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.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #196: Mercenary Fighters (1988, directed by Riki Shelach Nissimoff)


Everyone’s favorite hippie action hero, Peter Fonda, plays Virelli, a long-haired Vietnam vet turned mercenary who is hired by a corrupt African general (Robert Doqui) to protect the construction of a dam that will result in the flooding of a native village.  Got all that?  Though Fonda is top-billed, he is not the star of the film.  The star is Reb Brown, who plays T.J. Christian.  T.J. starts out as a member of Fonda’s team but then he falls in love with a nurse (Joanna Weinberg) and he switches sides.  The villagers need someone to lead their revolution and all it takes is hearing Reb Brown do one of his trademarks power yells to know that he’s the man for the job.  Reb Brown was famous for yelling whenever he did anything and he yells a lot in Mercenary Fighters, even more than he yelled in Space Mutiny.

Mercenary Fighters is a typical Cannon film from the late 80s.  Like many of Cannon’s mercenary movies, it was covertly filmed in South Africa, at a time when apartheid was still being enforced and Nelson Mandela was still sitting in a prison cell.  (Cannon was not the only film company to secretly make movies in South Africa during the Apartheid Era.  They were just the most blatant about it.)  Richard Kiel apparently turned down Peter Fonda’s role.  It’s hard to imagine Kiel in the role but perhaps that’s because Virelli is a quintessential Peter Fonda-in-the-80s role.   Fonda glides through the film, delivering his lines like a California surfer who just smoked the kine bud.  The presence of Ron “Superfly” O’Neal and James “son of Robert” Mitchum serves to elevate the film’s cool factor while Robert Doqui brings some “I’ve worked with both Robert Altman and Paul Verhoeven” credibility to his one-note role.  Mercenary Fighters is good for anyone who is into either mindless Cannon action movies or Reb Brown yelling while shit blows up behind him.

A Movie A Day #165: Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)


If there is a male bonding hall of fame, Big Wednesday has to be front and center.

This episodic movie follows three legendary surfers over twelve years of change and turmoil.  Jack Barlowe (William Katt) is the straight arrow who keeps the peace.  Leroy “The Masochist” Smith (Gary Busey) is the wild man.  Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the best surfer of them all but he resents both his fame and the expectation that he should be some sort of role model for the younger kids on the beach.  From 1962 until 1974, the three of them learn about love and responsibility while dealing with cultural turmoil (including, of course, the Vietnam War) and waiting for that one legendary wave.

After writing the screenplays for Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now and directing The Wind and The Lion and Dillinger, John Milius finally got to make his dream project.  Big Wednesday was based on Milius’s own youth as a California surfer and he has said that all three of the main characters were based on different aspects of his own personality.  Expectations for Big Wednesday were so high that Milius’s friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exchanged percentages points for Star Wars and Close Encounters of  The Third Kind for a point of Big Wednesday.  The deal turned out to be worth millions to Milius but nothing to Lucas and Spielberg because Big Wednesday was a notorious box office flop.  Warner Bros. sold the film as a raunchy comedy, leaving audiences surprised to discover that Big Wednesday was actually, in Milius’s words, a “coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones.”

I can understand why Big Wednesday may not be for everyone but it is one of my favorite movies.  It is one of the ultimate guy films.  Some of the dialogue and the narration may be overwrought but so are most guys, especially when they’re the same age as the surfers in Big Wednesday.  We all like to imagine that we are heroes in some sort of epic adventure.  The surfing footage is amazing but it is not necessary to be a surfer to relate to the film’s coming-of-age story or its celebration of the enduring bonds of friendship.  Katt, Vincent, and Busey all give great performances.  Considering their later careers, it is good that Big Wednesday is around to remind us of what Gary Busey and Jan-Michael Vincent were capable of at their best, before their promising careers were derailed by drugs and mental illness.  Be sure to also keep an eye out for infamous 70s character actor Joe Spinell as an army psychiatrist, a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, playing a fellow surfer and providing the film’s narration, and Barbara Hale, playing the patient mother of her real-life son, William Katt.

One final note: At a time when the shameful stereotype of the psycho Vietnam vet was becoming popular and unfairly tarnishing the reputation of real-life vets, Big Wednesday was unique for featuring a character who not only joins the Army but who appears to return as a better person as a result.

A Movie A Day #163: Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979, directed by Ivan Nagy)


America’s most patriotic beach bum is back!

The infamous international terrorist, Miguel (Christopher Lee), is demanding millions of dollars from the U.S. government.  If he doesn’t get his cash, Miguel will unleash a formula that causes rapid aging.  Who else can stop him but Captain America (Reb Brown)?  While Cap searches for Miguel in a small town that appears to be full of bullies, comely single mothers, and children in desperate need of a father figure, Doctors Simon Mills (Len Birman) and Wendy Day (Connie Sellecca) search for a way to reverse the aging process.

This is the second of two pilots that were produced in 1979 in an attempt to start a weekly Captain America television series.  This Captain America had little in common with his comic book counterpart.  In the two pilots, Steve Rogers was a laid back beach bum who drove a Chevy Van and owned a really groovy, red, white, and blue motorcycle.  Having recently gotten out of the army, Steve would have been just as happy to spend his time sketching the beach as saving the world from HYDRA.  Whenever he put on the costume of Captain America, he carried a transparent shield that was supposed to be bullet proof but which looked like it was made out of flimsy plastic.  In Captain America II: Death Too Soon, Cap uses his shield to protect himself from a wild dog and the shield literally bends when the dog jumps against it.  Reb Brown played Cap in both pilots and, while he was more likable than Matt Salinger, he was no Chris Evans.

Still, the presence of both Christopher Lee and Connie Sellecca help to make the second pilot a marginal improvement on the first one.  The second pilot is almost good enough to make the case that, if not for that damn transparent shield, a weekly Captain America television series would not have been that bad.  It was not to be, of course.  It would be over 30 years before a movie finally got both Captain America and his shield right.

A Movie A Day #162: Captain America (1979, directed by Rod Holcomb)


Captain America drives a Chevy Van!

In this attempt to turn one of Marvel’s first heroes into a weekly television star, Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is a laid back 70s dude who has just gotten out of the Marines.  He owns a van (“a mellow set of wheels”) and he just wants to drive around America, drawing pictures, and doing his own thing.  Doctors Simon Mills (Len Birman) and Wendy Day (Heather Menzies) want Steve to follow in his father’s footsteps and get injected with the super powered FLAG formula.  Steve is just not interested.  The only Captain America that he’s interested in emulating is Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.  “I just want to kick back and find out who I am,” Steve says.

Steve does not really have a choice, though.  Evil billionaire Lou Brackett (Steve Forrest) wants the FLAG formula and attempts to have Steve killed.  In order to save Steve’s life, Dr. Mills injects Steve with the FLAG formula.  Not only does Steve now have super strength but, in the style of Col. Steve Austin, he now has super vision and super hearing.  To help Steve in his new life as crime-fighting super hero who will “stand up for the little guy,” Dr. Mills modifies both Steve’s Chevy Van and his motorcycle.  He also gives Steve a bulletproof shield.  Vibrainium is never mentioned and, for some reason, the shield is transparent, which makes it look like its made out of plastic.  At first, Steve wears his father’s old costume but then he designs a new one.  A super hero has to have super threads.

This was the first of two pilots for a proposed Captain America television series.  Unlike both The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America never made it past the pilot stage.  Like many early comic book adaptations, Captain America‘s first pilot makes the mistake of straying too far from its comic book origins.  Instead of being an almost comically old-fashioned, straight arrow patriot, this Steve Rogers is a beach bum who gets his own groovy, bass-heavy soundtrack while riding his motorcycle up and down the coast.  Forget about the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, the Secret Empire, the Serpent Squad, or any of Captain America’s other regular enemies.  This Captain America specializes in more conventional, less interesting menaces.

Reb Brown is okay as this film’s version of Steve Rogers but there is nothing that makes the character special.  He’s just a big guy wearing a silly costume and carrying a transparent shield.  With his new origin story and his modified powers, this Captain America has more in common with The Bionic Man than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s original character.

The van’s cool, though.

Captain America’s Bitchin’ Van