edwin Samuelson, Chris Poggiali, and Michael Gingold. This one features the navel-gazing Alamo Drafthouse gang that appears to know less about the films than their predecessors. They're enthusiastic however, and I highly respect their efforts to collect and preserve genre trailers and films of this vintage.

Like the others in the 42ND STREET FOREVER series, and I hate to sound like a busted 45, this DVD is essential for fans of this type of film.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Clooney Rocks The Sunset Beat

God, how I love terrible shortlived cop shows. I especially love the ones that star a young George Clooney with a dangling earring, long curly hair, and porkchop sideburns. And I really really love it when George is playing a rock guitarist who moonlights as an undercover motorcycle cop in L.A. So you can definitely assume that I heart SUNSET BEAT.

Clooney stars in this 1990 TV pilot as Chic Chesbro (!), who rocks out at night on the Sunset Strip in a band called Private Prayer. Chic, Kelly (Michael DeLuise, GILMORE GIRLS), Coolidge (Markus Flanagan, NURSES), J.C. (Marshall Teague, the "I used to fuck guys like you in prison" guy from ROAD HOUSE), and Smith (Erik King, DEXTER) are an experimental unit that works out of an abandoned firehouse under the supervision of Captain Parker (James Tolkan, the bald principal in BACK TO THE FUTURE), who spends most of his time on the phone with his superiors defending his mavericks for bending rules in pursuit of justice. Patrick Hasburgh, who wrote some good scripts for Stephen J. Cannell shows (including 21 JUMP STREET, the obvious inspiration for SUNSET BEAT), penned a real dog here with a plot that never gets moving and dialogue with no logic or sense (after Clooney corrects a co-worker who calls his ex-wife his wife, the guy says, “I don’t care if she’s the mother to be named later”—what the hell does that mean?).

Impressive stunts and an extremely good cast (all of the young stars went on to substantial acting careers) that bounce off each other very well are the pilot’s high points, but it’s all to serve a ludicrous story about the world’s lamest “terrorist organization.” Eccentric German businessman Peter Schmidt (GENERAL HOSPITAL heartthrob Anthony Geary) blackmails the city of Los Angeles into returning confiscated dirty cash by poisoning zoo elephants, tattooing the mayor’s aide’s chest, and threatening a TV weatherman on the air. Yeah, real scary. Meanwhile, Coolidge befriends a teenage runaway and wannabe hooker (SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL's Ami Dolenz), and Smith tries to keep his little brother from running with a drug dealer.

ABC buried SUNSET BEAT on Saturday night and then cancelled it one week later. It was the third series for Clooney, who jumped almost immediately to the terrible ABC sitcom BABY TALK. ER premiered in 1994, and the rest is history.

Surprisingly, MGM HD has aired this lame TV pilot as a very sharp-looking remastered print in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that doesn’t look unnatural. So if you're curious what a shitty 20-year-old George Clooney cop show would be like, MGM HD is giving you your chance to find out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

There She Goes: The La's

Here's a terrific pop tune by a Liverpool band called The La's. "There She Goes" was written by the group's guitarist, Lee Mavers, and is one of the simplest and catchiest tunes of the period. The La's first released it as a 45 in the United Kingdom in 1988, but it didn't break in America until 1991. You may recall hearing it or its cover version by The Boo Radleys in several movies and television shows. I first heard it in SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, and have rarely been able to get it out of my head since.

The music video looks like it was shot in about two hours in some Liverpool back alleys.

And here are The La's performing "There She Goes" on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, probably in 1990 or '91.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Spirit Of Action And Adventure

Following up on this earlier FALL GUY post, here's an ABC promo for a 2-hour FALL GUY season premiere that gives you a good idea what the show was about. And Eddie Albert!

And here's one more, this time for ABC's Wednesday lineup, which included THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, THE FALL GUY, and a Rodney Dangerfield special with Bill Murray. Ernie Anderson voiced this one.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ice Cream Is Gonna Be Flyin' Fast And Furious

The Los Angeles Times interviews director Don Coscarelli and actors Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm on the occasion of PHANTASM's 30th anniversary.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Holocaust For Hire

During the 1970s, you couldn't pass through a drug store, grocery store, gas station, or truck stop without encountering a rack of trashy paperback novels. Most of them were written quickly with little regard for literary value and aimed at undiscerning male readers looking for titillation in the form of sex and violence.

Jumping briefly on the men's adventure bandwagon were Pocket Books and Marvel Comics, who teamed to create a series of novels based on Marvel's collection of costumed heroes and villains. Pocket approached Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, who were not only among the most prolific and popular comic book writers of the era, but had also each served a stint as Marvel's editor-in-chief, to write them.

After finishing the first, a Spider-Man novel, in a month, the duo realized they couldn't possibly write a dozen of them. They massaged the deal with Pocket, so that they would just package the novels, which meant they would hire and supervise the various authors.

One of the writers Wein and Wolfman approached was Ron Goulart, a science fiction author and historian who ended up publishing the fourth in the Marvel Novel Series (as Pocket had categorized it) under the name Joseph Silva. Packed behind a stunning painted cover by Dave Cockrum, Goulart's 1979 Captain America novel, HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE, must stand as one of the series' highlights.

Goulart wastes little time with characterization as he jumps right into the story, which finds Captain America's old foe, the Red Skull, masterminding another plot to conquer the world. The Skull has kidnapped an American scientist, Dr. Crandall, and his daughter Caroline, and forced Crandall to build a powerful earthquake-causing sonic ray. Captain America and his ally, S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury, follow Skull's path of destruction to Texas, Vermont, and eventually to an elaborate base on a remote South Pacific island.

Also along on the adventure are a pair of bickering journalists, Jake Sheridan and Amanda Twain, whose subplot seems superfluous, as neither affects the main story at all or meets the main characters until everyone reaches Skull's island. They don't even exist as someone for the heroes to rescue, as the doctor and his daughter already have that position filled. Perhaps Goulart was testing the romantic duo as possible spinoff characters.

HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE pauses between the many fights, tortures, and rescues to provide well-drawn flashbacks to the origins of Captain America and the Red Skull, which help fill in the blanks for uninitiated readers. Anyone looking for sleazy thrills will be disappointed, but I don't think it's the place of a Captain America novel to deliver sadism or sex. Goulart's dialogue sounds too comic-book-y, even for this, but HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE is a brisk, entertaining read that remains true to its characters.

And if you don't like the book, you can just stare at Cockrum's blisteringly badass cover.

NOTE: For more information on the Marvel Novel Series, check out Bookgasm's conversation between Wolfman and Paul Kupperberg, who also contributed to the Pocket books.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

What can I say to defend HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, except that I love it? The plot makes no sense, the ending is pretty crappy, and it has nothing to do with the first two HALLOWEEN films whatsoever. Yet I can't resist its insane charms.

John Carpenter, who wrote and directed the original HALLOWEEN and produced the second, served as a producer and composer on HALLOWEEN III. His idea was to do a HALLOWEEN feature every year using completely unrelated stories and characters. After SEASON OF THE WITCH (there are no witches in the film) failed to become a success, executive producer Moustapha Akaad decided to bring back Michael Myers (who had burned up in HALLOWEEN II) for the fourth entry, and Carpenter washed his hands of the franchise.

Blessed with a sturdy performance by Tom Atkins (THE FOG) as an alcoholic physician and solid direction by first-time helmer Tommy Lee Wallace (who had been the editor and production designer on John Carpenter's THE FOG and HALLOWEEN), HALLOWEEN III comes across these days as an extremely silly but fun little thriller...but only if you don't ask too many questions and don't take it very seriously.

HALLOWEEN III opens very well, with a long shot of a frightened man running from a carload of business-suited pursuers and attempting to hide in a junkyard. After fighting off one of his stoic stalkers, the man finds help at a nearby gas station, and is taken to the hospital where Dr. Challis (Atkins) is on call. The man, toy store owner Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry), seems hysterical, clutching a Halloween mask and babbling, "They're going to kill us all." Challis dismisses these rantings, until Harry's skull is ripped apart by a murderer who then blows himself up in a car parked outside the hospital.

Mystified at this strange behavior and curious about the mask, which is manufactured by a company called Silver Shamrock, Challis meets Harry's daughter Ellie (cute Stacey Nelkin), who's convinced something happened to her father on his recent trip to Silver Shamrock's factory in nearby Santa Mira. The two drive up to this sleepy Northern California company town, where all the residents seem a bit, er, odd in that INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS pod person kind of way (Don Siegel's 1956 INVASION was, in fact, set in Santa Mira, California--an obvious in-joke on writer Wallace's part).

Up to this point, HALLOWEEN III is a neat little mystery with several intriguing questions. Who was Harry escaping from? Who's going to kill us all? And how? And how does the Silver Shamrock plant tie into everything? Some of those questions are answered after Challis and Ellie meet Conal Cochran (ROBOCOP's Dan O'Herlihy), owner of Silver Shamrock, and the film's tone switches into full-blown comic book mode.

It seems Cochran has a mad plot to take over the world using the Silver Shamrock masks, which have seemingly been purchased by every kid in the U.S. at least. Cochran and his robot army of business-suited henchmen have stolen one of the five-ton slabs of Stonehenge and transported it to his factory, where he has used its power to manufacture deadly microchips and implant them into each mask.

At 9:00 pm on Halloween night, the maddening Silver Shamrock television commercial, snippets of which are played at regular intervals in the film ("Happy, happy Halloween...Halloween...Halloween...Happy, happy Halloween...Silver Shamrock!), will activate the microchips and turn the heads of the children wearing the masks into beetles and snakes!

The how ("You'd never believe it.") and why ("Do I need a reason?") of Cochran's plan are amusingly ignored in Wallace's plot, but I admire his brashness at creating such a ridiculous and laughable idea. To be fair, if this story appeared in a Dr. Doom Marvel comic, no one would blink an eye, but in the context of this film at least, it only inspires plenty of unintended laughs. After a decent and relatively restrained setup, HALLOWEEN III degenerates into a completely implausible climax, which includes Atkins battling a detached robot arm and a very lame special effect of a burning building.

Character actor Atkins does very well in a rare leading role, but he was 47 at the time, and his love scenes with the very young-looking Nelkin (UP THE ACADEMY) raise a few eyebrows. Oddly, this film is gorier than the first two HALLOWEENs, with makeup man Tom Burman providing a spurting severed head and other grisly effects. SF author Nigel Kneale (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) reportedly wrote the initial screenplay, but removed his name because of the high gore content.

As silly as it all is, I still think HALLOWEEN III has to be the second best HALLOWEEN movie ever made.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random TV Title: Lucan

LUCAN ran for only eleven episodes--and sporadically at that--during 1977 and 1978, but seemed to be popular among my age group at the time. It began with an interesting premise, but like half the shortlived dramas of the 1970s, degenerated into a FUGITIVE clone and soon petered out.

Kevin Brophy, who enjoyed at least fifteen minutes of fame as a TIGER BEAT and 16 mainstay, played Lucan, a young man who was found at the age of ten being raised in the wild by wolves. Who he was or how he got there, no one knew, but a friendly scientist (John Randolph) brought the lad back to civilization and taught him how to live with humans.

Ten years later, Lucan was accused of a murder he didn't commit and set off on his own, not only to clear his name, but also to find his parents. In pursuit was a single-minded bounty hunter named Prentiss (Don Gordon).

I think today's TV series could do a lot better job setting up their premises for new viewers. If nothing else, you knew right off the bat what LUCAN was about and whether you wanted to watch it. John Randolph narrates.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Battles In Today's West

This Dakota novel is a heckuva lot better than the last one I read. That one, #3 in Pinnacle’s series, felt clichéd and tired. But WARPATH (1973, Pinnacle), the first Dakota adventure, is much better. It still reads like a typical 1970s network cop show—picture Robert Forster or Clint Walker as the lead—but it also presents a decent mystery, plenty of action, and quite a body count.

Dakota is a Native American ‘Nam-vet private investigator based in a small Nevada town. An old friend, Sam Lew, asks him to speak to a young woman whose husband was killed in a fire. The authorities claim it was an accident, but the woman, Amy, believes murder was involved. Dakota isn’t sure either way, until an explosion kills both Sam and Amy.

Now convinced to poke around the case, Dakota checks out the mining town where Amy’s husband’s death occurred. It’s one of the those typically sinister small towns where everyone knows everyone else in town, they all distrust strangers, and the whole place is run by the local rich guy, Burton Ashley, who, of course, owns everything, including the bank and the newspaper.

It lacks the hardcore action of a Death Merchant novel or the gimmickry of a Penetrator, but WARPATH is still worthy of the Pinnacle name on its cover. The hardbitten hero is easy to root for; not only does he take no shit, but he’s also frequently the recipient of racist barbs that put us in his corner. The action highlight is a siege that strands Dakota in the desert against five armed men.

Author Gilbert A. Ralston was better known as a screenwriter who, among other credits, wrote the pilot episode of THE WILD WILD WEST. When the bloated movie remake was in production, Ralston sued Warner Brothers for royalties. He died in 1999 before he could collect, but his heirs reportedly pocketed a settlement worth somewhere around a cool million bucks.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Trick 'R Treat

If you're looking for something particularly creepy this Halloween season, the new TRICK 'R TREAT is right down your alley. Warner Brothers produced it three years ago, but for some insane reason, stashed it away in a vault somewhere. Why the studio had no confidence in this grisly scare fare is beyond me, because it's a very good horror movie with a great sense of what sends shivers up audience's spines.

Michael Dougherty, who wrote the screenplays for X-MEN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS, found obvious inspiration for TRICK 'R TREAT in George Romero's 1982 chiller CREEPSHOW, right down to the comic book panels under the opening titles. Filled with dark humor, gleeful performances, and a sense of style right out of a Sam Raimi flick, TRICK ‘R TREAT is destined to become a Halloween perennial, if there’s any justice for this picture.

Like CREEPSHOW, Dougherty’s film is an anthology, but crosscuts among its five stories, instead of splitting them into separate segments. All take place on Halloween night in the small town of Warren Valley, Ohio (named after the company that published CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA?):

• Young married couple Leslie Bibb (POPULAR) and Tahmoh Pinikett find out what happens when you spit in the face of ancient Halloween superstitions
• School principal Dylan Baker (HAPPINESS) plays gruesome tricks on some neighborhood children
• Five kids visit the scene of a fatal school bus crash thirty years earlier
• Virgin Anna Paquin (TRUE BLOOD), dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, seeks Mr. Right
• Cranky old neighbor Brian Cox (MANHUNTER) deals with a particularly aggressive trick-or-treater

I realize I’ve been a little vague in describing the vignettes, but discovering the twists in the tails is a big part of TRICK ‘R TREAT’s delight. Not that you won’t predict a few of them or the manner in which each intersects with another, but Dougherty has such a delightful way of telling his ghost stories that you’ll be willing to dismiss a cliché or two. Baker is particularly good, and the score by Douglas Pipes (MONSTER HOUSE) will raise some goosebumps. Dougherty is making his debut as a feature director—TRICK ‘R TREAT is based on his short film—and shows a real feel for horror.

I have no idea why Hollywood has room for six SAW movies and remakes of slasher flicks that weren't much good in the first place, but no room for this exhilarating and original shocker. After pulling it from its October 2007 release schedule, Warners dumped TRICK 'R TREAT on DVD and Blu-ray -- not theatrically -- in October 2009. At least it's in time for Halloween, and if there's any justice for this film, it'll become a holiday perennial.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Episode Guide: The Renegades

One of network television’s most obscure crime dramas returned to the spotlight for the first time in over 25 years when Patrick Swayze died of cancer in September. Making the viral rounds was the opening title sequence to a TV series Swayze starred in when he was a 29-year-old actor looking for a big break. And he probably thought THE RENEGADES was that break.

It isn’t difficult to figure out where THE RENEGADES came from. Co-creator Lawrence Gordon was the producer of THE WARRIORS, Walter Hill’s colorful 1979 action film about a New York City street gang. Meanwhile, Rick Husky, whose T.J. HOOKER was a big cop show on ABC, had produced several episodes of THE MOD SQUAD a decade earlier. Like putting chocolate in your peanut butter, ABC teamed up the two men and came up with a high-concept combination of the two properties. Hence, THE RENEGADES, a cop show about a Los Angeles street gang that becomes undercover police officers.

The Renegades were Bandit (Patrick Swayze), Eagle (Randy Brooks), J.T. (Paul Mones), Tracy (Tracy Scoggins), Dancer (Robert Thaler), Dragon (Brian Tochi), and Gaucho (Fausto Bara)—L.A.’s first multi-racial co-ed street gang. All of the actors were basically unknowns, though Tochi had been a child actor with several regular series gigs (including ANNA AND THE KING and SPACE ACADEMY) and the tall, shapely Scoggins was appearing in a lot of episodic television.

Each Renegade had his or her own specialty. Bandit was the tough leader, Eagle the smart one, J.T. the wiseguy who carried a pocket tape recorder, Tracy the sexpot, Dancer the handsome one, Dragon the martial artist (well, he was Asian, you know…), and Gaucho was, well, Gaucho was Mexican.

The Renegades had been busted by hardass but compassionate Lieutenant Frank Marciano (James Luisi), who made a deal with them. Instead of going to jail, the gang went to work with Marciano out of a precinct house, where they had their own groovy clubhouse in the basement. Whether they actually lived there or not is hard to say, since we never saw any of the Renegades at home. Marciano’s perpetually pissed-off boss was Captain Tom Scanlon (Kurtwood Smith), who didn’t like the Renegades or Marciano’s concept, but had to admit they got the job done.

THE RENEGADES began as a two-hour pilot movie that aired on ABC in August 1982. It was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, a former film editor whose two earlier movies, TERROR TRAIN and THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER, had been low-budget moneymakers. Husky and Steven E. de Souza wrote the teleplay based on Gordon’s story. Gordon, de Souza, and Spottiswoode had worked together on Hill’s 48 HRS. the year before.

I haven’t seen the pilot, but I have seen the six one-hour episodes that followed. Episodes generally fell into a simple formula of Marciano splitting the Renegades into two separate teams: one that infiltrated the gang/criminals/robbers from the inside, and one that followed outside leads. Despite their disparate backgrounds, the Renegades get along extremely well, and none of the guys ever flirts with Tracy, who is usually seen dressed in a bikini, leotard, or T-shirt with no bra whenever the writers could get away with it.

THE RENEGADES premiered as a midseason replacement on March 4, 1983, but low ratings led to its quick cancellation six Fridays later on April 8. Did it deserve its early death? Well, it isn’t very good, but I can’t say it’s any worse than other ABC cop shows. It was regularly trounced in the ratings by DALLAS (which was the #2 rated show of the year, behind 60 MINUTES) on CBS and KNIGHT RIDER on NBC. In fact, THE RENEGADES was the lowest-rated non-news prime-time series of the 1982-83 season. So, yeah, I guess it deserved to die.

What follows is a listing of THE RENEGADES’ regular cast and crew, as well as a short episode guide. If I don’t do it, who will? Perhaps the most fun I had watching THE RENEGADES was glimpsing guest shots by actors who were either well-known and welcome sights or just starting out and hoping to break out soon: Kelly Preston, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Dick Miller, Xander Berkeley, Don Stroud, Terry Kiser, Terence Knox, Brion James, and Kane Hodder, to name a few.

Patrick Swayze as Bandit
Randy Brooks as Eagle
Paul Mones as J.T.
Tracy Scoggins as Tracy
Robert Thaler as Dancer
Brian Tochi as Dragon
Fausto Bara as Gaucho
Kurtwood Smith as Captain Tom Scanlon
James Luisi as Lieutenant Frank Marciano

Executive Producers: Lawrence Gordon and Charles Gordon
Supervising Producer: Nicholas Corea
Producer: R.J. Louis
Creators: Lawrence Gordon and Rick Husky
Production Executive: Joel Silver
Associate Producer: Stephen P. Caldwell
Executive Script Consultant: Gregory S. Dinallo
Executive Story Editors: Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi
Costume Designer: Bobbie Mannix
Director of Photography: Charles Correll
Music: Barry DeVorzon and Joseph Conlan
A Lawrence Gordon Production
In association with
Paramount Television

“Back to School”
March 4, 1983
Writer: Bobby Zavatini
Director: Nicholas Corea
Guest Cast: John Furey (Harold Primus), Grand Bush (Jewel), Kelly Preston as Kelly Palzis (Lisa Primus), Rex Ryon (Raymond), Wally Taylor (Coach Riley), Chris Hensel (Danny Mehlmann), Keenan Ivory Wayans (Lloyd Wayne), Pete Antico (Carlo), Travis McLaughlin (Grunt), Rex Pierson (Soldier), Julius LeFlore (Skull), Steve Hulin (Skull)

The Renegades go undercover to investigate a game-fixing scheme on college campuses. Lt. Marciano enlists Eagle, the group’s only black guy, to join a college basketball team. Tracy and Dancer become students to befriend Lisa, whose brother Harold is the criminal mastermind, while Bandit and J.T. join the biker gang that provides Harold’s muscle.

“The Demon Dragsters”
March 11, 1983
Writer: Nancy Ann Miller
Director: Don Chaffey
Guest Cast: Arlen Dean Snyder, Gary Hudson

Bandit, Tracy, and J.T. ingratiate themselves with the Demon Dragsters and their leader, a beautiful blonde named Hot Rod Hannah, who rip off car parts and sell them to used car dealer Roy Keeler’s chop shop. Lots of tires squeal to bad synth music, as was de rigueur on ABC in 1983.

“The Big Time”
March 18, 1983
Writer: Stephen McPherson
Director: Barbara Peeters
Guest Cast: Kathryn Leigh Scott (Julie Robinson), Marc Alaimo (Manton), Lee de Broux (Backus), Richard Pierson (Alex), Xander Berkeley (Gillette), Ian Rosenberg (Wilson), Dick Miller (Sgt. Young), Clement St. George (Martin Lucas), Jeff Imada (Busecy), Travis McLaughlin (Nash), Bennie Moore (Keith), Thomas Ryan (Security Guard), Glen Wilder (Casey), Tom Zahn (Harbormaster)

Eagle, J.T., and Bandit go to jail to find out who’s training convicts to pull high-tech heists after they’re released. Dick Miller, who appeared in director Barbara Peeters’ STARHOPS and SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS, has a small role.

“On the Pad”
March 25, 1983
Writer: Robert Earll
Director: Bruce Bilson
Guest Cast: Don Stroud (Bob Ellison), Terry Kiser (Phil Reya), Terence Knox (Rufus), Nicolas Surovy (Billy Romaine), Suzanne Barnes (Ginger), Peter Iacangelo (Davis), Dolores Cantu (Celia), James Saito (Sam Chow), Robert Feero (Mark Holland), Jill Andre (Mrs. Harris), Al Fann (Walt), Lillian Lehman (Eleanora), Wil Albert (Shopkeeper), Jeffrey Josephson (Godzilla), Gene Ryals (Minister), Viola Kates Stimpson (Elderly Lady)

The Renegades’ assignment: find out whether a decorated policeman, Bob Ellison (Don Stroud), is involved with a hood named Phil Reya (Terry Kiser) who’s suspected of running a neighborhood protection racket.

“Film at Eleven”
April 1, 1983
Writer: Gregory S. Dinallo
Director: Robert Thompson
Guest Cast: Allyn Ann McLerie (Connie Templeton), Brion James (Cochran), Kipp Lennon (Vic), Peter Frechette (Kane), Charles Boswell (Kramer), Jeff Silverman (Luno), Thomas Babson (Walters), Michael Conn (Flash), Robert Goldner (Store Employee), Norman Howell (Undercover Cop), Mary Kate McGeehan (Lilah), David Sage (Shopkeeper), Lynn Seibel (Mr. Edwards)

A double mission for the Renegades: track down a gang of masked armed robbers who murdered an off-duty cop and find the boy who witnessed the murder before the killers do.

“Target: Marciano”
April 8, 1983
Songs: Micheal Towers (sic) (lyrics), Barry DeVorzon (music)
Writer: Nicholas Corea
Director: Barbara Peeters
Guest Cast: Thom Christopher (Anthony Gunn), Darrell Fetty (Silver Stride), Kelly Curtis (Cynthia Holtson), Rick Dean (Tom Tom Porter), Angela Robinson (Rose Richleau), Alex Henteloff (Dr. Rogers), Colleen Riley (Candya), Eugenia Wright (Pixa), William Riley (High Heel Club M.C.), Clark Mitchell Long (J.J. Turrell), Jeremy Sunderland (Punk Rocker), Kane W. Hodder (Distrom), Matt Johnston (Cort), Scott Perry (Mingus), Paul Trafas (Tally)

Tony Gunn (Thom Christopher) busts out of a mental ward where he was serving a sentence for killing Marciano’s partner. He swears to kill Marciano in a letter or innocent bystanders. For some reason, he goes back to his old stomping grounds to produce his old band, the Waste Band. Tracy, J.T., Eagle, and Dancer learn to become punk rockers overnight.

And as a bonus, here are the completely ridiculous opening credits to THE RENEGADES, which run nearly two minutes over a pulsing and catchy synthesizer theme by Barry DeVorzon (who scored THE WARRIORS) and Joseph Conlan.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

An Amazing Bat-Photo

I've never seen this incredible photograph before, but I recently stumbled across it on the Web. It's Adam West and Yvonne Craig checking out the first appearance of Batgirl in a Batman comic book. Way cool.

Claudia Jennings Weekend Blog-A-Thon

In support of Temple of Schlock's Claudia Jennings Weekend Blog-a-Thon, I thought I would mention a handful of films in which I admired her.

A quick note if you're unfamiliar with the actress. Claudia Jennings was born Mary Ellen Chesterton in 1959 and became a Playboy Playmate at the age of 19. She soon was named 1970's Playmate of the Year and made the jump to Hollywood, where she starred in a good number of sex-and-violence drive-in pictures during the 1970s. As appealing an actress as she was, like Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, and many others I could mention, she never really got out of exploitation pictures. And didn't get a full opportunity to do so, as she died in a car crash in Malibu, California in 1979. Claudia was only 29 years old.

I've earlier posted about MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS and THE UNHOLY ROLLERS on Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, but if I had to pick one Claudia Jennings picture that showed her at her best, it would probably be 1976's THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE.

It's not Jennings' best picture nor my favorite of hers, but THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE does give her one of her biggest roles. It's a women-on-the-run pic that predates the similar THELMA & LOUISE, but, as good as Claudia is, she's overshadowed by her co-star Jocelyn Jones, who has a juicier role to run with.

Just as soon as Candy (Jennings) busts out of prison, she's back at the lawbreakin' game, using the explosives experience she picked up on the joint's road construction crew to rob banks using dynamite as a weapon. On her first gig, she runs into an unexpected ally: Ellie-Jo (Jones), who's just been fired from her bank teller job for being late and enthusiastically aids Candy in collecting the cash.

With no plans and no one else to turn to, the young women decide to team up as "dynamite women," traveling around Texas in a Rolls Royce knocking over small town banks. Former RIFLEMAN costar Johnny Crawford (Top 40 fans might remember his hit, "Cindy's Birthday") plays Slim, a hostage who becomes a partner and Ellie-Jo's lover.

Although released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures (and re-released by the studio as DYNAMITE WOMEN), TEXAS seems to lack a certain energy that characterizes most of that studio's output. Both Jennings and Jones deliver fine performances. We learn little about Claudia's character, knowing only that she has a family and served time in prison for some unknown offense. Unfortunately, her character doesn't progress much from there. As befitting a former Playboy Playmate, though, the raven-haired actress spends much screen time unclothed, asserting her sexuality as she wills.

Director Michael Pressman, whose later career hasn't amounted to any better than journeyman status (THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING, anyone?), stages a few car chases and shootouts, but not spectacularly so, and while TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE certainly lives up to that part of its title, I wouldn't call it "great." Despite the fine form of star Claudia Jennings, perhaps THE MILDLY DIVERTING TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE is more applicable.

Friday, October 02, 2009

50 Years Of Keys To The Imagination & Signposts Up Ahead

Fifty years ago tonight, CBS aired the first episode of what would eventually become one of its most important and most beloved television series in network history. Spawned from the imagination of writer/creator Rod Serling, who was already becoming a household name due to scripts like "Patterns" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" for PLAYHOUSE 90, THE TWILIGHT ZONE was not the first anthology series to take science fiction, horror, and fantasy themes seriously, but certainly the first one to achieve mainstream popularity.

Any fan of TZ is surely familiar with Marc Scott Zicree's essential 1982 book THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION, which has been updated and kept in print for almost three decades. However, an author named Martin Grams, Jr. has trumped Zicree with a larger and even more comprehensive history of Serling's show, THE TWILIGHT ZONE: UNLOCKING THE DOOR TO A TELEVISION CLASSIC.

Topping out at well over 800 (!) pages, Grams' book—literally—contains everything you ever wanted to know about TZ. What dates did rehearsals and shooting occur for "To Serve Man?" How much did this prop cost? On which soundstage did this episode film inserts? It's all here—every piece of TZ minutiae you can imagine is packed inside this book. And in very small print too!

Grams says he wrote the book to clear up the many inaccuracies and false histories that have sprung up over the years, including many in Zicree's book. Since he had access to original TZ budget sheets, call sheets, and personal Serling papers, Grams was able to verify every fact in the book. And there are many.

Obviously, the idea that no fact is too minute to include may be too much for some readers, who may grow weary with crawling through tidbits about prop rentals and actors' salaries just to learn backstage trivia about a favorite episode. Some of it is tough slogging, for sure, but much more of it is fascinating and well worth the lengthy read. Grams was able to personally interview many TZ participants, which adds a personal touch to many of the entries.

One major weakness is that, unlike Zicree, Grams steers clear of any critical examination of the show. If you're wondering which episodes are classics and which ones you should stay away from, you won't find out here, as Grams sticks solely to the nuts and bolts of each segment.

A flaw, but not a fatal one. I'm a sucker for crisp, well-researched histories of television shows, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE: UNLOCKING THE DOOR TO A TELEVISION CLASSIC is one of the best, right up there with Patrick White's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE guide and Mark Dawidziak's THE COLUMBO PHILE, among others.

Grams' book is independently published by Bear Manor, which provides a free view of a typical episode chapter on its Web site, in this case, "The Hitch-Hiker" (the one where Inger Stevens keeps seeing the same creepy dude standing alongside the highway). It will give you a good idea of whether this book is for you.

I suspect the Interweb tubes are filled with TWILIGHT ZONE tributes today, but I'll link to just one. Ivan Shreve's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear offers his 20 favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. I can't quibble with his picks.

P.S. That first TWILIGHT ZONE episode that aired October 2, 1959, which was also the pilot that CBS bought, was "Where Is Everybody?", an intriguing opener with a nifty twist and a tour de force performance by Earl Holliman (POLICE WOMAN).

UPDATE: Another of my favorite blogs, the Classic TV History Blog, presents 13 overlooked, underrated TWILIGHT ZONE episodes.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Random TV Title: The Fall Guy

With all of the remakes going on in Hollywood these days, I truly cannot believe nobody is considering doing a new version of THE FALL GUY. Not only was a hit during the 1980s and well remembered today by those viewers who helped make it one, but it also has a fantastic premise.

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN's Lee Majors, returning to television after a couple of disastrous post-bionic years trying to make it in the movies, is Colt Seavers (!), a Hollywood stuntman who makes extra dough as a bounty hunter. The beauty is that the show didn't have to come up with a story reason to stage a stunt. The guy is a stuntman! Want to crash a car? Just another day at the office.

Doug Barr co-starred as Colt's somewhat doltish cousin, Howie, who helped Colt track down his bounty of the week, but undoubtedly more popular was curvy blonde Heather Thomas, for reasons that will be apparent when you watch THE FALL GUY's opening titles.

And, yes, that is Lee Majors performing the theme.

Can you identify the various film clips used in the titles? THE HUNTER, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE are some of them.

THE FALL GUY is goofy fun, and I own the first season on DVD. I'd also own the second season, if Fox would ever release the damn thing.