Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 21 – Patterns of Force

Space Nazis!  In the immortal words of Dr. Zachary Smith, “Oh the pain, the pain.”

The Enterprise is headed for stellar system blah, blah, blah where there are two planets with humanoid life.  One planet, Zeon, is more advanced and peaceful.  The other, Ekos, is less advanced and warlike.  The Federation sent an observer ten years earlier name John Gill who was an historian that Kirk knew from back at the Academy.  Nothing has been heard from him for years.  Their mission is to establish communications with Gill and find out how conditions on Ekos are progressing.  As the Enterprise nears Ekos a missile with an H-bomb approaches and has to be destroyed.  Ekos should not have that level of technology so Spock and Kirk go down to the planet expecting trouble.

When they beam down they find that the Ekosians are dressed as Nazi soldiers and they are treating the Zeonians as the Nazis treated the Jews during their time in power.  We get several episodes of Kirk and Spock dressed as Nazis trying to infiltrate the Nazi headquarters to reach John Gill who they learn is the Führer of the Ekosian Nazi state.

They are captured, jailed, whipped and threatened.  Eventually they escape by manufacturing a laser out of the transponders that were subcutaneously emplaced under Kirk and Spock’s skin as a way to locate and rescue them if their communicators were lost.  They escape to the sewers where they join up with the underground resistance of Ekosians and Zeonians.  Eventually they reach John Gill.  They find he’s been drugged and he eventually explains that he used the Nazi model as one that could overcome the disorganized nature of Ekosian society.  It worked but then Melakon, his deputy, drugged him and seized power with the intent of going full tilt Nazi.  At this point the final solution is about to be unleashed on the Zeonians.  Kirk rouses Gill and forces him to make a speech denouncing the treatment of the Zeonians and blaming Melakon.  Melakon shoots Gill and is himself shot by the soldiers present.  The Ekosians renounce Nazism and focus on manufacturing high end automobiles.

What can I say?  What can anyone say?  Space Nazis!

So let’s get down to it.  Shatner has moments where he embraces his Kirkian magnificence.  At the beginning when McCoy is rambling on about what could have happened to Professor Gill Kirk very good naturedly reminds him that that is exactly what he and Spock are heading down to the planet to find out.  Later on when he is being whipped in the Gestapo dungeon he does a great Shatner pain face.  Not full intensity, but more as if an annoying hemorrhoid were flaring up.  Later on Spock has to climb on Kirk’s recently whipped back to reach a light bulb placed high on the prison cell wall to work his Rube Goldberg laser device.  Kirk reminds him very pointedly about the high quality of the whipping he had received and stresses that time is of the essence to finish the maneuver before Kirk collapses in pain.  The exchange may actually be the humorous high point of the episode.  A few funny non-Shatner lines are thrown in.  When Kirk and Spock are first disguising themselves in Nazi uniforms Spock notes that Kirk will make a very convincing Nazi.  Later on when Spock is brought before the deputy Führer, he has to stand passively by as the high ranking official gives a very insulting description of Spock’s physiognomy in pseudo-scientific terms that highlight the supposedly degenerate aspects of his distinctive ears and eyes.  Spock’s expressions while listening to the lecture are amusing.

Space Nazis!

I give this episode 4 // 7.

Peace Talks – A Novel of The Dresden Files – by Jim Butcher – An SF&F Book Review

Back in 2018 I did a review of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files urban fantasy series.  In that review I enthusiastically recommended the series but noted that the last installment was released back in 2014.  This year Butcher published the sixteenth and seventeenth volumes in the series, “Peace Talks” and “Battle Ground.”  Somewhat unusually these two books comprise a single story.  So that means that the ending of Peace Talks is a great big “to be continued” notice.  Normally that would be extremely annoying but because the two books were released back to back it’s tolerable.  Another unusual situation is the fact that I haven’t read a Dresden Files book in several years.  For that reason, I’m having trouble deciding if the “voice” of Harry in the book is the same as it used to be.  I’m going to say that it isn’t the same.  Part of this may have to do with the changes in Harry’s status since his last story.  Now he is the “Knight” for Mab the dangerous Winter Queen and also the father of a young girl, Maggie.  I’ll have to go back to the previous book but I believe they have tamed down Harry quite a bit.

If you haven’t read the earlier books then you don’t want to jump into the series at volume sixteen.  Read my review of the series and decide if you want to start up with this very long but very good urban fantasy series.  If you have read the earlier volumes then I’ll report that the series is shaping up to be just as chaotic and crazy as ever.  As is Butcher’s way, the story starts out with an existential crisis developing in Harry’s life and then blossoms into the apocalypse.  Whenever something really bad happens the scramble to avoid catastrophe leads to a crisis that is orders of magnitude worse.  I will say that the pacing of the initial crisis seemed a little slow in spots based on my memory of how Butcher did these things.  And maybe that has to do with this being a two-book story.  But by the end of the book things were falling apart very nicely and Harry was right in his sweet spot, trying to save the world without any reasonable hope of even saving himself.  All his enemies were his only possible allies and all of his friends were alienated and hostile.  I won’t throw in any spoilers.  All the old characters are back and we see some of the damage done in the last book is still haunting the characters here.  Murph is seriously injured in a leg and arm.  She is no longer with Chicago PD and is awaiting additional surgeries and rehab to partially recover from her injuries.  Molly Carpenter is now the Winter Lady, Mab’s lieutenant and she has used her connections to provide Harry and his daughter with a home.  It is an apartment that is contained within a sort of embassy building owned and run by the Svartalves (dark elves) who are very serious about security.  This was necessary because in the last book the Red House Vampires finally burned Harry’s crummy home to the ground.  And his Volkswagen Bug was also finished off.  Now he’s driving a reconditioned and ancient hearse that he calls the Munstermobile.

I will say that the annoyance of having the book end in the middle of the story is acceptable because having Harry back is worth it.  I expect really good things from Battle Ground and if you’re a Dresden Files fan you have no choice but to jump in and enjoy the wreckage that Harry drags in his wake.  Highly recommended.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 20 – Return to Tomorrow

Okay let’s get through the plot outline really quick.  Three survivors of a god-like race that destroyed itself a half a million years ago and who now exist as disembodied energy fields inside of spherical containers that allow them to survive for hundreds of millennia have summoned Captain Kirk to loan them three human bodies to allow them to manufacture android bodies by means of their advanced science.  While the bodies are on loan the human minds of the volunteers will reside in the spheres.  With these android bodies the ancient beings would be available to guide humanity around the pitfalls that had eventually destroyed their own advanced race.  The head alien is Sargon.  The second is his wife Thalassa and the third is, ridiculously enough, Sargon’s mortal enemy Henoch.  Sargon gets Kirk’s body.  Thallassa gets the body of Dr. Ann Mulhall (played by Diana Muldaur who might have the prettiest face of any actress to appear on the Star Trek series).  And Henoch gets Spock’s carcass.  When the aliens inhabit the bodies of their human hosts, they cause the bodies to run hot.  Their temperature rises to 104 degrees F and their heartbeat is dangerously high.  For this reason, Henoch formulates a metabolic depressant to bring their readings back to human normal levels.  But Henoch wants to kill Sargon and keep Spock’s body permanently so he uses a poison to kill Sargon while he is inhabiting Kirk’s body.  McCoy manages to stabilize Kirk’s body but Sargon is gone.  Now Thallassa decides that she wants to keep Ann Mulhall’s body and bargains with McCoy to cure Kirk’s body of the poison and put his mind back in place in exchange for keeping the body she currently resides in.  McCoy refuses and Thallassa tortures him for a while then relents and apologizes for allowing temptation to overcome her moral sense.  Once she realizes her mistake Sargon’s voice praises her for recognizing her mistake and then explains that he isn’t dead (duh) but has taken up residence in the Enterprise (Where?  The computer?  The ventilation system?  The plumbing?).  He assures them that he will save Kirk himself and stop Henoch from taking over the Enterprise.  McCoy is locked out of the sick bay and when he is let back in Kirk and Mulhall are back in their bodies, all three energy spheres are destroyed and Nurse Chapel looks like a zombie.  McCoy laments that they destroyed Spock’s mind when they destroyed the sphere he was in, but Kirk says it had to be done.  McCoy is told to fill a syringe with enough poison to kill ten Vulcans and head to the bridge with Kirk, Mulhall and Chapel to kill Henoch.

Henoch is on the bridge torturing Uhura and is just getting ready to start on Sulu when the good guys show up.  But Henoch can read their minds and after freezing them in place he orders Nurse Chapel to inject McCoy with the poison.  She starts to comply then injects Henoch instead.  Registering surprise Henoch pleads with Sargon to allow him to switch bodies then collapses to the deck.

The resolution is provided by the voice of Sargon.  The poison wasn’t a lethal dose.  But since McCoy thought it was Henoch thought so too and thus fled Spock’s body.  At that point Sargon destroyed him.  Suddenly Spock’s body awakens and we find out that Spock’s mind was sharing Nurse Chapel’s body with her.  Sargon informs Kirk that before Thallassa and Sargon allow themselves to fade into oblivion and be happy together forever (huh?) they’d like to borrow Kirk’s and Mulhall’s bodies for a last hug and kiss.  Permission is granted and after the clinch Kirk and Mulhall regain consciousness rapped in each-others’ arms.  Throat clearing and uniform straightening ensues.

Where to start, where to start?  Okay, so I’m giving extra points because looking at Diana Muldaur’s face is quite pleasant.  Secondly, Nimoy portraying Henoch as a chuckling villain is kind of fun.  I’m deducting points because we didn’t get to see Sulu tortured.  But really the episode is mostly Shatner.  And he gives generously of some of his hammiest best.  When Sargon first takes over Kirk’s body Shatner does a bunch of his spastic face and body contortions that only he can do so hilariously.  Then in the reverb voice used for Sargon he tallies up the experiences of being in a body again for the first time in 500,000 years.  “Lungs filling with oxygen, heart pumping, blood racing through arteries, eyes seeing.”  I was half expecting, “hair follicles receding on forehead, gall stones blocking bile duct, gastric ulcer tingling.”  Later on, Kirk calls a meeting of his officers to ask their opinion on allowing the body loan.  When Scotty and McCoy object Shatner gives a version of his impassioned “to boldly go where no man has gone before” speech.  What I noticed in the close up is that Shatner’s head had gotten a lot fatter than it used to be earlier in the series.  There must have been a lot of booze and cheeseburgers for Captain James T. Kirk over that first season and a half.  And finally, Nurse Chapel had some kind of wig that was almost like a blond skull cap and made her look truly ghastly.  I’ve got to take some points off for that.  So you can see this was a complex calculation.

I’m going to say   7 // 9.

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959) – A Movie Review

This movie review is only for those who revel in cheesy, almost unwatchably bad horror and sci-fi movies of yesteryear.

Before I get started, I want to give a personal anecdote about this movie.  Back when I was ten years old, I was a big fan of horror and sci-fi movies that I watched mostly on the New York City local television station channels 5, 9 and 11.  They each had some kind of weekly show like Creature Feature, Chiller Theater or Million Dollar Movie that often featured such classics as Attack of the Crab Monsters or Tarantula.  Well at some point I saw “The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake” and became fascinated with the idea that there were such things as shrunken heads.  Coincidentally a kid’s toy came out called Witch Doctor Head Shrinkers Kit by a company called Pressman that had the cheesiest commercial demonstrating how you could make the aforementioned shrunken heads.  Suffice it to say that from the time the commercial appeared until next Christmas I harangued my parents relentlessly to make this my one and only Christmas gift.  Now money was short back then and this toy was on the pricey side but sure enough it was under the tree that morning at Christmas.  I was ecstatic and wasted no time making my first shrunken head.  I added the “plastic” powder and the warm water to the with doctor’s cauldron and stirred it while reciting the mystic spell, yikes.  Then I poured the goop into the mold and let it set.  Anyway, the stuff was like a gelatinous plaster of Paris and after it set for a day, I guess it somewhat shrank but honestly it wasn’t very much for all the hype associated and within a week or so it was in the garbage pail.  A very important lesson for me in the difference between expectations and reality.  And now seeing this movie for the first time in fifty some odd years it’s a similar experience.

Don’t worry about any actors’ names.  No one has ever heard of any of these people, either then or now.  The plot is that the Drake family has a curse on them because 180 years previous their ancestor was a merchant down in the Amazon jungle and one of his men was kidnapped by a local tribe of headhunters.  During a rescue mission it was discovered that the kidnapped man had been killed and his head cut off in preparation for it being shrunk.  Ancestor Drake became so angry that he had the whole village slaughtered.  The only one who escaped was the witchdoctor who took the head of the employee killed.  After this a curse was placed on the Drakes by the witchdoctor.  All the male heirs of Drake would have their heads cut off at about age sixty and shrunken down.  The skulls were kindly returned to the family crypt but not the shrunken head.

Skip ahead four generations and Jonathan and Kenneth Drake are the last male descendants of old Drake.  Jonathan is concerned for his brother Kenneth because his sixtieth birthday is approaching.  But before Jonathan can reach him an extremely tall Amazonian Indian stabs Kenneth with a curare envenomed blade.  He’s interrupted right after the lethal stab but later on he returns to the casket containing Kenneth’s body and decapitates it and takes the head away in this nifty hat box shaped wicker basket.  Then we meet Dr. Emil Zurich (from Switzerland!) who assists the tribesman in processing the head for shrinking.  It’s all very official.  The head is boiled then the skull is very cleverly removed and the rest of the head is filled with ashes and hot stones that miraculously transforms it into the charming shrunken head that would look sporty hanging from a rear-view mirror or possibly on a keychain.

Things get complicated with Jonathan’s daughter Alison and an appreciative police detective Jeff Rowan and a medical doctor named Bradford and a police forensics guy whose name escapes everyone.  Eventually we learn that Dr. Zurich and the really tall Indian are two hundred years old and have been doing the killing all along.  Zurich is a zombie with the head of the original victim from Drake’s Amazonian adventure sewn onto an Indian’s body by the witchdoctor who is the really tall Indian.  During the fun and games.   Jeff and Dr. Bradford save Jonathan from a curare attack by the Indian and in revenge Zurich has Bradford’s head removed and stored in what looks like a food pantry.  Finally, Jeff kills both the villains and the movie ends with Jonathan cutting Zurich’s head off.  This allows him to turn to dust and the movie mercifully expires too.

This movie is nowhere near as entertaining or witty as I’ve made it sound.  It’s awful.  It takes a special individual to sit through this.  Someone fearless and intrepid.  War Pig, this one is all yours.

Island of Lost Souls (1932) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This movie is a cinematic retelling of H. G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” As opposed to the majority of the creature features and horror flicks this film has a very substantial actor involved. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau. He’s a scientist who was chased out of the civilized world for the experimentation he was doing on animals. So, he lives on a small island in the South Pacific and a boat skipper delivers a cargo of live animals once a year. As the story opens up the boat picks up a survivor of a shipwreck. This survivor, Edward Parker, is headed for a nearby island but he gets into a beef with the captain and gets dumped into Moreau’s launch as it is transferring the animals to the island. When he arrives there, he notices that the island is inhabited by the strangest looking people imaginable. Most of them resemble apes in pants. Later on, when Parker walks out in the jungle he is accosted by a group of the natives and has to be rescued by Moreau. Moreau sounds a gong and the natives assemble and to the accompaniment of Moreau’s cracking bullwhip they recite their creed.

Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law (SOTL): Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to walk on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Incidentally, The Sayer of the Law is Bela Lugosi but his face is so completely covered with fur that the only way to tell is by his unmistakable voice. Parker is confused by all that’s going on and in the next scene he hears agonized screams coming from Moreau’s laboratory. Breaking in he thinks he is witnessing Moreau vivisecting one of the natives without anesthesia. And now Moreau explains to Parker the truth about the natives. They are actually animals that Moreau has modified through biochemical and surgical modifications. The laboratory where Moreau performs these modifications is called by the patients, for obvious reasons, “the house of pain.”
Moreau uses a subterfuge to keep Parker from leaving the island because he wants to carry out an experiment on him. He has manufactured a woman out of a panther named Lota and he wants to test whether she reacts like a woman when brought into contact with a man, Parker. This experiment is a success until Parker notices that Lota’s fingernails have reverted to panther’s claws.
And just at this point Parker’s fiancée, Ruth, arrives at Moreau’s island to bring him home. But Moreau cancels his Lota plan and instead plans to test his male creatures by having one of them kidnap Ruth. When this plan is thwarted Moreau orders one of his creatures to murder the ship captain who is helping Ruth to free Parker. But when the creature realizes that Moreau has ordered him to break the law by spilling blood he goes before the assembly and tells them that the law is no more. And then they figure out that since the captain is like Moreau and since they can kill the captain then by the transitive law of monster logic, they can kill Moreau. And that’s just what they get ready to do. While Parker and Ruth are escaping out the back door to safety on the boat, the creature mob catches up with the whip wielding Moreau and back him into his compound. Finally, in desperation when he has reached the wall, he reminds them that they are at the house of pain. The Sayer of the Law makes one more imaginative leap and has the mob drag Moreau into his laboratory and using his own surgical instruments they gleefully vivisect him to the rousing accompaniment of his screams.
I get the feeling that Laughton enjoyed this part. He played the part with great verve. He endowed Moreau with humor and perverse curiosity in the details of his cruel experiments. And like all good mad scientists of the 1930’s he does mention to Parker that he knows what it’s like to be God.
From a special effects point of view, the creature costumes are pretty cheesy. More interestingly it does appear that certain of the actors playing creatures had facial and other anomalies that could not have been simulated. But even if the special effects were rudimentary this is an interesting plot. Moreau’s relationship with his creatures is nuanced. Their obvious investment in the concept of their humanity is pitted against the fear and hatred they feel toward their creator. Moreau is a cruel god but he is completely absorbed in the wonder of his ability to create people. He doesn’t realize his peril when he provides the forbidden fruit of knowledge to his creatures by breaking his own law and by demonstrating that regular humans are mortal. Good story, fun horror movie, good work by Laughton. Recommended.

The Blob (1958) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

The plot is fairly simple.  A meteor crashes to Earth near a small town in the United States.  An old man finds the impact crater and a spherical object within.  The object breaks apart and inside is a blob of gelatinous material about the size of a baseball.  He uses a stick to pick it up but eventually the blob latches onto his hand and starts to absorb his flesh.  The old man wanders onto a nearby road almost overwhelmed by the agony he’s in.  A teenage couple in a car pick him up and bring him to a doctor’s office.  The doctor realizes that the man will need his arm amputated to save him from the quickly spreading mass devouring his arm.  He calls his nurse to come and assist him while the teenage couple, Steve and Jane, go back to the scene of the accident to find out who the old man is.

The nurse arrives but by this time the old man has been absorbed by the blob.  While the doctor is getting his gun, the blob eats the nurse.  He shoots the creature a couple of times with no effect.  He locks himself in a room to call the police but the blob is able to squeeze under the locked door and attacks the doctor.  At this point Steve and Jane have returned to the doctor’s office and Steve is just in time to see the doctor digested by the blob through the window of the room the doctor is in.

Now Steve and Jane attempt to get the police lieutenant “Dave” to believe their story.  Sgt. Bert tries to dissuade Dave from pursuing the investigation because he thinks the teenagers are pulling a prank on the police and after they go to the doctor’s office and find nothing but knocked over furniture and a fired rifle the police are in doubt what to do.  Jane and Steve are remanded into the custody of their parents and told to stay home and report back in the morning to figure out what was really going on.

Steve and Jane sneak out of their homes and together with their teenage friends try to investigate what is going on.  Meanwhile the blob wanders around town and eats a few more people without anyone being aware of its presence.  Finally, Steve locates it in his father’s supermarket.  But the creature traps Steve and Jane in the refrigerated meat locker of the store.  It begins oozing under the door but suddenly it retreats and leaves the store.

Now convinced of the deadly nature of the blob the teenagers decide to wake the whole town by setting off fire and civil defense alarms to summon the townspeople to the town square.  After Sgt. Bert berates them for a while Dave decides that he believes Steve and Jane.  They head for the supermarket but Sgt. Bert precedes them and comes out of the empty supermarket mocking their story about a monster.  Just then a terrific clamor breaks out as the patrons of the movie theater come stampeding out screaming.  The blob has eaten the projectionist and absorbed about fifty of the viewers before they could escape in the crush.  Now the blob is the size of a small house and headed down main street.

By incredibly poor judgement Jane, Steve, Jane’s annoying 6-year old brother Danny and the diner staff get trapped inside as the blob engulfs the small building.  As the creature begins oozing into the crevices of the building Dave calls up the trapped inhabitants of the diner and tells them to get in the cellar while they try to electrocute the creature with a power line.  Sgt. Bert proves himself useful for something when his sharpshooting abilities allows him to knock an overhanging power line down.  But the creature is not effected by the current and all that is accomplished is now the building is on fire.

As the fire infiltrates the cellar the diner owner starts using a CO2 fire extinguisher to put out the flames.  But Steve notices that the blob retreats from the extinguisher.  Remembering how the creature had retreated from the meat locker in the supermarket he figures out that the blob can’t tolerate cold.  Dave screams up the stairs in hopes that the phone is still connected to the police officers outside and tells them that the cold from CO2 fire extinguishers will force the blob to retreat.  But the fire department that is on the scene only has four CO2 extinguishers and that will not be nearly enough to push the creature back and subdue it.  Jane’s father is the principal of the high school and he goes to the school with the teenagers to get the twenty extinguishers that the school has.  When he gets there, he realizes he does not have the keys but proving he is a red-blooded American father he picks up a large stone and breaks the door window and breaks into his own school to save his children.

The extinguishers work and the trapped humans are freed.  Lieutenant Dave speaks to the Army and tells them to send a plane to dump the blob into the arctic where it will never thaw out.  And that’s just what they do.  But the end title, “The End” turns into a question mark!

Okay, so what have we got here?  Steve McQueen is a twenty-eight-year-old man pretending to be teenager Steve.  That’s a tough sell.  Watching him golly gee wilikers around his girlfriend Jane is strange when I think that he is the Steve McQueen of Bullitt and Cincinnati Kid fame.  But let’s put that aside.  The storyline and the acting are definitely passable for this genre.  The teenagers hot-rodding around and the small-town cops hassling them is a staple of movies from this time.  The cheesy special effects are also forgivable because of the technology of the time.  So, the simple answer is this movie works.  I remember seeing this on tv as a kid and thinking it was the height of sophisticated science fiction.  So, it definitely succeeded with its audience of the time.  How about today.  Well I think the same audience would react almost as enthusiastically.  Anyone under the age of ten will enjoy this movie.  For the really old I found myself enjoying the nostalgia of an era where the teenagers weren’t cretinous woke monsters but just ordinary teenagers enjoying a summer night in small town America.  Your mileage may vary.

As an aside, the actor who played the first victim of the blob, the old man, was Olin Howland, a character actor who also first saw the giant ants in Los Angeles during the movie “Them.”  He was an alcoholic drying out in a psychiatric hospital when the Army interviews him about the giant ants he has seen in the dried river bed into which the sewers flow.  He certainly got the plum roles.

Dead of Night – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Dead of Night” is a 1945 British film that consists of a group of characters thrown together in a home and each tells a supernatural story.  Then these characters turn out to be the subject of another character’s dream.  And finally, the whole story turns out to be part of an endless recursive dream nightmare, a dream within a dream, within a dream like the images produced by two mirrors facing each other.  The only actor I recognized was Mervyn Johns who played Bob Cratchit in the 1951 movie Scrooge.

The stories include a young girl meeting the ghost of a boy who was murdered a century ago in the old house where the girl is visiting.  Another story involves a race car driver who while recovering from a crash has a vision of a hearse driver inviting him into the coffin.  Later he sees the same man as a bus conductor inviting him to board the bus.  He backs away and as he watches the bus drive off and crashes killing everyone aboard.  A third story involves a bedroom mirror possessed by a murderous spirit.  The fourth story is a comical golf ghost story.  And the final story is about an evil living ventriloquist dummy.

Back in the underlying scene the character who recognizes the other characters from his dream commits a murder and then somehow finds himself inside the five stories we have just witnessed in a mish-mash of the stories until finally he awakes in his own bedroom.  His wife consoles him for having another nightmare.  He then receives a phone call that sends him to the house where the earlier story takes place.  And the whole thing circles round to the introductory scene.

Despite the theatricality of some of the scenes the movie works.  Of course, it’s all ridiculous but the atmosphere of the movie is claustrophobic enough to produce the requisite discomfort in the audience that makes a ghost story work.  Admittedly the golf story is a bit of a distraction from this mood but there are enough creepy moments and characters to make this movie a success.  I’ll have to say that the fact that the cast look like ordinary people and lack the movie star good looks of an American production actually goes a long way to aiding the illusion we are inside the story with them.

Like many British films from the middle of the 20th century the story had to depend on a good script and competent actors instead of expensive sets and special effects to immerse the viewers in the story.  And because of that this movie still works as well today as it did back then.  And it stands up after repeated viewing.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  The British love a good ghost story and this one has several.  Dead of Night probably won’t work for those who depend on comic book special effects to tell a supernatural story.  But if you have an imagination you may like this one.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 19 – A Private Little War

Let me just start by saying that this episode is so awful that you must see it.  It’s marvelously bad.

When first join our heroes, McCoy is rooting around on his knees in the foothills of Los Angeles.  Spock and Kirk were nearby discussing the peaceful inhabitants of the planet (I suppose Angelinos) and Kirk’s earlier visit to the planet as a young officer.  Suddenly they notice that one tribe with fake black hair is ambushing with another tribe with fake blond hair.  And the attackers have flintlock rifles while the rest of the planet is still using bows and arrows.  And most importantly the man about to be shot is Kirk’s old friend Tyree.  Rather than use his phaser (and disobey the prime directive) Kirk throws a rock at the rifleman and spoils his shot.

Hilarity ensues as Kirk and Spock flee back to McCoy while being pursued by the tribesmen.  Finally, one manages to shoot Spock in the back and they barely have time to beam up to the Enterprise before being finished off by the black wig guys.  Back on the ship McCoy and his esteemed colleague Dr. M’Benga who luckily is an expert at Vulcan physiology, are able to stabilize Spock’s vital signs but his life hangs in the balance as space age medicine is reduced to watching as the self-healing capabilities of Spock’s mind are left to repair the damage.

Kirk wisely decides not to hang around for that snooze fest and instead beams down to the planet with McCoy and determine if the Klingons that have been seen in orbit are responsible for the advanced weaponry (primitive firearm) that Kirk observed earlier.  Kirk’s plan is to speak to his old friend Tyree who is chief of the blond wig tribe and also an embarrassing pacifist.  But when they approach the village they are attacked by, and I kid you not, a man in a gorilla suit that’s been bleached white.  And if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, they glued a horn on its head and put a row of huge spines running down its back.  The gorilla man tosses McCoy away and then starts gnawing on Kirk’s shoulder while he writhes in pain.  Eventually McCoy comes to and blasts the gorilla with his phaser.

But now we find out that this is no ordinary albino, horned gorilla but the much more dangerous albino, horned, venomous gorilla.  Now here is the first Shatner Mockery bonanza.  Kirk is dying of the venom and he starts shivering and generally spassing out in an hilarious manner.  This is some serious bad acting.  Then we get to the village and find that Tyree’s wife, Nona, is a witch woman and can cure the deadly bite of the albino, horned, venomous, gorilla.  Nona is played by Nancy Kovack, a highly attractive young actress who has been squeezed into a pair of skin tight, leather hip huggers and the traditional gorilla fur bodice.

Meanwhile back on the ship Spock is in a coma.  Dr. M’Benga tells Nurse Chapel that at a certain point Spock would begin to awaken and whatever he asked her to do she must do it.  When Spock wakes, he tells Chapel to slap him in the face hard, over and over again.  At first reluctant, but after additional demands from Spock she starts slapping him ringingly and seems to warm to her work.  Scotty walks in and restrains her bodily but just then Dr. M’Benga arrives and finishes off the face slapping.  Successfully slapped silly Spock makes a full recovery.

Anyway, Nona is disillusioned with the pacifism of her husband Tyree and wants him to get Kirk to provide phasers to allow Tyree to become the great leader of the blond wig nation.  In exchange for the promise of advanced weapons she agrees to cure Kirk.  This involves her cutting her hand and placing it on the bite while gyrating and undulating on top of Kirk in a highly humorous display.  Kirk is cured and later on Nona drugs Kirk to get his phaser.  But another albino, horned, venomous gorilla shows up and to save herself from the gorilla she rolls around on the ground screaming for Kirk to help.  But the drug has doofed him out and it takes almost two minutes of rolling on the ground before he gets around to disintegrating the gorilla.  But for his trouble all he gets is a large jagged rock smashed against his skull by Nona as she steals his phaser.

She has decided to switch sides and take up with the more aggressive and obviously more manly chief of the black wig tribe.  She finds a few black wigs wandering around and tells them to take her to their leader.  But they are so excited by the tight pants that they start pawing at her.  Just then Kirk, McCoy and Tyree show up.  Thinking that Nona had led them into a trap they stab her to death and then proceed to get their clocks cleaned by Kirk and to a small extent Tyree.  Now that Nona is dead Tyree sees the light of day and tells Kirk to get him a bunch of rifles.  This fits in with Kirk’s plan to supply the blond wig guys with exactly the same weapons as the Klingons provide to the black wig guys.  He explains that his theory is based on the balance of power that existed between the East and West during the cold war and how that prevented total war.  He tells a skeptical McCoy that he doesn’t like the solution but that it is the only way to prevent catastrophic defeat by one side.  Then it mercifully ends.

What a mess.  The wigs, the monster suit, Shatner’s bad acting, the embarrassing scenes with the monster, the embarrassing scenes with Nona, the embarrassing scenes with Nurse Chapel, Dr. M’Benga’s name.  Really the only positive thing the episode has is Nona’s outfit.  But this is a Shatner mockery bonanza.  I score this episode 4 // 10.

Guest Contributor – War Pig – Apologia for Giant Space Amoebas

(Editor’s Note: This essay addresses my diatribe against giant space amoebas.)

Gently, gently. Remember when those shows aired. It was the late 60s. We were shooting for the moon (and made it). Nothing seemed impossible to us. Back then a transistor radio the size of the palm of my hand was the latest and greatest portable music. 8 track tapes were all the rage for your car. Technology by today’s standards was Neolithic. Cars were not fuel efficient; their cubic inches were only surpassed by their horsepower ratings. Personal/corporate jets were becoming more popular. Most television programming was still in B&W, although prime time went all color in 1966. Color TVs did not outsell B&W televisions until about 1970. CB radios were just becoming the thing. Still mostly as trucker toys until the mid-seventies. Cars did not have cellular phones, they had radiophones and they were so expensive only the wealthy had them. Seat belts? Just beginning to attract notice. GPS? A dream someone in DARPA had. Night vision? First generation Starlight Scopes. Lasers? Sci-fi. Bell labs was doing some laser research but as a weapon, or as a range finder, or as a thermometer or as a pointer? That was genuine Star Trek stuff. Lost in Space had its first season in B&W. A self-aware robot? Laser pistols? FTL travel in a flying saucer? Golden aliens? Remember the sci-fi movies of the 50s and 60s. Godzilla, a mutant lizard so huge he would collapse under his own weight in the real world. Rodan, another impossibly huge reptile who incidentally could exceed the speed of sound without flapping his wings. The Giant Claw, an antimatter bird from another galaxy, here to lay eggs and destroy our world. Robot Monster, a movie with the villain as a man in a gorilla suit with a space helmet for a head. War of the Worlds with Gene Barry. A lot of eye candy in there, but science? Nah. When Worlds Collide, where we as a species land on an interloper planet when our world is destroyed and it just so happens to have a breathable atmosphere and earth-tolerant temperature.

 

All entertainment and even world events led us to suspend belief. For the USA, nothing was impossible. Colonize Luna (the Moon), then Mars. Mine the asteroid belt. Surely FTL ships would be along before our grandchildren passed away. It was a time of unbounded enthusiasm. Science fiction was mostly fiction and was pure escapism, entertainment.

 

Yet, many things have come true. Kirk’s communicator was our flip phone. His tricorder our Tablet PC. We have remote monitoring of body functions as McCoy had in sick bay. Our machines talk to us and are voice-programmable. Ever talk to Siri or Alexa? We can compress enough data on a postage stamp sized SD card (like Spock’s data discs) that would have taken three buildings filled with machinery and magnetic tape storage in the 60s. We can stream live events and movies in excellent resolution and stereo sound to our hand-held smart phones. We have access to most of the world’s information at out fingertips. We can shoot down planes and missiles with lasers.

 

Roddenberry didn’t dream big enough. My maternal grandfather was born in the nineteenth century. He told me of how things were when he was a child. He was literally born in the horse and buggy era. He remembers the big hooraw over the Wright Brother’s first flight, and he lived to see men walk on the moon. I in turn tell my grandson what it was like when I was a child. I also add in the parts about walking to the school bus drawn by a team of muskox in minus 40-degree weather through snow three feet deep and fending off dire wolves who were trying to get my school lunch made from mammoth tenderloins. Just for fun. But remember back in your childhood, photog. Compare it to today. You and me both listened to 45 RPM records. Technology is advancing faster all the time. My first airliner ride was in a Super Constellation, a prop-driven airliner. My first helicopter ride was in a Sikorsky H-34, the type Fernando Lamas piloted in The Lost World, with Michael Rennie.

 

We’ve come a long way pretty fast. Back then it took less suspension of disbelief than it does now.