The Dunwich Horror (1970) – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Move Review

(War Pig loves really bad sf&f movies.  This one’s for you War Pig.)

This movie is so monumentally bad that I feel compelled to dissect its awfulness so that we can learn something from it.  First of all, look at the date.  1970 is something of a low water mark in American cinema.  Now granted this was produced by American International Pictures and they only ever made really cheap and schlocky movies.  But that sets the stage for how this movie became what it was.  Next, the story is an old H.P. Lovecraft story so the cost of buying the movie rights must have been pretty close to zero.

Next take a look at the actors.  Sam Jaffe and Ed Begley were actual actors at one time but their careers were coming to an end and they probably really needed the money.  Dean Stockwell was a young guy whose career had begun as a child actor in the big studio system but with that system now a thing of the past he would earn his daily bread working in schlock and it suited him.  Sandra Dee was a product of the post war teen movies of the late fifties and early sixties.  She had played all the Gidget and Tammy parts and was now too old to be the girl next door.  This was what was next on her ride to oblivion.  It’s also funny to see that before she got some big screen parts in movies like the Godfather and Rocky, Talia Shire had a small role in this stinker.  So, there are some actual actors in this movie.  But what can they do with this thing?

And finally, what is the plot?  Well, in the original Lovecraft story Wilbur Whateley, played by Dean Stockwell, and his monstrous twin are the product of some kind of bizarre ritualistic impregnation of their mother by one of the Great Old Ones, Yog-Sothoth.  The book chronicles the attempt by Wilbur to use the Necronomicon to allow Yog-Sothoth to break through from his own dimension and conquer Earth and eat all the humans for lunch.

But the geniuses at American International Pictures decided that what Wilbur wanted was to go for another generation of Yog-Sothoth baby making and Sandra Dee would be the baby mama.  The monster brother is still in the plot but it seems like a sort of dangling appendage that nobody knows what to do with.

Ed Begley is Dr. Henry Armitage, a university professor who has a copy of the Necronomicon and is Sandra Dee’s boss.  He will try to save her life and foil Whateley’s diabolical plan.  And to round out the cast Sam Jaffe is “Old Whateley,” Wilbur’s grandfather who seems to have inexplicably changed his mind about being an evil servant of the Great Old Ones and now just runs around warning everyone about how dangerous everything is.  Comically they’ve painted thick black eyebrows on his face.  He sort of looks like Groucho Marx in that sense.

Well, before you know it Wilbur convinces Sandra Dee to come to his groovy farmhouse and drink some tea and after he pulls the distributor cap off her car’s motor, she has to spend the night.  She has dreams that look like they were filmed with my kid brother’s super 8 movie camera.  Semi-naked hippies who look like rejects from the Manson family hopped up on hair tonic and looking for love chase her around.  It’s quite ridiculous.  When she wakes up, she shares these dreams with Wilbur and we can see that it’s all having the hoped-for result.  She’s looking for some Yog-Sothoth action.  So, Wilbur brings her up to an oceanside cliff with an altar where she will wear some kind of poncho-like garment that allows the cameraman to show us the side of her leg and butt for what seems like hours.  And Wilbur spreads her legs apart and props the Necronomicon against her groin while he reads passages to Yog-Sothoth.

At some point Wilbur’s brother breaks out of his room and eats about five people including Talia Shire.  We never really get a good look at him.  He’s got tentacles and eyes and I don’t know what else.  He makes guttural noises and he has problems with his adenoids for sure.

Finally, Ed Begley shows up at the cliff and he and Wilbur posture and spout meaningless syllables at each other.  Begley’s babbling proves to be the stronger and Wilbur’s head bursts into flames and he jumps off the cliff.  We briefly see what might be Yog-Sothoth appear as a cartoon character suspended over Sandra Dee’s groin before he disappears.  Then Ed Begley helps her off the altar and the movie ends but as it ends, we see an image of a fetus near Sandra Dee’s belly.  Yog-Sothoth scored again!

So, there it is.  It’s embarrassing to admit I even made it to the end of this awful waste of time.  As far as I know Talia Shire is the only living victim of this terrible thing.  I imagine it still haunts her.  Maybe her rich brother Francis Ford Coppola can buy the rights to the movie and destroy every copy so their family’s shame can end.  I’ve never been a big fan of Lovecraft’s prose.  His imagination was fertile and the images he came up with were vivid.  But his prose style was lackluster.  But even he deserves better than this.  The Dunwich Horror was one of his better stories.  Maybe someday someone will do a decent job of making a movie of it.  This was not that movie.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 24 – The Ultimate Computer

And yet another iconic episode.  Dr. Richard Daystrom is the genius who as a very young man invented the computer systems that are currently used on all Federation star ships.  Now Daystrom has progressed to a new computer the M-5 that can run a star ship without a human captain or almost any crew at all.  Commodore Bob Wesley has selected the Enterprise to test out the new system by setting up a war game between the Enterprise and four other star ships.

Daystrom comes aboard to set up the M-5 and continuously antagonizes Kirk and McCoy by stressing the fact that the M-5 will eliminate the need for a star ship captain and most of the crew.  Spock on the other hand is very familiar with Daystrom’s work and once the testing of the system commences, he agrees that the M-5’s performance far exceeds the results expected from a human crew and captain.

But in route to the second war game trial, the M-5 randomly attacks and destroys an ore freighter that luckily had no crew.  In addition, when Scotty’s engineering staff attempts to de-energize the M-5 the machine vaporizes one of the red shirts and employs a force field to prevent any human intervention in its control of the Enterprise.  After unsuccessfully trying to outwit the machine and disconnect it from the ship’s controls they are forced to watch in horror as the M-5 attacks the four star ships with full powered weapons.  One ship is completely incapacitated and its entire crew killed.  Commodore Wesley gets permission to use his remaining ships to destroy the Enterprise.  At this point we learn that the M-5 is acting illogically because it was constructed from the “engrams” of Dr. Daystrom’s own brain who as it turns out is mentally unstable.  This explains Daystrom’s very personal relationship with the machine and his erratic behavior now reinforces the fact that M-5 is quite mad.

In a final attempt to prevent the M-5 from destroying the remaining star ships Daystrom attempts to reason with the computer.  He attempts to convince M-5 that killing humans is murder and against the laws of man and God.  But Daystrom begins to identify with his creation and begins justifying self-preservation as the M-5’s right.  He begins ranting about the unfairness of how he was treated after his initial successes and finally he starts to gloat over M-5’s superiority over its human opponents.  Finally, he has to be sedated and hauled away to sick bay.

Kirk takes over and finishes the job of convincing M-5 that it is guilty of murder.  Unfortunately, he does too good a job and the computer decides to commit suicide by deactivating itself and thereby leave the Enterprise vulnerable to destruction by the Star Fleet squadron.  Scotty is able to restore only the shields but not communications.  Kirk orders the shields to remain lowered and he gambles that Bob Wesley will break off the attack rather than destroy the defenseless ship at least until the situation can be clarified.  When this succeeds Kirk explains to Spock that he gambled on Wesley’s humanity.  McCoy then uses this human virtue to assail Spock’s seeming preference for machines over humans.  Spock reiterates his already stated preference for humans over machines but states that a computer that has McCoy’s mental makeup would spout so much illogic that it would be a great source of amusement.  The End.

Everybody loves this episode.  When the M-5 flawlessly passes the first war game against the star ships, Commodore Wesley congratulates the M-5 on its performance and also sends his greetings to Captain Dunsail.  When he hears this Kirk storms off the bridge while the rest of the bridge officers look shocked.  When McCoy asks “who the blazes is Dunsail?”  Spock explains that dunsail is a term used at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose.

McCoy goes to Kirk’s cabin to give him some medicinal alcohol.  Kirk admits to feeling useless and asks McCoy whether he himself is guilty of vanity, fearing the loss of his prestige as captain  McCoy tells him to ask Jim Kirk because Jim Kirk is an honest guy.  But sixty million Americans were yelling that night at their tv’s saying, “Yes you conceited blowhard, you strutting prima donna, that’s what this is about!”

But Kirk does have one great line.  When the M-5 shuts itself off.  Kirk yells to Scotty to go down to engineering and permanently deactivate the M-5.  His final words to the engineer are to shout, “PULL THE PLUG ON IT!”

The other attraction in this episode is the characterization of Doctor Daystrom.  He has both delusions of grandeur and a persecution complex.  At one point while he was reasoning with the M-5 he attempted to salve the computer’s feelings about being in error and when the machine stated its record of achievement Daystrom concurred stating, “Yes, I am great, you are great.”  Then when he went completely bonkers, he started reciting his grievances against his colleagues, “They laughed behind my back at the boy genius and got rich on my invention, my work!”

I really like this episode.  Two blowhards sharing the stage, Daystrom and Kirk.  Wonderful.

9  //  6.

Update:  Chemist had some good feedback that I thought I’d share:

“With all due respect Photog, you missed the best line in the show. It was McCoy’s to Kirk:
“Did you see the love light in Spock’s eyes? The right computer finally came along.”
Epic.”

 

Something to Raise My Spirits

I was writing a post about what might be going on this year.  It was coming out pretty depressing and so I put it aside.  As I mentioned yesterday the Mid-Winter Blues have reached me.  Adding depressing predictions is just something I can’t justify at the moment.  I need something light to move me through my day.

So, I checked my almanac and sure enough we’re over the hump of winter. There are approximately thirteen weeks in winter and we’re in week eight. and the days are about 90 minutes longer than they were at Winter Solstice.  So, by any measure of sidereal momentum, we’re on the upswing.  In honor of this milestone, I will put all doom and gloom aside.  After all, the human soul needs hope and light to carry on.  That’s what I’ll do.

Here’s a video that lists the ten most conservative cities in the US.  The narrator is a little bit snarky, probably a liberal jerk but I still found it interesting.  I’m sure there are alternate lists but it’s a good starting point.  If you want to add a city to the list leave it in the comments.

And because I’m always looking for good science fiction movies here’s a video that claims to do that.  CineFix Top 10 Science Fiction Films of All Time  I agree with some of these picks disagree with a couple and have never seen a few others so I’ll check them out and maybe find something good.  If you disagree with any feel free to say.

And this just in, the idiots in the Senate have finally finished the farcical impeachment theater with seven cretinous Republicans voting with the Democrat creeps.  These were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.  Burr was a bit of a surprise.  I wonder if he’ll join Romney and Sasse in being primaried out by their states when they come up for re-election.  Let’s hope.

Well, look at that.  Now my spirits have lifted.  I’ll get on with reading the accounts of the farce and wait for President Trump to comment on it and then tell us what the future will hold.

Well see there now, seek and ye shall find.  Ask and ye shall receive.  A nice reward and we can hope that serious people will now step forward to start discussing what our side can do to sidestep what’s going on in Washington DC and begin to return our lives to something resembling the better world we lived in just one long year ago.  I only hope the smart and powerful decide to come to our aid.  They can make this easier and less ugly.  If the little people have to do it ourselves it’s going to be very painful and so ugly that I don’t even want to imagine it.  No one wants the United States to go through something like the fate of Yugoslavia.  But more and more it’s looking like that is how it will play out.  But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today I’ll just bask in a good ending for a mid-winter day.

Update:  Now it can begin.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 23 – The Omega Glory

In the highest circles of the Shatner-Khan hierarchy there is no more sacred text than “Eed plebnista” and “norkon forden perfectunun.”  One of my oldest acquaintances has been heard to spontaneously break out into this phrase with no visible rationale.  Because of these tendencies I tackle this review with great trepidation.  If I get it wrong there could be serious blowback.

The Enterprise is sent to planet blah,blah,blah to find out what has become of the Starship Exeter.  It’s found circling the planet and Kirk, McCoy, Spock and a redshirt fully primed for certain death beam over to the Exeter.  There they find a bunch of empty uniforms dribbling rock salt from the sleeves and pant cuffs.  Surprise, surprise, everybody’s dead and a video clip tells them that a disease brought up from the planet was the cause.  Being warned to beam down to the planet immediately they do so and find out that the lone survivor is Captain Tracey of the Exeter and he is engaged in Prime Directive defying aid to the Kohms in their war with the savage Yangs.  And unsurprisingly the Yangs are the descendants of the defeated white Yankees and the Kohms are the victorious Chinese Communists who won a biological weapons war and occupied the Yangs homeland.

But the Yangs are finishing off a long reconquest of their homeland and even with Captain Tracey’s fire boxes (phasers) the Kohms are in big trouble.  Tracey captures the Enterprise party and demands that Kirk provide him with ten more phasers with three extra power packs for each.  When the redshirt reaches for his phaser Tracey disintegrates him.  We also find out tha the disease that killed off the Exeter would have been harmless if the crew members had stayed just a short time longer on planet blah,blah,blah and now all of them could return to the Enterprise without risk to the ship or themselves.  But Tracey has discovered that the inhabitants live to be over a thousand years old and he is convinced that the secret to this amazing longevity can be discovered by McCoy and then sold by Tracey to the highest bidder once he’s beaten of the Yangs.  McCoy debunks the theory and says the longevity is just a natural byproduct of the survival after the bioweapon ordeal.

Meanwhile there is all this tuh-doing between Kirk and Tracey and a Yang prisoner who we find out is the Yang Chief Cloud Williams and his wife.  Finally Spock and Kirk escape from jail.  But eventually the Yangs attack the Kohms and we get to hear Tracey makes his horrified report of the battle, “They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out in the open and then they came and they came.  We drained four of our phasers and they still came.  We killed thousands and they still came!”  Good times, good times.

So the Yangs capture all of the Federation personnel.  When the Yangs break out an antique American flag and Cloud Williams starts reciting a really garbled version of the Pledge of Allegiance Kirk completes the pledge and now Cloud wants Kirk to explain how he knows their sacred words.  But whereas Kirk wants to explain that they are from another world Tracey claims that Kirk and his crew are devils.  He uses as proof the fact that Spock has pointed ears and no heart.  Cloud Williams is unclear who to believe and asks if  Kirk can complete the most sacred of their texts which only a chief would know.  He starts it with “Eed plebnista.”  But Kirk can’t figure out what it is.  So instead he claims trial by combat against Tracey to the death.  Spock uses Vulcan mind games to get one of the Yang women to trigger a communicator and an armed landing party arrives with Sulu in command just as Kirk defeats Tracey but refuses to kill him.

Now hearing a few more of the words, “norkon forden perfectunun,” Kirk figures out that it’s the preamble to the Constitution and recites it and then gives Cloud and his tribal circle a civics lesson.  And then somehow they head back to the Enterprise, even though Sulu and the others are now infected with a disease that will dehydrate them down to bath salts within minutes.  The End.

“Eed plebnista” indeed.  There’s just so much to love about this episode.  Tracey beats up Kirk several times in the episode.  Shatner’s overacting while giving the Yangs their civics lesson.  And Tracey is so great in his angry intensity.  He wants that immortality drug and the power it will give him.  He comes up with that great “He has no hearrrrt!” line about Spock and finally he has his great narration of the Yang attack.

This gets a    10   //   7.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 22 – By Any Other Name

We’re now deep, deep into Season 2 and the amount of “humor” employed by some of the principal characters is obvious to see.  And the costume department has obviously run out of ideas.  In this episode the aliens are dressed as if they found their clothes in a dumpster behind a second-rate department store.  The men are wearing some kind of polyester leisure suit-like apparel while the women are wearing jump suits from which the backs have been cut off from the waist up.

The Enterprise is summoned by a distress signal to an uninhabited planet.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and two red shirts beam down to the planet.  There they find a man and a woman, Rojan and Kelinda, who claim they are creatures from the Andromeda Galaxy seeking new worlds because their own galaxy will become uninhabitable within ten thousand years.  They announce that they will commandeer the Enterprise to return home in order to begin an invasion of our galaxy by their people, the Kelvans.  It will be a multi-generational voyage taking three hundred years even at Warp 11 speed.

And using their neural paralysis field devices they disarm and capture the landing party while the other three Kelvans beam aboard the Enterprise and take over the ship.  In addition to the paralysis field, they can also freeze dry humans down into polyhedral bricks, about the size of a softball, made of what appears to be poorly made porous Styrofoam.  When the landing party attempts to escape Rojan has one of his associates turn the two red shirts into these efficient and stackable human pellets.  Rojan then crumbles one of the blocks with his bare hands and restores the other one to inefficient but mobile form.  We then find out that the crumbled crewman was the pretty young girl.  When he realizes this Kirk appears devastated.  Apparently, he hadn’t yet had a chance to put the moves on this yeoman and now he never would!

Back on the ship, the whole crew except for Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty are freeze dried for easy storage.  It’s especially pleasurable to see Uhura and Chekov singled out for treatment.  In one scene Kirk rounds the corner in a corridor of the Enterprise and sees the blocks strewn along the floor along with the odd computer tablet and i-pod.  When Spock had unsuccessfully attempted to mind meld with Kelinda in a scene that I have left out of my plot summary he got an image of a huge hundred-tentacled creature that is the true form of the Kelvans.  Realizing that the Kelvans were unused to sensory stimulation or emotions in their original forms he speculates that if the humans can overstimulate the Kelvans’ senses and emotions they might become vulnerable to attack.  And so much hilarity ensues during this plan.

Scotty takes one of the Kelvans, Tomar, to his cabin and starts introducing him to the wonders of grain alcohol.  Eventually Tomar becomes stupefied and collapses, as does Scotty.  McCoy takes another of the Kelvans, Hanar, aside and under the subterfuge of a medical examination starts giving him “vitamin” injections that are actually some kind of stimulant that raises his anxiety levels to monumental levels.  This has him complaining bitterly to Rojan about the incompetence of that commander’s plan.  This gets him confined to his cabin.

Meanwhile Kirk makes a beeline for Kelinda and starts pouring on the old Shatner charm.  He’s pawing her and kissing her all around the rec room.  I forgot to mention that Kelinda is played by Barbara Bouchet who is a very attractive looking actress.  She played Miss Moneypenny in one of the Bond films and is at the very high end of attractive female Star Trek guest stars.  While playing three-dimensional chess with Rojan Spock mentions that Kirk is putting the moves on Kelinda and this really ticks Rojan off.  So, he hunts them down and gets into a really spastic fistfight with Kirk.  During the fight Kirk keeps up a line of argument to the effect that by the time the three-hundred-year voyage to the Andromeda Galaxy is complete, the descendants of Rojan and his crew will no longer be Kelvans.  They will be completely human and have no desire to help the Kelvans.

He convinces Rojan to give up their voyage to Andromeda and allow the Federation to find uninhabited worlds in our galaxy for the other Kelvans to colonize while Rojan and Kelinda and the other three Kelvans will somehow form a very small colony on the uninhabited world that the Enterprise found them on.  The fact that there are only two female Kelvans and three male Kelvans is not explored further on this episode.  But to my way of thinking there is bound to be trouble in that very small paradise.

To my way of thinking the two highlights of the show are Rojan crushing the polyhedral salt lick made out of Yeoman Thompson with his fingers and Scotty hugging his empty centuries-old bottle of Scotch whiskey to his face and crooning to it, “we did it” after Tomar collapses in a drunken stupor.  And one small note, in the new enhanced graphics of the DVDs I have the Andromeda Galaxy image is very nice.

Now that nuttiness and hilarity is the order of the day on the Enterprise it’s much easier to enjoy the episodes.  Hopefully the people making the show are going along with the joke because adventure certainly isn’t the point.  Kirk wrestling with the pretty alien and McCoy and Scotty providing comic relief sort of works.

As far as Shatner mockery points, he gives some of his patented pathos when the yeoman is crumbled but it isn’t very extreme.  I’ll give this episode an     8  //  5.

Mutiny in Space – The Thousand Worlds – A Science Fiction Book Review

Back in 2015 and thereafter there was a titanic struggle to liberate science fiction and fantasy books from the iron grip of the social justice school of fiction writing that controlled the publishing and awards for writing in these genres.  You can read about these things here.

Vox Day has a publishing firm called Castalia House and he has attempted to promote authors who practice old time science fiction and fantasy story writing.  Mutiny in Space is published by Castalia House and is the first volume in the author, Rod Walker’s “The Thousand Worlds” series.

In the description on the back cover of the paperback edition Castalia House explicitly states that Mutiny in Space is written in the style of Robert A Heinlein’s series of books for young adults (or juveniles, as they were described in the old days).  Now Heinlein wrote some really excellent fiction back in his day.  Here’s a link to my thoughts on his writing.  In a nutshell if someone were to successfully write science fiction in the style of Heinlein’s juveniles, I would think these stories would be very sought after.  So I bought Mutiny in Space intending to see if it lived up to this representation.

I’ll cut to the chase.  It does.  Now I don’t mean it reads exactly like Heinlein.  In fact, far from it.  Rod Walker has different characters and different plots and a different voice.  There are similarities in the universe that he has built.  The way that his interstellar drive works approximates the multi-jump method used by Heinlein in his book “Starman Jones.”  And the emphasis on technical skills among his heroes as opposed to the dependence on rhetorical ability among his villains is also reminiscent of Heinlein’s style.  And the pairing of a father figure and an orphaned young man is also familiar to Heinlein readers.

The story is the adventure of sixteen-year-old Nikolai Rovio leaving his unhappy life on New Chicago for the promise of a new life as a technician on an interstellar freighter the Rusalka.  But the unsettled politics of New Chicago aren’t left behind when he boards his ship and he quickly learns that trouble can find you even after you stop looking for it.

I won’t dig into the plot details.  The book is short by today’s standards, about 180 pages.  But that is actually very much like the length of Heinlein’s juveniles.  It isn’t deathless prose but it is a straight up adventure story very much in the tradition of the older style of science fiction from the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties.  I can recommend this book for a young reader or anyone who like the old style of science fiction that I grew up on.

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.

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.

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.