Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.7 “Let the Good Times Roll/Nightmare/The Tiger”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, we’ve got a special, 90-minute episode of Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.7 “Let the Good Times Roll/Nightmare/The Tiger”

(Dir by George McCowan, originally aired on November 4th, 1978)

This week’s supersized episode of Fantasy Island begins with Tattoo revealing that he’s come up with a new way to annoy Mr. Roarke.

Mr, Roarke rolls his eyes and dramatically sighs, especially when Tattoo makes the mistake of assuming that Roarke is a Pisces.  (“I am a Sagittarius!” Roarke snaps.)  For once, Mr. Roarke is right to be annoyed.  There’s no time for this foolishness this week!  We’ve got three fantasies to deal with!

For instance, Duke Manducci (Paul Sand) and Ernie “Smooth” Kowalski (Peter Isacksen) want to go back to the 1960s and relive their youth.  Duke was once known as the King of the Strip because he could outrace anyone.  Now, years later, Duke is just a guy working in a garage.  Roarke leads them to an exact recreation of the Strip.  The Strip is so perfectly recreated that even Donny Bonaduce shows up to make trouble.

Uh-oh, it turns out that Mr. Roarke has also invited all of Duke’s old friends to come take part in Duke’s fantasy.  Except, of course, none of them know that Duke is still working at the same gas station that he worked at as a teenager.  Duke ends up telling a lot of lies in order to convince them that he’s made a success of himself.   But when he falls for Sheila Crane (Mary Ann Mobley), he realizes that it’s time to be honest.  And when Bonaduce challenges him to a race, Duke eventually realizes that his racing days are over and it’s time for him to be a grown-up.  Duke not only learns an important lesson but he’s also offered a job working on a NASCAR pit crew.  Yay!

Meanwhile, Janine Sanford (Pamela Franklin) is haunted by a recurring nightmare.  She always has the dream at midnight and she’s never made it to the end of the dream without waking up.  She travels to Fantasy Island with her husband (Brett Halsey, who later starred in Fulci’s Touch of Death) and her father (Ray Milland).  Her fantasy is see how her nightmare ends.  Mr. Roarke takes her to what he calls the Nightmare House.

And, oh my God, this nightmare is seriously freaky!  We see it twice.  It involves Janine watching as all of her childhood toys catch on fire.  There’s even a clown that comes to life and go crazy at one point.

Janine’s father is convinced that the dream is linked to some sort of past trauma and he fears that Janine will be hurt if she relives it. 

It turns out the joke’s on him!  Janine’s nightmare is not about the past but the future.  It turns out that it was warning her that her father was going to be trapped in a fire.  When her father is indeed trapped in a fire, Janine is able to rescue him.  Yay!  What a great fantasy and I love a happy ending.  This fantasy is handled so well that it takes a while to realize that the show just kind of dropped the whole idea of Janine suffering from past trauma, despite the fact that her father seemed really worried about what she might end up remembering.  

Finally, for our third fantasy, Victor Duncan (Darren McGavin) is a Hemingwayesque writer who wants to go to India so he can hunt a legendary tiger.  How do you think that works out for him?

Yep, the tiger kills him.

Fear not, though!  Mr. Roarke explains to Tattoo that Victor was actually terminally ill and his fantasy was to die on Fantasy Island.  So, I guess that’s a happy ending.

I actually liked this episode, if just because it was throwback to season one when all of the fantasies were linked by a common theme.  Here the link is aging and growing up.  Duke and Victor both have to deal with the fact that they’re no longer young men.  Janine manages to put her nightmare behind her and move on.  These three fantasies all seemed to belong together, so there were none of the strange tonal shifts that I’ve noticed in some of the other episodes.  All in all, this was a good trip to Fantasy Island.

Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 1.18 “Last of the Stubings / Million Dollar Man / The Sisters”

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!

This week’s cruise is all about family, love, and …. CRIME!

Episode 1.18 “Last of the Stubings / Million Dollar Man / The Sisters”

(dir by Jack Arnold, originally aired on February 4th, 1978)

Fresh from having given Isaac a lesson in black history during the previous cruise, Captain Stubing is excited to give the rest of the crew a lesson about his family.  The Stubings have a long and noteworthy Naval tradition and the Captain is proud to announce that his nephew, L. Courtney Stubing IV (Peter Isacksen), has been accepted to Annapolis.  But, before going to school, he’s going to work on the Pacific Princess and show everyone that he is a natural-born sailor.  The only problem is that Courtney Stubing is not a natural-born sailor.  Instead, he’s a tall, clumsy, near-sighted, and kind of goony guy who has no idea how to talk to the passengers and who would rather be a ballet dancer.  The problem, along with the fact that he’s the last of the young Stubings and expected to carry on the family tradition, is that he’s just as bad at dancing as he is at everything else.

Now, I have to give some credit to Gavin MacLeod here because he made this storyline work.  The scene where, having finally realized the truth of about his nephew, Captain Stubing tells Courtney that it’s okay not to become a sailor and that he should find out what he’s good at was well-written and sensitively acted by MacLeod.  It was about as honest a moment as you’ll probably ever find on a show like The Love Boat.

While the Stubings were bonding, two sisters were fighting.  Rose (Marion Ross) was upset that Noreen (Pat Crowley) was spending all of her time with the handsome Clark Tyler (Brett Halsey).  Seeing as how I mostly know Hasley from his starring role in Lucio Fulci’s Touch of Death, I would have been more concerned for Noreen’s safety than upset that she was ignoring me.  Anyway, it was kind of boring story but it all worked out in the end.  Marion Ross would go on to become the Love Boat’s most frequent passenger, though she always played a different character.  Eventually, she even played a woman who married Captain Stubing but we’ve got a long way to go until we reach that point.

A long, loooooooooong way.

Meanwhile, two passengers found love.  Unfortunately, it was only after they slept together that Stephanie (Marcia Strassman) discovered that Bill (Frank Converse) had stolen a million dollars from his employer and Bill discovered that Stephanie was a cop.  Stephanie explained that she would be required to arrest Bill as soon as the ship returned to the United States.  Bill considered running off to Mexico but, in the end, he decided to face justice in the U.S., on the condition that Stephanie would be waiting for him after he got out of prison.  Honestly, I think it would have made more sense for Stephanie to just join Bill in Mexico and thy two of them could have built a new life there.  I mean, they’ve got a million dollars!  But, whatever.  Strassman and Converse had a lot of chemistry so, despite yourself, you really do hope that things will work out for them while you’re watching the episode.

And I hope things work for you as well, as we sail towards 2023!  The Love Boat will return.


Halloween Havoc!: RETURN OF THE FLY (20th Century-Fox 1959)

cracked rear viewer

Last year’s “Halloween Havoc” took a bug-eyed look at THE FLY , so this year we’ll buzz in on it’s sequel. RETURN OF THE FLY was done on a much lower budget and trades in the original’s Technicolor for black and white, but it’s got a lot going for it. A creepy atmosphere and a strong performance from Vincent Price help lift the movie above it’s admittedly ‘B’ status, and while not wholly successful, it is fun for “Bug-Eyed Monster” fans.

The film opens at the rain-soaked graveyard burial of Helene Delambre, widow of Andre and mother to young Philippe, who’s now all grown up. Uncle Francois (Price) finally relates the truth about Andre’s mad experiments with matter disintegration/reintegration to Philippe, and the brooding youngster now wants to resume his father’s work and vindicate his legacy. Together with his fellow scientist Alan Hines, Philippe begins to reassemble his father’s machinery, moving…

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The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: A Cat In The Brain (dir by Lucio Fulci)


Oh, A Cat In the Brain.

What a frustrating film!

Listen, as someone who loves Italian horror and who feels that Lucio Fulci made some of the best (if most misunderstood) horror films of all time, I certainly wish A Cat In The Brain was a great film.  Every time I watch it, I find myself hoping that it will turn out to be better than I know it’s going to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t necessarily think that A Cat In the Brain was a terrible film.  Especially when compared to some of the other films that Fulci directed towards the end of his career, A Cat In The Brain is competently made and it certainly proves that Fulci had a better sense of humor than many critics give him credit for.  It’s not really a bad film.  It’s just a disappointing one.

To understand why, you have to understand just who Lucio Fulci was and why horror fans hold him in such high regard.  Fulci was an Italian director, one who was responsible for some of the most visually impressive horror films of all time.  Even though Fulci did not start his career working in the horror genre, it’s those films that for which he is best remembered.  Many of his films, like Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The House By The Cemetery, and The Beyond, are rightfully remembered as classics.  By design, these movies often felt like filmed nightmares and they remain influential to this very day.  Literally every zombie film that has been released over the past few decades owes a debt to Fulci and The Beyond trilogy is perhaps as close as any director has ever gotten to truly capturing the feel of H.P. Lovecraft on film.

Unfortunately, many critics refuses to look past the violent content of Fulci’s films.  In some countries, his movies were banned outright.  In America, Fulci’s masterpiece, The Beyond, was released in a butchered, compromised form.  Following the release of his controversial and disturbing slasher film, The New York Ripper, Fulci’s career went into decline and, suffering from ill-health and often in desperate need of money, he found himself directing low-budget films that were unworthy of his considerable talents.  It’s one of the sadder stories in the history of Italian horror.

A Cat In The Brain was one of Fulci’s final films and it stars none other than … Lucio Fulci!  Fulci plays a horror director named Lucio Fulci.  Fulci is concerned that all of his recent work in the horror genre is starting to mentally damage him.  For instance, after editing a scene about cannibalism, Fulci goes to a nearby restaurant and orders a steak.  However, whenever he starts to eat his steak, Fulci flashes back to the movie that he’s just directed.  When he goes home, the sound of the handyman using a chainsaw causes Fulci to think about a scene that he filmed, one that involved a killer chopping up a body.  When a frustrated Fulci kicks a bucket of red paint, he visualizes blood.  Meeting a German reporter causes Fulci to fantasize about a Nazi orgy.  Is Fulci losing it?  Could it be that violent movies really do cause violent urges?

Worried about his mental health, Fulci goes to see a psychiatrist, Professor Egon Schwarz (David L. Thompson).  Schwarz puts Fulci order hypnosis and tells Fulci that, over the next few weeks, he will think that he has “done terrible things.”  It turns out that Professor Schwarz is an aspiring serial killer.  Schwarz wants to go on a killing spree and have Lucio Fulci take responsibility for it…

To be honest, the plot description probably makes A Cat In The Brain sound like it’s a lot more subversive than it actually is.  It has all the ingredients to be a great satire but, unfortunately, Fulci’s heart never seems to really be in the movie.  Oddly, considering that the movie is literally about his life, Fulci directs A Cat In The Brain in a rather detached and clinical fashion.  There’s none of the visual poetry that distinguished Fulci’s best work.

Even worse, probably over half of this film is made up of clips that were lifted from other Fulci films.  Unfortunately, the scenes don’t come from Fulci’s good films.  Don’t go into A Cat In The Brain expecting to see anything from Zombi 2 or Don’t Torture A Duckling.  Instead, all of the clips come from stuff like Touch of Death and The Ghosts of Sodom, films that largely represent Lucio Fulci’s declining years.

However, there is one good thing about A Cat In the Brain (beyond the title, which I think is adorable): the film ends with Fulci happy and literally sailing into the sunset.  Considering both Fulci’s lasting influence as a filmmaker and the sad details of his final years, it’s hard not to feel that A Cat In The Brain gave Fulci the final scene that this talented director deserved.

Horror On The Lens: Revenge of the Creature (dir by Jack Arnold)

For today’s horror on the lens, we present to you 1956’s Revenge of the Creature!

Revenge of the Creature was the first sequel to The Creature From The Black Lagoon.  It turns out that the Gil-Man didn’t actually die at the end of the last film.  Instead, he’s alive, he’s been captured, and he’s now being displayed in an aquarium.

Now, I’m going to be honest: Revenge of the Creature is not as a good as The Creature From The Black Lagoon.  But it’s still kind of fun in a silly 1950s monster movie sort of way.  And, if you keep your eyes open, you might spot a very young Clint Eastwood, playing a lab technician and sporting a truly impressive head of hair.



Embracing the Melodrama Part II #22: The Cry Baby Killer (dir by Joe Addis)

That's Jack Nicholson with the gun.

That’s Jack Nicholson with the gun.

Two years ago, there was a rumor that Jack Nicholson had announced his retirement from acting because he was starting to suffer from memory loss.  Even though Nicholson’s people later claimed that this was false and that Jack was actively reading scripts, that rumor still left me feeling very depressed.  Jack Nicholson is such an iconic actor that it’s difficult to think that there will be a time when he’ll no longer be arching his eyebrows and delivering sarcastic dialogue in that signature voice of his.  When you look at a list of his films, you find yourself looking at some of the best and most memorable films ever made.  Chinatown, The Shining, The Departed, The Shooting, Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Nicholson has appeared in some truly great films.

But every actor, no matter how iconic he may be, had to start somewhere.  For Jack Nicholson, that somewhere was the 1958 Roger Corman-produced film, The Cry Baby Killer.  The good news is that the 21 year-old Nicholson starred in his very first film.  The bad news is that there’s absolutely nothing about Jack’s performance that would give you any reason to believe that he would eventually become one of the best known and most-honored actors of all time.  It’s not that Jack gives a bad performance.  In fact, it’s somewhat disappointing that Jack doesn’t do a terrible job in the role.  When you’re seeing the obscure film debut of a cinematic icon, you always hope that the first performance will either be amazingly good, shockingly bad, or just embarrassingly inappropriate.  But, in Jack’s case, he’s neither good nor bad and he doesn’t really embarrass himself.  Instead, he’s just bland.

Yes, you read that right.

Jack “HEEEEEEEEEERE’S JOHNNNNNNNY!” Nicholson was bland in his debut film.

As for the film itself, Jack plays Jimmy.  We’re told that Jimmy is 17 years-old and he’s still in high school.  (Since Jack Nicholson’s hairline was already receding at 21, we automatically have a difficult believing him in the role of Jimmy.)  Jimmy’s a good kid but he’s kind of stupid.  Also, his ex-girlfriend Carole (Carolyn Mitchell) is now dating an 18 year-old gangster named Manny Cole (played by Brett Halsey, who would later have a prolific career in Italian exploitation films as well as appearing in The Godfather, Part III).  Jimmy confronts Manny.  Manny has two of his thugs beat up Jimmy.  Jimmy grabs a gun off a thug and shoots someone.  Scared of going to jail, Jimmy runs into a store and takes three hostages — a stocker and a young mother with a baby.

The rest of the 70-minute film consists of an understanding policeman (Harry Lauter) trying to convince Jimmy to surrender while the crowd of reporters and observes outside the store hope for a violent confrontation.  The film does make a still-relevant point about how the media exploits the potential for tragedy but, for the most part, it’s pretty forgettable.

As I stated above, Jack is adequate but forgettable.  If I had seen this movie when it first came out in 1958, I would have expected handsome and charismatic Brett Halsey to become a huge star while I would have predicted that Nicholson would spend the rest of his career in television.

However, we all know that didn’t happen.  Jack Nicholson became an icon.  Sadly, Jack hasn’t appeared in a film since 2010.  Hopefully, he’ll give us at least one more great performance.  Who knows?  Maybe some aspiring screenwriter will write as script for Cry Baby Killer 2: Jimmy’s Revenge.

It could happen.


Shattered Politics #53: The Godfather Part III (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


Well, it’s come to this.

First released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was nominated for best picture (it lost to Goodfellas Dances With Wolves) but it’s got a terrible reputation.  Over the past two weeks, whenever I’ve mentioned that I was planning on reviewing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II for this series of reviews, everyone who I talked to mentioned that they loved the first two Godfather films and that they hated the third one.  Quite a few, in fact, suggested that I shouldn’t even bother reviewing the third one.  In their eyes, The Godfather Part III was like that one cousin who you know exists but, because he got caught cashing your grandma’s social security check, you never send a Christmas card.

But you know what?

It was never even an option for me to skip reviewing The Godfather, Part III.  First off, I’m a completist.  It’s long been my goal to review every single best picture nominee and, regardless of how much some people may dislike it, that’s exactly what The Godfather Part III is.

Plus, I love the Godfather movies.  I’m a fourth Italian (and, much like the Corleones, my Italian side comes from Southern Italy) and I was raised Catholic.  Let’s face it — The Godfather movies were made for me.  Even Part III.

So, with all that in mind, I recently sat down and rewatched The Godfather Part III.  And I’m not saying that it was an easy film to watch.  It’s a flawed film and those flaws are made even more obvious when you compare it to the previous two Godfathers.  It’s hard to follow up on perfection.  And I have to admit that, even though I had seen Part III before, I was still expecting it to be better than it actually was.  I had forgotten just how many slow spots there were.  I had forgotten how confusing the plot could get.  I had forgotten….

Okay, I’m really starting to sound negative here and I don’t want to sound negative.  Because I like The Godfather, Part III.  I think it’s a good but uneven film.  Some of my favorite films are good but uneven…

But this is a Godfather film that we’re talking about here!

The Godfather Part III opens in 1979, 20+ years since the end of the second film.  Tom Hagen has died off-screen (booo!) and Michael (Al Pacino) is nearly 60 and looking forward to retirement.  He’s handed the Corleone criminal empire over to the flamboyant Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna).  Michael has finally become a legitimate businessman but he’s lost everyone that he loved.  Kay (Diane Keaton) has divorced him.  His son, Anthony (Franco D’Ambrosio), knows that Michael was responsible for killing Uncle Fredo and wants nothing to do with the family business.  Instead, Anthony wants to be an opera singer.  Meanwhile, his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) is headstrong and rebellious.  (Or, at least, she’s supposed to be.  That’s what the audience is told, anyway.  None of that really comes across on the screen.)

Now, the first two Godfather films featured their share of melodrama but neither one of them comes close to matching all of the schemes, betrayals, and plots that play out over the course of Godfather, Part III.  Let’s see if I can keep all of this straight:

As the film opens, Michael is receiving an award from the Vatican.  Kay, who is now married to a judge, shows up with Mary and Anthony.  Michael is obviously happy to see her.  Kay glares at him and says, “That ceremony was disgusting!”  (Damn, I thought, Kay’s suddenly being kind of a bitch.  Fortunately, later on in the movie, Kay’s dialogue was both better written and delivered.)

Then, Vincent (Andy Garcia) shows up!  Vincent is one of those handsome, sexy gangsters whose every action is followed by an exclamation point!  Vincent is Sonny’s illegitimate son!  He wears a cool leather jacket!  He openly flirts with his cousin Mary!  He has sex with Bridget Fonda!  He kills Joey Zasa’s thugs!  He convinces Michael to mentor him!

And, as soon as Vincent enters the film, suddenly every scene starts to end with an exclamation point!

And then, Michael goes to Sicily!  He gets swindled by the corrupt Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly)!  He gets targeted by a corrupt Italian politician!  He confesses his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone)!  Lamberto later becomes Pope!

Meanwhile, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) is conspiring to kill Michael!  Because that’s what elderly Mafia dons do!  And then Kay, Anthony, and Mary all come to Sicily!  Anthony is going to be making his opera debut!  And soon Vincent is sleeping with Mary, even though they’re first cousins!

And even more people want Michael dead and I’m not really sure why!  Everyone goes to the opera!  We sit through the entire opera!  Meanwhile, enemies of the Corleones are killed!  And some Corleones are killed!  And it all ends tragically!

Okay, I’m starting to get snarky here and it’s probably getting a little bit hard to believe that I actually do like The Godfather, Part III.  And, as much as I hate to do it, there are a few more flaws that I do need to point out.  Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and she has really pretty hair and we both have similar noses but …. well, let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing that Sofia pursued a career as a director and not as an actress.  Reportedly, Sofia was a last minute pick for the role, cast after Winona Ryder suddenly dropped out of the production.  It’s not so much that her performance is terrible as much as it’s not up to the level of the rest of the cast.  Watching this Godfather, you’re acutely aware of how much of what you’re seeing on screen was determined by Sofia’s inexperience as an actress.

And then there’s that opera.  Now, I know that I’m supposed to love opera because I’m a girl and I’m a fourth Italian.  And I do love big emotions and big drama and all the rest.  But oh my God, the opera at the end of the movie went on and on.  There’s only so much entertainment you can get out of watching actors watch other actors.

But, at the same time, for every flaw, there’s a part of the film that does work.  First off, the film itself is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of wonderfully baroque sets and scenes taking place against the beautiful Italian landscape.  Al Pacino brings a very real gravity to the role of Michael and it’s fun to watch him trying to win back Diane Keaton.  (In those brief scenes, The Godfather Part III almost becomes a romantic comedy.)  Talia Shire is obviously having a lot of fun playing Connie as being a Lady MacBeth-type of character.  (In fact, they needed to give Connie a film of her own where she could poison anyone who get on her nerves.)  And Andy Garcia does a great job as Vincent.  You watch him and you never have any doubt that he could be Sonny’s son.

The Godfather Part III may not live up to the first two Godfather films but what film could?