Last Update 7/2/09

 

Warriors’ Gate (1981)  

This is the third episode in the E Space trilogy of the Doctor Who television show, and it's the last of a stack of episodes I set aside to watch again (there's another stack I'll attack later).  The Doctor is still trying to find a way back to the normal universe when he encounters another stranded ship, this one crewed by humans with aliens held aboard as slaves.  There are some striking visuals as they explore the weird pseudo-universe, but the story advances rather slowly.  Romana gets taken captive by the nasty slavers while the Doctor encounters some crumbling robots and taps their memory for clues about their situation.  Adric and K-9 meander about as well contributing very little.  There’s a lot of time spent on what is really not much of a story and despite some interesting moments, this is one of Baker’s weakest outings. 6/30/09

State of Decay (1980)  

Still lost in E-space, the Doctor and Romana land on a primitive world whose inhabitants are ruled by an aristocracy of vampires.   It takes an unusually long time to get things going here, with the Doctor and Romana running around while clouds of bats fly overhead, grumbling but apparently unrebellious peasants grousing about conditions, and secret agents spying on one another.  Eventually our heroes arrive at the tower and encounter the king and queen of the vampires as well as a small group of rebels.  In general this was much too static an episode, with entirely too much talking and not enough actually happening.  The Doctor gets quite a few good lines this time, but they’re rather swamped by the duller parts around them.  Adric, who has stowed away, is mercifully off screen most of the time.  The climax comes when they find a giant alien vampire living underground and destroy it, the last of its kind – contradicting the Doctor’s reluctance to commit genocide as expressed in other episodes.  The vampires are badly overdone as well, funny rather than frightening. 6/29/09

My Bloody Valentine (2009)   

I’m not sure why this okay but undistinguished horror film should have been remade, but here it is, although it’s really not a remake since they minimize the Valentine’s Day theme and the bulk of the original, set in the mine, is almost completely missing in action.  Harry Warden was one of several miners caught in a mine cave in.  He killed all the others to conserve air, but ended up in a coma.  His story is told in more detail than in the original, complete with his waking up and slaughtering a dozen or so people in the hospital, a gory death scene that put me off immediately because it would have required superhuman strength and quickness to kill so many so quickly.  Meanwhile, a bunch of young people are having a party at the mine.  Given the recent disaster, this seems callous at best as well as unlikely.  Nine minutes into the film we are shown our second bloodbath, a mine shaft littered with bodies.  This was pretty much overkill.  We hadn’t even met any of the characters yet, let alone developed any sympathy for them.  One of the newcomers climbs over several bodies to approach a mysterious, silent figure rather than run, and when he does run, it’s too late.  The survivors fall down a lot and there’s a really badly done CGI beheading, after which those remaining alive act even more stupidly than most horror movie victims.  The police show up, Harry gets shot a few times, then runs off into the tunnels, his body never found.  That’s the prologue. 

Ten years later, the anniversary comes up.  One of the survivors- son of the mine owner – returns after a ten year’s absence and he is the logical top suspect when a new series of pickaxe killings occurs.  These often require that the killer be psychic – he knows exactly where people are going so he can be there in advance to pop out at them.  It also requires that the victims act stupidly, although the killer isn’t very bright either so it evens out.  There’s a lot more nudity and gore and the characters are even less admirable than in the original. For no discernible reason, the townspeople blame the newcomer for the first round of murders.  We know he’s innocent because he’s attacked by the real killer, and left in an incriminating situation which must makes things worse.  The sheriff acts like an idiot as well.  It turns out that Borden was killed secretly by some of the older men in town, although his grave turns out to be empty.  We also have young women with no weapons investigating mysterious sounds in dark buildings even though they know a killer is loose.  They also fall down a lot and only set off the alarm, even though it’s right there, after the attack is essentially over. There are also unexplained jumps of logic and confused motivations, and police who consistently refuse to call for backup.  The real identity of the killer is a cheat; he hallucinated the attack we saw. Although Tom Atkins is always great, his small role as the retired sheriff can’t save this turkey. 6/28/09

Treasure of the Amazon (1985)

Since this movie numbered Donald Pleasance, Stuart Whitman, and Bradford Dillman among its cast, I expected a fairly standard, reasonably well done adventure story.  The first hint that something was amiss was the assertion at the opening credits that this was a true story, almost always a stretch or an outright lie.  The scenery was nice as a riverboat makes its way up the Amazon, so I was soothed a bit, although there was something wrong with the soundtrack.  It wasn't just that the music was inappropriate but that all the sounds were tinny and unrealistic (and later at least one bit of dialogue was clearly redubbed later in a studio).  Anyway the premise is that a variety of treasure hunters - disgruntled old timer, younger thugs, idealistic American prospectors, and so forth all converge on a stash of diamonds deep in headhunter territory.  Although the name actors perform well, the supporting cast is leaden to awful and the inane dialogue doesn't help.  The element of the film that leaps out at you is that this is a slasher film without the slasher, with more blood and gore than most horror films.  There are numerous closeups on slashed throats, dissected animals, beheadings, a man hung by his tongue (which wouldn't work), another nibbled to death by crabs, others by piranhas and alligators, along with assorted stabbings, shootings, and other mayhem.  This is a badly made exploitation film whose only small asset is Pleasance as a deranged Nazi.  6/27/09

Full Circle (1980) 

The Doctor and Romana are called back to Gallifrey in this Tom Baker adventure in the Doctor Who series, but are diverted into E Space.  It also introduced Adric, probably my least favorite of all the companions – although the first Romana was a close second.  Romana – Lalla Ward, who was married to Baker for a while – was one of my favorite companions.  Anyway, they arrive on a kind of alternate version of Gallifrey where society has become primitive and divided into two cultures.  It’s time for a period Mistfall, during which the inhabitants retreat into sealed locations because the air becomes unbreathable.  Actually, the real threat is an amphibious race that emerges onto the land during the Mistfall.  A group of rebels seize control of the Tardis and Adric changes sides and helps Romana. The Doctor is trying to deal with the amphibians, who appear to be unaggressive, but the local human rulers are less than cooperative and this has caused a state of low level war.  There are some alien spiders that are laughable, and Romana collapses after being bitten, then becomes an agent of the amphibians.   The Doctor uncovers a hoax governing the entire human society and resolves the conflict. 6/26/09

The Leisure Hive (1980) 

The Doctor and Romana travel to a planet reputed for its leisurely resort atmosphere.  The locals are, however, involved in a prolonged war with another species, as a consequence of which the local radiation level has made them sterile.  An obsessed young man plans to use a matter duplicator to create an army of himself, despite plans to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.  The madman then attempts to pre-empt events by creating his army, but the Doctor has manipulated the system to create multiple copies of himself, and to make the duplicates unstable.  The aliens aren’t above subterfuge either, and one faction has secretly infiltrated the Hive society in disguise.  Some over acting in this one, but otherwise a solid, mid-level adventure. 6/25/09

The Armageddon Factor (1979) 

The final installment of the Key of Time also saw Mary Tamm’s final outing as Romana.  She was replaced by Lalla Ward who appears in this one as Princess Astra. Two planets have been engaged in an endless, pointless war, apparently because their leaders are being manipulated by a third force, possibly the Black Guardian, who is also seeking the Key of Time.  After uncovering the truth about who is controlling whom, he transforms Astra into the final segment of the Key and unites the segments into a single piece. The White Guardian shows up to take it, but the Doctor is suspicious and orders it to disperse itself again, after which we discover that the White Guardian is actually the Black Guardian.  The Doctor escapes but the Tardis is on an unknown course.  I had rather suspected the White Guardian’s motives from the outset.  A good end to an uneven subset of the  Doctor Who saga. 6/24/09

Slime City (1989) 

Having recently read a novel by Gregory Lamberson, I decided to take a peak at his gore extravaganza, a typically cheaply made film with flat acting and lots of violence. A young man moves into an apartment plagued by the spirits of a suicide cult, where his too good to be true girlfriend visits a lot.  The neighbors, goth girl and beat poet, are crude caricatures and the dialogue varies from inane to even more inane.  After sampling some peculiar wine, our hero begins to have periods where he is a slime covered murderous monster. The murders are gory but unconvincingly done.  “The slime must be appeased.”  A supposedly seductive dance is anything but. The final confrontation is intentionally funny and over the top but it’s still pretty bad overall. 6/23/09

Spiker (2008) 

Yup, it’s another invulnerable serial killer movie.  He escapes from custody after easily disposing of six guards, then stalks six aging teenagers who are camping out in an old house.  There’s a séance, out of body experiences, and a ghost to liven things up.  The killer, supposedly human, survives hours in freezing water that supposedly would kill anyone in ten minutes, plus being clobbered numerous times, and shot at close range three times.  He kills with railroad spikes, but sometimes spares his victims temporarily, for no apparent reason.  The kids are typically brainless, staying in the house rather than fleeing for safety, even though their cell phones don’t work there.  The body count rises and the killer pounds his spikes together. Some of the acting is tolerable, but most of it is pretty bad.  The mild sex scenes are particularly awkward and the mysterious groundskeeper, who always talks in a whisper, gets all the really bad lines.  Really bad, but not awful considering some of the other horror films I’ve seen lately, and one of the stupidest endings ever.  6/22/09

The Power of Kroll (1978) 

The Doctor and Romana arrive on a planet whose primitive inhabitants, the Swampies, are being exploited by a human development company.  There’s a villain who is providing them with inferior weapons in order to provoke violence and justify their elimination. Romana is nearly sacrificed by the Swampies but is rescued by the Doctor, who escapes imprisonment by the humans.  Meanwhile, something very large and living is moving beneath the surface of the swamps.  The creature, Kroll, is a kind of giant squid which attacks the offworlders.  The Doctor escapes death by sacrifice in one of the less plausible sequences, gets captured again, rescued again, and finally oversees the thwarting of the offworlders and the transformation of Kroll into the fifth segment of the Key of Time.  Has its good moments, but there were others where I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. 6/21/09

Nightmares and Dreamscapes (2006) 

This television mini-series presented eight Stephen King stories, opening with “Battlefield” in which William Hurt plays a professional killer who receives a box of toy soldiers as a present after he kills a toymaker. This is basically a variation of Richard Matheson’s classic “Prey”, with better special effects and lots of gunfire. If you watch closely, you’ll notice the devil doll from the film version of that story get blown up by a missile.  An unusual aspect of the production is that there is not one line of dialogue from beginning to end. In “Crouch End”, two Americans in England run into trouble when they enter a strange neighborhood where there’s a thin spot between realities. Creepy at first, but the fancy camera work gets distracting after a while.  “Umney’s Last Case” has a very different tone, a 1930s detective story spoof.  Umney wakes up one morning in the real world and has trouble adjusting to the fact that he’s a character in a book.  

“The End of the Whole Mess” is the story of a child prodigy, shown here in a series of very short scenes, and surprisingly effective since I usually don’t care for this technique. As an adult, he infects the world with universal, biological pacifism, but a side effect is early onset Alzheimer’s for everyone. “The Road Virus Heads North” is, oddly enough, one of King’s better stories, but it didn’t translate well.  The first half – in which a possibly terminally ill writer buys a painting by a man who committed suicide – moves very slowly.  “The Fifth Quarter” also gets off to a slow start, the story of an ex-con and his wife who want out of the rat race and think they’ve found it with a piece of a  map to the take from a big heist gone wrong. It picks up as he starts trying to recover the other pieces but has a lousy ending. 

I had trouble watching “Autopsy Room Four” because it plays against my personal phobia, paralysis.  A man is pronounced dead of a heart attack but actually is paralyzed by a snake bite and conscious when he is wheeled in for dissection.  “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”  follows a couple to a rock and roll town whose inhabitants behave very strangely.  Pretty good, but the guy deserves everything he gets. With few exceptions, these eight episodes were done with high production values, a good cast, and excellent adaptations.  Of course, they had excellent source material to start with. 6/20/09

The Androids of Tara (1978) 

Romana takes the initial lead in this Doctor Who episode, the fourth part of the Key of Time, which borrows heavily from The Prisoner of Zenda.  She finds the next segment on a planet where most of the “inhabitants” are androids (they don't really understand what the term means, but that's okay), and she is almost disassembled before they realize she’s alive.  The Doctor meanwhile is captured by a group that wants to create an android duplicate of the prince who is about to be crowned ruler. Eventually there’s a duplicate of Romana and others, leading to a comedy of errors with potentially deadly consequences.  There’s a very exciting ending with rescues and escapes, battles on the battlements, and such but the Doctor obviously has to triumph in the end and they escape the turmoil with the segment in their possession. 6/19/09

Lost City of the Jungle (1946) 

I’ve been trying to find a jungle action cliffhanger serial from my childhood for many years without success.  This one wasn’t right either.  It’s one of the last serials ad villain Lionel Atwill died before it was done, so there’s a double filling in – badly – at times. There’s footage from other movies as well, intercut with new scenes.  The setting is the Himalayas, hardly a jungle, and the real star of the film is Keye Luke, who plays the nominal hero’s sort of sidekick. The acting is otherwise wooden even by serial standards. The search is for a rare metal that provides protection from nuclear bombs (!!!) and the good guys and bad guys are also subject to the actions of a kind of Dragon Lady who is effectively above the law.   There’s the usual round of kidnappings, fistfights, gunfights, chases, escapes, subterfuges, discoveries, and doublecrosses. The fantastic element is missing, and the usual gimmick in which one of the good guys is actually the chief bad guy without his disguise is absent as well. 6/18/09

The Stones of Blood (1978) 

The Doctor searches for the third segment of the Key of Time on contemporary Earth, traveling to the site of a group of standing stones in England.  He doesn’t find it there, but he does encounter an archaeologist and gets caught up in the mystery surrounding the apparent variation in the number of stones at different years.  The set up is one of the most intriguing mysteries the Doctor faces.  He is attacked by a group of Druids who want to sacrifice him, but escapes to discover that the stones are actually an alien life form who drain blood from their victims.  The story gets really strange after that.  Romana and then the Doctor are transported to a spaceship by an alien masquerading as a human, and there encounter yet another group of aliens.  More reversals and revelations follow.  It’s not as confusing on the screen as it probably is in this brief retelling and it’s generally a very good episode. 6/17/09

From Within (2008) 

The selection of movies from the After Dark Horrorfest have proven to be very uneven in the past.  There have been enough good ones that I keep watching, but at least a third of them get sold on Ebay within days.  The opening minutes of this one and the blurb on the case looked promising.  Nice photography, competent acting, a short but shocking scene, and an intriguing premise.  A series of inexplicable suicides among the young adults in a small town seem to be more than just random events.  The witness to one death insists that she is being followed by a mysterious woman, and then is found dead in a locked room, apparently having killed herself.  There’s various tensions involving the town’s revivalist Christian atmosphere and a family of non-believers, and the protagonist – a girl from among the former – gets involved with a young man from the latter.  He believes his mother’s accidental death in a fire was no accident. It’s kind of a blend of The Ring and Final Destination because each person who dies witnesses the previous one, and it’s obviously a curse connected to the death of the woman in the fire.  The deaths are less explicit than in most similar movies.  The willingness of the townspeople to get involved in kidnapping and murder is not entirely implausible, but it isn’t supported enough to be convincing in this context. Eventually the protagonist is the witness and the crisis is at hand.  Pretty good overall, although the soundtrack could have used some juicing up.  6/16/09

The Pirate Planet (1978) 

The second installment of the Key of Time was written by Douglas Adams, and it’s one of the very best of the Doctor Who series.  The Doctor sets course for the planet Calufrax and finds himself inexplicably on another world, only later realizing that it is a hollow planet which has completely engulfed Calufrax.  The pirates have stolen and used up a succession of planets in this fashion.  Even more unsettling, the next planet to be taken is Earth.  The Doctor teams up with a group of psychics who use telekinesis to foil the bad guys.  The various villains have a falling out among themselves, and the Doctor recovers the second segment of the Key and escapes just in the nick of time.  An excellent concept done extremely well. If I remember correctly, this is one of the few episodes that was never novelized. 6/15/09

The Bob Newhart Show Season 2 (1973) 

Another solid season of relatively restrained sitcom.  Psychologist Bob Hartley deals with camera shy patients who agree to be on a television program, guilt when one of his patients quits the ministry, the discovery that Emily has a higher IQ than Bob does, and a visit to a marriage counselor. The best episodes this season include one in which Bob throws out his back and Emily gets sick, Emily’s brief stint as Bob’s secretary, Carol’s decision to have a tattoo removed, a visit by Bob’s in-laws, and a revolt by his group therapy clients when he raises his rates.  The low point is Howard’s infatuation with Bob’s sister. Emily’s mid-life crisis is also quite good.  Season two is consistently funny and occasionally very funny.  This season we meet Emily’s parents, and Bob’s mother and sister. The supporting cast – particularly Suzanne Pleshette and Marcia Cross – are exceptional. Includes two early appearances by Teri Garr that don’t show up at imdb.com and one of  Henry Winkler’s first roles. 6/12/09

Caprica Soundtrack by Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, 2009

I was familiar with, and impressed by, the soundtracks McCreary composed for the Battlestar Galactica series on the Sci-Fi Channel, but I hadn't known that there was a spinoff program debuting.  This is the soundtrack from that, and it has a different overall tone from the other, but it's still among those very few such things that can be listened to just as an album of music, independent of the visual images. As you might expect, it varies a lot.  Some of the tracks are quiet and reflective, others tense and with a strong, regular beat.  Some of it suggests mystery and intrigue.  The track titles don't reveal much although predictably "Terrorism on the Lev" is tense.  A few of the tracks suffer a bit from being isolated from their context, but most are lively enough.  I don't think I liked this quite as much as the earlier pieces I've heard, but some of that may be the constraint of the relatively conventional setting, where the BG soundtracks I heard seemed to draw from a wide variety of musical traditions. 6/11/09

The Ribos Operation (1978) 

This is the opening volume in the six serial series known as the Key of Time, although each installment is a separate adventure.  The mysterious White Guardian orders the Doctor to recover the six parts of the Key of Time, scattered through the universe, in order to restore the balance of reality.  He is joined by another Timelord, Romana, who was replaced by another actress, Lalla Ward, very quickly.  She and Tom Baker - the Doctor - actually married in real life, although like most companions she didn't last long on the screen or off.  They arrive on the first world in time to encounter an ambitious confidence man who is attempting to sell the entire planet to a man who wants its mineral resources. Lots of running back and forth and whispered conspiracies.  Although I like this sequence overall, this is the weakest installment, particularly the final segments which descend into madness and mayhem. The Guardians have never shown up again in the Doctor Who universe as far as I know. 6/11/09

The Uninvited (2009) 

A young woman spends almost a year under psychiatric care after a mysterious fire kills her mother.  Home at last, she is reunited with her father, sister, and a rather nasty stepmother.  The ghost of their mother begins to appear to her, claiming to have been murdered, which is no real surprise.  I’ve always wondered, however, why ghosts appear in frightening circumstances when approaching the people whom they wish to help, or to have help them.  When the girl’s boyfriend tries to tell her something he saw on the night in question, he is mysteriously killed, and his ghost also appears to her. It was pretty suspenseful until the first actual confrontation when they have evidence that the stepmother faked her identity.  They don’t go to their father because she threatens to have the girl returned to the institution.  Even when they have evidence that the woman committed several previous murders, they don’t act, giving her a chance to discover what they know and take steps against them.  There’s an explanation that later justifies this, and a twist ending that I have to admit took me unawares. There is an inherent problem with movies that rely on the device used here because even though it makes sense ultimately, it looks like bad film making until you have that explanation. Don’t give up on this one despite what looks to be a contrived plot. 6/10/09

Horror of Fang Rock (1977) 

This continued the creepy, period atmosphere of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with a plot out of low budget SF horror movies. Almost the entire story takes place at a remote lighthouse besieged by an alien threat.  One of the three keepers is electrocuted after he stumbles upon an alien visitor, and when the survivors of a shipwreck come ashore, they begin dying one by one, and one of the keepers is acting very strangely.  The sequences leading up to the destruction of the alien – a kind of bloblike creature – are excellent, but I wasn’t really convinced when the Doctor turns the lighthouse into a giant laser beam to destroy the mother ship before an invasion of Earth can be launched.  The special effects are minimal but they're not really necessary given the elusive nature of the alien. Above average despite a few problems. 6/9/09

The Sea Hound (1947) 

Buster Crabbe stars as Captain Silver in this cliffhanger serial.  Crabbe and his crew come to the aid of a yacht beset by pirates.  The yacht is searching for a young woman’s father, and there is also a buried treasure to be located. The pirates are actually hirelings of a sinister villain known as the Admiral.  There are various holes in the plot, e.g. why tie up two crew members and leave them alone when the mission is to kill them all?  Why does no one in the port town react when there is a large explosion just off shore?The father is actually the prisoner of a group of reclusive natives, and there’s also another scurrilous gang of treasure hunters on the island.  Fairly routine thrills, the usual plethora of plot holes, plenty of fights, etc.  Surprisingly good for this late in the serial’s lifespan, when most of the others had become clumsy and cheaply made. Refreshingly the Asian crew member is neither comic relief nor subservient and demonstrates considerable skill and courage, breaking the usual stereotype. 6/8/09

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977) 

Another of my favorite Doctor Who adventures.  This time the setting is London in 1888.  A mysterious Oriental villain and his minions have been kidnapping people for nefarious purposes.  The sewers under London are inhabited by giant rats and mysterious creatures.  Eventually The Doctor becomes suspicous of a Chinese stage magician who appears to be linked to an ancient, godlike creature. The magician is eventually revealed to be a time traveling alien who has been turned into a kind of life force drinking vampire, which explains all of the disappearances. There is also a ventriloquist’s doll that is actually a sentient creature – and pretty creepy.  The sets and atmosphere are exceptionally well done in this one, and the two villains are among the best the Doctor ever faced.  I wish they had done more Victorian set stories along these lines. 6/7/09

Dragon Blue (1995) 

This Japanese horror movie, subtitled but rather well, is a kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer variation. The woman playing the lead does rather well; the wrestler type playing the detective is leaden. She is told by a vision that she is descended from a long line of demon hunters. Her first mission is on a remote island where a resort is being built next to a village, a project troubled by disease and natural disasters.  Or are they natural?  Then women begin disappearing and men are found brutally killed.  She doesn’t want to go because she doesn’t believe the legacy story, but she is prevailed upon to do so. A local elder warns her off, but that doesn’t work either. The sea monster is a man in a not very impressive rubber suit.  There’s some kind of relationship between the sea creature and a local priest who is possessed, but it’s not clear exactly what that is.  Nice photography, okay dialogue, but the fight scenes are very badly done. 6/6/09

The Robots of Death (1977)

Another adventure of the fourth Doctor Who. The Doctor and Leela arrive on a planet that is primarily a mining colony for what turns into a rather good mystery.  The colony is managed by humans through the management of several types of robots with varying degrees of sophistication.  When someone starts killing members of the staff, no one initially suspects the robots at all because they are clearly not self willed.  They are not, as it turns out, actually responsible but have been reprogrammed by one of the members of the crew, who is arguably insane and believes robots to be superior to organic life.  The Doctor works out the solution and overcomes the bad guy through an ingenious method of altering the man’s voice so that his orders are not understood by his minions.  One of the best laid out plots in the show’s entire lifespan. 6/5/09

South Park Season 11 (2007) 

The irreverent animated series hits season 11, opening with “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson”, which simultaneously lampoons thoughtless racism, political correctness, and Jesse Jackson’s “supersensitivity” on the issue. “Cartman Sucks” is a cute episode in which the obnoxious Cartman has to deal with an embarrassing photograph. “Lice Capades” alternates between an outbreak of head lice and a louse concerned about the fate of his world. Some clever spoofs of disaster movies.  A Muslim student attracts Cartman’s malevolent attention in “Snuke”, a clever spoof of the television program 24. In “Fantastic Easter Special”, Stan discovers that there is a secret society of Easter bunny imitators – the Hare Club for Men - protecting a secret that could shake the world.  Another cute sendup, this time of The Da Vinci Code and similar books, and secret societies in general. 

Mr. Garrison adjusts to his sex change by becoming a lesbian in “D-Yikes” while the boys hire Mexicans to do their homework. “Night of the Living Homeless” depicts the homeless as zombies, then satirizes our reaction to them.  “Le Petite Tourette” has Cartman pretending to have Tourette’s Syndrome so he can swear a lot.  It predictably backfires.  All three of these, particularly the last, are quite good.  One of the parents tries for the world’s biggest bowel movement in “More Crap.” This one isn’t funny at all, and not even remotely clever.  “Imaginationland” is a three part story in which terrorists attack the land of imaginary beings, let loose the evil ones, and the boys have to prevent the US from using nuclear weapons against them.  Cute at times, but there really isn’t enough story for three full episodes.  “Guitar Queer-O” satirizes a computer game I’m not familiar with, and deals with personal loyalty and the substitution of artifice for reality.  It’s pretty good.  The season ended with “The List,” one of the best of the season.  A list by the girls of the relative looks of the boys leads to the discovery of a conspiracy and a bomb plot. The first half of the season was quite good but the second half is very uneven. 6/4/09

The Hand of Fear (1976) 

Back on Earth after various adventures, Sarah gets caught in an explosion and finds a fossilized hand that isn’t as lifeless as she thinks.  She subsequently becomes possessed by some spirit connected to the hand, which compels her to overpower the Doctor and escape to carry out its further wishes.  It turns out the hand is from a silicon based alien criminal who was supposed to have been executed, but who is able to grow back to his normal size and shape from the disembodied hand.  Eventually the Doctor transports the alien back to his home world, only to discover that his race is now extinct, and when he attempts to force them to bring him back to Earth so that he can rule there, they outsmart him.  The second half of this sequence is not as good as the opening sequences, alas.   Sara Jane leaves the series at the end of this episode.  She was replaced by Leela, another companion I disliked, who ran around in a skimpy costume brandishing weapons and speaking in monosyllables. 6/3/09

Jungle Raiders (1945) 

This is not one of the better cliffhanger serials.  For one thing, there’s no jungle despite the title.  For another, the “lost” city is not far from a paved road! The natives are white and look like apaches despite the lions.  The sound track sounds as though the dialogue was re-recorded in an echoing studio despite the exterior photography. The plot involves a doctor who discovered a miracle cure but has gone missing.  Two parties are involved in the search, good guys and the bad guys who have taken the doctor prisoner.  There’s also the obligatory evil high priestess.  The bad guys want to know the secret of entering the lost city – which seems to be simply to go there – so they kidnap their prisoner’s daughter to apply pressure. She escapes.  Two hapless travelers – one of whom is our hero – walk into the middle of all this.  The cliffhangers are overly familiar, the story is even more repetitive than usual, and the acting is dismal.  This was one of the last of the serials, and probably hastened their demise. 6/2/09

Pyramids of Mars (1975) 

Doctor Who and friends find themselves on Earth in 1911, in a creepy old English priory owned by an Egyptologist and run by a mysterious character who is not what he seems.  He is actually the agent of Sutekh, an alien creature the ancient Egyptians worshipped as a god, and the mummies in the building are actually a variety of robot under his control. He has been trapped by a device on the planet Mars which prevents him from leaving the solar system, and is planning to destroy it.  Since Sutekh is evil, the Doctor wants to keep him imprisoned, but the alien has unusual mental powers.  The solution is a bit of a stretch – a complex bit about time differentials and mental energy – but this is still one of my favorite of the Baker episodes. I have this thing for spooky old mansions. 6/1/09

Star Trek (2009) 

I finally went to see this after hearing it heavily praised.  Overall, I have to agree with those appraisals.  I thought the casting was particularly well done and the balance between adventure and humor was excellent.  I was a bit surprised by the romance between Spock and Uhura, but other inconsistencies are explained by the fact that this is not supposed to be the same reality as in the television series and earlier movies.  Unlike most re-imaginings, there’s even an explanation.  The conflict comes from the presence of an advanced starship from the future with a crew that wants vengeance against the Federation, and naturally Kirk and Spock are in the right place to save the day.  The special effects are good and some of the scenes are genuinely beautiful.  I wouldn’t at all mind seeing more adventures from this cast, which is not the way I felt after watching some of the previous Star Trek movies.  I did wonder why Kirk fired on the disabled enemy ship even after it was evident that it would be destroyed within the next minute or so even without their intervention. 5/31/09

The Being (1983) 

I saw this way back more than twenty years ago when I first had cable tv.  It didn’t impress me much then, but I was curious to see it again because it does have a good cast – Martin Landau, Ruth Buzzi, Jose Ferrer – and it was cheap.  The opening not only telegraphs the secret by showing us a nuclear waste site but also tells rather than shows, having a narrator tell us that strange things are happening and people have been disappearing.  We even see a creepy, slimy arm when another victim is attacked and his car crashes.  Implausibly, when the police find and examine the wreck, they don’t bother to look in the trunk, where the creature is lurking.  Landau utters scientific doubletalk about why it’s okay to dump radioactive waste into the aquifer. The creature can apparently turn to water and slip through cracks. Its depredations at a drive-in theater are mildly funny, intentionally. The big names in the cast list have cameos only and the actual lead cast delivers a flat, monotonous performance. Some of the ensuing dialogue is so bad that I can only assume it was meant to be funny, and Ruth Buzzi’s presence supports that.  But it’s not funny enough to be really funny. 5/30/09

Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

Tom Baker has his first battle with the Daleks in this better than average Doctor Who adventure.  The Timelords decide to send him back to the early days of the Daleks in order to change their nature and make them less warlike.  Fat chance of that happening. We also meet Davros, architect of the Dalek race, who will reappear in many later episodes.  The Daleks turn on Davros at one point, although they are reconciled to each other later, or at least temporarily. This is one of the Doctor’s few failures, because he balks at wiping out an entire race, and then is unable to correct his mistake, dooming the universe to endless attacks - and in the more recent adventures leading to the extermination of the Timelords.  This is one of the few that actually examines a serious moral issue and the Doctor does not have a clear cut course of action to take.  5/29/09

Tales from the Darkside Season 1 (1985) 

This was another anthology show, one I remembered liking although the opener, “Trick or Treat”, is a rather minor story about a miser who gets a visit from a witch. “The New Man” is from a Barbara Owens story that appeared in the Twilight Zone magazine.  A recovering alcoholic is confronted by a son he doesn’t remember and is driven to drink, but he was right.  “I’ll Give You a Million” appears to be a deal with the devil story, but it’s actually a clever and surprising variation.  Lou Jacobi has back trouble and a shrewish wife in “Pain Killer,” another deal with the devil story.  Danny Aiello shines as a bookie in “The Odds”, who outsmarts a dead gambler.  In “Mookie and Pookie”, one of a pair of twins downloads his personality into a computer because he’s terminally ill, but his parents want to terminate him. The science is nonsense and the parents actions aren’t much better.  A bad episode.  “Slippage” is from a story by Michael Kube-McDowell. A young man discovers that he’s drifting out of the real world.  It’s good, but even better is “Inside the Closet”, written by Michael McDowell (not Kube-McDowell), in which a coed rents a room with a locked closet – although it has a terrible soundtrack. Creepy, even though the monster isn’t well done and there isn’t really an explanation of what’s been happening. 

“The Word Processor of the Gods” is a story by Stephen King, adapted by Michael McDowell.  A writer discovers his computer can rewrite his life. “A Case of the Stubborns” is from a great Robert Bloch story about a dead man who refuses to accept that he’s dead, and it’s adapted quite well here.  Features a 15 year old Christian Slater and a pre-Star Trek Brent Spiner. This might well have been the best episode in the series. “Djinn, No Chaser” is an amusing version of the Harlan Ellison story about a disobedient, abusive genie. “All a Clone by the Telephone” is as bad as its title.  It’s about an answering machine with a mind of its own. Neither funny nor scary. A fake tarot reader begins to have real premonitions in “In the Cards,” which isn’t bad except it needed more of an explanation.  “Anniversary Dinner” is a predictable bit about cannibalism, “Snip Snip” is a silly piece about witchcraft, sort of, and “Answer Me” is about a demonic telephone.  This one’s pretty creepy but needed more back story. 

“The Tear Collector” is from another Twilight Zone magazine story, this one by Donald Olson. It has a good premise but is rather slow in developing. “Madness Room” involves murder and a Ouija board and is too predictable to be interesting.  “If the Shoes Fit” is an almost unwatchable piece about a politician turned, literally, into a clown.  “Levitation” is based on one of my favorite short stories by Joseph Payne Brennan, adapted by David Gerrold.  A young man taunts a broken down stage magician with unexpected consequences.  The season declines after that.  "It All Comes Out in the Wash" is nonsensical, "as is the predictable "Bigalow's Last Smoke".  "Grandma's Last Wish" is a little better; an elderly woman teaches her dysfunctional family a lesson. The last episode was "The False Prophet," a really dreadful episode about a bossy fortune telling machine. There are a few good episodes sprinkled here and there but most of the first season was mediocre or outright bad. 5/28/09

The Ark in Space (1975) 

The Doctor Who series wasn’t always consistent about its future history of Earth and this Tom Baker episode is a case in point.  The Doctor and friends arrive aboard an orbiting satellite that turns out to hold the last survivors of the human race, driven off Earth by solar flares.  They are in suspended animation but the station has been infiltrated by an alien species that is insectlike and which is preying upon the living corpses.  Part of the process involves the infiltration and possession of those few crew who are conscious, and who obviously resent the fact that the Doctor is interfering in their plans.  The issue seems to be in doubt a couple of times, but we know he's going to succeed in the end. This was a pretty creepy episode - which didn't happen much in the Baker years, with fair to middling special effects.  Baker was still developing his interpretation of the Doctor but Sarah Jane, one of my favorite companions despite her whininess, is at her best.  5/27/09

The Lost Colony (2007) 

Another Sci-Fi Channel original movie, this one “explaining” what happened to the Roanoke colony in Virginia.  It opens with a man pursued by some kind of monster, after which another hangs himself.  We then jump to the arrival by a group of English settlers who find the advance party dead.  From the condition of the corpse, they draw a number of unwarranted conclusions which advance the story.  The actual colonists did find a single body from the previous contingent when they arrived. They also find Norse writing warning them that their souls are in jeopardy, which they disregard as well as the warnings of a Native American guide.   Anyway, creepy dreams people with not very well rendered creatures ensue. Plants and vines begin attacking people, which is at least a break from the usual CGI rendered over sized creature of most movies from this source. Although not too badly done, the propensity of characters to act stupidly – like following ghostly figures into the woods – is annoying.  The characters continue to make unwarranted logical leaps and the creatures, wraiths, continue to act with no rules or constraints, suggesting that there is no way to defeat them.  As it winds down, it becomes less plausible and the solution is unsatisfactory, requiring people to abandon their safety for no apparent reason and assuming that one of the colonists just happens to be familiar with obscure, ancient Norse ceremonial magic.  Has its moments, but not a whole lot of them. 5/26/09

The Green Death (1973) 

This Doctor Who adventure opens with a miner emerging onto the surface, glowing green and obviously distressed.  Various people, eventually including the Doctor, investigate inside the mine despite claims by the management that nothing is wrong.  The Doctor has to rescue Jo Grant, in the process of which he finds and retrieves an oversized egg.  Everyone gets chased around by some giant maggots as well.  There’s a conspiracy by a group using a brainwashing computer, a contagious disease, and other dangers before Jo inadvertently finds a cure and the Doctor advertently foils the villains.  Well above average, and some of the underground sequences are exceptionally well done given the show's notoriously low budget for special effects. 5/25/09

Red Sonja (1985) 

Robert E. Howard would not recognize this as being inspired by his character since the plot and her personality and background are totally unlike the one in the stories.  Brigitte Nielsen is the title character, given super strength by a goddess so that she can avenge the death of her family at the hands of an evil queen, Sandahl Bergman.  She is accompanied by an annoying child prince and his bodyguard, and a warrior, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has to rescue her from time to time despite her prowess.  The queen meanwhile has stolen a magical artifact that could destroy the world.  For a change, Arnold isn’t the worst actor in the film, and not because he suddenly got better.  The monsters are corny, the plot makes little sense, the dialogue is drivel, and the closest I could come to a compliment is that some of the sets aren’t bad.  Pretty much a waste of time I could have spent watching something more competent. 5/24/09

Carnival of Monsters (1973) 

There is an interesting set up for this Doctor Who adventure, but unfortunately the script doesn’t measure up to the premise.  The Doctor is free to travel the universe again, but his first jaunt misfires and the Tardis materializes aboard a sea vessel.  It appears to be Earth in the 1920s, but there are – not very convincing – sea monsters in the ocean.  The story alternates between their plight and the activities of an interstellar culture which plays with pocket universes, one of which now contains the Tardis. Eventually the Doctor escapes into the larger world and confronts those responsible for the illegal imprisonment of those caught inside their devices.  Everything gets sorted out but I was rather impatient for this one to end. 5/23/09

The Colossus of New York (1959) 

I had probably seen this movie previously but had no recollection of it.  It is surprisingly good despite a few plot problems.  Ross Martin is a brilliant young scientist who dies in a tragic accident.  His father preserves his brain and installs it in the artificial body of the Colossus so that he can continue his career.  Unfortunately, the change makes the scientist unstable, paranoid, and homicidal, and even more unfortunately, he gains the powers of remote viewing, compulsive hypnosis, and can even send death rays from his eyes.  Fortunately, he still loves his son who – through an unexplained contrivance – is present when the final rampage starts, intervenes, and complies when his father asks him to turn off the body he is housed in.  Not great film work by any means but quite watchable.  5/22/09

The Three Doctors (1972) 

Doctor Who is pursued by a kind of variation of the Blob in this gimmicky episode, which features cameo appearances by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, the two previous actors to play the role.  Meanwhile, on Gallifrey the Timelords are besieged by a probe from a black hole that is drawing off all of their energy into an alternate universe.  Through a complicated series of not very convincing plot devices, the other two Doctors are plucked out of time to help the third and present one save the day.  The story picks up a big when the Doctor is brought to the planet of Omega, a legendary Timelord believed  to have died but who is now insane.  This marks another change.  In appreciation of his help, the Timelords fix the Tardis so that the Doctor is no longer confined to the Earth. 5/21/09

The Eye Creatures (1965)

Zontar: Thing from Venus (1966) 

These are both remakes of earlier cheapo SF flicks, Invasion of the Saucer Men and It Conquered the World respectively.  In the first, we discover that a really corny looking flying saucer was spotted in orbit and is believed to have landed somewhere on Earth.  The dialogue in the military briefing – not to mention the science – is too silly to convey here.  The “infrared scanner”, which can pick up pictures from anywhere at any angle without a camera, enables the soldiers to eavesdrop on Lover’s Lane.  It also picks up sound!  Some of the humor seems to be intentional, and it’s less funny than the parts that just misfired. The saucer lands next to a house that is supposed to be haunted and which is also near Lover’s Lane.  Two of the young people – not particularly young actually – run down an alien with their car.  The separate parts of its body are still animated though, and naturally the police don’t believe them.   It also alternates from day to night almost from one scene to the next and gets stupider as it goes along.  Bad enough to be funny at times, although even that wears thin after a while. 

Zontar is the last Venusian, a silly looking monster who convinces a human scientist to help him invade the Earth.  His body produces batlike flying creatures that inject control devices into the people he wants to use as his agents.  John Agar, whose career had tanked, holds out against the invasion.  The original was pretty bad but the remake is awful.  The orbiting satellite is the same shot of the same flying saucer from The Eye Creatures.  At one point, all the automobiles in the world have been stopped but as the characters talk about it, you can see traffic moving in the distance. I generally think that the worst low budget direct to video horror movies of the 2000s are far worse than anything produced back in the 1960s, but this is proof that it was possible even then to waste celluloid. 5/20/09

Sam’s Lake (2009) 

This low budget clone of the Friday the 13th franchise claims to be based on a true story turned legend.  Five young people go to a remote, almost deserted town and ignore warnings that “these parts ain’t safe this time of year”, apparently a reference to an escaped psychopath who killed someone in the past.  The cast seems a bit older than the usual teens with a death wish, and the soundtrack and dialogue are pitched low and sometimes almost toneless, which didn’t do much to pull me into the story even though the acting isn’t awful, which has almost become a plus in itself in current horror films. They’re reclaiming an old cabin on the lake of the title, although it looks awfully clean under the circumstances. The “chills” are so predictable (and vapid) that I felt as though I’d read the script.  From the point where they read the diary, it turns into complete garbage.  The apparent heroine and her brother are the insane kids of the insane killer and they bring people to the woods to hunt.  They killed their father previously, or thought they had, but he's back.  Makes Friday the 13th part any look like Academy Award material.  5/19/09

The Claws of Axos (1971) 

A spaceship lands on Earth in this Doctor Who serial, claiming that it simply wants to recharge its storage batteries and move on, although we are never meant to seriously believe them.  In due course we learn that the Doctor’s arch-enemy, the Master, is held prisoner aboard ship, and he and the Doctor find themselves on the same side, at least for an episode or two.  The Master then plots to manipulate events for his own purposes as the Doctor tries to prevent the Axons from learning the secret of time travel. This was an okay episode, and Roger Delgado was always great as the Master, but the Axons were never really convincing as a threat and this is just an average installment in the series. 5/18/09

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

I really dreaded watching this because the original is a classic and the trailers looked really, really bad. It opens with a typical Hollywood scene - discovery of a beautiful but enigmatic artifact in a remote area. Jennifer Connelly is a college professor; Keanu Reaves is the Klaatu substitute. She's drafted into a response team when an object is sighted on a collision course with Manhattan, at a rate which suggests that all life on Earth will be destroyed. It is, of course, a spaceship which lands instead in a scene which should have been impressive, but which isn't. An alien steps out and is immediately shot, after which a badly animated robot emerges.  So essentially the entire first movie is recapitulated, not very well but more expensively, during the first 20 minutes.  The injured alien morphs into Keanu Reaves, which is a creepy thought all by itself.  Kathy Bates plays the paranoid government official apparently in charge because the President is in hiding. The whole political set up is nonsense, even more naive than the 1950s version. He escapes, of course, and hooks up with Connelly again. The US - or Kathy Bates anyway - launches a pre-emptive missile strike, for no apparent reason and despite their claim that they want to keep things low profile to avoid a panic.  At this point, I'd written the movie off as a low level disaster.  Reeves mutters lots of ambiguous things about coming to "save the Earth", but not necessarily the human race.  He consults with another agent who has been on Earth for seventy years and who says we're self destructive but he won't leave when Reeves tells him that he's going to destroy the entire race.   The idea that an alien race would consider us a threat and pre-emptively strike was naive but understandable in the 1950s.  The way it's portrayed here is positively ignorant, environmentalism gone crazy.  For a supposedly benevolent race, he's awfully adept at violence and dealing death. The glowing light business also gets old very quickly and there are many other annoying details like totally inadequate support for military missions and so forth, inconsistencies in Kathy Baker's stance, and the silliness of trying to address the United Nations without making any earlier communications.  The resolution of the conflict is positively stupid and Klaatu has powers verging on the magical.  And when they finally convince Klaatu to reverse the process, with the blessing of Bates, they don't bother to use their cellphones to call in the news?  What a waste of time and, in some cases, talent.  Even the special effects are unimpressive. 5/14/09

Inferno (1970) 

Continuing my orgy of old Doctor Who serials. This is another of my favorites, even if some of the science does get more than slightly hokey - and the chief villain has a tendency to chew the scenery.  The scene is a project designed to tap energy from the core of the Earth, run by an obsessed and unpleasant project manager.  The drilling produces some green slime, contact with which turns a worker into a homicidal maniac. As the contagion spreads, the Doctor is transported by another malfunction into a parallel world where England is a dictatorship and encounters his friends in very different roles. The infected people begin to change into werewolfish monsters and the drilling gets out of control, releasing a flood of lava.  The Doctor has to save the day, more or less, in both realities as well as find a way to return to his original universe.  One of the most complex plots in the entire series, and one of the most suspenseful. 5/13/09

Spearhead from Space (1970) 

Tom Baker is certainly the most popular of all the actors to play Doctor Who, but personally I’ve always enjoyed the Jon Pertwee period better.  I thought the scripts were generally more interesting and I enjoyed his testiness more than Baker’s wit.  This was his first outing and one of my favorites.  The Doctor has been  confined to Earth temporarily by the Timelords, and becomes involved with UNIT, an international peacekeeping organization.  A shower of meteorites causes consternation, and leads the Doctor to the discovery that Earth is being invaded by the Autons, the best of the various alien races he numbers among his enemies.  The Autons can control plastic, so they bring department store manikins and telephones to life, among other things.  The Autons would appear more than once in the future, with increasingly better special effects.  This is the one in which the Doctor identities himself as Doctor John Smith, but it didn’t stick and he was always just the Doctor even to UNIT.  Liz Shaw is also one of his more interesting, and competent, companions.  This was based on a previously existing movie screenplay - presumably not involving the Doctor - that was never produced. 5/12/09

Night Gallery Season 1 (1970) 

Night Gallery never achieved the popularity of The Twilight Zone, possibly because anthology shows were disappearing.  The loose premise is that each story is linked to a painting in the gallery, and there are sometimes paintings involved in the stories.  The pilot consisted of three episodes, the first of which involves the murder of an artist and a painting which keeps changing, suggesting revenge from beyond the grave.  It’s quite suspenseful.  The second episode, directed by Stephen Spielberg, involves a nasty blind woman who is given a chance at sight, though only for a matter of hours, and is cheated when there is a major power failure and blackout.  The third, and weakest, involves a Nazi war criminal who seeks to escape his enemies by entering a painting. 

“The Dead Man” is based on a short story by Fritz Leiber, whose name is misspelled in the credits. It’s a creepy story about a man who dies under hypnosis, or does he?  “The Housekeeper” is a rather silly story about body switching. “Room with a View” is short and minor, but has excellent dialogue.  “The Little Black Bag@, based on the story by C.M. Kornbluth, is about a medical bag from the future that turns up in the hands of a present day derelict.  His vision of curing the ill comes to an end when he’s murdered by an avaricious associate.   A mission to the moon disappears in “The Nature of the Enemy,”  a silly joke episode in which intelligent mice build a mantrap. 

“The House” is a haunted house story based on a work by Andre Maurois. It’s clever but entirely too slow.  “Certain Shadows on the Wall” comes from a story by Mary Wilkins Freeman.  It’s also a kind of ghost story set within a dysfunctional family.  Much better.  “Make Me Laugh” is a predictable deal with the devil story, and you’ll also see the ending coming well in advance in “Clean Kills and Other Trophies”, in which a nasty hunter finds becomes a trophy in his own collection. “Pamela’s Voice” is a short, reasonably cute ghost story.  “Lone Survivor” goes on too long but has a creepy concept; a man in a lifeboat from the Titanic is picked up three years later, by the Lusitania.  “The Doll” is based on the story by Algernon Blackwood, and is a very nice rendition of the this classic about a malevolent doll, written before it became a cliche. They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” is a sentimental piece about a man who mourns the loss of the past, but it gets rather sloppy before it’s over and, frankly, the protagonist deserves much of his misfortune.  The ending is also unclear. “The Last Laurel” is an adaptation of “The Horsehair Trunk” by Davis Grubb.  A man who tries to commit murder by astral projection enters the wrong room.

The DVD set is augmented with episodes from Seasons 2 and 4 as well.  There are four very short pieces about a magical diary, which has an excellent surprise ending, and a cute but silly vampire vignette with Cesar Romero as Dracula.  "Big Surprise" is from a Richard Matheson story. There's also a very bad Cthulhu Mythos episode written by Jack Laird. "Return of the Sorcerer", from the Clark Ashton Smith story, is highlighted by Vincent Price. Alas, they camp it up too much so there's no suspense. And the passage that supposedly caused two translators to quit turns out to be completely innocuous. It's another one that goes on far too long. The last episode in "Whisper", is unwatchable, tedious, meandering, and with a really irritating soundtrack.  Overall, the first season episodes are generally quite good, but the added features are forgettable. 5/11/09

The Seeds of Death (1969) 

One of the last of Patrick Troughton’s outings as Doctor Who.  The setting is a moon base pivotal to the teleportation system used on Earth.  The Doctor arrives just as a party of warriors from the planet Mars invades the installation, planning to use it as the first step in their conquest of the Earth. There ensues a great deal of maneuvering as the Doctor tries to change the climate in the station to incapacitate the Martians, the Martians seek to capture him, the companions run around trying to avoid being captured, and human interpersonal conflicts complicates a united response to the invasion.  The Martians reminded me a great deal of the Cybermen, although I don't believe they ever made another appearance in the series despite the large number of stories set on future Earths.  This is another of my favorite early adventures - and probably my favorite Troughton, though it goes on perhaps a bit too long. 5/10/09

The Mind Robber (1968) 

This Doctor Who adventure has some interesting visual effects and costumes, but the story doesn’t really hold together, even by its own usual standards.  Through some kind of malfunction, the Doctor and his friends are stuck in outer space, then chased by mysterious robots, and finally find themselves trapped in a world where fictional characters are real, and dangerous.  The Doctor ends up in a chess like duel with the Master – not the Master who appears later and who is a renegade Timelord but another villain with the same name – and they use the characters both real and unreal against one another.  The companions play a more pivotal role in this than in many of the earlier ones and are able to destroy the device that controls the simulation.  It has its good moments, but this is really a pretty minor episode. 5/9/09

The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) 

I’ve always thought that the Cybermen were a much better villain for Doctor Who than the Daleks, and this is one of their better exploits.  This particular serial was thought to be lost but a print was discovered just recently, so this is one of the few adventures that I’d never seen before.  The Doctor lands on a planet where archaeologists are investigating a Cyberman tomb, believed to be dormant.  It doesn’t take much perspicacity to know that they’re wrong, and before long they’ve inadvertently restored a bunch of the robots to animate status.  The usual running around but this is one of the more sophisticated of the early plots and the story is quite suspenseful.  Probably my favorite of the Patrick Troughton series. 5/8/09

Trailer Park of Terror (2008) 

I’d heard that this was a spoof of horror movies, and I suppose it is, after a fashion.  It’s based on a comic book series I haven’t seen and it involves a bunch of high school students (all in their mid to late twenties) who run into a crowd of hillbilly zombies (they’re actually not zombies but close enough), created when an angry woman made a pact with what appears to be the devil. The opening is definitely not funny, a confrontation leading to a perhaps accidental murder.  Our introduction to the seriously troubled group of kids is pretty much a cliché, but it doesn’t matter much once the zombie action starts. One would think that the name Tophet Meadows Trailer Park might have warned them to avoid the place, since Tophet is where children used to be sacrificed to Moloch, but then none of these were particularly good students.  The chaperone is a pastor, however, and should have known better. The soundtrack is generally quite good, good enough that I noticed it, and despite the uneven plot and unknown cast, the acting is not bad at all.  Some of the camera work also stood out.  So-so special effects, mostly gore.  How does a head separated from a body issue a final cough with no lungs?  Pretty minor actually, and the supposed humor is barely detectible until the last half hour or so. I'm not sorry I watched it, but I'm not sure I'd ever watch it again.  5/7/09

The Web Planet (1965)   

One of the sillier other worlds adventures in the Doctor Who series with the first Doctor – William Hartnell - landing on a planet torn by war between the Menoptra, intelligent moths, and the Zarbi, less savory looking insects.  The Zarbi are being controlled by an outside agitator who wants to dominate both races.  Lots of running around before the good guys invade the interloper’s city and destroy him, restoring the Zarbi to their usual peaceful nature, and everyone lives happily ever after, except the villain.  Hartnell looks lost at times and the story is one of the least interesting in the entire series.  The alien costumes are positively silly, which makes it difficult to take the story at all seriously, but at the time it was still meant primarily as entertainment for children with clear moral lessons and no ambiguity about who was good and who was evil.  Chiefly of historical interest. 5/6/09

Murder She Wrote Season 8 (1992)

The eighth season opens with Jessica accepting a teaching position in New York City, living their part time.  Her new apartment in “Bite the Big Apple” is not promising; the previous tenant is found murdered, even though “it’s a very safe neighborhood.” This was the beginning of J. Michael Straczynski’s stint producing and sometimes writing the series, so I was expecting an upturn, and the first episode was just that, a complex and suspenseful story.  “Night Fears” is the first he wrote, in which Jessica has a stalker and tracks down a serial mugger.  A little rushed but a good episode. “Unauthorized Obituary”, the murder of an author of sensational expose books, is pretty good as well, although the killer is obvious.  She returns to Cabot Cove for “Thicker Than Water”, wherein the sheriff’s brother is the prime suspect in two murders.  The solution fooled me completely this time. 

“Lines of Excellence” is another good one, murder at a computer training school. I’m not convinced the blackmail setup was plausible, but I enjoyed it anyway.  A musician is murdered in “Judge Not”, which has a touch of the supernatural, a psychic woman and mysterious events suggesting a ghost. It’s also one of those in which a friend of the murder victim is allowed to handle the case, which just wouldn’t happen.   A wife beater gets killed in “Terminal Abuse” and there’s murder at a book fair in “A Killing in Vegas”, both solid episodes.  “The Committee” is excellent even though the killer is obvious, murder of a member of an exclusive club. The improvement over the previous season is dramatic. 

Jessica’s British spy friend returns in “The List of Yuri Lermentov.”  The title character gets murdered in her hotel room.  Not bad, but the police procedure is hokey.  “Danse Diabolique” is excellent.  Politics straight out of Phantom of the Opera at a ballet company, ending with murder.  “The Witch’s Curse” revolves around a recreation of a witchcraft trial that is mirrored in current events.  Okay, if you believe that people could so easily succumb to a belief in witchcraft.  The arrest is also nonsense; there’s not even circumstantial evidence.  The slightly creepy atmosphere continues briefly in “Incident in Lot 7.”  Jessica goes to Hollywood, which gives Straczynski a chance to poke fun at various film figures including writers, agents, and actors. The story includes some odd goings on in the Bates house from Psycho, plus a well done murder mystery. 

Jessica gets involved with jewel thieves in “Murder in Monte Carlo.”  Not bad but some of the characters’ reactions are unreasonably exaggerated and I thought the killer was obvious.  “Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief” takes her to London where she and Scotland Yard don’t get along well during a murder investigation. This one’s a bit silly, but the disappearing body caper is always fun.  Murder mixes with soap opera in “Ever After”, which has a nice mystery and no obvious solution. “Till the Last Will I Grapple with Thee” is excellent other than another arrest made with inadequate evidence.  An accusatory tape from the victim reflecting an animosity the police already knew about would not be enough to justify an arrest, let alone a conviction.  Richard Lynch is at his best as the villainous arch enemy of a retired Irish police officer. “Programmed for Murder” is okay but we’ve seen it all before, and some of the computer info is hokey.  A business deal comes under additional pressure from organized crime and murder is the result. Jessica’s doctor friend comes across as a real jerk this time, for some reason.

"Day of the Dead" is set in Mexico and involves theft of artifacts, a father protecting her daughter from a lecherous older man, infidelity, professional rivalries, drug smuggling, and personal animosities.  And a murder, naturally. Pretty good with some nice twists.  "Angel of Death" is almost a haunted house story, without ghosts. Not too bad, but I refuse to believe that such a brilliant man as the writer in the story would be so convinced that he was imagining things without taking simple efforts to see if someone else would confirm them.  For example, he washes what he believes to be phantom blood down a sink rather than show it to anyone else, and he doesn't confront the ghostly figure even when it walks right up to him. The killer is also rather obvious.  One of Dr. Hazlitt's friends from the war survived after all, but now he's accused of murder in "Badge of Honor", so Jessica has to clear his name.  Okay, but rather blaah. The season ended with "Murder on Madison Avenue."  One of Jessica's novels is being made into a board game, but murder intervenes. A good end to a very good season. 5/5/09

Lost in Time Volume 2 (1967-1968)   

This is a compilation of fragmented episodes and surviving bits from the second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton.  As with the Hartnell volume, these have been gathered together for fans and the complete stories are unavailable.  In The Moonbase the Cybermen return, using plague and subterfuge to seize a weather control base on the Moon and wreak havoc on Earth.  Aliens secretly rule a human colony world in The Macra Terror, there’s a crisis in Atlantis in The Underwater Menace, and the Doctor and friends find themselves visiting the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in The Highlanders.  The Daleks are back in The Power of the Daleks, seeking to control another human colony world.  There are robotic yeti in Web of Fear and real ones in The Abominable Snowmen.  Cybermen attempt to seize a space station in The Wheel in Space and a mutant creature in Fury from the DeepThe Space Pirates appears to have been a particularly complex episode about, you guessed it, space pirates.  Because these were incomplete, they were not televised during the various revivals and should be new to most American fans. 5/4/09

Lost in Time Volume 1  (1965-1966) 

Many of the adventures of the first Doctor Who have been lost, or at least only a few episodes have survived.  This is a compilation of fragments of four of these.  The Crusade is an historical one set in 12th Century Palestine.  Both the Crusaders and the Saracens are pretty villainous in this one with kidnappings, forced marriages, and so forth.  The Doctor and friends are happy to leave.  The Daleks’ Master Plan looks like it might have been a very good sequence.  The Daleks have launched another assault on the human race, but a number of spies, traitors, and others interact to defuse the crisis.  The Doctor’s role appears to be considerably smaller than usual.  The Smugglers involves pirates in 17th Century Cornwall.  The Doctor is captured and reveals a clue to the location of buried treasure.  The Tenth Planet involves an attack by the Cybermen on a relatively near future (now our past) Earth, thwarted by the Doctor’s ingenuity.  This was Hartnell’s last appearance in the role.  It’s a shame that so much of this period has been lost. 5/3/09

Sunshine (2007)

I didn't have much hope for this before I even loaded it, and the first few minutes confirmed my pessimism.  A spaceship is on the way to the sun, which is dying, to use a nuclear weapon to reignite it.  Too much of a suspension of disbelief even for my flexible credibility system.  The voiceover narration at the beginning is particularly annoying because of the affected, toneless voice. Most of the crew seems more or less nutty, which suggests a very poor mission design and preparation.  There are no safeguards where there should be and sometimes the crew doesn't seem to understand fundamentals about how the ship works. No fire control equipment either. We see this - and some pretty poor physical design as well - in a series of quick, sometimes obscure incidents mixed with mediocre special effects. Then they hear a distress signal from the previous mission - presumed lost - coming from the planet Mercury.  They decide to investigate after one of the most scientifically and logically ignorant conversations in movie history. They lost me almost completely at this point, only 22 minutes into the film.  Various crises threaten them, but I never cared about the characters enough to feel any suspense.  When they go aboard the derelict ship - WITHOUT SPACESUITS - it was the final straw.  Utter nonsense.  5/2/09

The Dalek Invasion of the Earth (1964)

The outer space comes to Earth in this classic episode of Doctor Who, later made into a feature film with Peter Cushing as the Doctor.  The Tardis returns to find London virtually empty and discover that the Daleks were not wiped out after all, and have now conquered the Earth.  Humans have been reduced to slave labor, some forced to wear control devices that turn them into robomen.  There is a resistance movement, of course, which the Doctor directs in an attack on the invaders to prevent them from turning the planet into an enormous spaceship.  There is considerable action, bomb throwing and the like, and a more ambitious production in general than the preceding ones.  His granddaughter Susan falls in love with one of the rebels and stays behind when the Tardis finally leaves, never to be seen again.  The Daleks were the first villains to repeat, and have been back numerous times since over the years.  In this version, however, their impractical nature – they can’t climb stairs – seems rather silly.  They later became mini-hovercraft, and more recently can simply levitate.  This is almost certainly the best of William Hartnell’s episodes, at least of those which have survived. 5/1/09

The Aztecs (1964) 

This early Doctor Who adventure is set in a reasonably accurate portrait of the Aztec world.  The series had begun alternating other world adventures with stories set in Earth’s past and this was one of the latter, intended to be at least mildly informative.  The Doctor’s female companion gets misidentified as a reincarnated priestess and his male companion finds himself with a powerful enemy when he is appointed head of the Aztec army.  The sets are a bit claustrophobic and the story a bit simplistic, but since we know there’s an eclipse coming, the method by which they extricate themselves and eventually recover the Tardis – locked inside a temple – is reasonably clever.  Perhaps a bit too long but not bad for what it was. 4/30/09

The Daleks & The Edge of Destruction (1964) 

These are the second and third adventures of the first Doctor Who.  The Daleks, who became the Doctor’s chief nemesis despite their silly design, make their appearance in the first.  The Doctor and his friends arrive on the planet Skaro which is inhabited by the human Thals and the brain-in-a-machine Daleks, the latter of whom are merciless and in command.  There’s a revolt and the story ends with the Daleks apparently wiped out and the Thals once again in control of their fate.  The Doctor shows none of his reluctance to commit genocide in this one, which will pop up in his dealings with the Daleks much later in the series.  The second adventure is more interesting, if somewhat claustrophobic.  Weird things are happening aboard the Tardis and the Doctor suspects his passengers are responsible, until young Susan finally guesses that the ship itself is trying to convey a warning to the Doctor that something is wrong.  Repairs are made and they proceed more normally.  This was the first evidence that the Tardis itself was in a sense alive.  Both of these are steps up from the pilot adventure and are still watchable in their own right. 4/29/09

Ghost Writer (2007) 

Good cast in this thriller – David Boreanaz, Anne Heche, etc. – about a control freak music teacher who becomes obsessed with a young writer who is renting a room from him.  Alan Cumming seemed a bit over the top as the obsessive crackpot and music snob while I thought this was meant to be serious, but it’s soon obvious that it’s at least partly a spoof. Boreanaz is a cad and takes advantage of his landlord, so Cumming demands that he pay off his debt and takes him prisoner.  The writer subsequently dies, so the nutcase arranges to have the man’s book published posthumously but under his own name.  Then the dead man’s ghost comes back to settle the score.  The sequence in which Boreanaz is tied up goes on far too long.  The remainder of the film is uneasy, some of it horribly overblown, some of it quite clever.  As a ghost, Boreanaz gets to go over the top for a while, after telling Cumming that they he will continue his writing career from beyond the grave (or in this case from beyond the garbage dump). Despite some good moments, I lost interest in this at times and was happy to see it finally come to an end.  Some interesting potential wasted. 4/28/09

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (1963)

The very first adventure of Doctor Who, back when it was still quite obviously a program for children.  The first Doctor, William Hartnell, was a grandfatherly type, although frequently grouchy, who was initially portrayed as a human being, grandfather of his first companion, a school girl whose two teachers become inadvertent passengers on the Tardis.  In their first excursion, they travel back to prehistoric Earth where a group of primitive people are attempting to rediscover the secret of fire, which they manage to acquire from the travelers by the end of the episode.  Crude, dimly lit, and indifferently acted, this has only a mild charm and if I'd seen it at the time, I would never expect the program to have lasted so long and become so popular.  Of course, if it hadn't raised its production values, it probably would not have.  I liked the granddaughter, who left the show after only a few more adventures, and the male teacher is also amusing.  4/27/09 

The Devil's Chair (2006)

Supernatural death in an abandoned insane asylum.  Now there's an original idea.  I almost passed this by but for 99 cents it seemed worth a look.  I've been surprised by unpromising ideas in the past.  A guy and his date go to the asylum in question to take drugs and run into more than they counted on.  There is a strategic error right at the outset.  The prologue shows the various characters dead, dying, covered in blood, and so forth and even provides glimpses of the "demon".  It also goes on way too long and I kept thinking "get on with it" to no avail.  The story is narrated by an ex-mental patient who saw his girlfriend mysteriously mutilated while sitting in a restraint chair, or did he actually kill her and construct the illusion in his mind, or is he just plain lying?  Years later, a research team brings him back to the scene to find the "truth".  Would a convicted, criminally insane murderer be allowed out after only four years?  A sometimes raucous, frequently annoying, and rarely appropriate soundtrack and washed out colors didn't help.  The first third of the movie was so implausible that I began to suspect this was all a further delusion rather than actual events. The alternative, of course, is that it was just very badly written.  Or both. There's also a problem with the set up.  If this is being narrated by the supposed psycho, how does he know what took place when he wasn't present? If this was a well planned outing, why are the staff completely unbriefed?  If the purpose is to write a book, why is no one taking notes? If it's to be a study of the killer's psychosis, why do they spend all their time talking about the history of the asylum instead?  Why did none of them interview the subject of their research in advance?  Why wasn't he told the conditions of his release until after he was outside?  Why do they intend to spend the night at the asylum when the crime occurred during the day?  Why don't they make any sanitary sleeping arrangements rather than use the rotting linens already there? Why did I continue to watch this nonsense?  When the explanations start, sort of, they just make it worse.  The head researcher says that the asylum was the site of forbidden experiments (surprise!) and that the chair was actually a gateway to another reality.  It's just a wooden chair with some buckles attached!  And why would the scientist believe this theory with no evidence whatsoever? So naturally one of the women decides to prove he's delusional by taking him, alone, to the chair and sitting in it  After that it gets worse. Some of the implausibility is explained by the fact that it's an illusion, but it's too late and too little to help.  The old scientist is, incidentally, possibly the worst actor I've ever seen. "Look at this poorly written, badly acted bullshit?"  This is a quote from the movie, and a very appropriate one.  Godawful. 4/26/09

Smallville Season 3 (2004)

Season 2 ended with Clark Kent corrupted by the wrong kind of kryptonite, running away from home after a tragedy that was partly his fault.  This season opens with him living it up and committing crimes in Metropolis in “Exile.” Meanwhile, Lex Luthor survived the plane crash from last season and is stuck on a remote island with a psychopath for company, except the psychopath isn’t real.  The various plotlines get resolved mostly in “Phoenix”, with Clark being freed from the red kryptonite’s power, thanks to Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, and Lex getting revenge for the attempt on his life.  Luthor continues to be the most interesting character in the cast, and the Clark/Lana love affair gets to be a bit of a tear jerker.   

“Extinction” involves a killer targeting people affected by the meteorite storm that accompanied Clark’s arrival on Earth and it includes a scene with Lana swimming alone, at night, in the school’s swimming pool.  Not plausible.  They gave Lana some control of her own destiny this season; she has three fights with menacing men and holds her own during episodes 2 and 3.  A comatose woman invades Clark’s dreams in “Slumber”, an above average episode.  Perry White appears as a rundown reporter in “Perry”, witnessing Clark’s super strength.  Unfortunately, this episode also betrays the inconsistency in the writing.  Since it is established fact that several people were physically changed after exposure to the meteor strike on Smallville years earlier, it makes no sense for it all to be dismissed by the public in this episode as wild stories.  It’s also not credible that Clark’s secret wasn’t out long before, since he uses his strength and super speed in easy public view on multiple occasions. There’s also a continuity problem, since the Wall of Weird is back, even though Chloe took it down two episodes back. Clark’s truck keeps changing colors as well. There is a good sequence when Clark inadvertently tosses a tractor several miles. 

“Relic” is one of those annoying stories which doesn’t examine its own premise.  Clark experiences flashbacks to a love affair and murder in the 1950s, apparently reliving the experiences of his father on an earlier visit to Earth.  An accident with kryptonite gives a boy magnetic power in “Magnetism”, which somehow affords him the ability to control other people’s feelings. The tension between Lex Luthor and his father gets homicidal, complicated by his precarious mental state in “Shattered.” Lousy script.  “Asylum” is even greater nonsense.  One cannot access confidential medical records on line as Clark does to discover Lex is to be given electroshock therapy.  Nor would they keep super powered villains there, virtually unsupervised.  Nor could Clark and Chloe just walk into a secured facility. 

“Whisper” opens with another implausibility.  Clark is temporarily blinded but he’s in school the very next day to pick up his books!  The tension between Clark and Lana is advanced again through simpleminded dialogue in which they misinterpret each other’s intentions, much like the fights among Marvel superheroes.  The idea of having him use super hearing to track down a kidnapped friend might have worked, except the solution comes by coincidence, not use of his wits.  And why does he feel pain when the villain waves a torch in his face?  And since Clark found Pete in the garage, only to lose him again, why does no one know that he’s been kidnapped by the tow truck driver? The bit about forcing the judge to release a criminal because of the kidnapping is utter nonsense.  “Delete” also gets off on a bad foot with a profoundly ignorant scene between Lex and a computer support person, followed by another stupid scene in which Luthorcorp takes back the computers it “donated” to the school.  If they were donated, they can’t be taken back.  I’m afraid the early promise of this show was mortally wounded by consistently bad writing in the third season.  There’s also bad continuity between episodes, as in this case the attitude of Lana toward Clark, which appears to change back and forth, and not in a natural way.  The main plot is dumb as well.  Emails are subjected to a virus that programs people using them to try to kill Chloe.  Even assuming that it was possible, if anyone had such technology, they wouldn’t be wasting it murdering a teenager.  Don’t the writers ever think about what they’re writing?  Or don’t they care? Lana is suspicious of her new boyfriend’s various skills, which also makes no sense in context.  An absolutely terrible episode. 

There’s a new kid who has visions of the future in “Hereafter”, but once again the writing is atrocious.  He’s suspected in the disappearance of a girl because of an argument, but he never left Clark’s presence during the interim and clearly could not have done it, but Clark says nothing.  And Clark, who knows about the premonitions, stays with him instead of with the girl who is in danger.  It’s also amazing, again, how easily outsiders can just walk into the school building without being questioned. Clark’s friend Pete gets involved with illegal street racing in “Velocity,” and Lana’s new boyfriend appears to have come back from the dead.  Ok episode, except that when Pete’s life is threatened, why doesn’t he inform the police?  And some of Clark’s dialogue is pretty nonsensical.  He tells Pete he would never let anything happen to him, but Pete is bruised and bloodied at that very moment from the beating he took from the bad guys.  Clark gets a groupie in “Obsession”, a teleporting female student who sees him using his superpowers when their elevator malfunctions.  Apparently in Metropolis elevators aren’t required to have safety brakes.  This was a good episode except that the actress playing the teleporting high school was 24 at the time and looks it.  “Resurrection” advances various subplots, some of which climax or take a sudden turn in “Crisis”, wherein Clark gets a call from Lana, but from Lana a day in the future when she’s in danger.  There are lots of plot holes in these, e.g., why are they secretly rejuvenating bodies, then letting them waltz around of their own free will to die? 

“Legacy” is filled with bad dialogue. Lana’s character has also become inconsistent from one episode to the next.  Lex is working with the FBI to put his father in prison and Lionel is trying to discover the secret of the caves because it hopes for a cure for his terminal illness.  “Truth” is a pretty good episode in which Chloe temporarily has the ability to compel people to tell the truth, which she misuses dreadfully.  Whoever wrote the script appears to have confused “levitas” with “veritas”, and the way Clark finds a cure for her condition is absurd. “Memoria” is mostly about Lex’s attempts to regain his lost memories, an okay but uninspired episode that goes on too long after the climax.  An ancient artifact, not kryptonite, proves capable of harming Clark in the rather boring "Talisman."   An old nemesis, a superpowered girl obsessed with Lana, returns in the slightly better "Forsaken", and Lionel Luthor is finally arrested.  The season ended with the appearance of a young woman claiming to be from Krypton in "Covenant."  There's also a continuation of the Lex Luthor subplot that includes some very dubious legal "facts" and Clark's parents get some really dumb dialogue.

This was a repeat of the tone and quality of season two, with the same high and low points.  I still find Lex Luthor to be the most interesting character and his part of the story took some interesting twists.  On the other hand, the writing is still sloppy, and there is a continuing problem with continuity.  Crises between members of the cast in one episode are completely forgotten in the next, and sometimes even devices, discoveries, and powers seem to have been wiped from everyone's consciousness.  There is also an awful lot of kryptonite in Smallville. Nor do I care for the infusion of magic and supernatural elements, which jar with the premise.  Not bad enough to put me off the show, but not good enough to suck me in as did Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Bones.  4/25/09

Quarantine (2009)

I saw an intriguing trailer for this one, but I know from experience that trailers aren't always representative of the actual movie.  The opening's not bad, a television reporter getting a grand tour of a local fire department, quite believable although it seems too long a prologue considering its irrelevance to the rest of the movie. They tag along on a call to an apartment building and find themselves trapped in a quarantine zone with a mutant virus that turns people into killers - yes, it's that story again - and the only record of what happens is a videotape found later - yes, it's another Cloverdale clone with a smaller budget.  I didn't like the one with the big budget, so the odds were not in my favor of liking this one.  Initially they find an elderly woman acting bizarrely.  She attacks one of the police officers and when they try to get her to an ambulance, they discover the building has been secured from the outside.  How the authorities could have managed this is a mystery, as well as cutting off cell phones and all other means of communicating.  Doesn't make much sense either since the searchlights, helicopters, and sirens would have alerted the public that there was something big going on. The story progresses rather predictably with the contagion spreading and the body count rising.  Other than being very dark, which is realistic given the setting, it's actually not badly done.  The acting is convincing and things progress logically.  Nothing brilliant, but nothing too outrageously wrong either.  Not an uplifting film. 4/24/09

I Want to Believe (2008)

I enjoyed the X Files for the first couple of seasons, but lost interest when it got obsessed with conspiracies.  I didn't care for the earlier feature length film, and I didn't even know this one existed until it showed up in the bargain bin at the local video store.  It opens with the mysterious disappearance of a female FBI agent and the discovery of a buried human arm that appears to be from one of the men who abducted her.  The FBI will drop the trumped up charges against Mulder if he comes back to help them find the missing woman, whose fate is linked to psychic visions experienced by a priest.  Scully's attitude toward the priest, despite the fact that he's a convicted pedophile, is indefensible.  The dichotomy between rationalist Scully and believer Mulder was pretty shopworn by season two, and it's decidedly anachronistic this time around. The understated, low key presentation prevalent in the first half in particular works well but may have lost some of its viewers for the theatrical release because not a great deal happens.  The skepticism of the other agents also wears a bit.  There's one pretty good chase sequence, but how come the agents on the raid don't have radios or any other means of communicating with one another? Scully also has a young, terminally ill patient to worry about.  The visions continue, but of course they're not clear, like seeing through "dirty glass". There are links between the various story lines, and an attempt to suggest some profound statement about personal conscience and the consequences of old sins and new attempts at redemption, but the story never picks up enough to really involve the viewer and I'm not surprised this never rose from obscurity, and it goes on too long.  Scully's sudden reversal in attitude about the FBI after talking Mulder into looking into the case is unexplained and unbelievable.  I understand there's another movie in the making.  I can't imagine why.  4/22/09

Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008)

I picked this up without realizing that it was an animated film, although it's one of those that appears to be modeled on actual film of people, at least in part, acting.  In any case, it's good enough that I wasn't consciously aware of the fact that it was animated. The plane crash early on is actually quite impressive. The premise, if you haven't seen the earlier ones, is that the Umbrella Corporation did something that has caused a plague of zombies in the Gene Romero rather than Haitian sense. This time it's used in a terrorist attack at an airport. The dialogue, however, is comic book level, in the worst sense.  Exaggerated caricatures, unrealistic reactions, and silly situations.  Anyway, a young woman gets involved in an airport demonstration that turns into a zombie fest.  Since this is seven years after the first outbreak, I'm not sure why so many people are so completely ignorant of the situation.  The macho soldier and the nasty senator are extremely annoying.  The kid is pretty irritating as well.  There's a rescue mission and much of the movie looks more like a video game than anything else - not surprising since that's how this all started. Then we discover the company has an even weirder drug, this one turning people into monsters that look stupid and defy the law of conservation of mass and energy. The plot doesn't make a lot of sense.  The senator would not have the kind of authority he shows.  The vaccine is destroyed by terrorists outraged by the original release of the plague.  So I hate this disease so I'm going to make it impossible to prevent its spread?  Sure, that makes sense. A lot of other individual scenes make no sense either, like the woman who rescues a child and then concludes she should not have done so because some of her rescue team members were hurt in the process. If some of the care put into the visual appearance of this was applied to the script, it might have been a far better movie. Stupid quote:  "If you don't try to save one life, you'll never save any."  4/21/09

Boogeyman 3 (2008)

A college student is suspicious of the death of her roommate, dismissed as a suicide, because she suspects that the supernatural Boogeyman is responsible.  Supernatural killers like this are frequently depicted as essentially undefeatable, which drives me crazy because if the characters have no chance to win - even if ultimately they lose - then there's no real suspense.  It's just a matter of how and when they will die. The plot is almost always the same.  The protagonist knows the truth, can't convince anyone else, and they start dying one by one, sometimes in clever and almost always in horrible ways. This one opens fairly well, with some genuinely creepy scenes as the first victim is stalked in her own apartment. The protagonist is training to be a psychiatrist and also works a radio help line for the emotionally troubled.  The Boogeyman, who appears only in flashes, is moderately well done but nothing special. The acting isn't bad, but the star seems to me too old for the part. It's not at all clear how the Boogeyman chooses his victims.  Part of the premise is that the Boogeyman can only touch the ones who believe in him, but several of his victims clearly don't, which invalidates the entire story line. This one has its moments, some of them quite good, but there were too many unresolved questions for me to be more enthusiastic. Also too many dream sequences and I very much doubt that campus security would have monitored cells for prisoners - they would have called the local police.  The end makes no sense either.  4/19/09

Bob Newhart Season 1 (1972)

Bob Newhart’s trademark as a standup comic was his one sided telephone conversations, so it’s only appropriate that the first show in this series starts with one.  In the opener, Bob – a psychologist – is taking his fear of flying class via airplane to New York City and invites his wife, Suzanne Pleshette.  Great supporting cast – Marcia Wallace as his secretary, Peter Bonerz as the dentist in the same building, Bill Daily as his airline pilot friend.  Many of the best bits from the whole season are telephone conversations, but there are other good bits, such as his effort to explain psychology to an elementary school class, dealing with his mother, entertaining an old girlfriend, or dealing with his independently minded secretary.  The argument about Monday Night Football is one of the highpoints of season 1, as is the romance between neighbor Howard and secretary Carol and the Christmas episode.  The pilot is interesting – different apartment and different neighbors.  The one where Carol quits as Bob's secretary is also quite good.  There's a bad continuity problem in the birthday episode.  They forget that an expensive watch is engraved and can't be exchanged. 4/18/09

Brotherhood of Blood (2007)

After reading several novels about good vampires, I needed something with evil ones, and this looked like just the thing.  Unfortunately, it got off to a rocky start, hard to follow, indifferently acted, and with a limp soundtrack.  Apparently Sid Haig runs a nest of vampires which is searching for someone and interrogating a pair of vampire hunters they have captured, almost as though I'd missed the first reel.  Then we jump back through time to find out how we got there.  The vampire hunters are run like a bureaucracy at times and they're not as good at acting as are most of the vampires, who can get away with mugging for the camera a bit.  The story picks up a bit as it goes along, but the bad acting just kept interfering with my ability to immerse myself in it.  The fact that the characters are all so unlikeable didn't help either.  For vampire groupies only, I'm afraid, despite a good performance by Haig.  4/17/09

Slaughter (2009)

The “based on true events” label put me off immediately.  For one thing, it limits the possibilities in a horror movie.  For another, it’s almost always an empty claim.  Either the actual facts are ignored or they’re twisted beyond recognition. A woman temporarily moves in with a friend and her family, but begins to suspect that the family is butchering something other than hogs in their slaughterhouse. She’s also pursued by an abusive boyfriend and I guessed right off that the two story lines were going to collide.  Like many low budget horror movies, it’s underlit and color poor.  Some of the camera work bothered me a bit as well, odd angles and things that were more distracting than informative.  The story isn’t bad but it drags at times, although the twist at the end did catch me a bit by surprise.  The ending is dragged out interminably however. 4/16/09

The Substitute (2007)

Another blend of horror, science fiction, and humor.  Aliens from another world send a mysterious emissary to Earth, who lands on a chicken farm to the consternation of the farmer, to say nothing of the chickens. We switch to a junior high school where a substitute teacher makes a strange appearance.  Most of the kids and faculty are pretty peculiar as well, accentuated by the fact that this is a foreign language film very badly dubbed from the Danish.  The colors are also very washed out and everything seems too dark.  The tone goes from humor to suspense apparently at random and not very effectively.  The sentimental scenes with the kids lamenting their dead mother are sicky sweet.  The dialogue is sometimes nonsensical, as though whoever dubbed it didn't speak English well.  I almost gave up on this at the twenty minute mark but decided to hold on for a while longer and through lethargy watched until the end.  Incoherent script, undistinguished acting, terrible special effects, dumb story, and inconsistent tone persist throughout.  Definitely not worth your time.  4/15/09

Dark Floors (2008) 

A young girl is nearly injured when a hospital scanner appears to malfunction and her father decides to take her away.  Before they can leave, the elevator malfunctions and the hospital appears deserted except for a handful of people when they emerge.  I suspected from the outset that the girl, who is obsessed with a red crayon, is somehow responsible.  Monsters begin to appear – apparently played by members of a Finnish rock band.  The opening scenes are quite effective although the washed out color bothered me.  Not surprisingly, the suspense drops some when we actually see the monsters.  The special effects are pretty good, but after a while the plot starts to repeat itself.  How many times can we watch the survivors escaping from monsters and fighting among themselves.  The end is dissatisfying, apparently some kind of dream the girl was having while undergoing the medical tests. 4/14/09

Dance of the Dead (2008) 

This blend of horror and humor actually starts out pretty well, despite its familiar tropes, with a cemetery keeper casually dealing with the reanimated dead in the shadow of a nuclear plant.  As usual most of the teenagers look to be in their mid to late twenties, and as usual the teacher we meet is sadistic, insensitive, and his behavior would get him fired instantly virtually anywhere. But since this is supposed to be funny, we’ll overlook that.  The acting in this is actually pretty good, deliberately exaggerated at times, and the photography and script are both well above average for this sort of thing.  Anyway, it’s prom night, the geeks are visiting the graveyard instead, and various subplots are unfolding.  Yes, it’s flesh eating zombies that crash the party. Not the shambling kind either.  These literally exploded from their graves and run down their prey. The teacher killed by the zombie frog is a high point. “Little lady, you get the machete.”  “But I don’t know how to shoot a machete.”  I liked this as much as Shaun of the Dead, which is considerable.  Much better than I was expecting and something I’ll watch again. 4/13/09

Voices (2007) 

This is a subtitled South Korean horror film about a young girl who witnesses the death of two relatives and begins to suspect that she may be the next target because of a curse cast upon her family.  Then she has a dream of her own death, and a close friend tries to kill her.  Then a teacher tries, and another friend, and then her own mother.  Eventually she meets a man who has been investigating the phenomenon, which has affected other families as well.  Most of the incidents are telegraphed, which hurts the element of suspense, but the final twist caught me completely by surprise.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an American remake of this in the not too distant future, probably with more of an explanation of what actually happened, since that’s not always clear in Asian horror films. 4/12/09

War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008) 2184 

Sequel to a cheap CGI version of the H.G. Wells novel starring C. Thomas Howell.  The tripods look more like spiders than anything else.  The story opens with Earth devastated, although the Martians were defeated, for a while.  Two years later, a new invasion starts.  Bad acting and amateurish camera work mark this as a disaster right from the outset.  The first several minutes of the movie – during which human scientists are harvesting technology from the wrecked Martian machines – is relentlessly boring.  The reorganized forces have working vehicles and clear roadways, but some of them are wearing rags instead of clothing?  The Martian ships cause audible sonic booms when they enter Earth’s atmosphere?  The human fighters are launched by means of a desktop PC and can reach outer space?   Their plan is to attack the Martian mother ship because that means all the rest will stop functioning.  Why?  They reach escape velocity without an increase in gravity?  A convenient time warp opens and the mother ship and its attackers disappear, then reappear orbiting Mars, although they’re still in instantaneous radio communication with Earth, which means they didn’t travel through time, so why is it a time warp?  One of the pilots immediately knows they jumped through time. Some humans have been taken to replicas of human cities on Mars.  “We make everything around here.  No resources.”  So how do they make things?  This is so horribly, relentlessly stupid and badly produced and acted that the plot holes – chasms actually – seem insignificant.  I just don’t understand how things like this get produced (presumably they make money).  Even in the days of really bad SF paperback originals, the results weren’t this bad. 4/11/09

Best of the Mickey Mouse Club (1957-1962)  

This is a selection of episodes from the Mickey Mouse Club, which I haven’t seen in more than forty years.  I’m surprised that all that is available is this selection of five shows given how much material there is, but maybe more will be forthcoming.  Certainly there’s no realistic way to pick a best five out of more than 300 episodes. There are several musical numbers and skits in the episode from 1957.  Darlene has a pretty good solo number.  She later became a nurse and then was convicted of a variety of crimes including fraud and perjury.  Others of the cast are less talented singers, although some of the numbers are cute. Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine provide a stint as the Hardy Boys.  Their subsequent careers were lackluster.  Cubby became a drummer for the Carpenters.  Most of the rest of them had minor careers in Hollywood, except of course for Annette, who acted and sang for several years.  The second segment is dated five years after the first, which is impossible since the show only ran in this form from 1955 to 1959.  Guest star is Ronnie Robertson, an Olympic figure skater.  The Dixieland episode is excellent, the only one I think qualifies for the “best of” label.  The circus episode has some good comic jugglers as well.  A mix of nostalgia and genuine entertainment. 4/10/09

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) 

Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife comes to the screen, with a Charles Beaumont screenplay, also known as Night of the Eagle, and was also remade as Witches’ Brew.  It has nothing to do with the A. Merritt novel of the same title. When a college professor discovers that his wife is a practicing witch, he orders her to stop even though she insists she has been protecting him.  It turns out that other faculty wives are also witches and the academic rat race is more dangerous than it appears. It’s necessary for the plot, but the husband comes across as more than a bit of a cad, which lessened my sympathy for him.  She decides to give her own life to save him and he ultimately resorts to magic in order to save her. His fortunes change overnight, with a near accident, an accusation of an affair, and a death threat.    It has several good moments and some nice photography and sets, and the giant eagle is nicely done.  Adaptation is by Richard Matheson. Overall, a very under rated film aided by superior performances from the cast. 4/9/09

Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday (1982)  

The fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, and his three young companions materialize aboard a spaceship in the vicinity of Earth. This particular set of supporting characters is one which I found universally annoying throughout their tenure on the show and they're at their worst here.  The ship is ruled by Monarch, an alien en route to Earth, with representative samples of several Earth cultures aboard.  Predictably, we learn that the ship holds a computerized version of the population of a dead world who intend to take over the Earth.  Lots of running around, captures and escapes, duplicity and corny lines. Not one of the more intelligent scripts, I’m afraid, and the science is bogus.  Adric’s stupidity is monumental in this one and his actions frequently make no sense. One of the least interesting Doctor Who stories. 4/7/09

Curse of the Demon (1957)

This is based on M.R. James’ classic short story, “Casting the Runes.”  A scientist is hounded to death by a demon after receiving a rune from a cult leader whom he has been investigating.  Dana Andrews decides to look into things.  He’s a skeptic, so we don’t he’s going to have his eyes opened, or perhaps permanently closed. The cultist gives him a rune card giving him two weeks to live.  The curse must be freely accepted so he can’t just demand that the man take it back. The demon is pretty crude by contemporary standards but serves its purpose here. Andrews maintains his disbelief until the final day, then discovers that he’s really in danger.  This is one of the classic, low budget black and white horror movies, and it holds up remarkably well today.  It maintains the spirit and much of the basic plot of the original.  I’ve seen Night of the Demon listed as a sequel to this, but it appears to be just a retitling.  4/7/09

The Naked Witch (1964) 

I’d never heard of this one before, and having seen it, I can understand why.  Borrowing a soundtrack from Night of the Living Dead, this is about a researcher who unearths a dead witch in Texas.  She’s naked and seductive and that’s pretty much what the story is about, although it’s garnished with some silly lectures about the history of witchcraft, and even a diversion into art history for some reason – probably to fill space.  In fact, the narration lasts for the entire first nine and a half minutes of the movie, much of it inaccurate, all of it badly written.  Much of the rest of the film is also narrated rather than having actual dialogue, and the photography is grainy, badly shot, and utterly boring.  The second opening dialogue, about the history of the region, takes us to the fifteen minute mark, still with no story.  It’s accompanied by totally inappropriate organ music.  And are there really entirely German speaking communities in Texas?  The actors, incidentally, openly acknowledge the presence of the camera.  Finally a trace of story when a student traveling in the area runs out of gas. “An ominous feeling crept over me.”  Then, finally, some bad dialogue. He hears rumors of a dead witch and, for no good reason decides to dig her up.  She’s restored to life, naked, but there’s a dark blur covering most of her body, and she wreaks revenge before her defeat. Amateurish, boring, and stupid. 4/6/09

The Happening (2008) 

I’m afraid I feel that M. Night Shyamalan, despite some excellent bits and pieces, has declined pretty steadily since The Sixth SenseThe Lady in the Water was so bad that I was reluctant to watch this new one at all.  I resisted the temptation to look up the story line because I knew it was supposed to be mysterious.  It opens with a woman having some kind of weird vision in which people freeze up around her, after which one sticks a knife in her own throat.  Then construction workers begin jumping off the roof of a building. The official explanation is a terrorist attack with hallucinogenic gas, but one school scene suggests it might be an inexplicable act of nature.  The chief protagonist is a science teacher whose wife is behaving strangely.  A trainload of evacuees is stranded in a small town in Pennsylvania after all external communications are cut off.  Interesting set up, but I didn’t believe it.  There’s no aura of panic or even great concern despite reports of outbreaks in several cities and a complete lack of information.  The effects spread and a small group ends up trapped in an unaffected area in the middle of nowhere.  The first half of the movie is pretty good, but the suspense starts to drop after a while and there’s not enough story to sustain interest. The scene at the boarded up house is dreadful and I only half watched from that point forward.  The tv broadcast with statistics on the incidents is completely implausible.  The subplot with the crazy lady doesn’t work either.  The science is also completely bogus. Better than the last, but not by much. 4/5/09

Torchwood Season 2 (2008) 

Captain Jack, who disappeared at the end of last season without explanation, reappears in the opening episode, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, also without explanation.  James Marsters guest stars as a rogue time agent gone bad, an old lover of Jack’s.  The plot’s not bad but the whole thing seems very rushed.  Marsters is quite good though.  “Sleeper” is much better.  Two burglars are killed when an alien sleeper agent protects herself.  Torchwood tries to make her temporary human personality permanent, but when they start doing so, a number of other agents become conscious of their true identities.  It’s an unusually violent episode with lots of explosions and bloody deaths.  “To the Last Man” has a lot of scientific doubletalk to explain its time paradoxes, but the drama involving a cast member in love with a man out of time who must sacrifice himself to save the world is quite effective. 

In “Meat”, entrepreneurs have found an oversized alien mass that keeps growing, so they harvest meat from it and sell it to slaughterhouses.  There’s a strong underplot because one of the female team members is spotted on her secret job by her fiancé, who becomes intimately involved in the operation despite her objection.  “Adam” is an alien who can manipulate memories.  In an echo of a Buffy episode, he convinces the team that he has always been a member.  The concept wasn’t completely thought through, no pun intended, but works reasonably well.  “Reset” is better, with the team uncovering a plot to use alien lifeforms on human subjects.  It ends with one of the team members being killed, but we know he’s going to get better. Sure enough, he’s up and around in “Dead Man Walking”, but without a pulse. A few good lines in this one and an interesting story, although it’s more supernatural than SF, and I’ve never heard of a hospital whose exit doors are locked from the outside.  One of the kids has a good line.  He’s trying to refuse chemo treatment for cancer and says “if I’m going to die, I might as well do it with eyebrows.”  Owen is still the animated dead in “A Day in the Death”, which is mostly about him coming to terms with his condition.  

Gwen gets bitten by an alien and wakes up with an advanced pregnancy in “Something Borrowed”, which threatens her own wedding day. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Although she knows that it’s an alien and that it will be removed surgically, she lets people think she and her fiancé are the parents. It finally occurs to them that this isn’t a good idea, and that’s before the dead creature’s mate shows up at the wedding. The latter part of the episode is actually quite good, however.  “From Out of the Rain” is more atmospheric and involves the supernatural.  An old film of a traveling show magically releases some of its figures to commit murders in the modern world.  Too slow, and I find supernatural elements clash too much with the premise of this series for me to find them credible.  The solution relies on a series of coincidences, which was also unsatisfying. 

Gwen discovers that the rift that brings aliens to Earth has also been responsible for a number of missing persons in “Adrift”.  It turns out the people taken were altered by the experience and are kept in a special hidden facility.  Jack knows but won’t tell her until she finds out herself, a plot complication that doesn’t make any sense.  Why not just tell her?  The attempt to reunite one with his mother goes horribly wrong, also because no one bothers to tell Gwen the truth about the patient.  Bad script with good intentions. “Fragments” is an origin story, showing how each of the team members was recruited. Continuity problem in this one.  He’s signing his name as Jack Harkness in the 19th Century, but we know from an earlier episode that he didn’t adopt that name until World War I.  We also have James Marsters back, determined to torment Jack, which leads us to the final episode of the season, “Exit Wounds.”  But it turns out he’s being controlled by someone else, someone from Jack’s past.  Another continuity problem.  Jack says it would be disastrous if he met himself by time traveling, but this is supposed to be the Doctor Who universe, where the Doctor has done so numerous times. A rousing finale, with two of the team members dying, apparently for real.  Very uneven series over all with some very good bits and occasional lapses of logic. 4/4/09

The Hurricane Express (1932)

John Wayne stars in this Mascot cliffhanger serial.  When a villain sabotages a train and kills Wayne’s father, he decides to find out who is responsible.  The plot is complicated because there’s an escaped convict trying to clear his name, and other disaffected employees and business rivals.  The villain, the Wrecker, uses life masks to impersonate members of the crew, facilitating his sabotage.  Wayne is briefly suspected, but the charges don’t stick. There’s also a love interest, daughter of the convict, who’s trying to convince him to go back to prison. Much of the action involves planes and trains, but there’s a pretty good car chase too. As with most serials, no one knows how to keep someone covered with a gun, no one loses his hat in a fist fight, and no one can shoot straight except when it’s convenient to the plot.  The secret identity of the villain is also painfully obvious. The episodes are shorter than Republic serials so this one goes by pretty quickly.  Nothing special, but not as crude and slipshod as most. 4/3/09

 Doctor Who: The War Machines (1966)

The first Doctor in one of his best adventures, probably inspired by Colossus by D.F. Jones, published in England that same year.  WOTAN is a new, worldwide computer system that decides it should be master of the human race. Somehow it has acquired the ability to control the thoughts of staff members and make them its slaves.  The Doctor is mistakenly referred to as human in this one, which was before they had the mythos worked out. His companion, Dodo, is subverted by WOTAN in order to trap the Doctor. His slaves build some war machines that look a little like Daleks.  Hartnell flubs a few lines but recovers smoothly.  This one's pretty low key.  People are taken over, then freed, imprisoned, then escape.  The Doctor is, of course, immune to the mind control and eventually defeats the menace.  Very low budget and not very convincing, but this was very early, while the show was still aimed primarily at children.  4/2/09

Scourge (2008)

Although this looked like an interesting and well done horror film, it turned out to be a very mixed bag.  The special effects weren't bad at all, a creepy looking parasite that moves from body to body, killing each host as it leaves.  Not very original, but a good standby.  Unfortunately, the acting was bad and the writing was less than scintillating, with more cliches than you could shake a stick at.  The bad boy returns home to visit the girl he wronged, gets rousted by the sheriff, is the only one to realize what's happening, gets blamed for the first few deaths until the sheriff gets taken over, then saves the day.  And the movie should have ended at the climactic scene where the sheriff's possessed body dies, not twenty minutes later.  The logic isn't great either.  The creatures can be driven out by electricity and made comatose by immersing them in alcohol.  No word on how the ancients - yes, this is an ancient evil unleashed following the burning of a church - figured all this out.  Watchable, but just barely.  4/1/09

 

 

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