Friday, January 23, 2015


Note: This review was written for the Video Cheese feature of, and has been published here by the very kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

   "Only daydreamer Gary Coleman can save the planet from atomic war!"

   Gary Coleman has taken a lot of hard knocks. His perpetual physical childhood has made him a choice target for comics, a condition only intensified when the diminutive actor joined the circus-like race for Governor of California against such colorful characters as a buxom porn star and the eventual winner: muscle man turned movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coleman never really got a chance to discuss the issues, despite his being the only campaign really focusing on substance. 

   His stormy and troubled personal life didn't help much, and his career had begun to dry up when age began to show in his face and he could no longer play child roles. He passed away in 2010 at the frightfully young age of 42. Its sometimes easy to forget that the man possessed gargantuan talent.

   As the story goes, Norman Lear discovered Gary and planned to feature him in an updated version of Our Gang. That project never came to be, but Coleman went on to become one of the most famous television child stars of all time. He is most famous, of course, for playing Arnold on Diff'rent Strokes, where the writers were so impressed with his sharpness that they began to feature him more heavily than originally planned. 

   My first exposure to Gary was as the ageless Hieronymous Fox on the super fun first season of the teleseries Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  His comic abilities had reportedly been praised by the likes of Bob Hope and Lucille Ball! 

   The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins was a telefilm made during the peak of Coleman's fame, being essentially an 80's TV movie version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

   Our story in a nutshell: D.C. is the son of a UN diplomat (Bernie Casey!), and he's a daydreamer who is finding it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. When, completely by chance, he ends up in possession of an electronic file containing the launch codes to atomic missiles in both the United States and soviet Russia, he finds himself pursued and questioned by spies and intelligence agents.

   Considering I grew up to be a movie-obsessed writer/artist of comic books, I doubt you'll be much shocked to learn that I in my youth was a daydreamer like young D.C. I never tangled with enemy agents, however.  Still, I could easily get into the picture because of this commonality I shared with our lead character.

   Spurred on by the slightest inspiration, D.C. imagines himself in various fantasy situations/roles. In one scene he imagines himself to be Hawkeye Pierce and the scene could have been shot from an actual M*A*S*H script. He imagines himself to be fearless adventurer Alabama Smith, super secret agent 770, space adventurer Dwight Cloudclimber, and a Western lawman, among other fantasies. 

   The number of such set pieces suffer under the limited budget of a television movie. The M*A*S*H sequence appears to be shot on the same sets Alan Alda would use as his soapbox, and as such it comes off best. Worst might be the Star Wars-inspired dream, which incorporates the reality of the moment into the dream and finds Collins sword-fighting with stormtroopers on a re-dressed rooftop of a large building.

   The most fantastic element of the world of D.C. Collins may be that sensitive information concerning both Cold War superpowers downloaded from a satellite can fit onto a 1984 video game cartridge!

   Once this top secret information has been taken, both sides are on yellow alert and the missiles could start launching at any moment. While most of the culprits are captured, one man manages to escape with the cartridge in hand. He's tracked by one of those male-female field teams that always pop up in family movies for some reason. In this case, it's Daniels and Harris, who manage to shoot a tranquillizer dart into the fleeing suspect. 

   (Unfortunately, he stumbles across Collins and slips the cartridge into the kid's book bag. D.C. has been tossed out of the class' soccer game and wanders off by himself. When he tries to inform his teacher about the spy, and the body is missing because Daniels and Harris have dragged it away, D.C.'s over-active imagination is given the blame.)

   Daniels is played by Fred Dryer, star of both incarnations of Hunter and actor in countless other TV projects.  Harris is played by busy television actress and former runway model Shelley Smith, who had also guested in episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and Hunter. Most everyone here is noted for their television work. The biggest name guest star on hand is George Gobel.

   Rating a special "as Turk" credit is well-known actor Michael Ansara, who has more than made himself known in the 'geek' world. Not only did he essay the role of Klingon Captain Kang in the classic Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove" and became the voice of the animated Mr. Freeze on Batman, the Animated Series and its spin-offs, but lived just about every man's greatest desire and married Barbara Eden. 

   Proving himself no Solomon, he divorced her after a union of sixteen years. (He has subsequently been married to Beverly Kushida -voice of Nancy on The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a handful of bit parts- since 1977.) 

   Ansara is wasted thoroughly here, as one of a pair of thugs who chace after D.C. and become guest stars in his fantasies. The part could literally be played by anyone, as he rarely speaks. Why hire someone with such a great voice and then NOT give him a speech or two to make? It's as bad as when Larry Buchanan hired John Agar for Curse of the Swamp Creature and just had him stand in the background and smoke!

   I doubt this was intentional, but the film's plot most strongly resembles the second half of Rescue From Gilligan's Island. In that famous TV ratings topper, the castaways are able to escape the island when Gilligan stumbles onto a piece of metal from an exploded Russian spy satellite. The metallic disk allows the Professor to build a highly sensitive barometer and predict a coming tidal wave. By lashing the huts together, the castaways ride out the storm and find themselves at sea, where they are spotted by the Coast Guard and finally brought home after being marooned for fifteen years. Seeing the coverage on television, the Soviets see Gilligan is wearing the information disk from their satellite around his neck. Two agents are sent to recover this item, and are constantly thwarted by the blissfully unaware Gilligan. During this, Gilligan and the Skipper cross the country to visit the other castaways, providing different set pieces for each character. 

   Overall, this isn't a bad movie. It isn't great or anything, but it's an amusing family picture. The whole affair is very 80's, so take that for what you will (some will be pleased, others appalled, I'm sure).

   In the end, there isn't a whole lot to say about the picture. I've seen worse, and I've seen better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Just because it's cool: pix from MATINEE (1993)

I'd love to make a sequel to this film set in the 80's, with a grown up Gene the owner of a movie theater set to premiere Woolsey's newest picture, a monster movie he just produced in Japan.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Oddball Film Report: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974)

Note: this review was originally written for's Video Cheese. It has been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

"World War 1 U-boat surfaces in prehistoric lost world."

   Reportedly very close to it's source novel, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT was the first of three films co-produced by American International Pictures and England's Amucis Productions, based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and starring American actor Doug McClure. Some truly fine matinee entertainment, the trilogy was rounded out with AT THE EARTH'S CORE and THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (an unofficial quartet formed by the addition of the Burroughs-inspired WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS).

   The film's poster was a marvel to behold, featuring dinosaurs galore waiting to menace a rather less dated submarine than the movie offers! Although stamped "U-33" like the vessel in the movie, the sub sports huge observation windows that the Seaview would be proud of, and there's an excursion bell with mechanical arms (!), plus wet-suited divers (!), being carried along!!! What's more, not only is the sub being menaced by a hundred foot, water-logged (only his eyes above the surface, like a hippo) Tyrannosaurus (!!), but also a giant (although more realistically so) octopus, and, I'm not making this up, a giant manta ray complete with a heat ray coming from an appendage upon it's back!!!!

   While this poster has almost no bearing on the film itself (other than the connection of a submarine and some dinosaurs), it's a very displayable piece of art. It certainly fires a young imagination standing on line to buy popcorn! I remember studying this artwork (nicely reproduced as the box art for this Video Treasures VHS release*) intensely before the first time I screened the film as a child. This looked like it was going to be the biggest dinosaur film of all time! Interestingly, I didn't feel cheated at all when the film finally finished. Despite being rather incredibly mislead, the film was so good I never even brought the box art into mind during the viewing!

(* Amusingly, the only image on the back of the box is a still from the sequel film!)

   And what a great time is to be had with this film! Kids got some great adventure movies in the 60's and 70's! This one must have topped some favorite lists pretty quickly!

   We open with a canister being flung from a cliff and into the raging waters of the sea below. The credits play out as we see the canister being dragged along by the raging waters until it comes to rest on the shores of a tiny fishing village. 

   Opening the canister and unfurling the paper inside, an old salt begins to read the account of one Bowen Tyler (McClure), a submarine builder on a civilian ocean vessel which is torpedoed by a German U-boat, U-33*. Tyler finds himself among a tiny handful of survivors who end up in a life raft bobbing about in the fog. Among them is pretty lady biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon), and the ship's Captain, Bradley (Keith Barron). Hearing the U-boat surface, the survivors mount a siege and quickly wrest control away from Capt. Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery).

(According to the trivia of the IMDB, there really was a U-33 in German service in World War One.)

   A natural leader and strategist, Tyler finds himself calling the shots and the sub is headed toward British port. Unfortunately, the Brits open fire on the German vessel before it's friendly status can be confirmed, and the sub dives to the sea floor. They decide to head for a neutral port, but German first mate Dietz (Anthony Ainley) sabotages the compass with a magnet. After heading south for six days, Tyler and Bradley discover the subterfuge. While figuring their location on a chart, they find themselves taken prisoner by Deitz and Von Schoenvorts.

   (The only version currently in release is a DVD put out by MGM. While the print is quite lovely, and scope, it seems to be the British print. Absent from it are a couple of scenes, such as the above sequence which makes clear the sabotage of the compass.)

   The German's back in control, they continue the ship southward toward a supply line. When the ship surfaces, Lisa takes advantage of the activity and releases the prisoners. The good guys quickly take back control, unbeknownst to Von Schoenvorts watching the supply ship topside. Tyler notices the supply ship is directly in front of the U-33 and launches torpedoes which quickly sink the enemy ship. With no new supplies, including fuel, Tyler is now in command of a seemingly doomed ship. They'll conserve rations and let the currents dictate the movement of the ship to save fuel.

   In time, the sub comes across a field of icebergs that are too far north. Tyler must admit he's lost and he strikes a deal with Von Schoenvorts to work together until they can reach a neutral port and surrender to the authorities there. Von Schoenvorts agrees.

   Soon, they come across a huge ice-bound continent, one Von Schoenvorts recalls reading about in the 200 year old records of an explorer named Caproni. He suspects the mass of ice and snow and rock to be Caprona, uncharted due to it's lack of landing ground. Discovering a stream of warm (and fresh) water coming from a huge cave opening, the decision is made to travel up the river to wherever it may lead.

   Up til now, the film has been a well-produced but simple WW1 submarine movie. All that's about to change...

   Navigating through the treacherous cavern, the U-33 surfaces in a huge lake surrounded by dense jungle. It's hot, it's humid, and there are prehistoric creatures all over the place! We first spy one of these beasties as Tyler is looking through the periscope. In one of the great shots in 70's cinema, the periscope view of the volcanic lake is suddenly interrupted by a huge green monster shooting out of the waters and appearing to swallow the camera with it's toothy maw! Tyler is taken aback, but then takes another look and the creature is nowhere to be seen.

   I may as well take this time to delve into one of the elements that makes this movie so great: the dinosaurs. In the first place, there's so many of them! The edges of the lake are just crazy with activity as various sea serpents pop their heads in and out of the water (one even chomps down on the serpent next to it)! The skies are full of pterodactyls, and a sauropod is even viewed from a distance! (I recall a lot of these shots being used for bumpers when TBS was screening The Flintstones in the 1990's.) 

   That's just the beginning, though! In time, our heroes will have to face down a pair of charging allosaurus WHILE fighting off a number of cavemen! Later, they'll witness a fight between a ceratosaurus and a triceratops, and the ship will open fire on a pair of styrakosaurus who pin down Tyler and Von Schoenvorts! There's also a full-size pterodactyl who carries off one of the characters! Wow!

   The creatures themselves are just beautiful. Mostly a collection of rod and hand puppets, we're treated to a veritable smorgasbord of giant monster action! The caronsaurs have lifeless arms, the pterodactyls are stiff, and there's one instance where a styrackosaurus has a nasty case of Muppet-mouth, but otherwise it's all good! 

   And then there's the full sized props! Not only is there the aforementioned giant bird, but also TWO life-sized lake monsters! These water monsters are mixed with the much better designed puppets to ill effect, but the cuts are quick and we focus on the slicker puppet versions.

   A crewman snatched off the deck by a giant monster, another pops up to sample the new goodies. Tyler and Bradley manage to kill the beast with machine-gun fire and we get one of the few scenes in movie history to show people eating a dinosaur! Over this unique meal, the men formulate a plan of command to keep the crewmen under control as long as it takes them to leave Caprona. Bradley will command the Brits, Von Schoenvorts the Germans, and both groups will act under advisement of neutral American Tyler.

   Although not salt water, the lake is filled with cellular animals. The men will have no fresh water unless they can find a spring upriver that's free of such creatures. And as they move upstream, they discover something very peculiar about this lost world....

   For the sake of anyone who hasn't seen the film yet, I'll avoid going into further details. You could do worse than seek out a copy of the film yourself! This is everything the 1976 KING KONG should have been! Again, though, although the MGM DVD has a nice pretty print in a widescreen format, the older video release includes elements missing from the newer release. One is a line of dialog missing from the climax of the DVD. Listening to this audio again, I'd suspect the line was added to the U.S. print, and the MGM release is the UK print.

   As we know, the film was followed up by a sequel film, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, which featured slicker effects, but fell a little flat compared to the breakneck pace of this film. Also, Caprona's topography was a bit different for some reason! It doesn't stand up well in the light of the parent film, but I don't want to sell it short, either. It's a fine adventure film in it's own right, but suffers from having much less Doug McClure!