Monday, July 25, 2016

Memory Bank: Strange Change Super-Detailed Assembly Kits (1974; MPC)

I still carry vivid memories of the mid-1970s, and times seeing MPC's Strange Change model kits on shelves in the Toys R Us at Paramus N.J.

There were three kits in all: "The Strange Changing Vampire," "The Strange Changing Mummy" and the one I wanted more than anything, "The Strange Changing Time Machine." 

Basically, each model kit had a kind of switch or flip function, so that two views of the model could be seen.  

The vampire could change forms (from vampire to skeleton) and so could the mummy (from whole to ripped bandages). 

But the time machine was greatest. It had had one view of an inventor operating the gadgetry or instrumentation of the time machine. And the other view showed him getting attacked by dinosaurs, post-time travel.

I guess these Fundimensions kit might be construed as a little gimmicky, but they are great desk-toppers, and vintage curiosities to look at and enjoy.  

I never owned any of these, but I know the kits were all released by Round 2 in 2011. My Dad is a great modeler, so I might ask him to build me (or Joel) a strange changing time machine one of these days...

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Priests and Reverends

A priest or reverend is an ordained minister, one vested with the authority of the church to administer sacraments and rites such as marriage.

Priests, reverends, and ministers have often been important characters in cult-TV history.

Consider V: The Final Battle (1984), in which Father Doyle (Thomas Hill), a resistance fighter, attempts to introduce Diana (Jane Badler) to the Christian Bible. Diana reads it, impressed, and then kills Father Doyle, because she doesn’t like the Bible’s message of peace and brotherhood. She fears the Bible, and those who would spread its word.

In Firefly (2002), the Reverend Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) is a crucial character, and one with a mysterious past. I’ve always suspected he worked for the Alliance in a violent, sadistic capacity, but then had a life reckoning, turned to God, and began to spread a message of peace and love to those he encountered.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Nathan Fillion plays an evil Preacher working for the First Evil, in the seventh and final season of the Joss Whedon series. He is the villain responsible for taking Xander’s (Nicholas Brendon’s) eye, and is a real fire-and-brimstone misogynist.

In The Walking Dead (2010 – ), Father Gabriel Stokes is introduced in Season 5, played by Seth Gilliam. At first he is merely cowardly, but later he is confirmed to be treacherous, and damn near useless.

On The Simpsons (1990 - ) Reverend Lovejoy is a regular character; he of the droning voice, and dull sermons.

Outside genre programming some of the most famous priests or reverends appear on Father Dowling Mysteries, and the Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) is the chaplain at the 4077 in M*A*S*H*  (1974 – 1981).

The Cult-TV Faces of: Priests and Reverends

Identified by Hugh: M*A*S*H

Identified by SGB: V: The Final Battle

Identified by Hugh: Father Dowling Mysteries.

Identified by Hugh: Twin Peaks

Identified by Hugh: The Simpsons

Identified by Hugh: Quantum Leap.

Not Identified: Tales from the Crypt ("As Ye Sow")

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files: "All Souls"

Identified by Hugh: Firefly.

Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Identified by Hugh: The Walking Dead

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Advert Artwork: The Flintstones (Nintendo Edition)

At Flashbak: Space Raiders (Diener; 1979)

This week at Flashbak, I also remembered Diener’s “Space Raiders!

“In the late 1970s, Diener Industries create two memorable lines of characters (and spaceships) that also doubled as…erasers. 

The first was a line called “Space Raiders,” which premiered in 1979 and was a kind of (delightful) Star Wars (1977) knock-off.  The Space Raiders could be found in stores, but also -- delightfully -- were sold in McDonalds Happy Meals. 

The Space Raiders were actually four unique robotic individuals. 

First there was Zama, who looked like an offspring of R2-D2 and the Lost in Space (1965-1968) robot. 

Then there was Dard, who seemed part-Darth Vader, part-Shogun Warrior. 

The other two robots were Horta (think Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark”) and Brak (think: This Island Earth [1951], replete with giant forehead).

The Space Raiders were also sold with spaceships earasers, including a flying saucer (the Lyra 4), a rocket ship (the Altair 2), and two other vessels, the Ceti 3, and the Kyrgo 5.

I vividly recall, in the summer of 1979 – while on a cross-country trip – absolutely begging my parents to take me and my sister to McDonalds’ so we could collect more of these Space Raiders, who came in a variety of colors (pink, brown, blue, green and yellow, if memory serves). 

I definitely recall having a Green Zama, a brown Dard, a pink Horta and a green Lyra 4.

In 1980, Diener went a (slightly) different way and marketed “Space Creatures.” These small erasers were marketed as “Space Aliens” in McDonalds’ Happy Meals, and looked quite familiar if one happened to be a fan of classic science fiction movies…”

Please continue reading at Flashbak.

At Flashbak: SuperJoe! (Hasbro; 1977-1978)

This week at Flashbak, I remembered the era of a "futuristic" G.I. Joe incarnation: 1977's SuperJoe.

Here's a snippet and the url: (  )

"Growing up in the seventies, I absolutely loved the large scale G.I. Joe figures from Hasbro. I owned the Sea Wolf Submarine (with giant squid!), the Adventure Team HQ, a swamp hover-craft (with manta ray!), and many other toys from this era.

But here's the thing: I often used these nifty adventure sets to play more fantastic or science fictional games.

 I wasn't really into war or straight-up action.

As a kid, I wanted outer space, monsters, aliens, and so on. So the G.I. Joe toys -- many of which I gratefully received as hand-me-downs from my Uncle Glen -- were awesome, but not precisely my cup of tea.

The reinvention of the G.I.Joe line -- to a mini-figure paradigm --in the 1980s inspired another generation to collect Joe toys, but by then, I was starting to be embarrassed to be seen playing with toys.  Unlike now, of course.

So I lusted after those toys from afar.

But uniquely, Hasbro first attempted to reinvent the Joe line in 1977-1978. And it did so to be more in line with my stated preferences.

Hence the arrival of Super Joe Adventure Team.  I did not have many toys from this line, but I had the most important one: The Commander.

This "Joe" was a bearded fellow in black jumpsuit, wearing a "power vest."

At age 8 or 9, I thought that Joe looked incredible cool.  The vest was removable too, so I could hang it up in the Adventure HQ when The Commander wasn't in action.

Other denizens from this universe -- but which I never had -- included an ally named Luminos and another called The Shield.

The villains in of the Super Joe-verse were "Darkon," Half-Man, Half-Monster, and Gor,the King of the Terrons. Apparently a giant Terron beast was also released too..."

Please continue reading at Flashbak.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Stars (1981): Series Primer

A galaxy of heroes team together in an interstellar battle against evil. Blast off on adventures as big as the cosmos itself!”

Get ready for “60 laser blasting minutes of action…” in Space Stars (1981), a Hanna-Barbera animated Saturday morning series that lasted just one season, and eleven episodes.

Space Stars aired on NBC from September 1981 through November 1981, and had two clear influences.

The first is obviously Star Wars (1977). All the segments in the series are set in outer space or in alien worlds. And the series’ opening title imitates the opening crawl style of Star Wars, only with drawn character outlines as well as words.

The second inspiration is The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978) on ABC, which featured popular DC Superheroes working together and separately, and interspersed short educational segments (about safety and magic tricks, for example) with adventures featuring a multitude characters from the Justice League at the Hall of Justice. It was an omnibus series, and so is this one.

Space Stars followed in this pattern with crossovers, but also short “black-out” segments include “Space Magic,” “Space Mystery,” and “Space Fact” and “Space Code.” 

The stars collected for Space Stars include 1960s hold-overs Space Ghost, and The Herculoids, was well as the Teen Force, and Astro and the Space Mutts.   Astro is apparently the family dog from the Jetsons, now working for the space police.

In the Space Ghost segments, Space Ghost -- a Batman corollary for the far future and outer space -- teams with his friends Jan, Jace and Blip the space monkey to defeat villains such as the tyrant Uglor, Toymaker, and star beasts galore. Settings include their home-base -- “The Ghost Planet” -- and also Space Ghost’s ship: the phantom cruiser. Space Ghost has power bands on his wrists that emit beams of all types, and the sidekicks can deploy “inviso-power.’

In the Herculoids installments, a human family consisting of Zandor, Tara and Doro live on distant Quasar (rather than Amzot, as previously…) in the wilderness.  They have befriended several amazing creatures including Zot (a dragon), Igoo (a rock simian), Tundro (a rhino/triceratops combination), and the blobs Gloop and Gleep. These beings defend the family against all brand of invaders both from Quasar (“The Snake Riders”) and beyond.  I’ve loved the Herculoids in all their incarnations.

The Teen Force segments involves a group of young heroes who dwell beyond Black Hole X and voyage to our universe. 

This group rides space sleds/rockets through space. The heroes are a psychic named Elektra, Moleculad -- who can alter and re-arrange his physical matter at will -- and Kid Comet.  They are assisted by diminutive sidekicks called Astromites, and regularly battle Uglor , tyrant of the planet Uris.

The next “space stars” are the show’s (cringe-worthy) comic-relief: talking space dogs Astro, Cosmo and Dipper, who work with a hapless human policeman, Space Ace, in the Astro and the Space Mutts segments.  This segment has not held up well, and was frequently not syndicated with the rest of the series during cable reruns.

The final segment of each hour of Space Stars is called the “Space Stars Finale” and always involves a team up of different heroes in cross-over tales. The Teen Force and Space Ghost join forces in “Polaris,” for instance, while the Herculoids and Space Ghost do so in “Worlds in Collision.”

Space Stars feels very antiquated by today’s standard of sci-fi programming.

It is basically a science free zone (despite its so-called “Space Facts”) with its space age superheroes (and dogs…) flying around in space sans space suits or other protections. 

Similarly, every creature and place is ostensibly made “futuristic” sounding by adding the words “star” or “space” as a descriptor.  Welcome to a world of star flies, star beasts, etc.  The stories tend not to be deep, either, focusing on action over character or even solid sci-fi concepts.

I’ll begin episode reviews of Space Stars starting 8/6!

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Brothers" (September 14, 1974)

The second episode of the Filmation live-action series Shazam first aired on September 14, 1974 and is titled “The Brothers.”

In this didactic tale, an older brother, Danny (Steve Tanner) refuses to acknowledge that his younger sibling, Chad (Lance Kerwin) can take care of himself, because he is blind.  Danny is over-protective and smothering, and his behavior irritates Chad, who wants to hold on to some semblance of a normal life.

Meanwhile Billy Batson (Michael Gray) learns from the Elders that he is destined to share his secret identity as Captain Marvel with Chad.  This prophecy comes to pass, as Michael and Mentor (Les Tremayne) attempt to rescue Danny from a life-threatening rattle-snake bite.  

In this crisis, Danny must place his trust in the blind Chad, and Chad comes through.

“The Brothers” follows almost-to-the-letter the narrative outline of the first Shazam installment, “The Joyriders.”  The Elders warn Billy about a lesson he must learn, quote a famous historical figure on the subject of that lesson, and then set Billy out to save the day.  Billy does so, but only by becoming Captain Marvel.

In this case, the lesson is that sometimes you must reveal your true self to help another human being, and the quote of the week comes from the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) and Lyrical Ballads, his work with Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”  

As a critic, I’m pretty much a sucker for works of art that contextualize their stories in terms of pertinent quotations, because -- generally-speaking -- such quotes provide us an insight into how an artist would like his or work to be seen.  I loved the quotes that opened Millennium (1996 – 1999) episodes, for instance. They always helped to contextualize the story in terms of human history, and literature.

And I can plainly see the appeal of including “famous” (or at least relevant) quotations in a live-action Saturday morning kid’s program.  With a little luck, the inclusion of such quotes encourages kids to learn more about Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Aristotle, or the “writer of the week.”

At the same time, however, the overtly preachy or heavy-handed nature of stories like “The Brothers” probably does much to drive kids away from a series like Shazam!  It is relentlessly moralistic. And therefore the quotations from famous writers feel more like an English class assignment than a part of an exciting superhero program.

Also in keeping with the format of “The Joyriders,” parents don’t seem to exist in this dojo.  

Instead, children are left alone for long stretches of time, and must ferret out moral problems without the supervision of adults.  Only Mentor is present as an “advisory” figure, at least so far.  The thematic concerns, as I noted in my post last week, are all juvenile ones.  And the opponents for Captain Marvel are mostly small-potatoes.  This week, he must only contend with Danny’s injury from a (stock-footage) rattle snake.

Similarly, there are very few interior shots in “The Brothers.”  There’s just a scene or two in Danny and Chad’s house, but the rest of the episode takes place on desert roads and in rocky canyons.  I’m not complaining about the approach, just noting, again that sometimes Shazam boasts the feel of a guerilla production.  There’s no home base (save for the mobile recreational vehicle), and no recurring settings, either.

As before, there are also some unexplained aspects of the Elder/Mentor communication in this Shazam episode. The Elders seem to be able to hear everything Mentor says, even though he does not travel with Michael on the boy’s weird vision-quest like trips to the Elders’ realm.  Mentor isn’t present visually, in other words, for the meet-ups, yet he always knows exactly what was spoken during the conferences.  Is he just eavesdropping?

Next week: “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” starring 70s child star Pamelyn Ferdin (The Mephisto Waltz, Space Academy, etc).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cult-TV Movie Review: Strange New World (1975)

"What is this, some kind of Alice in Wonderland game?"

Captain Anthony Vico (John Saxon) confronts the mysteries of Eterna in Strange New World (1975).

Strange New World (1975) is usually considered the third of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's efforts to launch his Genesis II/Dylan Hunt series concept, following Genesis II (1973) and Planet Earth (1974). 

The only problem, of course, is that Gene Roddenberry's name is found nowhere in the credits of Strange New World, now available on DVD through the magnificent and indispensable Warner Archive.

Indeed, Roddenberry reportedly passed on this third series attempt, even though it stars Planet Earth lead actor John Saxon, utilizes the "PAX" name from the earlier pilots, and features the same general story of men from the present waking-up in a post-apocalyptic future and attempting to restore the auspices of  human civilization in a newly barbarous world.

In Strange New World, three astronauts aboard the space laboratory PAX -- Captain Anthony Vico (John Saxon), navigator Allison Crowley (Kathleen Miller), and Dr. Scott (Keene Curtis) -- are awakened from hibernation after 180 years (in the year 2173) only to learn that Earth has faced a terrible holocaust.

Swarms of meteorites destroyed whole portions of the planet surface at the end of the 20th century, virtually ending human civilization.  Intriguingly, this calamity makes Strange New World the only one of the three pilots not to feature the element of man destroying himself in a nuclear war.  Here, the cosmos are to blame for our troubles.

Returning to Earth and roaming the country side in a vehicle called a "Vesta Explorer," the three astronauts attempt to home-in on a Pax "recall" signal which will lead them to the underground cave where their loved ones await, all trapped in hibernation.  Their first mission in this "strange new world" is to wake-up their fellow PAX-ers from "an endless sleep."

In the first portion of this Robert Butler-directed pilot, following a heavy-handed voice over narration from Saxon, Vico, Crowley and Dr. Scott run afoul of a land called "Eterna" that has apparently conquered death. 

With Saxon's Vico wearing a red toga, and the lush green community grounds all around, plus several athletic young folks in colorful stretchy suits, this portion of the show resembles Boorman's Zardoz (1974), at least superficially. 

There's the sense of a surrounding "dark ages" while inside a protected compound, one group of Eternals (Eternans?) live in a kind of stagnant, unchanging paradise.  The outsider in both situations -- Connery in a loincloth in Zardoz and Saxon in a toga in Strange New World -- represents the change agent.

Very quickly, the PAX astronauts learn that something is rotten in the state of Eterna, namely that a 212-year old surgeon played by James Olson has "conquered" physical death through the creation of clones.

These disposable people serve as organ donors (a la Parts: The Clonus Horror, or The Island).  And some of the clones, known as "Defectives" are even forced to wear masks in public so as not to offend good taste.

Unfortunately, the self-same surgeon has not come up with a cure for senility, and is rapidly losing his mind.  His ultimate plan is to have Dr. Scott replace him as leader of Eterna, but Scott rebels when he learns that the surgeon plans to drain all of Vico and Alison's blood to boost the immunity of Eterna's denizens.

In Strange New World's second tale, the triumvirate of Vico, Scott and Crowley encounters a lingering war between descendants of Federal wild-life rangers and criminal poachers in what remains of a nature preserve.

The poachers get their hands on Vico's deadly flare gun, which unsettles the balance of power, and Vico and Scott must interfere in a battle not their own to save the day. 

In the end, Vico recommends the rangers alter their culture to incorporate the poachers.  The rangers, who live by the ancient "Code of Fish and Wild Life" manual realize that the book's words were "written for a different time," and must be updated to meet the challenges of today, not the past.

For many years, Strange New World has been considered the worst of the three Genesis II-styled pilots from the mind of Roddenberry.

In large part, this judgment may arise because PAX plays the smallest role in the action here. The idea inherent in Genesis II, Planet Earth and Strange New World is that the Earth is destroyed...but that man can -- through his auspices of decency, science, technology and morality -- rebuild it. 

In other words, there's the optimism of Star Trek present in the concept, but it's tempered (dramatically) by the fact that a new dark ages comes before man's ascent to the maturity (and the stars?).

That idea is more cogently conveyed in Genesis II and Planet Earth, both of which showcase a functioning PAX organization in the future of the New Dark Ages, one replete with Trekkian-like uniforms, ethnically-diverse members, and high-tech equipment.

All of that is missing in Strange New World: It's basically just three astronauts (in grimy outfits, no less), roaming around in a boxy RV, looking for signs of life.  The optimism factor is largely absent.  PAX is a relic of the past, absent in the present, and only a vague hope for the future.

There's also far less humor and overt sex appeal in Strange New World than in either of its predecessors.

The pilot sets one story in an antiseptic advanced culture (Eterna) and one in a desperate primitive culture, and there's an inherent darkness in both realms.  Vico and his friends leave Eterna with all the citizens dead, a questionable decision, if you think about the nature of a post-apocalyptic world.  It's one thing to dislike and disapprove of an immoral culture.  It's another thing to annihilate it -- and all its inhabitants -- when it is the only game in town. 

And yet, again, the Eterna interlude feels very much of the style of the Planet of the Apes films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the aforementioned Zardoz

This is a dark, dystopian future, perhaps more out-of-synch with the Roddenberry aesthetic than either previous pilot. 

The second tale in Strange New World is actually slightly more optimistic. It does breach a rapprochement between rangers and poachers, but it's also kind of dark and gritty.  The photography in this portion of the film is particularly strong: Strange New World looks authentically like a feature film.  But it feels only intermittently Roddenberry-ian, to coin a phrase.

There's also no doubt that Strange New World pointed to a central trope or convention of 1970s cult television and film: the post-apocalyptic road trip in an RV. 

TV series such as Ark II (1975), Logan's Run (1977) and films such as Damnation Alley (1977) all featured heroes broaching new, strange cultures each week in nifty, futuristic vehicles.  The Vesta Explorer seen here is a pretty cool ride though it receives relatively little screen time.

Of the three Genesis II-styled TV pilots, I actually admire Planet Earth (the second attempt) the most.  Saxon is a more charismatic lead than Alex Cord (from Genesis II) was, and that pilot (Planet Earth) has more sex appeal, more humor, more color and more Star Trekkian optimism than either Genesis II or Strange New World

The touches I like most in Strange New World are almost throwaway ones. You'll notice, for instance, that Allison wears a wedding ring and makes brief mention of her lost husband and interesting character touch that might have proven valuable in continuing stories.  What if Vico and Allison fell in love? 

Also, Keene Curtis is very good as Dr. Scott here, at first tempted by the medical knowledge available in Eterna and then, in the second story, willing to settle down, to "slow down" and "start living."

There's every possibility that had Strange New World gone to series that these two supporting characters would have made very interesting counterpoints to Saxon's heroic but dour Vico.  Would they have lost the passion for their mission, and just wanted to settle down somewhere?

It's always fun, as a fan of Star Trek, to gaze at the ideas in Strange New World and consider how they have played out in early and later Trek incarnations.

The second story in Strange New World, the one involving the Poachers, plays like a more cynical, less optimistic version of "The Omega Glory."

There, technological "parallel" cultures had descended into barbarism, but the "Yangs" still spoke the "worship" words of the U.S. Constitution!  Here, of course, the wildlife manual provides the words of importance, but the idea is the same.

And the story in Eterna -- with clones suffering from the equivalent replicative fading -- very much points to the second season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Up the Long Ladder."

The special effects and sets in Strange New World are all serviceable, as are the performances.  There's no denying that the program is a serious effort, and -- with a little fine tuning -- would have made a good series.  Too bad it didn't get the chance to expand upon all the potential.