October Positivity: The Daylight Zone (dir by Dave Christiano)

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

How do you know someone’s an atheist?

Give them five minutes and they’ll tell you.

That’s certainly the case with Carl Smith (Keith Salter), the character at the center of 1986’s The Daylight Zone.  Because The Daylight Zone is set up as a parody of The Twilight Zone, a Rod Serling-style narrator informs us that Carl is a 35 year-old school teacher from Johnson City, Texas.  Carl is driving back to Johnson City in his beat-up old pickup truck.  He stops at a roadside fish stand and gets a fish sandwich.

It quickly becomes apparent that there are two things that obsess Carl Smith.  One is his dislike of religion.  The other is his obsession with fish sandwiches.  Seriously, I’ve never seen someone get so excited over a fish sandwich.  (Then again, I live in Texas, I’ve driven down more than a few country roads, and I’ve never seen a guy selling fish sandwiches off the side of the road.)  The only thing that ruins Carl’s fish sandwich experience is that there’s a bunch of a Christians eating nearby.

“Are you Jesus freaks!?” Carl demands.

Carl flies into a sputtering rage, saying that Jesus doesn’t exist because Carl’s never met him.  The Christians respond by asking Carl if he believes in George Washington, seeing as how Carl has never met him either.  Carl replies that his great-great-great-great-grandfather lived next door to the Washingtons.  Carl’s not just an atheist!  He’s also a damn liar!

Anyway, Carl drives off with his fish sandwich.  Unfortunately, he’s forced to take a detour.  Soon, mysterious people are approaching his truck and asking Carl if he’s heading to Jerusalem and if he’s going to the Crucifixion.  Carl laughs them off.  Interestingly, Carl never seems to notice that everyone is now dressed in the hottest 33 AD fashion.  Of course, none of them seem to find it odd that Carl is driving a pickup truck.  Whenever Carl asks if he’s on the right road to Johnson City, everyone responds with, “Yes, you are heading to Jerusalem.”  Carl doesn’t understand what they mean.  Perhaps he’s confused by the fact that everyone still has a Texas accent.

Indeed, it’s not until Carl is stopped by a bunch of Roman soldiers who demand that he pay an arbitrary tax that it occurs to him that something strange is happening.  And make no doubt about it, Carl is an obnoxious and annoying character, the type who never stops complaining and who won’t even share his fish sandwich with a shepherd.  But it’s hard not to sympathize with him when he gets arrested for tax evasion.  Taxation is theft!

(That said, it’s interesting that the Roman soldiers are confused by Carl’s American money but not by his pickup truck.)

This is an early Christian film from the Christiano Brothers.  On the one hand, the story moves quickly and it’s obvious that the brothers understood the format of The Twilight Zone.  Instead of just using the show as a gimmick, The Daylight Zone actually does pay homage to the classic Twilight Zone style.  On the other hand, Carl is so obnoxious that it’s hard to care one way or the other what happens to him and those thick Texas accents do tend to take away from the whole “He’s been transported to ancient Judea” angle of the story.  This one gets an A for effort but a C for execution.  Actually, I’ll bump it up to a C+ because of the whole anti-IRS subtext of the film.  Seriously, the IRS sucks.

Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.5 “The Summer House” (dir by Leo Penn)

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, Carolyn Jones and Steve Forrest play a couple who spend their summers in a vacation home that appears to be haunted as well.  This was one of Carolyn Jones’s final roles.

This episode originally aired on October 13th, 1972.  Director Leo Penn is perhaps best known as the father of actors Sean and Chris Penn.

Another Rangers Season Comes To An End

‘The regular MLB season came to an end today. 

My Texas Rangers ended up with a 68-94 record.  I wish they had done better but there’s always next season.  One thing about being a fan of a team is that you can’t just be a fan when your team is winning.  Sometimes, it’s even more important to continue to support them when they’re struggling.  The last time we made the postseason was in 2016.  Hopefully, we’ll get there in 2023.  

At least we won our final game of the regular season.

Congratulations to the Astros, Yankees, Rays, Indians Guardians, and Mariners for making it to the AL postseason!  And congratulations to Phillies, Braves, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Padres for making it in the NL.  I’m looking forward to an Astros vs Dodgers World Series.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Portal (dir by Matthew B.C.)

After the mysterious disappearance of her father, Celine (Sian Altman) travels to his estate with her boyfriend, Rich (Louis James) and their friends, April (Sarah Alexandra Marks) and Nick (George Nettleton).  Celine wants to deal with her memories and figure out what led to her father disappearing.  Rich wants to help her.  Nick, meanwhile, just wants to get drunk.  April just wants to be anywhere but near Nick.  It’s a bit of a dysfunctional group.  Personally, I probably would have left Nick behind but I guess the hope was that Nick would lighten the mood whenever things started to get too heavy.

Upon arriving at the estate, they notice a few weird things.  For instance, the housekeeper (Judy Tcherniak) has a habit of chanting and she keeps talking about the old ones.  There are dead rabbits all over the place.  The housekeeper says that the cat must have killed them but there doesn’t seem to be cat anywhere nearby and, as Rich quickly notices, it looks more likely that the rabbits were murdered as a sort of sacrifice.  There are strange books and paintings to be found all over the house and there are black-robed cultists who only seem to come out at night.  And, of course, there’s the portal in the back yard, which leads to another dimension but also from which spring giant, sacrifice-demanding demons.  One should probably be careful about building one of those.  I mean, sure, a gazebo looks nice but is it worth losing your soul over?  It’s something to consider.

You can probably guess where H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Portal is heading.  Just the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s name in the title should tell you all that you need to know.  (The film is also known simply as The Offering, which again kind of gives away the plot.)  To the film’s credit, it actually does make proper and respectful use of the Cthulhu mythos and, even more importantly, it frequently captures the feel of a H.P. Lovecraft short story.  Lovecraft often wrote about people who were investigating the mysterious sins of their family and, of course, he was never hesitant to toss in a robed cultist or two.  Even more importantly, the film captures Lovecraft’s view of humanity as just being an insignificant pawn in the grand scheme of things.  There have been a lot of films that have claimed Lovecraft as an inspiration but Monster Portal is one of the few to really convince you that it was made by fans of his work.

The film’s low budget is obvious in nearly every frame but the monsters themselves are actually pretty impressive and director Matthew B.C. does a good job creating a properly ominous atmosphere.  The estate itself looks great.  The acting is a bit inconsistent but, for the most part, Sian Altman and Sarah Alexandra Marks are sympathetic in the lead roles and Judy Tcherniak goes so over-the-top as the housekeeper that she’s actually a lot of fun to watch.  Monster Portal is an enjoyable tribute to Lovecraft’s work.

The Zero Boys (1986, directed by Nico Mastorakis)

When a paintball team known as the Zero Boys wins the big tournament, they decide to celebrate by spending the weekend in the woods with their girlfriends.  Accompanying the group is Jamie (Kelli Maroney), who was put up as a side bet by her boyfriend, who just happens to be the wannabe Nazi dork who lost the tournament.  The wilderness fun and games take a disturbing turn when the group comes across a deserted cabin and decide to camp there for the night.  The cabin belongs to family of hillbilly survivalists (one of whom is played by Martin Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez) and they don’t intend to let anyone leave alive.  Soon, the Zero Boys are forced to put their paintball knowledge to the test in a real battle for survival.

The Zero Boys is one of those films that always used to come on television when I was growing up and I would always watch it because I thought it was going to be a standard, Friday the 13th-style slasher film.  When I was a kid, I would always end up getting annoyed with the film’s deliberate pace and its weird mix of the action and slasher genres.  I would usually watch for about an hour and then I would change the channel and try to find something better.  I thought The Zero Boys was just that, a big zero.

Now that I’m older, I realize that I was wrong and I better appreciate The Zero Boys and the way that it pokes fun at both the action and the slasher genres.  The Zero Boys opens with a really intense battle scene, between the Zero Boys and Casey, who is wearing a swastika armband.  It plays out like a standard Cannon action film, up until the moment that the Zero Boys catch up to Casey and shoot him in the head with a paintball. Our “heroes” are not mercenaries or former vets looking to rescue their brothers-in-arms from a POW camp.  There’s not a single Chuck Norris among them.  Instead, they’re just a bunch of dorky teens who are good at paintball and think that they have survival skills.  (One of them looks at a picture of Rambo and says, “Sly, eat your heart out.”) The movie goes on to further upend the audience’s expectations by introducing Jamie, a heroine who is anything but the typical, virginal final girl.  When it becomes obvious that the group is being stalked by a group of killers, the Zero Boys and their girlfriends actually fight back and it’s a definite change of pace from other slasher films of the era,  When it comes to horror films, The Zero Boys has more in common with The Hills Have Eyes than with Friday the 13th.

The Zero Boys is an action/horror hybrid that is willing to poke fun at itself.  It’s also one of the many superior genre pictures that Kelli Maroney made in the 80s.  Between this film, Chopping Mall, and Night of the Comet, Kelli Maroney was the crush of every 80s and 90s kid who spent too much time searching HBO and Cinemax for R-rated horror films.  She was cute but tough and, even if no one else in the movie realized it, she could definitely take care of herself.  Whether fighting malfunctioning robots, zombie scientists, or killer hillbillies, there was no one better to have on your side.

Game Review: Ghost Town (1983, Scott Adams)

You are in a deserted ghost town.  Why are you in the town?  Who knows?  What can you do in the town?  You can search it and try to find 13 hidden treasures without falling prey to ghosts, rattlesnakes, or the weather.  Good luck!  There are many puzzles to be solved.  Hopefully, you’re better at puzzles than I am.

Ghost Town was one of the many text adventures to be written by Scott Adams in the early 80s.  Every text adventure film that has come out since owes debt to Scott Adams but that doesn’t make his games any less frustrating to play.  Basically, with this game, you get bare-bone descriptions and a two-word parser.  Don’t try to have a conversation with anything in the town.  Don’t try to get too creative with your choice of verbs or with any of the things that you find in the town.  This is from the early days of PC gaming and it’s as basic as can be.

Once you make the adjustment, though, it’s not a bad game.  Even the minimal descriptions of each location encourage the player to imagine the place for himself.  (Basic games like Ghost Town actually encourage the imagination more than games that devote paragraphs to intricate descriptions.)  It’s also a timed game, which was a big deal in the early 80s.  The ghosts in the town keep their own schedule and one of the challenges of the game is to keep up with them.  Spending too much time on one puzzle or trying to guess the verb can lead to consequences.  The puzzles are complicated but there’s a walk-through so you can cheat if you need to.  Just don’t make the same mistake that I did.

Play Ghost Town!

Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 1.5 “Isaac the Groupie / Mr. Popularity / Help! Murder!”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

Just remember …. the Love Boat promises something for everyone.

Episode 1.5 “Isaac the Groupie / Mr. Popularity / Help! Murder!”

(Directed by Peter Baldwin, Tony Webster, and James Sheldon, originally aired on October 22nd, 1977)

This episode was all about mistaken identities.

Robert Tanner (Jim Nabors) is the most annoying man to ever set sail on the Love Boat.  All he does is talk and talk about what he had for dinner.  Unfortunately, he’s had the same liver and onions dinner for several years now so it’s not like he has much to say that would be considered to be new.  Everyone on the ship avoids Mr. Tanner but Captain Stubing insists that Julie figure out a way to keep him happy.  (No, not like that….)  Fortunately, two passengers read an article about an international jewel thief named Roscoe Toler and they decide that Tanner must be Toler.  (What?)  Suddenly, everyone is hanging out with Mr. Tanner and listening to his stories.  I’m not sure why being mistaken for a criminal would make everyone want to hang out with Tanner.  I mean, aren’t they worried about their jewelry? 

While that’s going on, Isaac is excited because his favorite singer, Roxy Blue (Diahann Carroll), is sailing on the boat.  She’s using an assumed name.  Not even the rest of the crew know that she’s onboard.  But Isaac recognizes her as soon as she sits down at the bar and soon, the two of them are having a ship-board romance.  Good for Isaac and, even more importantly, good for Ted Lange, who gives a really likable performance in this episode.  Unfortunately, once the cruise ends, Roxy will go back to her life as the world’s most famous singer and Isaac will once again be the ship’s only bartender.  This is one of those storylines that would be unthinkable today.  Just try to imagine any celebrity managing to sneak on a boat (or anywhere) without the world knowing.

Finally, in our third and final storyline, Bert Fredricks (David Groh) wants to throw a surprise party for his wife, Denise (Michele Lee).  Unfortunately, his wife spots him talking to Julie and decides that Bert is cheating on her.  Then she overhears Gopher talking about “blowing up” something and she decides that Bert is going to kill her!  (Gopher was actually talking about the photographs that Bert had asked him to secretly take of his wife.)  Everything is eventually worked out but seriously, how bad was their marriage that Denise had absolutely no doubt that Bert was going to kill her so that he could run off with a cruise director that he had only known for a day?  

Anyway, this was another one of those mixed episodes.  The Isaac storyline was nice, largely because of the chemistry between Lange and Carroll.  The other two storylines were both examples of the type of thing that drives me crazy, where everything could be resolved if people just talked to each other and used a little common sense.  That said, Michele Lee had a few funny moments of panic.  I’d like to have a surprise birthday party on a cruise ship.  That’s the important thing.

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Opening of House on Haunted Hill

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1959’s House on Haunted Hill.  As the film opens, Vincent Price takes a moment to speak directly to the audience and introduce the characters who are coming to spend the night at the house.  Price, who is one of the patron saints of October, delivers his lines with such relish that it’s impossible not to stick around to see who survives the night.

Horror Novel Review: The Secret Bedroom by R.L. Stine

Oh my God, y’all, this one is so good.

First published in 1991, The Secret Bedroom tells the story of Lea.  Lea’s family has just bought an abandoned house on — can you guess it? — FEAR STREET!  And Lea has just started school at — again, you know what’s coming — SHADYSIDE HIGH!  Not surprisingly, Lea is having a hard time fitting in at her new school.  (To be honest, if I was a student at Shadyside, I would automatically be suspicious of any transfer students because, as far as Fear Street and Shadyside are concerned, they always seem to bring a lot of drama and murder with them.  Seriously, hasn’t that school been through enough tragedy?)  Lea’s problem is that she has a crush on Don but Don is dating the school’s most popular megabitch, Marci.  Lea is already in trouble for accidentally spilling chili on Marci’s sweater.  When Marci sees Don talking to Lea, she decides to make Lea’s life miserable.  I swear, why is it the girls always end up fighting over the same boy rather than considering why the boy was flirting with another girl to begin with?  Lea directs all of her anger at Marci and Marci directs her ire toward Lea but really they should just be mad at Don.  Unfortunately, this book was written years before Spice Girls taught everyone the meaning of girl power so Marci just spends her time making trouble for Lea.

However, there might be a solution to Lea’s problems.  In Lea’s new house, there’s a mysterious, boarded up bedroom.  The room was boarded up because, long ago, someone was murdered in that very room!  However, even though no one has been in the room for years, Lea keeps thinking that she hears strange sounds coming from behind the boarded up door.  Despite having been told to say out of the room, Lea enters it anyway and she discovers that there is someone in the room!

That person is Catherine, who says that she’s the ghost of the girl who died in the room.  She says she wants to be Lea’s friend.  She also says that if Lea allows Catherine to enter her body for just a few moments, they can totally play a prank on Marci!  Lea agrees.  Needless to say, the prank goes terribly wrong and it turns out that Catherine wasn’t being totally honest either….

After being slightly disappointed with the previous two Stine books that I read, I really enjoyed The Secret Bedroom.  This is Stine at his most demented (and, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s also one of the earlier book in the Fear Street series).  Stine crafts a tale that includes ghosts, murder, mind control, false memories, peer pressure, jerky boyfriends, and gentrification.  The twists are nonstop and they’re so entertainingly weird that it doesn’t matter that they don’t always make sense.  In fact, the book plays out almost like a fever dream.  Anyone who has even been accused of stealing someone’s boyfriend will appreciate Lea’s growing paranoia about Marci.  Anyone who has ever heard a strange sound in the middle of the night will relate to Lea’s fascination with the boarded up room.  And, for those of you who love continuity, Wrong Number‘s Deena shows up at Lea’s best friend!  This book is an enjoyable trip to Fear Street.

The Spectacular Covers of Startling Stories

by Earle Bergey

Startling Stories was a sci-fi pulp magazine that ran from 1939 through 1955.  It went through many different editors and formats during that time but one thing that was always consistent was the quality of the magazine’s covers.  Though most of the covers were done by Earle Bergey, a few other notable pulp artists also made contributions to the magazine.  Below is a small sampling of the spectacular covers of Starting Stories!

by Alex Schomburg

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Edmund Emshwiller

by Edmund Emshwiller

by Howard V. Brown

by Howard V. Brown

by Howard V. Brown

by Rudolph Belarski

by Rudolph Belarski

by Rudolph Belarski

by Walter Popp