Archive for the Richard Matheson Movies Category

Farewell to RICHARD MATHESON

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, 70s Horror, Appreciations, Based on a Classic Novel, LL Soares Reviews, Movie History, Obituaries and Appreciations, Richard Matheson Movies, Steven Spielberg, TV Miniseries, TV-Movies, Vincent Price with tags , , , on June 30, 2013 by knifefighter

richard-mathesonWriter RICHARD MATHESON died this week. I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of  horror or science fiction who hasn’t been touched in some way by Matheson, even if they didn’t know it was him. From writing classic episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (he wrote 16 episodes between 1959 and 1964, including such standouts as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel“), to scripts for tons of movies including the classic original TV-movies THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR, and many of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies of the 1960s, to writing classic novels like I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, STIR OF ECHOES and many more, several of which were adapted into movies, Matheson seemed to be everywhere when I was growing up in the 70s, and I for one was pretty thankful that he was so prolific. Every new Matheson project, whether it was a book or a movie or a TV episode, was a reason to celebrate.

Hearing earlier this week that he had passed away on June 23rd at the age of 87, was awful news. But he has left us with so much to remember him by.

Just some of the movies that he either wrote the screenplays for, or which were based on his fiction, include:

  • THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) – he wrote the screenplay based on his novel, “The Shrinking Man”
  • THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) – the first of many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that Matheson would write for director Roger Corman, this one, like many of them, starred the great Vincent Price.
  • MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) – based on the novel by Jules Verne, also starring Vincent Price.
  • THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
  • BURN, WITCH, BURN (also known as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) (1962) – Matheson’s screenplay was an adaptation of the novel “Conjure Wife,” by Fritz Leiber.
  • THE RAVEN (1963)
  • THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
  • THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) – the first movie version of his classic novel, “I am Legend.” He also wrote the screenplay, using the name “Logan Swanson.” This one also starred Vincent Price.
  • THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
  • THE OMEGA MAN (1971) – the second adaptation of Matheson’s “I am Legend,” this time with the vampires swapped out for mutants, and starring Charlton Heston.
  • DUEL (1971) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his story. This was the first feature film by Steven Spielberg.
  • THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) – the TV-movie that introduced the world to reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin.
  • THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) – TV-movie sequel to THE NIGHT STALKER.
  • THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – feature film based on his novel, “Hell House.”
  • TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) – TV-movie based on three Matheson stories, the most famous segment was the last, “Amelia,” based on Matheson’s story “Prey,” about a “Zuni warrior figurine” that comes to life. All three stories starred Karen Black.
  • THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980) – TV miniseries based on the classic book by Ray Bradbury
  • SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, “Bid Time Return.”
  • WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998) – based on his novel of the same name
  • STIR OF ECHOES (1999) – based on his novel of the same name
  • I AM LEGEND (2007) – the third film to be based on Matheson’s novel, and arguably the least successful. Starring Will Smith.
  • REAL STEEL (2011) – based (sort of) on his short story of the same name

He leaves a large and wonderful legacy behind.

Farewell, Mr. Matheson.

~LL Soares

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 - June 23, 2013)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

REAL STEEL

Posted in 2011, Boxing, Cinema Knife Fights, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Richard Matheson Movies, ROBOTS!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: REAL STEEL
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An abandoned boxing gym. MICHAEL ARRUDA enters from one side, followed by a large, golden robot. L.L. SOARES enters from the other, followed by a sinister-looking robot of gleaming black metal.)

MA: Nice to see you showed up.

LS: Was there ever any doubt?

(The robots enter the boxing ring in the middle of the room. LS and MA go to their robots’ corners. Both men are wearing headsets)

MA: Why don’t you begin this one?

LS: Oh, I’ll begin it all right. (to Robot): UPPERCUT!

(The black robot suddenly punches the gold one violently, knocking it backwards)

MA: Oh yeah? ROUNDHOUSE!

(The gold robot lashes out at the black one, and they start trading punches)

MA: This is fun, but we really should review the movie.

LS: Okay, okay.

This week we’re reviewing the movie REAL STEEL. This one stars WOLVERINE – I mean Hugh Jackman – as a down-on-his luck former boxer who now fights using robots, because real boxing has died out and robot boxing is the new national sport. For an explanation, they tell us something like real boxing wasn’t vicious enough, and robots can fight to the death without anyone getting hurt. Or something like that. For me, the reason real boxing is such a great sport is because it’s two men, face to face. The humanness of the sport. But let’s move on.

Jackman’s character, Charlie Kenton, is a compulsive gambler who loses regularly and owes a lot of people money. He keeps thinking his robots will get him out of the hole, but he hasn’t had very good luck with them, either.

MA: The reason he hasn’t had any luck is he’s not too swift up here (points to his head). His idea of making a decision is act first, think later. So, he’s not only a compulsive gambler, but compulsive period!

LS: Yeah, he is kind of an idiot. In an early scene, where he’s supposed to be controlling his robot, he gets distracted by a girl in the audience for a moment—even though this is his profession and he’s got a LOT of money riding on it—and because of that, his robot loses to a bull! There are other scenes where he also makes stupid moves. For an expert at this robot fighting stuff —and a former boxer himself—he sure doesn’t seem all that smart a lot of the time.

Desperate for money, Charlie finds himself in the middle of a court battle for his son, Max (Dakota Goyo). The boy’s mother has died, and Charlie doesn’t know the kid because he ditched the girl and their son when he was younger, and didn’t stay in touch. Sounds like a deadbeat dad to me.

MA: I’ll say. Early on in this movie, there’s not much to like about this guy.

LS: But it’s Hugh Jackman. You know he can’t stay as sleazy as he starts out. You know he’ll become heroic as the movie goes on, because that’s what he does! In other words, he’s more of a star than an actor, and we never once believe that he’s this Charlie guy. He’s always HUGH FRIGGIN JACKMAN.

The boy’s Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) wants to assume custody, but the courts usually give children to their remaining parent in these kinds of cases. But Charlie has clearly not been interested since Day One, so he’s more than happy to give Debra custody in exchange for some cash (he makes a deal with Debra’s rich husband, promising to keep it secret).

However, Debra and her husband are off for a vacation in Italy with their rich friends and don’t want to bring a child along, so they get Charlie to agree to watch the boy for the summer until they get back. WOW! They get custody and the first thing Debra and her husband do is fly off to Italy and leave Max behind. What a great way to start out as a new parent!! They’re as sleazy as Charlie is.

At first, the relationship between Charlie and Max is rocky.

(Suddenly, Bill Conti’s ROCKY music fills the gym, as ROCKY BALBOA enters.)

ROCKY (looking over shoulder): Yo, Adrian. I’ll be right back. I just heard my name mentioned inside this gym so I’m going to pay my respects and say hello.

MA: Hey, Rocky!

ROCKY: Yo, how’s it goin?

LS: Fine, but we really didn’t call you. I was using “rocky” as an adjective.

ROCKY: Adjective? What’s that? Some kind of swear or something?

MA: No, it’s a part of speech. Anyway, feel free to hang out while we spar over the new movie REAL STEAL.

ROCKY: Yo, Adrian! I’ll be along in a minute. I’m going to watch these guys spar over some new movie or something. Those are some pretty cool-looking robots you have there in the ring. Are those things real?

MA: Movie special effects.

ROCKY: That’s good, cuz if those things was real, I might be out of a job, you know what I’m sayin?

LS: Hey, we got a movie to review here, do you mind?

ROCKY: No, I don’t mind. I’ll just sit back and. be quiet and let you guys do whatever it is you do. Those are some big robots.

LS: COMBINATION 4!

(LS’s robot does a combination of moves and knocks MA’s robot to the mat)

MA: Hey! I was talking to ROCKY!

LS: Time to get back to the review, boyo. Pay attention!

MA: COMBINATION 18!

(MA’s robot gets up from the mat, and the two robots start fighting again)

LS: Back to REAL STEEL. As always happens in these movies, the guy and his kid grow to know and care about each other over time. (Sweet sugary music starts to play in the background). They find a common bond through the robots that Charlie uses to compete with. Eleven-year-old Max, already a video game fanatic, gets hooked on robot boxing as well, and even shows a knack for it when they acquire a new robot, Atom, when they break into a junkyard, looking for parts.

By the way, the way they find Atom is really stupid. Max slips down a cliff of junk and is about to fall to his doom, when a robotic hand reaches out from the scrap heap and saves him. In return, Max digs the robot out, intent on returning the favor. It’s just sappy. Why would a robot in a junk heap suddenly power-up and save a kid. It’s just DUMB writing.

MA:  Yeah, it was a little unclear what happened there.  I wasn’t sure if the robot reached out, or if his arm was just extended in that position already, hooking Max by accident as the kid slid by.

LS:  Atom is an old robot that was used for sparring, and was built more to take punishment than to dish it out. But Max and Charlie change that, turning Atom into a formidable fighter. They start off by playing the underground circuit, and then eventually, as their fame grows, they go legit, scoring an official fight in the big leagues. Which leads to a final battle between scrappy Atom and the Number One robot in the business, Zeus.

Everything about this movie screams “ROCKY,” but with robots instead of people.

ROCKY: Yo, that’s me! Am I like going to be on TV or something?

LS (ignores ROCKY): It also looks like a giant version of the kids’ game Rock Em Sock Em Robots, from the control panels people use to activate the robots to the way some of them punch each other’s heads off.

MA: I know people have said that, but it didn’t really make me think of Rock Em Sock Em Robots. Sure, they both have fighting robots that compete in a boxing ring, but that’s about it.

LS: It’s enough of a similarity.

MA: But the ROCKY connection is another thing altogether. The parallels between the plot of this movie and the first ROCKY (1976) are so obvious and transparent, I think Rocky here should complain about not being credited as the source material.

ROCKY: Yo, what he said.

LS: Supposedly, according to the credits, this movie is based on the short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson (which was also an episode of the old TWILIGHT ZONE series), but, aside from the concept of robots boxing each other, the story and the movie don’t have much in common.

I like Hugh Jackman, and he’s okay here as Charlie.

MA: Okay is the key word. He certainly didn’t wow me.

LS: Of course, most people know him as Wolverine from the X-MEN movies. In  REAL STEEL,  Charlie is a washed-up boxer, a gambling addict, and a deadbeat dad, and yet, we like his character right away, and continue to empathize with him throughout the movie.

MA: You liked his character right away? I thought he was a jerk. Anyone who treats his son the way he did at the outset has loser written all over him, as far as I’m concerned.

LS: C’mon, it’s Hugh Jackman. You never once really believe he’s as bad as he starts out to be. You know he’ll redeem himself. It’s mandatory in this kind of movie.

MA:  I still didn’t like him, and even later when he becomes more heroic, I had a hard time warming up to him.

LS:  Evangeline Lilly from LOST is a real knockout as Charlie’s lover, Bailey Tallet. Her father was the man who trained Charlie as a boxer, and she’s a pretty good robot mechanic in her own right.

MA: Yep, she gets to look pretty in this one, but that’s about it. Strangely, Lilly and Jackman share no screen chemistry at all. I thought their scenes together were flat and sanitized. There’s no sexual energy to speak of.

LS: Yeah, you’re right about that. But this is a safe PG-13 movie, so I knew going in that there would be no sexual energy between them. Her role is a pretty thankless, typical Hollywood “girlfriend” role. That said, I think she’s cute as hell, and I wish she’d get better roles. She deserves to be the lead in something – not a supporting character. As she showed us in LOST, she can do more than just bat her eyes and look pretty.

MA: Compare their relationship to Rocky and Adrian from the ROCKY movies. In that series, you knew the couple loved each other. In REAL STEEL, they’re just going through the motions. Heck, in the ROCKY movies, Rocky has more of a relationship with his old crotchety trainer Mickey than Jackman has with Lilly.

MICKEY (pops up): You tells em, you bastard!

LS: I also liked Kevin Durand as the villainous Ricky, a cowboy who used to be one of Charlie’s opponents in his boxing ring days. He beat Charlie back then, and for some reason he wants to keep beating him. This guy’s got a mean streak, and he really wants to humiliate and hurt Charlie.

MA: Durand’s okay, but we really don’t know much about Ricky as a character. He’s just a stock villain and kinda bored me.

LS: We don’t know much about ANYONE in this movie. It’s all about action, and the father and son crap. It’s NOT about character development or giving us anyone who’s actually believable. So, in that context, I think Durand does a good job. I liked the little jolt of sadism he put into his role.

But, aside from Jackman, the other main character here is Max, and I guess it’s time for me to address him. I have a really mixed reaction to this kid. Sometimes, Max seemed like a real kid to me. But more often, he seemed like a cutesy Hollywood version of a kid. His growing bond with his estranged father seems believable enough, and then suddenly Max looks like a mini Justin Beiber, teaching his robot how to dance (a real wince-inducing scene). Another scene, where Max is trash-talking after a fight, challenging the ultra-rich and famous creators of the champion robot Zeus to fight his robot, was also really irritating. I had mixed feelings about Max throughout the film. I really wanted to like the kid, but there was enough about him that just plain irritated me that he never won me over completely.

MA: Yep, I’d have to agree with your assessment of Max. When he’s acting like the kid in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991), he’s cool, but when he acts like little Anakin Skywalker in THE PHANTOM MENACE (1998), he’s annoying.

LS: I didn’t like either of those movies!

MA: In Goyo’s defense, I actually thought his performance was fine throughout. It’s the writing that’s the problem. The writer couldn’t make up his mind whether Max was supposed to be cute or street smart. The kid’s cute to begin with, so they should have stuck with street smart. The scenes you mentioned were too much “cute.” I wanted to throw up.

LS: I think I actually did throw up a little in my mouth. It tasted funny.

And it didn’t help that some of the music (by Danny Elfman, no less) is downright manipulative, and certain scenes are structured just to pull at your heart strings. Personally, I hate when a movie tries to manipulate my emotions, and I loathed those aspects of REAL STEEL.

MA: I would agree with you again.

LS: However, despite my problems with the movie, it won me over during the fight scenes. I’m guessing the robots were mostly CGI, but for once, that didn’t bother me so much. I was able to accept them as realistic-looking constructs, and the battle scenes are exciting and very well done. I guess it didn’t hurt that boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard was a consultant to the film.

MA: Yep, I liked the fight scenes too, and they were the only things that saved this movie for me.

LS: Karl Yune as Zeu’s creator Tak Machido, and his ultra-glamorous girlfriend and partner Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda) were good at just standing around looking evil and pissed off all of the time, but I wanted to know more about these characters. Like most of the people in this movie, they’re more caricatures than characters.

The robots were cool, though, even plain old Atom. Although I could have done without his dance moves. It is interesting how he had a “shadow ability” to imitate Jackman’s fighting moves when necessary, and there are even some scenes that make us wonder how self-aware Atom really is (like when he looks at Max a certain way, or another scene when he looks at himself in a mirror).

MA: Exactly! But it’s too bad the movie doesn’t take advantage of these bits and do more with them, because as it stands, nothing comes of these moments.

LS: You’re right. But I went in to REAL STEEL expecting to completely hate it. Based on the trailer, it looked like a variation on the TRANSFORMER movies with an annoying kid. But it was actually better than I thought it would be.

While it did not win me over completely (there were too many annoying aspects about the film), it did keep me glued to the screen throughout, and I have to admit that, for the most part—as long as I didn’t think too much about what I was watching—I enjoyed this one.

MA: Well, it’s better than TRANSFORMERS, I’ll give you that much, mostly because the robots in this one don’t talk, so we’re spared their ridiculous dialogue.

The biggest problem I had with REAL STEAL is it just never won me over. It never truly drew me into its story, and I never really connected to its characters.

First off, let’s start with the story, which is so based on ROCKY I knew exactly where the boxing scenes were going and how this one was going to end.

LS: Yeah, I saw the ending coming a mile away. Two miles.

MA: Screenwriter John Gatins borrowed too heavily from the ROCKY movies, there’s no doubt about it. If they decide to make a sequel, all you will need to do is watch ROCKY II (1979) and you’ll be able to figure out how that one is going to end.

LS: IF they decide to make a sequel? You’re kidding me, right? This one has “SEQUEL” written all over it.

MA: Sure, I exaggerate somewhat here…..

LS: Not much.

MA: ….but as I sat in the theater watching this movie, watching the robot Atom win these bouts as an underdog, I couldn’t help but think, I’ve seen this story before, all the way up to his having no business being in the same ring with the champion, yet he gets his chance, and as in ROCKY, it’s not so much about winning, it’s about surviving, getting back up when you’re hit, proving you can stay in the ring with the champion. Seen it all before. And as much as I like Hugh Jackman, in a movie like this, he’s no Sylvester Stallone. He doesn’t have the charisma or likeability that Stallone had in the ROCKY movies.

LS: Some surprises and variations on the ROCKY plotline would have been nice.

And just for the record, if we’re talking boxing movies, I’d have to say RAGING BULL (1980) still blows them all away.

MA: The other thing about the screenplay is it never really gets down to the nitty gritty. The fights are all won too easily when they shouldn’t be. Sure, I enjoyed the fight scenes, but I enjoyed them because of the visuals, not the story. The outcome of these bouts are never in doubt, which I found boring.

As I said before, the characters Charlie and Bailey share no onscreen chemistry, and a lot of this is because we don’t ever really get to see these two in a relationship. She says she likes him, and he spends time with her, so we’re supposed to accept that he likes her, but he seems to be more interested in how she can help him build robots. Not exactly the building blocks of a stable relationship.

The father and son relationship is OK, but it’s way too syrupy sweet for my tastes.

And while I liked the look of the robots, they don ‘t have enough personality. Atom should have been an extremely memorable character. He’s not. You mentioned those scenes where he shows that there could be more going on inside his head, but these moments are never exploited.

REAL STEEL also lacks a serious villain. You mention Kevin Durand as the villainous Ricky, and he’s okay, but he’s really just a supporting character in this movie. The main villain, the champion robot, we don’t even see him in action in the ring until the climactic final fight of the movie. How can we get psyched for the huge bout against the champion when we haven’t even seen him?

And Zeus’s “handlers,” Karl Yune and partner Farra Lemkova, could have been played by mannequins. I didn’t really feel as if I knew these people at all. They just stand around looking ruthless. They didn’t do jack in the movie.

I think director Shawn Levy, who’s directed a bunch of comedies, might want to stick with comedies. The action/boxing scenes here are adequate, but they really aren’t all that memorable.

That being said, I did enjoy the boxing scenes, mostly because of the way they looked and not so much because of what happens in them, and I did enjoy the robots, but I wasn’t really wowed by either. I also thought all the characters in this movie, with the exception of young Max, were flat and uninteresting, and Max suffered from too much of the “cutesies” to be really likeable.

REAL STEEL was fairly entertaining. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. In spite of the fact that it’s rated PG-13, I couldn’t help but think that it was better suited for younger audiences, say 12 and under. For the rest of us, I thought it was like eating sweetened kids’ cereal for breakfast. It’s colorful, and it looks and sounds good at the time, but after a few bites, it becomes apparent that it’s way too sugary sweet to satisfy.

LS: I love sugary kids’ cereals! (holds up a box of FRUITY PEBBLES). And what about the product placement in this movie? There’s a whole scene that’s pretty much a commercial for Dr. Pepper!

MA: You said it.  The only thing missing from that scene was Atom holding a can of Dr. Pepper in his robot hand!

All in all, I give REAL STEEL two knives.

LS; I guess I liked it a little better than you did. I give it two and a half knives. But I agree, if I was 12 years old, I probably would have loved this movie. Luckily, my mental age is a few years older than that.

MA: Wow, I can’t believe you liked this movie. Here I was expecting you to give it 0 knives, and you end up liking it more than I did. Who would have thought?

But for boxing movie entertainment, I’d much rather watch the ROCKY movies.

ROCKY: Gee, thanks. I appreciate you saying that. It’s a nice thing to say.

MA: Well, it’s true.

(LS’s giant black metal robot strikes and knocks the head off MA’s giant golden robot.)

LS: I’ve knocked your block off, sucker!

MA: Hey, wait a minute! I wasn’t even looking! I was talking to ROCKY.

LS: That’s your problem, not mine. It’s not my fault you can’t do two things at once. You lose buddy. And that means you owe me a case of beer.

MA: Some fighter you are. Hitting a guy when he’s not looking.

LS: Is there a better time to hit someone?

MA: You’re philosophy of life never ceases to amaze me.

How about a rematch? Double or nothing?

LS: Hmm, Let’s see. (counts on his fingers) Two cases are better than one. You’re on!

MA: Let me just replace my robot’s head, and we’ll have at it. Okay, folks, that’s it for now. We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.

LS: Hurry up and fix your robot. I’m thirsty!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives REAL STEEL ~ two knives

L.L. Soares gives REAL STEEL ~ two and a half knives


Remote Outpost: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Anthology Films, Demons, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Richard Matheson Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , on August 17, 2011 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)
….. Do “The Matheson”
By Mark Onspaugh

NOTE: The Outpost staff has gotten word of something buried out in the ice near Quadrant 6, and I will be doing my best to get you news on that discovery, if it is indeed anything at all.

In the meantime, watching TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) made me curious about producer/director Dan Curtis’s other made-for-TV movies. A search through the archives uncovered DEAD OF NIGHT (1977), another trilogy written by the great Richard Matheson for Curtis. One story is Matheson’s adaptation of a story by Jack Finney, and the other two are pure Matheson.

Unlike TRILOGY OF TERROR, DEAD OF NIGHT has a proper lead-in. Ghostly, rippling letters give us the title, then we are shown a sinister house… or is it a mausoleum? Then a narrator (I believe it’s Curtis himself) proclaims:

“This is the dead of night. It has nothing to do with time. It can happen in sunshine or moonlight. In the best of weather or the worst. For the dead of night is a state of mind, that dark, unfathomed region of the human consciousness, from which all the unknown terrors of our lives emerge. The dead of night exists in all of us, and no one knows at what strange, unexpected moment it will make itself known. And so tonight, for your entertainment, three tales: one of mystery, one of imagination and one of terror…”

While not up to the caliber of the narrative lead-ins for THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964) or THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965), it does set us up for a variety of stories. Although any title with the words “dead” and “night” seem to promise horror, we are told this is not the case. I have read several reviews where people complain the first two stories are not scary or horrific – to them I say, “Listen to Mr. Curtis! He gave you DARK SHADOWS (1966-1971), for Pete’s sake!”

The first tale is “Second Chance”, based on a story by Jack Finney. Finney is the author of the books THE BODY SNATCHERS (source material for INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and its numerous remakes), TIME AND AGAIN and FROM TIME TO TIME. Like Matheson’s BID TIME RETURN(basis for the. 1980 film SOMEWHERE IN TIME with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour), Finney presents a method of time travel that involves surrounding oneself with artifacts of the desired time (clothing, furnishings) and traveling by a means of a sort of self-hypnosis, rather than relying on a physical device like a time machine. In “Second Chance,” Ed Begley Jr. (whose character got his arm torn off in CAT PEOPLE, 1982) is a lover of vintage cars. He finds a Jordan Playboy roadster rusting in a barn. The owner tells him a young couple died trying to outrace a train back in 1926. Begley buys the car for a hundred bucks and restores it to mint condition. He takes it for a spin to the nearby town of Creswell, taking the old country road.

As he is relishing this first drive in his newly restored Jordan, another vintage auto passes by… then another. When he reaches the town of Creswell, he finds it is as it was in 1926, and Begley (somewhat calmly) realizes he has somehow “drifted” in time, back to the period where the restored Jordan belongs. As he is walking along the quaint streets, his car is stolen. He runs in front of it but the thieves keep going. Unsure what to do in this strange time, he finally falls asleep and wakes in his own time.

(SPOILER!) Back in college, he meets a pretty sophomore who he doesn’t remember seeing as a freshman. When he goes to meet her grandparents, he learns they are the couple that tried to outrace the train. Begley trying to stop the car was just enough of a delay for the young man driving not to try and cross the tracks. The couple lived, and had children – then a grandchild… who is now Begley’s girlfriend (and one day wife). It’s a nice tale, one that would have been right at home in Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE.

The second tale is called “No Such Thing as a Vampire” and stars Patrick Macnee (THE AVENGERS, 1961-1969), Anjanette Comer (THE BABY, 1973) and the always great Elisha Cook, Jr. (ROSEMARY’S BABY, 1968). In this period piece (a deleted location card seen in the extras informs us that we are in Solta, Rumania 1896), Macnee is Doctor Gheria, a man of science. His beautiful wife Alexis wakes from a fitful sleep to discover two bleeding puncture wounds on her neck. Her screams bring her husband and Karel (Cook), the faithful butler. Alexis is sure that she is the victim of a vampire, and that she will die. Gheria scoffs, and makes sure the house is locked up tight, telling Karel it is rodents or a “venomous insect.”. When the attacks continue, he allows Karel to hang garlic, but only as a “comfort” to Alexis. More attacks occur, with Alexis growing weaker and more hysterical.

Patrick Macnee and Elisha Cook, Jr. search for vampires.

Doctor Gheria becomes distraught and Karel cannot explain how the vampire continues to elude them. Gheria insists he still doesn’t believe, but Karel does – he has even put one to rest.

Finally, Gheria invites one of his most promising students, Michael (Horst Buchholz of. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, 1960) to consult. Michael is alarmed by Alexis’ weakened state – he will wait up with good Dr. Gheria…

(SPOILER!). Gheria has drugged Michael’s tea, and finally the young man collapses. Gheria uses a syringe to draw more blood from sleeping Alexis, then squirts into and around Michael’s mouth. He carries the young man up to the attic, and deposits him in a waiting coffin. Then he leads Karel on a final, desperate search for the “vampire.”. Karel finds him and quickly runs down to retrieve his trusty stake and mallet. As Gheria waits for the inevitable, he says to his sleeping wife: “Rest easy, my dear, your nightmare is over… Or, perhaps it is just beginning, once you discover your lover is dead.”

I liked that this story looked like a Hammer production, and Macnee and the others all do a fine job. And wily Matheson plays with our expectations of the genre. Upon reading the title and being introduced to a “man of science” you figure he is going to learn the hard way that vampires do exist… And Matheson does not say they do or do not—but his doctor counts on local lore and legend to provide him with a way to remove his wife’s lover… And get his nervous slayer/butler to do it!

The final entry is “Bobby”, and, like TRILOGY OF TERROR, they saved the best for last.. Joan Hackett (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, 1969) is a grieving mother who lives in a multi-million dollar beach house up on a cliff. She returns home from shopping and takes a call from her husband—he is surprised (and relieved) to hear she is feeling better since the death of their son, Bobby. We know Bobby was loved because there is a huge portrait of him on the wall, one of those paintings that starts to give you the creeps if you look at it too long. After getting her workaholic husband off the phone, Joan (listed as “Mother” on IMDb) brings out an ancient, leather-bound volume and begins drawing an occult seal on the floor… This is no rough pentagram, but a beautiful device with clean lines and professional lettering – it is the kind of figure any demon would be happy to be bound in.

Joan then recites from the text, telling a number of individuals in the netherworld that they are subject to her command. She wants her son back – little Bobby, tragically drowned. She incants, exhorts, exclaims and finally collapses. Later, while asleep, she hears someone at the door… She asks who it is. If I were one of the demons of the Ninth Circle, that might tick me off, but finally she hears Bobby’s voice. He is on the front steps, shivering in the rain and looking pitiful. Joan is overjoyed, so much so that she goes nattering on until Bobby stutters that he is “cold… so cold, Mommy…”. She takes him inside and still prattles on instead of getting the kid into some warm clothes… Again he tells her how cold he is. She wonders why he never came home – he tells her he lost his memory and another family found him. He just got his memory back today. Seeming to forget all that pentagramming and intoning, Joan triumphantly declares that she knew he didn’t drown.

At first, Bobby (played by Lee Montgomery of BEN, 1972 and BURNT OFFERINGS, 1976) is happy to be home with his doting mother. Then he starts asking odd questions: how many doors does the house have?. Did his mother love him?. When Joan tries to serve him his favorite lunch, he tosses it aside angrily. Bobby, it seems, is not the smiling pre-teen we saw in his oversized portrait. He starts scaring his mother and demanding they play hide-and-go-seek as a storm rages outside.

When Joan goes looking for him, she demands to know why he is treating her like this. “That’s the way you used to talk to me, Mommy” he chides from his hiding place. Then he almost kills her with a potted plant pushed off the second floor railing. (Houses with demonic children like Bobby or Damian are filled with such hazards.). Cowering, Joan gets a call from her husband. In a genuinely terrifying moment, her husband is at first alarmed, then seems to be mocking her, repeating everything she says with childish glee. When Joan demands to know why he is acting this way, his voice changes to Bobby’s, laughing manically and screaming “I fooled you, Mommy! I fooled you!”

Then Bobby tells her she’d better hide – that he is going to find her. He chases her around the house with a butcher knife —just when you think Bobby is going to filet him mother, she pulls out a gun and blows him away—Bobby crashes through the plate glass window and down to the rocks below… As she is trying to recover, BAM! The front door opens and Bobby is there… Joan runs upstairs but he is waiting for her and pushes her down…

(SPOILER!) As he comes down, he tells her that she lied—Bobby didn’t drown, he killed himself to get away from her. When she cast her spell, Bobby didn’t want to come back, so something else came back in his place. Bobby’s face is revealed to be that of a demon – it’s a pretty good makeup for a 70’s low-budget TV movie, but it’s spoiled since that’s the image used on the box. (Bastards!)

Worst. Mother’s. Day. Ever.

If you’ve seen TRILOGY OF TERROR (or read my review), you’ll notice these two last stories have a lot in common—lone woman pursued through her lavish home by something small, supernatural and deadly—and armed with a big ol’ knife. Both episodes depend on the talent of the actress and the scare-factor of the creature, and both “Amelia” and “Bobby” succeed on these levels.

All in all, DEAD OF NIGHT is entertaining and well done, particularly if you realize only one of the tales promises to be straight-up horror (or terror, as they say here). It’s not as sexy as TRILOGY OF TERROR (I’m lookin’ at you, “He Who Kills”!), but Matheson’s stories are well-written and Curtis’s direction is solid.

It’s likely that Dan Curtis was hoping DEAD OF NIGHT might serve as a backdoor pilot. One of the DVD extras contains several takes of the opening narration, and one is almost a parody of Rod Serling’s iconic, clipped delivery—I have a feeling Curtis was hoping for his own TWILIGHT ZONE, but anthology series are a tough sell.

Another extra is DEAD OF NIGHT: A DARKNESS ON BLAISEDON (1969), a TV pilot about a couple of ghost hunting bachelors (who may or may not live together) named Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Matthews, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, 1958,THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, 1973, OCTAMAN, 1976) and Sajid Rowe (Cal Bellini). Sajid has a sort of Bruce Lee vibe without the martial arts, and Jonathan is the sort of earnest psychic researcher Gary Collins would later play on THE SIXTH SENSE (1972). The story is about an heiress pursued by a ghost in the mansion she has inherited. The staging and acting are bit reminiscent of DARK SHADOWS, but much of the acting is way over-the-top—my favorite is the caretaker, played by Thayer David (THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON, 1973 – now one of my favorite titles, seconded only by WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, 1971). David wears coke-bottle glasses and spends a lot of time glaring and/or staring up into… what?. The young heiress is saved and agrees to be part of the ghost-hunting team, thus setting up a possible romantic triangle… But we’ll never know, because the network didn’t greenlight the series… Perhaps that’s just as well.

The 70’s were a fertile time for Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson—Matheson also brought us DUEL (1971), a film directed by a one-hit wonder named Steven Spielberg. We may just have to dust that one off for you in a future column. Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2011 by Mark Onspaugh

(Note: Mark Onspaugh will be having a reading and book signing at the Fire Dove Gallery in Cambria, California this Friday, August 19th, from 7:00 to 8:30pm  -ish. If you live in the area, check it out and say hello.)