Tag Archives: William Shatner

1965 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: DIE MONSTER DIE, MONSTER A GO-GO, AND INCUBUS

After the bonanzas of 1963 and 1964, 1965 was a comparatively lackluster year for horror and exploitation flicks, with a few exceptions at both ends of the spectrum. , Nick Adams, Suzan Farmer, and Freda Jackson starred in Die, Monster, Die, directed by Daniel Haller, which was one of the first big screen attempts at an adaptation. Released by AIP for the drive-in double feature circuit along with ‘s cult fave, Planet of the VampiresDie, Monster, Die has more kinship to that studio’s product than to Lovecraft. It also has a distant relationship to : Jackson previously appeared in Brides of Dracula, and Farmer went on to do both Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk for the studio the following year. Additionally, elements of Die, Monster Die are clearly related to Universal’s Man-Made Monster (1941) and Columbia’s mad doctor series. With Universal horror icon Karloff and Rebel Without a Cause heartthrob Adams as the two leading men, Die, Monster, Die feels like a queer hybrid. The aged Karloff, suffering the effects of emphysema, is wheelchair bound (and will be for the rest of his career and life), but he evokes formidable English mystery from his blanket and chair. In sharp contrast is all that pent-up, pushy, youthful American angst from Adams, who is aptly vulgar and a standout in his Jersey accent.

Still from Die, Monster, Die (1965)Stephen Reinhart  goes to visit Susan Witley at her parents’ home in the English village of Arkham. Stephen had met Susan at the college they attended together in the States, but when he stops at a local pub, he discovers the entire village paralyzed with fear in regards to the Witley estate (calling to mind ‘s daffily delivered dialogue from 1955’s Bride of the Monster, “stay away from the old Willow’s place!”) Poor Stephen can’t get anyone to give him transportation and is forced to walk. Upon finally arriving at the Witley estate, he discovers that the surrounding plant life has all mysteriously died. He is greeted with hostility by Susan’s crippled father, Nahum (Karloff), who demands that Stephen leave at once. Nahum is interrupted by a beaming Susan and introduced to her mother, Letitia (Jackson), who is bedridden and hidden behind a veil. Letitia intercedes for Stephen and asks him to take Susan away from this charnel house. A short while later, Nahum’s servant, Merwyn (Terence De Marney) collapses and dies. After Merwyn’s late night burial, followed by a phantom-like figure appearing at the window, Stephen and Susan make their way into Nahum’s greenhouse and discover abnormally enlarged plant life and mutated critters. “It looks like a zoo on hell,” declares Stephen. After some Sherlock Holmes/Watson sleuthing, he and Susan unlock the dreadful secret: Nahum has been “experimenting” with radioactivity from a meteorite. Hoping to undo an ancestor’s evil deeds (whatever those were) Nahum plans to help feed the world with mutated plant life! Of course, things go awry and everyone who worked in the greenhouse has been either mutated or killed. The phantom figure turns Continue reading 1965 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: DIE MONSTER DIE, MONSTER A GO-GO, AND INCUBUS

BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART THREE

Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here. Part II is here.

“A Good Imagination” (directed by John Brahm and written by Robert Bloch) benefits from Bloch’s narrative about fatal bookworm Frank Logan (Edward Andrews) who accesses literary classics for inspiration to dispose of his unfaithful wife’s numerous lovers. With blackened humor and erudite irony, this episode evokes both Hitchcock and Poe. Andrews’s winning portrayal has us rooting for a ruthless antagonist with an alarmingly high body count who practically whistles while he works.

“Mr. George” (directed by and written by Donald S. Sanford) is an episode that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A superb Jerry Goldsmith score, assured direction by Lupino, and good performances elevate a conventional script about a young child named Priscilla (Gina Gillespie, who would become best known as the young Blanche Hudson in 1962’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane) whose guardian Mr. George has recently died. Now in the custody of three cousins plotting her death for the inheritance money, Priscilla is guided and protected by Mr. George’s spirit. Contemporary audiences may balk at the idea of finding humor in attempted murder of a child (as they did with Addams Family Values), but Lupino’s direction deftly balances humor with a sense of threat.

Paul Henried redeems his previous effort (season one‘s bland “Mark of the Hand”) with effective direction in “The Terror in Teakwood” (written by Alan Callow). It’s an episode in the tradition of Hands of Orlac (1924) and Mad Love (1935). Vladimir Vicek ( Guy Rolfe) severs the hands of a dead pianist to assist him in tackling an overly complicated piece composed by Alexander Borodin. Hazel Court (a Hammer scream queen who would co-star with Karloff in ‘s The Raven two years later), as Vicek’s wife Leonie, leads a strong ensemble. Though subdued, the sexual tones are startling for the period and this bizarre thriller is all the more atmospheric due to Goldsmith’s skilled use of preexisting music combined with his own work, making it a near-classic episode.

Still from Thriller, "The Prisoner in the Mirror"“The Prisoner in the Mirror” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Arthur) is another prime thriller. Professor Langham (Lloyd Bochner) literally uncovers the mirror of the evil Count Cagliostro (Henry Daniell). Possessed by the infamous Cagliostro, Langham brings the mirror home and…. needless to say, the body count will pile up. A young Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham from “Happy Days”) plays Lagham’s fiancee and even makes a toast to “happy days,” which do not arrive for the poor girl. The fantasy element is in full flower, which could also be said of the performances by both Bochner and Daniell. Interestingly, Karloff himself Continue reading BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART THREE

BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART ONE

The reputation of ‘s “Thriller,” which ran from 1960-1962, is such that it was one of the most highly anticipated DVDs until its 2010 release. Despite its somewhat hefty price tag, it became a best seller (and was followed by a ‘greatest hits’  top ten release in 2012). Author Steven King’s proclaiming it the “best horror series of all time” (in his 1981 book, ‘Danse Macabre’) certainly enhanced its eminence. Of course, a statement that absolute is going to be argued, and it was (with naysayers pointing to the earliest crime oriented episodes as evidence against King’s boast ). Naturally, like all series, “Thriller” is uneven. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives enough to justify its cult status.

Karloff hosted each episode, and acted in a few. This was his second horror anthology series. His first,  the ten episode “The Veil,” from 1958, never actually aired; after its DVD release in 2001 , was dubbed by some critics as “the best television series never seen.” A later DVD release, under the title of “Tales of the Unexplained from the Veil,” featured two additional “lost” episodes. “The Veil” has also been referred to as a precursor to “Thriller,” although it’s not quite as good and the flavor is different. Hopefully, we’ll get around to reviewing the earlier series by next Halloween.

“Thriller” premiered on September 13th, 1960 with the episode “The Twisted Image” (directed by Arthur Hiller), which starred Leslie Nielsen and Natalie Trundy. “Her possessive eyes… Alan Patterson was aware of her eyes at the newsstand, at the lunch counter, in the elevator. He was aware of them for almost a month and they were to lead him into guilt, and terror, and murder as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. ”

Title from Boris Karloff's Thriller: The Twisted ImageAs we watch, Karloff informs us that this a tale of watching and being watched, assuring that a shattering effect lies within the “Twisted Image.” Nielsen, as Patterson, a married, successful business man, is watched by four psychotic eyes belonging to Lily (Trundy) and Merle (George Gizzard). Lily lusts after him and, at least on the surface, Merle is insanely jealous. Although director Hiller denied it, as it was written (by James P. Cavanagh adapting William O’ Farrell’s novel) and played by Grizzard, there is sexual longing in Merle’s voyeurism as well. Still, we’re not entirely convinced he deserves all the attention, as the very young Nielsen has none of his later charisma. Grizzard walks away with the episode playing a scheming, destructive looney tune coworker. Competent, but unimaginative with no surprises, this debut waddles its way to a lackluster finale.

“Child’s Play” (also directed by Hiller and written by Robert Dozier): Continue reading BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART ONE

25TH ANNIVERSARY: WILLIAM SHATNER’S STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

William Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) has been called the “Plan 9 of Star Trek.” There is no denying that it is awful, but it is more like the misfit Yukon Cornelius of Trekdom. It is not quite as bad as Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), and to say that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is ludicrously overrated is a given, especially when the best performances are by two anonymous trash collectors. William Shatner, perhaps feeling envious of Leonard Nimoy’s directorialsuccesses,” insisted on his turn at bat. Rather than keeping the franchise in the experienced, imaginative hands of director Nichols Meyer ,who had written and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Paramount and producer Harve Bennett foolishly handed the asylum keys to lunatic stars who had no experience in big budgeted space oaters apart from acting.

The Star Trek movies justifiably receive much criticism, but pound for pound, they are no worse than the Star Wars franchise. A couple of the Trek entries (the ones directed by Meyer), while hardly great moviemaking, are actually better than almost all of George Lucas’ productions (the exception that proves the rule being The Empire Strikes Back, which was directed not by Lucas, but Irvin Kershner).

Nimoy’s directorial style was as lethargic as a Vulcan, even in the light, humorous Voyage Home. The strengths in that film are the parts written by Meyer, which are not difficult to pick out. Nimoy’s Spock had about as much charisma as John Boy Walton, and the idea of ham-fisted Shanter directing at least presented a potential tonic to all that academic Vulcan piety. In some ways, Shatner’s opus lives up to that potential, but unlike Captain Kirk, the director/actor displayed a lack of confidence and his famous counterpart’s balls.

Shanter’s original story had the geriatric crew actually meeting God, who, it turned out was Old Nick himself, and the lot of them are literally thrown into hell. The sheer outrageousness of the idea is replete with wonderfully pretentious possibilities. However, both Gene Roddenberry and Harve Bennett were outraged, and informed the newbie director that in no way could the interracial spacemen meet the deity or go to hell. Foolishly, Shatner buckled and devised a cop-out solution. Worse, Paramount wanted good old boy humor injected into the proceedings, in hopes to match the box office success of the previous entry. Shanter agreed to hand over script duties and Final Frontier was assigned to hack writer David Loughery, who turned a bad, original idea that might have been worthy of Plan 9 comparisons into a generic plot designed for old, farting men.

Laurence Luckenbill was cast as Spock’s renegade half-brother, Sybok. Shanter had described Sybok as something akin to a televangelist. That was lost in the translation because, as scripted by Loughery, the character is more of a New Age guru. Luckinbill does have charisma, more than most Trek villains, but it’s a misplaced charisma. Even that could have been tapped, but Loughery fails to do anything with it. Apparently, the writer had no actual exposure to either right-wing religious kooks or cartoonish, leftist New Agers. While that is fortunate for Loughery, it turns out to be a bummer for the audience.

Still from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)Shatner’s compromised plot does have more in the way of narrative than those by Nimoy, who essentially molded his two entries around the ensemble. The Final Frontier has a refreshing dusty look and costuming along with a good line from DeForrest Kelley’s Bones. In the middle of an infamously wretched campfire song, the three principals are roasting marshmallows. Spock doesn’t “get” the lyrics of “row, row, row your boat” and the ever-crass Doctor grumbles: “God, I liked him better before he died.”  The under appreciated Kelley, as usual, turns out to be the most entertaining cast member.

Even worse than the gas station humor, mountain climbing, or Spock in jet boots is the sight of Shatner, sticking out his chest for the camera, wearing his “Go Climb A Rock” message tee for all to see. The only thing missing is a wad of gum. This scene alone more than justifies a Commander Taggart. Shatner and Loughery introduce a trio of characters and then inexplicably dump them. A bored Klingon and his buxom babe, Uhura’s moonlit striptease, Scotty’s sudden lust for Uhura while eating potato chips, agnostic theology at its most cornball, a Heaven planet with unforgivably cheap FX, and a fuzzy group hug finale solicit well-earned groans, even more so twenty-five years later. However, despite the PC interracial cast, occasional sexism, barbershop-styled backslapping, a lot of bad acting, and the fanatical following, it is easy to succumb to the charm of the original cast (far more so than the Next Generation, whose feature movies were even worse).

Executive producer Gene Roddenberry dismissed The Final Frontier as an apocryphal Trek entry. His original, commendably simple concept for Star Trek was “Wagon Train To The Stars.” Somewhere along the way, Roddenberry and his Trekkers mantled delusions of grandeur and began treating his starry oater as holy writ. Roddenberry essentially became a kind of Scientologist parody, who predictably reacted like a shrieking vampire to Shatner’s own take on western religious fables. Although one cannot recommend Star Trek V, it  serves its essential purpose as a campy, unintentional diversion from all that sanctimonious sci-fi mythology. That part, Shatner nailed.