This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Agony Booth review: Halloween (1978)

It's Halloween, so what better way to prepare than to look at a classic movie that has the same name?
It’s Halloween time again, so let’s take a look at the classic 1978 movie which shares the same name as the holiday. This movie, like the previous year’s Star Wars, was not only successful, but had a huge impact on popular culture. Even people who aren’t fans of the horror genre recognize the film’s title and have a general idea of what it’s about.

Again, like the aforementioned George Lucas film, Halloween‘s success soon brought a slew of imitators, as well as sequels. But what are the reasons this movie continues to endure in the nearly four decades since its release? What makes it continue to stand head and shoulders over the many films which tried to duplicate it? Here now are five reasons why John Carpenter’s film have become a terror classic.

1. The simplicity of the story

The plot of Halloween is that a young boy named Michael Myers murders his sister one Halloween night and gets institutionalized as a result. Exactly 15 years later, Michael escapes from the institute he’s been held in. His doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), correctly deduces that Michael is returning to his old haunts in Haddonfield, Illinois so as to continue his reign of terror and frantically goes after him. As Michael makes himself at home again, he targets a shy girl named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as well as her two BFF’s Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles).

As you can see, the plot isn’t overly complicated with red herrings galore (a la the Saw movies). What we have is a simple setup of a maniac focusing his horrific energy on people who are innocent victims of circumstance. In light of recent events, this aspect of the film must sadly be considered relevant. The Halloween sequels would later give an explanation for why Michael sets Laurie in his sights (to the chagrin of some fans), but that doesn’t diminish the impact of this aspect of the film.

Regardless, Carpenter, along with the film’s cast and crew of course, take this simple premise and put a lot of heart and skill into it.

2. The homages

What attracted Carpenter to making Halloween was his chance to make a movie like the horror flicks he loved when he was younger. He would be the first to say that one film Halloween owes a debt to is Psycho. Indeed, Pleasence’s character is named for the one played by John Gavin in that movie. Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), the boy Laurie is babysitting in the film, is named after the character played by Wendell Corey in another Hitchcock film, Rear Window. Carpenter would also call Halloween his “Argento film,” referring to shots in the film that were inspired by similar ones in Dario Argento movies such as Deep Red and Suspiria.

But the homages in the film aren’t limited to the horror and suspense genres. Annie’s father, sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), was named for the legendary science fiction author of the same name. Brackett also penned such classic movies as The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo. Her final film as a screenwriter was The Empire Strikes Back. She died after only penning the first draft of that script, but happily, Lucas gave her a co-screenwriting credit on the film with Lawrence Kasdan.

While this may have been unintentional, I’ve always thought Halloween possessed another homage that was a bit of foreshadowing. At one point, Lindsay (Kyle Richards), whom Laurie and Annie are babysitting, is watching the classic film The Thing From Another World. As most everyone knows by now, Carpenter would remake that very film as The Thing just four years after Halloween (a remake which many, including myself, view as superior to the original).

Of course, the list of homages in Halloween would be incomplete without mentioning the fact that Curtis herself is the daughter of Janet Leigh, whose many great films include her role as the shower victim in Psycho. And speaking of Curtis…

3. The victims/potential victims

As he was the biggest name in the cast, Donald Pleasence naturally had above-the-title billing for Halloween. While Curtis became a star thanks to this film, Pleasence’s contribution was invaluable. He was already an established character actor by 1978 for, among other things, terrorizing James Bond in You Only Live Twice and even appearing in Lucas’s first film THX-1138. But his role as the Van Helsing-esque Loomis rightly became his most famous and one which he would reprise in four of the Halloween sequels. The last of these, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, became his final movie, as he died shortly after completing it.

Many of Halloween‘s imitators never took the time to make the characters we’re supposed to root for very appealing. This was obviously due to the desires of those filmmakers to just get down to business regarding the bloodshed on screen. Usually in these films, it was easy to figure out who would die and who would live to see the ending credits.

Halloween itself became criticized for giving birth to the cliche of the virginal one being the final survivor, as Laurie is not as socially active as Annie and Lynda. But I’ve always felt that was an unfair criticism, because putting aside the fact that Laurie expresses her desire to be as social as her friends, all three of the girls have nice bonding moments in the movie. Hence, Annie and Lynda both become sympathetic characters because of the love they have for Laurie (I’ve heard some say that Soles played a similar role two years earlier in Carrie, but anyone who’s seen both films knows that a big difference is that her character in that film, Norma, is a mean bitch who helps push Carrie to the brink at the film’s climax, whereas Lynda is more of a sweetheart). In their first scene together, Laurie mopes that she has nothing to do the following day, when a school dance is taking place. Lynda, who’s a cheerleader, comments, “It’s your own fault,” but her tone says that Laurie herself could easily change that. Likewise, Annie later politely scolds Laurie for not planning to go to the dance and even attempts to give her an unwanted hand when Laurie gives her the name of a boy she’d like to go with.

As a result, both Annie and Lynda’s death scenes are actually quite sad, which definitely cannot be said for many other deaths in slasher films. They also make us hope Laurie doesn’t meet the same fate, making her shyness/virginity irrelevant.

4. The music

Like Psycho, Jaws, and other classic horror movies, Halloween has a classic musical score, which was composed by Carpenter himself. In addition to the title theme, Halloween also has a nice theme for Laurie, which is reminiscent of the “Tubular Bells” motif from The Exorcist. The track that plays when Laurie attempts to escape from Michael’s grasp is especially nerve-wracking.

5. The ending

At the climax of the film, Laurie believes she’s killed Michael and promptly tells Lindsay and Tommy to go to a neighbor’s house to call the police. After they leave, Michael slowly revives and attempts to kill Laurie again. But Loomis sees the children running frantically out of the house and runs inside to save Laurie by shooting Michael multiple times. Michael falls out of the house’s second story window onto the ground below. After Loomis confirms Laurie’s thoughts that Michael is the boogeyman, he goes out to see Michael’s body, only to find it gone. We hear Michael breathing while seeing the places he’s been previously before the ending credits roll.

Like The Silence of the Lambs thirteen years later, this film has an ending in which the monster of the film is still at large, leaving the viewer shaking and going WTF? However, Loomis repeatedly tells people throughout the film that Michael himself is “purely and simply evil.” So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that unloading a revolver into him won’t do the trick. Like the Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the numerous movie psychos Michael inspired, maybe there’s just no way to kill a merciless force of nature like this.

Halloween would not only get sequels, but a bona fide remake in 2007, which got a sequel of its own two years later. There have even been recent reports of a new Halloween flick coming up with Curtis reprising her role (she played Laurie again in Halloween II, Halloween H20, and Halloween: Resurrection).

The Michael Myers mask, not surprisingly, has become a popular one to wear when going trick-or-treating. Interestingly, one person we have to thank for that mask is William Shatner. Halloween‘s production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (who would later write and direct the Michael Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch) took a Captain Kirk mask, turned it inside out, widened the eyes, and painted the mask white. Happily for horror fans, the result was something nightmares are made of.

Curtis kept acting in the horror genre for a while, appearing in classics like The Fog (which was also directed by Carpenter and co-starred Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and even Janet Leigh) and Prom Night. By the end of the ’80s, however, she managed to leave an equally memorable mark in the comedy genre thanks to her work in films like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda.

Again like Star Wars, the studios weren’t exactly expecting this film to make much of an impact when it was being made. But the end result ended up being a bigger success and game changer than anyone imagined.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Agony Booth review: Top 5 (bad guy) movie sidekicks

This article looks at bad guys who were memorable even though they answered to someone else.

Last time, I looked at heroic sidekicks from movies. Now, I’m going to take a look at 5 movie sidekicks that were anything but heroic.

1. Oddjob
Granted, the James Bond series was already on its third movie (Goldfinger) when audiences were introduced to Oddjob (Harold Sakata). It’s also true that the previous two Bond pictures, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, had characters such as Anthony Dawson’s Professor Dent and Robert Shaw’s Grant who were subordinates of the main baddies. But Sakata’s Oddjob basically set in stone how the evil henchman should be not just for the Bond series, but for action thrillers in general.

Oddjob is not only very strong (gold bars bounce off him like rubber), doesn’t speak much (we only hear grunts whenever he opens his mouth), and he’s unquestionably loyal to his boss (such as when he kills one of Goldfinger’s men for attempting the defuse the A-bomb, even though Oddjob himself is trapped with the ticking time bomb). Of course, I can’t forget to mention Oddjob’s classic hat which slices through marble statues like butter, and which Bond himself ends up using to his advantage during their climatic fight inside Fort Knox. Pretty much every Bond film since Goldfinger has had a villainous character that shares at least one of these traits with Oddjob. Sakata, who was a celebrated wrestler before being cast to fight 007, would parody his Oddjob image in commercials and TV specials.

2. Fiona Volpe
Interestingly enough Thunderball, the follow-up Bond film to Goldfinger, also gave us a memorable, much-imitated villainous sidekick. No, this woman wasn’t the first Bond bedded despite working for the bad guys. She also wasn’t even the first great female Bond villain (that honor went to Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love). But Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi, was certainly the most memorable. Fiona makes no secret about her desire to not only sleep with Bond but basically make him submit to her will. In addition, Fiona has only one scene with Thunderball‘s main baddie Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). The rest of the time we see her, she’s basically calling her own shots, which adds to her character’s appeal. Like Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye thirty years later, Fiona uses her sexuality as a weapon. She’s first seen aiding in the murder of the pilot who is her lover as part of SPECTRE’s plot to hijack a NATO jet carrying two atomic bombs.

The character was (sort of) redone almost 20 years later in the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, as Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush. Like Fiona, Fatima was entertaining, and as many have stated, was really the only reason Never Say Never Again isn’t a total waste of time.

3. Darth VaderStar Wars villains. The character’s impact became so great that as the years went by, even George Lucas would state that the Star Wars saga was always meant to be about Darth Vader and his fall from grace. This is despite the fact that Vader’s revelation of his family link to Luke Skywalker didn’t even enter the narrative until Lucas was working on the second draft of the Empire Strikes Back script.

But the impact of the character himself was immediate. From his first scene in the original Star Wars, with his great strength, ominous breathing, and (the finishing touch) the great voice of James Earl Jones, it was clear from the start that this was a villain for the ages.

While Vader’s master, the Emperor, isn’t seen in the original film, Vader does seem to stand on equal footing (of sorts) with Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing). This makes the audience curious as to who is actually the main bad guy. At one point, Tarkin orders Vader to release his hold on an insubordinate officer, even though Vader could easily do something similar to him if he wanted to.

Both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi would add further layers to Vader as he attempts to bring Luke to his side, even if it means destroying the Emperor in the process. This leads to what is for me a hell of a death scene for the character at the climax of Jedi. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who thinks of villains in science fiction movies can’t help but think of Vader.

4. Joachim

Perhaps one reason Ricardo Montalban’s Khan is regarded as the greatest of all the Star Trek villains is how his character changes from his first appearance, in the first season original Trek episode “Space Seed”, to his return in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The episode certainly painted Khan as a tyrant who was ready to conquer a new world with his followers upon his awakening. But when Kirk defeats him and informs Khan of the plan to exile him to Ceti Alpha V, Khan ends up looking at this exile as a chance to build the empire he’s always dreamed of. The last looks he and Kirk exchange in the episode are ones of respect.

Hence, when we learn in Wrath of Khan that Khan’s plans for his own empire were basically shot to hell when Ceti Alpha V’s orbit shifted, causing never-ending sandstorms and the loss of his wife and some of his followers, we can understand (if not agree with) the obsessive anger which has now replaced the great control Khan possessed in “Space Seed”.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows, Khan quotes several passages from Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. Serving as Starbuck to Khan’s Ahab is Joachim, played by Judson Scott (some press releases for Wrath of Khan actually state the character is Khan’s son, although the film itself gives no hint of that). Joachim is certainly loyal to Khan and is the first to commend him regarding the escape from their exile. But like Starbuck, he’s not above questioning Khan’s directives. He respectfully states that, as they are now free, they can simply settle on a new world rather than expend considerable time and effort into tracking down Kirk. When Kirk manages to fire back on Khan during their first encounter, Joachim is able to convince his leader that, because of the damage to their ship, the wisest course of action is to momentarily withdraw. Even after Khan obtains the powerful Genesis device, he’s still willing to take their commandeered ship, the U.S.S. Reliant, into a nebula that could cause damage to the ship, so he can get his revenge on Kirk. Khan even violently tosses Joachim aside when the latter strongly objects to this plan.

Despite this, the character still has Khan’s respect. This is proven when Joachim is killed toward the end of the movie and Khan tenderly holds him, quietly vowing to avenge him. The dynamic between these two characters is one of many reasons Wrath of Khan is still regarded as the best Trek movie.

5. Saruman
One reason I disliked the Star Wars prequels was because of how they wasted Sir Christopher Lee by having him play second banana to the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), only to have his character be pointlessly dispatched in the first 15 minutes of Revenge of the Sith. I always thought it would’ve been better if Lee had played the Emperor’s master, and the films could have shown how the Emperor himself managed to overthrow him.

But the prequels (basically) ran in theaters simultaneously with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These films have Lee playing a bad guy sidekick but in a much better way. As the evil wizard Saruman, Lee has great scenes building his great armies, addressing his followers, and even knocking around the heroic wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen). We learn that Saruman and Gandalf were once friends, but the re-emergence of the Ring of Power and the return of the evil Sauron tempted Saurman into using his powers for conquest.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time Lee had a nice role as an evil sidekick. In The Three Musketeers and its sequel The Four Musketeers, Lee played Comte de Rochefort, the merciless right hand of Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston). These films gave Lee great sword fighting sequences with the musketeers (played by Oliver Reed, Michael York, Frank Finlay, and Richard Chamberlain).

Other bad guy sidekicks that are worth mentioning include Lin Tang, the merciless daughter of Fu Manchu. She was initially played in the 1930s by Mryna Loy, opposite Boris Karloff’s Fu Manchu. But my favorite version of the character is the one played by Tsai Chin, who played the role in five movies in the 1960s, all opposite Lee’s Fu Manchu. The films themselves may not be classics (I believe one of them was even broadcast on Mystery Science Theater 3000), but Lee and Chin are clearly having fun with their roles. These films also came out at the same time Chin was making a memorable impression as the first Asian Bond girl in You Only Live Twice.

Another memorable bad guy sidekick is Karl, the right hand man to Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), played in the classic film Die Hard by the late, great Alexander Godunov. Karl ends up with a reason to want Bruce Willis’s John McClane dead when our hero dispatches Karl’s brother early in the film. The fight scene between Karl and McClane is one of many reasons that film is great, and the villainy both Godunov and Rickman bring to their characters is something the Die Hard sequels certainly could have used.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Agony Booth review: Good guy sidekicks from movies

This article looks at 5 of the best good guy sidekicks from movies.

Throughout history, both in real life and otherwise, there have always been those who seem to be, intentionally or not, subordinate to someone else. The slang expression that describes such a person is “sidekick”. In literature, such characters include Sancho Panza from Miguel de Cervantes’s classic novel Don Quixote, as well as Dr. John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. The advent of cinema naturally also produced sidekicks both good and bad. Here are five of the best good guy sidekicks the silver screen has given us over the decades.

1. Dr. John Watson

If there’s one sidekick that gets a lot of exposure, it’s the doctor who accompanies Sherlock Holmes on his cases. Watson not only serves as the everyman to Holmes’s brilliant intellect, he also narrates each of the stories in Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon. This allows readers and film audiences to experience the stories themselves with the same feeling of exhilaration that Watson is projecting as he narrates them to us. Sir Arthur, who was a doctor like Watson, supposedly based Watson on himself.

On the big screen, Watson has been played by numerous actors. Among the most memorable of these is Nigel Bruce, who was Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes throughout the 1940s in numerous films released by Universal. Other actors who did the role justice include Patrick Macnee (opposite Sir Roger Moore’s Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York) and Andre Morell (opposite Peter Cushing’s Holmes in 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles).

Another rendition I especially liked was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Watson in the 1988 comedy Without a Clue. That film turns the Holmes universe on its ear by suggesting that Watson is the real genius when it comes to solving cases. Holmes himself (here played by Sir Michael Caine) is really a buffoonish, out of work actor whom, to Watson’s dismay, the public cheers as a hero.

2. Jiminy Cricket

Walt Disney made film history in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That film was the first-ever animated feature film and its great success naturally allowed Disney to make even more animated films over the next few decades.

The first such film was Pinocchio, based on the Carlo Collodi story of the same name and released three years after Snow White. Like that film, this story of a wooden boy who aspires to be worthy of the wish his creator/father made for him to become real was a huge hit (although not immediately; Pinocchio truly began bringing in the cash when it was re-released in 1945). Part of what makes the title character so memorable is his rapport with Jiminy Cricket, who, as he puts it, serves as his conscience (although that duty comes about because of how Jiminy is smitten with the Blue Fairy who gives Pinocchio life). The duo even sing “Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” early in the film. Another song Jiminy sings, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, won the Best Original Song Oscar for that year.

While the seven dwarfs certainly give Snow White a hand, it’s Jiminy who truly set the standard for sidekicks in Disney movies. This could apply to some non-Disney movies as well, as there are many sidekicks who, just like Jiminy, end up ensuring that the hero’s heart is in the right place, and aren’t just someone for the hero to give lessons to. Heck, Steven Spielberg’s film AI: Artificial Intelligence makes numerous references to Pinocchio (and references to it can also be found in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Indeed, many subsequent Disney films, including Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Cars owe the existence of their sidekicks to this little guy, who would re-appear in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free and also go on to appear in a number of TV specials from Disney.

3. Chewbacca

Let’s face it, Han Solo’s co-pilot is the textbook definition of what a sidekick should be. This towering bear-like alien is devoted to Han but is never afraid to disagree with him if the circumstances call for it. The fact that Han is able to perfectly understand Chewbacca’s Wookiee language, even though all we hear are subtitle-less growls and roars, only adds to the the appeal this duo holds for many of us.

Throughout the three original Star Wars films, Chewie (as Han and friends call him) helps out the other heroes through various means, including getting Imperial guards out of the way by knocking them down, and even commandeering a Scout Walker in order to blast other Walkers and stormtroopers to bits. He can even fix machinery and carry a dismembered C-3PO on his back in the midst of all this.

So memorable was Chewie’s impact that there was a fan uproar when he was killed off in the Star Wars novel The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, published in 1999. So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that when The Force Awakens hit theaters 16 years later, the events of that book and all the others which comprise the New Jedi Order series were ignored (hence, why Han dies and not Chewie).

While George Lucas created this character (inspired by his dog, Indiana), Peter Mayhew deserves credit for his amazing work while wearing what must’ve been a hot bear suit. But others who deserve credit for fleshing this character out are Stuart Freeborn, who designed the Chewbacca mask, and making it expressive so Mayhew could project emotion while playing the role, and Ben Burtt, who created the Wookiee language by splicing together the sounds of numerous animals, including bears, tigers, and walruses. Burtt’s work on this and other alien voices for Star Wars, such as Darth Vader’s breathing and the beeps for R2-D2, would earn him a special Academy Award.

4. Short Round

Before Lucas made the misguided decision to show us Darth Vader and Boba Fett in their elementary school years, he gave Indiana Jones a grade-school aged sidekick.

Happily, Short Round, played by Ke Huy Quan, isn’t as intolerable as the younger versions of the aforementioned Star Wars villains. One reason for this is because, while gutsy, Short Round is never overly anxious to get into a fight (à la Scrappy-Doo). Even though Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a larger than life adventure, the character reacts to events the way a real person (especially a real child his age) would. Short Round even gets Indy out of his drug-induced hypnosis, allowing them to escape the title temple. He’s also downright scared in some sequences, such as when he almost falls though a hole he makes on a super high bridge and nearly becomes a meal for the crocodiles in the river below. He even calls out Indy’s desperate attempt to defeat the bad guys by chopping apart the bridge holding all of them with, “He’s not nuts, he’s crazy!”

In contrast, Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace reacts to what’s going on around him with all the urgency of a child playing a video game. And don’t even get me started on his non-reaction when he’s in a spaceship with fighters shooting all around him (must be those damn midicholrians).

While some took issue with Temple of Doom‘s intensity, the film itself, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, is happily reminiscent of the 1930s and ’40s Republic serials from which it drew its inspiration. One reason for this is the nice scenes between Ford and Quan. One minute Short Round is quickly driving Indy through Shanghai to elude bad guys (who cares if he’s too young to drive a car?), and the next he’s playing a card game with him, which ends with both accusing each other of cheating. Hence, this is a hero-sidekick bond that has both humor and heart.

5. Samwise Gamgee

The hobbit who accompanies Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy becomes a part of that adventure in an amusing way. He eavesdrops on a conversation between Frodo and the wizard Gandalf. But the wizard uses this as a chance for Sam (as everyone calls him) to prove his devotion to Frodo.

Throughout the three films, Sam, a gardener for Frodo, is constantly pushing his friend through the difficulties they encounter. He even physically carries Frodo at several points in the story. His devotion to Frodo is such that he’s willing and able to return the ring after safeguarding it for him. This stands out as Frodo himself, like the ring’s previous keeper Gollum, is so drawn to it that he cannot bear to be without it for long.

But Sam’s selflessness helps ensure that the ring is destroyed, even though it’s really Gollum’s interference that directly leads to its destruction. The trilogy ends with Sam and Frodo returning to their home, the Shire, and Sam reuniting with his love Rosie.

The trilogy’s author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote that Sam was really the main hero of the story. Below is a quote from a letter Tolkien wrote.

"My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself."

The three books which comprise the trilogy—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—were all published in the mid-1950s. Ironically, Tolkien would receive a letter from a man named Sam Gamgee in 1956 regarding the name he shared with Tolkien’s creation. The author replied with:

"Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours."

These are just five examples of characters who actually made the term “second banana” sound good. In my next article, I’ll be going in the other direction, with the top 5 bad guy sidekicks from the movies.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Agony Booth review: Escape From New York (1981)

My third entry in the Agony Booth's Movies That Predicted Trump series looks at one of John Carpenter's best movies.
As the 1980s began, John Carpenter’s career was at its height. He won critical acclaim with Assault on Precinct 13. This gave him complete creative control over his follow up picture Halloween. The enormous success of that movie virtually re-invented the horror genre for the next decade. At the same time that film was in theaters, Carpenter was also scoring with the made-for-TV movies Elvis and Someone’s Watching Me.

All of this gave Carpenter enormous clout and led to the director getting a two-picture deal with Avco-Embassy Pictures. The first film made under this deal was The Fog, a ghost story that reunited many of the people Carpenter made Halloween with, including that movie’s star Jamie Lee Curtis. That movie became another success for Carpenter.

Happily, his next picture for Avco, released the same year as fellow classics For Your Eyes Only, The Great Muppet Caper, the underrated Dragonslayer, the werewolf one-two punch of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, and the year’s box-office champ Raiders of the Lost Ark, also became a became a hit, and that picture was Escape From New York.

The film takes place in 1997 and begins with Curtis’s voice informing us that by 1988 the crime rate in the U.S. became so great that the government turned the Big Apple into one big maximum security prison. The island is surrounded by a 50-foot containment wall and any bridges and waterways leading to the island are now full of mines. The police keep watch on the island for any prisoners attempting to escape.

In addition to the increased crime rate that necessitated turning an entire city into a prison, the U.S. is at war with both the U.S.S.R. and China. Shortly after a scene where police violently stop an escape attempt, Air Force One is en route to a summit with leaders of those two countries, but is seen coming too close to New York.

As it turns out, Air Force One has been hijacked (irony alert: 1997 itself would give us a movie with the same plot) and the hijacker (Nancy Stephens) at the controls informs the authorities on the ground with dialogue that convinces me this is be an ideal entry in our Movies that Predicted Trump series:

"Tell this to the workers when they ask where their leader went. We, the soldiers of the National Liberation Front of America, in the name of the workers and all the oppressed of this imperialist country, have struck a fatal blow to the fascist police state. What better revolutionary example than to let their president perish in the inhuman dungeon of his own imperialist prison?"

The President himself (Donald Pleasence) is led to the jet’s escape pod, with his briefcase and a bracelet designed to track his movements. He escapes in his pod just before Air Force Once crashes into Manhattan.

The police, led by commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) go in to retrieve the President. But they’re met by a thug named Romero (Frank Doubleday) who informs them to get the hell out and that the President will be killed if they attempt another rescue.

Back at headquarters, Hauk, after discussing matters with the Secretary of State (Charles Cyphers) decides that the best way to solve this crisis is to enlist the aid of a recently arrived prisoner. Said prisoner is S.D. “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former Special Forces Lieutenant and the youngest man to be decorated by the President, before being imprisoned for attempting to rob a Federal Reserve in Denver.

Both Plissken and Hauk engage in banter which serves to remind us why Russell and Van Cleef are so awesome. Hauk explains the situation, and says that Plissken is the ideal choice because of how he expertly flew into Leningrad in a stealth glider. He offers Plissken a full pardon if he goes into the death trap that was New York City and retrieves the President.

Plissken, repeatedly asking Hauk to call him Snake, says he doesn’t give a shit, even when Hauk informs him that the President was carrying a cassette tape containing vital information for the summit the Chief Executive was heading to. But Hauk soon ensures his cooperation after he injects Plissken with miniature explosives that are set to detonate at the end of the 24 hours Plissken has to complete the task. Plissken, the bad-ass he is, tells Hauk that he’ll kill him when he returns.

Our hero is next seen flying to Manhattan on a stealth glider where he lands on top of the World Trade Center. As he makes his way down to the city itself, we see many shadows darting in and out, along with the wreckage of Air Force One. Plissken also encounters a girl (Season Hubley), but before he can ask her anything, they’re ambushed by thugs. The girl is killed before Plissken can make his escape.

Plissken tracks the President’s bracelet signal to a theater, where he encounters a cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), as well as the bracelet now being worn by a drunk. Our hero tells Hauk that the President must be dead, but Hauk tells him to keep his ass in New York and keep looking.

The cabbie, who recognizes Plissken from stories of his exploits, agrees to take him to see Harold “Brain” Hellman (Harry Dean Stanton), who has the ear of the Duke of New York (Issac Hayes), the top crime lord in the city.

Brain and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) tell Plissken that the Duke plans to bring all the gangs in the city together. This plan involves using the President as leverage and a map that Brain has of where the landmines are on Queensboro Bridge.

Plissken, Brain, Maggie, and the cabbie locate the Duke’s hideout: Grand Central Station. After finding the President, Plissken is captured, getting a knife in his leg in the process.

With his time running out, Plissken, now with a limp, soon finds himself in a boxing ring fighting a muscleman. Plissken kills his opponent while Brain and Maggie kill Romero and free the President. They rejoin Plissken and head for the World Trade Center with the Duke’s men on their trail. But Plissken’s glider is destroyed, forcing our heroes back onto the street. Fortunately, the Cabbie arrives with (what else?) his cab to take them across the bridge. The cabbie also produces the President’s cassette tape, having retrieved it from Romero earlier. Snake keeps it as they flee.

Our heroes navigate the mine-laden bridge but their cab hits one, blowing the vehicle in half and killing the cabbie. Brain soon joins him after stepping on another mine after he and the rest of the party proceed on foot. Maggie insists on staying with him as Plissken and the President continue on. She stands in the middle of the road, shooting the approaching car of the Duke until he runs her down.

Plissken and the President reach the perimeter wall. Hauk, with a big-ass walkie talkie that was state of the art for 1981, has men waiting for them. The President is raised on a rope thanks to the guards. The Duke arrives, taking shots at the wall, killing several guards and causing Plissken to take cover. But the President shoots enough bullets into the Duke to kill him before Plissken is retrieved.

On the other side of the wall, Hauk insists that Plissken produce the tape, which he does before the explosives are deactivated, with seconds to spare (of course, with a film like this, would there be any more spare time?)

Later, the President is preparing to speak on television. A pardoned Plissken asks him how he feels about those who died to ensure his ass would get out of New York. But the President barely pays them lip service (remind you of someone?).

Plissken is pissed but that doesn’t stop Hauk from congratulating him on his work and offering him a job, saying, “We’d make a great team, Snake!”

Plissken’s response? “Call me Plissken!”

The President goes live, offering his apologies for not being able to attend the summit, but saying that the cassette he’s about to play will hopefully help the U.S., China, and the U.S.S.R. live in peace. Alas, the tape instead plays a swing number from the cabbie’s private collection.

The movie ends with Plissken walking off, destroying the summit cassette.

Carpenter originally wrote Escape years earlier and basically kept it in a drawer until Halloween’s great success and the subsequent deal with Avco gave him the clout he needed to dust it off.

The film itself, like the aforementioned Raiders, became a smash which introduced audiences to a new hero who would get a sequel in Escape from L.A., which reunited both Russell and Carpenter (who previously did Elvis together, and would also work on The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China together). In addition to its great cast, Escape from New York has nice, appropriately seedy production values. This is especially amazing considering that not one frame of the movie was shot in New York, but rather St. Louis, Missouri.

I’ve read some reviews which state that the movie ends on a downbeat note, as Plissken destroyed a cassette with information that could have saved the world. But I honestly think that, while the Chinese and Soviets were not expecting to hear the music being played at the end, they would appreciate nice music as much as the next person. Hauk may agree with me, as neither he nor any of his men are seen detaining Plissken as he limps (not runs) away while destroying the tape at the film’s end.

The hijacker’s claims and the President’s indifference at the end are possibly the biggest indications as to how the film predicted Trump. There’s also a wall that surrounds the Big Apple, which now reminds me of a similar planned wall on the Mexican border that Trump would love nothing better than to waste our tax money on.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Agony Booth review: Trekkies vs. The People vs. George Lucas

This article looks at documentaries that focus on the followings to science fiction's two biggest franchises.

It goes without saying that Star Trek and Star Wars are the two biggest science fiction franchises ever. Even non-science fiction fans can recognize elements from either franchise, such as “beaming” or “the Force”. So it’s not surprising that numerous books and essays have cropped up over the decades which attempt to explain why these two franchises have such passionate followings.

Trekkies (1997)

While there are several books about the topic, perhaps the first such documentary on Star Trek fandom was the 1997 film Trekkies. This film was produced and hosted by Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The film largely consists of Trek fans from all walks of life discussing their love for the franchise. We see fans dressed as Klingons ordering food at restaurants. The cashier even tells Crosby that he often serves Klingons. Other fans discuss the technology seen in the Trek shows and how it may not be too far from reality. One such fan even attempts to build a chair similar to the one the crippled Captain Pike occupies in the original Star Trek two-parter “The Menagerie”.

It also has appearances from several of the actors and actresses from the various Trek shows, save Enterprise (the debut of which was still four years away). The actors relate stories of their encounters with Trekkies. For instance, Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Voyager, states that people have come to her asking her to marry them.

Yes, the film also addresses the famous “Kirk vs. Picard” debate. Chase Masterson, who played Leeta on Deep Space Nine, chimes in to say that both Kirk and Janeway are studs.

There’s one touching moment where James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original series, talks about a female fan who wrote to him expressing her suicidal thoughts. But he asked her to come to upcoming conventions where he would make appearances. She did so, and some years later, she contacted Doohan again thanking him for his support and gave him the news that she was getting her master’s degree.

One famous Trekkie the film looks at is Barbara Adams, the woman who famously dressed in Starfleet garb during her time as a grand juror in the Whitewater investigation. Adams was later dismissed from the jury, not for her attire, but for disobeying the judge’s order to not give interviews.

Crosby herself takes time to address her own thoughts on the franchise. At one point, she produces fan-made drawings of various Trek characters, including Yar and her half-Romulan daughter Sela (also played by Crosby). Of all the TV actors who have quit their shows, Crosby is the only one I know of who managed to get her best roles on her show after her character was killed off. Crosby even addresses this wonderful irony in the film.

A life-long Trekkie herself, Crosby suggested the idea of the film to director Roger Nygard, who had just directed her in the 1991 TV movie High Strung. He agreed, and filming began at a convention at a Hilton in Los Angeles that was organized by William Campbell, who played Trelane in the original show’s “The Squire of Gothos” and Koloth in “The Trouble With Tribbles” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath”.

Trekkies received positive reviews and even spawned a sequel, Trekkies 2, which was released in 2004. The sequel mainly looks at Trek fans outside the United States and even profiles fans from the first film, including Adams. Trekkies itself was given a theatrical release in May 1999. Ironically, the film was released the same weekend as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And speaking of which…

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

Like Trekkies, this film looks at Star Wars fans and their extreme devotion to the franchise. There’s no specific host in the film, but there are discussions with numerous people linked with the films, including Gary Kurtz, who produced the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, as well as David Prowse, who wore the awesome Darth Vader suit in the original trilogy.

This film also goes into great depth about Star Wars creator George Lucas. Specifically, it goes into how he first inspired the love of millions of people before many of those people became disenchanted with him decades later because of his decisions in how to handle the franchise.

Indeed, a great deal of this documentary centers on how Star Wars is a creation of Lucas’s, but—some argue—also a pop culture juggernaut that belongs to the world.

The film even takes a brief look at Lucas’s other cash cow, the Indiana Jones series. Specifically, it goes into how fans became just as dissatisfied with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and its “nuke the fridge” scene as they had been with the Star Wars prequels (yes, there is a clip of that insufferable South Park episode to drive the point home even more). At one point, film critic Rafik Djoumi talks about how fan dissatisfaction with that film was directed even more at Lucas than its actual director, Steven Spielberg.

Another factor adding fuel to that fire is Lucas’s refusal to allow the original cuts of the first three Star Wars films to be released on Blu-ray. We see fans reacting to his insistence that the revised versions are the only ones in existence by reproducing the original versions on their own.

But the film’s director, Star Wars fan Alexandre Philippe, insisted that the movie isn’t meant to be an anti-Lucas diatribe (although one gets that impression from the title). To his credit, the film does showcase fans who actually love the prequels and even Jar Jar Binks. Philippe also goes into a fair amount of detail about how Lucas began his filmmaking career with his unique works THX-1138 and American Graffiti, and how those two films culminated into the great achievement that was the original Star Wars.

One of the fans interviewed is Jason Nicholl, creator of the blog The film is dedicated to him, as he died prior to its release. A sequel is reportedly in the works, and will focus on the franchise since Lucas sold it to Disney in 2012.

Both Trekkies and The People vs. George Lucas are definitely worth a look for fans of these franchises. They both take a nice hard look at how people can be taken with something to the point of obsession. However, one could say that each film was made for different reasons. Trekkies was meant simply as a look at Trek fans, while The People vs. George Lucas was made because of how the fans’ relationship with the creator of their franchise has changed over the decades.

It must be noted that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry received some criticism from fans, specifically for how he insisted the Star Trek animated series that ran from 1973-1974 be ignored (and it’s still only occasionally mentioned in the annals of Trek lore), as well as the direction he took both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the first season of The Next Generation. However, Trekkies doesn’t throw much actual criticism in Roddenberry’s direction as People does with Lucas. Perhaps this is because Roddenberry died in 1991, and some say that TNG truly took flight after that (not to mention the debut of all the subsequent Trek shows).

Since these two films were released, their respective franchises have gone in somewhat different directions. The fifth Trek series Enterprise debuted in 2001 but plummeting ratings kept it from enjoying the same seven-season run as its three predecessors, and it was canceled in 2005. At the same time, the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis deservedly flopped, thus bringing the big screen adventures of Picard and his crew to an end.

Seven years after that, Trek got the same reboot treatment as Batman and James Bond. The 2009 Star Trek had the original crew now played by different actors. That film was successful enough to get two sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. But the passing of Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the reboot series, has left future reboot entries in doubt.

But a new Trek TV series Star Trek: Discovery is set to air on CBS in November. It was co-created by Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the first two entries in the Trek reboot series. Like Enterprise, this show takes place before the original Trek series. Here’s hoping that’s all it has in common with Enterprise.

As for Star Wars, Disney has given us a mixed bag so far. While The Force Awakens had more appealing main characters than the prequels, that didn’t change the fact that the film itself just repeated things we saw in the original film while simultaneously going the Alien 3 route of pissing all over the feeling of satisfaction the original movies left us with.

Rogue One, on the other hand, proved overall a better Star Wars prequel than the prequel trilogy. It was also a treat to see the late, great Peter Cushing (well, as close as we could get to him anyway) on the big screen again.

But Carrie Fisher’s passing soon after that film’s release has left a feeling of uncertainty about where to take the franchise next. Her scenes for the upcoming The Last Jedi were reportedly already shot before her death. But time will tell how the following entry in the sequel trilogy will go without her.

Time will also tell if Discovery or any of the many Star Wars films Disney doubtlessly has on the drawing board will do their respective franchises justice. I don’t doubt that Disney will keep squeezing cash out of Star Wars like it has with Marvel. But even if any future films are not embraced as classics, and even if Discovery doesn’t last a single season, they will, at least, remind us of the greatness of their respective original entries.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Agony Booth review: Licence to Kill (1989)

This article looks at the most controversial entry in the James Bond series.

Here now is the Licence to Kill review that I initially planned to write before Sir Roger Moore’s passing.

If any entry in the James Bond series can be described as “polarizing”, it’s this one. Some love it for its intensity and for the way it does something different with the Bond formula, while others dislike it for precisely the same reason.

Adding fuel to this fire is the fact that this was Timothy Dalton’s second and final appearance as 007. After Sir Roger officially hung up his Walther PPK with A View to a Kill, Pierce Brosnan was originally chosen to take over the role in the 15th Bond picture The Living Daylights. However, this led to renewed interested in Pierce Brosnan’s TV series Remington Steele and his contract for that show prevented him from taking the role. This eventually led to Dalton taking on the 007 mantle instead.

However, some fans (unfairly or not) were miffed that Brosnan was denied the role that seemed destined to be his, and so they almost made it a point to pick on Dalton’s Bond from the get-go. Daylights itself is entertaining enough, but just as there were fans who criticized Sir Roger for his lighter take on Bond, so too were some quick to point out that Dalton was trying too hard to be serious. And that fire was definitely fueled when Daylights proved successful enough for Dalton to reprise his role as Bond in Licence to Kill.

The film begins with Bond and his buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison, who previously played the role in Live and Let Die) en route to the latter’s wedding. Their trip is deferred when DEA agents arrive, telling Felix they have a chance to capture a ruthless drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).

After his henchman Dario (Benicio Del Toro, long before his Oscar win) cuts out the heart of the sap who was shagging Sanchez’s lady friend Lupe (Talisa Soto), Sanchez attempts to escape to Cuba by plane. But Bond manages to hook a cord onto it from the chopper that he and Felix are on. After that, the two pals parachute down to Felix’s wedding below, and cue title sequence.

During his interrogation, Sanchez informs DEA agent Ed Killifer (Everett McGill) that there’s a $2 million reward available for anyone who busts him out of prison. At the same time, Bond is enjoying Felix’s wedding reception. Actually, a bit too much I’d say, as he’s blatantly kissing the new Mrs. Leiter, Della (Priscilla Barnes). The newlyweds also give Bond a lighter with a flame that can go super high.

After Killifer stops by to wish the newlyweds well, he begins to transfer Sanchez to Quantico. But this trip doesn’t last long as Killifer KOs the driver of the truck, which eventually enables the drug lord to escape.

That night, Bond is bidding Felix and Della farewell after 007 politely refuses Della’s offer of her garter. This leads to a nice bit of continuity as Felix tells his wife that Bond was married once. But as is the case with all action films, the bad guys leap out of thin air just as the main hero disappears. Felix is knocked out and taken to what looks like an aquarium. Sanchez appears, and Felix is shocked that Killifer is involved in this, before Sanchez lowers Felix into a tank with a shark.

Felix curses Sanchez as the shark begins to munch on him.

The next morning, Bond pulls into an airport and learns that Sanchez has escaped (I guess it didn’t make the news sooner). He quickly bolts to Felix’s place, only to find Della dead and Felix mangled with a note saying, “He disagreed with something that ate him.” (The same thing happens to Felix in the novel of Live and Let Die).

Dalton gives us his Oscar Scene of Anger before Felix painfully stirs. Bond quickly sends for an ambulance, and a doctor says they’ll have to wait to see if Felix recovers.

With his pal Sharkey (Frank McRae), Bond finds the aquarium, which is owned by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). Investigating further, Bond finds cocaine hidden beneath maggots. 007 soon gives these maggots a nice feast when he disables a security guard before tossing him into the box with the maggots. Bond then disposes of another guard by throwing him into a tank with an electric eel.

Killifer then holds Bond at gunpoint, telling him to go to the shark tank where Felix was mangled. But Sharkey’s unexpected presence allows Bond to toss Killifer into the tank instead, along with the $2 million he got for changing sides.

This investigation leads to Bond’s boss M (Robert Brown, in his final appearance in the role) personally making an appearance to order Bond to drop this matter and go on to his next assignment. But Bond feels obliged to continue, given his history with Felix, and tenders his resignation. When M orders the surrender of his weapon, he quickly escapes and becomes a rogue agent.

Bond later sneaks into Felix’s home and uncovers a CD full of classified info that only he and Felix knew about. This CD reveals that only one of the informants on Sanchez is still alive: ex-CIA pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). The next day, Bond discovers Krest’s ship, the Wavekrest (which comes from the Bond short story “The Hildebrand Rarity” published in the For Your Eyes Only collection). Bond sneaks onboard and confronts Lupe, whom he recognizes from earlier in the film when he and Felix captured Sanchez. But all she offers him are her wooden line readings. Bond then discovers that Krest’s men have killed Sharkey, which leads 007 to kill those men before escaping with $5 million.

Bond traces Pam to a bar where he brings her up to speed. But Dario (who must be bad, since Pam says that the Contras kicked him out) and his thugs arrive to cause trouble. A shootout occurs before Bond and Pam escape in a speedboat. After some mandatory arguing, they agree to go to the fictional Republic of Isthmus to get Sanchez. And yes, this scene ends with the two of them making out in the boat (it’s a good thing Dario and his gang didn’t chase after them in one).

We next cut to London, where M chews out Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss, making her final appearance in the role) for making so many typing errors. I realize she misses James, but this makes me wonder how her job performance would have held up if his marriage had lasted longer. M also discovers that she’s been tracking Bond’s movements, and just flat out tells her that there are men on their way to Isthmus to intercept Bond. This plot exposition gives her plenty of info to pass along to Q (Desmond Llewelyn) over the phone.

James and Pam arrive in Isthmus, and Bond’s sexist nature proves as strong as ever when he informs a hotel maître-d that Pam is his secretary. The two later go to Sanchez’s estate, where the drug lord meets him after Bond chats with Lupe (making Pam jealous), and impresses everyone with his gambling skills. As he clandestinely views Sanchez’s office, Bond basically sweet-talks the drug lord into employing his services.

When he and Pam return to their hotel to discuss the matter, they’re informed that Bond’s uncle is awaiting them in their suite. Assuming the worst, Bond and Pam get ready, only to discover that the uncle is Q. Despite Bond’s protests, Q convinces him to use his gadgets.

One of these is toothpaste that’s a plastic explosive. This is just the thing Bond needs to get through the armored glass that lines Sanchez’s office. He’s also given a “signature gun”, which is a sniper’s rifle that only Bond can use.

After a “comedic” moment where Pam takes the master bed, forcing Bond and Q to sleep in the same room (with different beds, thankfully), Bond prepares for his hit on Sanchez the next evening. He stealthily places the toothpaste while Sanchez is hosting drug dealers from other parts of the world. Just as Bond prepares to set off the toothpaste, he sees Pam chatting with Sanchez’s head of security Heller (Don Stroud). The toothpaste blows away the glass, but Bond’s shot is disrupted by agents who turn out to be from the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau. They take him to a warehouse where one of them, who was posing as one of Sanchez’s guests, angrily tells Bond that he may have fucked up an attempt to get Sanchez which the Hong Kong guys had been planning for years. To add to 007’s bad luck, an MI6 agent named Fallon (Christopher Neame) appears with orders from M to bring Bond back. Before either he or the Hong Kong guys can do anything else, Sanchez’s men ambush them, killing everyone except an unconscious Bond (what a surprise!), who’s next seen waking up in a fancy bedroom.

As with many of the other Bond films, this leads to a moment where Bond dines with his opponent. He informs Sanchez that he was once a British agent, and that the previous night’s attack must have been by people on the hunt for him. Sanchez encourages Bond to relax at his place for the night. This, of course, leads to him sleeping with Lupe after she silently tells him she loves him.

When Bond returns to his hotel, he violently asks Pam WTF is going on. She tells him that Heller was about to make a deal with her that would have resulted in Sanchez’s capture. That is, until Bond took his shot. So that makes this two attempts to capture Sanchez that Bond fucked up! The only thing overshadowing the irony here is where this will lead in the end.

But Bond’s not one to let his fuck-ups get in the way of getting some action (of all kinds). He infiltrates Sanchez’s warehouse while Pam and Q cover for him. The former does so by distracting Sanchez’s middleman, a TV evangelist played by (wait for it) Wayne Newton!

Bond temporarily gets Sanchez off his trail by framing Krest when he places the stolen $5 million on the Wavekrest. In the film’s grisliest moment, Sanchez kills Krest by sticking him in a decompression chamber until his head explodes (Zerbe would go through something similar years later in Star Trek: Insurrection).

But Dario finds Bond out, and after setting fire to Sanchez’s cocaine lab, Bond is placed on a conveyor belt that leads to a rock shredder. But Pam shoots Dario, allowing Bond a chance to toss him into the shredder instead.

As the fire spreads, Bond and Pam also find Heller’s body while Sanchez escapes, with our heroes following him by plane. Three of Sanchez’s four tankers are destroyed, and the drug lord and Bond fight on top the remaining one before it goes down a hill. Both combatants survive, but as Sanchez is ready to hack Bond with his machete, Bond pulls out his new lighter and torches his opponent.

The film ends at a party, where Bond is chatting on the phone with a recovering Felix (who doesn’t seem too broken up over the fact that he’s now a widower). Here now is the film’s biggest WTF Moment when Felix says that M wants Bond to come back.

Okaaay, Bond went rogue, which resulted in not one but two official operations against Sanchez getting fucked up big time. Plus, Bond’s actions led to the deaths of both British and Hong Kong agents. The only possible explanation for M welcoming Bond back with open arms must be that M is happy that he now has fewer checks to sign.

I can certainly understand why some Bond fans love this film. It has a deadly serious tone that contrasts with what the previous decade’s worth of entries established. One could definitely call this the polar opposite of Moonraker. That film brought out great spectacle with great flamboyance, and it was the latter that turned some fans off. Licence to Kill, on the other hand, has a lot less humor and a more mundane plot. Like Max Zorin in A View to a Kill, Sanchez doesn’t seek to conquer the world, just a certain aspect of it, and any people who die in their attempt to achieve that goal are merely collateral damage.

But just as Moonraker was accused of going overboard with the lightheartedness, many fans (myself included) thought that Licence went overboard in its attempts to be more mundane. By doing so, it comes across as downright boring in some scenes, and “boring” is something Moonraker cannot be accused of. Both Davi and Del Toro make fine villains, but the movie doesn’t seem to pick up the speed you think it would once Bond resigns and goes out on his own. I appreciate that the story is set into motion because of Bond’s friendship with Felix, which makes the viewers believe that it will lead to a nerve-jolting climatic confrontation between Bond and Sanchez (a la the fight between Bond and Grant in From Russia with Love). But no, said fight scene just consists of Bond whipping out a gadget that wasn’t supplied by Q and the villain quickly becomes charcoal.

What staggers me, however, is that those fans who love this film insist that it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond. But as someone who’s read each book in that series more than once, I find it hard to agree with that sentiment. Not once did I imagine Bond to be as intense as Dalton plays him in either of his Bond outings. Now, before anyone says, “He’s closer to the books than Moore’s Bond,” as I once noted, both Connery and Moore gave the character a carefree aspect that I didn’t see in the books, which helped the film series become the great success it did. I can also say with 100% certainty that Bond never once frenched his BFF’s bride on her wedding day in any of the books.

This is not meant to knock Dalton, however. The success of the Bond films with Daniel Craig, who plays Bond in a similar manner, suggests that Dalton may have been ahead of his time with this interpretation. Both Connery and Moore’s Bonds thrived in a pre-9/11 world, whereas that tragic event made people crave more intense action heroes such as Jason Bourne. Craig’s Bond satisfied that desire perfectly (hence why some have called his Bond a Bourne knockoff).

In any case, Licence to Kill’s (relatively) lackluster reception coincided with legal issues that led to a drought of Bond movies for the next six years. During this time, Dalton resigned from playing Bond, which led to (for many) positive karma as Pierce Brosnan was finally able to play Bond when the series got back into production with Goldeneye.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Interview with Deborah Voorhees

This past week, my sister had another baby & I had the chance of chatting with the delightful Deborah Voorhees again.

Deborah Voorhees is best known among horror fans for her role in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (where she was credited as “Debi Sue Voorhees”) and coincidentally sharing the same surname as the film series’ murderous central character Jason.

But Deborah is also an accomplished writer, editor, and director. Her company Voorhees Films has produced numerous music videos and films, including the award-winning comedy Billy Shakespeare, which focuses on what may have happened if the famous playwright had been writing in modern times.

I previously had the pleasure of chatting with her for in 2014. While that publication is now defunct, the interview itself can be viewed on my blog.

In my second interview with Deborah, she discusses her new film The List, which horror fans can have a chance to participate in.

Tell us about your upcoming movie The List.

It’s about a serial killing socialite who creates a list of those who have wronged her and offs them one by one. It’s a horror-comedy, a blend of Psycho’s mystery and Dark Shadows and the comedy from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and John Waters’ Serial Mom and even some Young Frankenstein.

The List spawned from a 40-minute dark comedy called Catching Up. It’s about a widowed socialite who’s supposed to be helping an ex-con reintegrate into society, but her dark obsession with murder gets in the way of helping him.

I went black and white on the piece because black and white symbolizes fantasy, and Sally’s and Fred’s dark dialogue is so fantastical. When I first made it, I saw it as an experimental piece because it is a stage play put to film. It has the pacing of a theatrical play. Honestly, I had no idea I made something that horror fans would respond to, but I turned out to be so wrong. The reviews have been great. Apparently, I really didn’t know what I made. The fans have really responded to the dark dialogue. I decided to create The List literally while standing in the middle of the Texas Frightmare horror convention. So many fans told me how much they loved it that I knew I finally had the film I wanted to make for my horror fans. I decided to take the socialite to a whole new level, take her obsession to a full-fledged serial killer. A serial-killing socialite is just funny from the get go. Molly Wickwire-Sante played Sally so amazingly well that I am keeping her as my female lead in The List. She has this brilliant ability to change on a dime, go from charming to nuts in a millisecond.

I understand that fans can get a chance to take part in the film.

This is what I’m most excited about. This is actually a film that I’m doing specifically for my horror fans and horror fans in general. Without them, I wouldn’t make a scary movie. As you know, I am a huge chicken, so while I have seen some horror films, they are not on the top of my list to see. So without my fans encouraging me and sharing their love of the genre I probably never would have made a horror film. So I really owe this film to the fans. This is why I want them involved in all aspects from beginning to end. We are having several contests. One is a Best Kill contest. These ideas have to be comical and something unexpected with a twist. I will have a first, second, and third prize for the best kills. If I use someone’s kill idea, he or she will be credited in the film. We will have a Best Comedic Victim contest and a Meme Contest where fans can write a caption for a picture I will supply them with.

Our biggest competition is a chance to be murdered in The List. The outpouring of support has been amazing. I had no idea so many people wanted to die (laughs). This is our final competition, and for this, we will have a drawing. The winner will be flown out, put up in a hotel, and become a part of the cast for a day and be included in the film’s credits. To participate, people will need to be in the U.S., be at least 18 years old, and have the physical ability to work on the set for a long grueling day. [Ed.: Details can be found on the Voorhees Films website and on Facebook.]

One film you’ve directed that I enjoyed was Billy Shakespeare, which talks about the famous bard in modern times. Were you pleased with how it turned out?

This is another film where I didn’t know what I created. Someone told me that the film was a great romantic comedy, but I didn’t think of it as a romantic comedy. I thought I wrote a loving satire on Hollywood, but after being told it was a romantic comedy multiple times, I finally had to believe the fans.

There are pluses and minuses. Overall, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed making it. What was difficult was the amount of Shakespearean dialogue I used. Some couldn’t understand it. I’m glad I did it when and how I did it, but if I did it today, I would do it differently. I would probably work more on the plot rather than the jokes. The film has a lot of inside jokes. Probably a very small percentage of the population would’ve gotten all the jokes. You really can’t make a film that requires someone to be a professor of Shakespeare (laughs) to fully understand it. Overall, it was something I wanted to do and I love. Creating the film was my film school, and I loved every minute of making it. I couldn’t have made it with a more supportive and amazing cast and crew.

In addition, you’ve made a short film based on Othello as well as a music video based on Hamlet. Do you plan to bring any other of his plays to the screen?

It’s very possible. I love Shakespeare, and I love Devon Glover. We’ve done 3 music videos together. We’ll have to see. We showed the Hamlet piece at a film festival in England, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Film Festival. Hip Hop Hamlet and Othello also showed in Denmark at the Elsinore Shakespeare Conference celebrating the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death. I’m also looking at a modern interpretation of Othello as a thriller.

You’re obviously beloved for your onscreen work in films such as Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. With all the directing you now do, do you ever consider acting again?

I won’t say no, but I like being behind the camera best. But for some reason, I think it’d be cool to play a very old woman one of these days. Maybe I will play something really scary as an old woman. In Billy Shakespeare, I played one of the witches, and that was a blast.

Are there any other types of films you plan to make?

I have a sci-fi film I’m working on right now. I also have two romantic comedies I’ve written and I have a ghost story I’m working on, as well as another horror spoof. I like the ghost and horror comedy genres a lot. I’ve always loved dark comedies. I also have a western in the pipeline and a thriller.

Are there any directors that inspire you?

Edgar Wright! Absolutely. John Waters. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is a mad genius piece. There’s not a cut that’s not just complete and utter perfection. I like Wes Anderson’s quirkiness a lot. Some of Tarantino’s stuff is too bloody for me, but I appreciate the dark humor in Pulp Fiction.

You obviously love Shakespeare, but what other authors inspire you?

Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead, and David Mamet. His play Oleanna is about a woman who accuses her professor of sexually harassing her. The most fascinating aspect is that everything she says is correct, but he didn’t sexually harass her. It’s a very intricate play. I saw it performed in Dallas when I worked with the Dallas Morning News. The interesting aspect to that play is that his guilt or innocence hangs on the actors’ performances. I love Hitchcock, the mystery and twists that go with Psycho and The Birds. I love romantic comedies, such as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally… and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Voorhees Films has worked with rock and folk bands. Are there any specific groups that you’d like to work with?

There are so many bands I would love to work with. Songs with stories. I love working with a band called Gleewood.

Deborah, you’ve had such great experiences as an actress, writer, and director. Do you have any advice for anyone who wishes to become as diverse as you?

I live by Picasso’s saying… this isn’t verbatim but basically he says, I spend my days doing that which I cannot do, so that I may learn how to do it. This is how I live my life. Everyday I do things that I have no idea how to do, so I can learn how. In filmmaking, there are so many roles that anyone serious about creating films must do the same. Learn, learn, learn. This doesn’t mean you have to go to college for filmmaking. Sure, college is a wonderful experience, but it is so expensive today. Is it worth it? If you have the drive and ability to learn on your own, do it. You can learn anything you want online and in numerous workshops from pros. Do the work. Write, shoot, learn how to shape your light. Do a music video. Get the camera out and work it and see what works and what doesn’t. There are so many artists who are teaching master classes. Masters like Steve Martin and Aaron Sorkin have online classes.

The next advice is don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do your work. If you want to make a film, make a film. Make your mistakes, fall on your face. If you make something bad, that’s okay. You will learn and do better next time. If failure keeps you from trying again that’s okay, too. You’ve just learned filmmaking isn’t for you, but at least you tried. For those who push past their failures, awesome. Push on. Make your own way. When you do the work, and only when you do the work, do you give anyone a chance to notice you. And just maybe by the time you get noticed, you might not need anyone to greenlight a picture for you, because you will be able to do it yourself.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Agony Booth review: Stephen King's It (1990)

This is a review of a miniseries that first aired on ABC.
With a new cinematic version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It due to hit theaters in September, I thought I’d take a look at the previous adaptation of that classic novel: a miniseries which aired on ABC in the fall of 1990.

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who had previously directed the underappreciated Halloween III: Season of the Witch, this story begins with Maine librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) realizing that he must summon his six childhood friends back to their hometown of Derry when he discovers that recent murders of children are linked to a malevolent force which takes on the guise of a clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry). Mike and his friends thought they destroyed the entity thirty years earlier, and made a pact to return if Pennywise ever re-emerged.

Mike first calls Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas), who’s now a best-selling horror novelist living in England with his actress wife Audra (Olivia Hussey). Mike’s phone call prompts Bill to remember when his younger self (Jonathan Brandis) gave his kid brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) a paper boat. George went out to play with it in the rain, only to be murdered by Pennywise when the clown tore his arm off, killing him. Ben’s recollection makes him quickly hop on the next plane to the States, to Audra’s confusion and dismay.

The next call is to Ben Hanscom (John Ritter), who’s a successful architect living in New York. Mike’s call quickly ends his romantic evening as Ben soon goes to the top of a building under construction, booze in hand, and reminisces about his younger self (Brandon Crane), who was harassed because of his weight by town bully Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard). On his way home, having become smitten with new classmate Beverly Marsh (Emily Perkins), young Ben runs into Henry and his gang. They chase him down to a forested area known as the Barrens, where Ben eludes them, but not before Henry picks on Bill and Eddie Kaspbrak (Adam Faraizl). After the bullies leave, Ben befriends Bill and Eddie, and they agree to hang out together again. But as Ben returns home, he hears and sees his deceased father, inviting him to live with him in the sewers. Ben’s old man soon turns into Pennywise and this recollection prompts the adult Ben to tremble.

The third call is to the adult Beverly (Annette O’Toole), who’s a Chicago fashion designer. She receives Mike’s call after she and her abusive boyfriend Tom Rogan (Ryan Michael) are celebrating after making a successful deal for their business. When Tom strikes her for wanting to fulfill her promise to her friends, Beverly promptly kicks his ass and storms out. During her cab ride to the airport, Beverly reminisces about receiving an anonymous love note. Said note is from Ben, who watches from a distance as Beverly storms out of her house when her abusive father finds the note. Ben invites her to the Barrens where she meets Bill and Eddie. They are soon joined by preppy Stan Uris (Ben Heller) and comedic Richie Tozier (Seth Green, yes, that Seth Green). The six spend the afternoon building a damn which Ben has designed. On their way home, Ben notices the eyes Beverly and Bill are making at each other. That night, Beverly is washing up when she hears a voice in the bathroom sink. A balloon emerges from the sink and pops, splashing blood over her. She frantically informs her dad, but he apparently sees nothing amiss when he investigates. Beverly then assuages his doubts by saying that a spider came out of the sink. As her dad leaves, Beverly cowers in fear (both in the bathroom and in the cab) as Pennywise’s voice tells her she’ll die if she tries to stop him.

We next cut to Los Angeles, where adult Richie (Harry Anderson) is a successful comedian. Though he’s not laughing when Mike’s call comes through, and is soon vomiting in his bathroom. Richie’s flashback begins with the six friends watching the classic I Was a Teenage Werewolf at the movie theater. Eddie accidentally kicks popcorn onto Henry and his gang seated below them. Our six heroes bolt, but not before Richie spices things up by pouring his Coke on them.

At school the next day, Richie and Stan take note of how distraught their friends have recently become. Richie and Henry get into a brief scuffle, which is stopped by the principal, who orders Richie to get a mop to clean the mess up. Upon reaching the maintenance closet, Richie sees a werewolf that turns into a tormenting Pennywise. Racing back upstairs, Richie’s claims are (predictably) met with laughter.

The adult Eddie (Dennis Christopher), who runs a successful limousine business in New York, confesses to his overbearing mother that he must return to Derry. Despite her protests, Eddie promptly heads for the train station. En route, he reminisces about the time when his mom also told him to never take showers at the school gym so as not to get anyone else’s germs. But Eddie’s PE coach forces the issue, and we next see Eddie alone in the shower. The shower necks soon grow, pushing Eddie to the center of the shower. His asthma acts up when he sees Pennywise’s hand in the floor drain. The clown soon makes enough room to pop out and torment Eddie.

We next see Mike alone in the library reminiscing about the day he met his six friends. After his interest in Derry’s history unnerves his teacher, Mike is accosted by Henry and his gang. They chase him to where the other six kids are hanging out. Henry calls the seven “the Losers’ Club” and tells them to get lost, but they tell him to piss off by throwing rocks at the bullies. Henry leaves, promising to kill them. Mike thanks his new friends, and they celebrate by having a 1960s-style selfie with Mike’s camera. The “Lucky Seven”, as they now call themselves, next go through Mike’s book, which is a collection of town images his dad collected. They soon see that Pennywise figures in a number of pics from nearly two centuries earlier. One such picture comes to life in front of them, with Pennywise leaping forward, saying he’s their worst nightmare.

Mike’s flashback ends when he sees footprints in the library, along with a balloon, which pops. He’s frightened upon hearing Pennywise laugh.

The adult Stan (Richard Masur) is a real estate broker in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife are cuddling with Perfect Strangers playing in the background when Mike calls. When Mike informs him that Pennywise is back, Stan is unable to tell Mike that he’ll fulfill his promise to return, and after the call ends, he calmly tells his wife that’s he’s going upstairs to take a bath.

As he gets ready to do so, Stan flashes back to when he and the other prepared to go into Derry’s sewers to vanquish Pennywise. After some of them attempt to perfect their skills with a slingshot, Beverly is picked to do the honors when she gets perfect hits each time. The skeptical Stan is still unconvinced that Pennywise can be killed, but Bill produces silver projectiles that he says will do the trick if they believe they will.

Henry and his gang clandestinely follow the seven and soon kidnap Stan. But before they do him in, Pennywise emerges as a bright light and kills Henry’s two cronies. This gives Stan a chance to escape before Henry himself is left in a terrified state, his hair now white.

Stan reunites with his friends and they form a circle in order to combat Pennywise. But the clown quickly appears and is about to kill Stan when Eddie fights him with what he claims is battery acid. This gives Beverly the chance she needs to fire one of her spheres, which takes off a piece of the clown’s head, showing light beneath. Pennywise then forces himself into the sewer drain below, and after a brief struggle, seems to perish. Upon exiting the sewer, the seven make their pact to return to Derry if Pennywise isn’t dead.

The next scene is of Stan’s wife coming up to the bathroom, only to find her husband has slit his wrists. As she cries out, we see that Stan’s blood has spilled the word “IT” on the bathroom wall.

Part two of this miniseries begins with the remaining six friends reuniting. Bill visits Georgie’s grave and reunites with Mike, before Pennywise appears to them in a deck of Bicycle playing cards. Richie is tormented by It in the library, as is Ben when he returns to the spot near the sewers where he first saw It, and also Beverly when she visits her dad (whom It impersonates as a rotting corpse), and Eddie when he goes to the local general store.

Despite this terror, the six meet up for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and catch up, with Mike informing them that Henry was sent to an institution after he confessed to the killings 30 years earlier. Pennywise then prompts them to head to the library after their fortune cookies come apart in various sickening ways.

Once at the library, they learn that Stan is dead. When Mike opens his small fridge, balloons emerge before our heroes see what seems to be Stan’s head in the fridge. “Stan” greets them all before his voice becomes that of Pennywise, and a pouring rain comes down. The group form a circle to drive off It’s influence.

At the same time, Pennywise manages to get Henry out of his cell, but not before the clown renders Audra catatonic when she arrives in Derry to find her husband. Both go to the hotel that the six friends have regrouped at. Henry attacks Mike, while Pennywise distracts Ben in a scene reminiscent to one in The Shining by acting romantic with him using Beverly’s form (and I thought Frank-N-Furter making out with someone was nightmarish!). But the wounded Mike is saved by Ben and Eddie, with Henry killed in the brief struggle.

At the hospital, Ben and Beverly confess their love before they learn Mike will recover. In his hospital room, Mike tells Bill that he returned to the sewer a few years earlier and retrieved the silver spheres. But Mike’s five friends are still uncertain about combating Pennywise again, until Bill convinces them to do some soul searching.

While Richie remains reluctant, he joins the other four as they make their way down to It’s lair again. They discover Audra’s purse but press on, resisting the image of Georgie. Our heroes then find Pennywise’s hiding place, which is littered with many bodies hanging from the ceiling, including Audra. It then takes the form of a huge spider, which renders Bill, Ben, and Richie catatonic before Eddie works up the courage to distract it again. It then fatally wounds Eddie, giving Beverly a good shot, and freeing the other three. The wounded It scampers away, prompting all four to literally rip It to shreds before It can escape again.

With Pennywise finally vanquished, a recovered Mike notes that Richie has resumed his career, Ben and Beverly are married, and Bill is attempting to bring Audra back. Just as the couple is about to leave, Bill gets the idea to ride with Audra on his bicycle, Silver. The fast trip down Derry’s streets revives her, and the movie ends with them embracing, traffic be damned!

As is often the case, the book is better than the movie. However, this adaptation certainly does it justice. The moments with our heroes as children do a slightly better job at capturing the spirit of the book, but the adult actors are fine, as well. My only complaint is the spider Pennywise becomes at the climax, which is cheesy, to say the least.

But the scene-stealer is definitely Curry, whose Pennywise deservedly became a beloved horror icon. Interestingly enough, this aired at virtually the same time Rob Reiner’s great adaptation of King’s Misery hit cinemas.

While the climax could’ve used a little work, this is a nice, spooky film and more worthy of its title than Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Agony Booth review: Batman (1966-1968)

With the recent passing of Adam West, this article looks at the classic TV series that became his legacy.
The recent passing of Adam West (and in such close proximity to that of Sir Roger Moore!) has already led to a beautiful tribute to him being written on this site by one of my colleagues. So I’d like to take this opportunity to look back at the Batman TV series which aired on ABC from 1966-1968 and became West’s legacy. Specifically, I’ll look at five aspects that made the show, and by extension West, so endearing to millions.

1. The theme music

Despite the later films from Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan, I doubt there’s anybody that can think about music relating to Batman without hearing this show’s theme song in their minds, even for a brief moment. My oldest niece has even chanted it in the past.

Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme” instantly told audiences at the beginning of each episode of the series that they were in for a fun time. The animated title sequences which accompanied the music added to the fun. It’s no surprise that this theme song has been endlessly parodied in the decades since.

2. The villains

Of all the superheroes (whether from Marvel Comics, Dark Horse, or the Caped Crusader’s own DC Comics), Batman has always had the best rogues gallery. One advantage that a TV series often has over a movie series is that it can take its time developing numerous characters. The series understood that and took full advantage of its format to give us plenty of Batman’s adversaries in all their flamboyant glory. Both Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith, to this day, remain the definitive takes on the Riddler and the Penguin, respectively. This is because, unlike the subsequent movies with Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, the series allowed Gorshin and Meredith enough time to truly create these characters.

Then there was the Joker, played in the series by Cesar Romero. While Jack Nicholson and later Heath Ledger would become acclaimed for their takes on this character, Romero was the first to prove that a criminal wearing clown makeup could indeed pose a threat that only a superhero could deal with.

In addition, this series gave us not one, but three actresses playing Catwoman: Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether. All three were memorable in the role, showing great chemistry with West.

Newmar played Catwoman the most (in the show’s first two seasons), which is why she’s arguably the most remembered of the three actresses to play the role. But Kitt (who played Catwoman in the third season) and Meriwether (who played the role in the the 1966 theatrical film which premiered in between the show’s first two seasons) managed to be memorable in the role as well. Kitt’s Catwoman managed to break racial boundaries on TV at the same time that Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura was doing the same on Star Trek. While Meriwether only played the character in the movie, she did return in two subsequent episodes playing another character who, like Catwoman, was a love interest for Bruce Wayne. All three actresses did memorable work with the role because, unlike the Catwomen played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway, or Halle Berry, they were never overshadowed by confusing plot lines or less interesting villains.

Like many later Batman films, this series often had some of its villains team up against our hero. Indeed, the 1966 theatrical film had Batman fighting the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The good news is these villainous team ups were always fun, with each bad guy having their chance in the spotlight.

There were also Bat-villains that were made specifically for the series. Of these, my favorite is Egghead, played by Vincent Price. The character was a bald-headed mastermind with a penchant for placing the prefix “egg” on any words he could (such as “egg-xactly”, “egg-xchange”, “egg-xplitives”, and “egg-xquisite”). Price had already become a legend by the time this series premiered, hence he was already known for his on-screen villainy. His genius in playing bad guys was, in part, due to how he was clearly having the time of his life whenever he was acting villainous on screen. Egghead was certainly one of the finest examples of that, making Price a perfect fit for this series.

3. The cliffhangers

For the first two seasons of the series, Batman aired two episodes on consecutive nights each week. The first episode would always end with Batman and Robin being captured and about to be done away with by the Bat-villain of the week. An announcer (Batman series creator William Dozier, who wasn’t credited for the narration) would then wonder if this would be the end of the Dynamic Duo before advising viewers to tune into the next episode, “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

Yes, the desperate situation would be resolved within the first five minutes of the next episode, but this method succeeded in making the audience want to see that next episode.

Cliffhanger serials had been a staple of cinema throughout the 1920s-’50s, before the rise of television basically brought them to an end. There were even Batman serials in the 1940s. But while TV shows even in the ’60s occasionally had two-part episodes, none during that period could generate the wonderful sense of anticipation that Batman did for the next installment. Looking back today, one could argue that Batman doing this would pave the way for cliffhangers on future series, such as Dallas and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The show would air only once a week during its final season, with mainly self-contained stories. But the episodes would end with a tag announcing the villain Batman would lock horns with the following week, once again whetting our appetites for the next installment.

4. Robin

While some comic fans hate the fact that Batman’s sidekick even exists, there’s no doubt that this character became Watson to Batman’s Holmes. As played by Burt Ward, Dick Grayson/Robin was a nice compliment to West’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. Some may hate how often he said, “Holy (insert word), Batman!” Heck, Batman Forever even parodied this. But I must admit, I did have fun trying to figure out how many times Robin could express astonishment in that way (turns out it was a lot, and happened in pretty much every episode).

That aside, West and Ward never failed to show great teamwork during the show’s run, making the POWs! and OOOFs! that would appear on screen when our heroes fought bad guys endearing rather than insufferable. This helped make the show truly a comic book come to life.

Even when the show added Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Yvonne Craig) in its third season to revive ratings, Ward’s chemistry with West remained strong. They made the show’s simplistic morality as effective to kids as any after-school special. Heck, I’d say even more so, because what kid wouldn’t want to watch an after-school special with superheroes as the main characters?

ABC cancelled the series after three seasons and 120 episodes because of poor ratings. But NBC was willing to pick up the show for a fourth year. Tragically, the sets for the show had already been torn down before that deal was finalized.

5. Batman

None of the four strong previous points would have made this show a success had it not had a strong anchor in the lead role. West never failed in making Batman heroic and noble. While some may argue that later Batmans had cooler-looking Bat-suits, West’s Bat-attire was the textbook example of how to look super-heroic. His Batman was a perfect reflection of the optimistic spirit of the ’60s, as well as how Batman was presented in the comics at that time. The character himself became more lighthearted during the 1950s and ’60s, mainly because of concerns that superhero comics would be blamed for the corruption of America’s youth and come to the same premature end as grisly comics such as The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. So, whether you liked West’s Batman or not, you can’t say he wasn’t being true to the character as the comics portrayed him at the time.

While later Batmans were noted for being “darker” (in other words, less family-friendly), West managed to bring fun to the role by embracing how campy the proceedings were. While we may poke fun at some of the dialogue, West read those lines like nobody’s business (besides, I’m sure there are some people who would love to have Shark Repellent Bat-Spray at their disposal). His charisma made people actually want to play Batman themselves, something that none of the previous or subsequent Bat-actors managed to duplicate. In fact, the only one who came close was Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Caped Crusader on Batman: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox from 1992-1995.

West himself would voice a character on that series. In addition, he voiced Batman on several animated shows. This illustrates how, despite initial attempts to move past his superhero role, West would eventually embrace his legacy as Batman. This was proven when he and Ward played both themselves and their TV personas in the 2003 TV movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. Gorshin, Newmar, and Meriwether also appeared in the film, which revolves around the heroes’ attempt to retrieve the Batmobile they used on their show after it gets stolen. The film itself is a wonderful look at how not only the title characters, but the whole cast could laugh at and embrace who they were.

As a result, West would continue to entertain and inspire millions.

Farewell, old chum! You shall be missed, and thanks for giving the world such great entertainment.