Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sundays Are For Doctor Who: "There's Tom Baker, and Then There's Everybody Else"

Sundays are for Doctor Who
Steve Nyland aka Squonkamatic, October 2018

In our neck of the woods beginning in about 1982 or so “Doctor Who” was broadcast on Sunday afternoons when an entire 4 (or six) episode serial installment would be shown in a two hour broadcast block. And it became what we did on Sundays: Set one’s self up with appropriate weedy snacks (cough) and bask in two hours of Doctor Who steampunk. Check back after if you want anything constructive out of us.

And on my ship that means Tom Baker Doctor Who, Mister. As he was the star at the time the series first appeared on our local PBS stations at 6pm weekdays, sometime around 1976. He was at it right up to the age when watching Doctor Who ceased being a cool activity, though I did stick with most of the Peter Davison era and recall certain of his episodes with fondness. But my pre-occupation is with the Fourth Doctor and specifically the era produced by Phillip Hinchcliffe with its emphasis on blending horror imagery with its cloistered low budget VTR science fiction. I availed myself of getting the old bingewatch machine going while recovering from pneumonia and figure it is as good of a traffic-driving topic to tackle as any.

Yes, I read the books too, when we couldn't watch them, and still keep my collection safe. I'm a geek for this stuff.

I am a hopeless "Fourth Doctor" Tom Baker era Doctor Who nerd. And my apologies if the appreciation for the show does not extend into its modern forms. We first got to see the show as half-hour installments shown on weekday evenings with curious narration by Howard da Silva. Imagine my confusion when seeing "1776" a few years later when recognizing his voice. The show managed to skirt a "PBS, Sports or Nothing" TV viewing rule in our house up until I was 13 or 14 and learned to smuggle an old B&W television out of the attic for clandestine viewing. Though the most potent memories were of watching on Sunday afternoons, and watched it every week through our high school years. My interest waned as part-time jobs + school activities began to dominate Sunday planning but managed to get enough recorded as both audio and later video tape to make sure I got my Doctor Who fix every Sunday.

.... I could post pictures of Leela to the internet all day, really.

By then Tom Baker had been replaced by a procession of actors who gave it the old college try but could never capture my imagination, though Peter Davison came close. He reminded me of one of our more benign math teachers who had a somewhat eccentric flair about him, doing mock golf swings with a yardstick to lighten the mood sometimes. But I could not "connect" with the others and had (sorry to admit it) an adverse reaction to Lalla Ward (shiver ...) which even hottie Tegan from the Peter Davison years could not reverse. Yes, I'm a primate like any other male and the recurring theme of girls & pre to post-pubescent crushes was a very important component of why the series clicked with me. The most important reason was Louise Jameson's "Leela" character smack-dab at age 13. Timing was diabolically perfect. The character hasn't aged a day, and even the weakest of the stories used to support the franchise almost always rose above the typical mainstream dreck of the day. 

Yeah OK, Tegan had it going on for me too. Perfect 80s companion, looks like she'd just been to an Adam Ant show. Will have to look up some of her episodes <3

Girls aside, that's why our dad not only put up with it but started watching along with us. You sort of had to be smart to get it and it introduced us as kids to assorted science concepts without being obvious about it. Between Doctor Who and Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" PBS won my respect and served as common ground within the household. I even pledged a couple of times during viewer drives, receiving plans for a Doctor Who scarf in return that was sadly (fortunately?) never made. My forestry professor dad ultimately being impressed enough to refer to the TARDIS in some of his classes when asking students to "go back in time" when regarding forests as populations of trees which evolve over decades. It also broke the "PBS, Sports or Nothing" rule in a superb shot of irony, though as we entered high school it became impossible to enforce the standards of that bygone era of domestic tyranny. (Joke, OK?) I had to miss most of the cool shows on weeknights or after 9pm, but he made sure we got to see Doctor Who every night and I staunchly believe that the imagination which went into the show helped steer me in the direction of a career as a visual artist prone to science fiction themes. Hell yes.

... I like Scorby. He never actually kills anybody, see. Just growls a lot. They should have let him live and go straight by joining UNIT. Would have made a badass NCO.

Below is a rundown of thoughts on the Tom Baker era Doctor Who’s which I currently have at my disposal, which is sadly missing some important installments due to the BBC’s being lame on lapsing the DVD releases of the installments. I’m a catalog collector who wants the physical unit on my shelf & am resisting the urge to subscribe to their online viewing option via Amazon Prime’s excellent video service, instead relying on Region 2 or VHS rips to view. Get in gear, Gentlemen. I want my discs, not a stream. Got it?

For the record my three favorite serials in order are “The Planet of Evil”, “The Horror of Fang Rock” and “The Brain of Morbius”, though the best ever will always be “The Genesis of the Daleks”.

ROBOT: Pedestrian and juvenile start to Baker’s run as The Doctor is still a necessary component to why his tenure worked. Shows how functionally silly Doctor Who had existed as prior to the entrance of producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Yet even as kiddie fare the show has a respectable body count and a genuine sense of apocalyptic paranoia in the seriousness with which the potential nuclear conflagration is regarded. It’s easy to say “The Robot is the best thing about the episode” as a functional concern but, well, it is. And thank goodness they disposed of the Who Mobile. Or whatever that thing was. Good points are in the downright butch female megalomaniac, who must be a dominatrix on the side, and a decent body count of UNIT commandos fried off, squashed, blown up, or in one scene picked up and downright mangled by the Robot in the show's most inappropriately perfect scene. And the transitional nature of the story does intrigue me about what the John Pertwee & Patrick Troughton years may have to offer, two actors I'm already partial to due to their character work in British horror films. I'm certainly more amicable to that then bothering with the reboot stages, but to each his own.

Now that was cool.

THE ARK IN SPACE: Dynamite low budget precursor to ALIEN (1979) and a superb testament to British made science fiction. I still cherish the memory of being too terrified to go upstairs to get something once after watching it with my family. The low budget effects contribute to the oddness going on. Low budget dogginess done away with via the sheer horror of the story premise, and all of it confined to the surprisingly convincing space ark sets by Roger Murray-Leach. The low budget does nothing to hamper my admiration for this creep-fest in space, all white and sterile other than Noah's marvelous Alien cocoon scene anticipating bubble wrap makeup. But what they did with it was so horrifying and disgusting in concept that we marvel at the performance regardless. Click here for my post on another low-budget "Ark in Space" steampunk (well, sort of) science fiction production called "The Starlets". Which is about the only other show I can think of which looked anything like Doctor Who, though for all the wrong reasons. And this might be the serial that it most closely resembles with its clunky yet sterile and gleaming white sets of pre-fabricated parts. Though sadly none of the apple crate padding that "The Starlets" found dozens of uses for. "The Starlost" even managed to beat "The Ark In Space" on-air by a year, though that series was doomed from the get-go while Hinchcliffe & Baker were just warming up. Harlan Ellison RIP, that guy totally owned me and I will cherish every second of it to the end of my days.

Dallas being cocooned as food for Brett's mutating Alien egg. Or it will be.

I'll be writing more about "The Ark In Space" in a future blog ramble examining some of the pre-cursor science fiction or horror works which helped anticipate ALIEN roughly four years after "The Ark in Space". Both were British made productions making use of similar themes, like hibernating humans and Alien biomass playing hell with human Body Horror. Another vaguely similar take on the space station overrun by goo-spewing alien life forms being "The Green Slime", and all three end up with spaceships being blowed up real good.

Great space suits, and it looks like they're packing the Sniper Rifle weapon from the old shooter game SiN.

THE SONTAARAN EXPERIMENT: Stark, grim Steampunk post-apocalyptica. Has guys wearing space suits so an instant favorite. The shot on video texture at odds with the seriousness of the proceedings. The only all-outdoors Doctor Who episode. They don’t even see the TARDIS let alone go inside, and the proceedings look cold, windy, and like a stiff flask of something to warm the innards would be appropriate. This and "The Invasion of Time" are all I know about the Sontaarans and they still scare the piss out of me. The low budget and small cast make it a more intimate affair than most Doctor Who's, which tend to sprawl over entire solar systems or time skeins. This one concerns itself only with survival against a brutal aggressive warrior race and the desperation of the surviving human rescue team is quite convincing. That they got in & got it done in two episodes in impressive, with not one paper mache boulder or barren gravel quarry to be seen anywhere.

THE GENESIS OF THE DALEKS: The Masterpiece. All the meaningful pondering of the original “Star Trek” one-upped in three hours of sheer terror. Not one light-hearted moment in the proceedings with an implied body count in the tens of thousands. Issues of morality in war, scientific responsibility and the implications of genocide passing as low-budget entertainment aimed at family audiences. Any precept that this is “a show for kids” done away with before the first episode is more than two minutes old and a group of scifi soldiers are machine-gunned down while Trench Raiding. Davros is the ultimate anti-villain, a well meaning if crazed scientist so devoted to his quest for perfection that he is drawn into the inevitable madness of power corrupting absolutely. Should be required viewing for any fan of the contemporary re-booted Doctor Who, with a 500 word essay on its attributes due before being allowed to proceed any further. And a great example of how the writing will ultimately make or break a show regardless of how big or small its budget. Best decision? Leaving it up to our imagination to concoct just how Davros ended up in such a condition, and case in point that even the handicapped can be chillingly ruthless as the rest of us. So don't f*ck with them by parking in marked handicap spots, hear?

Nader seems to genuinely enjoy explaining what the Mutos are. Guy rules.

REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN: Machine-guns + leisure suits in space. I guess the concept of catastrophic decompression due to a bullet through the hull never occurred to them. I’m also not sold on the idea of the marvelous Cybermat creation having infected the entire crew without someone noticing it. The scenes filmed on Voga also look like they were shot in some cave somewhere, lack “alien-ness” and have curiously perfectly flat floors in the big conversation scenes. The Cybermen are OK but part of the problem is that I like them more than I like the Vogans, who come across as trigger happy reactionaries uninterested in determining their own destiny. Of more intrigue are reports of the production crew bringing a hex on them when filming the cave sequences and a slough of odd occurrences which could have been potentially dangerous. Propz to Sarah Jane for the camouflage trousers, and bonus points for the recycled James Bond gadget used to update the Professor's iPhone. One of the first episodes I can recall seeing as a lad and finding enough interest to want more. Amazingly, the entire serial is available as a YouTube user upload linked below -- I've had BBC block *almost every effort I've made to share a favored clip, so I wonder what's up.

Professor Kellman waiting for his iPhone to synch.

VHS rip of the entire 90 minute serial on YouTube.

Click here to watch in a separate window for a fullscreen viewing option.

TERROR OF THE ZYGONS: Could have been worse. The less they show of the Loch Ness Monster the better it works. The very phallic and hissing aliens conjure up unnatural sex, and I still recall being somewhat shocked by the sequence where “Harry” takes a diver out of the hayloft to end up impaled on a pitchfork. That this was entertainment aimed at families is remarkable, especially with the amount of very convincing screaming the Doctor engages in while being fried by Zygon biomechanical circuitry. One of the episodes which always generated the "That is sooo fake" responses in regards to its monster footage, the BBC should be commended in it's resistance to have replaced it with computer generated slop. I'd rather have a goofy looking Skarasen germane to the time the episode was made than all of the RAM drive generated creature effects since "Starship Troopers", a sentiment that the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" franchises sadly caved on. This episode rules because the Skarasen is so goofy looking. I mean, look at how it still chewed up all them girders. That thing rules.

Sarah pondering the Abyss, and it's looking right back at her.

PLANET OF EVIL: The Mini Masterpiece and I will go on record as citing this as my favorite Doctor Who of them all. And it’s all about that incredible, sumptuous and very “real” alien jungle set deigned by Roger Murray-Leach for all of 500 Pounds 1975 UK money. Marvelously constructed in a studio from manufactured elements encrusted with mica and waterlogged by off-camera basin pits, enhanced by a bizarre retinue of sound effects which would put most Quake 2 level designers to shame. I’m even impressed by the juxtaposed minimalism of the Morestran space ship, easily transformed into a bare haunted house in space with a life-sucking alien menace smuggled onboard against Company policy. And then there's Salamar, the insane commanding officer who lives in his own counter-reality where his behavior would be considered "normal". Or that's my theory at least, on why his character comes off as a hyper-strung actor who'd been at the meth bottle during tea break. He's functionally insane, but gets results & the rest of the crew humors him by pretending it's not happening right in front of them. Best scene on the ship is when the Doctor ominously intones about the need for absolute scientific responsibility and the dour Professor Sorenson soberly loads himself into the disposal chute with his box of rocks.

"You're insane, Salamar."

Some ALIEN (1979) precursor ideas exist here as well. Namely the Alien menace infecting a crew member who then brings the corruption back into the spacecraft. There's a tidy disposal of a dead crew member complete with a comment about last words. And of course a barely seen Alien menace prowling dimly lit if barren corridors to suck the life out of hapless space service employees just working a dollar-a-day job, like poor De Haan above. Seems like a nice bloke to have a pint with, which is another similarity to ALIEN in its casting. No hero types or sexy space babes, just employees who find themselves in harms way due to scientists trying to cheat nature with some hair brained scheme to appropriate Alien energy sources.

PYRAMIDS OF MARS: Mummies at Mick Jagger’s house. Good steampunk episode with an admirable scene where Sarah Jane demonstrates her ability to handle firearms. And one of the few times when as a kid I was convinced that the Doctor was going to DIE and the show would be over. No more Doctor Who because he was fried by a space alien dressed up like the Sphinx. But the best character in the proceedings is the old poacher guy, who if you ask me should have been allowed to survive, waking up drunk to the sight of the TARDIS disappearing and the priory burning down. The best scene is the Doctor's lesson to Sarah Jane about temporal relativity when showing her what 1980 would look like if the alien menace wins the day. The Hammer Horror mummy movie angle is memorable, but sadly this is one of the titles which has lapsed on DVD and I'd have to fire up the VCR to run my pre-record BBC tape. Or subscribe to their damned online service, which I just won't cave in on, yet.

For $40 I'll plug the VCR back in. Ridiculous.

THE ANDROID INVASION: Fembot episode. Our first introduction to the very British concoction known as Ginger Beer, which is a gag-reflex inducing swill which tastes like raw nutmeg ground up into battery acid. So yeah, having anyone react to its taste by saying “Delicious” would be a good indication that they have been switched with an alien robot who has taken on the appearance of a good friend. Yet for some reason I have always taken a dim view of this installment. Not that there's anything wrong with it. The plot even concerns itself with the fate of a lost astronaut, a favored topic for sure. And I do like the bit with them being fired off in re-entry capsules ala "Starship Troopers" & Quake 2 lore ... I guess I'm just not sure what it all has to do with Doctor Who as a specific blend of entertainment, which is probably why the UNIT angle was important to work in. Roots the storyline in the tradition with the earthbound scifi invasion plots which were more prevalent during the John Pertwee "Third Doctor" years. Even though it's really not. Maybe just too much going on? I'll watch it again sometime and update if appropriate.

No, not that one ...

THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS: The best non-Dalek Dr. Who? And my 3rd favorite, beaten out by the other two for lack of Leela & too much emphasis on the Sisterhood, sorry to say. Not enough on that "Sargasso Sea of wrecked spaceships", but whatever: Frankenstein eaten for breakfast and coughed back up for lunch with a steampunk cyber-death edge. Reheated and served in a bucket of neon green amniotic goo with the best rampaging monster from the whole series. Two characters sport oversized claws instead of functioning hands. There's gross, disturbing and hilarious dark humor from start to finish, all played with the sobriety of a Peter Cushing Hammer Horror film. Has the best “Shuffling Igor Type” this side of Igor in “Condo”, who gives his life to save his crush-gal Sarah. The scene where he gets plugged in the gut after spilling the brain bucket onto the floor is the show’s most inventively gruesome sequence: We stood up and applauded upon first seeing it as 10 year olds, fist pumping at having finally gotten to see something really fucking cool. The great thing about Doctor Who was that it circumvented our father’s “PBS, sports, or nothing” rule on television viewing by being broadcast to Americans via PBS. GOTCHA, and I am proud to repeat that he very quickly ate his crow and joined in with us, still enjoying Doctor Who for being as smart as it was now forty years later. He made the right decision by not denying us the show. To this day the one episode I always tell people they simply have to see, just because it’s all so marvelously out of control. 


THE SEEDS OF DOOM: Finest appropriation of pre-existing forms ever. The best straight-up villain in the insane millionaire Harrison Chase and the best hired goon ever with my man “Scorby”; He steals the show, with admirable trigger finger discipline and a curious habit of holding his gun at a sort of angle, unless he really means it. The Krynoid is fantastic, the antarctic base scenes some of the best production design from the series run, and who doesn’t love a show with an eccentric artist who manned an Ack-Ack gun in its midst. And yes, the composting machine is something I would like to have installed at the art gallery I manage. We’d keep it busy, starting with the journalist who came to our summer quarterly exhibit and then didn’t do a write-up. What was the point of that?? Off to the mulch-pile along with any artwork from prior shows which artists have failed to remove from our meager storage facilities. 

"I'll go with the Krynoid for $200, Alex."

THE MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA: Less would have been more. Good points do exist: A character named “Hieronymus”, a villain who rolls his R’s, the scene where the Doctor startles horses by pulling a grind box toy on them, and an vaguely implied gay relationship between the effete Duke Giuliano and his male companion Marco. Though I’m confident that’s not what they were going after, and most of the observation is rooted on how this 14th century aristocrat doesn’t even have one concubine or kept mistress as part of the story. I mean, whatever, you know. To each his own, but it just always struck me as curious that the Duke didn’t have a Duchess, just Marco and the two seemed very happy together. I also like how the “brethren” do battle with staffs, like Friar Tuck, and also share a fondness for a good salami sandwich now & then. Certainly not the worst Tom Baker Doctor Who, and I’d even go so far as to opine that lousy Doctor Who beats the best of whatever else may have been on TV at the time, in Britain or here. So we watched and were glad to tune in tomorrow to see what would happen next even during this serial.

Hieronymus Bosch in his little Beaker Scene.

THE HAND OF FEAR: Goodbye, Sarah Jane. Awesomely sexy female alien steals the show in her glitter encrusted body suit which crinkles & creaks as she moves. Gave me an early look at a Scanning Electron Microscope which does not use glass slides for its “slides”. We also learned some basic paleontology, had a brief refreshers of both human pathology and how nuclear power plants work, and learned that Gallifrey is somewhere in Ireland. Which makes sense as that’s where John Boorman ended up, and if anyone was a Time Lord it’s Boorman. I even like “The Exorcist II: The Heretic” and can quote “Zardoz” if put to the task. Things go downhill once Eldraad reverts to his masculine self and proceeds to overact poor Elizabeth Sladen right out of the series. She was always a good screamer, a good sport, and wore the right corduroys just enough times to have prepared my 10 year old palette for Leela. But yeah, it was time for her to go just to allow the series to evolve via a new companion for a new era of viewers. In this case slightly older viewers fascinated by subjects like good looking gals parading about in leather costumes. They got it right, and the way that Sarah was allowed to exit the series actually very sweet, not to mention easier to swallow than Leela’s eventual departure.

"... You know, for a warlike crystalline superhuman life form you have pretty eyes, Space Lady."

VHS rip of episode one from the series. The uploader's YT channel has the other three.

Click here to open Chapter One of "The Hand of Fear" in a separate window for a fullscreen viewing option & to access the other four chapters on the uploader's channel.

THE DEADLY ASSASSIN: Fan Clubs Be Damned. One of the most unique stories from the series regardless of who was playing Who. Broke with format by not having a companion for the Doctor to explain things to and a monster played solely for scares. The “Matrix” humans hunting humans interlude is masterful surrealist television and the Master’s suicidal tendencies admirably ill-suited for family entertainment. The “Making Of” featurette on the Region 2 DVD I was able to obtain has a curious bit about the head of the Doctor Who Fan Club remarking that it’s the worst story ever with glaring inconsistencies that ruin the rest of the series, and I haven’t the foggiest idea what he is talking about. When we were kids this was always regarded as *the* episode to see after “Genesis of the Daleks” at least, representing Tom Baker’s best performance as the Doctor and one of it’s creepiest grossest villains in the cadaverous Master. So like, get a life, Bro. This rocks even if I still haven’t figured out what a “Sheboogan” is, and why they would go around shooting up the Panopticon. 

WW1 imagery always works for disturbing surrealist dream sequences.

THE FACE OF EVIL: Our first encounter with Leela’s leather costume. Von Daniken- baiting Ancient Astronaut Theory crossed with another insane computer undertaking a private little eugenics experiment. As long as it results in hotness like Leela I actually do not mind. Good steampunk scifi as armored space gloves are used for hats, computer control rooms are decorated with candles, and the first of several scenes of the scantily clad Leela under restraints. Tie that girl up and get me a feather to tickle her with. Doctor Who demonstrates that he knows how to use a crossbow, carries mechanical alarm clocks with him, and the suggestion that the backstory to the plot is based on a misadventure in the TARDIS during the “Robot” episode is a glorious example of how useful time travel can be for plot devices. I’m surprised we don’t see more of it.

What *is* that gun supposed to be, anyway?

THE ROBOTS OF DEATH: “Less is More” and it kicks. My favorite Doctor Who adventure for many years, the first few related to my curious childhood practice of audio recording the broadcasts to cassette tape. This serial was one that I managed to get almost all of and I’d listen to it + the other recordings like one would listen to a record album. Got to know every line, cadence, sound effect and music cue before having a home viewing option and by golly, it still sounds the same. The only modern science fiction show I can think of which pursued an art deco theme with its production design complete with a massive sand miner which looks like the oversized hood ornament on the old Niagra Mohawk Building in Syracuse. I also like the idea of using bike reflectors as “Robot Deactivation Discs”, how D-84 is a “Dumb” class robot because he cannot speak, and have had impure thoughts about Leela and Toos spending time in bed together since the concept was first suggested to me by the episode in 1977. That’s a lotta steam.

"No instrument pack report yet, Sir."

THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG: "The Other Masterpiece." More plot and low-budget period horror pizazz packed into six episodes than all of the Hammer Horror output (up to “Vampire Circus”) combined. Best scene is where the Doctor first visits the Palace Theater and boasts of being capable of playing “The Trumpet Voluntary” in a goldfish bowl. Second best is Leela's cold collation supper with Professor Lightfoot. ("Ah ah! Napkin.") I even give the fake giant rats a pass but lament the sight of Leela bedecked in full-body period underwear rather than something more scrofulous. About the only complaint I have about the serial is that we didn’t get enough of Mr. Sin, easily the most fascinating attribute of the story. What exactly is a homunculus? How would it work? All we are told is that it has the cerebral cortex of a pig and duly makes piggy grunting noises when aroused to commit murder. I wish we’d gotten to learn more. Best take-away has to be Henry Gordon Jago’s phrase of “Decorate the Mahogany” as a term for recreational consumption of adult beverages in a pub or bar type setting. Quote it whenever I get the chance.

Careful With that Axe, Lee Hsien.

But let's take a second to address one issue, and that is the depiction of Asian characters in the production. It is a shame that an Asian actor was not employed to play Lee Hsien Chang and believe the producer's toes should be held over a fire about it. Because by doing so they made a trendy but undeniable issue of the (let's admit it) demeaning portrayal of all other Chinese characters in the film to either be stereotypical "Coolies" hustling about with their push-carts. Or bloodthirsty opium smoking Tong members out to eviscerate any Londoners who run afoul of them. My counter to such trendied arguments is that they were depicting a fictional representation of Victorian era Britain including the cultural insensitivity of the day had the film been what it was modeled after: One of those old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce. It was pretending to be a period piece with the jazzed up steampunk scifi as a contemporary twist and thus the negative portrayal is serving a valid artistic function within the film's fictional narrative universe. Though it is also OK for viewers then or now to be annoyed by the depiction and to remind their fellows that we can do better.

"... It's a good knife ... Aren't you going to eat?"

HORROR OF FANG ROCK: A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, and my 2nd favorite Doctor Who of them all after "Planet of Evil". Grim, tight and inventively staged creature feature episode. Leela bedecked in a snug sweater & jeans is a great idea no matter how you slice it, and her threats to cut the throats of any of the supporting cast who give the Doctor a hard time remarkably credible. Purely a horror story with a slimy creature who kills people in an engagingly horrifying manner. The set-bound location of the lighthouse is fabulous and yes, even with the color separation overlay footage up in the lamp room. Stuff like that is what differentiates Doctor Who from more mainstream efforts. We’re in it for the story and this was another one which made me scared as a 12 year old to go upstairs to switch the lights on and get something from our room. One of those Routan things might be lurking on the stairway. I like the "smallness" of the setting, just an island + creepy old lighthouse. No space ships or cavernous sewers, globe-trotting pursuits or lofty idealized sets like the Panopticon. The peril very real as there's nowhere to hide, except 150 feet up in the air on the railing of a lighthouse. 

I just have this thing about foghorns + lighthouses. Call me weird, I can live with it.

THE INVISIBLE ENEMY: Kid favorite and a triumph of style over substance as there is so little. But I've loved this one since the first minute we saw that Titan shuttle. Certain friends who were bold enough and I would say "CONTACT HAS BEEN MADE ..." when encountering each other the week this one aired. Even if the monster is silly this one is very dear to my heart right down to the phonetic English language signage (“Egsit” "Ocksyjen"). The model work is passable, the space suits are fantastic, and who doesn’t like the scenes where the Doctor and Leela are cloned, shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the base of his skull. Leela has also never looked cuter than right at the beginning when wearing one of the Doctor’s hats. I like hats, and am prone to idolizing Leela in any form I can get to. Also features the same actor playing another benign scientist caught up in the mess as in "Planet of Evil", and I like how bloodthirsty K9 gets as he fries down the infected doctors at the space clinic. Who also come to the conclusion that Gallifrey is in Ireland.

IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL: Never “got” this one. Gothic horror creepiest with Freudian penis monsters and Leela looking all hot with her hair up. Another episode caught in distribution hell as BBC tries to force fans into subscribing to their online viewing service. I never even got to score it on VHS, and instead can only relate the experience of watching the serial one evening as a 15 or 16 year old while consuming tequila by mixing it with (don’t yarff, it's gross) plain cold tea. I puked and puked and puked, until I couldn’t puke anymore. Hated the episode for years as a result of the association with severe nausea and would enjoy re-evaluating it in my new-found sobriety.

*Suppertime with Mandrel, Gaudry & Veet.

THE SUN MAKERS: Excellence in Form. The only overtly “funny” Doctor Who I genuinely admire (aside from "City of Death") with truly memorable character roles which influenced my own acting work when doing stage performance in high school & just beyond. The location filming is absolutely convincing and you really do get the feeling that the cellar dwellers really do live down in a grimy unkempt basement. On record as Louise Jameson's favorite episode and probably the one where she has the most to do. I like the wheelchair bound Controller and his noise effect generating model 9-0-9 computer, which has a file on the Doctor which would be interesting to read. I like the Doctor's forged debit card, the Gatherer's underling Marn, how the Correction Center whistles, and the little Department of Motor Vehicles window twelve feet off the floor. Best scene is when they hurl the Gatherer off the roof, which minus some stunned guards in "The Invisible Enemy" might be one of the last authorized death scenes in Doctor Who. (Correction: The simpering Professor in "City of Death" also dies horribly.) Best line is when Leela shouts "WE COULD MAKE A HOLE IN IT!" after the Collector reverts to his fishbowled poisonous fungi form. A decent give/take of the two priorities of dystopian scifi + family entertainment, with some of the best Leela moments from her time with the show.

The Controller, hacking your Fakebook page.  

UNDERWORLD: The one they never aired in our region. Has Leela in it so, it has to rule. But unfortunately BBC have been unforgivably lame in allowing the series to fall into release limbo with certain episodes curiously unavailable for home viewing purchase options. I will use cloud streaming view on demand when I have to, but for a property like Doctor Who I want the physical storage media unit on my shelf for consumption in my preferred methods. And since I have the whole Fourth Doctor series (save this & a couple other examples) on either VHS or DVD other than this blasted thing I’m not going to subscribe to their online viewing service just to finally get to goddamn see it. No way. 

OK, at least not yet

Leela and pretty Rodan ... This had possibilities. Too bad none were explored.

THE INVASION OF TIME: Pull out all the stops. A kitchen sink episode with a little of everything thrown in and sadly the last adventure to feature Leela, to whom I owe my puberty. Pretty Rodan as a rookie Gallifreyan space traffic controller was also a welcome sight, but who was this Andred guy, and why did Leela decide to stay with him? Mehh. I got over it eventually and actually respect Andred as a badass who took names & wasn’t shy about pulling the trigger. And K9 too, whom I frankly never cared much for, also demonstrated a bloodthirsty side to his circuitry by gunning down a couple of palace guards in cold mechanical blood. The Doctor’s nuttiness was exactly what I wanted to see as a 12 year old, and as an adult I’ve come to appreciate the device of using a holographic art gallery to disguise an ancillary power station; I like that control switch hollowed into the Venus de Milo’s backside. And I don't know how else to say it, but I like the whole "roadshow cast" kitchen sink nature of the six episode story arc. They tried a bit of everything and it's fun to see how the TARDIS looks once you get beyond the control room. Namely an old hospital. Odd.

Clothes shopping with Leela.

THE PIRATE PLANET: Blithering idiocy but for Romana’s snug white canvas jeans, which are marvelous to behold as she walks back and forth across the sets. Or just stands there looking bored, good gracious she is something ... Though to be frank I have found myself sadly immune to the effects of Douglas Adams’ highly renowned sense of humor. Sorry. The Captain’s cyborg pirate get-up is interesting and the robot space parrot is a nice touch, but I never got the impression that the machinery he was connected to actually worked. The gangplank gag would have worked if someone had been forced off it prior to the Doctor's fate. And now that I think about it the episode does boast a rare "late 4th Doctor" serial in having a body count as at least one of the guards is executed pretty much for the heck of it. Most useful aspect of the whole show being the term “A spanner in the works”, which my teenage friends and I would use to describe the potential for things being screwed up by a simple & avoidable action. Also curious how the planet they visit + it's gangrenous matriarch's names both pretty much sounds like the word “Xanax”, implying use of a sedative narcotic which transforms one into a giggling bowl of Jell-o. 

Too bad they couldn't have kept Mary Tamm around longer. I'd have kept watching just to check her wardrobe out every week. And probably did.

DESTINY OF THE DALEKS: Remembered with fondness. The DVD actually is in print so as soon as I get my quarterly stipend I’ll order one up. One of the only Lalla Ward episodes I’m genuinely fond of, even if it was painfully obvious to us as 12 year olds that something not quite right had happened to Davros. Answer was simply that the original costume’s latex had gone bad & there was a different actor providing the voice (and, I presume, inside of the mask). But the sight of the Daleks smashing through the wall was met with a shout of triumph when were were first seeing it, as the silliness of the post-Hinchcliffe era had worn thin. We were secretly hoping that the return of the Daleks would promise more grim destruction, carnage & body counts, but alas it was not to be. Though I did like the counterposed alien androids with their dreadlocks + form-fitting white costumes, especially the hot space babe robot. Gotta have one of those along.

Impressive no matter how it came to be.

THE CITY OF DEATH: The last great Doctor Who? Worth it just for the trip back to Leonardo da Vinci’s studio to fuck up his Mona Lisa panels. And the special effects shots of the alien craft on the primordial Earth, blowing itself to bits & triggering the evolution of life on the planet. Julian Glover makes a marvelous evil menace even with this human face on. It is as if he had stepped out of a James Bond film, or would go on to step into one, and also looks great in a helmet ordering the destruction of Rebel technology. I also like Duggan the art detective and how he packs heat when out tracking down the latest disturbances in the art world. The episode is almost impossible to find, I had to make a bargain to have Captain Glom go on a torrent and download it for me, a solution which shames my sense of honor as a former re-seller of home video media. GET THIS STUFF BACK ON DISC GUYS. I like my physical units! and collect them like some people collect stamps.

The "Classic" Era Doctor Who IMDb reference page with links to's Prime Video Service where subscribers can pay BBC even more money to watch online.

One last look .... <3

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) Roger Corman Creature Feature Masterpiece

The Forbidden Grotto of Horror
Steve Nyand aka Squonkamatic, October 2018

Yeah I know what you're thinking. Silly late 50s black and white monster movie cheapie. But I will content strenuously that this is one of the most seriously twisted movies ever made and am nothing short of in awe of it. While not that well versed in the film's history it was shot on the ultra-cheap by Bernard L. Kowalski under the watchful eyes of  Roger and Gene Corman, using a stock-actor cast led by sometime Spaghetti Western star Ken Clark. He plays a Navy underwater demolitions diver turned wildlife biologist game warden "dude" type and gets to doff his shirt for a couple of beefcake scenes for co-star Jan Shepard's approval.

So, what was your BUDs class again?

The film works because of it's brilliantly stupid premise: Testing of atomic powered rockets at Cape Canaveral has resulted in spinoff radiation tainting the waters of the surrounding backwoods wetlands. Otherwise (relatively) harmless leeches have been mutated to giant size and lurk around in the boggy bayous waiting for poachers to devour. In the midst of this dreck is some startlingly frank Hicksploitation in the form of Yvette Vickers clad in as little as they could get away with. She torments her rotund and poorly matched husband Dave (Bruno VeSta) for being "inadequate" and seeks relief for her womanly needs in the arms of Dave's best buddy Cal (Michael Emmett). Dave gets fed up, follows them into the swamp with a shotgun, and orders them into the giant leech infested bog to their doom.

Yvette Vickers can sit around all day & chainsmoke over at my place too. Sounds fine.

And it is thusly that the film earned nothing shy of awe from me in what their fate may be, as the giant leeches drag them under water and into an air pocket cavern underneath the swamp which they have transformed into a low-budget grotto hive. If they'd had more money to sink into the scene it would have been a disaster. As-is this is the stuff that nightmares are made out of, as bulbous rubbery things drain the blood out of their human victims, who have apparently been stunned with some sort of poison (?) to rob them of any will to fight back or escape. And yeah, while it's scary to see the things working over the winos and old man poacher types they've captured, it is downright chilling to undertake of what they might do to poor Ms. Vickers, whom of course is left for last.

Had the film been made fifteen years later it would have been an absolute showstopper, with Corman returning to the themes of ghastly slime creatures having their way with human females. As usual with the best of horror movies it is what they don't show which proves to be the most disturbing elements, as the mind fills in the blanks left onscreen. Another more well-regarded example being the fate of poor navigator Lambert from ALIEN and director Ridley Scott's own implied suggestion that something pretty unnatural occurred between her and that film's oozing mass of slime.

Being the geek I am for such things, I made a little video clip which distills all of the Leech Grotto scenes down into three minutes of low-budget Hell on Earth. I love the floating plants, the sound effects and how claustrophobic the space is. I also like how you have to swim down under the bottom of the swamp to get there, and yet there seems to be just enough light to make sure everyone gets a good look at what they could afford to stage.

Atavistic prurient garbage to be sure, and yet it has a certain something about it which goes beyond just the needs of a low budget monster movie. Has to do with tapping in to a nightmare scenario of powerlessness and loss of essence which is both highly suggestive and about as erotic as a leftover plate of cole slaw.

We'll never know ...

In case you've never and want to give it a try, here's a link to the complete film via a YouTube upload. The film runs something like 62 minutes, is fast, funny and will leave you thinking about anything except the environmental hazards posed by atomic powered rockets. Because there are none.

Click here for the film at Archive.Org with a free download option to the LBX version used for my screen pix.

Attack of the Giant Leeches at the IMDb with a link for viewing via Amazon Prime Video.

Smokey Roads - Tommy James and The Shondells (1969) from "Crimson & Clover" Lava Lamp Vid

Feeling mellowed out & hot to edit video. And as usual it pulled the cork out of the visual bottle. Got some decent painting done today for the first time in ages, and am without obligation to interfere with more until Thursday. Five whole days ... This summed up a recent trip to Syracuse. One of my favorite passages of music ever, figured I'd try to do something with it as an online traffic draw. Consider this blog an information superhighway rest area.  Decided I'm committed to living + working in Central New York as long as my parents are with us. But that doesn't mean I'm delighted about it.

Drainage Bog with Cliffs

And to demonstrate I do have my sense of humor back, I found this amongst the old "Movie Derelict" files (my banned YT movies channel, lasted about two months :D) and decided it needs to be seen. Taken from the 1988 teen oriented horror cheapie "Death By Dialog", whose most interesting fact is that it was filmed using the same barn location/set seen in "Friday the 13th Part III". Some other movie too, I think "Nightmare Weekend".  The upload below removes the MPAA R rated content which opens the scene.

Click here for the entire scene including the naughtiness which sets up the song as an age restricted upload. You will need to be logged in (as a grownup) to view. Be advised there is topless female nudity and it isn't bad, so consider yourself warned. No really.

The same complete scene as an age restricted upload on Vimeo, if you prefer.

Art By Nyland on Vimeo.
My YouTube channel.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Planetoid Project: Reconstructing the Planetwalk Scenes from ALIEN (1979)

Topps ALIEN trading card, and one of the images used in the video linked below.

The Planetoid Project
Steve Nyland aka Squonkamatic, October 2018

So, a couple of years back I embarked on a mad-dash effort to pay homage to Ridley Scott's genre-defining 1979 masterwork "ALIEN", dredging up in part my fixation on the film since the age of twelve. Leave it as I was quite impressed & remain so, and credit it's influencing me to choose a career as a visual artist. And in the early spring of 2017 had put together a hair-brained idea worthy of "Gilligan's Island" to try and make a mockup Planetoid surface with Alien Art in the enormous studio space I have access to in Utica NY. 

The vision I had -- which is still doable, someday -- involved having viewers don "space suits" in an "airlock" and then exit onto the "planetoid surface" and follow a path through forms similar to those in the image above to a "derelict". Upon entering they'd see this "Alien Art" I was intent commissioning, my efforts being oriented towards the environment as a whole. One would then follow a "passageway" festooned with elements of modern day industrial-mechanical-computerized junk which had been partly "infected" by the Alien's corruption. The amount of infested corruption would lesson as the viewer walked along until they came to another "airlock" door and exited the installation.

Still a crackerjack idea derailed by a need for a materials budget & workforce worthy of a small film production in itself, with the final derailing element being the need for insurance before one scrap of lumber had been brought in. Then the legal issue of using the ALIEN franchise for what would have been public usage that could have involved a modest entry fee to help keep the damn thing up for maybe two months of weekends when it could be open for viewing. Six to eight days, something feasible to staff, with an event-like promotion and possibly even timed to happen during the next reboot attempt.

I found my painting again in the disappointment of not being able to take action on the idea and spent the past year on a new creative bent. But one of the artifacts which remains from the marvelous two month brainstorm period is a video "mashup" fan edit culling all of the shots from ALIEN of the human crew walking across the Alien Planetoid and eventually entering the Derelict ship to encounter the Space Jockey. Others have reconstructed other scenes but my favorite part of the movie is when they are on the planet, suited up, and out looking for trouble.

The elements used were minuscule clips, sometimes two or three seconds, found on various "Making Of" or "History Of" the ALIEN franchise, cutscenes included as bonus features from authorized releases, and some of my own ALIEN related media forms like the Topps picture above. I re-arranged some of the audio and used a bit of artistic liberty to create a "story arc" which begins & ends at the airlock. And if I might say, working on and then viewing the results was one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences of the past decade. It is really something. 

(can't seem to make the embed code work ... making coffee)

Just to be thorough, here s a prior build from my YT channel, though the picture clarity and sound editing is nowhere near as robust as what is on Vimeo: I learned shit while making this, how about that. Would also like to stress that neither edit utilized the "Virtual Workprint". They are digital collages made up of bits & pieces from different sources and samples of audio from the Theatrical cut.

The older version.


Wonderland (1991) Clan of Xymox, with Steve Nyland Video Art

Back in 2012 - 2013 I was painting elongated landscape pieces and wanted to make a video of someone "flying through them". This was the result. I called the series the "Wonderland" paintings and have always been a fan of Xymox. Tried to match some of the transitions with the pulse of the music and the results are quite watchable. Many thanks to those responsible for the song being chill on my appropriation of it for such purposes.

And what the heck -- Many of the works shown are in storage & available for sale. See something you like give me a shout and I'll let you know what I'd like for it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Jungle 2000: Eva la Venere Selvaggia (King of Kong Island) 1968 Brad Harris, Ursula Davis, Marc Lawrence LBX/ITALIAN and "Point Blank" (1967)

What is that ... Spanish?? Nice poster.

Of "Kong Island" and "Point Blank"
Steve Nyland aka Squonkamatic, October 2018

I cannot verbalize coherently on why I adore "Kong Island" to the extent that I do. On the surface it is one of the dumbest movies ever pasted together and the motivations on why someone would think that it was a good idea to pursue at all are baffling. The film lacks a definitive genre to be categorized within, part Jungle Adventure, Survival Thriller, Heist Movie, Mad Scientist Potboiler, and Exploitation Nudie. Yet none of those description pigeonholes what takes place, and if anything the film defies both categorization and expectations. It is an enigma, dreamt up out of nothing and created solely for entertainment purposes. There is no message, no cause, no purpose for its existence beyond consuming time for the paying audience.

Who don't even have to pay anymore, really, as the film lapsed into Public Domain anonymity many years back due to an oversight on the part of the original distributors to include a copyright statement on the assorted language versions created. All indications reveal that English, Italian, French and likely a German language presentation created, the intended audience males age 12 - 35 who have nothing better to do but wait for the scene where the brand name actress takes off her clothes. And yet even for them the film is a tease, sporting only partial or long-shot documentation of the three actresses who were sporting enough to play along. There's not a Kong or giant monkey anywhere, and the movie isn't even set on an island. Takes place in Kenya or something like that.

... And people wonder why I enjoy classic Italian genre films so much. 

I will even admit that my initial assessment of the film was dismissive, regarding it as an exercise in "Jungle Trash", a term I coined for low budget potboilers set in darkest Africa like surroundings where white European movie personalities have all sorts of fascinating adventures while the natives carry their luggage. And rest assured there is plenty of that going on for sure, yet over the years + countless viewings of the movie in various forms a different perspective has set in. I now regard it as a classic of Italian genre cinema, a near masterwork of surrealist cinema, and easily my favorite movie to feature its star, muscleman turned Hercules actor Brad Harris. Who sadly passed away only a couple years ago and is worthy of a blog post of his own. Brad Harris movies are special.

Glorious full sized Italian 1-sheet printing. Gots one in my own collection of movie memorabilia.

And "Kong Island" can perhaps be regarded as something of a vanity project by Harris, who helped produce and likely secure financing for the film for low budget expert Roberto Mauri. Like Harris, Mauri was a graduate of the Peplum sword & sandal thriller machine which gave Italian genre cinema its start in the early 1960s. Then evolved into the EuroSpy, Euro Horror and Spaghetti Western genres, which is about when Americanized audiences started to take note. Mauri is perhaps best known for his early Euro Horror thriller "Massacre of the Vampires" (or "Curse of the Blood Ghouls") from 1964 as well as scripting various Italo Western favorites for the "Sabata" and "Santana" characters. Mauri also provided the story for "Kong Island" and pulled out all the stops, crossing off a veritable checklist of genre film concerns catering to Harris' unique talents.

In a nutshell, the plot concerns the exploits of one "Burt Dawson" (Harris), a soldier for hire mercenary who has taken to sub-tropical Africa for employment. With the action on the downswing Dawson agrees to help his flight medic turned medical researcher "Albert Muller" (evil Marc Lawrence, one of the best things about the film) pull off a payroll heist from a mining company along with one of Dawson's mercenary buddies. Lawrence's character goes psychotic, gunning down the payroll handlers & double-crossing his partners, shooting Dawson in the back and leaving him for dead as he makes off with the haul.

"I'll take "Mad Scientists" for $300, Alex."

It is what Muller then does with the haul which twists the film into a pretzel of seeming illogic as he uses the proceeds to finance his experimentation into controlling the brains of apes via radio receiver chips implanted into their brains. His goal to both create a legion of "robotic apes" to do his evil bidding and subjugate an army of likewise controlled human agents to further a plot to take over the entire world. The operation is conducted out of a cave complex in the middle of the jungle where along with his bloodthirsty underling "Turk" (frequent Spaghetti Western functionary Paolo Maglotti,  appearing under his anglicized stage name "Paul Carter") he keeps a collection of local women caged up for other experiments the film sadly does not depict.

Some of what you are missing at the end of most English language versions floating about.

Dawson comes back from the grave, so to speak, returning to Nairobi's nightclub scene to find his former partner "Theodore" (Italian genre cinema character actor Aldo Cecconi) and settle his score with Muller. Though the whole thing is a setup by Theodore at Muller's behest, who goes so far as to enlist his son "Robert" (Mark Farran in his sole acting role) and unwitting daughter "Diana" (cult favorite Ursula Davis) to lure Dawson into the jungle so Muller's radio controlled robotic apes can subdue him. Muller's ultimate plot to use Dawson as his initial human experiment and Diana employed as bait to give Dawson a reason to get involved. Also along for additional eye candy placement is lovely Adriana Alben as "Ursula", Theodore's would-be wife and former flame of Harris' Burt Dawson character, and whom male-gaze oriented viewers get to behold the most of as she takes a bath or lounges around in her underthings.

Why, I could post pictures of her all day! Beats painting.

And then there's "Eva" or "Eve", as English language voice actors pronounce her name on their dub track. Not sure what exactly her character is supposed to be, with assorted online reviews speculating she had been raised by apes as a sort of Jungle Jane who parades around clad only in loincloth with actress Esmeralda Barros' long dark hair employed to cover her breasts. Or not, if you find the right version of the film, though sadly part of its current fate of dismissal lies in that most of the public domain English language prints shown on assorted low cost DVD pressings feature a television censored presentation cut free of any hinting of nudity. Not that there's much of it, as any shots of Barros parading around au natural are all long shots including the slow motion jog she does nude as September morn to close out the proceedings.

The film was also made in 1968 with mixed age audiences and an appropriate contemporary MPAA rating on the surviving "uncut" prints would earn it a PG at best: If "Vampire Circus" rates a PG them so would this, though anyone looking for bouncing boobs or scantily clad fornication in the jungle will be sorely disappointed by "Kong Island" in pretty much any form they may find. I mean sure, there's a couple of nudie shots but the point is not to display anyone's breasts for cinematic voyeurs to ogle, which is one of the attributes that makes the film such a bizarre little package. And indeed many of the promotional repackaging efforts by home video distributors play up the naughtiness if not outright create a false expectation of lurid scenes of ape to human miscegenation which likely do not exist even in the stated (if impossible to find) complete 92 minute Italian presentation.

Original NTSC VHS pressing showing the cut TV print. Most current DVD releases have the same thing.

Regardless, Eva's presence in the film is purely for "Lady Tarzan" exploitation and serves scant purpose in furthering the plot aside from setting aside a stack of bananas for Dawson to consume after his all too brief Survival Thriller interlude. She's there for a couple of cheesecake shots and a native flavored Sex Interest character for Dawson to be intrigued by, and eventually lead him to the caves for his confrontation with Albert Muller. The film excuses itself for Ms. Barros' bare buttocks by describing her as the "Sacred Monkey" that Robert takes his sister Diana hunting for as a setup to have Muller's robotic apes kidnap her once she has changed into her nightie and providing Dawson with something more interesting to try and rescue while pursuing his showdown with Muller.

As if all of that wasn't enough we also get a wayward Interpol agent "Forrester" (Italian film/TV veteran Mario Donation) in the movie's Luciano Pigozzi role, who serves to save Dawson's bacon during a key fight scene, die horribly during the Survival Thriller interlude, and thicken the plot by affirming the megalomaniacal intentions of Albert Muller without forcing the movie to budget it in visually. Along the way we get various fight scenes, evil robotic ape menacing scenes, an open brain surgery scene, a trippy Nairobi nightclub scene, and lots of travelogue footage of the stars apparently enjoying an all expense paid trip to Kenya, where the bulk of the movie's location filming was undertaken.

NOW ... with all that described the movie is ultimately a jumble which first-time viewers not hip to the Italian genre cinema industry's ways will find underwhelming to say the least. Those who love action will be diverted momentarily by a couple of decent fight scenes, but the bulk of the film is spent either discussing what must be done or stumbling around out in the jungle, some of it even endearingly filmed on indoor sets with fake trees. The most puzzling section being star Harris' big beefcake interlude after the Survival Thriller scene where he takes a shirtless bath in a flowing jungle stream which looks astonishingly fake: Exotic birds peck about, the atmosphere becomes surreal, Barros watching intently, and his escape from the natives who had been hunting them curiously easy.

French poster. They kept em busy at the design department.

Harris' smokes even make it through the survival ordeal and he manages to dig up a lighter to enjoy a crisp refreshing cigarette by the side of Barros' jungle pool. The film actually takes several opportunities to focus in on Harris as he lights a smoke, or consumes shots of whiskey straight up, and one can picture genre film enthusiasts likewise lighting up right there in the cinema audience with him as they help drive consumer needs to spend money on movie tickets, cigarettes, fashionable jungle/commando wear, and American whiskey. The film's agenda is purely to be consumed and to consume the time of those watching, with any concerns about artfulness or "artifice of reality" out the window very quickly with the opening brain surgery sequence.

And that's why I love it. The film defies commercial categorization, was made without the didactic concerns of the cinema as an art form, free of any constraint upon subject matter or execution method. Studio bound jungle scenes are edited right into the location shot footage, all of it recorded without sound for ease of dubbing into language based upon market needs. Every sound heard in the film is the result of post-production editing, an attribute shared with pretty much every Spaghetti Western, Peplum or Euro Horror film made during the classic 1960 - 1980 era of Italian genre cinema. It was made for one reason: To sell screen rentals, theater tickets (or home video units) and whatever consumer products are consumed during its runtime. You cannot evaluate it in terms of the more artistically ambitious efforts of the genre film industry which germane to its era of production. 

How many tough guy actors are game enough to actually dance in their movies? Until Gregory Hines came along, that is.

By contrast, in 1968 Sergio Leone was assembling his masterwork "Once Upon a Time in the West", while Clint Eastwood had returned to Hollywood with what he'd learned with Leone and applied to "Hang 'Em High". The Spaghetti Western industry which had given director Mauri his early Experimental era effort "Colorado Charlie" had evolved into its Classic form with films like "Tepapa", "Face to Face" and the enjoyably morbid "Santana", which itself spawned a series of spinoffs. Those films had genuine artistic merit to them in addition to the violence & exploitation elements which made them so different from homogenized American made efforts of the same years. "Kong Island" didn't even have enough Mad Scientist content to rank it on the bourgeoning Euro Horror idiom which would pick up where the Spaghetti Westerns left off.

One of the first DVD pressings and it's cut. Don't bother.

Instead what viewers are lumbered with is something more internal in nature, a "personal vision" defying easy categorization in spite of it's name brand star. Easiest spot to find for it was in the very short-lived Italian "Tarzan" ripoff market which pitted great white hunter types against various topless leading ladies ("Luana the Lady Tarzan", "Tarzak", "Samoa, Queen of the Jungle" et al), yet even that doesn't quite fit the bill. The objectives of "Kong Island" are purely confined to its own fictional universe with no extension to other franchise efforts or ongoing themes. Any weightiness to its cinematic vision instantly diluted by Mad Scientist beaker scenes, beefcake or cheesecake teases, and bare-knuckled brawling. The only attribute which contemporary viewers will likely gravitate is to the hypnotic and lush music keyboard-heavy score created by Roberto Pregadio, which wavers from Exotic lounge music to wordless Spaghetti Western sonata from scene to scene.

Look for the Greek subtitles. If they're there chances are you are watching the "uncut" print. Or at least what people refer to as the "uncut" print.

But a curious point of view on this came to my attention a couple years ago -- and I wish for the life of me I could remember where to credit the brain responsible -- namely that "Kong Island" is a clever if very oblique homage to director John Boorman's 1967 neo-noir thriller "Point Blank". Now you gotta stick with me here for a minute while I lay out the similarities because the idea has merit. I can even suppose how it came to be, namely the imaginative Harris managed to catch a screening of "Point Blank" and decided to appropriate some of the ideas for what essentially became a low budget vanity project to feature his presence. Another source of ideas likely the Cornel Wilde 1967 Survival Thriller favorite "The Naked Prey", from which Harris & Mauri extracted their own all to brief exploration of that movie's basic premise. 

Another cut print on DVD, this is also available for streaming from Amazon Prime. Skip it.

Like "Point Blank", "Kong Island" opens with a Heist Movie sequence where an otherwise good-hearted Hero type takes part in a holdup which results in unnecessary loss of life. The Hero's dark-side friend then double crosses, shoots the Hero and leaves him for dead, setting off to establish his underworld ambitions with no further thought. The Hero type then "comes back from the grave" to cure himself of his injury before setting out to settle his score under the watchful eye of an inside/outside man who helps guide the Hero's actions. There's semi-intimacy with both a woman with a past and an innocent pawn who likewise gets caught up in the proceedings. There's an extended scene in a colorful hip nightclub which ends with the Hero having to fight for his life, emerging more or less unscathed with the next key in the puzzle to finding his vengeance. 

It's like he's not even there ...

A short list of similarities to be sure, and of course none of it presented with the cinematic fireworks or vision of Boorman's film, which is regarded as one of the top films of the 1960s and a pinnacle final effort in the Film Noir genre. Boorman's film occupies itself with the psychedelia of its age and the central character of "Walker" (tough guy favorite Lee Marvin in his best film) who acts as a catalyst in a larger effort to wipe out the LA mob which serve as its antagonists from within. There's also no jungle or topless Lady Tarzan prancing around between fight scenes, and unlike "Point Blank" our "Kong Island" appears to end on a very concrete note with hero Dawson taking the pretty Diana back to civilization after the two decide Lady Tarzan is best left be in the jungle.

But there is a very interesting scene where Dawson sits quietly on Ms. Alban's bed while she poses for him in her knickers + bra while essentially setting up the plot without being prompted to. He seems to not actually even be there at first and his arrival is not shown, and her being so at ease in his presence while wearing so little in the way of clothing is eyebrow raising. And finds near parallel in "Point Blank" during the scene where Marvin sits on his former wife's sofa wordlessly while she spills the beans on the former best friend who had betrayed him. The two scenes certainly do have obviously different objectives, but one other aspect does seem to link the two plots, namely that Dawson doesn't even seem to be there at first. 

No clue what this holds forth. My intuition says copy of Retromedia's DVD showing the Greek print, but the cover was appropriated from the NTSC VHS showing the cut TV print. I doubt they even know themselves just what they have, whoever "Mr. Fat-W" is supposed to be. Purchase at your own risk.

One of the intriguing attributes of "Point Blank"'s story is the question of just what temporal state Lee Marvin's "Walker" character is in. Is he just some guy out for revenge + payback? Or does the film relate his dying fantasy wish for that revenge as he bleeds to death back on Alcatraz? Or, as some argue, is Walker actually a ghost or revenant of his former self as he fades in & out of the shadows lurking at the edges of "Point Blank"'s ingenious widescreen photography. If anything can be said about "Kong Island" it is that it does not feature ingenious widescreen photography, or at least not that much of it, with the surviving English prints sadly pan/scan formatted for 4:3 television screens when it was prepared for home video screening either via television or VHS. I would never try to imply that "Kong Island" shares any artistic ambition near the slickly produced "Point Blank" but would argue that inspiration does sometimes come from the damnedest of places, and chances are good that Harris or Mauri saw "Point Blank" and was impressed enough to try and imitate some of its substance in a low budget potboiler.

OK, so what is Harris' "Burt Dawson" character? Or rather, what is the inner truth of the film's narrative in relation to it's fictional universe? Could Harris and Mauri have picked up on the "Walker is a Ghost" or having a dream fantasy angle and worked it in somehow as well? If so the idea doesn't manifest itself directly in how the story is told aside from Dawson's resigned presence in the conversation scene with Ursula in her underwear, and perhaps the scene in the lushly exotic jungle pool, which looks unreal to begin with. The rest of it could be regarded as a fragmented collection of dream images involving jungle safaris, girls changing into nighties, scheming Mad Scientist types, and robotic radio controlled apes getting to rampage about. The unlikeliness of Esmeralda Barros' "Eva" character could also lend credence to such speculation as there's no way such a real person could exist. The Survival Thriller chase at the hands of savage natives waving spears also ends far too quickly, and not because I suspect anything is cut. It's purpose in the story structure was to propel Burt Dawson into the Sacred Monkey's jungle glade so he could doff his shirt & flex his muscles in a beefcake scene which plays out like a bizarre dream.

Were "Kong Island"'s artistic ambitions even that high? Honestly, I doubt it, but it does make certain characteristics of the film more interesting to ponder. And I do sense a patterning to the first half of the film's length which does indeed mimic "Point Blank" closely enough to give the idea some validation, particularly the nightclub scene and all it's furtive glances between characters who know more than they are saying. Too bad Stu Garner Trio wasn't brought along for another hot psychedelic soul number, but the groovy nature of the scene and its function within the plot both mimic "Point Blank" enough to at least be considered. I mean, who knows? Especially given the scant information which exists on "Kong Island" and the truly miserable state the film can be found in for viewers to consider at all. "Point Blank" has been upgraded to a new HD Blu-Ray transfer, in part because it is an active studio property well-regarded as an artistic breakthrough and one of the best examples of its form. "Kong Island" is ... well, "Kong Island." It doesn't even have a King Kong character, was just hitched with the name as "Eva the Savage Virgin" wouldn't do well in selling it to English language audiences in 1968.

Superb VHS cover from the UK PAL format VHS though the image shown has nothing to do with the movie. I still want one, though ... That's a rack.

In fact, pointing viewers in the direction of just whose meager presentation of the movie to bother subjecting themselves to at all is tricky business. The movie is most widely available in the cut television print titled "King of Kong Island" found on any number of bargain bin DVD pressings by entities like "Treeline Films" or "Synergy Ent." which specialize in recycling unlicensed films for Dollar Store quality presentations. This version runs about 84 minutes, is almost washed out of any print color, and removes any of the cheesecake footage of our Lady Tarzan spilling out of her loincloth. For those scoring along at home the key scene to tell whether you have the cut version or not comes at about the 39 minute mark when one of the natives carrying the luggage points out the Sacred Monkey to our great white hunters: If you don't see Esmeralda Barros in a tree after the guy says "I don't mean the chimpanzee" your print is cut. Sorry, and in fact from what I was able to tell after obtaining numerous pressings of the film, all of the currently circulating English versions except one show the cut print.

The one to score is easily identified by having an English language audio dub but onscreen Greek gibberish subtitles which cannot be removed. This is because the original source was a Greek made VHS from the early 80s which utilized a more complete assembly of the English language print which had Greek subtitles imposed on it for the mid 80s home video rental market in Greece. Finding an original of the tapes can be costly and time consuming, but exploitation movie experts "Retromedia" made a very passable DVD presentation in the mid 2000s which offered this "uncut International print" as a bonus feature. Which was sad but necessary, as Americanized consumers would (and do) go spare when presented with foreign subtitles on a movie which cannot be switched off or masked. Missing the point that the foreign subtitles mean that the print did not go through the censoring process which many films had to undergo before being imported to English speaking markets. Britain being one of the worst offenders in hacking apart low budget exploitation fare to make dopey little movies like "Kong Island" acceptable for their home video industry. Though I suspect the cuts to the "Kong Island" English version were more oriented for television broadcast, mostly because there's so little to see in those versions which contain the nudie scenes.

Retromedia's admirable DVD featuring the Greek subtitled English version, and another marvelous cover which has nothing to do with the movie. Too bad ...

Click here for an "Buying Option" page which appears to offer the Retromedia DVD as a new/sealed item. Best suggestion is to message the seller first to make sure or purchase the "Fulfilled by Amazon" choice in case it needs to be returned. This movie is a tough egg to crack!

Retromedia's DVD has gone out of print but apparently enough of them were made to still be available at a premium price as a new/sealed item on, though I would caution interested parties to message their seller & make sure it is the Retromedia pressing before committing to the purchase. Another likely source of the Greek subtitled English print is what looks to be a retail bootleg sourced from Retromedia's disc pressed by something called "Mr. Fat-W Video" which I will not expend money on as have both the Retromedia disc and an original Greek VHS tape on my shelves. I'm good. In all honestly I'd warn interested collectors off obtaining anyone's DVD at all except what Retromedia made, and look for a used copy on eBay with a picture of their memorable if admirably deceptive DVD cover. Or message your Amazon seller but be prepared for a return situation if what you get ain't the right animal.

As far as online or streaming viewing of "Kong Island" I am disappointed to say that both of the viewing options available at Amazon's otherwise highly worthy Prime Video service show the cut TV print commonly found on the bargain DVDs. Don't bother, at least as of this time. But YouTube has proven more useful with uploads of the Greek subtitled print coming and going. I've even got it on my own channel albeit in a very low resolution form made for viewing on a 2006 era iPod Video, though recorded from my own VHS. Linked below it allows viewers to enjoy the movie in this "uncut" form without giving bootleggers a form then can readily re-distribute for profit. If you want something more clear and sharp dig up the Retromedia DVD. It's something of a collector's item and if intrigued by the movie's charms will make for many repeat viewings to justify the entertainment dollar spent.

More adventuresome viewers might enjoy a predominantly Italian language spoken version I obtained many years ago and just uploaded to my channel. It was another Greek subtitled home video release pressed by the formidable "Cronos Video" who often had remarkably complete export versions of Spaghetti Western or Euro Horror offerings which made Greek tapes such a hot commodity. Mine is sadly marred by a terminal playback flaw at about the 72 minute mark and I efforted a composite using the Greek tape to account for the remainder of the film. And it was only when writing up this blog that it occurred to me that at 88 minutes PAL 25fps it is the longest running presentation of the film yet to surface in addition to being letterboxed at about a 1:58:1 ratio. The color is faded almost to sepia and there is no translation for the Italian spoken dub track, but fans of the movie will find it quite enjoyable. All I ask is that nobody bootleg it, to help ward off which I added the URL to this blog as a watermark. And no, you can't have my source disc, though I will try to fix the tape and try a re-transfer at some point to capture the entire Italian version. I am a geek for stuff like this. No, really.