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.

Horror on the Lens: The Night Strangler (dir by Dan Curtis)

For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1973’s The Night Strangler.

This is the sequel to The Night Stalker and it features journalist Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in Seattle.  (After all the stuff that happened during the previous movie, Kolchak was kicked out of Las Vegas.)  When Kolchak investigates yet another series of murders, he discovers that paranormal murders don’t just occur in Las Vegas and aren’t just committed by vampires.

I actually prefer this movie to The Night Stalker.  The Night Strangler features a truly creepy villain, as well as a trip down to an “underground city.”  It’s full of ominous atmosphere and, as always, Darren McGavin is a lot of fun to watch in the role in Kolchak.


Horror on the Lens: The Night Stalker (dir by John Llewelyn Moxey)

For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!  (We’ll get to the tricks later…)

Long before he achieved holiday immortality by playing the father in A Christmas Story, Darren McGavin played journalist Carl Kolchak in the 1972 made-for-TV movie, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas, all of which involve victims being drained of their blood.  Kolchak thinks that the murderer might be a vampire.  Everyone else thinks that he’s crazy.

When this movie first aired, it was the highest rated made-for-TV movie of all time.  Eventually, it led to a weekly TV series in which Kolchak investigated various paranormal happenings.  Though the TV series did not last long, it’s still regularly cited as one of the most influential shows ever made.

Anyway, The Night Stalker is an effective little vampire movie and Darren McGavin gives a great performance as Carl Kolchak.


The Martian Chronicles: Episode 3: The Martians (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

Episode 2 of The Martian Chronicles ended with Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) helplessly watching as Earth was consumed by nuclear fire.  Episode 3 opens with Col. John Wilder (Rock Hudson) returning to Earth in 2006 and discovered that the entire planet is dead.  He had hoped to find his brother and rescue him but instead, all Wilder finds is a video of his brother being vaporized by an atomic blast.

Back on Mars, the planet is nearly deserted.  Most of the human colonizers were ordered to return to Earth before the war broke out and, as a result, they died in the atomic inferno.  Only a few humans remain on Mars.  One of them, Ben Driscoll (Christopher Connelly), is excited to discover another survivor named Genevieve (Bernadette Peters) but he abandons her when he discovers that she’s too high-maintenance for him.  He decides he’d rather live alone.  (Too mean-spirited to really be funny, this was the weakest short story in Rad Bradbury’s collection and it’s also the weakest segment of the miniseries.)  Wilder and Father Stone (Roddy McDowall) visit another survivor, a scientist named Peter Hathaway (Barry Morse).  Peter lives with his devoted wife and daughter but when he dies of heart attack, they barely notice because they’re robots.

The first hour of the final episode of The Martian Chronicles is considerably weaker than the two episodes that proceeded it.  After the effective scenes of Wilder exploring Earth, the series is suddenly taken over by Christopher Connelly, playing a character that we’ve never seen before and who isn’t very likable.  The Ben and Genevieve sequence is weak and never that funny, despite Peters’s skill with comedy.  The sequence with Dr. Hathaway and the robots feels like a dry run for something Ray Bradbury would have written for The Twilight Zone.

Fortunately, the final segment of The Martian Chronicles swoops in to save the series.  Col. Wilder and his family spend the day camping at the same ancient Martian city where, during the first episode, Spender tried to convince Wilder not to allow Mars to be colonized.  While walking around the ruins of the city, Wilder meets what is either the ghost or the future projection of a Martian.  They have a friendly and philosophical conversation.  They talk about how The Martian doesn’t know if he’s from the past or if he’s from the future but it doesn’t matter.  Returning to his family, Wilder looks at their reflection in Briggs Canal and he say that, with Earth gone, they are now the Martians.  With Earth in ruins and only a few humans left, it’s up to the survivors to combine the ways of Earth with the ways of Mars and create a new world.  Though Hudson is usually held up as being the epitome of a stuff actor, when he made The Martian Chronicles, he had the right amount of gravitas to make the final scenes work.

The Martian Chronicles is an uneven miniseries.  The first episode is so good that the two that follow struggle to keep up.  But just, as in Bradbury’s book, the ending is perfectly realized and it still work, ever after all these years later.

The Martian Chronicles: Episode 2: The Settlers (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

The first episode of The Martian Chronicles ended with a dying Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey) warning John Wilder (Rock Hudson) that humans settling on Mars would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the once powerful red planet.

The second episode, called The Settlers, sets about to prove Spender right.  By 2004, humans are desperately leaving the war-torn Earth for a new home on Mars.  They rename all of the Martian landmarks, honoring the men who died exploring the planet.  In one of the few deliberately funny moments of this entire miniseries, it’s revealed that the canal that Briggs threw his beer cans in was eventually named Briggs Canal.  There’s one unfortunate shot of a line of miniature space ships that are supposed to be orbiting Mars and waiting for their chance to land.  The episode then gets down to showing what the settlers do to Mars.

It’s nothing good.  The main town looks like a traveling carnival, full of bars and crime.  Many of the people who come to Mars are people who are fleeing something on Earth and Col. Wilder has his hands full trying to keep the peace.  All of the Martians are believed to be dead but it turns out that there are still a few out there.  Using their mental powers, they disguise themselves as humans.  A large part of the second episode deals with a Martian who approached an elderly couple, disguised as their dead son.  Even though they know that he’s not really their son, they allow him to live in their home.  But, when the Martian goes to the city, he becomes overwhelmed by all the thoughts that bombard his mind.  Everyone sees him as being someone that they care about.  Even the local priest, Father Peregrine (Fritz Weaver), sees the Martian as being Jesus.  (That’s no big deal today but that had to have been controversial in 1980.)  Eventually, the Martian becomes so overwhelmed that he dies while a group of humans gawk at him.

As for Father Peregrine and Father Stone (Roddy McDowall, who spent most of his later years appearing in miniseries like this one), they explore the Martian mountains, searching for three lights that have been reported as hovering in the sky.  When they find the lights, the lights explain that they are ancient Martians who long ago abandoned their corporeal bodies.  They also somewhat implausibly say that they worship the same God as the two priests.  In a departure from Bradbury’s original short stories (in which Bradbury was skeptical about the idea of bringing religion to the Mars), Father Peregrine commits to building a church so that, even on the Red Planet, people can worship.

Finally, Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) has achieved his dream of building a restaurant on Mars.  He says that, as soon as more Earthlings arrive, he’ll be rich because every trucker will stop off at his place for a bite to eat.  When a Martian suddenly shows up in the diner, Parkhill panics and shoots him.  When more Martians show up, Parkhill flees.  It’s only when the Martians catch up to him does he learn that they’re giving him a grant for half the land on Mars.  “Tonight’s the night,” they tell him, “Prepare.”  Old Sam Parkhill’s pretty excited until he looks through a space telescope and sees that Earth, the home of his future customers, is now glowing with the sure sign of nuclear fire.  I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw this episode on late night Baltimore TV but I do remember being thoroughly freaked out by the scene where Sam watches as a fiery glow encircles the Earth and the planet’s green surface turns brown.  It’s the most powerful moment in the miniseries and a fitting visualization of Bradbury’s concerns about the nuclear age.

As for the rest of The Settlers, it’s good but it’s not as strong or as cohesive as the first episode.  The Martin shapeshifter story is good but the two priests in the mountains felt like they were included to keep religious viewers happy and their segment takes too many liberties with Bradbury’s original material.  Then, Darren McGavin returns to the story. dressed like a cowboy and getting chased by a Martian sandship and The Martian Chronicles goes back to being one of the coolest miniseries to ever be broadcast.

With Earth dead, would Mars follow?  That was the theme of the next episode of The Martian Chronicles, which we’ll look at tomorrow.

The Martian Chronicles: Episode 1: The Expeditions (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

In 1980, NBC adapted the Ray Bradbury short story collection, The Martian Chronicles, into a three-part miniseries.  Though Bradbury’s original book featured short stories that were only loosely connected by two shared locations (Earth and Mars), the miniseries connected most of the stories through the character of Colonel John Wilder (Rock Hudson), the NASA project director who headed up the project to colonize Mars and who later regretted his decision after it became clear that humanity was going to treat Mars just as badly as they treated their previous home.  The miniseries was adapted by Richard Matheson and directed by Michael Anderson.

Unfortunately, the miniseries itself was not a hit with critics, who complained that the story moved too slowly.  Audiences, having just experienced Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, were not impressed with the special effects, in which miniatures were used to simulate spacecraft flying through space.  Despite all of that, though, The Martian Chronicles has built up a cult following.  I can remember first catching the miniseries playing late at night on one of the local station in Baltimore.  I’ve always liked it.  It’s not as good as Bradbury’s original collection, of course.  But the miniseries still has its strengths, despite the miniatures.

The first and best episode of the miniseries was The Expeditions.  Starting with a recreation of Viking 1 landing on Mars in 1976, the episode jumps forward to the far future of 1999!  The first manned spacecraft lands on Mars and the two astronauts aboard are promptly killed by the first Martian that they meet, an angry husband who thinks that one of the astronauts is going to have an affair with his wife.

The second expedition is led by Captain Arthur Black (Nicholas Hammond, best-know for playing Spider-Man in the late 70s TV series).  When they land on Mars, they discover that the formerly Red Planet now looks like Black’s childhood home of Green Bluff, Illinois.  All of their relatives are waiting for them!  Falling into the belief that they’ve returned to the past, the astronauts are killed by their “families” that night.  It turns out that the Martians were using Black’s memories to set a trap for them.  As the Martian who disguises himself as Black’s brother explains it, they’ve seen, in the minds of the astronauts, what the humans are doing to their own planet and they can’t allow that to happen to Mars.  “Forgive us,” the Martians says, “we were once an honorable race.”  In one of the best scenes in both the book and the miniseries, the Martians still have an Earth-style funeral for the men that they’ve killed because they too got sucked into the world that they created and came to care about the men they felt they had to kill.

Years later, a third expedition arrives.  This one takes up the majority of the episode.  It’s led by Colonel Wilder himself and includes Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin), Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey), Briggs (John Cassady), and McClure (Peter Marinker).  Almost all of the Martians have apparently died, the victims of the Earth germs that were brought to the planet by the second expedition.  While Parkhill plots to open a barbecue joint and Briggs gets drunk and tosses his empty beer cans into a waterway that he christens, “Biggs Canal,” Spender investigates a deserted Martian city.  Unlike the others, Spender is in awe of the Martian civilization and angry that it’s been so casually destroyed.  When Spender returns, he declares himself to be “the last Martian” and tries to kill the members of the expedition.

Of the three episodes, The Expeditions is the one that sticks closest to the stories on which it was based, in both content and theme.  Not surprisingly, it’s also the best of the miniseries, with each vignette working as both a separate story and a part of a larger whole.  It’s the episode that sticks closest to what Bradbuy himself was going for in his original collection.  While the miniature spaceships are a distraction, the desolate Martian landscape is sharply realized and the first episode is full of striking shots, from the Martian husband walking through the red desert to “greet” the first expedition to the funeral for the second expedition to the final battle between Spender and the survivors of the third expedition.  Among the members of the cast, Nicholas Hammond and Bernie Casey are the stand-outs but everyone plays their part well.  Darren McGavin is always a welcome presece in any miniseries and John Cassady is so obnoxious as Briggs that it’s impossible not to see where Spender is coming from.  (Back when the IMDb still has message boards, every message on Cassady’s board was someone posting about Briggs Canal.)  Rock Hudson is as stiff as ever but it’s appropriate for his character.  The scene where he and Bernie Casey debate whether humanity is worthy of a planet like Mars is well-acted by both actors, with the different opinions of their characters reflected in the different performing styles of the two actors.  Though the miniseries never explicitly states it, it is perhaps not a coincidence that Spender, as the only black character in the miniseries, is the only one to truly understand what humans colonizing Mars could lead to.

The Expeditions ends with Spender warning that humans will destroy Mars if they’re allowed to colonize it.  The next episode would explore whether he was correct.  We’ll take a look at The Settlers tomorrow.

The Baron and the Kid (1984, directed by Gary Nelson)

Ever wonder what The Color of Money would have been like if it starred Johnny Cash and featured less Eric Clapton but more country and western on the soundtrack?  The Baron and the Kid is here to satisfy your curiosity.

Johnny Cash is Will Addington, better known as The Baron.  Back in the day, The Baron was the meanest and the most ruthless pool hustler around.  He’d cheat people out of their money without even giving it a second thought.  He drank.  He doped.  He womanized.  He abused his wife, Dee Dee (June Carter Cash).  After the Baron became the 9-ball world champion, Dee Dee left him and the Baron changed his ways.  Now, years later, he only plays exhibition games for charity and the strongest thing that he drinks is grapefruit juice.

When a young hustler who calls himself the Cajun Kid (Greg Webb) challenges the Baron to a game, the Baron wins easily but he still recognizes that the Kid has a natural talent.  When the Cajun Kid attempts to put up his mother’s wedding ring as stakes for another game, the Baron recognizes the ring as the one that Dee Dee used to wear on her finger.  After talking to Dee Dee, the Baron discovers that the Kid is actually his son.

The Baron takes the Kid under his wing, hoping to train him to become a champion while, at the same time, getting to know his son.  The Kid proves to be a difficult student.  He’s cocky and, like the Baron did in his youth, he has a temper.  He also has a manager, a good-for-nothing con artist named Jack Steamer (Darren McGavin).  Steamer doesn’t want to lose the money that the Kid brings in and he plots to to keep him away from his father.  The Baron, though, is determined to prevent the Kid from making the same mistakes that he made.  However, when the Baron and the Kid both find themselves competing in the same championship, the Baron finds himself being tempted by his old demons.

The Baron and the Kid is okay for a made-for-tv movie.  It’s predictable but Johnny Cash has such a formidable screen presence that it doesn’t matter that he was sometimes a stiff actor.  The Baron’s past of booze and drugs mirrors Cash’s own past and when Cash, as the Baron, talks about how he’s trying to keep the Kid from making the sames mistakes, there’s little doubt that he knows what he’s talking about.  Some of the pool sequences are creatively shot and Richard Roundtree has a great cameo as a cocaine dealer named Frosty.  There’s nothing surprising about The Baron and the Kid but fans of Cash and the game of pool should enjoy it.

Horror On TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.20 “The Sentry” (dir by Seymour Robbie)

Tonight on Kolchak….

There’s something on the loose underneath Chicago!  Could it be a …. killer lizard!?  Kolchak’s on the story!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and this was the final episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.  Darren McGavin, of course, would later go on to epitomize the ideal middle American father when he played The Old Man in A Christmas Story.

This finale originally aired on March 28th, 1975.

I hope you have enjoyed this October’s trip down Kolchak Lane!

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.19 “The Youth Killer” (dir by Don McDougall)

Tonight on Kolchak….

There’s a new dating service in Chicago!  It’s only for the hot, single, and young!  So, why are some of the members turning up dead and suddenly old?  Could it be that the owner of the dating service has a less-than-ethical way of remaining young!?

Carl Kolchak is going to find out!

This episode aired on March 14th, 1975.  It’s not one of the better episodes but, as always, Darren McGavin is a lot of fun in the role of Kolchak.


Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.18 “The Knightly Murders” (dir by Vincent McEveety)

Tonight on Kolchak….

The armor of a 12-century knight is possessed and determined to keep anyone from harming the museum in which it is currently housed.  This includes anyone who might want to build a nightclub nearby.  With the armor trying to prevent Chicago from enjoying disco, it’s up to Carl Kolchak to report the story and solve the case!

I like this episode because it features a holy ax.

This episode originally aired on March 7th, 1975.