Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Cult TV, part 1, Flash Gordon, Land of the Lost, Star Trek ...

By Steve D. Stones

Flash Gordon – The Brain Machine – Season One – episode 21. Aired March 11th, 1955.

The Mad Witch of Neptune, also known as the Mighty Zidarene, forces Dr. Hans Zarkov and Commander Paul Richards to release a deadly methane gas on the planet Neptune. Zarkov and Richards are then placed under Zidarene's Brain Machine on Saturn to empty their minds of their knowledge and memory. The Brain Machine is administered by Zidarene's feisty sidekick dressed like a child's bad bumble bee costume.

Flash Gordon (Steve Holland) and Dale Arden (Irene Champlin) arrive on Saturn to rescue Zarkov and Richards. The Mighty Zidarene paralyzes Flash with her powerful magic ray wand when he tries to capture her. She escapes, and Flash and Dale are left to figure out how to reverse the Brain Machine to restore Zarkov's and Richards' minds. The episode ends with To Be Continued on the screen and continues with the next episode – Struggle To The End.

Actor Steve Holland spends his entire first scene of this episode in a shirtless, beef cake display of male masculinity. Thank goodness he finally puts on his iconic t-shirt with the lightning bolt logo. The female audience may not be so pleased when he puts his shirt back on.

This episode shows the viewer lots of campy, quickly constructed gadgets seen in Zidarene's control room. The Brain Machine itself looks like giant gardening buckets turned upside down with small tin cups glued to the sides and spiral wiring leading to the machine. Zidarene's control room table exhibits a giant glitter ball in the center of the table with a triangle and lightning bolts painted on the globe. Fun, campy stuff.

Land of The Lost – The Sleestak God – Season One – episode two – Aired September 14th, 1974.

This mid-70s TV show is one of three shows I remember watching as a child while sitting on my Dad's lap on his comfortable recliner chair. It quickly became my favorite TV show as a youngster, but I must admit that the Sleestak creatures really scared me and often appeared in my childhood nightmares.

When Star Wars episode IV – A New Hope came out in 1977 and I first saw bounty hunter Greedo confront Han Solo on the big screen, I was convinced that Greedo may be a relative of the Sleestak. The imagination of a child runs wild.

Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan) assigns his daughter Holly (Kathy Coleman) and son Will (Wesley – last name not shown on screen) to leave their shelter cave to find water to fill water containers. Holly and Will soon run across an ancient ruin of buildings and find Cha-Ka - a part monkey, Neanderthal boy. The trio then come across a cave entrance with the words Beware of Sleestak painted on the outside wall. A group of green reptilian creatures with large eyes, known as Sleestak, capture Holly and Will and put them in a fish net trap suspended above a smoke filled pit in the cave.

Cha-Ka runs to the Marshall cave to tell Rick of Holly and Will's capture. Rick and Cha-Ka have a tough time communicating, but eventually Rick is led to the Sleestak cave and rescues Holly and Will. This won't be the last time that the Marshall family confronts the Sleestak creatures. They are an important staple of the entire TV series and steal the show every time they make an appearance. Funko toys made a Sleestak bobblehead in the mid 2000s. I'm proud to own two of them in my collection.

One Step Beyond – The Dark Room – Season One – episode four - Aired February 20th, 1959.

An American photographer and photojournalist named Rita Wallace, played by young Cloris Leachman, rents an apartment in Paris with a photo dark room studio and is looking for interesting people to photograph. She asks her landlady, played by Ann Codee, if she knows of anyone with an interesting face to photograph.

A strange French gentleman shows up one day at the photo studio without knocking at the door. Wallace shoots many photos of the man during his visit. The man behaves strangely during one photo session by mistaking Wallace for another woman named Cecile. He chases Wallace around the room to try and strangle her. The man then vanishes into thin air.

At the police station, Wallace tries to identify the man by looking at police file photos. She is unable to find a photo of the man in the police records, but goes back to her photo studio to develop the film used to shoot photos of the man. Unfortunately, not a single negative developed shows a photo of the man.

A police detective takes Wallace to a local cemetery to show her a photo on a grave of an man executed in 1926 for strangling his wife named Cecile. The photo on the grave is the man who visited Wallace's apartment and tried to strangle her.

One Step Beyond premiered to television audiences in the late 1950s, and is said to be a precursor to the much better written and produced – Twilight Zone. Although One Step Beyond may not be as great of a TV show as Twilight Zone, it's still an interesting and fun series to watch. Host John Newland opens and closes each episode with details and questions for the viewer to consider about each story. The show is said to have capitalized on American's burgeoning obsession and interest in paranormal activity and mystery.

Star Trek – Arena – Season One – episode 18 – Aired January 19th, 1967.

Here is another TV show I remember watching as a youngster with my Dad in the mid-1970s. I selected this episode because the Gorn creature that Captain Kirk (William Shatner) fights in the episode has always fascinated me, like the Sleestak creatures in Land of The Lost. Science-fiction aliens and creatures always add another layer of interest to any science-fiction story. Kids love them. I sure did.

The USS Enterprise responds to a distress call from an Earth outpost called Cestus III. Captain Kirk and crew arrive on Cestus III to find the outpost destroyed and at least one survivor. The group falls under heavy attack.

The crew beams back aboard the Enterprise and pursues the alien ship that attacked the outpost. The pursued ship is of an alien race known as the Gorn. When the group confronts the Gorn ship in space, a voice challenges Kirk to a fight on the planet surface below in a “trial by combat.” Kirk fights the Gorn captain in what many science-fiction fans consider to be one of the most unconvincing fights in the history of science-fiction television.

Even as a kid when I saw this episode in the mid-1970s, I thought the Gorn captain looked a bit silly and moved too slowly. This episode may be the episode that convinced me that it's okay if science-fiction aliens don't look entirely convincing or believable. Despite the Gorn captain's unbelievable appearance, he's still fun to watch as he chases after Kirk. Arena was the first Star Trek episode to be shown in color in the UK.

The Outer Limits – The Zanti Misfits - Season One – episode 14 – Aired December 30th, 1963.

A secret military installation operates under the cover of an old ghost town named Morgue in the California desert. The installation has communicated with the planet Zanti. The Zantis are a race of perfectionists who banish their criminals and misfits to the desert near the military installation. A military general approves of the Zanti misfits landing, yet the reason is never explained.

Meanwhile, an abusive, alcoholic man named Ben Garth (Bruce Dern) and his female companion named Lisa Lawrence (Olive Deering) break thru the military installation gate and drive out into the desert with a glove box stashed with stolen money. Their car breaks down with a cracked radiator, leaving them stranded. Both witness the landing of a small space ship shaped like a dome tent on the desert plateau.

Garth climbs the plateau to investigate the spaceship and is attacked by a Zanti – a small ant-like creature with a face with human features. Garth is killed by the Zanti, and Lawrence soon finds him.
Lawrence is rescued by Professor Stephen Grave (Michael Tolan) and taken back to the secret military installation. A herd of Zanti misfits soon arrives and attacks the entire installation. The military soldiers are no match for the Zanti misfits.

Most science-fiction films of the 1950s depicted insects as giant creatures who grow as a result of atomic explosion and atomic testing. The Zanti misfits, however, keeps the insect creature at a smaller scale. This may be part of the unintentional humor of this episode. Giant insects appear to be more threatening and scary.

The history of television is rich with many great cult TV titles. This article has only touched on five great shows. Stay tuned for at least two more articles I will be writing in the future to discuss other cult TV shows. Happy viewing.

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