Circle of Fear episode 20: Spare Parts

Dr. Phillip Pritchard has died and his widow Ellen (Susan Oliver, Zita from the Star Trek episode “The Menagerie”) has given away his larnyx, eyes and hands to three people who he will lead from the beyond to force a confession from his wife, a woman who finally snapped from years of being trapped in a loveless marriage.

Directed by Charles S. Dubin (Death In Space) and written by Seeleg Lester (who wrote episodes of The Outer LimitsPerry Mason, Hawaii Five-O and many more shows), Paul Mason (who produced Better Off DeadTeen Witch and Killer Klowns from Outer Space) and Jimmy Sangster, this episode plays off that old horror tale of body parts having a life of their own.

Look for Christopher Connelley (Atlantis Interceptors1990: The Bronx WarriorsManhattan Baby), Meg Foster (Masters of the Universe) and Alex Rocco, which is pretty much what I call a great cast.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ti piace Hitchcock? (2005)

Giulio (Elio Germano) is a film student that frequents a video store and has an apartment filled with movie posters and yearns to discuss film with anyone he meets and no, I’m not triggered, why do you ask?

One day at the store, he notices Federica Lalli (Chiara Conti) and Sasha Zerboni (Elisabetta Rocchetti) both trying to rent Strangers On a Train. The next day, he reads that Sasha’s rich mother has been killed, which he remarks to his girlfriend Arianna (Cristina Brondo) seems way too close to the plot of that Hitchcock film. He now feels like it’s only a matter of time before Federica has to kill someone for Sasha, so he starts watching her. The only problem? She’s watching him too.

While watching Federica and her boss argue over him blackmailing her — just like Marnie –Guilio falls and breaks his ankle, which is an inversion of Rear Window. That night, Arianna comes over only to have to hear about a new theory: Federica is going to have Sasha to kill her boss. She leaves in anger.

The plan is revealed when the video store owner visits our injured hero and tries to drown him. He’s saved by his mother’s new fiancee and the would-be killer runs into traffic before he’s struck by a car. It turns out that Sasha had hired him to kill her mother.

It should all be over but as Guilio and Arianna start to kiss, she’s the one that notices something strange. This story is far from over because there’s still a reference to Vertigo that needs to be made.

Directed by Dario Argento, who co-wrote the script with Franco Ferrini (PhenomenaOperaEyes of CrystalDark Glasses), Do You Like Hitchcock? is a TV movie that takes a long time to get anywhere yet does have some moments worth watching. I loved the ending and the final but of voyeurism as a woman realizes she’s being watched and just turns her head and attention to the giallo novel she’s reading.

Cruise Into Terror (1978)

Originally airing on February 3, 1978 on ABC, this movie has quite the cast: Dirk Benedict (who would appear on the network’s Battlestar Galactica the same year), Frank Converse (who was also in 1981’s Rankin-Bass movie, which was distributed by Aquarius Releasing, The Bushido Blade opposite an all-star cast that included Sonny Chiba, James Earl Jones, Mako, Toshiro Mifune and Laura Gemser), John Forsythe (Dynasty), Christopher George (Enter the Ninja), Lynda Day George (Pieces), Lee Meriwether (The Catwoman after Earth Kitt), Ray Milland (X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes), Hugh O’Brian (Ten Little Indians), Stella Stevens (The Manitou)Roger E. Mosley (Magnum P.I.) and Marshall Thompson (First Man Into Space).

It has what you expect on a cruise to terror: a ship brings aboard a sunken Egyptian sarcophagus that contains the son of Satan. Directed by Bruce Kessler and written by Michael Braverman, who created the show Life Goes On, this movie has Milland as an archaeologist who believes the Egyptians discovered America and Forsythe playing a religious man with a wife he’s disengaging from, leaving her all alone as he struggles with his faith.

That said, it’s also a TV movie and has a coffin that breathes, so there’s that. It also has “Dies Irae” on the soundtrack two years before The Shining.

A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

Airing on January 30, 1973 on ABC, A Cold Night’s Death has a great if small cast — Robert Culp, Michael C. Gwynne and Eli Wallach — and a voiceover by Vic Perrin, the Control Voice from The Outer Limits.

Culp is Robert Jones and Wallach is Frank Enari, two scientists who have been assigned to the Tower Mountain Research Station as replacements for Dr. Vogel, who hasn’t been heard from in five days, with his final messages being near manic. Taking along a chimpanzee named Geronimo, the two only find a destroyed research station and no doctor.

As much The Lighthouse as The ThingA Cold Night’s Death reminds us that in the early 70s, TV movies rivaled drive-ins for frightening films made on a budget.

Director Jerrold Freedman also made Kansas City Bomber and The Boy Who Drank Too Much. The story comes from 20 Million Miles to Earth writer Christopher Knopf.

Circle of Fear episode 19: “Graveyard Shift”

Fred Colby (John Astin) used to be a star but now he’s just a security guard at the same studio that he used to perform at, which is set to close in a few weeks. However, he seems pretty happy and he and his wife Linda (Astin’s wife at the time, Patty Duke) are expecting a child. The only problem he seems to have is the gang of kids that keeps breaking in.

Well, that seems to be it until a dark force within the studio threatens everything that he loves about his life.

There are plenty of horror film references here — the monsters don’t want the studio to close — and Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, the wolfman and the ape man are all characters that Fred once was on screen. And finally, after nineteen episodes, producer William Castle shows up.

I always associate Astin with Night Gallery — he directed “The House,” “A Fear of Spiders” and “The Dark Boy” episodes — so it was kind of interesting to see him show up within another horror anthology.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Spirit (1987)

Written as a series pilot by Steven E. de Sousa (Die HardCommandoBad DreamsThe Running ManThe Return of Captain InvincibleStreet Fighter) and directed by Michael Schultz (Cooley HighCar WashSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Last DragonKrush GrooveDisorderlies) this was a try at turning the Will Eisner newspaper strip into something viewers could see every week.

This has been released by the Warner Archive, but for years it was on convention tables and a lost film of sorts. It aired at a time when comic books weren’t in movies and on TV all the time. Batman was still years away.

The show looks great! It’s as close as a low budget TV show can get to capturing Eisner. de Sousa told Den of Geek, “We did this three or four years before Dick Tracy, but we made some of the same exact choices — only first! Whenever we designed things like costumes and locations, they would be your basic Crayola box of colors. So there’s one blue, one red, and one green.”

The look of the comic showing up was no accident, as he also related “Will Eisner was one of the first artists to approach comics with a conscious cinematic look, starting with The Spirit. So, wherever it was possible, we totally did panel for panel some famous moments from the comic. When the Spirit first meets Dolan, that sequence was shot almost exactly like the scene in the original Eisner comic.”

Sam J. Jones makes a terrific Spirit and Nana Visitor feels like she is Ellen Dolan stepping out of the comic page. Despite its $2.5 million or less budget, it somehow works better — and is so much more fun — than the Frank Miller The Spirit movie.

Supaidāman (1978)

At the end of the 70s, Marvel and Toei made a three-year licensing agreement. Each could use the other’s properties in any way they wanted.

Marvel would use the main robots from two of Toei’s anime, Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace and Chōdenji Robo Combattler V, as part of the Mattel licensed Shogun Warriors comic book and, sadly, not much else. That’s right, Marvel could have had a Kamen Rider comic.

Toei was inspired by Captain America to make Battle Fever J* and also made animated movies of Tomb of Dracula and Frankenstein.

And, of course, their version of Spider-Man.

Across 41 episodes and one movie made for the Toei Manga Matsuri, this story took the costume of Spider-Man and then went absolutely insane.

Motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro sees the Marveller — a UFO — fall to Earth just as his father Dr. Hiroshi Yamashiro — a space archaeologist! — investigates. He’s killed by Professor Monster and his evil Iron Cross Army, who were being opposed by the alien Garia, the last surviving warrior of Planet Spider. He injects Takuya with his blood and gives him a car named the Spider Machine GP-7 as well as a bracelet that allows him to control the ship and the robot form — Leopardon — to protect Earth.

Obviously, this series is a blast. Of course Spider-Man needs a car and a giant robot and is bothered by cold. I might even prefer it to nearly every other live-action version of the character.

*The popularity of this show and Battle Fever J led to a new interest in sentai shows, which of course how we got Power Rangers here. Toei’s next two sentai series, Denshi Sentai Denziman  and Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan featured Marvel Comics Group in the credits yet had no characters from the company.

Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (1981)

Released in Europe as a theatrical film, this 1979 TV movie is really episodes 12 and 13 of the show, “The Chinese Web.”

Director Don McDougall had the same experience when episodes of the Planet of the Apes TV series that he directed were re-released as the foreign theatrical films Farewell to the Planet of the Apes and Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes.

Min Lo Chan, who is the former Chinese Minister of Industrial Development, has defected to the U.S. under suspicion of being a spy. An old friend of J. Jonah Jameson, he is staying with his niece Emily while he tries to prove his innocence. Spider-Man comes in to the story when Jameson asks Peter Parker to help and the journey to save Min Lo Chan will take our friendly neighborhood web swinger all the way to Hong Kong.

While the costume looks great — except for the web shooter — the show as always drags. That said, I would have been excited by the show coming back for more, as Nicholas Hammond claimed that there were plans to do an Amazing Spider-Man/Incredible Hulk TV crossover/comeback movie. Even better — Spidey would have appeared in the new black costume. Supposedly, Universal canceled the film, saying that Lou Ferrigno wasn’t available as he was filming Hercules, a fact that Ferrigno says is not true.

I always felt that this show would have done better if CBS hadn’t aired it as a ratings spoiler throughout 1978 and 1979, programming it against other shows instead of airing it regularly.

This would be the final theatrical film of Spider-Man released until Columbia Pictures acquired the rights in 1999. That said, I would have loved to have seen whatever Cannon would have made.

Spider-Man Strikes Back (1978)

Despite its high ratings, the CBS Amazing Spider-Man series only lasted 13 episodes. There are a lot of reasons why it didn’t last — Marvel Comics publisher and co-creator of the character Stan Lee fought with producer Daniel R. Goodman (even telling Marvel house magazine Pizzazz that the show was “too juvenile”), it was expensive to make, it didn’t get the demographics that the network wanted and they no longer wanted to be the superhero network.

Columbia Pictures helped recoup those costs by releasing two movies in UK, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, taking the “Deadly Dust” episodes — season 1, episodes 1 and 2 — and turning them into a feature-length movie.

Upset that their professor has brought a small amount of plutonium onto campus, three students decide to steal it and build a bomb in order to protest the dangers of nuclear power. They didn’t figure on international businessmen and arms dealer Mr. White (Robert Alda) taking their bomb and trying to detonate it in Los Angeles as an attempt to kill the President of the United States.

Meanwhile, Captain Barbera (Michael Pataki!) suspects Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) of the crime. He’s also pursued by Rita Conway (Chip Fields), a reporter who wants an interview with his alter ego, Spider-Man.

The great thing about the UK — well, maybe not great — is that nunchucks are illegal, so they get censored from every movie. Like this one. It played on U.S. broadcast TV but couldn’t play UK theaters.

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)

I can tell you exactly where a five-year-old me was on the night of September 14, 1977.

Watching this movie on CBS.

I wasn’t alone, as it was the highest performing CBS production for the entire year and played as a theatrical movie in Europe, often in a double bill with Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Directed by E. W. Swackhamer (Vampire) and written by Alvin Boretz, this TV movie has Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker, who becomes Spider-Man when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider.

His first villain isn’t Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin, but instead The Guru (Thayer David), who is mind-controlling people to rob banks and threatens to cause ten people to commit suicide unless he’s paid $50 million. The real drama happens when Peter becomes one of the people under the villain’s thrall.

It’s just sort of like the comic and not really filled with action, but it does have the wild stunt of Spider-Man climbing an actual building in New York City and swinging on a web, which wasn’t CGI back in 1977 and blew all of our minds.