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Posts Tagged ‘so bad it’s good’

Good…Bad…I’m The One With The Shark

July 30th, 2014 No comments

A recent installment of the YouTube video series PBS Idea Channel asked whether it was possible to deliberately make a movie that’s so bad that it’s good. Now, as this series is made for hipster doofuses, annoying jargon was required: “nanar” is French for “good bad” movies. I will not be using that word here.

Sit back and allow Mike Rugnetta to assail you with his ADD-friendly words and images for a few moments, then rejoin me below.

I’m going to agree with Mike here; you can’t intentionally make a “good bad” film. Many people have certainly tried, and some have even made a career of it. But these movies are at best pastiches and at worst, failed comedies.

Because, let’s face it, it’s easy to make a bad film. Even highly talented people do so. These days, any wiseass with a video camera and a few willing friends can haul down to Bronson Canyon and churn out a crappy sci-fi/horror flick.

What separates Plan Nine from Outer Space, Birdemic and The Room from the wannabes is the most important ingredient: sincerity. The directors of these films were passionate, and they inspired others to share that passion for a time. They didn’t set out to achieve badness; badness came to them. Ideally, the truly “good bad” movie ought to have something to say, being said by someone in no way qualified to get that message across. Birdemic wants to be an ecological parable, Plan Nine wants to warn stupid humans about the dangers of the arms race (also, exploding the sun). Their spectacular failure makes them all the more endearing.

Now, it’s entirely possible to make a good movie that emulates a bad movie. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a very funny pastiche of ’50s sci-fi, but it’s not a bad film by any means. It’s written and performed by people whose understanding of such cheap genre fare goes beyond the “look, you can see the strings” level of japery. My favorite scene is a pure comedy set piece: a dinner featuring a scientist and his wife, two aliens attempting to pass as human, and a villain whose “wife” is a feral amalgamation of “four different forest animals.”

And that brings me to the reason for today’s post, Sharknado.

For the uninitiated, Sharknado is one of many B-movie pastiches produced by The Asylum, a film studio that specializes in poverty-row “mockbusters” and exploitative monster flicks, most of which show up on the Sci-Fi SyFy Channel. They’re the people who create such artificially-induced “good bad” films as Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which promise ludicrous spectacle, but are mostly kinda dull.

Sharknado is literally about a tornado full of sharks, and it ends with Ian Ziering chainsawing his way out of the stomach of a Great White.

davenado01

My Lego tribute to “Sharknado.”

And I will make the case that Sharknado is a good movie. Not “good bad,” but one that is largely successful at what it’s trying to do, which is to take The Asylum’s favorite formulas of aquatic monsters and city-leveling disasters to a logical, ridiculous conclusion. It’s not two minutes of “money shots” surrounded by 80 minutes of tedious dialogue. The shark attacks come early, often and in the least likely of circumstances. It’s the movie that Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus wanted to be.

Tonight sees the premiere of Sharknado 2, which I am approaching with trepidation. Everyone appears to be in on the joke now, and I fear that the sequel will fall into the category of failed comedy. After all, it’s far too easy to make a bad movie.

Thiel-A-Vision Christmas Classic: It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 24th, 2013 No comments

Originally posted December 16, 2008.

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet . The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H ‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here!

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leads them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!”


At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

All I Want For Christmas

December 14th, 2013 No comments

From time to time, the Bonhams auction house offers up an assortment of Doctor Who related items. Next Wednesday another batch goes up on the block. And while it would be fun to own “Believed to be from Remembrance of the Daleks – a destroyed Dalek” (as it describes the blackened lower section of the unlucky victim of Ace’s beloved Nitro-Nine explosives), that’s not what had me desperately checking my bank balance.

No, here’s what set my twin hearts aflutter:

It’s the Taran Wood Beast! The scourge of the planet Tara! The darkness that slips between the trees! The creature that haunts my sweaty nightmares!

Sure, that may be overselling it. But my love of the Taran Wood Beast is well-documented. Okay, “love” may also be an overstatement, given that I once described it as “endearingly pathetic.” But that doesn’t matter. I wants it. My precious.

Here’s how Bonhams describes it:

Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara – A Taran Wood Beast costume, November – December 1978, comprising:  a mask in the formed as scaled face (sic), protruding eyes and teeth, of synthetic fur, papier-mache, foam, latex, plastic and polystyrene, with tieing straps, with body/ jump suit, of synthetic fur effect fabric, and foam, with detachable section to reverse, with padded hands, and attached claws, house on a wicker mannequin, together with a reproduction image featuring the piece, head width approximately 20 inches (51cm)

It’s worth pointing that this is not, as they would have it, “a” Taran Wood Beast. This is the Taran Wood Beast. The original, you might say.

Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Beast:

Can you imagine the thrill of experiencing this face staring back at you from the corner of your very own living room? Can you imagine the smell of this costume after so many years? It would exude an odor recalling nostalgia and terror, or more likely, a damp, rotted badger carcass. The actual Taran Wood Beast probably has a fresher scent.

If my lovely wife Vicky bought this for me, I not only would love her for the rest of my days (which I already would, so I guess I’d doubly love her), I would wear it. For Halloween. For Arbor Day. For birthdays and bar mitzvahs, for casual Fridays and dress-up Thursdays. I would wear it so often that locals would say, “Oh look, Gladys. It’s the Taran Wood Beast again.” Followed by, “Let’s walk the other way.”

Yet, as much as the mere possibility of owning this lovely for myself excites me, it also saddens me. Saddens me because someone took in this poor beast for the past 35 years. They sheltered it. They loved it. And, whether they came on hard times or simply couldn’t stand the dead badger stench any more, they were forced to let it go.

Categories: Doctor Who Tags:

The Eagles Killed Becky

May 19th, 2010 No comments

I’m writing this from Austin, Texas, where I’ve spent the past few days attending the PBS Annual Meeting. But I’m not writing about that this evening. If you want the scoop about upcoming public TV series, you can check out my updates on TV Worth Blogging.

No, tonight I’m online to tell you about the place that’s going to make me sorry to leave Austin tomorrow afternoon: the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. It’s one of those “brew n’ view” theaters with liquor and a full food service brought right to your seat, but that’s not what makes it the most awesome movie house I’ve ever visited. The Alamo Ritz is a year-round gonzo film festival: not content with cult and trash offerings, it features value-added shows such as a “quote-a-long” Princess Bride and a screening of Armageddon featuring live explosions. If I lived in Austin, I would be at the Ritz all of the freakin’ time.

Tonight I had the chance to visit the KLRU-TV studios to see where they shoot Austin City Limits, but then I found out that the Ritz was showing the neo-classic of bad cinema, Birdemic. It was no contest at all.

I only knew Birdemic: Shock and Terror (to give it its full title) by reputation and its gloriously awful trailer. Imagine The Birds remade by someone who had no idea what Hitchcock was trying to accomplish, with a budget of 100 bucks and the best computer graphics that 1979 could offer.

See for yourself.

One could watch Birdemic in the comfort of one’s own home, but the best way to experience it is in the company of a theater full of willing victims. Preferably, as I did, with a molten chocolate cake ala mode on one’s lap.

It did not disappoint.

Birdemic has most of the hallmarks of a truly classic bad movie. You get banal dialogue that sounded as if someone transcribed everyday conversations. (“The eagles killed Becky” is one of the better howlers.) You get a cast of amateur actors presumably filled out by various friends and relatives. You get bogglingly bad special effects, in this case crudely superimposed CGI eagles which hover in midair. Oh, and you get lots and lots of driving scenes. A fair amount of the movie appears to be happening in real time.

However, what makes it especially precious is the basic incompetence of the direction and cinematography. There aren’t any day-for-night shots, but there are mismatched camera angles, missing dialogue and multiple jump cuts within a single scene. Every shot lingers for several seconds too long. There’s no effort made to loop dialogue muffled by nearby ocean waves, or to clear passing vacationers from the background of the frame.

This is one laid-back birdocalypse. The characters stop for a frickin’ picnic in the midst of birdmageddon.

While the script doesn’t quite reach the insane logic of Ed Wood, it does feature Wood’s endearing earnestness. This is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, with a plaintive message about humanity’s rape of Mother Earth. Both a gun-toting scientist and a treehouse-living naturalist make didactic speeches to the camera explaining how global warming is to blame for the bird flu epidemic that is causing eagles (and only eagles, it seems) to go berserk. (None of them, however, offer any insight as to what causes the birds to explode on impact.)

So, Birdemic was worth the $8.50 ticket price. But you know what really made the experience at the Alamo Ritz special? The trailer which declared the theater to be a “no talking zone,” and made it clear that they meant it.

Categories: Movies Tags: , ,

31 Monsters #29: The Mighty Peking Man

October 29th, 2009 No comments

I pick on Roger Ebert from time to time. One reason I do so is because of his maddening inconsistency. Another is because his more recent reviews have had a tendency to revel in their own cleverness. Mostly, it’s because if I picked on Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, no one would care, not even me.

So it is that I point out Ebert’s three-star review of today’s featured film: 1977’s The Mighty Peking Man. He even has a pull-quote on the back of the DVD box.

Don’t get me wrong: I love The Mighty Peking Man as well. The reason that I know Ebert is quoted on the DVD cover is that I own a copy. It’s just that I wish the Roger Ebert who was enchanted by the cheesy charms of the Peking Man could call the one who panned Speed Racer and the recent Star Trek reboot.

However, I come here not to bury Roger Ebert, but to praise The Mighty Peking Man. This Hong Kong monster mash was produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio in order to cash in on the fever of 1976’s King Kong remake.

Kong was the most obvious influence on this story of a giant ape who got on civilization’s bad side. However, it also recalled Mighty Joe Young and female Tarzan knock-offs such as Sheena through the inclusion of a jungle girl who was best friends with the beast.

An expedition to India in search of the legendary Peking Man ran afoul of various jungle dangers which really have to be seen to be believed. Even then you’ll be running back the DVD just to make sure you really saw what you thought you saw.

First up was an elephant stampede enlivened by a scene in which a clearly rear-projected trained elephant obediently lay down in response to being “shot.” Even better was the following attempt at cinematic gore, involving a fake elephant foot and a bucket of red paint.

Next came a tiger attack that had me scrambling for the DVD remote. An immobile tiger head was pushed toward a victim’s leg, then pulled back to reveal that the entire lower half of the limb had simply disappeared.

Things got better (from a certain point of view) once the Peking Man and his jungle girl playmate were introduced. Samantha (the girl, not the ape) was left orphaned in the wilderness after a plane crash, and had grown into a majestically made-up and coiffed young woman with a remarkably precarious bikini top. Utam (the ape, not the girl) was released from his underground imprisonment after an earthquake, and wildly varied in height according to the needs of the filmmakers. Somehow, the two became roomies.

That woman/ape bond was threatened once Johnnie, the expedition leader, saved Samantha from a venomous snake bite and the two fell in love. They engaged in a slow-motion romantic montage that not only veered toward the absurd, but accelerated at full speed. The best moments came when Samantha pulled her pet leopard into the happy dance.

I can’t imagine my Maine Coon putting up with this, much less a fully-grown jungle cat. I suspect heavy sedation.

Somehow, Johnnie managed to talk Samantha and Utam into accompanying him back to civilization. Yes, everyone involved thought that this would turn out well.

To absolutely no one else’s surprise, Johnnie’s partner immediately put Utam on display. The primate (whose inexplicable power, you may recall, was to become as big as he needed to be for any given scene) was forced to battle an entire squadron of bulldozers.

Then the unscrupulous businessman went too far and–in an unnecessarily nasty detail for this sort of film–attempted to rape the jungle girl. This, good sirs, simply would not stand. There was nothing left for Utam but a hastily-planned rampage.

Things didn’t go well for anyone except for Johnnie, who got off quite easy given that he dumped Samantha for his old girlfriend the moment he returned to the city. Both Utam and his blonde goddess went up in a fireball as the Hong Kong military detonated the building upon which they stood. This time, it was Johnnie killed Beauty and the Beast.

My Favorite Martians: Ro-Man Of The Planet Ro-Man

September 3rd, 2009 No comments

It’s a familiar story. Gorilla in bubble helmet meets girl. Gorilla in bubble helmet loses girl. Gorilla in bubble helmet kills billions of people with calcinator death ray.

Meet Ro-Man of the Planet Ro-Man, the star of 1953’s Robot Monster. A lot of films are said to be “so bad, they’re good,” but this is the crème de la crème of cinema cheese. Only Plan Nine From Outer Space can challenge it for accidental hilarity.

Now, most people making a film about a “robot monster” would at least make a good faith attempt to put a robot on the screen, but director Phil Tucker wasn’t most people. Legend has it that available robot costumes were too expensive to rent, so Tucker hired his friend George Barrows, whose chief qualification was that he owned a gorilla suit.

You might be thinking, “A gorilla isn’t a robot.” Sure, not until you replace the head with a space helmet. Voilà! Robot! Pull some pantyhose over the actor’s face and you’re ready to conquer the world!

And so came that fateful day when a single overweight mechanical gorilla managed to kill all but eight members of the human race. He might have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for love.

Yes, love. For one of those remaining eight is Alice (or, as Ro-Man calls her “A-lice”), the only woman who can set a robot simian’s heart aflutter.

Alice is one of the daughters of a scientist who created a serum which counteracts Ro-Man’s death ray. Not that it’s done his family or assistant Roy much good, as they’re living in the open foundation of a demolished house, protected from the alien’s senses by an electronic barrier.

Ro-Man is under orders from his leader Great Guidance–who looks suspiciously like Ro-Man aside from a slightly modified bubble helmet–to locate and destroy the remaining “hu-mans.” But Ro-Man keeps fudging the number of survivors in hopes that Great Guidance won’t notice that the one called A-lice is still among the living.

I must, but I cannot! How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I cannot….but I must!

You see, despite his great strength–obtained from the planet Ro-Man, relayed for his individual energiser–Ro-Man is experiencing an inexplicable weakness. It will lead him to make both poor judgments and frequent soliloquys.

Yes! To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?

Folks, Ro-Man needs himself something, and it’s not something that can be relayed from the planet Ro-Man.

He kidnaps A-lice and brings her back to his cave* of super Ro-Man technology, including a wooden table and a thing what blows bubbles. (No joke, N.A. Fischer Chemical Products gets a credit for its “Automatic Billion Bubble Machine.”)

What is painfully obvious is that Ro-Man has no clue what to do with a girl once he kidnaps one. For one, his fat gorilla hands clearly aren’t up to the task. He makes a futile attempt to tie up A-lice, but when Great Guidance calls he gets frustrated and knocks her out. And yet, a couple of shots later, she’s sitting on the ground, trussed hand and foot. I like a girl who’s into self-bondage.

Great Guidance at last loses his shit and bellows, “You wish to be a hu-man? Good! You can die a hu-man!” He unleashes cosmic Q-waves which kill the lovestruck gorilla/robot and destroy the world in a stock footage montage which inexplicably includes dinosaurs.

And then, it turns out to be all a little boy’s dream. Or is it? As the boy runs away from the cave, Ro-Man reemerges. Not once, but three times. Three Ro-Men? Or one Ro-Man walking in circles? We will never know.

Honestly, I can barely do this film justice. Read the wonderful review at And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

*The infamous Bronson Canyon cave, an artificially-dug tunnel in a public park so close to Hollywood that it’s featured in countless movies and TV shows.

Flame-Broiled Chicken

April 1st, 2009 No comments

Apropos of nothing, while surfing Hulu I just stumbled across this clip of my favorite scene from the 1977 horror film The Car, in which James Brolin squares off against a demonic automobile. You may have thought you’d seen everything, but you probably haven’t seen this…

It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 16th, 2008 No comments

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet. The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here! 

 

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leades them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!” 

 

At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

Latitude Zero: The Thrilling Conclusion!

June 16th, 2008 No comments

As the final installment of Latitude Zero commences, Malic has just concluded transplanting the brain of his once-loyal lover Kroiga into the body of a surgically-grafted gryphon and sent it to “Kill MacKenzie!”

Flush with success, the ageless, mad scientist seemingly forgets that he’d intended to intimidate Dr. Okada into giving up the secret of his anti-radiation formula by turning Okada’s daughter into a bat creature. Instead, he commits a breach of etiquette by moving straight to his back-up plan of dissecting the doctor’s brain.

But first, he observes Captain MacKenzie’s group making its way across Blood Rock on his monitor, and flips a handy blow-up-the-cliffside switch to bring an avalanche down upon them. However, they manage to avoid injury from the falling rocks. This may be due to the protective combination of their corvexa jumpsuits and their swim in the Bath of Immunity, or it might be because the rocks are a poorly superimposed special effect. We’ll never be certain.

Elsewhere, Kroiga the gryphon begins to experience the effects of Malic’s “amplification serum” and grow in size.

Trapped in a cave, MacKenzie and crew suddenly find themselves in a Princess Bride crossover, as Rodents of Unusual Size (species Rattus zippersuitus) menacingly approach. Our heroes respond by firing paralyzing gas pellets from the fingers of their golden gloves, then beat a hasty retreat to another tunnel.

“Hey, does anyone else smell cheese?”

They emerge into a bone-filled valley venting poison gas into the air. As the choking fumes enter their lungs, Richard Jaeckel shouts “Bath of Immunity, my ass!” Or maybe that was just me. The corvexa suits–which, as you may recall, are woven from an impervious alloy of gold and platinum–don’t help much either when they encounter a lake of pure, purple acid. Koubo loses a boot when he ignores all common sense and tests the obviously evil, bubbling brew with his foot. Nice going, Koubo.

“Too bad there’s absolutely no other way
to tell if this is dangerous.”
“Madre de Dios!”

The giant rats pursue them across the plain. MacKenzie and Ken Tashiro hold them off with their fingertip flamethrowers. That’s right, fingertip flamethrowers. Never mind how a pair of normally-sized gloves can accommodate gas launchers, laser projectors and flamethrowers, not to mention their assorted power sources and ammunition. It’s science!

Unfortunately, Koubo’s “elevation belt” improbably fell off and melted as Perry and Ken pulled him out of the acid lake, which leaves MacKenzie in a pickle as the now-flaming rodents continue their advance. Ordering the men to link arms, they airlift the beltless Koubo as the rats heedlessly plunge into the deadly liquid.

This does, in fact, look ridiculous. Turns out the rats were no smarter than Koubo.

Back at Evil Medical Center, Cesar Romero is pissed that his newly minted gryphon ineffectually sits around utterly failing to kill MacKenzie. He grouses, “Kroiga was a fool as a woman; is she also a fool as a gryphon? Why doesn’t she attack?” I don’t know, Malic, do the words “Die, die, DIE!” mean anything to you?

He prepares to cut open Dr. Okada’s brain, which somehow involves pointing a sinister sun lamp at his head. From the gallery, Okada’s daughter reinforces a stereotype by shouting “Prease! Prease don’t hurt my father!”

At long last, MacKenzie bursts into the chamber and all hell breaks loose. Bat creatures swoop down, supported by thick wires. One attacks Ken and is promptly smacked in the head. As Perry grapples the monster, Dr. Tashiro rushes to the aid of Miss Osaka, and…kicks a bat creature in the ass.

Sure, they can fly.
But they prefer the elevator.
Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist!

Malic’s galpal Lucretia moves to stab Dr. Okada with a hypodermic needle, but MacKenzie intercepts her. Petulantly, she plunges the hypo into the captain’s chest. However, the needle merely bends as it contacts his intermittently impervious jumpsuit.

Then, in what seems a supremely dickish move by a purported good guy, MacKenzie deliberately throws Lucretia onto Malic’s knife.

“Into the mud, scum queen!”

As Lucretia dies in Malic’s arms, the terrible twosome share a touching moment:

“Lucretia! I didn’t…I didn’t…”
“I know, Malic. I know.”

Okay, it ain’t deathless dialogue, but it is the most honestly emotional moment of the entire film.

I haven’t cared much for MacKenzie up until this point, but I now like him even less when I see the insufferably smug look on his murderous face. Malic doesn’t care for it either, urging his bat creatures to “Kill him!”

MacKenzie (or rather, his stunt double) does a quick tuck-and-roll, then begins firing laser beams from his all-purpose gloves. A bisected bat creature thuds into the cavern wall.

Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph Cotten.

Koubo lifts a man-bat over his head for a helicopter spin. Perry punches another in the face. And Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist knifes one in the back.

Now I’m even beginning to feel sorry for the bat creatures.

Malic closes the shutters, plunging the room into darkness and bringing forth a swarm of garden-variety bats which, due to a tragic miscalcuation of scale, appear to have four-inch wingspans. The distraction allows him to escape to his submarine.

As Koubo switches on the cavern lights, Lucretia’s dead body is seen to rapidly decay into dust. Why? Oh, why the hell not?

“Aieee! Tiny bats!” She should’ve moisturized.

Captain MacKenzie leads the Okadas back to the relative safety of his own submarine, the Alpha, but Malic’s Black Shark closes in.

Malic launches a shell full of sparking glitter which settles over the Alpha and electrifies the sub’s controls. Again, the Bath of Immunity proves overrated as Koubo is burnt. Inexplicably, MacKenzie is able to overcome the electrical arcs with his bare hands and thrust the lever which disperses the glitter from the ship’s hull.

Undeterred, Malic activates a hidden magnet which draws the Alpha against the cliff wall, then begins to oh-so-slowly pivot his laser cannon for a final, deadly shot.

At last, MacKenzie reveals the “special modifications” that he’d ordered for the Alpha. Rocket engines fire and the vessel soars into the air. Because, honestly, it wouldn’t be Japanese sci-fi without a flying submarine.

Malic rushes to the cannon turret and lauches a furious fusillade. But the Black Shark itself is pulled against the cliffside. Hoist by his own magnetic petard, the villain initially fails to notice that Kroiga–remember her?–has chosen this moment to get off her dead gryphon ass and enter the fray.

The beast flies down and swipes at the laser cannon, knocking it aside. The cliff face is blasted, and rocks rain down on the Black Shark. Malic flails in futility, Kroiga claws at the turret, and finally the whole mess goes up in an orgy of Toho Studios-brand explosions.

Hell hath no fury like a woman
whose brain was surgically removed.
“Roar! I say roar, even!”

Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist observes “Scratch one submarine.” Then as Blood Rock detonates as well, Perry pithily responds “Scratch one island.”

Boom.

Later, back at the undersea pimple that is Latitude Zero, Perry takes snapshots of happy couples. Anne Barton has at last landed her Franco-Japanese love, Jules Masson. Meanwhile, Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist blissfully plays golf with a woman whom I’ve only realized just now is Miss Okada.

Irwin Allen presents: Picnic at the Bottom of the Sea!

Perry prepares to return to the surface world with his camera full of photos and his tobacco pouch loaded with diamonds. He questions MacKenzie, “You said, ‘Everything down here is developed for the benefit of Mankind,’ right? Well, when are you gonna let the rest of the world in on this secret?”

The captain responds, “Mr. Lawton, none of us is wise enough to know when man will live in harmony. Until then, we must continue our work here because it’s the only place on this planet where we can.” Makes sense to me.

We then enjoy a photographic montage of the surface world: scenes of protest, Communists, impoverished kids drinking from styrofoam cups, rocketships blasting into orbit.

After this bizarre interlude, we see a naval vessel which rescues Perry from an inflatable raft. Oddly, no one believes his story of underwater civilizations, baths of immunity, oversized rats and teensy bats.

“Really, it was an alloy of gold and platinum!”

Without warning, and for no explainable reason, the film begins to channel the final scene of The Wizard of Oz. The ship’s captain is a dead-ringer for Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist, and the commander is Glen MacKenzie (no relation), played again by Joseph Cotten.

A flustered Perry attempts to prove his tale with the film from his camera, which–as anyone who has even seen this sort of thing before will know–is completely blank. And the pouch? Filled once again with tobacco.

“Son, what you’ve got here is a Toho Studios film.”

Now, you may be thinking that all this “and you were there, and you, and you” stuff is a put-on: that Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist and Captain MacKenzie have disguised themselves to mess with Perry’s head and protect the secret of Latitude Zero. But then the ship’s lieutenant enters, and he’s played by…Cesar Romero!

Whaaaaaaaa?!?

After Perry is led to sick bay to dribble into a cup, the lieutenant receives a message sent to Mr. Lawton from a bank in New York: “Have received 600 carats of diamonds from unknown sender, instructing we hold for safekeeping pending your return.”

“How did the bank know that he’s aboard this ship?”
“Damned if I know, but it’s a cinch he’s the richest man aboard.”

Soooooo, the fine folks of Latitude Zero fogged Perry’s film and replaced his fortune in precious stones with pipeweed, but then they went ahead and deposited the diamonds anyway?

And what the hell is Cesar Romero doing here? Why the pointless addition of a “it was all a dream, or was it?” twist?

We’ll never know. The vessel sets a new course: “Longitude one-seven-six, latitude…zero!”

Latitude Zero: Chapter Three

June 12th, 2008 No comments

Up ’til now, you may not have understood why I was so entranced by my initial viewing of Latitude Zero. Sure, it’s hokey, talky and far too impressed with its science-utopia, but the same could be said for a number of ’50s and ’60s sci-fi flicks.

It’s the third act where the wheels come off the bathysphere and and it descends into batshit insanity. You could blame the Japanese, who turn out unfathomably odd pop cultural artifacts faster than you can say “hentai Pokemon.” But I’ll lay it at the feet of its American screenwriter, Ted Sherdeman, who based it on his own ’40s radio serial. Time magazine’s review of the radio drama suggests that some of the odder details were there from the start. (In fairness to Sherdeman, he also wrote the screenplay for Them!, one of the very best ’50s monster movies.)

To recap the story so far:

MacKenzie and Malic are superscientists with inexplicably extended lifespans. They fight.


 

Our story continues as MacKenzie prepares to rescue the kidnapped scientist Dr. Okada and his daughter from Malic’s island fortress. He orders that special modifications being made to his submarine, the Alpha, be completed within the hour. Feeling indebted, Perry, Ken and Jules volunteer for the mission. The “Frenchman” asks how they should prepare for the dangers of Blood Rock. “First,” says MacKenzie, “the Bath of Immunity!”

It turns out to be more of a Spa Pool of Immunity, a bubbling tub of greenish water that grants 24 hours of protection. The gang is surprised when Anne joins them in the skinny dip. (It’s still the ’60s, so the nakedness is only implied.) It’s supposed to be humorously titillating when the boys have to exit the bath first with their junk dangling, but it’s really just sort of awkward.

Concerned about shrinkage. Get a good look, guys. This is all you get.

And how do we know that this is truly a Bath of Immunity and not just MacKenzie’s ploy to see Richard Jaeckel’s wee-wee? The good captain has one of his minions shoot him with a revolver. Plucking the bullet from the air, he says to Perry, “We’d better test you too.” And before any of our heroes can suggest something less drastic–a bad paper cut or poke in the eye–each is shot square in the chest. Ah, the scientific approach.

Call it job satisfaction.
“Wow, I didn’t even feel the kinetic energy!” “Me? Hey, you never shot the broad!”

Next, they are issued shiny jumpsuits made of “corvexa,” an alloy of gold and platinum and therefore impervious to all temperatures. Just like real gold and platinum are.

Back on Blood Rock, Malic taunts Dr. Okada by telling him that he knew about the homing device secreted in his prisoner’s spare eyeglasses all along, then smashes the frames with his foot. (Honestly, there’s evil and then there’s just plain dickishness.) He orders that the captives be brought to the observation gallery.

In the operating theater, a bat creature wheels in a gurney like a Chiropteran orderly. Strapped to it is Kroiga, once-loyal submarine commander and romantic rival of Malic’s “companion” Lucretia. As Lucretia prepares to jab her with a scary needle, Kroiga’s last words are “You monster! You fiend! Damn you! I hope you die…die…DIE!”

Keep this in mind. It’ll be important later.

On the next episode of Grey’s Anatomy “Seriously, die…dieDIE!

“I’ll demonstrate my skill,” Malic declares to Dr. Okada, “by creating the creature destined to kill your Captain MacKenzie.” As he walks over to a control panel, the nearby actor in the bat suit appears to think, “Well, I can’t just stand here doing nothing,” and so begins to quiver with palsied menace.

A pair of sliding wall panels reveal another actor, this one in a thoroughly unconvincing lion costume, and a puppet condor. Anesthetic gas pours into the lion’s cell.

On the Alpha, MacKenzie cracks out the rest of the gear. They include rocket-powered “elevation belts,” and gloves with a variety of weapons built into the fingers: miniature flamethrowers, paralyzing gas and lethal lasers.

Back in the operating room, Shaky the Bat watches as Malic begins to saw into the cranium of the still-conscious guy-in-a-lion-suit. From the gallery, Okada’s daughter cries, “I can’t stand it!” only to receive a dressing-down from another nearby bat creature.

“No, I do not want a neck rub!”

Malic’s intention is to transplant Kroiga’s brain into his beast, so that it’ll be able to “understand and obey” his orders. Okada offers to give up his anti-radiation formula, but it’s too late. Malic pulls out his rotary saw, and orders Lucretia to anesthetize the condor!

Perhaps a little too happy about his work. Fun Fact: “Anesthetize the condor” is a popular euphemism in the Malic household.

The Alpha arrives at Blood Rock and parks underneath a cliff face. Stepping out onto the landing ramp, the invaders activate their elevation belts and rocket upwards.

We are Devo. This does not in any way look ridiculous.

As they make their way toward the fortress, a magnetic force locks their elevation belts and holds them in place, but Koubo manages to lift them safely onto a nearby ledge.

Lucretia is alarmed as she watches their escape on a monitor, but Malic is otherwise engaged as he saws at the condor’s wings. “It doesn’t matter! Don’t bother me!” he snaps. This was the moment I realized that Latitude Zero had transcended to the ranks of the truly, wonderfully awful, as I witnessed Cesar Romero manically butcher a puppet bird.

Thanksgiving at Blood Rock was always a little strange.

Malic finishes assembling his creation, a winged lion with a human brain! He addresses it as “Kroiga,” and crows in triumph when it recognizes its name. Oh, but that’s not enough for Malic, now showing off like a toddler using the toilet for the first time. He brandishes his “amplification serum,” which will cause the gryphon to increase three times in size.

Now, as none of us are mad scientists, consider this for a moment: you have betrayed your lover (whose last words, remember, were “I hope you die, die, DIE!”), cut out her brain, stuck it in the body of a half-lion/half-bird, and made the resultant monster three times bigger. Really? This is your master plan? Have you really thought it through?

Malic’s mind is elsewhere. He cries “Go! Find MacKenzie and kill him! Kill MacKenzie!”

As the gryphon soars into the sky, we take our leave from Blood Rock for now…

  • Will Kroiga really “kill MacKenzie?”
  • Is creating a giant monster that hates your guts a good idea?
  • Does this corvexa jumpsuit make Joseph Cotten look fat?

Stay tuned, for the final chapter of Latitude Zero!

Next: Rodents of Unusual Size!