Monday, September 01, 2014

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Rockers

Rock and roll is here to stay. It will never die.  

And proof of that grand statement may just be that rock-and-rollers have appeared for decades on cult-television programming.  

Often, famous rock musicians play themselves on hit (or non-hit...) series, and even stick around to perform a hit or too.

Famous rock musicians have appeared on sci-fi and horror programming include Paul Williams, on The Hardy Boys (1977), in the episode "The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula," Boy George in the A-Team (1983-1987) story "Cowboy George", and the late Laura Branigan in an episode of Automan (1983) called "Murder MTV." 

And the great KISS guest-starred on an episode of Chris Carter's Millennium (1996 - 1999) titled "Thirteen Years Later."

Other cult-tv series have featured stories focusing on the rock and roll milieu.

In "Space Rockers," an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981), for instance, Buck (Gil Gerard) investigates music promoter Lars Mangros (Jerry Orbach) and the popular rock band, Andromeda because of a connection between the rock music and youthful rioting.

And "Rock and Roll Suicide," an episode of the short-lived Otherworld (1985) sees two teenagers from Earth -- Gina (Jonna Lee) and Trace (Tony O'Dell) -- bring rock and roll to an alternate dimension where it hasn't been invented yet.  

Very soon, the two teens become celebrities to the teenagers of the other world, and enemies of the state to concerned, establishment "moralists."  In short, "Rock and Roll Suicide" is a perfect encapsulation of rock's history on our world.

Another short-lived series, Dark Skies (1996), also features a tale of rock and roll.  In particular, "Dark Day's Night" involves the Alien Hive attempting to send a signal during the Beatles' famous performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Occasionally, rock stars have also been villains on superhero programming.  

On Sid and Marty Krofft's Electra-Woman and Dyna-Girl (1977), a villain called "Glitter Rock" threatens the world, and on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 - 1996), an aging rocker, Lenny Stoke (Michael Des Barres) develops a sound weapon in the episode "Wall of Sound."

The Cult-TV Faces of: Rockers
















Television and Cinema Verities: Dark Water Edition

"I feel it's less a kind of just visceral, more kind of unsettling, more emotionally provocative. That's my feeling about it. I think it's subtler, but still scary. It ha a kind of moral, get under your skin scary. More thought-provoking. That's really because of the script and Walter and his - I think he felt like with supernatural scenes he wanted to anchor the film in reality."

- Jennifer Connelly reflects on the differences and similarities between The Ring (2002), The Grudge (2004) and Dark Water (2005). From an interview with Devin Faraci in 9, 2005).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

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Outré Intro: The Twilight Zone (Seasons Four and Five)

Rod Serling's classic anthology, The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1961) featured several introductory montages during its life-span on CBS.  But my favorite, by far, is the one utilized during the program's fourth and fifth season.  

This introduction, in particular, adds a number of specific visuals that fans -- over the decades -- have come to associate with the anthology, and thus with the realm Serling describes as "the fifth dimension," the Zone itself.  This is the intro that features the weird, long-haired doll, the clock, and the eyeball, for instance.

The montage opens with the trademark (and bizarrely insistent) theme of The Twilight Zone, and then reveals a straight line forming in outer space. The two-dimensional line seems to become three-dimensional before our very eyes, and we see a doorway spinning in the void.  

Serling's staccato voice-over narration notes here that "you unlock this door with the key of imagination," and that turn-of-phrase may just be my favorite description of science fiction and horror in general. We unlock the doorways to those genres with imagination, indeed. Once we walk through, into worlds unknown, there's simply no turning back.  We are changed by the destination we seek.

But in the following images, I especially like how the door stops spinning after Serling makes his pronouncement, and then we push through the open doorway, our imaginations "activated" by his words.

In the following images, we explore the dimension beyond the door.  Serling explains that it is a dimension of sound, and as if in explanation, we see a glass window shattering, and hear the breaking glass as the window crumbles.

In the following images, we see an eyeball floating in the void to accompany Serling's description of The Twilight Zone, similarly, as a dimension of "sight."  I love how the disembodied orb's eyelid opens, and the eyeball moves across the screen, left to right, staring back at us. The visual not only explains "sight," it is a bit creepy to boot.

Next, Serling's narration explains that The Twilight Zone is a dimension of "mind," and so we get the equation you see below, Einstein's theory of special relativity, scrawled in outer space.  This formulation has been termed the most famous equation in the history of the world, so it is appropriate that The Twilight Zone would use it to represent the human mind and the brain's capacity for thought.

Next, we see a strange doll-like figure moving across the frame, as Serling explains that we have crossed the threshold into a land of shadows and substance.  The doll is apparently an example of the latter, but in some sense it may also represent us, the human form traveling into the void.

As the doll passes off-screen, a clock appears, and accompanies Serling's description of the zone as being a place of "things" and "ideas."  The clock represents man's idea of time, in particular.  The ticking of the clock seems to make the moment even more suspenseful or tense.

Finally, particles form into our title, The Twilight Zone as Serling informs us we have arrived at our destination. 

Then, before this classic introduction ends, the title surges towards us, as we become one with this fifth-dimension.  It's like we are watching the Big Bang, the formation of a universe.

Below, you can watch this pitch-perfect, classic TV introduction in live-action.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr: "Eye of the Beholder"

In “Eye of the Beholder,” a blind woman, Allie Kingston, arrives on New Texas with the hope that the mineral Kerium might be utilized to help blind children on man worlds see again. 

Allie oversees the processing and preparation of Kerium for off-planet transport, but Tex Hex interferes, and wants the Kerium for himself.  After one of his plans fails, Allie and Tex Hex meet face-to-face.  But because of her handicap, Allie doesn’t know that she is dealing with a hardened criminal.  She senses that he is a “stranger…a loner,” but not a monster.

Instead, Tex-Hex shows Allie kindness, and recalls how he lost the love of his life over the choices he has made. Allie assures him he is not really evil, but for Tex Hex it may just be too late to change.

Sympathy for the devil?

This episode of BraveStarr is a most welcome entry in the series because it adds some meat to Tex Hex’s skinny bones.  Thus far in the Filmation series, he has served as a kind of transparent Skeletor stand-in, always putting up an evil plan, always getting quashed by his nemesis, in this case, BraveStarr.  He has always seemed evil, well, just because…he’s evil.

But in “Eye of the Beholder,” a blind woman, Allie, learns about Tex Hex, and more than that, Tex Hex opens up about himself.  We see flashbacks from his past, including his failed relationship with another woman. The episode ends with Tex Hex watching Allie leave the planet, in silence.  There is no guarantee that he will change, but suddenly we feel a human connection to him that other episodes have lacked.

The much-appreciated message, even if not terribly subtle, is that there is good in everybody.  And more than that, people can change, both for the worse and for the better.  Tex Hex became what he is -- a thief and a bandit -- because of his choices. If he made better choices, he could change again.

So many cartoon series of the 1970s and 1980s deal in absolutes, and in two-dimensions, good and evil.  BraveStarr features its share of those episodes for certain, but “Eye of the Beholder” is a nice change, and one that indicates a willingness on the part of the writers to explore their world, and even the villains of that world.

The message at the end of the episode this week concerns treating people with disabilities fairly, tying into Allie’s blindness.  That’s a worthy cause, but it might have been better for the episode to comment on Tex Hex, and the idea that it is always good to have empathy or people, even people who you don’t judge as good.  For with empathy, comes understanding.

Next episode: "Eyewitness"

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Godzilla (1978): "The Energy Beast"

In “The Energy Beast,” a meteorite crashes near the Sundance Mesa and the hydro-electric dam there. 

A hostile alien that resembles a giant terrestrial centipede soon emerges and demonstrates an unending appetite for energy, but also the uncanny ability to mimic other life forms.

When the dam is cracked and begins to leak, the Calico’s crew summons Godzilla to help out.  The giant green beast uses his laser vision to solder up the holes in short order. But when fighting the giant centipede, Godzilla is drained of energy, and retreats from the scene in exhaustion.

Later, a being that resembles Godzilla appears at the hydro-electric power plant and begins consuming more energy from it.

Quinn, Peter, Brock and Carl are at a loss to explain Godzilla’s anti-social actions, at least until the real Godzilla shows up to put down the impostor from the stars.

“The Energy Beast” pits Godzilla against a fierce monster from the stars, one who nearly does in the Giant Green lizard. 

Thus far in the series, we haven’t seen Godzilla winded or fatigued, but this episode showcases him holding on…just barely.  It’s a bit disturbing to see an avatar of such strength reduced to exhaustion, and so the episode works very efficiently in getting us on Godzilla's side, and reckoning with the dangers of the space monster.

Indeed, Godzilla’s weakened condition is the very thing that sells the tension of the latter half of “The Energy Beast,” as Godzilla appears to attack an electrical plant.  We know that if Godzilla were in his right mind, he wouldn’t undertake this action.  And even though the audience knows the alien is a shape-shifter, there is still some doubt here. 

Could Godzilla be so weak that he has lost his senses?  That he needs to re-charge?  I enjoyed watching the scenes where the humans yell to Godzilla, and try to sway him from his anti-social actions.  They also wonder, rather amusingly, why Godzilla doesn’t recognize them.

Wouldn’t it be great to be on a first name basis with Godzilla?

The final battle in “The Energy Beast,” which essentially pits Godzilla against an evil twin or duplicate, vexes the humans, who don’t know who to root for at first.  When the real Godzilla demonstrates his kind nature by saving Godzooky during battle, they finally understand what’s going on.  This reminded me of the end of a Star Trek episode “Whom Gods Destroy” in which Spock was able to detect the real Kirk (instead of a shape-shifter) by a self-less act on the part of the Captain.