“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.

“The Apple, 1980”

“Come do anything to me your little heart desires!”

The Apple, 1980 (Catherine Mary Stewart), Cannon

Wow. Just … wow. I don’t know where to go into this except to start off with complete ’80s overload; v-necks and shoulder pads goose-stepping in interesting formations. There ain’t no pleasure, there ain’t no pain. Uniformed space cadets straight from the Ace Frehley/Patti LaBelle Academy dance and wreak havoc on outsized stages, singing “Hey, hey, hey!” to cheering crowds. This is the latest thing! I have to believe it because it scored 150 heartbeats, which must be some kind of currency, but I don’t think I’ll ever be sure. I wonder if this is a structured society or simple commentary on our collective lust for trends. I might be reading too much into it. After this space orgy ends, next is a simple couple (Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour) and an acoustic guitar (with orchestral backing) singing a song of love that earns jeers and boos from the crowd. They don’t like The Brady Bunch. Love is a universal melody and we belong to each other, but fuck ’em – there’s no money in love! Pay attention to the lyrics. The audience starts to like what they’re hearing and the heartbeats go up! Couple of kids from Moosejaw. Who would have though it? 151 heartbeats! The producers sabotage the simple couple from Moosejaw and their heartbeats go down. They leave the stage because they think the crowd is booing them off.

Frustrated with their lack of options, the simple couple seek out an influential sage who will guide them to success. It’s interesting to me they wear regular clothing, jeans and jackets, while everybody else is decked out in lunatic-duds. The forces of evil, a mega-conglomerate known as the “BIM,” set about corrupting the duo with pills and sexual propositions. In the middle of all of this is a musical with some actually decent songs that propel the narrative. Of course it isn’t a particularly original narrative (somewhere between The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) but it is visually striking. This is a New Wave musical as if directed by Fellini. It’s Ziggy Stardust meets Amarcord. The music scene as visualized for the year 1994 in The Apple was off by 20 years. 1994 in music was a hodgepodge of folk, emo, grunge, and darkwave, diminutive yet theatrical with a newfound respect for the British explosion and less focused on fashion and choreography. Catherine Mary Stewart is essentially the Jessica Harper of this enterprise. Harper (in The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) is the innocent girl thrust into the spotlight and corrupted by “creative” excess, though Catherine appears stronger than Harper.

The forces of evil (aka “BIM”), of course, offer the duo a recording contract and a trip to the west coast. They deck Stewart in a glittering dress and leave Gilmour almost naked. They offer Stewart the “apple.” An actual, really big, apple, and we can see the Biblical connotation unraveling. Is it requisite that she bites into the apple and accepts the evil? I’m guessing. I hope I’m right, because then the movie will satisfy my demand for literalism. What I don’t understand is the song that accompanies the action of biting into the apple. The lyrics, which reference vampires and demons, seem to suggest this is an extremely dangerous choice to make. Is it really that bad for Catherine and George? The Roger Daltrey/Robert Plant-like singer who seduces Catherine compels her to “take the apple and take a bite.” George is disgusted. He walks out and refuses to sign any contracts. With the “BIM” label brandished on her forehead (a glittering triangle with rounded edges), Catherine begins her recording career. They give her Vulcan eyebrows and drape her with dead animal skins. Wait a minute, Catherine! What happened to love being the universal melody and us belonging to each other? What the fuck is your problem? Only Menahem Golan can answer that question.

When she gets up on stage, singing about America (and it’s correlating dependency on drugs) in a strange perversion of Neil Diamond, she just looks like the rest of those fools. She’s lost her individuality and her love for love! She’s a tool. Meanwhile, “BIM” has acquired such power that anybody not wearing their signature label is given a ticket and fined. I don’t get it. Is this what would happen should the Music Industry gain true power? Is this supposed to be the Illuminati with their bizarre hand signs and lizard eyes? It seems everyone else is living in squallor while the elite dance with happy, programmed feet sipping champagne out of weird glasses in ivory towers. This is actually a good movie! So much of what we see has been replicated in recent movies and television shows. George struggles with his career. He misses Catherine. Well, who wouldn’t? In the torrents of her success, he tries to reach her but is beaten by BIM goons for his trouble. In a bit of Xanadu-inspired musical madness, they sing to each other from different locations: she in a luxurious penthouse, and he in the gutter, and we know by the end of the movie, these crazy kids will make it work. Menahem Golan (and his cousin Yoram Globus) had been unfairly characterized as low-budget schlockmeisters with the Cannon Group, but The Apple is quite staggering as a piece of modern art. The Apple is a fun (if bizarre) cinematic statement, and is worth it just for Grace Kennedy’s erotically-charged over-the-top show-stopper, “Coming.” Yowza!

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.

 

“Starman, 1984”

“You are at your very best when things are worst.”

Starman, 1984 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

In 1977, the Voyager space probe was launched containing examples of Earth’s excellence, not the least of which is a golden vinyl pressing of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The disc includes examples of our DNA, maps, photographs, and message from the children of Earth. A few years later, an alien spacecraft crashes in a Wisconsin bay, near the home of the recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), who spends most of her nights mourning her dead husband, Scott (Jeff Bridges) by drinking herself silly and watching old home movies. An alien lifeform (what appears to be a glowing silver ball) emerges from the crash and enters the Hayden homestead. The lifeform finds a photo album and clones itself from a lock of Scott’s hair. In a terrifying bit, Jenny wakes from her drunken stupor to see a naked infant quickly grow into full manhood. She promptly passes out under the weight of what must be a hallucination.

In short order, our Military is tracking the crash of the ship. NSA director George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) rush to recover the craft and determine the plotted trajectory of the alien ship to be the Barringer Crater near Winslow, Arizona. “Starman” essentially abducts Jenny and forces her to drive him to Winslow so he can make an important rendezvous. Their dynamic is built on her fear of this familiar-looking creature: an alien made to resemble her husband. You can see the torment in her face as she tries to reconcile the fact that this creature is a child in man’s body; a new life in a dead man’s body. She attempts to ditch him, and she tries to run. He tells her he means her no harm, and she believes him. The dynamic changes to one of mutual fugitives on the run from the law, and we get into familiar John Carpenter territory. Up until this point, other than the cinematography and synthesizer-driven score, this movie could’ve been made by Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.

John Carpenter has a specific gift for ratcheting up the tension, and he tells the story from the point of view of a confused and lonely protagonist in Jenny Hayden. Karen Allen is truly one of our most underrated actresses. Her only other big role in this time period was as Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark; a role she would reprise in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If there was one word I would use to describe her, it would be “real.” She is perfect in the role of the audience’s surrogate as she reacts to all of “Starman’s” antics. Her wide, expressive eyes marvel at miracles, large and small, and the movie clings to her chemistry with Bridges. As she begins to possibly remember her attraction to her husband via “Starman,” she tries to leave him again with her money and her keys in the hopes he will go undetected without her accompanying him the rest of the way. Bridges learns the meaning of self-sacrifice. “Starman” and Jenny make love in a train car and she becomes pregnant, despite her infertility. Later, with no money and no car, they arrive in Las Vegas, where Bridges tinkers with a slot machine and wins them $500,000.

Charles Martin Smith is hot on their trail and places Fox’s men around the diner where they are eating. As Fox had revealed his intention to study the alien by means of autopsy even though the aliens were technically invited to study Earth, Smith has had misgivings about his assignment. When “Starman” tells him he finds humanity to be beautiful, Smith decides to let them go. In a hilarious bit, they both kiss him and thank him for letting them go. The movie is in turns scary, tragic, and humorous. Pretty much the human condition right there. Think of Starman as a sexy version of E.T., but I would argue Starman is the better movie for offering a richer story about adults rather than children. Starman was nowhere near as successful as E.T. at the time of it’s release, but it was a popular HBO exclusive and video rental. The Jeff Bridges performance is one of innocence and curiosity. The closest analog, for me, would be Brent Spiner as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both characters embrace humanity and learn to mimic it, with difficulty. The only difference being that “Starman” can produce a child biologically with Jenny Hayden. Bridges received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Every day John Carpenter isn’t making a film is a loss to us all.

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.

“Metropolis, 1984”

“Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.”

Metropolis, 1984 (Brigitte Helm), Cinecom

We start with an explanation of why Giorgio Moroder did what he did; that is to take a print of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then to add previously missing footage and photographs, affix his newly-produced musical score, and then release the result. A montage of dangerous-looking machinery turning joined with text describing the pleasures and privilege of the “chosen sons” in the elevated city of Metropolis begins the movie. We are shown that the benefits of these few are the result of the back-breaking labors of the masses – the working class. A frustrated man in pleated breeches, Freder, spots a strange woman with dirty children, who apparently took the wrong elevator with an unruly mass of dirty children. She exits as quickly as she came, but Freder can’t stop thinking about her.

Next, we see the massive factory and the slave workers choregraphed to a specific rhythm. It’s at this point that we see parallels to art direction and production design in movies from the ’80s to the early ’90s. Blade Runner immediately comes to mind, as well as Ridley Scott’s bizarre and jaw-dropping commercials for Apple. Freder asks his father why they must treat their workers so badly. His father has no answer. Perhaps it’s easier to simply reap the rewards rather than give care or consideration to those who die to construct this fantasy of superiority. I think if the workers were not made to be so passive through fear, they would have revolted years before. The movie works as a plea for constructive socialism in that regard, but therein lies the inconsistency.

A Jew converted to Roman Catholicism by his mother, Fritz Lang fled Nazi-ruled Germany for Paris shortly after meeting with Joseph Goebbels, who suggested Lang to head the UFA, despite the ban of his film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Hitler and Goebbels, being film enthusiasts, respected Lang immensely*. As Lang’s Judaism was hidden at the time, they would surely have been embarrassed by that revelation. Yet Lang explicitly preaches the tenets of modern Socialism, at least our perception of Socialism in the words of Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Marx considered Capitalism to be the enemy of Socialism to such a degree that he also wrote (somewhat flippantly), “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

Freder rebels against his father after witnessing firsthand the cruelty of his father’s indifference to the plight of the workers after a fierce explosion kills several of them. Meanwhile Freder’s father approaches inventor (and early rival) Professor Rotwang (resembling a slightly bent-out-of-shape Rip Torn) with a series of old maps found among a dead worker’s possessions. Rotwang abducts Freder’s mystery woman and makes an android version of her, in an effort to discredit her with the workers she herself incites to rebellion with Freder. When Freder sees his father with this android version of his dream girl, he flips out, figuratively (but with visual flair) descending into his own personal Hell. He takes to the bed while Rotwang shows off his new creation to all the muckety-mucks with a surprisingly erotic, pre-Code interpretive dance.

Brigitte Helm’s android provides us with a delicious sneer and a winking eye on her face to indicate that she is not human. She incites brawls among the workers, as the leaders and organizers have realized the best way to destroy any notion of dissent through community is to make the workers fight each other rather than the establishment. I see parallels in modern politics and sociology occurring even now. She encourages the workers to destroy the power station, which will cause their own homes to be flooded. In the end, all that remains are desperate, hungry faces, and destroyed machinery and the workers decide that Brigitte Helm is the cause of their misery so they decide to burn her at the stake. The flames burn away at her flesh-like draping, revealing the robot beneath.

Underneath a startling examination of the human condition, Fritz Lang has constructed the definitive science fiction experience. Revelatory and exciting (as with Lang’s M made four years later), Metropolis is less an expressionist piece, and more emotional because of his reliance on character motivation rather than the static interpretation of films produced at the time. The movie is less concerned with progress than it is with entropy and the breakdown of society. Several versions of Metropolis had floated around for years after Moroder’s 1984 release, with runnings times varying from the accepted 83 minute running time to over 2 hours. Moroder, often credited with popularizing disco music in the States, suffuses his Metropolis with songs from popular artists of the time, ranging from Billy Squier and Freddie Mercury, to Pat Benatar and Adam Ant.

Critics savaged this version of Metropolis at the time of it’s release. It was even nominated for two Razzie Awards, Worst Original Song and Worst Musical Score. As this was the only version of the film I had been exposed to (also heavily promoted on MTV), I accepted it as the definitive version. Moroder’s intention was to contemporize the film and the subject matter for young audiences with the use of popular music, and he succeeds. Critics then (and now) never seem to place films in the context of when they were made, and only review them favorably if they are viewed as some subjective definition of the word, “timeless.” Though I doubt filmmakers would ever admit to it, and based on many music video produced, such as C+C Music Factory’s “Here We Go (Let’s Rock & Roll)” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis was enormously influential.

*Conflicting reports state Hitler and Goebbels were aware of Lang’s Jewish background, and were prepared to make him an “honorary Aryan” because of their admiration for his work, and Metropolis in particular. The film could be seen as a rallying cry for desperate, impoverished Germans after the end of the first World War. Lang’s wife at the time, Thea von Harbou (Metropolis’ screenwriter) was alleged to have been an early supporter of the Nazi Party.

Thanks to Geno Cuddy for supplying the source copy of Metropolis for this review.

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.

“Strange Invaders, 1983”

“Three-headed dogs are big, but aliens?  Well, aliens are passe’.”

Strange Invaders, 1983 (Paul LeMat), Orion Pictures

1957-58, young couple listens to rock music and makes out while aliens wreak havoc in a small Illinois town called Centerville (“A real great place to raise your kids up!”).  The boy takes the girl home.  The boy goes to his own home to find everybody gone.  The television is on.  The bathtub is filling up, and nobody’s there.  The creepy shadow of an alien hand reaches out to grab the young home.  He screams.  We jump forward some 25 years later to Columbia University and sports-coat-with-patched-elbows professor Paul LeMat teaching a course in entymology.  Ex-wife Diana Scarwid shows up at his suspiciously spacious New York apartment, tells him she has to go home, to Centerville, on family business, and leaves their daughter, Elizabeth with him.  She never comes back, so Paul sets out to find her.

Paul arrives in Centerville to find a strangely quiescent town. Main Street is a ghost town, and the few people he does run across seem … a little off.  There’s a deserted, yet well-kept church.  The kids in the town have a “retro” sensibility.  They looks like transplants from the ’50s.  They all stare at him.  He’s obviously not welcome.  His car breaks down (of course) so he kills time in an old-school diner.  The people in the diner seem like mannequins, or seat-fillers.  He looks out a window and sees his car being destroyed by what looks like a lightning bolt.  He takes off in a stolen antique car and notices some of the townspeople have turned into weird, reptilian anthropoid-like creatures.  He is arrested by local law enforcement.  Some time later, people from Centerville have chartered a bus to New York.  They are revealed (in somewhat short order) to be aliens.

LeMat returns to New York to find his apartment ransacked.  His ex-wife is still missing.  He looks up his local bookworm on the subject of extra-terrestrial life who puts him in touch with resident UFO nut, Louise Fletcher.  She tells him no one has lived in Centerville (officially) since 1958 when a tornado struck the town.  This is weird.  At a news kiosk, he picks up a tabloid paper with a picture of an alien that looks an awful lot like the ones he encountered.  He looks up the writer (Nancy Allen) of the article.  She informs him these articles are bullshit.  The picture was found in their files, so they ran a story to go with the picture.  He leaves in a huff, even after she hits on him.  Nancy goes home, and is beset by alien lady, cleverly disguised as an Avon representative who kills her super (Wallace Shawn, in a fun bit), and calls the cops, but they can’t find a body.  After watching The Day the Earth Stood Still, Nancy becomes convinced.

Nancy and Paul hook up and talk shop.  Paul speculates about the aliens and their motivations.  After cocktails, they go back to his apartment and get sexy, but they are interrupted by Scarwid finally showing up in a freakazoid panic.  Scarwid is looking for their daughter.  Scarwid confesses she’s an alien, that she was sent to study the Earth, but she found she enjoyed our planet (as I do), got married and had the baby.  The divorce made it tough on her (as it does) and her family.  The aliens follow Nancy back to LeMat’s apartment building.  She shoots one of them and it spouts horrible green blood!  Scarwid sets up a diversion so Paul and Nancy can escape.  Along the way, Louise Fletcher picks them up and informs them our Government and the aliens have an “arrangement” – they provide us technological advances and we give them a place to live.  Now it’s up to Paul and Nancy to go back to Centerville and get tot eh bottom of this crazy mystery.

Now there’s something you don’t see everyday.

Strange Invaders is every great science fiction movie ever made in the ’50s and early ’60s.  Replete with paranoia shared en masse and unified only by the times those movies and this movie were made in – the ’50s and the ’80s.  The film’s opening crawl illustrates that point effectively: “It was a simple time, of Eisenhower, twin beds, and Elvis from the waist up — a safe, quiet moment in history.  As a matter of fact, except for the Communists and rock-and-roll, there was not much to fear.  Not much at all … until that night.”  Strange Invaders had the kind of fun as a movie that The Rocky Horror Picture Show enjoyed; interpretation of classic paranoid science fiction extrapolated with fresh eyes and placing it in modern context.  The music, editing, and performances perfectly capture the nostalgic narrative.  This is a fun, fast-paced movie.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: Barbarella

“Better adjust my tongue box.”

Barbarella, 1968 (Jane Fonda), Paramount Pictures

Kids from my generation know very little about the actress Jane Fonda from the time period in which Roger Vadim’s Barbarella was produced, except to say that she was involved in protesting the Vietnam War, or something to that effect. She was in 9 to 5 and On Golden Pond. If you get a codger in the room, he or she will invariably spit, “Hanoi Jane!” What the kids from my generation will most remember Miss Fonda for was her marriage to broadcasting mogul Ted Turner and The Jane Fonda Workout, an incredibly successful series of videos she produced for that burgeoning industry starting in 1981 with her workout book.

When we first see United Earth Space Agent Barbarella, she is stripping out of her leatherette bubble-wrapped spacesuit, floating about her small spaceship nude in a non-gravity environment as the credits float past her.  She is given an assignment by the President (Claude Dauphin) to take renegade scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) into custody for fear his Positronic Ray will be used for nefarious purposes.  Has a Positronic Ray ever been used any other way?  The movie is a whirling dervish of ’60s psychedelic effects, including oil plates, sparklers, and some fairly impressive animation and model work.  The plot recalls a much sexier version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with Barbarella’s leaps into dark tangents, and sexual encounters with eccentric characters, such as a beefy blind angel and a futuristic truant officer.

Barbarella is abducted by creepy twins (what twins aren’t creepy?) after she fails to translate their language with her “tongue box”, who then take her on a manta-ray driven sleigh ride to their dungeon, which is populated with pathological little girls and blood-thirsty dolls with razor-sharp teeth.  As strange as this seems, it only gets weirder.  She is rescued by the aforementioned truant officer, hairy Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), who insists they must make love physically (instead of with pills and psychological profiles as Barbarella suggests is now the preferred method of sex) if she is to properly reward him.  In her ship, she probes the deep nether-regions of Tau Ceti and is rescued by a the hunky blind angel Pygar (John Phillip Law) after she is injured by falling rocks.  Pygar rescues Barbarella (yet again) from the Black Guards, strange creatures in service to the “Great Tyrant”, so she makes loves to him, thus giving him the will to fly.  He flies her to Sogo, the “City of Night.”  They are beset by attack vehicles that remind me of the Bespin Cloud Cars from The Empire Strikes Back.

Once inside the strange city of Sogo, Pygar and Barbarella are taken in by the “Concierge” to the Great Tyrant, who immediately imprisons the blind angel and sentences Barbarella to death (by bird-pecking).  She takes up with Dildano, leader of a resistance (hilarious David Hemming with his invisible keys, invisible walls, and ridiculous cape), where she becomes a lynchpin to their mission.  She is captured by Durand Durand, who forces her to submit to death by musical and sexual intercourse.  In short, he plays her like an organ, and attempts to screw her to death, but she breaks his instrument!

The movie is well-made and entertaining and visually dazzling.  If only comic book movies being made today had such wit!  This movie should be shown on a double bill with Flash Gordon (also produced by Dino De Laurentiis).  I don’t know what all of this means, but it must mean something.  If there isn’t some greater subtext in this movie, then it must’ve been made to be fun!  You don’t always have to have deep meaning in everything you do, however I do note several unusual choices.  For one, Barbarella is always in danger, and always has to be rescued by someone to whom she offers her body.  Second, as Danny Peary notes in his Guide for the Film Fanatic book, Barbarella always enjoys her sexual encounters.  This had to be keen for the Second Wave of Feminism, which started in 1961.  In Barbarella, sex seems to be her weapon and agency of choice.  Camille Paglia would be pleased.

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.