“Smithereens, 1982”

“Please don’t do anything weird to me!”

Smithereens, 1982 (Susan Berman), New Line Cinema

Smithereens, in the opening shots, reminds me of early Martin Scorsese. Substitute angry Italians for good-looking punks. One such lady punk, Wren (Susan Berman) catches a young man’s eye on a New York City subway train. The young man, Paul (Brad Rijn), follows her all around town as she puts up flyers promoting herself. What she does is anybody’s guess. I assumed she was somehow involved in music. The Peppermint Lounge is rocking this night, and she bluffs her way inside to chat up musicians. These are real locations. You can tell from the lighting. In fact, it looks like the filmmakers snuck their camera in there and stole shots. Paul makes a date with Wren, but all she cares about is putting her name out there and promoting herself. Paul sleeps in a van. You might say he’s “experiencing homelessness,” but he isn’t. He’s actually well off and bumming his way around. He takes Wren to a bizarre horror movie, which seems to have been constructed specifically for this movie.

I love this New York. It’s populated with young punks hard-up for cash. Paul wants some kind of a relationship with the crazy punk chick, but she flirts with other guys, namely Eric (Richard Hell), intent on furthering her ambitions. Eric was previously affiliated with a marginally successful band called Smithereens, which had one record released in the ’70s. Eric doesn’t seem to have saved his money, and he comes off crazy-shady. She spends the night with Eric, returns home to find her apartment door padlocked by the landlady. She hasn’t paid the rent in four months. The landlady tosses Wren’s clothes out the window. She looks up Paul (whom she ditched the previous night), but he’s angry with her. She appeals to him and manipulates him. Together, they break into her apartment (wearing stockings on their heads) and grab some of her stuff, including her little television set.

This isn’t a conventional romance. The dialogue is real. You feel like you know these people, or you have known people like this. That’s not necessarily a good thing. The movie is unrelentingly bleak for being so real. New York City is only a brief lay-over for Paul. He’s on his way to New Hampshire, and Wren needs a benefactor in the worst way. Her family’s no good to her, and Paul is all she has. One night, while waiting for Wren in his van, he strikes up a sweet and interesting conversation with a kindly prostitute, who shares part of her chicken salad sandwich with him and keeps soliciting him as she does so. This goes right to the heart of the movie’s premise; New Yorkers are lonely people just looking to sit down and connect with other people.

Wren’s an interesting if frustrating character. She’s a sponge to everybody she knows. She uses and abuses people all in an effort to promote herself (and we’re still not quite sure what it is she does) or her “brand.” Paul is the only person in her world who treats her with respect, and she dumps on him consistently. I get that she wants to remain independent, but her behavior borders of self-destructive. She’s a Holly Golightly for the punk set. Paul wants her to go to New Hampshire with him. She never takes him up on the offer. You really want to smack her upside her face for all the bad decisions she makes in the movie. Director Susan Seidelman would go on to direct Desperately Seeking Susan, another quintessential ’80s movie about New York City’s labyrinthine underbelly.

Special Thanks to my pal, Andrew La Ganke for suggesting this title.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Zapped, 1982”

“Sometimes life is like an onion. When you peel it, it makes you cry.”

Zapped, 1982 (Scott Baio), Embassy Pictures

Scott Baio has been given a gift. He’s a brilliant young man – a scientist! All day long in high school, he wears a lab coat cand conducts experiments involving marijuana, alcohol, and white mice. I remember my Mother told me a story about how she placed second in the County Science Fair. She was feeding alcohol to fruit flies to observe effects and consequences. Even second place, the experiment was an official board selection and an article was penned for Scientific American circa 1964. I look at all that past aptitude and then look at my Mother these days and I wonder where it all went. We’re capable of so much sagacity in our early years and then the fever dies down as we watch our hopes and dreams taken away from us like garbage on a regular Monday morning. Back to the Baio! He wouldn’t be an enterprising young man without a Huckleberry, would he? Huckleberry, in this exercise, is played by stalwart Baio-buddy, Willie Aames (who would in short order join him for Charles in Charge). Aames serves as the Baio-id, perhaps the Hyde to his Jekyll; untamed libido and dissolute greed.

This is the requisite high school of movie-maker wet dreams; clean-cut kids, extremely short cheerleader skirts, and students who look at least a decade older than they should look. Right away we have our cliques, as identified by hair color: the brains are brunettes, and the blondes … well, let’s just say they have more fun.  Scatman Crothers (in a hilarious bit), looking for Baio’s stash of Jack Daniels), accidentally spills some “Super Growth Plant Food” into the “Cannabis Extract.” This must be one of them California high schools, huh? Huh? Because … pot was recently legalized in … nevermind. Scatman unwittingly creates a mutant potion when Aames (being a scamp!) pours beer into the mixture, which will shortly give Baio powers. Incredible powers! Incredible powers of telekinesis! Meanwhile Felice Schachter’s Bernadette (who we don’t know is actually a fox without her ridiculous glasses) keeps pestering Baio for an interview. Interesting that Felice beat out Demi Moore and Helen Slater for the part. They eventually hook up, but you know this is going to happen. An accident ensues and Baio is exposed to a chemical reaction.

Baio’s parents (Roger Bowen and Marya Small, who I just saw in a Kolchak episode) are, of course, ignorant to his plight. They seem like the kind of people who watch 20/20, and you have to wonder how they get along in bed. Instead of communicating with their son, they interrogate him about drug usage and check him for tracks in his veins. Remember Matthew Broderick’s parents in WarGames? Same deal here. Baio develops his powers, slowly at first, but then they blossom in the most awkward of ways. He fantasizes (during class) about Heather Thomas stripping in front of him while repeatedly calling his name, and he gets a hard-on. He is called on by his teacher and arranges for the map display to unravel all over her and school principal, Walter Coolidge (Soap’s Robert Mandan). The cast is populated with television actors. Back then, television and movies were separate islands, and actors never dared tread the waters between. This is why Zapped! feels like a television movie for most of it’s running time, until the boobies start popping out. It’s weird to me the producers felt pressured to add nudity to the movie to give it an R rating. That just doesn’t happen today.

Now we get to Baio’s special gift. This is a young man who could help people. He could be a real, literal superhero. He could do some heavy lifting, tugging a couch or piano out an apartment window for his moving buddies with his mind. Instead he uses his newfound talent to expose breasts. This is the Aames-as-Satan connection. Bizarre, in that Willie Aames (a very popular child actor) became a born-again Christian in the ’90s and was known for his character, Bibleman (a true superhero!). Bibleman’s alter-ego, Miles Peterson, would not approve of this garden variety-Buddy Lembeck’s obsession with sex and profit for fun. Felice crack’s Baio’s blue steel facade and falls in love with him, which is sweet. I’m a fan of their love. I don’t like him trying to remove her top with his mind as they make out, but otherwise Zapped! is a lot of fun. It feels like a TV movie that was recut (with added nude scenes) for the less-uptight European audience. There are parody bits throughout the movie; the funniest of them being Star Trek (with an obvious Millenium Falcon/U.S.S. Enterprise model hybrid), The Exorcist (involving a “possessed” ventriloquist’s dummy), and Carrie. Thank you, Scott Baio, for making us laugh at love … again.

And thank you to Mark Jeacoma, who suggested this entry to me a long time ago, as well as hosting these articles for going on two years now! For an entertaining podcast on the subject of Zapped!, check out Mark’s discussion of the movie with Chris Hasler.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“My Favorite Year, 1982”

“I’m not an actor! I’M A MOVIE STAR!”

My Favorite Year, 1982 (Peter O’Toole), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In 1954, amiable young nebbish Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is a junior writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade when his childhood hero, movie matinee idol Alan Swann (Academy Award-nominated Peter O’Toole) guest stars on the show. This is a dream come true for Benjy, but it quickly turns into a nightmare when Swann proves to be an immature drunkard and an unprofessional hack who can’t rise to this most auspicious of occasions. Swann is a has-been with a genuine shot at becoming relevant again, but as we know from recent news, movie stars are unlikable douchebags. Didn’t we always know that? Benjy is heartbroken to see that his hero is a skirt-chasing alcoholic, even as he assesses him with the filters of his youth. Joseph Bologna’s Stan “King” Kaiser is no saint either. An unrepentant jack-ass in his own right, Kaiser is deluded as to his comic chops, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in his bravery. In strict defiance to crooked Union boss, Karl Rojeck (the great Cameron Mitchell!), Bologna portrays a popular parody of him on his show every week. Rojeck retaliates with intimidation and sabotage on his set.

When Swann shows up late (and drunk) for his first call, Bologna fires him on the spot. Benjy sticks up for Swann. Bologna agrees to take him back under the proviso that Benjy keep an eye on him for the duration of rehearsals and the show, which is to be broadcast live. Swann is wheeled into a posh hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria because nobody can trust him to stand on his own. He has “breakaway” clothing that can be easily removed as he refuses to undress for his bath. His able-bodied chauffeur clues Benjy in to Swann’s lack of funds, secret stashes of booze, and an strained relationship to his estranged daughter, Tess, who lives in Connecticut. Yet, as pathetic as he appears, Swann still knows how to fill out a tuxedo. Meanwhile, Benjy awkwardly pursues production assistant K.C. (Jessica Harper), who keeps shooting him down. Swann advises the young man on how to better improve his position with her. This is a 1954 romanticized by Benjy Stone; a New York City we only see in classic films. Big beautiful cars. Men and women dressed impeccably. Automats. Through a haze of nostalgia, we see that people behave very much (as written, that is) like they do today, especially with regard to the behavior of celebrities.

We get into the day-to-day details of working on a comedy show, and remember this was way before the trappings of 30 Rock (coincidentally where the Comedy Cavalcade is shot). There are some wonderful character beats. Lainie Kazan (as Benjy’s mother) wonders why her son would hide his Jewish heritage with a pseudonym. Anti-semitism being as prevalent back then as it is today required many people to hide their ethnicity behind banal surnames. Swann masks his profound depression with booze and flamboyant theatrics. Kaiser seems to suffer selective Tourette’s and the only way to calm him is to hit him over the head with his script. Benjy’s affection for K.C. borders on harassment in turns with his jealousy and obsession, but then he arranges for a big dinner of Chinese food (boxes filled with dumplings) in the office, which is sweet, and then he charms her with his tutilege on how to properly tell a joke. They screen old Alan Swann films and he annoys her by reciting the dialogue verbatim (a tactic I use to annoy my long-suffering wife). Luckily, she shuts him up by kissing him (a tactic my wife uses to shut me up sometimes). The film moves along briskly and Swann excels at rehearsals. Benjy takes Swann home to meet his bizarre family in Brooklyn.

When pressed by Benjy’s Uncle Morty about the latest gossip surrounding him, Swann confesses, “People like me wear targets. I’m blamed for a lot of things I had absolutely nothing to do with. On the other hand, because of who I am, I get away with murder in other areas. I suppose it all balances out in the end.” As he is idolized and fawned over by Benjy’s family and residents of their apartment building, Swann becomes depressed and must drink. The morning after, Swann absconds with a police officer’s horse and takes Benjy for a galloping tour of Central Park. Benjy encourages him to repair his relationship with his daughter. Swann hilariously freaks out when he realizes the show is to be performed live rather than taped. Rojeck and his goons crash the live broadcast and Swann with Bologna fight off the bad guys in front of a thrilled audience. This is a fun, charming movie produced by Michael Gruskoff for Mel Brooks’ Brooksfilms, directed by Richard Benjamin from a script by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo. It was a wise move to have Benjamin direct the movie rather than Brooks, as Brooks would, most assuredly, have placed more emphasis on the sight gags and comedy and less on the living drama O’Toole summons in his performance. Benjy’s sunny epilogue feels out of place. The movie is populated with character actors from Brooks’ (and colleague Carl Reiner’s) movies. This is a refreshing change of pace from last week’s dismal Misunderstood.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The Sword and the Sorceror, 1982”

“We’ve got kingdoms to save and women to love!”

The Sword and the Sorceror, 1982 (Lee Horsley), Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

A couple of boats settle on a rushing shore. A frustrated and somewhat evil Titus Cromwell (Richard Lynch) commands his witch to summon a crazy mud-man with glowing eyes, Xusia of Delos, (this can only be Night Court’s Richard Moll) to help him defeat his enemies. In another corner of the word, King Richard rules his empire with the dual benefits of peace and mercy. Honestly, I don’t know he does it! Cromwell’s armies begin ripping through Richard’s land. Cromwell goes back on his deal with the mud-man and chucks him off a cliff for his trouble. I think he’ll be back. Ten minutes in, and we’ve got a lot of story. Richard sends his family away, but his son, Talon, (with a bad haircut) wants to fight. Richard tells him he must carry on, fight on the seas and oceans, fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds, fight in the hills, never surrender, or something to that effect. The young man (with a nifty projectile-launching sword) is hunted for years by Cromwell. He grows into the stunning specimen of manhood known as Matt Houston! I mean Lee Horsley. Pirate, slave, rogue. You name it.

Meanwhile mud-boy Xusia is plotting his revenge on Cromwell. Don’t get it twisted. He is tight! There are stirrings of rebellion with Prince Mikah (Jaws 3-D’s Simon MacCorkindale), believed to be the rightful heir to King Richard’s lost empire, planning a revolt. All he needs is a few good men. The fully grown, fully coiffed manhood-oozing Talon is interested in only three things: money, food and women. God bless him! Cromwell gets the drop on Mikah due to his traitorous douche advisor. Mikah sends his sister Alana (Kathleen Beller) to warn the others, but she is waylaid by thugs who are then easily dispatched by Talon (all while eating a big cow leg no less). Alana hires Talon to rescue her brother. They haggle, but he seems more interested in sex, so she offers herself, but he expects his bounty, “perfumed and pretty.” Oh you man, you! Cromwell steals off with Alana, planning to make her his queen, regardless of whether she loves him or not. I’m glad relationships between men and women have evolved. Or have they? So now Talon has to rescue a prince and a princess.

This is a damned fun movie. It’s a story George R. R. Martin wished he had written; concise and economical like The Neverending Story and a pathetic reminder of why movies fail to entertain these days. It looks as though certain scenes and shots were lifted from this movie to make Game of Thrones, which (I don’t care how much money was spent) pales by comparison. Beautifully shot by Joseph Mangine working with director Albert Pyun for his first movie, The Sword and the Sorceror is funny, sexy, and energetic. No easy feat. Pyun’s early work indicates his love for shadows and color, and an eye for framing and detail. Horsley is charismatic, and Lynch is a great mustache-twirler. The story recalls Jason and the Argonauts, Bert I. Gordon’s The Magic Sword, a little bit of Star Wars, and Clash of the Titans. It is often compared to Conan the Barbarian, the movie that kicked off the new wave of fantasy movies for the ’80s, but I see very little resemblance. As a matter of fact, I think I prefer this movie over Conan. and unlike the similar movie, Krull, this one makes sense.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Humongous, 1982”

“You god-damn stuck-up bitch!”

Humongous, 1982 (Janet Julian), Embassy Pictures

Labor Day weekend, 1946. A floating point-of-view killer shot cuts across some still water and we see overly-made-up white people enjoying their whiteness. I honestly don’t know what white people get up to these days. They seem to want to make everybody else feel ashamed for their whiteness, but that’s none of my business. Most horror movies with an eye toward ripping off either Halloween or Friday the 13th find it necessary to begin with a quaint flashback. Some minor past trauma and then we’re off to the races. A young couple argues in the cricket-deafening woods and some dogs go nuts. The argument goes south real fast and then turns into rape. It reminds me of Ray Liotta’s rape of Pia Zadora with a garden hose in The Lonely Lady, but this is far more graphic. Can you imagine walking into this movie with a bucket of popcorn and seeing this? The rapist is then attacked by the lady’s vicious dog and then she finishes the job. Credits roll. Nice.

I don’t get it. We go from this horrific opening bit to some badly-written, badly-acted nonsense with teens in their late twenties walking around, clothing-optional, playing crazy head-and-sex games with each other. They go on a boat ride and rock out and drink beer and dance (such rebels!). So we have a fresh differentiation between rape and sex, or do we? Most of the time, the boys are acting out the aggressor part while the women tease and seduce them. We cut to creepy night and fog rolling in around that really nice boat. I wonder if I missed the explanation of what the hell they’re doing out there. They come across a smaller boat with a man. They bring him in and tie off the boats. It seems the kids are on their way to an island, but their passenger warns of dogs inhabiting the island, and a crazy old woman (you see where this is going) who takes care of them. The dialogue is so bizarre I thought the actors were given incorrectly-labeled pages. Anyway, the boat catches fire. Maybe the dogs were playing with matches. Bad dogs!

The kids jump off the boat and land on the shore of the Crazy Dog Island (that’s my name for it). So we have the kids stranded on this island and being menaced by either dogs or hooded figures. It’s an interesting twist on the slasher genre, but the kids come off so stupid and annoying you’re just praying they come to a quick death. The story (for me) recalls The Most Dangerous Game and Attack of the Killer Shrews. It’s up to the kids to disseminate the clues, as it seems some strange dog-beast is knocking them off, one by one. Of course, rather than seek help or find some means of getting off this Crazy Dog Island, they wait around to be killed, which is extremely boring. I mean, at least give me something to chew on! It turns out the woman in the pre-credits rape scene (through a helpful journal she kept) had a deformed rape baby that is really pissed off. Always remember to have your dogs (or mutant spawn) spayed or neutered!

Welcome to Vintage Cable Box’s 2017 coverage of horror movies shown on cable television during those times.  It wasn’t unusual to see a boat-load (heh) of crazy horror and slasher movies on cable television.  Happy Halloween!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The World According to Garp, 1982”

“It can be a real adventure having a life.”

The World According to Garp, 1982 (Robin Williams), Warner Bros.

What is a “Garp?” According to Hume Cronyn (when informed of his grandson’s name), it sounds like a fish. He’s off by a consonant, but if the other side of the glass in his particular fishbowl is the world, it’s a world T.S. Garp is never permitted to enjoy. Various attempts to improve his condition are undermined by his attention-seeking mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), who is inspired by Garp’s desire to become a writer by writing her own book – a speculative satire/self-help tome titled, A Sexual Suspect, that becomes an enormous hit and solidifies her status as a cult-like leader to millions of disenfranchised women all over the world.

Meanwhile, Garp marries and has children with high school sweetheart, Helen (Mary Beth Hurt), and tries to further his own writing career, but is overshadowed by Jenny at every turn. Interestingly, her legion of dedicated followers greet Garp with nothing but disgust, marginalization, and objectification due to his status as a man. These are oddly prescient themes in 2017; those that define themselves by their identities, lack of perceived privilege or status have now become the spirituous bullies of others. One does not have to imagine Garp’s frustration in his world to understand what he is feeling. Unfortunately, Irving’s story lacks a strong narrative focus, but this has always been a failing of his fiction.

In John Irving’s estimation, we (as characters) are tiny little chess pieces inhabiting an immense board. For every decision that Garp makes in the story is based upon the reactions or anticipation of either fellow characters (or pieces) observing him or situations that have arisen without his knowledge or consent. Aside from one tragic incident occuring later in the story, he is essentially blameless in everything that occurs. At least that’s how I interpret the story. There is a forever changing and evolving world, and then there are the forced masses, chained to ideals or weighed down by family that keep us stationary and stagnant. Garp is the embodiment of this stagnation.

Aside from the curious disconnect between the story’s collection of eccentric characters and the audience, Garp is a fascinating, unforgettable personal journey into one man’s private Hell. Robin Williams (in an early strong, dramatic performance) is immensely watchable, even as he tries to give us some distance from his comedic stage work. He’s not quite there yet as a credible dramatic lead. I think Williams learns more from his capacity for humor in creating a dramatic performance than the other way around. For reference, consider Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting and compare those characters to Garp. You’ll be surprised to see how much he had evolved as an actor.

Glenn Close gives the keynote performance for the film. The characters shift and the narrative turns on her character’s every decision. In fact, she’s so good in this movie that I absolutely hate her. She creates such a real person in the midst of all the catharsis that you’ll swear she’s a member of your own family. She has this irritating pleasantness and a robotic smile that you feel she’s patronizing her sycophants in addition to her family. Strangely, the most sympathetic performance in the film comes from John Lithgow portraying Roberta Muldoon, a one-time football star who had a sex-change operation and must negotiate the waters of her own fishbowl as “she” tries to connect with fellow human beings in a cruel, prejudiced world.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Forbidden World, 1982”

“Get naked.”

Forbidden World, 1982 (Jesse Vint), New World Pictures

SOMETHING IS WRONG ON XARBIA! Eggheads create problems. Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) finds solutions. In a by-the-numbers “B” movie narrative, you get a bunch of scientists together aiming to end galaxy-wide starvation, but instead, they create a monstrous killing machine, dubbed “Subject 20,” derived, hilariously from synthetic proteins. I’m reminded of all the hysteria surrounding “gentically modified” food. People need to understand that movies are not real. It’s called fiction for a reason, regardless of the source’s authenticity or suspension of disbelief. Movies are not real. There are no real terminators running around. There are no aliens out there with acid for blood. Cinderella is a fairy tale. Although I was distressed to see that the latest batch of Crystal Pepsi was “genetically engineered,” according to it’s packaging.

This is one of those wonderful, sexy, exploitative science fiction movies (nary any redeeming value other than schlock) that would crop up on late night movie channels as a remedy for fighting insomnia. The monster on the poster (a spider-like gargoyle creation) is not the monster in the finished movie. The creature in the movie looks like a mutated Kool-Aid Man. Stylistically, Forbidden World rips off Alien, but only to a certain point. The creature in question is the product of genetic engineering that started life as an alternative food source intended to end famine. Released a month before John Carpenter’s The Thing, there are stark similarities to the creature’s ultimate power: to replicate the DNA of it’s prey, which is then consumed.

This would all be intriguing subject matter if made with a little more care than Roger Corman and Jim Wynorski (Screwballs) could provide. Instead, it’s a flimsy excuse for the females in the cast to take off their clothes and have sex with the males. Not that I have a problem with that; June Chadwick (from V: The Series) and Dawn Dunlap are very easy on the eyes, but in the Wynorski lexicon, a plain-old scientist is boring if he or she isn’t sex-starved with a nice body. If the primary influence of Alien was Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, then Forbidden World’s influence appears to be Friday the 13th. Hot sex is the quickest journey to a pine box! Remember that, kids.

Forbidden World was released in an unusual clutch of sexy horror/science-fiction movies; the follw-up to Corman’s Galaxy of Terror (with production design by James Cameron), Horror Planet (originally released as Inseminoid), directed by Norman J. Warren (who also directed Alien Prey) and the no-budget thriller, Nightbeast. Corman (in requisite fashion) re-uses footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror to make Forbidden World. Still, it’s a fun, dirty little science fiction movie which, were it made today, would have all the sexuality stripped of it and (oddly) made more violent with a PG-13 rating.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982”

“You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982 (William Shatner), Paramount Pictures

Considered the best of Star Trek movies, director Nicholas Meyer wisely applied the lessons learned from the first film to launch the popular television franchise and utlized television production techniques to craft this clever sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To say that Star Trek II is faithful to the NBC television series is obvious even down to the story, which sequelizes not only the film series, but also the first season episode, “Space Seed.” Star Trek II brings back Khan Noonian Singh (electrifying Ricardo Montalban), a product of 20th century genetic engineering, who we last saw being shipped into exile with his crew by Kirk at the end of the episode. Unfortunately, a short time later, the disruption of a nearby planet causes Khan’s new paradise to become a desert filled with horrid, mutated creatures.

Khan captures the U.S.S. Reliant (a science vessel on alert for appropriate planetary bodies upon which to experiment) by means of hideous slug-like creatures inserted into key personnel Chekov and Terrell’s ears to control their minds. Khan and his crew travel to space station Regula 1, where Doctors Carol (Bibi Besch) and her son, David Marcus (Merritt Buttrick) are developing the “Genesis” device, which can turn any lifeless astronomical body into a fertile garden. Khan wants “Genesis” (for reasons that are never adequately explained – perhaps he feels he has it coming to him), but he has to get through Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to take it. Kirk, obstensibly on board the U.S.S. Enterprise to supervise a training assignment under Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), assumes command of the ship to rescue his former lover, Carol, and their son.

This presents difficulties for Kirk, who is “celebrating” his birthday. For the first time in his life and career, he is confronted with his own mortality, which turns out to be a much greater foe than Khan, or an irate Gorn, or a community of sadistic telepaths. With Spock and McCoy serving as advisers (and even more fascinating, Jungian extensions of his subconscious in the form of wisdom and logic), Kirk must fight an enemy who swore vengeance upon him fifteen years before, as well as form a temporary truce with his new family in the form of Carol and David. For his part, David is an angry genius who would like to flatten his father for what he perceives as abandonment. The “Genesis” device represents an analogy for our own atomic bomb; utilizing science that could’ve saved us, the bomb has the power to kill us all. Nicholas Meyer’s next project would be The Day After for ABC.

The beginning of a successful trilogy that ended with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a rare case of a cinema adaptation that succeeds and then eventually improves upon it’s source material (in this case, the television series) by embracing the finest aspects of the original material. All of the narrative beats are there: the fundamental conflict between Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley), which would be turned on it’s ear for the sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, a great villain in Khan, a hysterically angry and passionate Kirk, excellent visual effects and battle scenes, and a complex moral/philosophical argument embodied in “Genesis.” This is what a Star Trek film should be.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is being re-released to theaters for two nights only, September 10th and 13th, as part of a 35th anniversary event. I recall seeing the film upon it’s first release in June of 1982.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.