The Hitchhiker – True Believer (03/11/86)

The episode opens with carefully composed shots of a priest killing himself.  The shots call attention to themselves, but in a good way.  They don’t take you out of the story, but they do let you know the director isn’t just a point-and-shoot guy — hey, it’s TV’s Carl Schenkel, director of the great Homebodies.

Tom Skerritt is playing the role he was born to play — Tom Skerritt.  The mustached, stoic, competent, weary everyman / manlyman he is portraying this time is Detective Frank Sheen.  He goes to the scene of the crime — an abandoned convent — but no one answers his knocks.  As he looks for another way in, a POV shot from inside the house begins shaking, a plastic tarp over the window melts and reveals Sheen standing in the snow below through the hole.  Way to go, Carl! [4]

He finds a way in and sees a nun sitting alone surrounded by a hundred candles.  He knocks on the glass door of the chapel, but she does not respond.  We do see that, like most TV nuns, she is a beautiful young woman.  He goes to the church to get a key and is a complete dick to the priest.

The priest tells him the house is infested by demons.  Years ago “a young nun desecrated the blessed sacrament by committing suicide on the holy altar.”  After hearing sounds of howling and banging on walls, and finding excrement smeared on the walls, the convent was shut down.

After that blatant bit of exposition, Sheen returns to the convent with the key.  He sees the young nun.  She says she was a novice here.  The dialogue is a little dry, but it is intriguingly shot.  Schenkel shoots her very close so that the entire frame is her cowl tented over her lovely face like she is peeking up from under the sheets.  If that was the intent, more kudos to Carl; if not, I really need to get some help.  She says she knows Sheen is a cop “by the bulge . . . of your gun.”  She tells him to watch out for the demon and walks away.

Sheen walks upstairs and finds the usual haunted house stuff — shaking, noises, being pushed down by an invisible demon.  He goes back to Father Exposition [1] for more info.  He tells Sheen there is no nun there, the convent has been closed since 1910.

He goes back — whew — to the convent, drinking from a liquor bottle he got from a diner.  Hitting the hooch in the room where the suicide occurred, he has a B&W flashback to an argument with his ex-wife and ex-daughter.  He lost his temper and smacked his daughter.  She ran out onto a fire escape and fell to her death.

Back in the abandoned convent, he hears a noise — his ex-wife Linda walks in.  Well, he seems to see Linda, but we see the young nun.  She says she doesn’t care about her new husband’s big house or big car — she mercifully ends the big list there.  She tells Sheen she wants him back.

I won’t even mention the doggie-style chalk outline of the the priest’s suicide. However, I did like that Schenkel had Sheen collapse in that pattern after getting drunk.

Meanwhile, Father Exposition finds an old newspaper about the novice who committed suicide at the convent.  The headline says February 19, 1912, but he said the convent had been abandoned since 1910.  Of course, the newspaper banner also says February 19th was a Thursday when it was actually a Monday, so it is clearly fake news.  The picture is of the nun. [3]  Even though this provides no useful information that he did not already know, he speeds out to the convent to see Sheen.  Spoiler: Sheen shoots him.

Sheen and Linda/Nun have just made out.  From behind, he says he loves her (no, I mean orally verbally).  She turns around and says, “I love you too, Daddy.”  He screams his daughter’s name.  The police find him in a corner blankly clicking empty chamber after empty chamber into his mouth.  The cops just let him click away, but how do they know he isn’t just Russian-Rouletting his way to the money-shot?

This is another one you don’t want to think about too much.  It is always complicated when a character sees someone different than the audience.  They were wise to cast an actress that had a small birthmark on her nose.  Even at that, I was not positive who I was seeing at least one time.   I believe it was the same actress at all times in the convent scenes. [5]  It was just jarring then that he screams his daughter’s name when we have a close-up of the woman we met as the nun.  Yeah, that was the jarring aspect.

We are never told what the first priest did that caused the nun/demon to drive him to suicide, but I think we can all make up our own story.  Also, another pair of hands give him the pistol he uses to kill himself.  I guess we can assume that was the nun/demon.  I suppose a priest was not as likely to be packing his own heat as a cop.

So maybe a little over-written with the jumping back and forth between the priest and the convent; and a little under-written on the characters and story.  This is a case where cell-phones would have actually improved a story.  Still, Schenkel keeps things moving along and gives us some good visuals.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Yeah, like Basil.
  • [2] Father Exposition then calls the diner looking for Sheen.  He asks if they have a customer about 40 — Tom Skerritt was 53 at the time.  F’in actors, man!
  • [3] Not unusual in the days before HD and dumbbell bloggers, but the story does not match the headline.  It is, at least, religion-related.  It is about church leaders publishing a guide “which will include sections on homosexuality.”  Probably not a how-to.  I thought the article was being a little harsh referring to the “Anglican Primate Archbishop,” but apparently Primates are a thing in the church.
  • [4] It would just be churlish to point out the inconsistency.  In in the DVD commentary, Schenkel points out in a future room-quake that the contents are not moving; it is just in Sheen’s mind.  If that is the case, who is imagining this room-quake?
  • [5] I take it as confirmation that the wife and daughter are not credited.  Because for flashbacks, you don’t need actors or sets.  It’s not real, right?
  • This is the second consecutive post to feature an incestuous relationship.
  • As Sheen is first driving to the convent, he has Reverend Nolan Powers from WGOD on the radio.  I appreciate the call-back even if it doesn’t make much sense.  1) Sheen is not a believer, so would not be listening to a Christian station, 2) this case is unrelated to Nolan Powers, so he is not doing research, 3) Powers died in the episode that which aired four months earlier (or maybe would be in an asylum).
  • The only IMDb credit for writer William Kelly.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Touché (06/14/59)

With this episode, AHP puts the grave in accent grave.

Unfortunately, it is an acute accent. That’s not all that goes wrong here. This might be the most deadly dull episode so far.  This is surprising as it features Robert Morse.  He might be obnoxious and a terrible actor, but he ain’t dull.

Bill Fleming and his young friend Phil enter the hunting lodge and hang up their jackets, revealing their manly-man plaid flannel shirts.  They order a couple of Bourbon Sours.  After a strangely jarring edit, Phil tells Bill he was pretty talkative last night after a few too many Glenlivet Glen Rosses.  It was just the usual AHP guy-talk; you know, about killing a man.

Bill remembers talking about his cheating wife who “makes up to every man she meets except her husband” whatever that means.  Part of the problem might be that when they got married, she was “a cute, freewheeling little 22 year old cupcake” and Bill was fifty. She is currently fooling around with Bill’s former friend Baxter.  That actor is only four years younger than Bill so she definitely has a type.

Seeing an epee on the wall of the lodge, Phil asks Bill if he ever considered challenging Baxter to a dual.  They talk and talk (and talk), the two men sitting at the table, until the 12-minute mark. This could get tedious under any circumstances, but Paul Douglas as Bill is just deadly-dull.[1]  Even though it is a fine performance, it is just mind-numbingly flat.  I completely buy him as a former boxer, and as a lumber business millionaire, though — he’s even got the flannel.  I bet that’s what attracted his young wife; no, not the flannel, the thing before that.

When Bill returns home from his hunting trip, Baxter and Laura are lounging around having drinks.  They make no effort to disguise what they were doing.  Bill takes a couple of swords off the wall and tosses one to Baxter.  Bill takes a few jabs at Baxter who reluctantly picks up the other sword.  In the midst of this tedium, I have to give AHP kudos for the duel.

Bill has no experience with the weapon, and Baxter is only a swordsman in the Urban Dictionary meaning of the word.  This is not the standard TV match where they then expertly cross swords up then down, up then down, then slide the blades down to the hilt as they gaze love-hatingly into each other’s eyes.  They clumsily clash swords a few times — more Episode 1 than Episode 6.  Mostly it is Bill chasing Baxter as he runs through the house.  He nicks Baxter a couple of times, then finally just runs him through.

Cartwright!

Bill goes to the Police Station and tells them he killed a man.  It is only now, as Bill spills his guts, that we learn Baxter’s first name is Phil.  Hmmmm.  On the witness stand, he describes how it was a fair match. Sure, being a former heavyweight champ, he could have punched Baxter out any time.  But he figures Baxter could have then sued him in that case. He sees this as a fair fight which Baxter lost.

He is found not-guilty, but immediately after the trial is called into the judge’s chambers. The judge says since Bill was the beneficiary of “the liberal provisions of the civil code in reference to duels” he must enforce another provision in that statute.  If you slay a person in a duel, you must provide for the widow and children of the person — and Baxter had a son.  Despite being found not-guilty, Bill is ordered to treat the poor 28 year old orphan as if he were a child.  Say, this is a liberal provision.   The judge orders Bill to pay out $100,000 plus a monthly allowance of $1,000 per month for life. [2]

His lawyer protests that it is too much, but Bill disagrees.  He says, “To be rid of Baxter . . . it’s cheap at half the price” which makes no sense.  He goes back to his house and finds his wife in her usual position of brazenly lounging around, swilling booze with another man. Surprise — it is his old pal Phil . . . Phillip Baxter Junior!  The smirking punk asks Bill, “Since I’m going to be your guest for the next 50 years, would you mind if I called you ‘Dad’?”

  1. This slightly misses the mark. There should have been a reference to an “allowance” in his zinger for it to truly work. Guest?
  2. This does not put Bill in a Dad-role — he and Phil Jr. are equals as lovers of the tramp Laura.
  3. Bill did not know his “pretty close friend” Baxter had a son?
  4. So, in the 1950’s you could not show a husband and wife in the same bed, but it was OK to have a dude making out with his father’s married girlfriend?
  5. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this?
  6. When Phil Jr. planted this idea in Bill’s head at the lodge, he had to know he was setting his own father up to be killed.
  7. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this? [3]

None of this would have mattered much if not for the talky opening and Paul Douglas’s lethargic acting.  I must admit, though, Robert Morse was not quite as hammy as he would become, and he elevated the episode to an “OK”.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Sadly, three months after this episode aired, he would be deadly-dead at the increasingly-young-to-me age of 52.
  • [2] In 2017 dollars:  $835k + $8k/month.  Holy crap!
  • [3] I know — strike-outs = lowest form of humor.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Only Dodie Heath (Laura) is still with us.
  • I kept thinking Bill’s house looked like a Chinese restaurant, and his wife was dressed like a hostess.
  • . . .
  • Douché . . . I held out as long as I could.
  • [UPDATE] For more information on the episode’s source material and author, head over to bare*bonez ezine.  I initially missed this as a search for Touche without the accent came up empty.  What are we, in l’âge de pierre?

Twilight Zone – Need to Know (03/21/86)

Jeck Henries is changing a tire on a dirt road in Loma.  The most interesting thing we will get out of him is that someone took the trouble to make up the name Jeck for a character that will disappear in less than 2 minutes.  His similarly over-monikered neighbor Wiley Whitlow suddenly appears.  Wiley whispers something in Jeck’s ear and Jeck suddenly starts screaming.  It is a good opening, but the effect is blunted because it’s just not a very good scream.  Is it fear, is it pain, is it a scream of insanity?

The government sends Edward Sayers (William Peterson, CSI: Twilight Zone) to investigate.  He is met by Amanda Strickland.  She had called her senator, but apparently only ponied up a big enough campaign contribution for one investigator to be sent out despite 25 people being effected, including her father.  She takes Sayers to see him at the local nut mental hut health facility.  After some creepy chit-chat, old man Strickland begins screaming his head off.

Then they go to the Hotchkiss house.  She had stopped by to see Mr. Strickland earlier that day.  The elderly woman serves them fresh bread and tea.  All is fine until she tries to stab them.

Sayers goes to work in the high school science lab.  He has deter-mined that the craziness is not caused by anything breathed or consumed.  Amanda has an idea that it is a contagious disease and describes the connections that caused it to spread.  I hope it isn’t sexually transmitted because every resident in this town seems to be 80 years old.

Sayers calls his boss in Washington, DC to see if they can set up a quarantine to contain the lunatics so they don’t do any more damage.  Sadly, his boss refuses to build a fence around DC, but promises to send troops to Loma.

Amanda has found hayseed-zero in Andrew Potts who is appropriately-monikered as she describes him a “local crackpot.”  He has gone crazy, but his brother Jeffrey — a professor of Far Eastern studies — still lives in town.  Sayers finds him at home.  With a degree in Far Eastern studies in this farm community, where else would he be during the day?  He says on his last trip to The Orient, he learned “the meaning of everything. Man’s purpose and destiny.  Life after death.  God.  Devil.  Existence.  Everything.”  He leans in to whisper it to Sayers, but he recoils.  No matter, Jeffrey is going to broadcast the secret over the radio.  He brains Sayers with a vase and heads for the radio station.

Sayers races back to Amanda’s house. As Jeffrey is about to give away the big secret, he rushes into her house yelling, “Turn off the radio!” even though he hypocritically left the radio in the Jeep on.

She whispers in his ear and he looks into the camera.  Over an exterior shot of the house, we hear his scream.

The randomly triggered violence reminded me of The Crazies and The Happening.  The mind-blowing revelation reminded me of Monty Python’s Killer Joke.  The whisper reminded me of Scarlett Johannson.  That’s OK, I like all of them.  I don’t even remember The Happening being as bad as everyone claims.

This is just the kind of story I like, and kudos to TZ for choosing the dark side once in a while.  However, a couple of things were problematic.  The screams were just not well-done at all.  A recurring problem is Charles Aidman’s narration.  It is becoming just as much of a buzz-kill as the scores.  TZ made a great choice having Sayers look directly at the camera after the whisper, however, the lackluster scream followed by Aidman’s raspy avuncular voice just drained the menace from the ending.

Still, there was a lot to like.

Post-Post:

  • Amanda was played by Frances McDormand.
  • Skipped Segment:  Need to Know was less than 20 minutes and the balance of the episode was a very good segment, Red Snow.  There was a 30 Days of Night vibe, but this 26 minute segment had more meat than that movie.  The main similarity was vampires above the arctic rim and extended “nights”.  However, Red Snow had the additional elements of a cold war gulag and the vampires’ adversarial / symbiotic relationship with werewolves.  A great movie could be made from this premise.

Science Fiction Theatre – The Frozen Sound (07/30/55)

They almost got me on this one.  Each week host Truman Bradley performs a scientific experiment relevant to the story.  Usually they are so dull and the music so overwrought that I power right through them.  This time, however, he brings out a tuning fork which always intrigued me.

He holds up “a glass of liquid” which looks suspiciously like water or vodka, then gets the fork a-vibrating and holds it against the glass.  After an edit, the glass appears to contain a few ice cubes; then an umbrella and a cherry on a tiny sword.  After another edit, it seems to have completely solidified.  In a shocking breach of lab safety regulations, he breaks the glass with no protective eye-wear.  The liquid now looks like a wax candle, but is described as “a crystal, synthetically produced by man.” [1]  I was ready to buy a tuning fork and try this myself.  After my standard 30 seconds of research, though, it appears to be baloney.

Late one night, A gent Agent Masters from Washington drops in on Dr. Otis — director of a scientific project in New Mexico (wink, wink) — and his daughter at his desert home. Last week Dr. Otis had a top secret meeting in his living room with the Secretary of Defense about converting aircraft to atomic power.  Despite the Fort Knox-like security of a screen-door with a hook, a microfilm transcript of that meeting was found on a Russki spy.  Even the respected Dr. Otis is a suspect in how the info got leaked.

Dr. Otis’s’s’s’ daughter Linda says this is ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Masters says he is going to live in the house with them until this security breach is resolved or until someone remembers the Third and Forth Amendments.

The three of them begin tearing the house apart looking for some eavesdropping device; which is like the police asking murder suspect to help find some bloody fingerprints.  Furniture is x-rayed, the walls are sonically probed. Searching for anything anomalous, Masters find three bottles of ant poison, but one doesn’t seem to be murdering any ants.

Otis breaks the bottle and finds a waxy glob inside.  Beneath the wax is a synthetic crystal.  Otis says, “crystal under compression generates electrical energy that is capable of picking up sound wave frequencies — like the old crystal radio receivers.” Masters conjectures that a jelly-like substance absorbed the sounds from the meeting and hardened in the crystal.

To demonstrate, Masters grabs an LP (Long Playing 33 1/3 vinyl disc containing recorded music or rap).   He smashes it, holds up a shard and asks, “Would you say that was a recording of sound?”  Otis says the grooves are still there, which is not true — most of them are on the ground.  Masters says, “Nothing has actually changed except the method of reproducing that sound.”  This proves nothing — the issue is whether it is possible for the the crystal to record, not if it is possible to play it back.  Anyhoo . . .

They need an expert on MASERs to prove this theory, so decide to enlist Dr. Gordine from Northwest Engineering to help.  Dr. Otis says Gordine could be there in 48 hours. Otis is apparently so excited that Gordine is coming that he doesn’t change his green shirt for 2 days. [2]

Gordine sets up his equipment and they inexplicably decide to test it on a rock Otis uses as a paperweight.  The device is able to read impressions on the rock and broadcasts sounds of hysterical panic and mayhem like someone is exercising free speech on a college campus.  Otis says the rock is from Pompeii, and the noises are people being killed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.[3]  The cooling lava recorded the sounds and 2,000 years later ignominiously and igneously wound up keeping papers on Dr. Otis’s desk from flying around the room.

Next they test the crystal that was found in the ant poison.  Sure enough, it is a recording of every-thing said in the room that day. Masters reasons that the ant poison must replaced every day.  That night, he catches the handyman switching the bottles.  Despite dressing like The Scarecrow, he is not the brains of the operation.

I have to give SFT credit for actually throwing in a twist, and then even adding a justification for it.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

In the epilogue, Dr. Otis is excited about the historical events that can now be researched by listening to sounds recorded at the time.  However, since the recording process seems to require cooling lava, I think the playlist is going to be shorter than the Big Bopper’s Greatest Hits.   Linda, staring into Masters’ dreamy eyes says she is only thinking of the future.  Dr. Otis must sense wedding bells too, because he finally changed his shirt.

The science seems ludacris to me, but I ain’t no MASER expert.  It seems like a take-off on the Lazarus Bowl concept.  A potter was spinning a bowl while Jesus was raising Lazarus from the dead, and the bowl supposedly recorded the vibrations of his speech.

“Hey, Brittany, the son of God is raising that Lazarus kid from the dead!”

“Let me finish this clay bowl.”

The performances were as bad as usual. Marshall Thompson (Masters) was nearly somnolent.  He had a huge career, though, so maybe I just don’t get him.  Marilyn Erskine (Linda) is attractive, but delivers most of her lines like she’s yelling at an umpire.  Everything is an exclamation — the defense of her father, general exposition, skepticism . . .

I give it about 10 decibels.

Post-Post:

  • [1] In fact, it looks so much like a candle that you can see a blackened wick faintly showing on one end.
  • [2] Or maybe he has an Albert Einstein / Seth Brundle thing going.
  • [3] Most frequently heard phrase:  “Sancta excremento!”
  • Elizabeth Patterson plays a maid.  I can’t say for sure, but being born in 1875, she might the earliest born of any actor I’ve watched so far.  It would not surprise me if someone in AHP aces her out, though.  IMDb says her father was in the Confederate Army.  I wonder if he lived long enough to see Civil War reenactors? “Hey idiot, I lost 55 cousins and my left leg so you could live free from oppression! . . . uh no, the white guy beside you.  Yeah, you!”

Outer Limits – Music of the Spheres (05/09/97)

College student Devon Taylor is listening to space.  He thinks he can detect a pattern coming from Sirius. [1]  His professor finally tells him to go home, but he grabs the tape to listen to later.  When his younger sister Joyce overhears the tape, she is able to clearly hear the pattern.  In fact, she puts on a set of head-phones and snoozes all night with it playing.

Her father finds her in the morning.  He immediately assumes she is on the drugs.  To be fair, her pulse is racing and she is acting weird.  And he should know the symptoms because is has two doctorates — the one of his character, and being played by Dr. Johnny Fever.  Before he can tell her to just say no, she grabs the tape and runs out the door to school.

Joyce gets everyone at school listening to the groovy space music.  Devon insists that there is a message embedded in it, which is likely since it sounds suspiciously like the transmission sent in Contact.  He goes looking for Joyce at a rave where the music makes everyone look like they’re playing that game Riker brought onto the Enterprise; you remember, the one that induced orgasms . . . c’mon, you know you want to click it.

Devon sees that the euphoric teens are addicted to the music like crack.  He is a little over the demographic so is able to resist its charms.  It also has the side-effect of causing metallic scales on the kids’ skin.  He goes to the booth where the DJ has the easiest job in the world — one tape, on a loop.  When Devon grabs the tape, the people stop their orgasmic, slack-jawed moaning and scream in pain like when I accidentally hit the Firefox back-button to my sister’s Facebook page at an inopportune time.

Joyce and the other teenagers are taken to the hospital.  All of them are getting the same metallic plating on their skin even though soap and water would take care of most of it. Devon looks in Joyce’s eye with one of those lighted doctor doohickeys and says, “Her iris is changing.”  No, Mr. Know-It-All, her pupil is changing, not her iris. Seriously, does anyone in TV finish the sixth grade?

After Devon sends the tape to a friend in Japan, he is responsible for a global outbreak. The Feds show up and confiscate his stereo, oscilloscope and nudie magazines.  The enigmatically-named Dr. Riddle is called from the CDC, but she is no match for the 20 year old Devon.  She confirms that the disease is spread by a signal that is like music to teenagers and random noise to adults . . . just like _____________ . [2]  It also instills an intense desire to share with others, thus explaining Bernie Sanders’ success. Oh, and it comes from space.

The CDC decides the best course of action is to play the signal in reverse.  In addition to confirming Paul is dead, this also kills Joyce.  Thank God Devon is there to turn the original tape up to eleven and revive her.

Devon further concludes that the changes are a gift from aliens.  Our sun is about to shift to a blue dwarf.  Only those who have evolved the metallic skin will survive. The CDC agrees and the government starts broadcasting the signal, finally using that goofy Emergency Broadcast System, and on PBS, although they wisely schedule it during Downton Abbey so someone will actually be watching.

All the kids on Earth are soon covered with a gold shell making them look like small Oscar statues, which will drive Roman Polanski crazy.  Adults are able to get a treatment which will give them the same metallic shell. For reasons not well explained, Joyce & Devon’s father opts out.

I always like a mystery that has to be solved.  And the magnitude of the story — human evolution & sun shift — certainly lend gravitas to the story.  Add in a little star-power (no pun intended), and a few minutes of padding don’t seem too big a price to pay.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The pattern is to cancel every 3 months before the welcome-back offer expires. I ain’t paying full price for radio, man!  Actually, I saw later that they were saying Certus, not Sirius.  That isn’t a thing, so I have no idea what they were going for.
  • [2] Mad-Libs time.  [Name some dreadful young people’s music].
  • Devon is played by Joshua Jackson who would go on to play a similar brainiac on Fringe.  Surprisingly, he is great here as a 20-year old know-it-all and less annoying than the know-it-all he played as an adult.
  • Joyce is played by Kirsten Dunst, three years after Interview with the Vampire and three years before the greatest movie in the history of cinema.
  • Title Analysis: About as perfect as you can get.
  • Music of the Spears.
  • Music of the Sneers.
  • Music of the Shears.