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July 12, 2014
David Kalat
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Dawn of the Rise of the Conquest of the Escape of the Planet of the Apes

In honor of this week’s debut of the latest outing in The Planet of the Apes franchise, I rewatched Tim Burton’s 2001 misbegotten reboot.  It was like picking at a scab that wouldn’t heal—I know I wasn’t doing myself any favors by watching it, but I couldn’t help it.  And along the way I ran across an essay on that Apes misfire I’d written at the time but never published.  I’ve dusted that piece off and thought I’d share it here.

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KEYWORDS: Planet of the Apes
COMMENTS: 10
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July 5, 2014
David Kalat
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All kids love Alien

It was 1979; I was nine years old.  It was a Sunday morning and my parents were leisurely enjoying the Sunday paper.  I could see there was a front page story, illustrated with a massive photograph of what appeared to be the wreckage of a crashed spaceship on the moon or something.  I don’t remember the headline exactly—something to effect that a person (Scott-something, or something-Scott) had discovered alien life.

My heart quickened a bit—somebody’s actually discovered evidence of other life in the universe?  But also complete bafflement—this was huge news, and why weren’t my folks showing any interest in it?  As far as I could tell, they weren’t even reading this story.

My dad explained that this wasn’t the front page of the newspaper, it was the front page of the Arts section of the newspaper.  Ridley Scott hadn’t found alien life, he’d made a movie about an alien.  This was just an article about the movie, to get people to go see it.

My bubble burst, but I didn’t feel any disappointment.  My excitement just shifted.  I went from being excited about the prospect that we were not alone in the universe to being excited at the prospect of seeing this movie.  Because, oh man, did it look awesome.

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KEYWORDS: action figures, Alien, Kenner, Ridley Scott
COMMENTS: 16
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When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)

genocideposter2Springtime has arrived in California and do you know what that means? BUGS! During the past week I’ve battled a couple of spiders in my kitchen, wrangled with a beetle that invaded my bathroom and took up arms against a small army of moths determined to raid my closet. These creepy critters seem to be everywhere so it seemed like a good time to revisit one of my favorite bug invasion movies, Kazui Nihonmatsu’s GENOCIDE (aka WAR OF THE INSECTS; 1969). GENOCIDE chronicles an attack on a small island community by a large mass of aggressive flying insects. It’s been made the butt of bad jokes by the folks behind Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theater 3000 but this creative low-budget film is no B-movie bomb. Along with its strong antiwar message, GENOCIDE boasts some impressive visual touches and packs an emotional wallop during its explosive final moments that compassionate viewers won’t soon forget.
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In space no one can hear you scream

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ALIEN airs on TCM January 25th as part of their ‘70s Thrills programming

For decades screaming was often the weapon of choice for women in action, science fiction and horror films. We were expected to shriek, shout, yelp, whimper, squeal and squawk in the face of serious danger and (hopefully) a man would eventually come to our aide. So you can imagine how frightened little 11-year-old me was when I first heard the tagline for ALIEN back in 1979. Weeks before I actually saw the film I spent many sleepless nights rolling around in bed and contemplating the terrifying idea that no one could hear me scream if I was in space. If no one could hear me scream how could I be saved from whatever terrible danger awaited me?

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Page to Screen with Soylent Green

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Harry Harrison wrote Make Room! Make Room! in 1965. It was published a year later and in 1973 was turned into the feature film Soylent Green by Richard Fleischer, starring Charlton Heston. Harrison was clearly influenced by Malthusian theory, a stance that might be summed up by the 18th-century British cleric and scholar in one concise sentence: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Over the years, critics of Thomas Robert Malthus have found plenty of fodder with which to reject his dire premise, mainly because the models used by Malthus didn’t account for the many ways in which human ingenuity would make many resources more readily available, and at lower prices, to the growing number of people inhabiting the planet. Malthusian critics might also point to the divide between Harrison’s scenario, which envisioned life in the Big Apple circa 1999 as being multiplied by a factor of five, going from seven million people in the sixties to 35 million by 1999. That didn’t happen, not in NYC at least (Tokyo, on the other hand, has now surpassed that number). Today, the population of of NYC hovers under the nine million mark, perhaps held in check by the exorbitant price of a martini, not to mention the going rate for monthly rent. Fleischer, working in the 70s, decided to hedge his bets by extending the date for Soylent Green out to the year 2022. He also contributed powerful imagery not found in the book of people being scooped up by garbage trucks, which also made for a very compelling poster. [...MORE]

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

As our weeklong tribute to Richard Matheson nears its conclusion, I thought it was high time that someone got around to commenting on Matheson’s comedy work. The only problem is, Matheson wasn’t really a comedy writer and didn’t have much in the way of comedy work. I could have gone with The Raven, or the Buster Keaton episode of The Twilight Zone–these would all have been solid choices. But man do I have a soft spot for the 1981 Lily Tomlin vehicle The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

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Richard Matheson enters The Twilight Zone

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Richard Matheson was already an established writer in 1959, the year he started contributing to The Twilight Zone. But it took him a while. Over the course of the 1950s he rose from pitching sci-fi magazines on his off hours as a mailman, to adapting his own material to screens large and small. He  sold his first story, “Born of Man and Woman”, to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. After a couple of suspense novels fizzled, he garnered notice with his post-apocalyptic survival staple, I Am Legend (1954). It was his follow-up, The Shrinking Man (1956), that cemented his place in popular consciousness. He ingeniously sold himself as screenwriter as part of the film rights deal to Universal, and he would be a prolific writer for film and TV for decades to come (alongside his novels and short stories). As part of our week-long tribute to Matheson, following his death last month at the age of 87, I’ll be looking at the Twilight Zone episodes he declared to be his favorite, Steel and Night Call, both from Season 5. They present fantastical premises with procedural detail, as he also did with I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, bringing the spectacular down to earth.

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Telefilm Time Machine: The Stranger Within (1974)

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The acclaimed horror and science fiction author, Richard Matheson passed away earlier this week at age 87 and in appreciation of his work I decided to devote my latest installment of Telefilm Time Machine to THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974). This noteworthy ABC Movie of the Week was based on one of Matheson’s original short stories (Mother by Protest aka Trespass), which was first published in 1954. Matheson was also responsible for the script of THE STRANGER WITHIN and even though it might not have the strong cult following of some of his other popular telefilms such as THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) and TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), it does have its own kind of eerie charm.

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The Feminine In Your Mind: Lifeforce (1985)

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The summer of 1985 was a chilly one for Hollywood executives, with box office grosses declining 160 million dollars from 1984′s take. In his Los Angeles Times moratorium, Jack Mathews blamed the lack of an all-ages “sequel to a blockbuster” for the downturn, with the adult arterial sprays of Rambo: First Blood Part II sitting atop the charts. Franchise hopefuls Explorers and Return to Oz tanked, while even the successes (The Goonies, Cocoon) didn’t crack $100 million. The family dollar was being kept in-pocket.  It was inauspicious timing for exploitation operation Cannon Films to release one of their few big-budget items, the eroto-horror whatzit Lifeforce. They signed Tobe Hooper, fresh off of Poltergeist, to direct, Henry Mancini to write the score, and John Dykstra (Star Wars) to head the effects team. Instead of a Spielberg theme park ride, they delivered an obsessive head trip in 70mm, one which details the ways in which quivering men fail to satisfy a voracious (alien) woman’s sexual desire. Ravaged by critics, Janet Maslin memorably described it as “hysterical vampire porn”, and it made only $11.5 million on a $25 million budget. It comes out in a loaded Blu-Ray today from Scream Factory.

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BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO

A Japanese book cover for BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO

I know Harry Harrison for his collaborative work with Wally Wood on EC Comics (circa 1948), his work on the revived Flash Gordon scripts (’58 – ’68), the first of 12 Stainless Steel Rat novels (published 1961), his contributions to The Saint TV series (Harrison did ghost-work for Leslie Charteris on the 1964 novel Vendetta for the Saint, later adapted as episodes in ’69), and – of course – I’ve seen Soylent Green (1973), based on his ’66 novel Make Room! Make Room! All of which is tip of the iceberg stuff for a very prolific career which includes Bill, the Galactic Hero, a science-fiction satire novel he published in 1965 and which was later followed up with six sequels. I only recently became familiar with Bill thanks to the efforts by director Alex Cox to adapt this work for the big screen. Last week, Alex launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film – and, yes, I can say “film” because Alex plans on shooting part of the action on B&W 35mm. Below are some questions Alex was kind enough to answer regarding his planned film adaption for Bill, the Galactic Hero: [...MORE]

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