Tuesday, January 25, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

If MARRIED WITH CHILDREN was truly first conceived under the rubric "Not THE COSBY SHOW," FARSCAPE could just as easily been termed "Not STAR TREK."

Though the TREK shows occasionally boasted a few sobering episodes, the dominant mood of the franchise was positive and uplifting. FARSCAPE was certainly not the first SF-teleserial with a cast of regular players that boasted a downbeat or ironic attitude. Both THE PRISONER and BLAKE'S SEVEN come to mind as significant predecessors. But FARSCAPE has the color and verve of a traditional space opera, with so many bizarre extraterrestrial forms that next to it, even the STAR WARS films look-- well, like any of the post-Classic versions of TREK in terms of polymorphous aliens.

In one of his many sardonic observations, viewpoint character John Crichton (Ben Browder) remarks that he has little in common with characters like "Kirk, Spock, Luke, Buck, Flash or even Arthur frelling Dent," comparing himself instead to Dorothy Gale. But a comparison to Lewis Carroll's Alice would seem even more appropriate. Astronaut Crichton ventures into space in an experimental craft, the Farscape (which I doubt ever gets mentioned in later episodes). Alice plunged into Wonderland through a rabbit-hole, while Crichton's craft is sucked into a wormhole, instantly teleporting him into a nether region of the galaxy, where illimitable alien races maintain a space-operatic interplanetary culture. 

Crichton enters the new universe with a bang, accidentally crashing into the ship piloted by a "Peacekeeper," a member of a galaxy-spanning security force. The Peacekeeper is slain, but Crichton is taken aboard a Leviathan named "Moya," an organic quasi-cyborg spacecraft, commanded by several fugitives: husky warrior Ka D'argo (Anthony Simcoe), mystic Zhaan (Virginia Hey), imperious dwarf-alien Rygel and the ship's pilot, known only as Pilot. (Both Rygel and Pilot are "played" by Muppet-like figures supplied by the Jim Henson shop, though of course both are voiced by the people working the "strings.")  The fugitives escape their nemesis, other Peacekeeper ships, by using a space-warp, but they accidentally pull one of the Peacekeeper ships along with them. Once they're free of the other Peacekeepers, the fugitives of Moya bring the isolated officer aboard, and find that she's a female name of Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black). More Peacekeepers pursue, commanded by an officer named Crais, whose brother was slain in the accidental collision. Crais is not only set on capturing or destroying the fugitives, he even condemns Aeryn as having been contaminated by contact with the evildoers. Thus Aeryn too becomes a fugitive, with no goal save that of the others: trying to find some way to escape Peacekeeper vengeance in the known universe.

The small crew of Moya have no esprit d'corps at first; they rub each other the wrong way at the best of times, and all of them are particularly irritable with Crichton, the biggest fish out of his own galactic pond. Thus, whenever the characters make planetfall, Crichton gets to be the "dumb guy asking questions," to whom the local aliens can explain all sorts of local customs and biological anomalies. Despite that, though, the fugitives frequently get hoaxed by some planetary culture (an early episode plays like a reprise of Homer's "lotus-eaters" sequence), and not infrequently Crichton helps pull the motley crew together to get all of them out of danger. Halfway through the first season, the crew takes on yet another member: sprightly Chiana (Gigi Edgley), who adds considerable humor to the proceedings. 

Crais, though not seen in every episode, is a constant menace, though toward the end of the season the writers introduced a new Peacekeeper menace, an insidious torturer named Scorpius, who eventually replaces Crais as the Face of Corrupt Legality. I didn't think much of Scorpius as a continuing villain, but I'll set that subject aside in case I get to the later episodes.

The element of FARSCAPE most unlike TREK is that one never knows when the fugitives may succor one another, or suddenly turn on one another. In the first season's most memorable episode, "DNA Mad Scientist," a genetics expert offers the crew a biological map that will guide all of them back to their respective homeworlds. But the mad scientist's price for his services is that the fugitives must give him an organ sample from Pilot-- which entails slicing off an arm from a sentient being. Even though the script rationalizes that Pilot's species can swiftly regenerate, it's an unpleasant scene to watch, showing how deeply the crew-members are motivated by self-interest. Yet in another good episode, "A Human Reaction,"  Crichton plunges through another wormhole and ends up on what he initially thinks is his own Earth. In this tale, Aeryn, D'argo and Rygel all come looking for Crichton out of pure altruism, and they're treated badly by the supposed Earthmen before Crichton dopes out that he's not back in Kansas quite yet.

Now, one salient question is, is "Not STAR TREK" as good in its first season as the first year of Kirk and Spock? And the answer is no. It's a fine, engaging show, with a lot of bracing dramatic interplay. But perhaps because of the high cost of makeup and appliances in all episodes, a lot of stories in this season are either "fugitives get hoaxed by alien cultures" or "fugitives turn against one another from some strange influence"-- the latter plot leading to an awful lot of "bottle-shows." On the positive side, the scripts are always strong in articulating the concept of the living ship Moya and its relationship to its Pilot, particularly when Moya conceives an offspring. 

Still, even if FARSCAPE might not make my list of "ten best SF- teleserials with a regular cast," it would almost certainly make it into the top 20.

Monday, January 24, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

There was a time when Marvel Comics could barely get a decent live-action project off the ground. GENERATION X is one of the many misfires, adapting the same-name comics-series that had only appeared two years previous. Clearly the only reason this telefilm-pilot for a series that was never greenlighted was because someone wanted to see if they could tap into the popularity of the X-comics on a small TV budget. Four years later, of course, Bryan Singer demonstrated that, 1970s TV to the contrary, big-screen features would be the best way to make serious coin off Marvel properties.

For what it is, GENERATION  is at least watchable. The script is necessarily obliged to elide most references to the X-cosmos from which the source comic arose, except that now "Xavier's School for Exceptional Students" (aka "Mutant College") is run by Emma Frost, the White Queen (Finola Hughes). The script also draws on one element from the comics-character's history: that she had previously led another group of super-powered mutants who all died in combat, leaving Frost with a deep desire not to repeat past mistakes. She's aided by Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford), whose history with the school receives no elaboration, As in the comic books, the regular world is quite aware of the existence of mutants, and there's a Mutant Registration Act that enables the government to imprison the superhuman species. This sociological situation appears only in the setup scenes and does not affect the story except to emphasize why Frost's new group of young charges have to keep things on the down-low.

Two of the mutant students are more or less original characters, Buff (Suzanne Davis) and Refrax (Randall Slavin), while the other four are adaptations of such Marvel characters as Jubilee, M, Mondo, and Skin (respectively Heather McComb, Amarilis, Bumper Robinson, and Agustin Rodriguez). The performers all interact reasonably well, not getting along at first but finally bonding in a sense of mutant esprit de corps. None of the character interactions are memorable, though, so I for one have no regrets that these versions of the Gen-X'ers never appeared again.

The weakest link here is the decision to come up with a villain who had a loose connection with Emma Frost, though only in the sense of their being scientific rivals. Somehow the two of them were both involved in dream-research, and while Frost diverges into mutant research instead, her rival Tresh (an over-acting Matt Frewer) figured out how to tap into people's dreams for fun and profit. Not surprisingly, on a TV-movie budget, director Jack Sholder couldn't even come up with visual effects equal to the lesser moments of 1984's DREAMSCAPE.

Not a terrible movie, nor a "pretty good" formula flick, GENERATION X is mostly interesting as a curio.

Thursday, January 20, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*

This forgotten telefilm was written and directed by one Rob Fresco, who racked up a lot of TV credits from the nineties on and is apparently still working these days. It's of interest to me first with respect to its place in my NUM theory and second because it offered Sean Young a pretty decent starring role in an efficient if never truly believable thriller.

Gwen McGarrell (Young) works as a police sketch artist in a big city. Gwen conveys little in her interactions with her fellow cops, projecting the attitude of being subtly "haunted." Then her services are requested in a small community called Redmond. Oddly, her Redmond liaison puts her up not in a hotel room, but in an old house where someone committed suicide, so that she's the first to sleep there since the event. This has nothing to do with the main plot, but it's certainly a macabre touch.

A little girl named Bria has recently disappeared, and Gwen accompanies local cops to the child's home to make a sketch of a possible kidnapper from a witness. However, that same day, Bria herself shows up at her home, having escaped her abductor. The viewer soon learns that Bria was molested before getting free, but before one finds that out, she exchanges a "significant glance" with Gwen, even though the two of them haven't even met yet-- which is as close as one can get to depicting a psychic connection without actually going there.

Gwen makes a sketch based on Bria's memories, presents it to the Redmond PD, and then belatedly realizes that she must have made a mistake, because the sketch looks like her own dead stepfather, who molested Gwen as a child before his supposed death. She tries to course-correct, but Bria insists that the face of the dead man belongs to her abductor. The cops try to convince Bria that she was really targeted by a known sex offender, and Fresco does keep the viewer guessing with a better than average red herring.

But guess what? The stepfather never really died, and he's apparently become a serial stalker of little girls (though there's some dialogue suggesting that he followed Gwen to Redmond, which makes even less sense than his resurrection). He still loves Gwen even though she's now a full grown woman, and Gwen must take on the role of a Lifetime heroine to protect Bria and to destroy the spectre who has haunted her life.

I can't claim that EVIL is anything strikingly original. But there are some touches in the music and cinematography departments that elevate this opus above the level of your typically artless Lifetime thriller.




This early talkie is so statically filmed (by actor Lionel Barrymore, taking over from original assigned director Rupert "Phantom of the Opera" Julian) that I might've believed it was taken from some staid stage play. Instead, UNHOLY NIGHT was based on a short story by Ben Hecht, who would certainly craft many better known stories over his next thirty-plus years as a Hollywood scripter.  

The mystery gets a strong start, opening as a man is attacked in a dense London fog by a strangler. The man, Lord Montague (Roland Young), manages to escape, and when the police interview him they tell him that he's one of the few recent persons that the strangler didn't kill. The police let some of the names of earlier victims slip, and Montague recognizes that they're all former members of his regiment when it was stationed in Gallipoli. As it happens, the other members of the regiment are due to ring in the New Year at Montague's, and Scotland Yard attends the ceremony in hopes of finding out if the murderer will attend too.

After that opening, though, the film bogs down in lots of expository scenes. Two unexpected guests show up. One is Lady Cavender, an attractive young woman who just happens to be the daughter of a former regimental soldier who was executed for cheating at cards (not really, but the clumsy dialogue makes it sound like that). The other is Abdul (Boris Karloff), a Middle Eastern solicitor with a ghastly "where's that from" accent. Abdul reads the will of the late Cavender, who has left all the surviving members of the regiment a bequest, though each one will inherit more should any of the others pop off this mortal coil. In addition, Lady Cavender seems set on sowing dissension "in the ranks," as it were.

The murderer does strike again, and after some more victims die, he's revealed as the victim of a hypnotic spell by the true villain. A few lines of dialogue state that he might have dressed up like a "green ghost," but the viewer never sees this, just lots of talking heads. 

The only sources of entertainment here are Roland Young's comic stylings of the alcohol-loving Lord Montague and Karloff's terrible Eastern accent-- all the more remarkable in light of the very restrained voice he assumes for Ardath Bey in 1932's THE MUMMY. Karloff also had a small part in another Barrymore directorial work, THE SEA BAT, and had a much better role in a more well-known Hecht script for the original SCARFACE.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

In comparison to the relatively tight structure of the first Spider-flick starring Andrew Garfield, Number 2 makes some of the same "sophomore sequel" errors that have haunted superhero cinema since BATMAN RETURNS in 1992. One theory is that Sony was trying a little too hard to monetize the Spider-Man franchise by spinning off a franchise composed of multiple Spidey-villains, code-named "The Sinister Six" after a short-lived comics-story on a similar theme. With the recent success of the Sony/MCU collaboration on SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, Sony has started to make noises about another Sinister Six outing-- though I'm dubious as to how interesting these villains would prove without the hero himself in attendance. 

I won't quite say that the script-- all by new writers, except for some input from James Vanderbilt-- completely neglects the main character. Peter Parker (Garfield) still has numerous romantic woes with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). The first problem is that at the end of the first film, the hero promised Gwen's dying father that Parker would forego seeing Gwen to spare her any danger. But even though Parker has a few upsetting visions of being psychologically "haunted" by the image of Captain Stacy, the romance of Peter and Gwen can't be restrained by a commonplace superego-conflict. Since this problem gets too easily solved, Gwen is also presented with the promise of a new job if she leaves New York-- but a more tragic denouement, roughly lifted from a famous comics-story, will doom this Parker's first love-affair. Aunt May (Sally Field), having lost Uncle Ben in the first film, doesn't get any major arcs here, and J. Jonah Jameson is mentioned but never seen. But the earlier movie's allusions to Norman Osborn, mostly by mentioning his research company "Oscorp," bear fruit. 

Possibly in an attempt to distance this series from the Sam Raimi trilogy, Norman himself is first seen as a dying old man who never even comes close to becoming the Green Goblin. But SPIDER 2 also introduces Norman's son Harry, and he's rather quickly turned given an arc-- also one involving a fatal illness-- that will culminate in him becoming this universe's first goblin-themed nemesis. But far more time is devoted to Max Dillon, a nerdy engineer who works at Oscorp, who idolizes Spider-Man, but who soon becomes a new wall-crawler foe when an accident transforms him into Electro. 

The changes to Electro's background aren't objectionable, since the original comics-character was always something of a blank slate. Jamie Foxx does a decent job of capturing the electrical menace's shifts of emotion, but there's really not much to distinguish Electro from a million other movie-monsters moaning about their tragic transformations. More tellingly, the plotline involving Harry is rushed, forcing Garfield and Dane DeHaan to attempt selling the audience on their deep friendship with only a handful of scenes. The script's determination to shoehorn other villains as a prelude to a "Sinister Six" concept gets even worse at the climax, wherein Spidey fights a goofy version of The Rhino and a mystery villain is seen bringing together artificial weapons that would have been used for new versions of The Vulture and Doctor Octopus. 

Though I enjoyed NO WAY HOME's use of a "Sinister Five" (not including a cameo of Venom), I'm not sanguine about Sony seeking to expand the Spider-villains into their own franchise. The one thing I regret about the termination of the Garfield series is that both of the films had one fresh concept: to expand on the history of Peter Parker's deceased parents. In the comic books, Parker was so focused on his ties to his parental substitutes Aunt May and Uncle Ben that Stan Lee didn't bother saying much of anything about the actual Peter-parents for the first five years of the hero's existence. That led to one comics-story in 1968, and thereafter the Parkers went back into obscurity. But the writers of the Garfield films attempted to implicate the Peter-parents in the research that gave rise to the creation of Spider-Man-- and this might have been a fruitful new path for the series to have pursued. 



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

The unimaginative tag-line for this Disney TV-movie-- "King Arthur's Round Table will never be the same"-- sums up the witlessness of this umpty-teenth take on Mark Twain's A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT.

Whoopi Goldberg's career was going downhill at the time of this flick, though some might say that this dull KNIGHT is still better (in quality) than her hosting-job on THE VIEW. Goldberg mugs ferociously as Vivien Morgan, a scientist who experiments with gravity and accidentally triggers a time-dislocation, flinging her back to sixth-century Camelot, under the rule of King Arthur.

It's no surprise that the derivative script checks off most of the familiar tropes of the Twain novel. Time-traveler uses her foreknowledge to predict an eclipse? Check. Traveler aces out the phony wizard Merlin and uses modern science to establish her reign as "Sir Boss?" Check. Traveler gets involved in a duel with nasty knight Sagramore, which is played for baggy-pants comedy but still (just barely) qualifies for the combative mode? Check. (And was it really necessary to have King Arthur make Vivien into a knight the moment she makes the sun go bye-bye? Maybe the script could have led up to that development in some more subtle manner?)

Most of the new stuff, like Goldberg teaching the denizens of Camelot how to twist, is as lame as lame can be. There's a loose attempt to relate the rule of Camelot to the rise of American liberalism. Still, the writer wasn't as willing as Twain to banish all magic from Camelot, since at the end-- for which I'm not bothering to mention spoilers-- it turns out that the fake-seeming Merlin was really a super-farsighted sorcerer who arranged Vivien's trip. Some of the changes are more or less predictable. In the book Hank Morgan has an assistant named Clarence and marries a slave girl he names "Sandy," and the TV-script sticks these two characters together for some chaste teen romance. The book alludes to the eventual fall of Camelot because of the forbidden liaison of Lancelot and Guinevere, and so does the film-- but for some reason the writer makes Guinevere a real bitch instead of the usual star-crossed lover. Maybe this was the result of Amanda Donohue in the role, since she was inextricably associated with villainy. In the role of Arthur, Michael York has a nice speech toward the end. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

This was both the last and the least of the American "Zorro" serials, so maybe a better title would have been "giving up the Ghost of Zorro." 

Hero Ken Mason (Clayton Moore) is supposedly the grandson of the original masked cavalier, but aside from his having a Mexican guy serving as his aide-- presumably a parallel to the Bernardo character from the original stories-- there's no attempt to emulate the Zorro mythos. The serial follows a familiar template: a community-- sometimes just a town, sometimes a whole state-- is seeking to gain protection from American jurisprudence, while outlaw elements seek to keep the status quo. The script doesn't show us much of the outlaws' depredations, though there's an offhand comment that gangs like those of "Jesse James and the Daltons" use Twin Bluffs as one of their hideouts. Though the square citizens of the town don't know it, one of their upstanding citizens, Joe Crane (Gene Roth), is the secret leader of the gangs. When an elderly entrepreneur and his daughter Rita (Pamela Blake) try to set up a telegraph office that may lead to the ingress of lawmaking elements, Crane has the old guy killed. 

Fortunately, before he dies Rita's father invites a new engineer to help lay the wires, and this turns out to be Mason. Rita thinks he's an eastern dude, not knowing that Mason's forbears once owned land in that general area, though the script spends no time on these matters. When Mason finds out that lawless elements control the town, he takes up the mantle of his ancestor Zorro, supposedly to convince the crooks that he actually is Zorro's ghost, though Mason does not have any tricks to suggest any spectral nature. Thus none of the villains seem the least bit convinced that the new Zorro is anything but a masked mortal. The serial is largely composed of routine endeavors of Crane's thugs to undermine the telegraph, though one source of conflict doesn't stem from the outlaws. A gung-ho sheriff comes to town for a couple of episodes, trying to bring the vigilante Zorro to justice, and this almost leads to Mason being lynched-- which is the only time the serial becomes a little bit compelling.

The other principals are competent but there's little to work with here, even in the routine action-scenes. Unfortunately Clayton Moore only gets to use his own sonorous voice for Mason, while some other actor dubs Zorro's lines. The only real significance of this mediocre effort is that supposedly in the same year the serial was released, the casting people for the 1949 LONE RANGER teleseries got a look at GHOST, and so Moore secured the role, leading to a long association with that character, to the extent that many fans think of Moore as the quintessential Lone Ranger.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*

Just for a lark, the illustration I used above is not from the movie per se but from a novelization of the movie. I didn't even think anyone bothered to novelize movies these days.

The saurian crocodile of the title is of course another "son of JURASSIC PARK," in which none-too-bright technicians experiment with dino DNA and create two Dinocrocs. Actually, only one monster croc rampages throughout the film; the other one is supposedly killed early in the film, but then shows up on-camera in the last moment of the flick so that it can later appear in DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR

Though DINOCROC is nothing special, I found that director Kevin O'Neill-- whose record for visual effects is longer than his director-credits-- made the most of hand-held cameras to inject a little more immediacy to all of the scenes of people running from the Jurassic Dork. The script's viewpoint character is animal-loving game warden Diane (Jane Longenecker), whose authority is marginalized by her sheriff-daddy (dependable Charles Napier), though her main concern is that Daddy doesn't like her boyfriend. If I understood the dialogue it sounded like he came on to her when she was 15, but no one dwells on this unusual bit of information.

The genetic research facility wants to capture the Dinocroc alive, so it brings in an Aussie croc hunter with the amusing name of "Dick Sydney" (Costas Mandylor, who steals every scene he's in thanks to his outrageous accent). Still, Longenecker's character gives the standard proceedings a little more groundedness, particularly when she butts heads with her dad about how to destroy the dino. 

 As seen in most of the giant beastie flicks that have usually shown up on the SYFY channel, the Dinocroc is brought low first by an ingenious trap, and then, when it escapes, by Diane's boyfriend leading it into a collision with a train. These are better-than-average big-monster deaths, but the film does not register in the combative mode.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*


Monte Hellman both directed and co-wrote the third film in the SILENT NIGHT series-- as well as the last one to specifically build on the exploits of the "Santa Claus Killers." Since Hellman had gained a measure for making some offbeat films by that time, particularly two "acid westerns" with Jack Nicholson, one might have thought that his creative input might have revitalized the series.

Well, WATCH is certainly more watchable than the second installment in the series, and it does take the series in a new direction, though it mostly abandons the whole idea of a "Saint Nick slasher." But the direction is not so much innovative as odd, and serial killer Ricky Chapman is changed into a Frankensteinian hulk who walks around with a colander on his head.

The viewpoint character is Laura Anderson, a blind clairvoyant girl being tested for her psychic skills by a university psych, one Newbury. Somehow Newbury not only runs a psychic research program, he also has unfettered access to Ricky, who has been in a coma for six years and has a transparent dome fitted onto his skull, apparently so that doctors can come back and work on his damaged brain whenever they feel like it. In addition, Newbury gets the notion that the best way to test Laura's powers is to see if she can form a mental linkage with Ricky. How any scientist would verify his findings in such an experiment is not a question anyone asks. I suspect that Hellman might have watched a few giallos in which female victims are strangely linked to serial murderers, but that's probably not provable at this late date.

So Laura makes a psychic connection with Ricky, and then goes her way, joining her brother Chris for a trip to visit their grandmother for Christmas. To Laura's consternation, Chris brings along his new girlfriend Jerri, a flight attendant, and even though Laura can't see Jerri it's "hate at first sight" as Laura tosses some catty remarks at Chris's new squeeze. However, around the same time Ricky comes out of his coma, just in time to beheld a drunken guy playing Santa in his room. This triggers Ricky's anti-Santa psychosis, so he kills the guy and goes in search of the girl with whom he shares the psychic link. Newbury alerts the cops and guides a sardonic detective (top billed Robert Culp) to follow the trail to Grandma's.

WATCH is a well-shot but unexciting film that made me long for the simple trashiness of the original. Not much happens until Ricky shows up at Grandma's house, and even when the killings begin, they lack any vigor, even when Ricky hangs the grandmother. (He also kills Chris's girlfriend, which made me wonder if Hellman might have also seen THE BOOGEY MAN, which also involved some possible sibling conflicts.) The most frustrating thing about the climax is that Grandma's spirit appears to Laura and tells her she can prevail if she calls upon her psychic powers. However, in the final struggle, Blind Laura just gets lucky by stabbing Ricky to death. If Grandma had read the script, she could have saved herself a trip.

Wikipedia's summary of the film claims that at the very end Laura has a "vision" of Ricky coming back from the dead and breaking the fourth wall to wish moviegoers Happy New Year. The image of Ricky (in a tuxedo as well as his colander headpiece, no less) does address moviegoers, but there's no connection with anything Laura experiences. 

After this, the next two SILENT NIGHTS were "sequels-in-franchise-name-only."

Sunday, January 16, 2022



There's no need to spend much time on this shaggy-dog sequel, which plays like a rush-job even though the film was completed and released three years after the first film made all that "blood money" that Siskel and Ebert complained about.

In the annals of rip-off movies, SILENT 2 occupies pride of place, since it recycles 40 minutes of footage from the first film in the form of Ricky Chapman tells a psychologist about the murderous deeds of his older brother. I won't say that the script for SILENT 1 built any new wheels. But at least the psychosis of Billy Chapman, who became traumatized by the image of Santa Claus, made sense within the structure of a slasher film. Here, even though Ricky has shared some though not all of the same background as Billy-- mainly, that of growing up at the same orphanage-- Ricky is just an empty shell, re-enacting Billy's Santa-psycho schtick with no sense of inner trauma-- again, not even by the standards of psycho-flicks. (There's a very minor attempt to give him a semi-slutty girlfriend to give him a sex-negative attitude like the one sported by Billy, but there's no follow-through.)

The Wiki page for the film asserts that the actor playing Ricky, Eric Freeman, was told to ham it up and play the role for laughs. This might be an excuse, since Freeman's performance as Ricky is as bad as Robert Wilson's perf as Billy was good. Or maybe the producers knew that audiences were likely to be irritated by the re-used footage and so they camped things up. And one little part of the film did grab a later audience: when Billy starts knocking off a lot of suburban dwellers in broad daylight with (of all things) a mundane pistol, he yells the phrase "Garbage day!" The scene did nothing for me, but apparently enough people liked it to make it a "meme" for a time.

SILENT 2 is almost a complete waste of time, except for one thing: if you hoped to see the nasty Mother Superior get it in the neck after the conclusion to the first film left her in one piece, the sequel does satisfy in that one minor respect. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022




In an earlier review I used SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT as a benchmark of good basic horror-thrills, in contradistinction to a truly awful Santa-slasher flick, TO ALL A GOODNIGHT. But even if I had not, for some time I've meant to get around to reviewing this perverse little pearl of mayhem.

Before writing this review, I listened to the old YouTube review from Siskel and Ebert in which they pilloried the film, excoriating its makers, such as director Charles E. Sellier Jr., for having made "blood money" off the depiction of a killer Santa. The attitude of the two critics reflected their inability to appreciate the transgressive power of horror, which depends to a great extent on Bad Things Happening to Good People. Clearly for Siskel and Ebert, Santa Claus was an icon of good will, and the idea of using that image to disturb and horrify viewers was mere "exploitation." I agree, but without the "mere." Sellier's film is not only more imaginative than the average slasher in its pursuit of Xmas-themed executions, its portrait of the tragically traumatized killer is, within the limits of the genre, more affecting than most. I find this impressive in part because Sellier usually worked as a producer, only racking up four directorial credits.

At age five Billy Chapman accompanies his mother, father, and baby brother Ricky to a nursing home to pay a Christmas visit to Billy's seemingly catatonic grandpa. While no one else is around, the old man, who sports a bushy beard not unlike Santa's, revives from his apparent stasis long enough to inform Billy that Santa Claus isn't all about presents, but punishment. And maybe Grandpa is psychic. That same night, as the family drives home, a thief costumed in a Santa Claus outfits ambushes their car. The murderous Santa kills Billy's father, and, after trying to rape the mother, slays her as well. Years later, when both Billy and Ricky are being raised in a Catholic orphanage, Billy butts heads with the third member of an unholy trinity of nasty adults: the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). The script tacitly associates the elderly nun's obsession with ferreting out evil with Santa's omniscience about misbehaving children, and it's from the Mother Superior that Billy gets a complex about the sinfulness of sex.

Ten years later, one of the more beneficent nuns gets the adult Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) a job as a stock-boy in a toy-store. Both Billy's boss and his co-workers are dicks, including to a lesser extent Pamela (Toni Nero), a pretty young thing who occasionally gives Billy the eye but ends up hooking up with Andy, one of the other employees, one who's expressly given Billy trouble. The nasty boss forces Billy to don a Santa-suit to help push toys, but this causes the traumatized youth to identify with his internal image of a "bad Santa." Billy beholds Andy persuade Pamela to make out in a back room, after which Andy gets impatient and tries to rape the young woman. Flashing back to the abuse of his mother, Billy kills Andy, Pamela, showing herself none too intelligent, panics and tries to pummel the armed killer, at which point he kills her as well. The boss and another employee also get knocked off, and Billy wanders off, looking for new victims. Without chronicling all of the kills, the Xmas psycho excels with his murder of a nude young woman (Linnea Quigley), impaling her on the horns of a mounted deer. I'm impressed by the extremes the scripters went to to work a "reindeer" into this Santa's "slayings."

There's no question that Sellier and his co-workers are more interested in playing with lurid images than with delving into Billy's psychology, and the frequent exposures of female flesh certainly would not play with the current generation. But Wilson's performance conveys just the right amount of pathos, and the script keeps up a reasonable amount of tension until the conclusion, which set up the possibility of a sequel even before the box office returns could have been factored in.

All that said, my recollection is that the two sequels (not counting two more DTV films using the franchise-name) are as mediocre as the average slasher. But even though Siskel and Ebert might have hurt the filmmakers a little with negative publicity, SILENT NIGHT has retained a "cult film" prominence in spite of their opprobrium. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

This serial is only loosely derived from the realistic radio serial of the same name, and as one sees in many serials of the period, the gang-busting heroes of this story find themselves opposing a world-beating mad scientist. However, the scheme of the mysterious Professor Mortis (Ralph Morgan) is a good deal more grotesque than the plans of most serial fiends. Mortis commands a gang of criminals he dubs "the League of Murdered Men," whom he claims to be slain gangsters whom he's brought back to life via his science.

Since I've assigned the serial's phenomenality-category as "uncanny," this by itself should give the game away: no dead people were revived in the making of this serial. Nevertheless, until the fake-out is revealed, directors Ray Taylor and Noel Smith get as much visceral impact as possible from the suggestion that the big city is being invaded by undead crooks, forced to obey Mortis because he keeps them alive with his special potions. To be sure, Mortis's schemes are more focused on the city than on the whole world: he claims to have suffered injustice at the hands of the law, and he wants to create terror so that the citizens will kick all of the current administrators to the curb.

There's a fair amount of fast-car and fast-gun action in GANG BUSTERS, but none of the spectacle proved memorable to me. The script's greatest strength is in the handling of the stalwart police detective Bill Bannister (Kent Taylor). Just as Mortis has a grievance against the law, Bannister nurtures one against the world of crime, since one of the hoods working for Mortis took the life of Bannister's brother. Even though the  vengeance-theme is not overly emphasized, Bannister seems to be a little more three-dimensional than the average serial-hero, as he matches his savvy against the mad scientist's diabolical science-- who, as embodied by Morgan, is also slightly sympathetic. 

This is a good basic serial, but its only unique element is its use of horror-tropes, even if these are subjected to the so-called "rational explanation."

Monday, January 10, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological, sociological*

GREEN LANTERN EMERALD KNIGHTS was the second DTV animation of the Green Lantern franchise, and presumably was meant to tie into the release of the 2011 live-action film. While the latter film suffered from trying to introduce too much Green Lantern continuity into a two-hour film, KNIGHTS employs an anthology structure to accomplish the same ends, even though one might argue that by so doing it de-emphasizes the very character, the "Hal Jordan" Green Lantern of Earth, whom the live-action film was trying to sell to audiences.

Some if not all of the stories in the anthology were based on comic-book source-tales, but the credits are not very clear about what appeared in what comic book and when. The framing-device that unites the story is almost certainly original, though. All of the Green Lanterns and their masters the Guardians are under attack by a being from the anti-matter universe, whose name is Krona and who is visually modeled on a character of that name in the comics, though the two have no real history in common. While the cosmic heroes are seeking a solution to their problem, they manage to reflect on other exploits of Lanterns past, after which the frame-story resumes in force and the menace of Krona is predictably dispelled.

The stories are competent but generally also suffer from predictability. One tale is that of the first being to don the Green Lantern ring, but since he's not initially impressive, the moral of the story is "Don't judge by appearances." A narrative focused on the character of Kilowog, who serves as training-master to fledgling Lanterns,  shows how he modeled himself on an even harsher trainer. Two other tales are based on moderately famous Alan Moore stories, but neither is all that impressive as animated efforts.

Only one sequence, "Laira," stands out, focusing on the female hero of the title. A former princess of  the purple-skinned people of Jayd, Laira has chosen to follow the course of administering cosmic justice as a Green Lantern. This brings her into conflict with her father Kentor, who has committed war crimes in order to return Jayd to its former prominence as a planetary power. 

While the conflict of father and daughter over politics is an adequate theme in itself, the setup suggests that their struggle may be founded in psychological conflict. Laira's late mother has been replaced in Kentor's bed by another woman, with whom Laira also gets into a bracing battle, and after that, her own brother also attacks her, seeking to remind her of earlier weaknesses. Laira overcomes both opponents and then has an epic fight with Kentor, in which he almost manages to steal her power ring, only to be vanquished, as much by her martial training as by her green power.

KNIGHTS is a good basic overview of the franchise, but arguably the two arcs of the GREEN LANTERN animated series, reviewed here and here, provide more quality control.



PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny,* (2) *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

The only thing that caused me to re-watch these lame soft-headed, softcore comedies-- the only ones in the six-film series to star cult favorite Linnea Quigley-- was to see whether or not either one could be deemed combative comedies. Now that I know that they are not, there's not a lot more one can say about them.

As I wrote in a review of the fifth and sixth entries, the VICE series starts out with a much smaller ensemble than their primary model, the POLICE ACADEMY series. In the first film, the ensemble consists of a Nice Girl (Quigley), a Nasty Girl (former porn actress Ginger Lynn Allen) and a Stupid Girl (Karen Russell), as well as a Horny Guy (Ken Abraham), all seeking to win their badges by training in a police academy overseen by Uptight Bitch Miss Devonshire (Jayne Hamill). Most of the film is devoted to episodic scenes of the scantily clad ladies getting involved in salacious situations, and toward the end they encounter a sort of Dick Tracy-like adversary, Queen Bee (because she wears a beehive hairdo). Linnea is the only performer worth watching, and not just for a brief scene where she drops her top: she's fun to behold even turning out extremely derivative jokes. Other than Queen Bee, the only uncanny items in the film are also Dick Tracy-like innovations for police technology, such as a lipstick that emits a police siren and earrings that are communicators. It's because Linnea's daffy partners aren't listening to the earrings that they don't come to her rescue when she's undercover at a porno film shoot, and so she doesn't quite get rescued from doing the deed on camera.

VICE ACADEMY prunes down the ensemble to just the Nice Girl and the Nasty Girl, both reprised by the same actresses, but now both of them are also as dumb as a bag of hammers. Though in theory they've graduated to become officers, they're such screwups that Miss Devonshire keeps trying to steer them into harmless assignments so that they don't make her academy look bad. A super-villain of sorts does introduce herself early in the film; a fiend named Spanish Fly, who doses the whole precinct with aphrodisiac as part of a plan to take over the city. 

Since Spanish Fly and her two or three henchwomen are clearly too much for the entire police force, the police chief unveils a secret weapon: a robotic police officer named "Bimbocop" (Teagan Clive). This leads to a lot more forgettable slapstick scenes, and a conclusion in which Bimbocop does bring the villains to heel-- but in such a desultory way that there's no "combat" as such here. There are also various short boob-shots, but the film's best combination of sex and violence-- omitted from screenings on commercial cable-- is one where Quigley and Allen confront a chauvinistic cop in the men's room at the precinct. The guy, garbed only in a towel, tells his buddies that he's slept with both women-- and though both of them did intend to sleep with the cop, they resent the falsification of their affections. Allen's character baits the guy into swinging at her-- causing him to drop the towel and thus get clipped from no-nudity broadcasts-- and she decks him with one good punch. It's probably the only scene in the whole series that works as decent slapstick, and despite the fact that Linnea Quigley continued to make a lot more trashy films, the fact that she dropped out suggests that she didn't think anything nice about VICE.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*


Like 2018's GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT, the video adaptation of Mark Millar's SUPERMAN RED SON (reviewed here) is a great improvement on the source material. Some of the improvements surely arose from the necessity of paring down many of the side-plots of the graphic novel, but others show scripter J.M. De Matteis making conscious choices to revise aspects of Millar's work to achieve different effects, even though much of the original plot is followed. (Since I'm not a big De Matteis fan, I can't help wondering if the strength of his script may stem from his collaboration with director Sam Liu, though I'm sure I'll never know.) Since I discuss some of these changes in detail, SPOILERS apply.

In the late 1940s, Superman's natal ship crashes in Russia, where he's raised by farmers (never seen) and where he has his first and only love, a clear parallel to Smallville's Lana Lang, here given the logical name of "Svetlana." After thirteen-year-old Superman reveals his powers to Lana, she tells him that he should use them to help "the state," then still under the rule of Joseph Stalin.

Ten or so years pass, allowing the young Russian alien to grow to maturity, at which point Stalin shows the whole world how powerful their "red son" is. As in the graphic novel, Superman is too beneficent to help Stalin launch wars of conquest, but his mere existence unsettles the Western democracies. America in particular enlists the aid of super-genius Lex Luthor to find some way to counter the Russian powerhouse in a sort of "superhero arms race." Luthor becomes so consumed with the challenge that he begins to neglect his wife, the ever-spunky reporter Lois Lane.

In Millar's GN, Superman loyally serves Stalin until the Soviet leader passes away of natural causes, at which point Superman assumes the role of premiere. The GN script also included a tedious support-character, an illegitimate son of Stalin who envies the preferential treatment given Superman. The video script dumps the bastard fellow and gives the Man of Steel a sudden and rude awakening to the realities of Soviet brutality. Millar's RED SON was extremely weak in positing that somehow the Kryptonian just never happened to hear about gulags and rigged trials. In contrast, the film has Lois, acting on Luthor's advice, show the alien hero evidence of Stalin's repressive tactics. When Superman confronts Stalin, the dictator attempts to justify his tactics with realpolitik. Superman's response is to execute Stalin with his heat vision and take over Soviet Russia, attempting to redeem the Communist system. The moment in which the hero slays a helpless man will not go over well with viewers who favor a Superman who will never take a life. That said, though the execution-scene jars a bit with the hero's desire to preserve life, it's arguable that the only way Superman could take total control of Russia would be to perform this act of quasi-patricide.

Luthor, with the funding of the U.S. government, manages to create a clone of the super-premier, known as Superior-Man, though by any other name it's clearly Bizarro. Superman defeats his clone in a pitched battle, but Lois is aghast to see that her husband sacrifices the artificial super-being just to gain a psychological advantage.

A fortuitous encounter with the invading alien computer Brainiac gives Superman the technology he needs to control Russian dissidents and to forge the country into a prosperous nation, while much of the rest of the world begins to suffer economically. During this time the hero forges a tentative alliance with Wonder Woman, who considers an alliance between her Amazon nation and the Soviets. However, a Russian version of Batman-- given none of the time-consuming origin-story from the GN--pops up, using technology and vigilante tactics in an attempt to tear down the corrupt Soviet system. Batman is eventually defeated despite getting covert help from Luthor, but the situation creates a rift between Superman and Wonder Woman.

Superman continues to advance the power of Russia, even tearing down the Berlin Wall in a rewrite of the events in the Reagan Era. Luthor fortunately happens across the ship of the dead Green Lantern Abin Sur, and reverse-engineers the crusader's ring so as to create several similar rings, which he gives to a task force that attacks Superman. The fight between the main hero and several Green Lanterns-- including the usual suspects of Jordan, Stewart and Gardner-- is bracing, but the scene in which Wonder Woman interrupts the fight is even better, and in keeping with the Amazon's predilection to oppose masculine brawls for power.

Luthor changes the game by ascending to the office of President of the U.S., which somehow upsets the Soviet rise to prominence. The supposedly re-programmed Brainiac advises Superman to invade America the same way its agents invaded Russia, and Superman agrees-- only to be dissuaded by Lois Lane. In a major revision of the Millar script, this RED SON makes Brainiac the main villain, giving Superman an excuse to step down from his status as the foremost leader of the Communist word. In addition, Lois and Luthor don't divorce as they do in the GN, and the film emphasizes their personal paradise more than Luthor's transformation of the world economy to favor the democracies.

There are still various plot-weaknesses in both GN and video, but on the whole the De Matteis script improves on Millar's weak treatment of Communism. An even greater improvement is the depiction of Wonder Woman. In Millar she's hopelessly in love with Superman, even though he never returns or even notices her affections. The video makes their relationship one of altruism and friendship, and hints broadly that this Amazing Amazon may also be an Amazing Lesbian-- and so deftly that it doesn't feel like the usual "woke virtue signaling." Wonder Woman still suffers for having befriended the Super-Soviet, but here her alienation from him helps the hero realize that he's gone down the wrong path, much for the same reason as Marxism did-- attempting to protect human beings from chaos, and instead resulting in the imposition of an order that stultifies human life.

Sunday, January 9, 2022



Here I’ll plunge into the episodes straightway, denoting the mythicity of each episode with a (P) for poor, an (F) for fair, or a (G) for good. To any readers who desire background, they may find some here.

“Once Upon a Time in New York” (G)—Catherine Chandler, grown daughter of a widowed lawyer-father and comfortable mixing with the rich elites of New York, suffers life-threatening injury when hired thugs mistake her for their intended target. Vincent, a man who looks a bit like Cocteau’s leonine “Beast” from the 1946 film, finds Catherine’s discarded body and takes her to the World Below to be healed. During her recuperation Catherine becomes empathically bonded to Vincent, even after she learns of his freakish appearance. Returning to New York, Catherine rather rapidly gains the position of Assistant District Attorney and begins investigating the men who attacked her. As a mark of her will to become a hero, she even gets trained in street-fighting by Ron “Superfly” O’Neal. Inevitably Catherine tracks down the crooks, but her distress brings Vincent racing to her rescue. Catherine alone witnesses him claw all of the hoods to death. Afterward a police detective swears that he’ll find the killer, but though Vincent knocks other undesirables in the course of the first season, there’s no sign that anyone in the NYPD takes further notice of the claw-murderer.

“Terrible Savior” (F) —As if to reflect Catherine’s repressed fears of Vincent’s beastly nature, a mysterious vigilante begins haunting the subways, clawing evildoers to death. Since only one suspect is presented, the true killer’s identity is not hard to guess.

“Siege” (F)—This time Vincent, not Catherine, initiates the do-gooder action, as he intervenes to repel ruthless thugs attempting to eject residents from rent-controlled apartments. During this episode Catherine meets recurring character Elliot Burch, a handsome millionaire, and is drawn by his charms, incurring Vincent’s resentment. However, the possibility that Burch may have criminal ties cools Catherine’s ardor.

“No Way Down” (P)—Vincent is wounded and hunted by a street-gang and can’t reach any of the vantage points to return to the Tunnels. Catherine seeks to help him, as does another young woman, despite being initially horrified by Vincent’s beast-visage.

“Masques” (F)—On Halloween Vincent can walk the streets of New York with impunity, and so he shows up at a party feting an Irish writer whose work he admires. By coincidence Catherine becomes aware that violent Fenians are planning to assassinate the writer.

“Beast Within” (P)—One of the inhabitants of the World Below, a cherished childhood friend to Vincent, deserts the cooperative in order to work for a mob boss. When the traitor leads a gang into the Tunnels, Vincent is forced to take extreme steps.

“Nor Iron Bars a Cage” (G) —Catherine is offered a more prestigious job that would take her out of New York City; a rough translation of the fairy-tale motif in which the Beauty temporarily deserts her Beast. Catherine still loves Vincent but feels the need to take some precipitate action, so she accepts the job. Vincent refuses to reveal his torment to her, but his emotions make him careless. He’s spotted in the world above by Hughes and Gould, two university scientists who use trank guns to subdue and capture the beast-man. Both men are hoping to use Vincent to boost their academic fame, but Hughes becomes distraught when he realizes Vincent is an intelligent humanoid. Father approaches Catherine when Vincent is missed, and as she goes looking for him, she realizes that her feelings for him transcend any mundane advancement goals. She finds Hughes and almost convinces him to release his captive, but the obsessed Gould turns violent, resulting both in his death and that of Hughes. The intense dialogue between Hughes and Vincent—who refuses to speak in front of Gould because he senses Gould wouldn’t give a damn—is some of the best in the series, as is the choice of a quote from Wordsworth to round out the episode.

“Song of Orpheus” (F) —Father, whose former life aboveground is a mystery to Vincent, makes the Orpheus-like journey from the underworld, seeking to learn the fate of an aged “Eurydice,” who turns out to be his former wife from an annulled marriage. But a schemer seeking to control the old woman’s wealth kills off her lawyer, and Father is charged with the crime. Vincent and Catherine expose the real killer. Father’s real name is revealed to be “Jacob Wells,” which is a clever play upon an archaic association between wells and the Biblical patriarch.

“Dark Spirit” (F) —Catherine investigates a voodoo curse that apparently slays an accused murderer. The priest behind the curse then places a similar curse on Catherine, and though he uses a psychedelic drug to inflict horrific visions on the Beauty, there’s some suggestion that the priest too may be working with “psychic magic.” Catherine is so filled with fear that she even sees Vincent as a demon, but Vincent gets even when he finds the malevolent mystic—who dies in a fire in the belief that Vincent really is a voodoo loa. Tunnel-dweller Narcissa (oddly named for the Greek legend) displays what may be precognitive skills.

“A Children’s Story” (P) —Ruthless criminals seek to exploit orphan children in a modern-day “Fagin” operation, and Catherine enlists Vincent’s help to stop the abuse.

“An Impossible Silence” (P)—A young woman from the World Below, deaf but capable of speech, witnesses a murder. Catherine must find a way to get her to testify in court without compromising Vincent’s domain.

“Shades of Grey” (F)—Mouse, who supplies much technical know-how for his fellow Tunnelers, is ostracized by them for stealing things from the upper world. Then both Father and Vincent are trapped by a cave-in, and Catherine must enlist Mouse to rescue both men. The “shades of grey” may refer to the shady Elliot Burch, whose help Catherine must seek in order to effect a rescue.

“China Moon” (P) —A young Chinese woman has been promised in marriage to the son of a powerful Tong lord, but she loves another man. Her uncle is one of the surface-world “helpers” for the Tunnelers, and so at first Father does not want to intervene to help the aggrieved couple. But the spurned lover gets into a fight with the true love and is accidentally killed, so the World Below gives the couple refuge. The Tong leader invades the World Below with a small army, but Vincent stalks them all, killing some while others die by bad fortune.

“The Alchemist” (F)—This episode introduces the series’ first recurring villain, Paracelsus, who was clearly designed as an evil double for Father, given that many of his innovations made the Tunnels’ colonization possible. However, his greed for gold caused him to cast out from the society of outcasts, and now he’s synthesized a new hallucinogenic drug from underground mushrooms, which he sells above-ground. Catherine, investigating the drug trade, finds out that the supplier comes from the World Below and alerts Vincent. When Vincent confronts the villain, Paracelsus uses the hallucinogen on him, causing Vincent to revert to a beast-like mentality. Catherine manages to “tame” the beast, after which Vincent again seeks to levy justice. Paracelsus apparently dies, but not for long. The story’s “alchemist” conceit is not well executed—the villain wants gold coins for his drug, but that’s not much like the alchemist’s stock-in-trade—but actor Tony Jay made a great villain.

“Temptation” (P) —Catherine’s colleague Pete is romanced by a lady lawyer from a firm with whom the D.A.’s office is in conflict. Sure enough, she’s been assigned to undermine Pete by luring him away from prosecuting crimes, and when her attempt fails, her criminal bosses try to frame Pete. While all of this goes on, Vincent ventures into the Crystal Caves to find a gift for the anniversary of his meeting with Catherine. Narcissa is mentioned but not seen.

“Promises of Someday” (F)—Devin, a new employee in Catherine’s office, arouses her suspicions. She soon learns that he’s a former dweller from the World Below, who kept the dwellers’ secret but ceased living among them, preferring to jaunt around the world. Though Devin and Vincent were best friends in youth, Father always treated Devin as if he could do nothing right, thus inculcating Devin’s resentment of “favored son” Vincent. Father belatedly reveals that Devin is his natural son, though Father’s reasons for concealing the relationship seem strained at best. In the end Devin goes back to world-traveling but has put some of his past ghosts to rest.

“Down to a Sunless Sea” (P) —Despite the title’s invocation of Coleridge and the reading of some lines from “Kubla Khan,” the episode is a dull “deranged killer” tale. Catherine re-connects with Steven, a former boyfriend, but though he no longer means anything to her, Steven has other ideas. Vincent has some uneasy premonitions about Steven that don’t stem from jealousy, but not until Steven reveals his plans for Catherine does Beast race to the side of Beauty.

“Fever” (P)—Mouse unearths a buried ship full of priceless treasures from a cavern, and many of the dwellers begin to remember the feverish allure of easy money. Even as the Tunnel-people fall out over the treasure, one of their number, Cullen, absconds with a jeweled prize and tries to sell it to an unscrupulous dealer. The dealer forces Cullen to take him into the World Below, but with Vincent’s help Cullen turns the tables, and the thief plunges into a mysterious abyss compared to Hell.

“Everything is Everything” (P)—After a charming gypsy boy steals Catherine’s wallet, she becomes involved in helping him prove his father’s innocence of a crime that caused the boy to become an outcast.

“Ozymandias” (G)—The title refers to Elliot Burch, who has invested heavily in a new building-project. Some activists think it’s just gentrification that will hurt the poor, but Catherine knows that if the project is completed it will expose the World Below. Elliot proposes to Catherine. Though she does not love him, Catherine considers accepting his proposal in exchange for his cancelling the project. Vincent’s heart is torn asunder not just at the prospect of losing Catherine but also at her entering a loveless marriage. Fortunately for the heroine, Elliot is so invested in the ego-boost of his project that he won’t accept her terms. Later, Catherine realizes that she dodged a bullet because Elliot was involved in illegal attempts to harass his political opponents. In a rare denouement dependent on Lady Justice rather than lion’s claws, an injunction dooms the building-project, saving the Tunnels and leaving Elliot with nothing—whereupon the Shelley poem “Ozymandias” is read aloud by a narrator to underscore his desolation.

“A Happy Life” (G)—In a rare episode involving no crime elements, Catherine suddenly becomes woeful for the memory of her mother, who died when Catherine was ten (and who has not been substantially referenced in prior episodes). Catherine becomes so obsessed that she talks to a psychologist, admitting that part of her psychic dilemma is that she cannot be with the man she truly loves. Implicit to the drama is the knowledge that she and Vincent have known one another over a year by this time, and now the impossible love has become more torturous, particularly because she envies the normal life her mother and father had. This is expressed by Catherine’s overt envy of the normal life a college friend has with her husband and child. For the first time Catherine considers deserting the normal world for the Tunnels, proposing that she join Vincent in the World Below, if only on a trial basis. Vincent nobly refuses her notion, claiming he knows she can’t really leave the normal world. Catherine takes a leave from her job and joins her college friend for an extended visit—but in a tear-jerking finale, she realizes that she wants Vincent more than normalcy. The conclusion still leaves the love in its impossible configuration, though.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

AQUAMAN (1967-68)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I remarked in this review that I was a little surprised that the packagers of the AQUAMAN cartoon hadn't simply reproduced its eighteen episodes as they first appeared on television screens, with one of the alternating "DC Super Heroes" appearing in between two of the featured character's episodes. But I can see some virtue to the decision, if only because those interstitial cartoons are not as good as the ones with Aquaman. (I suspect that the packagers' main reason for splitting off the ancillary heroes from Aquaman was simply to have two sets of TV shows to sell.)

To be sure, the AQUAMAN cartoons are still just kid's superhero shows, executed with very limited animation. But because most of the characters in the show are seen swimming or lunging around in a watery domain, the show escapes one of the worst failings of limited animation TV programs: the tendency to burn up time having characters walk slowly from place to place or to stand around talking-- which was a frequent failing of Filmation's previous DC-adaptation SUPERMAN, whose rating-success paved the way for a cartoon with the King of the Sea.

By 1966 the AQUAMAN comic book had become less formulaic, and less invested in concluding every adventure by having the hero call up fish to discommode his enemies. The cartoon show, though, doesn't get into any of the melodramatic aspects of the comics-series, and often seems like a pretty close match for the AQUAMAN comics of the fifties, which were all short back-up features. In many ways the cartoons feel like those simple old adventures, albeit with the addition of some sixties-style super-villains and two of the regular Aqua-ensemble characters from that decade, Aqualad (from 1960) and Mera (from 1963). Aqualad, one of the last significant kid-sidekicks introduced in superhero comics, acted pretty much in the comic as he does in the cartoons-- the rash young hero whose chestnuts his older mentor must pull out of the fire. Mera, in contrast to the powerful water-witch of the comics, is just a girl who needs to be saved a lot, which means that she's usually played for laughs. She also comes in for a little sexism. In one episode, Aqualad gets himself into a dicey situation, Mera rescues him, and when the two of them get caught by the villains, Aqualad says it's all her fault they've been imprisoned. 

There are three types of AQUAMAN-adventures. One involves some sort of monster getting loose to menace undersea life, and usually the city of Atlantis (always seen as a dome that's supposedly inhabited, though the residents are never seen). Then there are dime-a-dozen alien invaders who encroach upon the Earth, either for conquest or to fight with other aliens-- and most of these E.T.s are fairly stupid-looking, since none of Filmation's character design people could come up with credible aliens, in contrast, say, to the Alex Toth designs seen at Hanna-Barbera's SPACE GHOST. Finally, there are the super-villains, almost always human beings in weird costumes who also frequently target Atlantis with their death-devices.

Next to the relatively graceful deportment of the heroes, the Aquaman rogues' gallery is the cartoon's best aspect. A couple of the foes came from the comics, such as Black Manta and the Fisherman, but a handful of original creations were also enjoyable-- Vassa Queen of the Mermen, the Brain, and the "heavy metal" trio known as the Torpedo, the Claw and Magneto. The writers of the series, some of whom were comics-veterans like Bob Haney, gave the villains a huge arsenal of weird weapons to keep things lively-- though I must admit that the best-named weapons-- sleep gas projectiles cutely dubbed "torpor-pedos"-- are wielded by some of those otherwise forgettable aliens.

The voice-work is exemplary for series-TV, ranging from Marvin Miller (as Aquaman) to those voicing villains like Manta and Torpedo, and actor Ted Knight scored an early animation credit as the show's narrator. I dub the mythos of this series "cosmological" insofar as the writers showed considerable ingenuity finding ways to enlist all sorts of amazing sea-creatures into the hero's crimefighting crusade-- hammerheads, electric rays, octopi, and the like.





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*

In contrast to many of the films with the name “Hercules” in the title—as this one was in its original Italian release—here the storyline is rooted in many of the well-known tropes of the Hercules mythos. What keeps DRAGON from being a good modern rendering of archaic myths, though, is neither the re-naming of the hero as “Goliath” or the interpolation of a few extra minutes of a special-FX dragon for the English version. The problem is that the script lets the Hercules myth play second fiddle to tedious palace-intrigue plots. Indeed, the character of Eurystheus (Broderick Crawford) could be speaking for critics like me when he says to a minion, “I forbid you to work on any more of these plots that don’t make sense!”


In the corpus of Hercules myths, King Eurystheus of Thebes is intricately woven into the hero’s history. Hera becomes irate that her husband Zeus plans to bestow the kingship of Thebes upon his illegitimate son (whom I’ll call Hercules throughout this review, even in place of the name Goliath). To foil Zeus’s scheme, Hera uses magical chicanery to make sure that a rival heir, Eurystheus, becomes king instead, and in later years, Hercules must report to Eurystheus as his monarch, even reporting to him on the progress of his Twelve Labors, which Hercules undertakes to expiate a previous sin. In DRAGON Eurystheus is still the king of Thebes, but his main concern is to consolidate his power to convincing other local tyrants to join him in a wave of conquest. The script reduces the king’s relationship to Hercules that of a monarch interacting with a lesser lord. This version of Hercules (Mark Forest) lives somewhere near Thebes at a villa where he keeps a contingent of soldiers, as well as his wife Dejanira and their son Hyllus (though the English translation makes Hyllus into Hercules’ brother for some reason). 

The scripters (of which there were a dozen) start off the film by loosely duplicating one of the Twelve Labors. As if to avoid the complications of Hercules’ parentage, the hero is said to be the child of “the God of Vengeance” and “the Goddess of the Wind.” So Eurystheus has a minion steal a gem from a temple-statue of his father and deposit the stone in the underworld—possibly to make sure Hercules stays out of his conquest plans. Hercules roughly duplicates the Twelfth Labor, descending into the underworld to fight Cerberus and some bat-demons until he recovers the gem and restores it to the statue. But after completing that ordeal, Hercules pays no attention to Eurystheus and seems content to go back to his regular life. Indeed, Hercules pleads with the image of the father-god to let him enjoy a simple life.


However, trouble is in the offing because Hyllus wants to marry Thea, a local noblewoman. But Eurystheus also wants to marry Thea for political advantage, because she’s the descendant of a royal couple whom Eurystheus had assassinated. Another barrier to true love is that Hercules thinks that Thea’s parents killed his (presumably adoptive) parents, so Hercules doesn’t bless the union either. Complicating things further are two other court-schemers: Alcinoe, sister of Thea, and Ismene, a slave who wants to marry the elderly Eurystheus. Unfortunately, the two female schemers, who more or less take the place of the typical Italian femme fatale, aren’t consistent in their motivations, essentially acting in whatever way the script finds useful.


Alcinoe helps Eurystheus by floating a rumor to Hyllus that his married father actually covets young Thea (an interesting parallel between the hero and his villainous opponent). Alcinoe gives Hyllus a potion meant to kill off Hercules’ supposed affection for Thea, but it’s really a poison. Though this trope is probably swiped from the “Death of Hercules” storyline, in which Dejanira innocently brings about the hero’s demise, here the idea is pretty low-suspense, since the viewer will be sure that Hercules is not going to die halfway through the film. So Thea saves Hercules by sending him a message through the auspices of his mother, the Goddess of the Wind.


Then the scripters toss the Oedipal situation aside to bring up a prophecy stating that someone who loves Hercules will die, and this is thought to be Dejanira. Hercules’ wife is kidnapped by a centaur, much as she is in the “Death of Hercules,” but though Hercules wounds the beast-man with an arrow, the centaur turns the hero’s wife over to Eurystheus, who keeps her prisoner behind the formidable walls of Thebes—all to set up the film’s potential for a big armed battle-scene, such as so many Italian films of the time did.


In the film’s most impressive scene, Hercules returns to his father’s temple and rages against the statue, which possibly reacts by falling down on the hero. The wind-goddess then appears to Hercules, informing him that he can penetrate Thebes by invading the subterranean caves beneath the city. Strangely, the “god of vengeance” then destroys the wind-goddess with lightning, but Hercules reacts not at all to the murder of his supposed mother, zooming off to the caves beneath Thebes. In a memorable sequence, he knocks down a bunch of rock formations while above in the city, Eurystheus gloats over his mastery of the situation.


The final confrontation of Hercules and Eurystheus naturally does not involve combat between the buff Forest and the portly Crawford, but the villain does manage to humble the hero by threatening his beloved wife. However, the prophecy comes to pass, and a woman who loved Hercules does perish—though not the one expected. 

I was originally going to leave out the trivia-fact that it's Alcinoe who dies, having conveniently fallen in love with Hercules halfway through the film. However, I decided it was of some interest that this does bring the Oedipal theme back into play, for even though Hyllos' love Thea has no special feelings toward her prospective father-in-law, her sister might be viewed as a doppelganger for Thea. Ismene also seems implicated in this "vengeance of the Dads," since she's in love with Eurystheus, though this plot-thread never comes to anything. Interestingly, though some films of this type are attentive to the real ages of the actors, DRAGON is all over the place. Though Hyllus looks significantly younger than his parents, the actor playing Hyllus was only six years younger than his "father" and four years younger than his "mother." Three of the four main actresses were in their twenties, but Gaby Andre, playing Ismene, was in her forties, which means that she wasn't that far in age from the fifty-something Broderick Crawford, though her real age may have had something to do with why she has so few scenes.