Outer Limits – Criminal Nature (01/23/98)

Detectives Renfro and Venable show up to the scene of  murder. Coroner Carolyn says the cause of death is cervical trauma which isn’t located where I thought it would be.  They explore a nearby warehouse.  Venable gets trapped and Renfro shoots the suspect.  Venable finds two strange things:  The woman is severely deformed, and is carrying a vial of green liquid.

Back at the police station, Carolyn tells the captain the woman is a victim of GRS — Genetic Rejection Syndrome, but based on the evidence, she was not the killer.  Ten years ago, underground labs began producing drugs to create super-kids.  Sometimes however, the kid got GRS and became violent and deformed.  The green stuff was a shot that could turn an adult into a super-adult or serve as a booster for someone who was already super.

The woman survived the shot.  She says her name is Melanie.  Her parents had wanted her to be tall so they gave her the shots and she got GRS.  Rather than be questioned, she breaks her own neck which will probably take about 8 inches off her height as her head flops around.

Carolyn goes into an elevator and a GRSer jumps in and kills her.  This was a shock in more than one way. Carolyn was a strong, beautiful, intelligent character.  Her death so early in the episode, or at all, was like Janet Leigh’s death in Psycho; except we didn’t get a shower scene.  C’mon, did this really air on Showtime?  I applaud their boldness, but I was also a little shocked by how the scene was directed.  Just seeing the GRSer, she collapsed in the corner screaming.  This woman would have put up a fight.

After leaving Carolyn dead in the elevator, her killer throws Venable against a column in the parking garage.  Turns out the deformed killer is Venable’s son Dylan.  That night, he pulls out the baby pictures.  Dylan is seen as a healthy baby, then tragically begins showing deformities as a young boy.  On the bright side, Pa Venable doesn’t seem to have aged a day in 10 years.  If this were Science Fiction Theatre, he’d be wearing the same shirt.

I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with this episode as I was with Unnatural Selection.  The whole “deformed kids” trope is just too heart-breaking.  Not to mention, deformed humans are getting a little too frequent on Outer Limits.  We’ve just had:  Feasibility Study — humans mutate in an effort to prevent colonization of earth by aliens, the Music of the Spheres — humans mutate to survive a solar event, and Double Helix — man mutates to reveal a map on his back.

Time to bail.

Some Other Stuff:

  • Jill Teed (Carolyn) also played a coroner in The X-Files.
  • No pics.  Just nothing I really wanted to show here.  I will say that the deformed Pa Venable reminded me a little of that Nick Nolte mug shot.

The Hitchhiker – Dead Heat (03/03/87)

Although the score is immediately dreadful, I was quickly hooked by the artwork of Luthor Redmond (Fred Ward).  Most of it is macabre, but some of it is just strange.  Sadly, my favorite is only seen for a split-second — a toaster with a piece of toast coming out of one slot, and a hand coming out of the other.

Luthor has regrets about his girlfriend Arielle walking out.  He jumps in his red Mustang and goes after her.  She has literally walked out , so he quickly catches up to her on the road hoofing her way to the bus station.  His “Need a ride?” and charming “Going my way, little girl?” strangely do not entice her back into the car.  His next approach is, “You know what you look like?  An Eskimo igloo during the thaw” which I don’t understand at all.  Finally, he takes the pragmatic approach, telling her she’ll never make it to the bus station in time on foot.  She gets in the car after he promises to take her straight to the bus station.

He slow-drives her a little way toward the bus station, then turns the car around to take her back to his farmhouse studio.  She demands that he stop the car.  Mr. Literal slams on the brakes which strangely throws her forward, but not him.  He calls her a whore and throws her out of the car.  As she resumes her journey on foot, he guns the engine and drives toward her.  Like Charlize Theron, she has not mastered turning as she runs mostly straight along the road.  Luthor pins her against a wooden gate.  She is only a little banged up and Luthor carries her back to his studio.

3-D, comin’ at ya!

That night, while Luthor is working on a welding project, a drifter sneaks into an old beat up car just a few feet from him.  It is impossible that he did not see Luthor — if not him, then at least the blinding welding flame. When Luthor confronts him, he swings a log at the camera like it is a 3-D movie.  Luthor reacts by offering him a modeling job.

The next morning, Arielle uses her head and sneaks out the back-door, escaping from this abusive lunatic.  This time, wisely avoiding the road, she runs through the woods finding freedom and regaining the spirit that Luther’s oppression had crushed.  No, wait, she goes to the kitchen for breakfast.  She sees Cal the drifter at the table and is immediately hot for him.  He is filthy, wearing a wife-beater, sporting the mustache of a 13-year old, stuffing his face like he hasn’t eaten in a week, chugging milk, barely raising his eyes to acknowledge her — what gal wouldn’t be?

After Cal gets cleaned up, Luthor puts him to work washing his car.  Through the window, Luthor sees Arielle dressed like June Cleaver bringing them lemonade.  He makes an excuse to leave so they will be alone.  Later, he poses them as the couple recently found in a murder / suicide scene.  After a few hours shooting, they take a break.  Luthor recalls how he got his start:

I was 5 years old.  I was playing on the front porch.  I heard this tremendous crash.  Two cars had collided.  I ran down to the curb, something rolled from one of the over-turned cars.  It was the head of a little girl.  When I was about 15, I became interested in photography.  I bought a camera.  I spent hours, days looking through the lens.  Then a miracle happened.  I realized I wasn’t holding a camera.  It was the little girl’s face.

What does that even mean?  I get that witnessing that horrific event led to the macabre nature of his work.  The girl’s face as a metaphor for a camera just makes no sense, though.  Maybe if he said the image he was searching for was the little girl’s face . . . but, the camera?

Arielle amazingly tears herself away from this yarn and goes out to sit under a tree.  Luthor orders Cal to “go out and entertain her for me.” They have an awkward conver-sation.  It isn’t awkward because of what they are saying.  It is awkward because Cal just isn’t much of an actor.  Here, as in previous scenes, he just isn’t there. There are awkward silences.  OK, if the lines aren’t in the script, then there is going to be silence.  However, I never get the sense that he is listening.  He just seems to be lurking, hovering, an interloper in the scene, like a crew-member who got caught in the shot.  You can have no lines and still be a presence.  He does not come off as stoic, taciturn, laconic, contemplative, scheming . . . I see no wheels turning.  He is just vacant.

They go into the barn.  She takes off her top and says, “Let’s go south.”  However, they skip the foreplay.  Even during this, he hardly reacts.  Arielle throws her leg around him and he just stands there.  She kisses him and he just rubs his face along her shoulder like he’s checking for a melanoma.

Luthor calls for Cal to come back to the studio.  Cal walks into the studio and says nothing.  Luthor says, “Where have you been?”  Cal says nothing.  Luthor says, “I’ve been calling and calling.”  Cal says nothing.  Luthor says, “The girl.  No telling where that little harlot has been.”  Cal says nothing.

From here on, I am completely lost.  This seems to be happening a lot.  I would think I was getting dumber, but people seem to think that isn’t possible.

Luthor tells Cal he knows what is going on; he knows about their plan to drive south.  He starts in with Bible verses and Cal puts his hands over his ears like a child.  Shouting “The wages of sin are death!” he shows Cal a woman (or maybe a dummy of Arielle, who the hell knows) in a casket with a burned face.  We saw it earlier in the episode, but that ain’t helping.  Was this a previous Arielle? Luthor says, “Do you believe me now?”  He slides Cal the car keys and says, “Put this evil woman to rest.”

Cal goes to the garage.  Arielle walks into the dark garage.  Cal says nothing.  She calls his name.  He says nothing.  He gets in the car.  She calls for him again.  He says nothing.  He starts the car, turns on the lights, and guns the engine.  Having been in this situation before, she knows just what to do — she stands directly in front of the car.

She does finally jump in the car, but certainly not because Cal said, “Hey, get in the car!”  She says, “Kiss me” and he barely makes a move.  Than he floors it, puts it in gear and busts through the closed garage door.  Luthor cries “Noooo” as they drive off.  They go a little way, then suddenly stop.  It kind of looks like there is a cable restraining the car, but I think that is just a poorly composed shot.  Or maybe it was part of the stunt rig and they were too addle to shoot around it — I certainly wouldn’t doubt that.  It kind of sounded like he ran into a pile of junk and there is a pile of garbage nearby, but the next shot is of the front of the car and there is no obstruction.  So, I have no idea what happened.  Mostly it gave Luthor time to go inside and get a goddamn flame-thrower!

Suddenly free of whatever mysteriously stopped them, Cal & Arielle drive off, leaving Luther behind.  Despite the car speeding in a straight line, seconds later, Luther jumps out in front on them on the road.  Cal runs him down, then crashes into a tree and all three die in a fiery explosion.  The end.  Seriously.

At a few points during the episode I thought Luther must have killed Arielle in the opening scene and this was a flashback to explain why.  Actually I’m still not positive that there were no flashbacks.  But I have no idea of the motivations:

  • Luther chases after Arielle, then throws her out of the car.
  • He orchestrates an affair between Cal and Arielle, then gets angry when they take the bait.
  • He gives Cal the key to his car then seems surprised when he drives off.

The three performances are perfectly distributed on the spectrum from pretty poor to pretty good (hint: Fred Ward is pretty good).  The script desperately needed another pass, especially by the producers when it was submitted.  And, not to bash our European friends, but we have another episode directed by someone with no prior directing credits in English.  Add an overly melodramatic score and you get a pretty bad episode.

Some Other Stuff:

  • Title Analysis:  Lazy random crap.  If you are calling an episode Dead Heat, you better have some racing in it.  Or some heat — Arielle wore a heavy coat when she ran away, and you can see their breath at night, so it ain’t hot.  The heat was the raw lust and animal passion between Cal and Arielle, you say?  No.  No, it was not.
  • Cal is played by the same actor who told Uhura she was old in Star Trek III.  Where the hell was he when she started fan dancing in Star Trek V?
  • In Oh, God! Book 2, Denise Galik (Arielle) is credited as “Joan, Don’s Big-Boobed Girlfriend”.  If her character has a name, why further identify her that way?  And in a G-rated family movie?  Forget it Jake; it’s Hollywood.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Appointment at Eleven (10/11/59)

Rated dead last of 268 episodes in IMBb’s increasingly credible User Ratings.  99.6% of the episodes were deemed better than this one. You could watch AHP every weeknight for a year and not get to this episode.

Even Hitchcock’s intro is off-putting. He is playing a bartender, but the TV is blasting so loud — gunfire, screeching airplanes, etc — that we can’t hear him speak.  I initially fast-forwarded through it because I thought it was an audio problem.  It isn’t just loud, it is offensively grating . . . like this episode’s Clint Kimbrough as David Logan.  I fear as AHP enters the 1960s this year, this episode signifies a change.  Will we lose the stoic war veterans, proper businessmen, reserved bankers, sturdy farmers, etc. [1]  Enter the weepy, screaming, self-indulgent man-child throwing tantrums in public.  I blame James Dean.

Sweaty David Logan is tossing and turning in bed before he wakes up from his dream shrieking.  He is living in a cramped apartment with his mother.  His bedroom has a window that is so comically close to their neighbor that he can see her nervously getting dressed to go to her first day on the job as the new librarian.  Wait, that’s my dream. His window faces a wall that is so close it looks like a framed painting of bricks.

I’m always happy to see directors get creative with their composition, but who thought this was a good idea?

David laments his father leaving them as if they meant nothing to him.  His mother just doesn’t want to hear any more about it.  She says what happened was between her and his father.  He has put on a suit and is going out.  His mother asks him to “stay here with me.”  That works about as well with David as it did with his father.

A blonde is hitting on David in a bar but he says, “I don’t like blondes.”  His blondist tendencies only seem to apply to girls with blue eyes, however, and this floozy has brown eyes.  He lays a big kiss on her and tells her a secret — he’s only 17. She seems more concerned with him repeatedly saying he will be born at 11:00 tonight than the fact that he was actually born just 17 years ago.  He tells her a story about his father fooling around with a blonde.

He goes on at length about his father with the blonde and how he left without even saying goodbye.  When he shoves her, a sailor takes him out back to teach him some manners and, strangely enough, how to tie a bowline knot.

In a nice scene, he is able to talk David down.  Like all sailors on leave, the old salt takes the 17 year old boy to the hot dog stand.  No that’s not a euphemism — they actually go inside and he has a frankfurter.  The sailor tells David about the Chief Gunners Mate that he is really going to “let have it” one day; maybe he was jealous of the Chief Gunner.  See, cuz he had a mate . . . . David commiserates that there is someone in his life he would like to see dead also.  He says ominously, “Tonight, somebody dies.” Well, I wouldn’t ever bet against that.

He leaves that bar and goes to Dooley’s [2] where his father played piano.  The bartender is more concerned about his age than the blonde, but relents and gives him a boilermaker — way to ramp up.  When the new piano player starts playing, David attacks him.

Blah blah blah, a news flash comes on the TV that David’s father has just been executed for the murder of his blonde girlfriend.  Who says the news is always bad?  As if that isn’t enough good news, he got fried only 2 months after the murder.  David doesn’t take it as well as me, however. He hurls a glass through the TV screen and tries to pull it off the wall.  He continues making a spectacle, crying, “I’m glad he’s dead!  I hated him!  I hated him!”

The failure of this episode falls squarely on the character of David Logan.  I point to the character because I suspect the actor Clint Kimbrough did a great job doing what the script and director asked for.  He is just such a whiny punk, though, it is hard to care. On the other hand, I found Norma Crane to be excellent as the blonde.  The sailor was either great or terrible; I’m just not sure which.  He did make an impression, though.

Rating it the worst episode of the series is pretty harsh.  While David Logan was insufferable, the supporting cast really came through.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Of course they were all thieves and murderers, but they were otherwise of good character.
  • [2] Reference to Dooley Wilson, the piano player in Casablanca?
  • AHP Deathwatch:  A new record, three survivors!  Most notably, Michael J. Pollard and Clu Galager still show up occasionally.
  • Written by Evan Hunter who would later write The Birds for Hitchcock.  He also wrote 55 books about the 87th precinct.  Or was it 87 books about the 55th precinct?  It bugs me that he has a character named Meyer Meyer which is a rip-off of Major Major in Catch-22.  It is especially galling that he did it 5 years earlier.

Twilight Zone – The Once and Future King (09/27/86)

I don’t know whether to credit writer George R.R.R. Martin or director Jim McBride, but they pulled off a task I thought was impossible.  They made a rock & roll segment which, not only did not make me cringe, but kept me entertained throughout.  Of course, I have a few issues, but they mostly fall into the categories 1) I didn’t give it a chance, and 2) not enough of a good thing.

Elvis impersonator Gary Pitkin is doing a serviceable imitation of The King, singing Heartbreak Hotel in a venue that surprisingly does not have bowling balls and pins colliding in the background.  At first I was little put off by his silver jacket, black shirt and white tie.  It was too tacky for younger Heartbreak Hotel Elvis and not glitzy enough for older heart-attack Elvis.  He doesn’t really look much like Elvis either.  Little did I realize I fell right into their trap.

Back in his dressing room, he is complaining to his manager about the crummy gigs he is playing.  Surprise!  She has booked him in Viva Las Vegas!  Pitkin is not thrilled, however.  He feels that it was decadent Vegas that killed Elvis.  Or maybe he’s just been there; I certainly feel no need to go back.  He says he might look like Elvis, but he’s not going to make the same mistakes he did.  His manager says old Vegas Elvis once gave her a scarf after rambling like a crazy man — a fact you might think she would have previously mentioned to her Elvis-impersonator client.

Driving home that night, Pitkin is run off the road.  This is the one scene that still bugs me.  After he sees an on-coming car swerving into his lane, the POV suddenly shifts to inside the drunk’s car, over his shoulder, and we hear his drunken singing.  After Pitkin flips his car, we are literally seeing through the drunk’s eyes as we see the rear-view mirror and Pitkin’s upside-down car framed in it.  He drives off and that, as they say, is that.  I replayed it a few times trying to make the warbling sound like Elvis.  That would have made no sense, but I was grasping for any kind of context.

Pitkin climbs out of the car.  Keen observers (i.e. not me) will notice that it is day-time now.  He puts his thumb out and an old pick-up stops. He takes a look at the driver and says, “You look just like Elvis Presley!”  The driver — Elvis — says, “Do I know you, mister?”

Ahhhhh . . . I get it now; and by “now” I mean after I finished watching the entire segment the first time.  Jeff Yagher is playing both Pitkin and Elvis.  They couldn’t have Pitkin be a perfect doggelganger for Elvis.  When he climbs in the truck, the driver with the lock of black hair hanging down his forehead, the rolled up shirt sleeve, the sideburns, the friendly sneer, the voice — we accept him as the real Elvis right away.  Dang that’s good.

Pitkin notices the date on a newspaper.  It is July 3, 1954.  He recognizes this as two day before Elvis records his first record for Sam Phillips.  They go back to Elvis’s job where his boss is not thrilled that he has 1) picked up a hitchhiker, and 2) the hitchhiker has a picture of a black man (Chuck Berry) on his t-shirt.  Well, actually he refers to Berry as “a negro” with a pretty i-sounding “e” and pretty uh-sounding “o”.  Elvis plays him the ballad he plans to record.  Pitkin says that is all wrong and demonstrates the rock & roll performance Elvis should give.  Elvis thinks it is trashy.  They get into a fight and the real Elvis ends up dead, impaled on a broken guitar neck.  Of course, given how Elvis really died, this is relatively classy.

Pitkin decides to bury Elvis and assume his identity.  He will honor Elvis’s memory, he will protect his legacy, he will ensure that the world will still have his music, he will use this 2nd chance to avoid all the mistakes that Elvis-Prime made.  But mostly he will keep his own ass out of the electric chair.

In two days, he grows his sideburns and hair out, dyes them and goes to Sun Records dressed as Elvis.  And I mean literally dressed as Elvis — wearing the exact same pink shirt Elvis was killed in.  OK, I guess he could have bought an identical shirt, but why bother?  Was that the only shirt Elvis owned?  And would Elvis still be wearing it?  Wouldn’t people say, “Hey Smellvis, how many days ya gonna wear that shirt?”  And yeah, I guess the hair and sideburns were make-up and a wig from his act, but he didn’t retrieve anything from the wreck except his guitar.  In a good segment, none of that matters.

He dumps the ballad, and plays the rock-a-billy That’s All Right, Mama for his first recording, and the rest is history.  We fade into an aerial shot of 1970s Las Vegas.  Despite Pitkin’s disdain for Las Vegas, he has steered Elvis II right back there.  Bloated helmet-haired, aviator-spectacled Elvis is telling a groupie his crazy tale.  He says he doesn’t think Ma Presley truly believed he was her son.  He ponders what would have happened if real Elvis had lived.  Maybe that was the key to getting Elvis to a happy, healthy life.  The groupie turns out to be Pitkin’s manager.  Elvis gives her his scarf — after wiping his nasty sweat on it — and sends her away.

It’s not so much that this episode tricked me or had great twists, it just really made me think.  First they got me with Pitkin’s less than perfect imitation.  Seeing him grow into the part was awesome.  He became Elvis as he became Elvis.  By the last scene, Pitkin was The King.

I was thinking ahead that, in course-correcting, Pitkin should wait a few years later to call Priscilla Presley and should kick Col. Parker’s ass out a few years earlier.  But I never jotted it down because that just wasn’t the point.

In no time we are with fat Elvis in Vegas.  It was Pitkin who brought this fate on Elvis.  He was trying to save Elvis, but as his groupie / manager reveals, he has always been Elvis.  Somewhere a little boy named Gary Pitkin is listening to Elvis records and will eventually start the cycle again.  Maybe old Pitkin should warn him.  But would that deny Elvis to the world in the next go-round?

I was disappointed that it just sort of ends (i.e. not enough of a good thing).  I guess you can take the groupie being his manager as the twist, but it is not necessary to enjoy the show.  Just sit back and let the story roll over you.  Pitkin knows how and when he will die.   He knows that he killed Elvis, and by trying to perfect his life, kills him again.

The Once and Future King ranks with Profile in Silver as among the best of this series.  Is it a coincidence that both are centered on an actual historical figure?  While that is fun, the real common thread is the extraordinary performances by the leads.

Great stuff!

Other Stuff:

  • Title Analysis:  They even nailed that.  Well done!
  • Segment not Posted:  A Saucer of Loneliness starring Shelly Duvall.  She has enough problems without my shit.

Science Fiction Theatre – Barrier of Silence (09/03/55)

Dr. Richard Sheldon can’t remember what happened from the time he vanished in Milan, Italy until his appearance two weeks later in Zurich, Switzerland.  Thornton from the US State Department and Harcourt, a prominent psychiatrist, await his arrival at the airport. Sheldon is catatonic as they wheel him off the plane.  Unable to find a cause for Sheldon’s symptoms, Harcourt injects him with truth serum even though he wasn’t lying, unless it was by omission.

He is put in a hospital bed in his home.  His wife Karen tries to get him to respond, but doesn’t really use the best tools in her fine-ass arsenal.  When a firetruck goes by blasting its siren, Sheldon’s eyes open and his eyes dart around.  Once it passes, his eyes close again.  Harcourt deduces that when Sheldon is alert, it is always in the presence of loud obnoxious noise.

Harcourt tries beaming [          ] [1] through a parabolic dish and Sheldon’s eyes open.  When it ends, his eyes shut again, but he dreams of [          ].  High and low frequencies all produce the same response over the course of a week.

Dr. Neilson proposes that Sheldon should be subjected to absolute silence rather than noise.  He designs a field that will screen out ALL sounds so that Sheldon can be put into it.  He shows Harcourt a ringing bell that, when held inside the field, is silent.  As usual, SFT gets it backwards.  That proves sound within the field is silenced to an outside observer, but not that sound from outside the field will be eliminated to the person within it.

Even worse, he tells Harcourt to “say anything” and walk into the field.  Harcourt starts counting “one, two, three” and enters the perimeter.  He reacts as if stunned by the sudden silence.  But guess why — the dumbass stopped counting!  His lips aren’t moving.  Did no one on the set have the cajones to explain this to Adolphe Menjou? Were they still scared of a guy named Adolphe in 1955?

They bring Sheldon in and sit him in the cone of silence.  He awakens in response to the silence.  He still seems anxious, and they determine that he can still hear the sound of his own heartbeat.  Well, wait a minute — Harcourt couldn’t even hear himself speaking in the cone.  How . . . oh, who cares?

Sheldon has a flashback to being grilled by his captors during his time missing. Sleepily, he says, “I can’t go through it again.  I’ve told you everything I know.”  Which are my feelings on this post; I can’t even go back for pictures.  Turns out Sheldon gave up some secret codes, I guess to the Commies.  He snaps out of his catatonia.  The codes can be changed.  And now scientists can study silence as a cure for “amnesia and even more complicated forms of mental illness.”  The end.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m so bored that I spent more time looking at this blank than watching the episode.  At first I had Amy Schumer in there.  She is a terrible comedian, but not really known for being loud, so I took her out
  • Sam Kinison was not funny either, but was loud.  But, really, who cares anymore? OK, that one bit was good.  How long before Amy Schumer starts using it?
  • Googling “worst band” gave me some ideas.  One idea is that people who write about music are pretentious dicks.  C’mon, Wings or The Eagles are the worst bands ever?  Get over yourself.
  • Nickelback seemed to be the knee-jerk, go-to worst band choice, but I’ve never heard anything by them, and it seemed like piling on.
  • Then I was fixated on how many spaces should be in the brackets.  Seven seemed too few, so I bumped it up to ten.  Made all the difference in the world.
  • Zzzz-zzz-zzzz-zzzz-zzzz.
  • Title Analysis:  Barrier of Silence?  Why not Silence Barrier to play off “sound barrier?”
  • In the intro, pseudo-science guy Truman Bradley again uses a tuning fork for his demonstration.  This time he calls it a vibrator.  Hehe.