Category Archives: twilight zone

Richard Matheson 1926-2013

We have truly lost one of the legends of the writing game. Celebrated multiple award-winning author Richard Matheson passed away this weekend, surrounded by family and friends. He was 87.

Even if you didn’t know his name (shame on you!), you know his work. Here is just a sampler – the following movies are all based on his work – The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Real Steel, Trilogy of Terror, The Box, Loose Cannons, The Legend of Hell House Burn Witch Burn, Jaws 3-D (hey, a paycheck is a paycheck), and the these last three, all based on the same novel, The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and I Am Legend.

That’s not all, all of the good “Twilight Zone” episodes that weren’t written by Rod Serling, they’re all Matheson too. He wrote hundreds of short stories and books, and countless hours of television in many different genres, including episodes for “Star Trek,” “Combat!,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Thriller,” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” Other than “The Twilight Zone,” possibly his two greatest contributions to television were the Steven Spielberg-directed Duel and The Night Stalker, which became a fondly remembered cult TV series.

We have lost another legend.

RIP Jonathan Winters

April has been terrible with loss. Today we have lost another of the greats. Award winning comedian, actor, writer, impressionist, and recording artist Jonathan Winters passed away today. More of my childhood has gone away.

When I was a kid, Jonathan Winters was everywhere. He was always a guest star on various sitcoms and variety shows, even game shows and talk shows. I’m pretty sure he even had a few short-lived shows of his own as well. His manic improv and madcap characters were always a treat for me.

I loved him in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and it was a family event whenever the film aired in our household. We always couldn’t wait for him to tear the gas station apart. Classic classic comedy. Below you can see that scene, as well as Winters talking a bit about it, and how it helped him come back from a breakdown.

Later in life, he played Mearth, the son of Mork and Mindy in the final season of that sitcom. Being Robin Williams’ idol and inspiration, it is wild to watch him work with and against Winters in a comedic battle of wills.

Later I loved the man in the 1994 version The Shadow, playing it straight as he also did in the dark comedy The Loved One and an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “A Game of Pool.”

Winters also did voice acting in animation, recorded dozens of comedy albums, wrote poetry, and appeared in television programs as myriad as “Hee Haw,” “The American Sportsman,” and “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.” His final movie role will be the voice of Papa Smurf in The Smurfs 2. We have truly lost another of the legends.

RIP Jack Klugman

Award winning star of stage, screen, and television, Jack Klugman, passed away Christmas Eve in his home, surrounded by his family, apparently of natural causes. Born in Philadelphia, he was 90.

Jack Klugman was probably most well known in the role of Oscar Madison, the sloppy sports writer from TV’s “The Odd Couple,” in which he played opposite Tony Randall as the fussy photographer, Felix Unger. The sitcom ran for five years on ABC from 1970 to 1975, based on the movie, and the Broadway play by Neil Simon. While never having spectacular ratings, it found fame in summer reruns and syndication. As a kid growing up in the 1970s, “The Odd Couple” was a fixture in my Friday night TV programming.

Later in the decade, Klugman moved to NBC with the serious police/doctor procedural, “Quincy M.E.” With a coroner as the protagonist, Klugman had said once, it was the best of both dramatic prime time worlds. In the sixties, he also appeared in four episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” including “A Game of Pool” and “A Passage for Trumpet,” two considered classics.

Before, and after his television days, Klugman was in more than a few films, most notably he was Juror #5 in 12 Angry Men. He also performed on stage throughout his career, even more than a few times in The Odd Couple. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1974, and in 1989 lost one of his vocal cords to it, yet he continued to act, albeit in a much quieter huskier voice.

Jack Klugman was a terrific actor, and he will be missed.

Charly

Charly ~ Back in high school we had to read the short story version of “Flowers for Algernon,” we could read the novel by Daniel Keyes too, if we wanted, for extra credit. It was the tale of a mentally retarded man who is ‘cured’ by the miracle of science.

In 1968 it was made into the film Charly, which won Cliff Robertson an Oscar in the title role. I’ve never seen it in its entirety until now. What a pleasant and emotional surprise. Robertson’s transformation from simple to complex, shall we say, is amazing, but then again, he’s always been a terrific actor.

Claire Bloom is straight and adequate, somewhat of a cipher. She is neither good nor bad as Charly’s teacher/girlfriend. The late Ravi Shankar produces an intriguing and decidedly non-Eastern score.

The director Ralph Nelson, who also did Father Goose, Lilies of the Field, and Soldier Blue, is one of the reasons Charly stands out as a film. His odd and original use of split screen, and picture in picture techniques mark the movie as different.

Toward the end, when the story and ending becomes clear, it takes on a Rod Serling vibe, as if it were an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “Night Gallery.” It’s sad and troubling, but good is a story if it does evoke an emotional reaction, right? Great flick, recommended.

RIP William Windom

This has been a bad weekend for show business. We lost director Tony Scott to an apparent suicide, singer/songwriter Scott McKenzie of “San Francisco” fame, and just today, Phyllis Diller. But for right now, I’m going to talk about Emmy Award winning actor William Windom.

Windom was perhaps one of the best character actors in television, film and stage. He was memorable in “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Star Trek,” “Night Gallery,” a recurring role on “Murder, She Wrote,” and multiple episodes of “Twilight Zone.” You might also remember him from the films To Kill a Mockingbird, Escape from the Planet of the Apes and The Detective among others.

But the reason I remember William Windom is a short-lived NBC TV series called “My World and Welcome to It.” My big sister Bobbie, for whom I am eternally grateful for teaching me to read at a very young age, insisted I watch the show when I was just a wee one. At the time, I might have thought she put me in front of the TV because it had cartoons in it, but in reality, she was exposing me to a great writer – James Thurber.

The show revolved around a writer and cartoonist based on Thurber and played by Windom, who won an Emmy for his work there. Most of the content of this unique half-hour sitcom was either based on Thurber’s stories, essays and cartoons, or on his own life. The one animated sequence that stands out in my mind is “The Unicorn in the Garden.” Years later I would find the tale in a book and discover one of my favorite authors.

Thank you, Bobbie, for introducing me to James Thurber, and thank you, William Windom, for bringing him to life. Windom passed away on Thursday from congestive heart failure. He was 88, and he will be missed.

Sherman Hemsley 1938-2012

Sherman Hemsley was found dead this morning, presumably of natural causes. The television, stage and film actor was 74.

Hemsley was best known for playing George Jefferson, Archie Bunker’s neighborly nemesis on “All in the Family” before moving on up to his decade long rein in the spin-off “The Jeffersons,” also by Norman Lear. Later Hemsley played Deacon Frye on “Amen.”

I’m a bit more out there when it comes to my favorite roles for Sherman Hemsley. I loved him as the Steel Condor in the Disney superhero satire Up, Up, and Away. I also dug him as the Toyman, along with “Jeffersons” co-star Isabel Sanford, on “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” He was also the star of my favorite story from the second incarnation of “The Twilight Zone” called “I of Newton.”

A bit of trivia about Mr. Hemsley is that he was a huge prog rock fan and expert. He loved bands of the early seventies like Yes, Genesis, and the more obscure Gentle Giant. Sherman Hemsley even collaborated with Jon Anderson on an unreleased album.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ~ The original 1973 ABC TV movie of the week called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark scared the crap out of me. The idea of little buggers running around about a foot high with razors and other implements of cutting danger kept me from enjoying what is for the most a comedy – the Gremlins movies. Yeah, I admit it, I’m that frightened of little people, malevolent or not. I doubt I could deal with Darby O’Gill or The Gnomemobile because of this movie.

Guillermo del Toro has given many interviews citing the original version of this movie, as well as several “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery” episodes that similarly scared me, as scaring the crap out of him. He has the same weaknesses, and in this 2011 remake, he pushes those buttons hard, nay, he twists them ’til they fall off.

The only thing that disarmed the original monsters from being truly scary was how fake they looked. The new creatures are del Toro makeovers in the mode of his terrifying creations in Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. If there’s one thing del Toro can do, it’s make monsters. And there are also dozens of them, as opposed to the trio in the original. He also ties in other panic buttons with the themes of children in danger and the irrational reality of the tooth fairy concept. Add in more than a few broken teeth, and I’m terrified just typing this.

The story, slightly altered from the 1973 original, has a young couple renovating a huge mansion with the man’s young daughter from a previous marriage joining them after a long time. Secret rooms, evil fairies and mysterious murder attempts follow in suitable movie of the week horror fashion. Del Toro adds a bit more to the background and origins of the creatures and the house with frightening, almost Lovecraftian, zeal.

If you look deeper, del Toro, who has help from co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins and director Troy Nixey, has produced a love letter to those old telemovies that ABC made on a regular basis in the early 1970s. There are many nudges and winks here in names and camera angles to those great flicks. There is much love here, and much horror as well.

Going back to the monsters, I was almost hoping we never saw them, because the human imagination is usually more powerful than anything we can be shown. As you might guess, I’m a big fan of Curse of the Demon and the original The Haunting for this reason. When I finally did see the new monsters, I wanted them to go away, and I know I’m not going to sleep tonight. It’s rare that a remake improves on a film in this way. I’m not going to see this movie again, and that’s a compliment.

The cast is okay, neither Katie Holmes nor Guy Pearce, despite their star power, really bring anything extra to their roles. The little girl, Bailee Madison, already an acting veteran at twelve, is the real star here and is wonderful. If the Academy ever even looked at horror movies (which they don’t), they might find a treasure here. Remember her name, even if they won’t.

One plot point bothered me and seemed way out of place. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned. The creatures, weakened by bright light (don’t say it, they did predate Gremlins by at least a decade), are attacked by little Bailee with a Polaroid One-Step camera plus Flashbar. First, a One-Step camera in the day of the cellphone seems like an anachronism, and the Flashbar only had five flashes before it neede to be reversed or changed. This camera keeps going like a bad guy’s gun in a Rambo movie. Small point, but it pulled me out of the flick.

The above aside, this was a pretty good horror flick, with appropriate scares, I recommend it despite the fact I will never watch it again. It’s that scary, and that’s a solid recommendation. Check it out, if you dare.

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Pandorum

Pandorum ~ When this first came out so many of my friends were buzzing about saying “You have to see this.” Having finally seen it, I really don’t understand what the big deal was. It’s a horror flick on a spaceship. Old idea, and it’s been done before – and one of the first – Alien – is still the best.

In the future Dennis Quaid and Ben Cooper (looking distractingly like Justin Timberlake) wake up from hypersleep missing huge chunks of their short-term memory – specifically who they are and what their mission is. They start to explore what at first seems like an empty spaceship and find – surprise surprise – they’re not alone. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

What follows is pretty much textbook O Henry and “Twilight Zone” fodder. It’s predictable, but nowhere near as predictable as Avatar. Pandorum is good if you see it for free, but don’t pay for it. Dennis Quaid could really do better.

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The Long Dark Knight

The Dark Knight ~ I wanted to like this, I really did. Hell, I wanted to love it. And based on the record-breaking box office, and the renewed interest in comics as fodder for Hollywood, I really wish I did… But it was not to be. This could be one of the biggest disappointments of the summer, if not the year.

I don’t get it. How could this be that nearly two decades after Tim Burton’s Batman when comics readers breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally got what many of us perceived as the real Batman – a dark creature of the night – how could it be that now … my reaction is “it’s too dark,” how could this be?

The problem is, that’s the least of the problems I have with The Dark Knight. There are sequences, dialogue and characterizations that are dead on, and in some cases, perfect. But those do not make a whole movie.

Perhaps part of the blame goes to director Christopher Nolan for hiring his brother to help with the screenplay. David Goyer runs hot and cold for me. The first Blade is perfect yet his Dark City does nothing but give me migraines just thinking about it. Why not hire someone who has his feet firmly within both camps, film and comics, to help write the thing? Alan Brennert must be in the loop somewhere as he wrote one of the episodes in “Gotham Knight,” the anime that bridges Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it should be noted he’s one of the better comics and TV writers around. His “Twilight Zone” work rivals Rod Serling’s and his Earth-Two stories are second only to Roy Thomas, if not better. He understands comics, and the characters.

Another thing that bothers me is the Oscar for the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Yeah, he’s good, but was he that good? Hard to say. He certainly nailed the Joker, personality-wise at least, if not the visuals, and Ledger’s Joker definitely is frightening. Anyone else get the shivers every time he clicked his tongue? Yes, Ledger was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He shines whenever he’s on screen, even in nurse drag. But personally though I think Aaron Eckhart and especially Gary Oldman were just as good. If the late Heath Ledger gets an Oscar, then at least Oldman should have gotten at least a nod as well.

Christian Bale’s Batman growl has got to go. In the previous movie it was annoying, here it’s just downright infuriating. How about just a tonal change of voice like Christopher Reeve used to do with Clark Kent and Superman? That’s all that’s needed, really.

Really, what more do I need to say? The guttural noises coming from Bale lessen the character. The Batman character comes as much from Doc Savage as he does from the Shadow. Where is the Savage intellect? In this version of the dark knight it seems that either Lucius or Alfred do all the thinking for him.

Why do the movies hate Two-Face so much? He is easily one of the Batman’s deadliest foes, not just because of his insanity, or his loyalty to that coin, but because he was Bruce Wayne’s friend. He is not just the Riddler’s sidekick or the Joker’s freakish revenge – and he never was – why reduce such a opportunity-filled nemesis by linking him to others?

And Two-Face’s make-up/appearance… wow, it’s horrific, and pretty close to the comics for once, in theory. I think the idiots that brought their infant children to see this flick paid for their mistake with numerous nights of their children screaming awake from nightmares. Ratings are there for a reason, idiots. Just because it’s based on a ‘funny book,’ doesn’t mean it’s for kids.

I suppose that somewhere in this dreck written by Goyer and the director’s brother there might have been a good movie somewhere, but in my opinion it doesn’t make it to the screen. There are, despite my contempt for this film, parts I liked. The Joker’s interactions with the underworld elements of Gotham City are priceless and the entire Hong Kong sequence is amazing, but that’s only a small percentage of a very long movie. Too long.

I suppose I can hope that the next film in the series will be better, but that tact didn’t work back in the 1990s when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise. Perhaps Batman will be the opposite of the Star Trek film series and the odd-numbered ones will be the good ones. I hope so. I really don’t want to hate going to see Batman movies again…

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Déjà Vu All Over Again

ABC’s remake of the 1980s TV series “V” began last night and having lived through the first time, I have to ask why. Other than the idea of using better special effects and telling different stories I don’t know why it was remade. Much like a good joke, once you know the punchline the joke just doesn’t carry the same impact.

I remember the first time “V” aired, over two decades ago, on NBC. Everyone was talking about it the next day, this clever science fiction mini-series, and when the secret of the Visitors was revealed… oh man, let’s just say if the internet had existed, it would have broken in half. But that’s just the thing, when you think of “V” – those of us who remember it- you think of the secret… and like I said, when you already know, the impact is considerably less.

“V” is very much like some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone” – you know the episode by the shock twist ending, like “Eye of the Beholder” and “To Serve Man.” One of my favorite “TZ” episodes is “Button, Button,” by Robert Bloch, which coincidentally has been remade as The Box coming out this Friday. This is another case like “V.” If you know the episode, you know the ending, so for me, there’s no point in seeing this flick as I know how it ends.

Now while “V” may have slipped the minds of folks over the years and now be catering to a new generation, “Twilight Zone” has never left the consciousness of the public, being a pop culture institution in syndication now for decades. I just don’t get it, why remake it?

As far as the new “V” is concerned, the first episode held my interest barely. The subplots were far more interesting than the Visitors themselves, a mistake for a series about the Visitors, but we’ll see. Or some of us will. I’m not sure how long I’ll hang with it.

For a more in-depth look at ABC’s “V,” as well as the original, check out Andrew Burns’ review over at the very cool website Biff Bam Pop!

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