The Noah (1975)

The Noah (1975)‘I don’t tell you how to powder your nose, you don’t tell me how to build a field latrine.’

An American soldier near retirement is washed up on the shores of an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. He is the sole survivor of the nuclear war which has brought about the end of the world. As time passes, he builds up an elaborate fantasy world to cope with the severe loneliness…

Although ostensibly a science fiction film, writer-director Daniel Bourla has a broader agenda in mind here. The story opens with leading man Robert Strauss adrift on the ocean in a dinghy and rapidly making landfall on an island whose only inhabitants are an abandoned Chinese outpost and some scattered military equipment from both sides of the unseen conflict. There’s even a working radio, but it’s as worthless as the rusting jeeps and guns; there’s no-one left to call. In the beginning, Strauss keeps up a routine of flag-raising, patrolling the beach, taking inventory, personal grooming and early morning callisthenics, but it isn’t long before his routine starts to break down…

The first sign we get that Strauss is not coping is the appearance of ‘Friday’ (voiced by an offscreen Geoffrey Holder), an imaginary friend named after Robinson Crusoe’s native companion. Things are fine for a while, until ‘Friday’ complains of loneliness and Strauss creates ‘Friday-Anne’ (voiced by Sally Kirkland). Unfortunately, Strauss quickly becomes jealous of their relationship, and he throws them out of the hut which he has made their home. His next invention is a young boy and, when Strauss realises that the lad needs an education, he starts teaching a whole class of children. When they don’t do as he says, he lays down some rules, and this is where the audience gets its first strong indication of what filmmaker Bourla is going for here.

The Noah (1975)

The water hazard at the 12th was a bit of a problem…

The rules that Strauss delivers are written on two chalkboards, one held in either hand while he stands on top of a pile of junk with his loose robe and beard flapping in the wind. Yes, any resemblance to Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) is entirely co-incidental.

At that point, it becomes fairly evident that ‘Friday’ and ‘Friday-Anne’ were Adam and Eve, who are expelled from the hut (Paradise) after they taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge (have sex). The religious analogy should have been obvious before really, what with the quotation from Genesis: 6 at the start of the film. The final act finds Strauss wandering about in a storm (which turns out to be acid rain) while the soundtrack attempts to encapsulate the entire political and military history of the 20th Century. We get recordings of famous speeches by real-life world leaders, offset by children’s voices and songs, including one by Joan Baez. Unfortunately, the sequence lasts over 20 minutes and could most charitably be described as interminable.

The Noah (1975)

The new Supply Teacher had strayed a little from the agreed curriculum…

And that’s the real problem here; Bourla chooses to deliver a cut of 105 minutes and, with only Strauss on screen the entire time, it’s tough for an audience to really stay invested and remain on board. The film was shot in 1968 in Puerto Rico but didn’t get a release until seven years later and then only briefly. It’s a shame for Strauss, who after a long career as a supporting actor, really delivers an excellent performance.

And that’s not surprising when you consider the actor’s pedigree. He’d appeared twice for Billy Wilder; in ‘Stalag 17’ (1953) (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and with Marilyn Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955). He also appeared in Elvis vehicles ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (1962) and ‘Frankie and Johnny’ (1966) and TV gigs included ‘The Monkees’,  ‘Get Smart’, ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ He also had an occasional recurring role on popular sitcom ‘Bewitched.’ This film marked his final appearance, as he died of a stroke shortly after its release.

It’s surprising to learn that this could have been a far more prestigious production if Bourla had chosen to go in that direction. Both Lee Marvin and  Zero Mostel were suggested for the lead and one producer made a definite offer of Jack Lemmon! But not surprisingly, that deal stipulated a colour film, and Bourla was set on black and white. If that seems an odd choice in the late 1960s, it may have been because he feared that the beautiful location would distract the audience from the story. His principal reason for rejecting Lemmon was his star status.

After its very brief outing at cinemas, the film was almost forgotten until it turned up on an obscure US TV channel many years later. Actually, it’s interesting to note the strong similarities the film shares with Darren Aronofsky’s controversial ‘Mother!’ (2017) which sharply divided audiences, and gave me the most boring two hours of my entire cinema life. Thematically, they are almost identical, and lawsuits have been started for less…

Sporadically interesting and with a strong central performance, but a film that desperately needs to lose a good 20 to 25 minutes of its’ running time.

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Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)‘Shut up. Bring me the papers on unidentified objects.’

When out for a ride on his motorcycle, Zovek finds the bodies of two policeman which later disappear. Masked wrestler Blue Demon is visited by an airline pilot who reports an encounter with a UFO. An archaeologist and his beautiful daughter make a strange discovery in a remote location…

Given that this is a production of the Mexican film industry of the early 1970s, it’s no surprise to find the family name of Rene Cardona all over it. On this occasion, both father and son were involved with Senior in the director’s chair and Junior listed as a producer. It’s also no surprise that the results look cheap, tatty and are hopelessly inept. But, just this once, let’s cut the filmmakers some slack because there’s more going on her than at first appears, and the story behind the film’s creation is somewhat more interesting than the film itself.

Zovek was a TV star in Mexico, famed for his incredible physique, super strength and athletic abilities. On one live 8 hour broadcast, he did 17,800 sit-ups without stopping, the last 200 hoisting his secretary into the air over his head at the same time. He was also a highly accomplished swimmer, martial artist and escapologist, whose feats were said to rival those of Houdini. Not surprisingly, the local film industry soon came calling and signed him to a 9-picture deal, casting him as himself in his own starring vehicle, ‘El lncreible Profesor Zovek’ (1972). His exploits soon came to the attention of TV executives in Japan and he was booked to appear on one of their biggest prime-time shows about a week after wrapping this, his second film. lt could have been his first step on the road to international stardom, but sadly we will never know.

Archaeologist Raul Ramirez and daughter Christa Linder (‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1969) with Boris Karloff, two ‘Kommissar X’ films and ‘Night of A Thousand Cats’ (1972)!) are busy examining artefacts in the vicinity of a remote ranch when the owner mentions some strange cave paintings in a ravine only accessible by helicopter. When the duo investigate, the artwork looks more like some red paint randomly daubed on to a rock but apparently it’s all highly significant so they call in Zovek for a second opinion. You see, as well as all his other accomplishments, he’s a mystic with unrivalled expert knowledge on ancient civilisations, and he can practice a little bit of mind control when required which is always handy! Anyway, these scribbles are Tibetan in origin and feature the four elements, or they should but ‘air’ is an absentee and that’s very bad news for mankind (for some reason or other). Meanwhile, back at camp, the dead attack after rising from a local churchyard and Zovek and Linder spend the rest of the film on the run from these carnivorous ghouls…

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Mexican Zombies wouid not conform to stereotyping…

This was obviously originally intended as a Mexican version of George A Romero’s landmark horror ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Similarly, the undead insurgency is largely left unexplained (apart from that prophecy doo-dah!) and, instead of the usual, formulaic happy ending, things finish on a far more ambiguous note. Only something went badly wrong during filming, specifically the events of 10th March 1972.

Details are a little sketchy but what’s clear is that, when filming a sequence with the helicopter, Zovek plunged 200 feet to his death. There is a very brief and poorly executed scene late in the finished film where his character fights a zombie clinging onto the outside of the helicopter. It may have been this sequence that was being filmed at the time of the accident, as it looks highly likely that a double was used in the final version.

Left with a little over three-quarters of an hour’s worth of footage, Cardona Senior and Cardona Junior were in trouble. So they called on old friend and famous luchador Blue Demon. He was already a film veteran by then, with 17 pictures to his credit, three fighting alongside the legendary El Santo. New scenes were shot with the blue man and scattered throughout the film to bring it up to (barely) feature length at 78 minutes. And there was another new addition: aliens. Yes, taking inspiration from Edward D Wood Jr’s bad movie classic ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959), the dead have now been resurrected by extra-terrestrials, represented by a smoking globe thingy, conveniently sitting next to an electricity pylon. VoiceOver Man also lends his solemn tones to the proceedings; over a montage of space shots at the start of the film (the usual malarkey about millions of planets and the overwhelming likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the Solar System) and over sunsets at the end (the usual warning that Man must mend his ways or something vague but rather unpleasant may occur).

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

‘No jury in the world would convict me if I killed you right now.’

How do the new sequences fit with the old? They don’t. For a start, the lighting is completely different and Blue Demon only fights about half a dozen zombies, one of which looks more like a werewolf! At least Zovek tangles with a decent number of them, even if they have minimal makeup FX, and are just a couple of dozen extras wearing tatty clothes wandering about a bit with their arms outstretched. Mind you, a couple do drive cars and one of them briefly flies the helicopter, which is pretty impressive considering.

Of course, our two stars never appear together; their only interaction being Blue Demon failing to reach Zovek on the radio. And l am a bit confused about two other things. First off, what is Blue Demon’s job exactly? He has an office, some staff, and paperwork on UFO sightings. He also gets reports on disappearing corpses. I guess he was just working on ‘The X-Files’ long before Fox Mulder made the scene. But the far more important question is much harder to answer: why didn’t he put a choke hold on his idiotic ‘comedy’ sidekick? Or feed him to the zombies? I don’t think anyone would have minded. In fact, I think everyone would have been quite grateful.

Of course, this is a bad film. lt would be a surprise, given its origin and the talent involved, if it were anything else. But, just this once, we have to give it a pass. The fates were against it. Sure, no doubt it would have still been quite poor if it had been completed as intended and, yes, it would have been more respectful simply to abandon the project entirely. But this is the world of low-budget filmmaking, folks, and if Ed Wood could make a movie out of a couple of minutes of silent footage of Bela Lugosi, then Cardona and Son can’t be regarded too harshly for stitching together this effort.

Even though you can see the joins from several miles away.

Santo and Blue Demon Against The Monsters/Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos (1970)

Santo and Blue Demon Against The Monsters (1970)‘Master, you promised that I could experiment on live beings!’

An evil scientist who has been experimenting with brain transplants is brought back from the dead to carry on his work. His plans include taking revenge on his brother and his pretty young niece, whose boyfriend just happens to be a certain silver-masked wrestling legend…

Good afternoon, grapple fans! We’re back in the crazy world of Mexican wrestling movies with our favourite luchador El Santo and his bestie Blue Demon. This film opens with short introduction shots of all our main characters, as they enter the frame to take a metaphorical bow. These include a whole rogue’s gallery of monsters: the Mummy, the Cyclops (looking suspiciously like he was stranded on Earth after the climax of hilarious science fiction-comedy-musical-horror ‘Ship of Monsters’ (1965)), Frankenstein’s Monster (inevitably just called ’Frankenstein’), The Wolf Man, The Vampire (Dracula presumably being unavailable for copyright reasons), and the Vampire Woman. We also get a quick showing from hep young cat Hedi Blue who plays our heroine, and actually looks like she might kick some ass but actually spends almost the entire movie being helpless and rescued. So, it’s a pretty full dance card for our masked heroes!

But why worry about all that? Let’s get right to why we’re here in the first place: wrestling. Yes, the first ten minutes of the movie gives up a couple of lengthy bouts in the square ring. First up we get some wrestling women, but sadly not the ones who tackled the Aztec Mummy a few years earlier (although that would have made a bit more sense!) They’re followed by Blue Demon in a tag team contest with a bunch of other fighters who never appear in the movie again. Santo watches it all from the sidelines.

Santo and Blue Demon Against The Monsters (1970)

Brain transplants were a tricky business…

After that, some strange green faced gentlemen and a dwarf called Waldo indulge in resurrection work in an underground lab beneath an ancient castle (ok, it’s a couple of caves filled with electronic junk that blows up at the slightest touch). The revived corpse turns out to be famous scientist Dr Halder (Ivan J. Rado), who has conquered death through the use of brain transplants (citation required). Coincidentally, his family are from Transylvania so the basement of his castle is full of famous monsters just waiting to be revived!

There’s really not a great deal of point in going much further into the plot as there really isn’t any more of it, but I’ll do my best. For reasons not really all that logical, Santo ends up in the ring fighting the Vampire in a wrestling match, the crowd mysteriously shrink and grow depending on if we’re seeing footage of a real contest or the one staged for the movie, the strange big brain creature from ‘Ship of Monsters’ (1965) hangs around in the background but doesn’t actually do anything, the villains have Santo out cold several times but never bother to kill him, there’s an obviously speeded up car chase that suddenly switches from day to night (presumably to match the crash footage), the Vampire swings around on a clearly visible rope and the Mummy looks like a slightly elderly chap with a badly bandaged head wound. Yes, it’s all pretty crucial stuff.

About an hour into the film, Santo decides to take his girlfriend and her dad out for a curry (or nachos perhaps!) and they visit a restaurant where we get a five minute floorshow featuring girls dancing around with baskets of flowers. It looks like they’re performing in a room several times the size of the seating area which is differently lit but let’s not worry about that!  A short conversation follows, before then another musical number begins! Hooray!  But thankfully this one is interrupted when the monsters attack. After we see all their introduction shots again. Special credit must go to the ‘Frankenstein’ makeup here, which is undoubtedly one of the worst ever to grace the silver screen. Still, the big lug does drive a car later on so it’s nice to see he’s picked up some new skills while he’s been dead…or undead…or whatever he was.

Santo and Blue Demon Against The Monsters (1970)

It had a been a few thousand years since the Mummy’s last facial…

In all probability there wasn’t more than a few pages of script and the director spent a lot of time trying to figure out things to film to bring things up to feature length. What’s curious is that the film seems to be a sequel, Rada and Santo having had previous business with each other? However, the masked man’s filmography doesn’t seem to offer up a previous encounter, although Rada did play evil scientists in other films in the series (including ‘Santo and Blue Demon in Atlantis’ (1970) which came next). Only he never seemed to play the same evil scientist twice!

Actors do sometimes get criticised for ‘phoning it in’ when delivering a lacklustre performance, but it’s truly rare when that accusation can be levelled at an entire film! There’s some fun to be had from all the cheesiness on display and there are some good laughs to be had, of course, but this really is a very weak and lazy effort. Even by the standards of this series!

 

Footprints/Footprints On The Moon/Le Orme (1975)

Le Orme (1975)‘Must attempt operation alpha on the next one’s brain to totally neutralise his emotional circuits.’

A translator has a vivid dream of an astronaut being left to die on the moon and finds a mysterious postcard in her kitchen when she wakes up. Going into work, she discovers that she has lost two complete days out of her life. Trying to recover her missing memories, she travels to the destination on the postcard, but the visions of the astronaut just keep getting stronger…

Atmospheric and intriguing mystery from Italian director Luigi Bazzoni that stars Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan. Proceedings open with the first of Bolkan’s dreams; a monochromatic vision of a lunar module touching down, an astronaut being dragged across the moon’s surface and the craft leaving. lt‘s weird, but not as weird as things are about to get. She thinks it’s a Tuesday morning, but it’s actually Thursday and a torn-up postcard of the island of Garma is the only clue as to what’s been happening. She’s gripped by a strong sense of déja vu as soon as she gets to this beautiful holiday destination and interaction will the locals seems to prove that she spent her missing time there hiding out in disguise from mysterious forces…

Technically, this is quite the tour de force. Director Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storarro create a dream-like atmosphere, perfectly reflecting Bolkan’s increasing isolation and apparent paranoia. Invaluable assistance comes from the striking locations, with the white stone architecture of the island’s old buildings a perfect contrast to the desolate beach and sinister woods. Interiors are gorgeous as well; the hotel providing a sense of faded glamour and timelessness, and handsome islander Peter McEnery’s house all large, open spaces, wide stairways and stained glass. Visually, the film is stunning.

The story itself seems to be an intricate jigsaw puzzle, with Bolkan tracking down clues that just won’t fit together. Ambiguous conversations hint she’s the victim of a strange conspiracy, but just what do her visions of the moon and mission controller Klaus Kinski have to do with anything? Could her work as a translator at a scientific conference be involved? As more and more questions pile up, the audience is truly invested in Bolkan’s plight and its resolution. And then, in the last few minutes, it all falls apart. To call the climax ‘disappointing’ is about the kindest description that can possibly be applied. It was plainly a situation where scriptwriters Bazzoni and co-author Mario Fanelli created a mystery and then had no idea how to solve it. It really is a massive let-down, especially when you consider their script was actually based on an original novel by Fanelli. I hope that had a better ending.

Le Orme (1975)

Not all planets turn out to be ‘M’ class…

This was Bazzoni’s final international feature, after which he had a couple of ‘assistant’ gigs in the 1980s. His brief filmography with the megaphone comprises a couple of unusual spaghetti westerns, including ‘Man, Pride & Vengeance’ (1967) which starred Kinski along with Franco Nero, and a couple of giallo thrillers; ‘Possessed’ (1965) and ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971) which again starred Nero. He had co-writing credits on those projects as well.

Storarro subsequently worked on many more features, including higher profile projects such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) for Francis Ford Coppola, ‘Reds’ (1981) for Warren Beatty and ‘The Last Emporer’ (1987) for Bernado Bertolucci. He won Academy Awards for all three.

Bolkan starred in notorious ‘nunsploitation’ picture ‘Flavia the Heretic’ (1974) but is probably best known as co-star of well-reviewed crime drama ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’ (1970). She was still a fixture in ltalian cinema over 30 years later, although her last credit to date was in 2005. UK actor McEnery was familiar to British audiences from such films as ‘The Moon-Spinners’ (1964), ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ (1970) and the title role of ‘The Adventures of Gerard’ (1970), which was based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By the latter part of the 1970s, he had mostly switched to television, taking the leads in both historical drama ‘Clayhanger’ and unusual thriller ‘The Aphrodite Inheritance.’ Kinski began as a henchman in German crime thrillers before forming a toxic partnership with director Werner Herzog, which led to international acclaim for ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ (1972), ‘Nosferatu The Vampyre’ (1979) and the infamously troubled ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982).

In the final analysis, this is a very frustrating film. lt’s a high quality piece of work until the last five minutes. Then all the intricate plot threads are tied up with a terribly banal and lazy denouncement.

What could have been a minor classic falls on its face at the last hurdle.

ldaho Transfer (1973)

Idaho Transfer (1973)‘Just have a beautiful time like all the other junk litter in the universe…’

A scientist working at a secret government facility in the desert has discovered a gateway 56 years into the future. Mankind seems to have vanished after some kind of ecological catastrophe, so he keeps his discovery a secret and plans to permanently relocate a group of young people there to restart the human race.

Unusual, low-budget science fiction from director Peter Fonda, who had made his name in the ground-breaking, counter-culture classic ‘Easy Rider’ (1969). These days, he’s more familiar as a jobbing actor, although associations with high profile duds like ‘Ghost Rider’ (2007) and John Carpenter’s ‘Escape From L.A.’ (1996) have done little for his career. He sat in the canvas chair as a filmmaker on only three occasions, the other two being on Westerns made at either end of the 1970s.

The story and script here are by Thomas Matthieson, who has no other film credits, and shows very little inclination to pander to the audience in terms of providing exposition. This is a nice change to the endless captions and voiceovers favoured today, but ultimately proves to be a little frustrating. We join the story with the set-up already established; scientist George Braden has recruited a group of more than a dozen teenagers, including his two daughters, to make trips into the future and examine its’ ecology. Arrival there occurs inside metal containers buried beneath the desert (a nice touch) and the flora and fauna seem to be normal. However, expeditions to local population centres (which we don’t see) have found them completely deserted with no sign of human life.

One of the Prof’s daughters, played by Kelly Bohanon, is the new girl on the block and this does allow for a few explanations. Only young people can travel into the future because an unspecified kidney problem will kill anyone older who tries it, and travellers have to strip down to their panties to go because any metal fittings will fuse with their bodies (obviously, no metal-free clothing was available!) The time travel SFX are very simple, but surprisingly effective with subjects ‘flickering’ out of existence. Things start to go seriously wrong when suspicious military types turn up to close down the project and the youngsters flee into the future to escape. Only to find themselves marooned there when the machines are turned off.

This is a premise with bags of potential, but the film begins drifting when our stranded explorers head for the closest city. Given the obviously tiny budget, it’s fair to say the audience aren’t really expecting them to get there. The group splits into three groups for no discernible reason, leaving us in the company of Bohannon and geeky Kevin Hearst. Whereas we might reasonably expect some kind of Adam and Eve business to follow, Hearst seems strangely reluctant, the more so when Bohannon is confirmed as the selfish, whining brat we always thought she was. There is a pleasing lack of the kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo that plagued cinema at the time, but our protagonists might be any normal, irritating teenage couple out for a hike in the great beyond. Hearst does find an abandoned train filled with hundreds of corpses in body bags, but the unpleasantness is kept strictly off-screen (see the ‘tiny budget’ reference earlier). So just what has happened to mankind and are we ever going to find out? Probably not if we’re relying on these two.

Most reviews of the film tend to concentrate on the cast. Almost without exception, they were amateurs that Fonda selected from kids he met in everyday life and very few managed any subsequent acting credits. To Fonda’s credit, he does manage to elicit fairly naturalistic performances, but, perhaps inevitably, none of them really manage to create a character that encourages emotional investment from an audience. The only face you’ll probably recognise is Keith Carradine, whose big screen appearances include Ridley Scott’s ‘The Duellists’ (1977), Walter Hill’s ‘Southern Comfort’ (1981) and ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ (2011) with Daniel Craig. He’s perhaps more recognisable from TV, where he’s played in everything from ‘Dexter’, ‘Fargo’, and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ to Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ music video! Having said that, his appearances here are brief and inconsequential. Hearst moved onto the movie sound department, where he worked on ‘Home Alone’ (1990), ‘My Cousin Vinny’ (1992), ‘Beverly Hills Cop ll’ (1994) and ‘Stargate’ (1994), among others.

Idaho Transfer (1973)

🎵You’ve heard of the wonders our land does possess…
Its beautiful valleys and hills…
The majestic forests where nature abounds…
We love every nook and rill…🎶

The major problem here is a script that drags badly around the mid-point and leaves too many questions unanswered. There’s a big twist as well which should have been very telling indeed, but is rather poorly handled. Obviously, most people will focus on the left-field ending, which initially appears to be quite the head-scratcher. However, if we consider the selfish nature of Bohannon’s character, the underlying theme of man’s exploitation of the planet’s finite natural resources and all those body bags on the train, then we finally get an idea of what Fonda was shooting for.

The film also ends with the caption ‘Esto perpetua’ which roughly translates as ‘Let It Be Perpetual’. It’s the state motto of Idaho, but here seems to be more of a comment on mankind and our total inability to learn from our mistakes. This is quite effective when given some thought, but too much is left unexplained during the film for it to really hit home.

Unfortunately, a week after its initial release, the film’s distributor went to the wall and it was pulled from theatres. After that, it went unseen for 15 years until it surfaced during the 1980s home video boom. So it never really had the opportunity to find an audience, although it’s unlikely that it would have ever become anything more than a cult item.

Although flawed, it’s undeniably a project of more than a little interest, and it’s a shame Fonda had such a short career as a director. With a tighter, more developed script and a professional cast, this could have been quite something. Remake, anyone?

Mysterious Two (1982)

Mysterious Two (1982)‘People of tomorrow; it is the twilight of today!’

A strange couple claiming to be in touch with extraterrestrials bring their followers together outside a small town in the desert. The local sheriff’s department struggles to contain the crowds as everyone awaits salvation at the hands of an all-powerful alien race. But is the whole thing just an elaborate con?

Odd made for television project from writer-director Gary Sherman that was originally filmed in 1979 but not broadcast until the early summer of 1982. The story begins with our old friend; footage of a NASA rocket launch. Unfortunately, this one ends in a fireball. Next we meet our golden couple (John Forsythe and Priscilla Pointer) at some abandoned buildings in the desert. Talk with an incoherent vagrant tells us that this is an old missile base. Forsythe proclaims that it’s ‘perfect’ and, more importantly, that ‘It’s Time’! (pretty much all he says over the next 100 minutes). We are left to assume that this is the old NASA launchpad mothballed after the opening tragedy, but there’s no need to worry about it. That incident gets mentioned again.

From there, Forsythe and Pointer emerge from a bright light in a hole in the ground to bring their followers together. The acolytes become what amounts to a loose kind of hippy commune and the vast majority of the runtime is spent dealing with their riveting relationship problems and fascinating stories. There’s whiny James Stephens (our narrator) looking for his runaway girlfriend (the even whinier Karen McLarty), there’s a black couple who have sold their car and another woman who is pregnant and wants her baby to be the first human child born in outer space (or something? l don’t know, l was kind of zoning out by then). Anyway, it’s all completely fascinating. Forsythe and Pointer turn up every now and then in white robes and tell everyone to wait and that ‘It’s Time!’ ( I should really put that in capital letters). Eventually, the faithful are spirited away to the missile base in a fabulous alien craft (ok, it’s actually a School Bus!) where there’s a permanent dust storm and lots of bright lights that flash. And that’s about your lot.

Perhaps Sherman was attempting to make a serious film examining the nature of cults, and the people who follow them. It’s a subject worthy of examination, but one that requires a far more in-depth approach, rather than the series of soap drama vignettes that he provides. And there’s also the suspicion that he was unsure of his own point of view. Are Forsythe and Pointer on the level, or just charlatans? The film backs out of the question, and provides no real resolution. It is possible, given the closing narration, that this was actually the pilot for an intended series where Stephens would try to track Forsythe and Pointer down and rescue McLarty. If so, we can only be grateful that it never happened.

Mysterious Two (1982)

‘Is it ‘Time’ yet?’

Sherman’s subsequent career included zombie horror ‘Dead and Buried’ (1981) (hilariously banned during the trumped-up Video Nasty scare in the UK), ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ (1987) with Rutger Hauer and ‘Poltergeist Ill’ (1988). Not a notable record, especially considering his debut had been gritty, subterranean horror ‘Death Line’ (1972) with Donald Pleasance.

There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast here; Noah Beery Jr plays the sheriff toward the end of a long career stretching back to the 1930s. He played  a jungle boy in ‘The Call of the Savage’ (1935), and supporting roles in more notable productions such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939), ‘Sergeant York’ (1941), ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), ‘lnherit The Wind’ (1960) and the ‘7 Faces of Dr Lao’ (1964). By this point, he was famous as James Garner’s old dad on long-running detective show ‘The Rockford Files‘. His Deputy here is played by  a young Robert Englund, a few years before he pulled on the sweater and razor glove of Freddy Krueger for ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984).

The story was loosely based on the real-life exploits of self-styled ‘UFO missionaries’ Marshall Applewhite and Barbara Nettles, who were famous enough to be the subject of national media scrutiny at the time. By all accounts, their group was financially well-off by the end of the 1970s so whether the fear of legal problems prompted the network’s decision to shelve Sherman’s film for 3 years is a possibility. It is true that the group were less active by the time it was broadcast. Somewhat ironically, that was in the same month that Forsythe began his 217 episode run as Blake Carrington on soap juggernaut ‘Dynasty.’

Tragically, real life proved to be far more dramatic than Sherman’s lifeless fiction. Applewhite rebranded his group a few years after Nettles died as ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and became fixated on the approach of Comet Hale-Bopp. When the local sheriff’s department broke into their mansion in the San Diego area in March 1997, they found all 38 members had committed suicide at Applewhite’s instruction, and that he had taken his own life as well.

As l say, there is an important film to be made on this subject, but Sherman’s effort is sadly lacking in depth or insight. And in any entertainment value whatsoever.

Skullduggery (1970)

Skullduggery (1970)‘That funny looking babe ain’t gonna puke on my upholstery.’

Two rogues trick their way onto a scientific expedition because they suspect valuable minerals can be found in the jungle interior. However, the lead anthropologist also discovers a tribe of ape-like humans, who may prove to be the ‘missing link’…

Unusual adventure flick with touches of romance and comedy that swerves drunkenly into more serious science fiction territory in its second half. The premise is fairly simple; rascals Burt Reynolds and Roger C Carmel manoeuvre their way onto Dr Susan Clark’s safari into the uncharted jungles of Papua New Guinea with less than noble motives. He’s the charming bad boy and she’s the uptight brainbox, so there are no prizes for guessing where that’s going, although it gets there much earlier than the audience might have expected. At least in the physical sense. Establishing their relationship is necessary to fuel character motivations later on in the picture, but their courting ritual is stretched out over the entire first act, which takes up about half of the 100 minute running time.

Although some of these proceedings are gently comedic, we get a hint that the project has problems with an early scene where Reynolds recklessly defies a local taboo. As a direct result, the safari’s headman gets a spear in his stomach and plunges to his death. Reynold’s character is obviously culpable for his demise, but the incident never gets mentioned again. Perhaps the guy simply wasn’t important. Anyway, it obviously doesn’t matter as we get straight back to the romantic sparring between Reynolds and Clark.

The discovery of the long lost tribe, christened the Tropi, is decently handled and the makeups are not too bad given the vintage of the film. So, up until the hour mark, the film seems to be a mildly pleasing lightweight adventure story, if a little on the bland side. Then the film takes a massive misstep, and simply never recovers. Reynolds and Carmel go back to civilisation to realise their money-making scheme, and enlist the help of rich scientist/businessman and all-round bounder Paul Hubschmid. Several months pass in the snip of an editor’s scissors and their jungle mining operation is firmly established with the Tropis being used to work the claim!

Bearing in mind that Clark knew nothing about their dodgy plans, she’s seems perfectly fine with it as long as she can carry on with her tests and observations. She even talks about mating one of her subjects with a human being in the hope of producing offspring! So the film has suddenly got serious. It does seem to take a while for everyone to get on board with this abrupt change in tone, however, because there’s still time for some romantic comedy with our mismatched leads, accompanied by appropriately light-hearted music. Then Hubschmid reveals that he is bankrolling Clark’s breeding programme because he wants to create a cheap global workforce and cash in! This triggers a serious change of heart for Reynolds, and a couple of very sudden story twists send everyone into the courtroom for the ridiculous final act. This tries to mix humour with tragedy as well as deliver a significant message, and fails on all counts.

Skullduggery (1970)

‘I, uh… sold the Denebians all the rights to a Vulcan fuel synthesizer.’

It is interesting to see Reynolds before he became a major star, although he had already established leading man credentials in minor projects such as ‘Navajo Joe’ (1966) and ‘Sam Whiskey’ (1969). Clark played opposite Clint Eastwood in ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ (1968) and became a leading lady throughout the 1970s, with a role in excellent Sherlock Holmes-Jack the Ripper rumble ‘Murder By Decree’ (1979) and an Emmy nomination for a TV biopic about Amelia Earhart. Carmel will be forever celebrated as the duplicitous Harry Mudd on the original series of ‘Star Trek’.

Original director Richard Wilson was fired by producer Saul David on the very first day of shooting and replaced by Gordon Douglas, who had worked with him on James Coburn spy satire ‘In Like Flint’ (1967). Douglas did have a lot of experience, including working with Laurel & Hardy, many Westerns programmers and wrangling giant ants in classic 1950s monster mash ‘Them!’ (1954). He’d also delivered several successful crime pictures starring Frank Sinatra in the 1960s. Sadly,  he never gets a firm grip on the material here.

The screenplay was based a 1952 novel by French writer Vercors; real name Jean Bruller, and there is the kernel of a good story here. Unfortunately, the film bungles it completely. Things simply happen far too quickly in the later stages, and the initial light-hearted approach is at variance with the attempts at social relevance that follow. Keeping Reynolds and Clark’s romance in the background and ditching the more comedic aspects would have allowed more time to be spent on developing the transitions between the story’s main events, and helped to keep a more consistent tone. As it is, the second half seems hopelessly rushed and fairly silly. Yes, there are some important messages about the exploitation of native people, the corrupting influence of civilisation, and the nature of what it is to be human, but they’re delivered in such a ham-fisted and muddled way that they fail to make any kind of an impact.

Reynolds blamed the film’s failure on indifferent direction and the lack of a good promotional strategy, although he did praise the script. It may be that the end results were simply a case of post-production interference in a misguided effort to make the film more commercial.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s a deeply unsatisfying mess.