Made for TV Monday – Evil Roy Slade

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that is where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

ers1I knew I was all-in on Evil Roy Slade as soon as the opening narration began. Now, I know that many of you out there are too young to remember the TV show Green Acres which starred Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor as two New York city slickers who move to a farm in the small town of Hooterville (and no, we’re not even going to comment on that) only to find that the town is full of zany characters such as the slick-talking double-dealing always on the lookout to make a sale Mr. Haney, portrayed by the wonderful Pat Buttram.

Ah, what the heck… let’s go ahead and take a look at Mr. Haney in action:

Anyway, as I was saying, as soon as Mr Buttram’s voice came on as the narrator, I knew I was in for some fun.

And when it turned out that the story he was telling was that of a small child who was the lone survivor of a stagecoach raid who was subsequently abandoned not only by the Native Americans who initiated the raid, but also by a couple of wolves who chanced upon him but ran off scared, and that subsequently that boy grew up to be Gomez Addams in a diaper, well… yeah, obviously this was going to be a fun time.

ers2It’s obvious why the great John Astin was called upon for the title role in Evil Roy Slade. I said earlier that the boy grew up to be Gomez Addams, and that’s not just because of the actor portraying him. Just like Gomez (and the rest of his family), Slade takes an obvious delight in being the outsider, in being different, and in being true to his inner self, no matter how odd everyone around him may find him to be.

It’s quite telling that at one point in the movie when Slade is thinking about changing his name and starting a new life, the options he comes up with are “Evil Jake Ferguson”, “Evil Fred Noland” and “Evil Lee Rich” before giving up and just continuing to use his real name.

ers3In a lot of ways, Evil Roy Slade could easily be seen as being in the mold of Blazing Saddles or Airplane in that it’s a mile-a-minute, throw everything out there and something will make them laugh comedy, but at the same time, since it was made for television, it’s humor is more restrained, and at times, honestly quite corny. Nonetheless, there are definite laughs to be found even in little bit of schtick, such as when Slade is at a formal dinner party and he spots a cello player and he pulls out his gun and tells the cellist “Take that big fiddle out from between your legs. There are ladies present.” The cellist tries to respond, but Slade becomes even more threatening and says “I don’t want no trouble, you just tuck it up under your chin, like a fiddle’s supposed to be played… now!” And the cellist certainly gives it a try.

ers5Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie involves Slade’s visit to a therapist played by Dom DeLuise who feels like he is making progress with Slade and eventually tries to convince him that he can walk without wearing his guns. Of course, as soonas he has divested himself of his last weapon (a grenade that he pulls from I’m-not exactly sure where), Slade’s legs turn to rubber and he falls to the ground and he can’t even stand up until the doctor insults him enough that Slade charges him. Part of what makes this scene so great is that it gives Astin a chance to show his physical comedy chops, something he was not often given a chance to do.

I mentioned that Dom DeLuise plays the psychiatrist, and the movie is chock-full of supporting turns by major (or at least semi-major) comedy stars of the era. Milton Berle shows up as Slade’s potential Uncle-in-law, Henry Gibson is the dimwitted son of Slade’s main antagonist in the movie, a train baron played, in perhaps the movies only truly miscast role by Mickey Rooney who is fine, but doesn’t quite seem to get the movie that he’s in. Edie Adams is amusing as Slade’s former girlfriend Flossie (who keeps getting her name mispronounced), and the somewhat underrated Pamela Austin is quite good here as Slade’s love-interest.

ers7There are also early cameos by Penny Mashall as a bank teller, Ed Begley Jr, and a very young John Ritter as a priest who freaks out after being called in to hear Slade’s confession.

I do feel obliged to mention that, like a lot of the movies of the time, there are a number of jokes and racial portrayals (and jokes about “funny boys” and “midgets”) that will seem at best insensitive and at worst offensive by today’s standards, but once again, I’m simply going to say that “it was a different time”. No, that’s not to excuse them, but simply to acknowledge that they are there, and your reactions to them may differ.

(Though I will acknowledge that even I’m not quite sure how to react to Pat Morita’s comic turn as an Eastern Indian servant except to say that it was very confusing, especially considering his ever-changing accent.)

ers6(And, at the same time, one of the more offensive “little people” scenes does have the payoff of seeing Astin tricked into riding into town on a Shetland pony, so… as I said, your mileage may vary.)

Of course, one of the reasons that Evil Roy Slade turns out asfunny as it does is that it was co-written by Garry Marshall who was a writer on the Dick Van Dyke Show and went on to create Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple TV series, and Mork and Mindy. (Of course, he also was behind Joanie Loves Chachi, but hey, pobody’s nerfect. It was also directed by Jerry Paris, who was Dick’s neighbor Jerry on The DickVan Dyke Show.

So, is Evil Roy Slade a timeless classic? No. But is it highly entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny? Yes. I definitely say give it a look.

No real trailer for this one, so instead I think I’ll give you that opening narration and the theme song, which will give you a pretty good feel as to whether it’s right for you.

Made -for-TV Monday – The Norliss Tapes (1973)

(In the interest of full disclosure, what follows is a re-worked version of a post that originally appeared here in 2015. I would usually reserve this kind of thing for Throwback Thursday, but the post I’d originally planned for today just didn’t quite work out. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be back next week with an all-new TV-Movie – well, the post will be all-new, the movie will be some 30-40 years old – for you.)

nt5Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Dan Curtis and especially of his TV series Dark Shadows and The Night Stalker. As a matter of fact, a few years back I wrote extensively about the latter, covering not only  the original Made-for-TV movie and it’s follow-up The Night Strangler, but also an episode-by-episode recap of the  TV series that sprang from them. Of course, those shows were far from the only ones that the prolific Curtis produced for television, and that brings us to the subject of today’s post.

So here’s what apparently happened: when it was announced that  that Curtis wasn’t going to be involved in ABC’s Night Stalker series, he was courted by NBC to create a slightly different show for them Thus The Norliss Tapes was born. As was typical at the time, he created a made for TV movie which would run an hour and a half and serve as an undeclared pilot for the series.

nt4To call The Norlisss Tapes a rip-off of The Night Stalker is a bit unfair (can you really rip yourself off?), but there are certainly similarities between the two. Instead of being an investigative reporter like Stalker‘s Carl Kolchack, Tapes‘ protagonist David Norliss (played by Roy Thinnes, at the time probably best known for his role in The Invaders) is a book writer researching – and along the way debunking -the supernatural. They both show an inclination for recording/narrating their adventures on audiotape. They both run afoul of disbelieving lawmen, etc. etc. The biggest difference between the two is that whereas The Night Stalker had a more lighthearted – at times almost comedic – sense to it, Norliss plays the horror straightforward, definitely going for the chills.

I guess you could call it Stalker‘s more serious cousin.

nt3Anyway, just to touch a bit on the plot, the movie opens with a telephone call between Norliss and his publisher during which the titular character begs him for a meeting. When Norliss doesn’t show, the publisher becomes worried, and when it becomes obvious that he has disappeared, he decides to investigate. Upon arriving at Norliss’s house, he finds a series of tapes, supposedly containing the narration of the book, and he decides to listen to them in order to try to find out what might have happened to the missing writer.

All of this, of course, is merely set-up to get us into the actual story.

nt2The always lovely Angie Dickinson plays a woman who awakens to find her home being invaded by a figure who appears to be her dead husband. He has already killed her dog, and begins to come after her. Fortunately she’s able to grab a shotgun, and in a very explosive P.O.V. shot shoots him at point blank range. However when the police get there, the only thing they find is the dead dog. Not only is there no other body, there isn’t even any other blood.

Norliss is called in to help investigate the mysterious goings-on, and it of course turns out that the dead husband is actually a… well, it’s kind of unclear what he is. Though he mostly looks and acts like a vampire, and the victim of his bodies are drained of blood, he doesn’t seem to be drinking it, instead, he’s mixing it into clay that he’s using to make a statue of the demon Zardoth who is temporarily inhabiting his body, but wants to use the statue as his new earthly body.

nt1In the end, it’s pretty easy to see why NBC wound up taking a pass on making this into an ongoing series. Thinnes’s Norliss really doesn’t display any of the charm or personality of Darren McGavin’s Kolchack, and the show in general just seems flat compared to a lot of Curtis’s other offerings. As a one-off it’s okay, but mostly forgettable, (which may be why it’s mostly forgotten today) and with The Niight Stalker already on the air and covering what would likely be most of the same ground that Norliss would pursue – let’s be honest, there’s only so much that can be done with a monster of the week show, though it would have had the advantage of the overarching “What’s actually happened to David?” subplot – it seems like it wouldn’t be long before the show simply ran out of tapes and ran aground.

Still, if you’re a fan of The Night Stalker and/or Dan Curtis it’s certainly worth checking out, which you can do below. (And just for the record, the entire movie is currently available on YouTube.)

Made for TV Monday – Killdozer (1974)


kd4Okay, let’s just start out with a little bit of honesty, shall we? When you turn on a movie with the title Killdozer you have to know right up front that you’re in for more than just a little bit of ridiculousness. Well, I’m happy to report that at least on that front, the movie doesn’t disappoint.

That may be the only way it doesn’t, but at least there’s that.

Our story begins in the depths of the cosmos where we follow the trail of a meteor as it crashes down to Earth on a small island somewhere off the African coast. An unknowable amount of time later, a crew of six men are dispatched by the Corporation to prepare the area for the company’s new production base.

Suitably isolated to be the stars in a horror movie – especially once their radio, the only connection they have to the mainland, is destroyed – the six men are already tense, especially since their foreman Kelly (played with a hard edge by veteran actor Clint Walker) is business only. (It is revealed after awhile that he is a recovering alcoholic who is trying desperately to finish the job no matter what in order to retain his position with the company.)

kd5Of course it’s not long before the crew discovers the meteorite and attempts to remove it. Bringing up a bulldozer, Kelly and one of the workers, Mac, (Robert Urich) begin the extraction when the rock suddenly emits an unearthly blue glow – a glow that transfers itself into the ‘dozer. It’s from this point that we know we’re not dealing with an ordinary bulldozer. No, the D-9 has been transformed. Perhaps inhabited. Whatever the reason, it’s now become… a Killdozer!

At the same time that this is happening, the killdozer claims its first victim, as Matt, who was staring straight at the rock when the blue glow happened, is stricken by a mysterious malady and dies soon thereafter. This, of course, escalates the tension between the men, as Kelly shows no emotion, and acts as though he wants to carry on with the job as if nothing has happened.

One thing he does do is to bring the machine back to camp. However, when it sees the men communicating with their home base over the radio, it  assumes control from the man driving it and goes on a rampage, destroying the radio and eventually crushing the driver (who has bailed out) with its blade.

kd2After two deaths, the men are understandably even more on edge, and the tension only ramps up once it becomes apparent that the machine is truly moving on its own and is essentially stalking them.

Despite its essentially silly concept, it’s obvious that everyone involved was doing their best to make this a fairly taut thriller. With its lean running time of 74 minutes (remember, it was produced to run in a 90 minute time slot including commercials) Killdozer has little time to waste on extraneous matter. It’s not hurt in this regard by a mostly punchy script written by famed science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon who also wrote the 1944 novella on which the movie was based.

The cast is studded with movie and TV veterans including not only those mentioned above, but also James Wainwright and Neville Brand, and again, despite the ridiculous premise, they are playing it, for the most part, completely straight, and doing their best to put across a sense of terror and desperation that can only come from being hunted by a slow moving machine that they could pretty easily outrun.

kd6As far as the effects, well, honestly there’s only one that counts, and that’s making the killdozer appear to be driving itself, and that is pulled off effectively. The effects people even, through manipulation of the ‘dozers lights and controls effectively give it the illusion of there being an intelligence working inside the machine.

It’s worth noting that, perhaps if for no other reason than its title, Killdozer has taken on a life beyond its limited TV showings, even receiving an comic book adaptation from Marvel comics, though it should also be noted that the cover of that issue (pictured at the left) is much more dramatic than anything that happens in the movie. Not only does the ‘dozer never talk, but, as noted above, the entire cast is male, meaning there is no woman to be terrorized.

Final thoughts? Lets put it like this – Killdozer turns out, despite its silly title and ridiculous premise, to be a not-too-bad little film. And at 74 minutes, it’s not like you’ll be investing a lot of time into it.

I didn’t find a trailer online, but here’s a short TV spot:

Made for TV Monday – Earth II (1971)

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for TV movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

e21I mentioned in the introductory post that quite often, when a network commissioned a pilot for a new series that they decided not to go ahead with, they would re-purpose the pilot as a TV movie. That’s the case for this week’s show, Earth II.

The story opens with the launch of an Apollo-style rocket which is carrying the first parts of a new space station to be designated Earth II. Though the “Red Chinese” attempt to sabotage the launch, it lifts off successfully, and soon after the President of the United States (Lew Ayres)goes on television to make a quite interesting proposal: he sees the new space station as the salvation not only for the US, but for all mankind. Therefore he wants to make Earth II a sovereign nation with its own laws and its own governing body, open to colonization by anyone from around the world.

He even has a unique way of getting approval from the American people for doing this. Apparently the internet was down that week, so our current system of vote-by-tweet wouldn’t work, so he proposes that as the rocket flies over the US, everyone who is in favor of the plan turn on all of the lights that they would normally have off, and the ship will take pictures of the lights and then computers will compare the luminosity with that of a normal night, and if it’s brighter than usual he will take that as a favorable vote. As it turns out the verdict is 71% in favor, and 29% opposed (one has to assume that the “opposed” areas had turned off lights they would usually had on?). And thank goodness it passed, otherwise we’d have wound up with a very short movie.

e26Cut to an unspecified amount of time later, and Earth II is an established and thriving community with 1,982 citizens and apparently regular shuttle runs bringing both supplies and new colonists. We see one such shuttle arriving, and that is how we are introduced to the Karger family, father Frank (played by Anthony Fransciosa), mother Lisa (Mariette Hartley), and son Matt (Brian Dewey). Frank has long been opposed to the pacifist nature of the colony, feeling that if it truly is going to be the sanctuary that it was built to be it needs to more aggressive and be able to defend itself against any threat.

The truly pacifist nature of the new nation is soon emphasized when the Karger family are held up by customs because of young Matt’s toy gun. This is a kind of cute little scene because it establishes not only the rule that there are no weapons (not even toy ones) allowed on the station, but because when Matt jumps to try to get his gun back he suddenly finds himself floating in air because both of his shoes left the magnetized floor and he is in a zero gravity environment. Fortunately he is quickly distracted by a ball of water which later bursts when they enter a more gravity filled area.

e25Frank soon meets up with the leader of the colony, David Seville (Gary Lockwood, who was, of course, no stranger to space adventures since he was relatively fresh off of his role as Dr. Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey). David, of course, knows how Frank feels about the militarization of the station, and the two have a debate over the topic which is made more immediate by the discovery of a nuclear missile which has been put into orbit by those pesky Chinese only 150 miles from Earth II. To make matters worse, it is aimed at Moscow.

(By the way, this seems to be a good time to point out that although the colony is supposedly open to anyone from anywhere and has even been made a member of the United nations, the only people we actually meet that aren’t Americans are one Russian family. Even the token black person appears to be an African-American as opposed to perhaps being from the actual continent of Africa. There are no East Asians, no Indians, not even anyone white with a foreign accent. Yay for inclusivity!)

Anyway, the presence of the bomb seems to lend credence to Frank’s argument that the station needs to at least be able to defend itself. After a hastily called summit at the UN between representatives of Earth II, China, and Russia not only fails but leads to threats that any interference with the missile will lead to the Chinese immediately blowing it up, David decides that the best thing to do is nothing. part of his reasoning is not only that if they are going to truly change the world and stop the constant aggression and threats between countries they have to lead by example, but also that there are an unknowable number of missiles on earth held by different countries and pointing at each other, and that they can’t interfere with other nations’ sovereignty just because one of them is closer to Earth II than they would like.

e23Of course,Karger is appalled by the decision to do nothing about the missile, so he calls  for a “D&D” over the issue. No, they’re not going to have role-playing game to settle the argument. One of the main laws of the colony is that whenever there is a major issue to be settled, especially when one disagrees with government policy, they can call for a Debate and Decision, wherein the debate is broadcast throughout the entire station, and then everyone of voting age gets to cast their choice. One interesting aspect of this is that as the debate is going on, a computer is apparently analyzing the statement made on each side and flashes up chirons at the bottom of the screen saying things such as “emotional appeal” or “no evidence of this conclusion” or even “argument presented in unbiased terms”. Can we possibly get one of those for the next debate between Presidential candidates?

(Honestly, I suspect if we did have such a machine even attempting such an analysis it would blow all of its circuits within the first 10 minutes or so…)

David loses the D&D even though Frank’s own wife Lisa speaks up against the idea, and a plan is soon formulated to send a mission to attempt to defuse the missile. The colonists, of course, know that every eye will be on them, so they try to be as secretive about it as possible, but eventually something goes wrong, and the Chinese attempt to blow up the missile, but fortunately that doesn’t quite work. in a last ditch attempt to salvage something from the mission, they wind up bringing the missile aboard the space station to decide what to do with it there.

e24Frank, not unexpectedly, wants to use the missile as the beginning of a defense force, making Earth II one of the world’s nuclear powers. David, on the other hand wants to shoot the missile into the sun, destroying it, honoring the peaceful ways already established by those living there. This leads to another D&D, but before all of the testimony can be given…

Well, that seems a good enough place to leave our recap. As I’m sure has become obvious by now, Earth II is not a slam-bang outer space adventure, but rather a thoughtful show more concerned with exploring ideas of right and wrong and pacificism vs militarism than it is firing ray guns at bug-eyed monsters.

It’s definitely true that the pace can at times seem slow. I mentioned 2001 earlier, and it’s obvious that that film, released just three years prior, was a major influence on this one, witth it’s often languorous shots of the exteriors of the ships and shuttles docking etc. except in this case rather then being set against classical music, we are given a score by the omnipresent Lalo Schifrin, known for composing music for movies such as Bullitt and Enter the Dragon, and of course for his iconic theme for Mission Impossible. And honestly, when one considers that they were working on a TV budget with 1971 special effects, these shots hold up pretty well.

And, in the end, Earth II itself hols up pretty well, too. It’s definitely a reflection, in a way, of the time in which it was made, but at the same time, the debate that it’s trying to have, centering around the best way to defend oneself and whether its better to try to live peacefully or aggressively as a nation (and, for that matter, the ramifications of living in a true democracy and how one lives with the results when a vote doesn’t go their way) are ones that we are still seeing, often intensified, even today.

Would Earth II have made it as a series? It’s hard to say. There certainly is a place for this type of intelligent science-fiction, and personally I would love to see more of it, but at the same time,  it’s hard to know if this kind of format could have been sustained in the long run. Still, as a stand alone movie I definitely recommend if you find the idea intriguing, that you check it out. It’s readily available on YouTube, and on DVD from the Warner Archives.

Here’s your trailer:

Made for TV Monday – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

dba1Halloween is Thursday, so let’s start this rundown with something scary, shall we?

Kim Darby, who you may recognize as the young girl who convinces John Wayne to help her hunt down her father’s killer in the original True Grit, stars as Sally Farnham who inherits an old house from her grandmother who is recently deceased. She and her husband Alex (Jim Hutton, who would later play the detective Ellery Queen in a short-lived series that was unique in that just before the end, Queen would turn to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and asking the viewer if they had figured out the solution to the mystery) move into the house and begin renovation.

Sally quickly falls in love with one particular room (of course, it’s initially mysteriously locked) which she want to turn into a study. She finds the closed up fireplace in the room especially intriguing, and she begins to try to open it up, despite warnings from the handyman who came with the house (William Demarest, “Uncle Charley” from My Three Sons) that “some things are better left as they are,”

Sally manages to slightly unbolt the plate that has been put into place over one part of the fireplace, but she and Alex decide that it really is unfixable. Unfortunately, in removing the cover Sally has unwittingly released three small demon-like creatures who at first seem to want to kill her but eventually decide that they want to turnher into one of them.

dba2Y’know, it’s really interesting watching a movie like this with 2019 eyes. In some ways, this movie could be taken as a banner for “me too” and “believe the woman”, because that’s exactly what no one (except, eventually, her best friend Joan, played by Barbara Anderson) will do. Her husband, her doctor, and everyone around her simply write off her troubles as hysteria. There’s even one point in the movie where Sally is walking along with her interior decorator (at this point she knows about the little demons and has convinced her husband that they need to sell the house) and when they are about to descend the stairs, the demons have strung a line across the top step which trips the decorator,causing him to fall to his death.

After the body has been removed and Sally has been checked out by the family physician, the doctor is talking to Joan and hes gives her some sedatives for Sally to take, saying “she does seem to have over-reacted”. Now let’s take a look at this. even without the tales of little creatures calling her name and telling her they want her (which Sally is actually keeping to herself), she has just seen a man fall to his death right in front of her. I don’t know about you, but I think I might find that just a bit traumatic.

Not that it’s just the men whose attitudes seem a bit askew when observed through modern eyes. Early in the movie, Sally and Joan are walking down the street and at this point Sally thinks the little critters in her house may be mice. When she shares this idea with Joan, her friend replies “I don’t care what  women’s lib tells me, the very mention of a mouse drives me crazy!” Then just a few minutes later, when the women are commiserating about feeling abandoned by their husbands who seem more concerned about their jobs than them, Joan states “As two  neglected wives of two overly ambitious husbands i suggest we go spend some of their money!” Well! Let the shopping commence!

dba4As far as the effects go, they’re kind of a mixed bag, The creature design for the demons is pretty darned effective, and though if you look closely you’ll notice that their mouths don’t quite move properly when they’re talking, the mask/makeup effect gives them a very creepy look.

To give them their diminutive look, the filmmakers used a combination of forced-perspective shots and oversized props, and again, these shots are kind of hit and miss, but I’d definitely say they hit more often than not.

Overall, for a movie produced on a television budget, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is an effectively atmospheric little thriller that shows you don’t have to have a 100 million dollar budget or an incredibly long running time (it clocks in at a tight 74 minutes) to produce an effective horror story that has an impact and leaves an impression.