Archive for the Classic TV Shows Category

Quick Cuts: The STAR TREK Edition

Posted in 2013, Classic TV Shows, Quick Cuts, Science Fiction, Star Trek with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  STAR TREK
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome, everybody, to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  With J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS  in theaters now, we’re going to talk some STAR TREK.

Specifically, I want to know if the original STAR TREK has been surpassed by any of the other series.  Have Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ever been bested?

Today L.L. Soares and I are joined on our Cinema Knife Fight panel by Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

Here’s our first question.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?  Kirk?  Picard?  Or someone else?

Ladies first.  We’ll start with you, Colleen.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  I come from the generation that grew up on the original STAR TREK television show, as well as the films.  While I did watch THE NEXT GENERATION and love Patrick Stewart, the original is still the best. 

When it comes to the Captain of the Starship Enterprise Kirk is hands down the MAN.  Shatner’s overacting is rather endearing.  And how do you not love a guy who practically had a girl in every inhabited planet of the universe?

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

ARRUDA:  I can’t argue with that line of thinking.  (The rest of the panel agrees, except for L.L. SOARES who shakes his head.)

L.L. SOARES:  I dunno.  While Kirk certainly smooched lots of alien women, I don’t think he had sex with them as often as he should have.  He should have taken things to the next level.

ARRUDA:  I don’t think Kirk wanted to be responsible for little hybrid alien children following him around on the bridge.

DAN KEOHANE:  Though it took a couple of seasons to warm up to him, I have to admit Picard’s character grew on me. Kirk will always have a special place since childhood, and he was a hoot, but Picard brought a Shakespearean charm to the con. So in effect, there’s a tie, Kirk & Picard. The others from the other series were OK, but not to the level of these two.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

SOARES:  A tie?  You never make up your mind, Dan.  Be a man! Make a decision!  Do you even pick out your own clothes?

KEOHANE:  I pick out my own clothes—- eventually.  (Dons his best “deer in the headlights” expression.) Blue— or black?

ARRUDA:  Well, I’m old school, so my favorite starship captain is Kirk. 

While I definitely grew to like Picard a lot, too, I’ve always enjoyed Kirk’s off the cuff thinking, his “no lose” attitude, in which he’ll do whatever it takes to protect his ship and crew, and his constant sparring with Spock and McCoy.

MCMAHON:  My favorite captain is Benjamin Sisko from DEEP SPACE NINE.

Captain Benjamin Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko

From the very first episode he doesn’t want the job, he’s put off by the responsibility, but even more than that he can’t stand to shirk his duties when other people need him. Throughout DEEP SPACE NINE he fights as hard as he can against everything that comes up, refusing to quit because that’s what everyone (most of all himself) expects him to do.

SOARES:  What the hell is DEEP SPACE NINE?

MCMAHON: Oh come on, you’re not serious are you?

SOARES: Naw, I’m just kidding you.

Look, I grew up on reruns of the original STAR TREK, but it’s not a nostalgia thing. Kirk was the coolest starship captain ever. It’s just a fact. No one could emote like William Shatner. He could break your heart with one of his meaningful speeches. And no captain was as good at using his fists as well as his brain.

ARRUDA:  On to our second question.  Who’s your favorite starship genius?  Spock?  Data?   Someone else?

KEOHANE:  Spock. There can be no comparison.

SOARES:  Are you sure it’s not a tie, Dan?

Look, I have to go with Dan on this one. To choose anyone other than Spock is illogical.

Mr. Spock

Mr. Spock

ARRUDA:  Like Dan and LL, I’m going with Spock here, too.

By far, he’s the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe.  His half human/half Vulcan self is the perfect embodiment of what STAR TREK is all about, logic vs. emotion, and which one is more effective when confronting the universe.

MCMAHON: Enough with the Spock coronation.

SOARES: Besides, Kirk is the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe. Spock is just his sidekick!

MCMAHON: My favorite genius is Doctor Bashir. Brilliant, genetically enhanced, there isn’t a disease or a puzzle he can’t figure out. His people skills are undeveloped and immature, though, which leads him to constantly make an ass of himself in social situations. This makes him the most fun to watch.

SOARES: Always gotta be different.

WANGLUND:  While I liked Data and his whole search for the meaning of being a human, Spock is my favorite genius—because he actually was a genius.  Spock was born that way, while Data is an AI machine.  He’s a genius because he was made that way.  The guy is a walking computer; Spock was flesh and blood.

ARRUDA:  Next question.  Who’s your favorite starship doctor?  McCoy?  Beverly Crusher?  The Doctor from VOYAGER?  Someone else? 

MCMAHON:  As brilliant as Bashir is, I’d rather have DeForrest Kelley’s McCoy standing over me should I wake up in sick bay. Of all the many doctors, McCoy is the one I’d trust to tell me the exact specifics of my ailment and not pull punches when he came to the prognosis.

Dr. "Bones" McCoy

Dr. “Bones” McCoy

Besides, he seems like he’d be a great drinking buddy.

ARRUDA:  Wouldn’t he though?

KEOHANE:  I think Scotty would be a better drinking buddy.

WANGLUND:  I’d rather have a drink with Jim Kirk.

SOARES:  To hell with those guys!  If I’m drinking with anyone it’s Dr. Carol Markus from the new movie! And maybe Uhura, too.

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

ARRUDA:  I think I asked the wrong question.  I should have asked who on STAR TREK would make the best drinking buddy!

Anyway, my pick for the best doctor is McCoy. 

While I absolutely love the Doctor from STAR TREK VOYAGER, McCoy as part of the triumvirate with Kirk and Spock is certainly the most important medical man of the entire STAR TREK universe.  He’s also the most entertaining, and often represented the rest of us in those debates with Spock.  Of course, he’d disagree.  “I’m a doctor, not an entertainer!”

WANGLUND:  Do I really need to tell you who my favorite ship’s doctor is?  “Jim I’m a doctor not a ……” fill in the blank.  The repetition of this line by Bones McCoy is cheesy but brilliant!

SOARES:  Who cares who the damn doctor is? I thought you were pushing it by asking who the best “starship genius” was, whatever that means. What are you going to do, Arruda, just go down a list? Who’s your favorite Russian navigator? Who’s your favorite Mechanic Number 5. Who cares? After the captain, everyone else is background noise.

KEOHANE:  McCoy is an icon and a great foil to the otherwise uber seriousness of the show, and his lines have always been the best in any episode. So, Bones, hands down.

ARRUDA:  And our final question tonight is just for fun.  Who’s your least favorite character in the STAR TREK universe?

MCMAHON:  My least favorite character in the Star Trek Universe would have to be Deanna Troi.

Deanna Troi

Deanna Troi

ARRUDA:  I agree with you, there.

MCMAHON:  I get that they were trying to break up the perception of an all-male future, but Troi just never worked for me. I was disappointed and left wanting with all her featured episodes, and never surprised myself by liking any of them (although the closest I came was the episode “Thine Own Self,” when she orders Geordi to his death… but then she goes and ruins it by whining to Riker about how hard it was).

ARRUDA:  Yeah, she whined a lot.

SOARES: Aww, I think she’s sweet.

KEOHANE:  In the final series, ENTERPRISE, among the bad “guys” who formed the cadre of alien baddies planning the destruction of.. something. I forget, the storyline got so bogged down, the thing in the fish tank that would sing like Flipper when he talked. I know this is an obscure one but man, that whole gang of villains were an embarrassment to Trekdom everywhere.

ARRUDA:  I think I had stopped watching ENTERPRISE by that point.

KEOHANE:  You didn’t miss much.

SOARES: Are you kidding? That fish tank guy was my FAVORITE character in the Star Trek Universe! Him and that little weird guy who follows Scotty around in the movies!

WANGLUND:  As for my least favorite character?  That would have to be Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg.  Picard was supposed to be the level-headed man of reason.  There was also a ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi, who was an empath.  Why have yet another voice of reason?  I felt Guinan was redundant.

Whoopie Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

Whoopi Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

ARRUDA:  Yeah, I can’t say that I liked Guinan either.

However, my least favorite character would have to be Deanna Troi from NEXT GENERATION.  I just never really understood the need for a ship’s counselor, and thought her speeches on alien feelings a complete waste of time. 

SOARES: My least favorite character was the guy in the red shirt who dies in Episode 42. Aww, who cares? I don’t care enough about the STAR TREK Universe to have a least favorite character. What a bunch of nerds!

But Kirk, that little guy who follows Scotty around in the movies, and Dr. Carol Markus are my favorites.

KEOHANE: Don’t forget the guy in the fish tank.

SOARES: Oh yeah, and him.

ARRUDA: Okay, so we’re done here.  It looks like the original series acquitted itself well.  It won all the categories, and none of the characters from the original series made it onto our “least favorite” lists.

So, I guess Kirk, Spock, and McCoy haven’t been bested.  The original is still the best, at least in terms of tonight’s questions, anyway.

Thanks for joining us everybody!  We’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS!

—-END—.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with MICHAEL WANDMACHER

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Classic TV Shows, Horror, Interviews, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview With MICHAEL WANDMACHER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

 For over two decades, musician and composer Michael Wandmacher has scored a little bit of everything, be it action, horror, science fiction, and comedy.  Just a small handful of his film works include Twin Dragons (1998), Cry_Wolf (2005), Punisher: War Zone (2008), Drive Angry (2011).  He’s also ventured into video games (last year’s Twisted Metal) and television, including the now-defunct Night Stalker reboot, and the Fox comedy Breaking In.  Most recently, he’s scored this year’s sequels to 2006’s The Haunting In Connecticut, and 2010’s The Last Exorcism.

 The Last Exorcism, Part II continues the first film’s story of Nell (Ashley Bell), who is somehow still alive after a grisly supernatural possession.  Nell is trying to get her life back into order, but the demons of her past—literal and otherwise—are far from finished with her…

movies-the-last-exorcism-part-2-poster 

Michael, you’ve worked in a wide variety of film, television, and even video game genres.  Are there any particular areas that you like working in more than others?

Well, not really.  I like genre stuff because that’s what I grew up with.  So I guess from a comfort level, that’s what I like to do, and it’s easier for me, just because it’s something sort of ingrained in me.  I’ve been watching monster movies and cartoons and reading graphic novels and comic books and things on TV since I was a little kid, and I kept on doing that my entire life, so all those types of storytelling are very familiar to me.

It really boils down to what the musical approach is on a particular project.  Dramas can be fun because they tend to focus more on melodies and fleshed-out musical ideas, so that’s a different challenge.  Comedies are fun because there’s a very broad spectrum of what exactly comedy is; they can range anywhere, from more that actually sounds like doing songs that are produced without vocals, to what a lot of people consider to be classic comedy music—that’s more kind of an upbeat orchestral approach, going back to what was done in ‘40s and ‘50s cartoons, the kind of zany, Carl Stalling-type thing.  It’s really broad, and that can be fun because each one, even though it might be classified as a comedy, it can be a completely different kind of take on what that is, exactly.  I just like different things; I like the variety, because it continues to keep things interesting (and) to not get stale, and you’re always trying to find ways to approach something differently.

Even in your days of working on various Jackie Chan movies, you have brought lots of variation to the situations going on, from screwball to slapstick to action.

His brand of comedy is sort of an evolved variety of the Keystone Cops.  It’s cartoonish, it’s comedic, although the action is played pretty straight.  Depending on the film, there’s sometimes an Asian influence, but most of it is pretty modern, at the time, modern action scoring because it was all based on him being either a cop or a spy or some sort of government operative, and he would go from being in a very serious situation where someone’s wife was in danger, or there’s a big car chase, or explosion, or some chase through a building that was burning down—something like that to being a complete misfit in social situations.  Those scores are challenging, because a lot of times… within a single cue, there was a transition between a big moment in terms of action and it would literally cut away to something that was going on that was simultaneously very goofy and zany, and to sew those two together into one cue was really challenging.  But it’s fun!  It’s great, and when it doesn’t work, it can make you crazy.  (laughs.)  He’s a great physical comic.  He really has a gift for it, and for those stunt people, it looks like it’s easy, but it’s not; the people who can do physical comedy really well are few and far between.

TwinDragonsPosterWhat was your first instance of noticing music and sound in the cinematic experience?  (Including in video games and television?)

I think on TV, the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75) was the first thing that I really got into, music-wise.  It was something that I wasn’t even supposed to be watching, but I’d sneak downstairs with my brother and watch it, and that had a big impact on me because the music in that show was something that really added to what was going on.  That show really scared me.

KolchakNightStalkerDVD

And on the movie side, as with a lot of people in my generation, seeing Star Wars for the first time, because it was coming out on the end of a whole run of films in the ‘70s that were sort of… they were more jazz-based scores.  You go back and see a Dirty Harry movie, or something—all the action movies, and the sci-fi movies even, had very jazzy, very combo-ish type of scores, and that classic, golden age-sound of Hollywood music hadn’t really been heard in a film in a while.  So when you’re sitting in a theater, and you see that very first…that Star Destroyer coming across the screen, and that massive fanfare playing, and everything.  The title coming up, the back story rolling across the screen… There was this huge-huge-huge music playing with a very definitive theme that left a huge impression on my ten-year-old brain.  So that was something that sort of set me off from there, and got me into film music.  At that point, I started collecting film soundtracks, and listening to scores from that time.  I still have a lot of that vinyl, and I still listen to it from time to time.  I was a score collector and enthusiast before I even got into working on them directly.

StarWars1977PosterWhat led to you working in the field?

I guess the straight answer would be… I don’t know; I just liked music, and started out in playing in bands, and I was also really interested in technology.  It was something that I did all through high school, started in junior high, just experimenting with whatever electronic instruments I could get my hands on.  I started playing guitar, and I was listening to film scores at the same time, so I was sort of absorbing both sides of the spectrum, and that eventually led to coming out of college, (when) I started working doing advertising music, just all commercials, network promos, news music, that kind of thing, which was great.  At that time, it was a great learning experience, because you have to write so many different kinds of styles of music, you have to do it fast, and you have to think in terms of music in both five second increments and five minute increments.  So getting all those skills was really good in terms of applying it to film music because I moved into that.  I lived in Minnesota, and I left there to pursue film music, and that’s when I started to get into television and movies.  It grew from doing short films to doing really small independent films, and a couple in California, and as you form relationships, it blossoms into something bigger.  The most important thing you can do, as a composer, is try to form alliances with young filmmakers as you’re coming up the ranks, and hoping that they keep the team together, and continue to work with you; so as their responsibilities grow, they bring you along, and as everyone works together, the projects just keep getting bigger.

Speaking of experimenting with different sounds and instruments, in your score for The Last Exorcism, Part II, there’s such a variety of sounds being employed.  Some of them are more immediately recognizable, such as stringed instruments and piano; however, there were a few sounds that were almost unrecognizable; what were some of the other instruments you used?

For each score, I try to find a different template of sounds.  In the case of The Last Exorcism, I knew, going in, that in terms of the score, it was going to be smaller in sound.  It wasn’t going to be a big orchestral score, or even a big electronic template, like some of the other horror scores that I’ve done.  It’s an intimate story, basically centered around one character, and we found that just using a smaller template was scarier.

It was a long experimentation process.  The film score went through a few iterations, in terms of trying different approaches.  It started out as experimental and very open, and kind of avant-garde and weird, and ended up being much more scene-driven, but there were sounds that we came up with early on using instruments like a guitar vial, and an old baroque instrument called a psaltery, and I used a few traditional instruments that were played in really weird ways.  If you listen to the score, you’ll hear this kind of bending, screaming solo string sound in a lot of the cues, and that’s me doing a kind of random bowing technique on a variety of string instruments, and it’s meant to be sort of a juxtaposition between the two main voices in the film, and that’s Nell’s evil side becoming seduced by the demon presence in the film.  You can hear those two elements are separated, and other cues where they’re sort of coming together into one complete thought.  At moments it can feel really cacophonous, and suddenly there’s a consonance that happens as they sort of consummate with seduction.  It was cool!  It was a very odd, unorthodox sound, it’s not something you normally (use) in a score, and I’ve had other people ask me, “What is that?”  It really came out of a period of sitting here, trying out different instruments, playing things like string instruments with things besides bows, or…I don’t know, just taking a random shot at it and seeing what happens.

There’s been a lot of experimentation going on in film scores, I think, in the past ten or fifteen years.

It’s definitely a trend.  Every composer I know is constantly searching for a new sound, a timbre, a texture, a color, that they can use in a score; (something) that sticks out, that might give some sense of time, place, some particular emotion, that is new.  Even if it’s an instrument that some people would consider traditional, or something used in the past even often, they may find a different way to utilize it.  Some composers build their own instruments.

What I did on The Last Exorcism was basically destroyed a piano in the process of doing the scoring.  I was playing a prepared piano with lots of different things.  I got particularly good effects by using chopsticks that were taped together, and squeezing the strings between the chopsticks, and then either hitting the chopsticks with another stick, or rubbing them up and down the wound strings really, really fast.  It (brings) almost a human quality to the sound of it when it was resonating; it sounded like someone was breathing very shallow and quickly, and (it was) creepy.

The one way that composers can differentiate themselves, try to make the process more interesting and fun for people on the outside, when you’re trying to sell yourself on the job, is that they like the idea of doing something new and different.  (By) taking some chances and find a new sounds, things that are really particular to the films that give it a unique twist, musically, that’s important.  Even in films that are thematic, it can help to have some kind of texture in there, or some tone or instrument that is a sort of really unique color in the whole palette of the film score.  It’s just one part of the process that makes it more fun.

Do you find that everything comes together, depending on what one film requires versus another?  Or do you have a checklist somewhere, of instruments or sounds that you wish to use someday?

It’s both.  There’s always what I call a “mad scientist mode” on a score, where I’ll take two or three days for no other purpose than to figure out a set of sounds that are particular to that project, and I can never say for sure where they’re going to come from.  It might be a very typical source, and it might end up being me banging on the washing machine with a sledgehammer—I have no idea.

I’m pretty much willing to try anything, and I’ll use that, and I have an idea of what kinds of sounds will work in the score, based on what it is.  If it needs to be, say, more fluid, or more legato, or more melodic, or if they can be very percussive, or metallic, or something that’s more soft; it’s something that speaks of wood, or cloth, or something warm in tone—those are just generalized terms that I might be throwing around in my head while I’m looking for particular sounds.

A good example, and every composer goes through this, is, say, small percussion; finding the right ticking sound, or little tiny percussion sound, right when you need to create tempo, or pacing something—you need background ticking sounds.  So many different ways to create that sound, instead of, say, using a shaker, everybody’s constantly looking for little new, cool ways to make a little ticking sound.  I sampled the igniter snap on the range here in the house; it’s that snapping sound of trying to light the gas flame (on our stove).  I recorded that, and cut it up, and used it as a sort of a hi-hat, and it’s got a very short attack and release, but it really cuts through everything; it has a really powerful snap to it.  If you play it back in a mix, it sits in there really nice, but it’s really hard to figure out what it is, because it’s not anything actually being struck, it’s air moving.  I don’t want to get too technical about it, but it’s just a really cool noise, and I never would’ve thought of that, but when I’m in that process of, “What’s going to be cool in the score?,” my ears are open.

So (my wife and I) are sitting there making dinner one night, we turn on the stove, and I’m like, “Wait, that’s cool!” (laughs) “Do it again!”  So I run and get the recorder and stand next to the stove, going, “Okay, start it!” (laughs)

So you must be listening to sounds all the time.

Yeah.  I did a lot of sound design when I was working in commercials.  I’d spend fifty percent of the time I was working doing sound designing, and the other half writing music, so I had a lot of practice doing that.  My brain is sort of in that world all the time, a little bit at least, and being aware of things that just have different tones and textures and might elicit certain emotions very well, even if it’s just a single tone.  You’d be surprised how many mechanical things that are just sitting in the background, anywhere, in an airport or a mall or something, and you just listen.  You go beyond the voices and just listen to the tones of the place, the lights, the air conditioning, the guy cleaning the floor—the things that have more of a drone-y qualities, they usually have a pitch, and I’ll tune in on those things, and then think, “Okay, that sounds really cool, if I can capture that noise I can sample it and put it in and re-pitch it and script it so it’ll work as an instrument.”  And you have something that’s both organic and electronic at the same time, and you often can’t quite place it with your ear, which makes it more interesting.

With so many movies in the works, any number of possibilities of scores could happen.  Which ones would you want “dibs” on, given the chance?

Anything that has to do with superheroes; that’s still something very near and dear to my heart.  I still so totally believe that every single superhero movie, you should come away with a theme that’s so knocked into your head that you’ll never forget it.  What’s sad is that a lot of the (superhero) films that have come out, you don’t have that, at least the newer ones; some of them do, some of them don’t.  I just think that should be very much a (given) for the score.  We need a theme that everybody’s going to remember.  We need the next Superman, that sort of thing.  I need to do that, that sort of challenge-movie, that would be awesome.

I don’t know, I would love to do something that’s more of a sword-and-sorcery-type epic.  A Lord of the Rings type of film would be such a blast, because you get to do so many different types of things.

What would be most fun to do one film that was completely acoustic, very traditional, because those are usually the films that are the most fun to do, musically, and then do one that was completely electronic, where you have to create all the sounds from scratch, or—I was telling the director on The Last Exorcism that I would love to do a horror film just with a choir, and nothing else.  That would be a lot of fun, because I really believe you get the scariest noises with humans.  To be able to use both acoustic choir writing, and then to take the voices and manipulate them into other things, but to use nothing but a forty-person choir for the whole score, would be a blast.  That would be the scariest score of all, because people always respond to in music, if it’s there, the human voice.  If it’s in the cue, if it’s in the theme, singing the theme or whatever, your ear always goes to the human voice first, no matter what.  It’s the most relatable thing, the human voice.

What about scoring the next Star Wars movie?

I don’t know if Star Wars would be (for me). Like, talk about pressure!  Oh my god!  I just don’t think…   My personal feeling is, no-one should touch that.  Even if they have to take the old music and re-record it and re-cut it for the new film.  They got it right the first time, and that’s the most iconic film music of all time, so don’t touch it, don’t try to change it, don’t try to update it.  It’s like trying to cover Pink Floyd—just don’t go there.  I even felt that way with Superman (1978).  That’s another Top 10 theme of all time; don’t mess with it!

What about a Tarzan movie?

That would be incredible!  I especially love primitive instruments doing period movies from the time of the Bible, or the Dark Ages, or Ancient Egypt, or something where you can really go back and use indigenous instruments, get something that’s really raw and primal would be a lot of fun.  Those scores are always a great learning experience, not just from the writing standpoint, but you learn about an entire culture, musically, when you’re doing that, too.

As a composer, you just want to keep skipping around, doing as much as you can.  The biggest problem for a lot of composers in Hollywood is they get pigeonholed very quickly when (for instance) most composers do a lot of action films are completely qualified to do comedies and vice versa.  Or people do a lot of, say, period dramas could do an action film, and vice versa.  They’ve got a lot more ability than people give them credit for.

The Last Exorcism, Part II comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 18th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

The Remote Outpost Looks At THE INVADERS (1967 – 1968)

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Fugitives, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows, UFOs with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE REMOTE OUTPOST…. Written by Mark Onspaugh
This week we look at: THE INVADERS, in color!  Tonight’s episode: Pinkies of Doom!

You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant mountains… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… THE REMOTE OUTPOST.

****

While we’re waiting for the next crop of science fiction and horror series to debut on network and cable, I thought we’d stroll through the musty and parasite-infested archives of the Outpost. N… O… P… Q. Hmm… Quark, Quasar, Quigley – ah, QM.

Back in the 60s and 70s, one of the more successful television producers was Quinn Martin (1922-1987). Martin was born in New York, but raised in Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High and then UC Berkeley, but quit and got an editing job with MGM. (His father was also a film editor—always good to have connections!)

Martin rose up the production ladder and would eventually executive produce a number of television classics: THE UNTOUCHABLES (1959-1960), The Fugitive (1963-1967), Twelve O’Clock High (1964-1967), The F.B.I. (1965-1974), Cannon (1971-1976), The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) and Barnaby Jones (1973-1978). QM also produced the Burt Reynolds series DAN AUGUST (1970-1971) and the short-lived (8 episodes) TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (1977). One of Martin’s few forays into cinema would be the memorable THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971), where Alan Alda (of all people) makes a deal with the Devil and lives to regret it. (Note to self: cancel deal meeting with Beezlebub.)

Quinn Martin Productions were known for having a lavish guest star budget and high production values. Another trademark was that each show would feature a title sequence, then a narrator would intone “With guest stars…” and “Tonight’s episode: ‘Pardon My Murder!'” (Actually, that’s a joke from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 [1988-1999], but it certainly captures the flavor of QM titles.) Episodes were divided into acts and ended with an epilog. It all helped to establish the QM brand, and no other series looked or sounded like QM productions.

This whole period was a golden age for character actors, as there were many anthology series and dramas needing guest stars to round out the cast. Familiar faces like Ed Asner, Suzanne Pleshette, William Windom, Michael Rennie, Susan Oliver, Harold Gould and John Larch (among many, many others) would make the rounds, often appearing on two different QM shows simultaneously. A good character actor could often work nearly year-round in those days.

Quinn Martin produced one of my favorite science fiction shows, THE INVADERS which ran on ABC from January 10, 1967 to March 26, 1968. ABC was the last network to adopt color programming, so the network would run bumpers that would say, “Next, The Invaders… In color!”

A departure from QM’s police procedurals, many thought THE INVADERS was a riff on THE FUGITIVE. However, Larry Cohen, the series’ creator, drew his inspiration from the films INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), and from the Alfred Hitchcock trope of “the wrong man.”  The hero of the series was David Vincent, an architect who becomes lost and stops to sleep on a deserted road. That night, he sees a UFO land. When he returns the next day with the sheriff, all traces of the UFO and its visitors are gone.

This would be a central thread in most episodes: David Vincent would try to warn people of an Invader scheme, but no one would believe him. The Invaders themselves were aided by the fact that they looked human (unless undergoing “regeneration”) and they vaporized when dying, leaving just a pile of ash. They also had little discs that, when placed on a human, would cause death by cerebral hemorrhage. The Invaders did not bleed, did not feel pain, rarely exhibited emotion and had a mutated little finger that could not bend. Often only David Vincent would notice such clues, and he was often considered dangerous and/or crazy.

David Vincent was played by Roy Thinnes, a handsome young actor who had done well in soaps and was part of QM’s rotating troupe of guest stars on previous series. As with David Janssen in THE FUGITIVE and Bill Bixby in THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982), he had sufficient charisma to carry the show. As I mentioned, Quinn Martin did not skimp on budgets for his productions, not on effects or guest stars, which may explain why his shows had a richer look than those of Irwin Allen or even the original STAR TREK. Quinn Martin also strove for realism, nothing too far out like Space Cowboys or a Nazi planet.

The iconic theme was by Dominic Frontiere, who did the amazing theme for THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965). THE INVADERS also had a dynamite voice-over lead-in, which is one of my most favorites, following THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK (1966-1969):

First, you hear Hank Simms, who announced all of Quinn Martin’s series – series name, stars, guest stars and title:

“The Invaders – a Quinn Martin Production! Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent.”

Then, a gravelly bass voice takes over (my research shows this is supposed to be William Woodson who also did CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS in 1978, but it sure sounds to me like William Conrad, who starred in the QM series CANNON, but was also the voice of Marshall Matt Dillon on radio):

“The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now, David Vincent knows that The Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!”

(Check out THE INVADERS opening credits for yourself, here)

After that, Hank Simms would tell you who was guest starring and the name of the episode. THE INVADERS had great episode titles like “Beachhead,” “The Experiment,” “Doomsday Minus One” and “Quantity: Unknown.”

Wooo-eee! I’ll tell you, friends, if you were a kid who loved science fiction liked me, this show grabbed you from the get-go. Sure, the effects are primitive by today’s standards, but were top-notch for television of the day. And writerly contrivances like disappearing alien corpses and mutated pinkies just added to the nightmarish and surreal predicament in which David Vincent found himself. It made you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances, and made you regard some adults with suspicion… Just why does my British aunt keep her pinky up at tea time?

For his part, show runner Larry Cohen did much to infuse The Invaders with layers, making it a metaphor for the Red Scare and the dehumanizing influence of mindless conformity. He had similar thoughts for BRANDED (1965-1966), the Chuck Connors (western) series he had created as an allegory of Hollywood’s blacklist. An interesting note is that we never learned much about the aliens, only that they came from “a dying world.” We never learned what that world was called or what they called themselves, nothing about their culture or beliefs. There seem to be only two episodes where we got the briefest glimpse of their true shapes, amorphous blobs in solution (which makes our water-rich planet ideal).

Sadly, THE INVADERS only lasted two seasons, and I am not certain why it was canceled. However, the series did take a turn in the second season, where certain people (“The Believers”) begin to trust David Vincent and worked to help eradicate the aliens. For me, this was far less satisfying than a single man alone against terrible odds, and I began to lose interest. I imagine others did, too. It’s like a “will they or won’t they” couple in a sitcom… As long as Sam is pursuing Diane, or Jack and Sawyer are pursuing Kate, there is a natural tension, one that gives the series some weight. Once a couple marries or becomes exclusive, that tension is gone. Also, a lone wolf or fugitive in the series is like a secret friend—someone only we understand and appreciate… Once they become accepted, they are no longer alone (but we are). REMOTE OUTPOST—we don’t just analyze television!

Larry Cohen went on to do low-budget horror faves like IT’S ALIVE (1974) and Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982). An Invaders mini-series with Scott Bakula was attempted in 1995, with Roy Thinnes reprising his role as David Vincent, handing off the torch, as it were. It was not picked up for a series… I guess those alien bastards won this round…

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

 

Remote Outpost: THE SCIENCE FICTION TV SHOWS OF IRWIN ALLEN! – PART 1

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Irwin Allen, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
This week: A VOYAGE OF THE LOST IN THE TIME OF GIANTS
PART 1 of 2

Hello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter……

Today I wanted to talk about the science fiction of Irwin Allen.  Allen never created a franchise to rival STAR TREK or STAR WARS, but his own name became a recognizable brand in the 60s and 70s. He is responsible for two of the most iconic disaster movies in the history of cinema, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)—both loaded with stars and special effects.  But before turning his attention to upside-down ocean liners and mega-skyscrapers aflame, Irwin Allen was ruling the small screen with family-oriented sci-fi adventures that were filled with great props, good actors, silly concepts, riotous color and little or no concern for the laws of physics, chemistry, biology—hell, any of the sciences that makes up science fiction.

The first and most successful of these shows was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. It ran from September 14, 1964 to March 31, 1968. At 110 episodes, it was the decade’s longest running science fiction program with continuing characters.

The series was about a futuristic atomic submarine, the SSRN SEAVIEW, which was based at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research (NIMR) in Santa Barbara, California.  When not patrolling the world’s oceans, the sub was moored some 500 feet below NIMR in a secret submarine base carved out of solid rock. The Seaview was officially designed for undersea marine research, but its secret mission was to defend the Earth from all terrestrial (mad scientists, dictators, Amway salesmen) and extraterrestrial threats in the then-future of the 1980s.

VOYAGE starred Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson (designer of the SSRN Seaview) and David Hedison as Captain Crane. Basehart and Hedison did an amazing amount of television, and there never seemed to be a period where they were not working.  Basehart was Ishmael in John Huston’s MOBY DICK (1956, script by Ray Bradbury) and was the Narrator on KNIGHT RIDER (1982-1986). Hedison, of course, was the eponymous character in THE FLY (1958) and also played Felix Leiter in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and LICENCE TO KILL (1989).

Based on his movie of the same name (released in 1961 with Walter Pigeon, he of FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956), Irwin Allen recycled sets, props and models, something he was famous for. Later, when he had more than one series running, alien costumes from one show would show up a week later on another series with just a minor paint job.

Allen also was famous for the “Irwin Allen rock-and-roll,” —the camera was rocked as the on-screen cast rushed from side to side on the set, simulating the ship being tossed around. This would later be seen a lot on our next entry, as well. With an iconic theme (by Paul Sawtell), cool props like the flying sub, monsters and sea creatures, kids like me tuned in faithfully every week—how about you?

****

Irwin Allen’s second foray into 60s science fiction television was LOST IN SPACE. Based on the Swiss Family Robinson story (but not related to an earlier Gold Key Comic of the same name), this program ran on CBS for three seasons, with 83 episodes airing between September 15, 1965, and March 6, 1968. LOST IN SPACE was filmed in black & white the first season and then in riotous color thereafter. Its well known theme was by a composer named John Williams (billed as “Johnny Williams”)—I wondered what happened to that guy?

The pilot was much advertised and I watched it eagerly. It was far more serious than the series ended up: The year is 1997 and the Earth is overpopulated. The brave Robinsons are space-faring colonists headed for a planet revolving around Alpha Centauri.  Since the journey will take some time, they’ll remain in suspended animation.  Villainous Dr. Smith is an enemy agent who sabotages the ship so that the Robinsons will die and their mission will be a failure. When his people fail to extract him from the doomed ship, Smith has no choice but to wake the Robinsons to save his own skin. Had the tone and writing of the series continued in this vein, it might have rivaled the original STAR TREK (1966-1969) in popularity. But, no.

LOST IN SPACE didn’t really look much at the foibles of mankind or the consequences of bigotry, racism, war and greed like TREK. Its stories seemed more inspired by taking notions popular with kids and sticking the word “space” in as a qualifier: thus, Space Pirates! Space Cowboys! Space Orphans! Space Delinquents! Space Circus! Space Gangsters! Throw in occasional episodes about murderous, humanoid vegetables and you’ve got a series.

LOST IN SPACE starred many familiar faces and a robot second only to Robbie (FORBIDDEN PLANET) in look and personality. (Coincidence? Perhaps not, as both Robbie and the LIS Robot were designed by Bob Stewart.) Guy Williams (Doctor John Robinson) was TV’s Zorro on both the series ZORRO (1957-1961) and on WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR (1957-1962), and Sinbad in CAPTAIN SINBAD (1963).  June Lockhart, (Doctor Maureen Robinson), was an iconic TV mom in LASSIE (1958-1964) and would leave outer space for PETTICOAT JUNCTION (1968-1970). Billy Mumy (Will Robinson) may be best known as creepy but powerful Anthony on the TWILIGHT ZONE (1961-1963) episode “It’s a Good Life” and the kid taking calls on a toy telephone from his dead gramma (eek) in the episode “Long Distance Call.”  Mumy would return to space in BABYLON 5 (1994-1998).  Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) was the epitome of a TV daughter on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW (1957-1964).  Rounding out the cast were Mark Goddard as handsome pilot Major Don West, Marta Kristen as blonde beauty Judy Robinson, Dick Tufeld as the voice of the Robot, and Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith.

As with other TV series (such as HAPPY DAYS’ Fonzie), villainous Dr. Smith was intended to be a limited or peripheral character, but took over the show. Jonathan Harris, a stage and screen actor, turned Smith from a cold and calculating villain to a whiny, lazy, selfish, greedy hypochondriac who was by turns sarcastic or petulant. Children adored him, especially when he was dressing down the Robot, referring to him as a “bumbling booby” or a “cumbersome clod,” among many, many other insults. Smith became pivotal to most episodes, which more and more focused on young Will, the Robot and Dr. Smith’s ill-conceived plots or alliances with treacherous aliens.

This focus (and ever-growing campiness) proved unpopular with adults and teens, leaving children the main audience, and children do not buy advertisers’ products. Its skyrocketing budget was cut—Paramount had lost a lot of money with CLEOPATRA (1963) and was trimming everywhere—and this caused Irwin Allen to storm out of negotiations for a fourth season, hastening its cancellation. Had it survived, it is doubtful stars June Lockhart or Guy Williams would have returned, as both were unhappy with the direction of the show and their diminishing roles in it. Oh, the pain, the pain!

(FINAL NOTE: It seems to me a strange notion to start a colony with one family plus one male – pilot Don West – but this was a family show and the writers obviously knew what the characters didn’t, that the mission was doomed and the idea of a colony would be abandoned in the search for home—back to good old overcrowded, polluted and doomed Earth.)

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK….SAME BAT TIME….SAME BAT CHANNEL)

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

Remote Outpost looks back at the original DARK SHADOWS

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2012, Based on TV Show, Classic TV Shows, Ghosts!, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Supernatural, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST – OUT OF MY DEPP WITH DARK SHADOWS
Written by Mark Onspaugh

Welcome to Collinwood.

“You can’t watch everything.” – either Marshall McCluhan or George Orwell

The above quote, which is most certainly apocryphal, was especially true in the 1960s, when the only small screen was the television and there were no DVD’s, videotapes, bootlegs or endless carping by fans on websites.

I missed the original DARK SHADOWS (1966 – 1971), partially because I was in school and partially because I was oh-so-serious when it came to monsters, especially vampires and werewolves.  (Little did I know that twinkly vampires and basketball-playing werewolves were just down the road, so to speak.)  Shows weren’t endlessly promoted and marketed, because there was so little competition for certain shows, what with only three major networks and no cable.  Since I had no close friends who watched DS, I figured it was stuff meant more for my Mom, like ONE LIFE TO LIVE (1968 – 2012) and ALL MY CHILDREN (1970 – 2011) (two shows that had long lifespans before recently being canceled by ABC~editor).

DARK SHADOWS was the brainchild of Dan Curtis, who would later bring us such tasty fare as TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1977).  Curtis based the show on a dream he had about a mysterious woman on a train.  His TV track record was such that he was able to pitch that premise and sell it to ABC.

Initially, the show was about this young woman, named Victoria Winters, an orphan who becomes stranded in Collinsport, Maine, and ends up working for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her brother Roger Collins.  The show had no supernatural elements, at first.  In fact, I was surprised to learn that Barnabas Collins did not appear for the first year of the series.  The series was labeled “slow,“ “a bore,” and “confusing” (actors would play multiple characters and also reappear in parallel timelines and flashbacks) by some critics.

The turning point came six months into the series, when ghosts were introduced.  Because the series appeared at a time when kids were getting home from school and moms were off making dinner (4pm Eastern), teens claimed it as their own, and it began dominating its timeslot, leading to cancellation of the original MATCH GAME and the variety show ART LINKLETTER’S HOUSE PARTY (both fare aimed at older viewers like Gramma, and your annoying Aunt Beatrice with the mustache and cheese breath).

The original cast of DARK SHADOWS.

Con-men come to Collinswood to search for the family jewels, and inadvertently release Barnabas Collins from imprisonment in a mausoleum.  Once Barnabas was introduced, the show would, in its five year run, also feature ghosts, werewolves, witches, warlocks, zombies,  monsters, time travel and a parallel universe.  (I missed a lot, it would seem!)

DARK SHADOWS had some notable cast members, all except Frid playing numerous roles of contemporary characters, ghosts, doppelgangers and ancestors.

Jonathan Frid, of course, played Barnabas Collins.  Frid died just this year, which is sad and ironic, as the movie version has just debuted.  Surely as iconic to television vampires as Lugosi was to movie vampires, Frid was a Canadian actor who did little beyond the DARK SHADOWS franchise.  As far as I can see, he did two other films, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER (with Shelley Winters in 1973) and SEIZURE(1974).  Of  Barnabas, he said, “I love to play horror for horror’s sake. Inner horror… I mean, I never thought I created fear with the fang business of ‘ Barnabas.’ I always felt foolish doing that part of it. The horror part I like was ‘the lie’.”

Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas Collins.

Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Stoddard Collins and several other Collins women) had a long and varied career in film and television, doing such diversely different projects as GIDGET GETS MARRIED (1972) and SUSPIRIA (1977).  (Note to self: remake of Suspiria with Gidget?)

David Selby (Quentin Collins, everyone’s favorite werewolf) did a lot of TV and found some happiness in nighttime soaps like FLAMINGO ROAD (1981-1982) and FALCON CREST (1982-1990). He was also in a movie based on a New York Post headline, HEADLESS BODY IN A TOPLESS BAR (1995).

David Selby as Quentin Collins. He needed a bit of a haircut when the full moon arose.

Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman) also did a lot of TV work including NIGHT GALLERY (1970) and the TV movie GARGOYLES (1972).

During the run of the series, Curtis directed two features with many members of the television cast: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971).  HOUSE follows the arc of Barnabas pursuing a woman he believes is his reincarnated love, Josette, while NIGHT involves a family moving into a house filled with ghosts of witches who are not at rest.

In 1971, it became illegal to advertise cigarettes on television.  This huge loss of revenue led to a large purge among the networks, replacing some soaps (like DARK SHADOWS) with the much-cheaper-to-produce game shows.  DS was particularly vulnerable because its main demographic—teens—were not the purchasers of food and household goods, the main advertisers on daytime television.  Also, the early 70’s (say it ain’t so!) saw a decline in interest in shows dealing with horror or science fiction.

Because of its rather abrupt cancellation, several plotlines were left unresolved, though the shows producers tried to compensate for this with a one minute voice-over at the end of the final episode that tied everything up with a (fairly) neat bow.

The original run of 1,225 shows never ran fully in syndication until on the Sci Fi (now SyFy) channel from 1992 to 2003 (which I also missed—I hang my head in shame).

Barnabas and the love of his life, Josette.

Besides its melding of the soap opera and monster/horror genres, DARK SHADOWS was believed to be a live production.  This was because the rigorous shooting schedule often demanded one take of most scenes, so errors in dialog or continuity (wobbling sets, stagehands in the background) were left in.  Fans delighted that they were seeing a “live” production, and the producers played into this belief by having a clock in an episode precisely coordinated with the clocks in one time zone—viewers of that time zone thought they were seeing events as they happened.

In 1991, the show was revived on NBC with a much more lavish budget.  Ben Cross played Barnabas, and Joanna Going was Victoria Winters.  Cross would later appear in movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) and STAR TREK (2009). Also appearing in the revival were veterans like Roy Thinnes (THE INVADERS 1967-1968) and Barbara Steele (BLACK SUNDAY, 1960, CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964, and SHE BEAST 1966).  The coverage of the Gulf War led to the show being preempted many times, and it could never recover its footing.  It was cancelled after running just three months.  Plans to revive this version with this cast led to a pilot being written by Dan Curtis and Barbara Steele, but it never went forward.  Another pilot with a new cast was shot in 2004 but was never picked up.

DARK SHADOWS also spawned a line of novels, a newspaper comic strip, comic books, audio plays, coloring books, View-Master reels, two board games, a jigsaw puzzle and trading cards.

DARK SHADOWS is often credited with introducing the concept of a “compassionate vampire” to a wide audience—a vampire who is troubled by his hideous appetites and longs for a cure.

DARK SHADOWS (the original series) is now available on DVD – ain’t technology wonderful?

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

*****

EDITOR’S NOTE:

As I mentioned briefly in the CKF review of the new DARK SHADOWS movie, I’ve been a fan of the original TV show since its initial run. Mark asked me to add some of my thoughts here, since he didn’t see DS in its first incarnation.

I remember coming home from school, eager to see the newest chapter of the Collins family (from the start, I was obsessed with all things horror and “monsters”). This must have been toward the end of the show’s run, in the early 70s, since I would have been around 7 or 8 years old. The fact that so many episodes are still so vivid in my mind is a testament to its effect on me.

Storylines I particularly remember involved Barnabas and Victoria Winters/Josette; Quentin Collins’s struggle to overcome being a werewolf (I don’t know if I’m sad or happy that the character of Quentin was left out of Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS movie); a FRANKENSTEIN-like storyline where a monster was being made from parts of dead people in a lab beneath a graveyard crypt; and the time-jumping episodes set in the past, where one particular Collins ancestor was involved in experiments much like the ones performed by a certain Dr. Jekyll.

Quentin and Barnabas Collins clash in a scene from the original DARK SHADOWS TV series.

For some reason, everyone of my generation who watched the show remembers it with great fondness, and I’m sure that Burton didn’t give much thought to the original show’s fans when we made his recent film version. He probably just saw the concept as something he could recreate in his own “special” way, disregarding the fact that the show still has a loyal following.

The fact that the “real” Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, died recently, just makes the new movie (which I think is awful) seem all the more tragic. Ahhh, what it could have been in the right hands!

~L.L. Soares