Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sorry I didn't get to those Isis posts!

The week before winter vacation proved busier than I anticipated, with longer days.  Circumstances didn't leave much time for watching The Secrets of Isis, much less blogging about it.  I'm on vacation now so once again let me offer you a hollow promise of fun and frivolity to come.  But it will have to wait.  I'm about to spend a few days in Tokyo.  I'll do some comic book buying while I'm there, but most of what I find will be posted on my new blog about being an American comic book fan in Japan.  That's where I plan to talk about the latest books and news, leaving this blog for the good old stuff we all love so much.  Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Dani Moonstar, classic Marvel, Dell and EC and that sort of thing.

Happy Holidays, True Believers!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 17: "The Hitchhiker"

Curse your demonic charisma, Charlie!  Danger loving girls Hope and Joann cannot resist it, nor can they the illicit thrill of hitching rides.  Charlie and his buddy give the two friends the ride of a lifetime involving a high-speed police chase and a disaster narrowly avoided thanks to Isis's magical powers of molecular whammy-ma-doodling and time reversal.  This also leads to a sore time for Rick Mason as the horse he was riding bolts and injures his posterior region, but just when you think everyone's learned a lesson in responsible travel, Hope goes for another spin with Charlie instead of sensibly taking the city bus to the class picnic with Joann.  This time there's a speeding train involved.

The first few minutes of "The Hitchhiker" (September 18, 1976) are the most exciting of any Isis episode yet.  It starts like an Afterschool Special about rebellious teens, shows Charlie already in trouble with the law (he brazenly rips up a traffic ticket just moments after getting it) then goes into the chase sequence and still manages to put both Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason on horseback.  It features the most amazing special effect yet attempted by the Isis crew-- the goddess uses her magic to make Charlie's speeding car pass completely through a huge earth-moving machine (I initially identified it as a road grader, but I'm not so sure what it is other than it's huge and yellow like the best Tonka toy ever created) blocking the highway-- and their momentum sends the kids hurtling off a cliff.  Also their car.

A simple film-reversal brings them back but it's so intense and action-packed you're left wondering if you're watching The Secrets of Isis or The Streets of San Francisco.  Cereal bowls probably spilled across the US the morning this originally aired.

It's hard not to see the whole hitchhiking plot as a metaphor for sexual awakening or experimentation. Charlie, despite his unfortunate hair, is a happening young guy known as a "good driver," and cars have always been linked with sexuality (at least in urban legends and Beach Boys songs).  The initial encounter is like a make-out session at a party gone a bit too far, with Isis as the adult authority figure who steps in-- much like a timely chaperone-- to prevent complete disaster.  Joann gets the message, but Hope has tasted the wild life and wants more.  Later, she takes another ride with the dangerous Charlie but when he goes a bit too fast, Hope wants to back down.  Charlie tells her he thought she was going to be "fun," but things almost turn tragic when his junky car-- condom with a hole in it?-- stalls on the railroad tracks in front of the speeding train of impending teen pregnancy.  Driving home the point is the rift between the two girlfriends.  When one of a matched pair begins dating, the other person is often marginalized.  Even Rick Mason notices and comments on it, and he's dealing with a sore bum at the time.

This is yet another Isis with a high-powered guest star.  Barry Miller plays Charlie with gusto and provides such energy the episode tends to flatten when he's not around.  He later went on to co-star as the doomed Bobby C. in the John Travolta disco epic Saturday Night Fever, where his character dealt with teen pregnancy in a literal rather than metaphorical way.  And badly, at that.  He would also win a Tony for his portrayal of Arnold Epstein in the Broadway version of the Neil Simon play Biloxi Blues.  But I'm certain he has his Isis role in bold on his actor's resume and probably spotlights a few clips on his personal career highlight reel.

Here's where things get crazy, though-- and you might want to sit down for this next bit.  Miller also appeared twice on Isis's sibling show Shazam.  Incredibly, after that, Miller also managed a guest spot on The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.  All he needed was an Electra Woman and Dyna Girl role and he would have made history.  But I suppose winning a Tony is still pretty good.

Ronalda Douglas explores Cindy Lee territory in this episode.  With her Dorothy Hamill bob and chirpy voice, she's a similarly positive presence.  Strangely, though, while we learned nothing at all of Cindy Lee's home life, the producers give Douglas a lengthy and surprisingly funny exchange with Brian Cutler where it's revealed Rennie Carol has two car-crazy brothers and knows quite a bit about autos herself.  She provides the Cindy Lee voice of caution to Hope at one point, but the character comes across as every bit as cheerful as but a little less naive than Cindy.  I really liked that aspect of Joanna Pang's performance-- and with her eagerness to participate in academics, I imagine Cindy Lee as either an only child or else the oldest in a competitive yet sheltered middle class household.  Douglas's Rennie Carol more than likely shares a similar background, albeit as the youngest in her family.  I can't help wondering if we'll meet those brothers in a later episode.

Notes-- This is the second episode in a row we find Joanna Cameron and Brian Cutler on horseback, and the second in which we get a shot of Cutler riding hell-bent for leather.  Could the producers afford a stunt person, or did Cutler handle it all himself?  It's hard to tell in the long shot of Mason on his runaway ride.

The photography seems a bit murky at times, too.  Looks like they shot some of the scenes on a rare overcast day in sunny California.  This gives the early going a kind of low-rent moodiness and there's so much going on I couldn't help but think of some old MST3K flicks like Teenagers from Outer Space or the immortal Teenage Strangler.  The sound quality is also suspect, with the mix erring on the upper range, so the dialogue comes across as overly shrill at times.  Of course a lot of this is due to this material being nearly forty years old.  Who's going to spend the money to re-master old episodes of Isis and bring them up to current audio-visual standards?

That's not a rhetorical question.  I want to know who will volunteer to do humanity this service.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More Isis reviews and commentaries are on their way!

Sorry for the lack of Isis fun.  I'm not pulling a Cindy Lee and vanishing on you.  I'm just very busy with preparing tests for my own students.  So I suppose you could say I'm as fun as Rick Mason, as wise as Dr. Barnes and as good looking as Andrea Thomas.  Things ease off next week so there should be more time for watching the show and writing about it.  I'm also preparing a big post comparing the show's characters to their DC comic book counterparts.  It involves a lot of screen grabs and Photoshop magic so it's become quite a project unto itself.  Look for it in the near future.

I'll post when I can, Isis fans!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 16: "Seeing Eye Horse"

The title, "Seeing Eye Horse," (September 11, 1976) is no metaphor.  This episode delivers exactly what it promises.  Award-winning equestrian Noah Schuster has lost his sight, and when surgery does nothing to improve his situation, Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason arrange for the lad to receive a seeing eye horse.  It's a lovely gesture from some caring people, but it also leads to a lot of complications.  Noah's a bit horse-shy after having a riding accident (Isis saves him) and feeling a bit angry as well.  When he blunders into a water cooler and the broken glass reflects enough sun to start a smoldering fire, it's going to take both the horse and the Egyptian goddess to save the day-- unless Noah figures out a way to do that for himself first.

Confined to a single location and apparently taking place over the course of two eventful days (or else one really long one), this is one frantic Isis episode.  And you probably want to stay as far away from Noah as possible in the event his lousy luck is contagious.  Poor guy endures bad news from his doctor (veteran character actor James Griffith, who was once a musician with Spike Jones and His City Slickers, with an acting career spanning decades), a runaway horse incident, the kindness of Ms. Thomas, starting a fire, falling in a lake, being rescued by a horse, then tumbling into a small hollow and briefly losing the ability to walk.  That is one unfortunate kid.  Or, if you prefer optimism, a very fortunate kid when you consider he has friends like Thomas and Mr. Mason.  And let's not forget Rennie Carol, as Ronalda Douglas makes her Isis debut in this episode, replacing fan favorite (this fan anyway) Joanna Pang as Cindy Lee.

Pang's bubbly presence is certainly missed.  I couldn't help but feel a little sad not seeing her in the credits.  Her absence is even more apparent because Douglas only has a few brief scenes and maybe three or four lines total, which means there's a lack of student sidekick action.  Douglas does, however, boldly wear denim overalls in what seems to be a visual challenge to Pang's baby blues.  Shocking stuff for Isis!  My first impressions of Douglas involve her soft voice and gracefully soothing presence.  Pang might have played the same scenes in a more chipper, upbeat way, but Douglas is just so very gentle.  Remember-- Cindy Lee had her own storyline in the show's second episode before settling into the sidekick role.  Let's see if Rennie gets a similar spotlight, and if they develop her personality as distinct from Cindy's.

I only wish the show told us where Cindy went to establish a little more continuity.  Speaking of-- Thomas is still driving that yellow Firebird.  But this year is all about change, and not just switching out student assistants.  Isis gets a new wavy/curly goddess wig, one that isn't as successfully integrated into the character's look as the long, straight one she wore in the first season.  This one appears to be a sort of fall, with Joanna Cameron's real hair parted in the middle and combed back on the sides in an effort to disguise it.  Unfortunately, the wig matches neither the shade nor the texture of Cameron's natural hair.  Her Isis transformation gets a glamour shot cutaway and her flying take-off features a close-up this time, rather than re-using that overly familiar stock footage we're probably all tired of already.  There's a new flying shot as well, but it's a bit clumsy, with Isis viewed in profile.  The head-on view is much more effective.  Still, it's nice to see the producers spending a little more money on the effects, if only for variety's sake.

Brian Cutler must have enjoyed shooting this episode.  He gets to be a little heroic himself.  When Noah's horse-- spooked by a sonic boom from a passing jet-- bolts wildly down the lane, it's Mr. Mason who cowboys up and gallops in pursuit, doing that cool "rein whip" move you do when you're trying to head 'em off at the pass (I hate that cliche!).  Cameron also demonstrates her horseback skills as Thomas shows Noah how to operate Sunny, the seeing eye horse.

Overall, this is a solid sophomore season debut, with the leads providing their usual grounded performances and the guest stars doing their best despite a busy script.  Gregory Elliot as Noah has to flail around helplessly and interact with a horse but he acquits himself well enough.  Kathleen O'Malley as Mrs. Schuster, his mom, has an incredible filmography stretching all the way back to the 1920s, when she was a baby.  She played a nurse in the 1955 Henry Fonda/Jack Lemon/James Cagney classic Mister Roberts, acted in two episodes of Leave it to Beaver, appeared on The Munsters, Twilight Zone, Bonanaza, Emergency!, Mary Tyler Moore, Columbo and Baretta just to name a few.  She managed a western star bi-fecta by showing up in two Clint Eastwood flicks-- okay, Dirty Harry isn't a western-- and John Wayne's The Shootist.

What I don't understand is how they could let Noah just wander around when he storms off after rejecting Sunny.  No one bothers to look for him.  In fact, thanks to some wonky editing, it's almost as if everyone simply disappears from the farm at one point.

Notes-- Thomas drives around with Tut in the backseat of her car, on a bird perch.  She leaves him in there for hours, perhaps even overnight.  Even with the windows down, that's not the proper way to treat your
animal companion.

The scene where she demonstrates Sunny to Noah is pretty neat.  Cameron handles herself in the saddle like a regular Annie Oakley.  I'm guessing Annie Oakley rode horses as well as doing all those trick shots with Buffalo Bill's show, but I'm not old enough to have witnessed any of that first hand so I could be wrong.  Whatever the case may be, Cameron looks comfy and that's saying a lot for someone acting atop an animal, even a highly trained one.  At one point she has to let go of the reins and just sit there while Sunny does his (or her) stuff.  And I'm thinking she and Cutler relished the chance to do that kind of physical stuff.  Looks like fun.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 15: "Dreams of Flight"

Chela Montoya dreams of flight.  She's made a neat little red glider that soars freely above Larkspur High the same way she dreams of doing.  Well, not so much above Larkspur High as above the earth itself as an astronaut.  She's quite the young aerodynamic engineer, but feels hindered by her brother Raoul, who thinks she's wasting her time.  Meanwhile, cocky Mark Dawson in his surplus army shirt with PFC chevrons on the sleeves wants everyone to know he's Larkspur's top gun, cockily declaring to a disapproving trio of Andrea Thomas, Rick Mason and Cindy Lee he plans to win the school's Aerodynamics Day.  "No lack of confidence in that boy," Thomas observes.  Then she's off to convince Raoul to let Chela enter the contest.

Raoul's struggling with a problem of his own.  He's supposed to paint a huge mural for the barrio, but he's got artist's block.  A quick talk with Thomas and then another more heartfelt one with Chela solves both her problems and his.  But that dastardly Mark just won't leave well enough alone.  Several foot chases ensue, a thrilling runaway truck misadventure with Raoul trapped in a trailer and then a tense moment where Mark, having stolen Chela's remote control airplane, finds himself hanging on for dear life above certain death with only Raoul to... WAIT!  HERE COMES ISIS!

"Dreams of Flight," which aired December 13, 1975, has a lot on its mind.  Too much.  It completely lacks focus, almost as if at some story conference the production team decided to combine two unrelated scripts about a bright young woman into airplanes and a talented artist intimidated by too large a canvas.  Maybe the first felt too slight and the second didn't present enough Isis action, so instead we get this mishmash.  It's heavy on the action, but that action is somewhat repetitive, with Raoul chasing Mark on foot not once but twice.  The first chase leads to one of the more exciting Isis rescues-- the goddess has to stop a runaway semi-truck because Raoul's gotten himself locked in the back-- but it feels kind of random.  Getting stuck in the trailer is bad enough, but then the sequence extends as the driverless truck careens down a mountain road (conveniently hugging the curves) until we've almost forgotten all about poor Chela.

I have to admit when the show established the Chela-Raoul conflict, I expected Raoul to be a macho ethnic stereotype.  Instead, he's a gentle artist who quickly sees reason and comes to understand he has to back his sister's dreams.  Even when Mark shows up and taunts him with a lot of racist insults and ignorance, Raoul takes it in stride.  He's too good natured to let this goon upset him with pure foolishness, but when Mark starts dicking around with Chela's plane, Raoul chases the coward away.  As played by Fabian Gregory, Raoul's one of the more pleasant characters on a show chock full of them.  Cynthia Avila as Chela ends up shortchanged as the show shifts its focus to the conflict between Raoul and Mark.  If only they'd allowed the story to climax at the Aeronautics Festival!

That's the episode's major flaw.  We expect Chela to prove her mettle by beating Mark fair and square in front of the entire student body, but instead we get trucks and rescues with Chala shunted aside.  She wins her victory without even being present and we never get to see her in direct competition with Mark or anyone else for that matter.  I feel like Milhouse whining, "When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?"  You just don't introduce a story element that huge and then refuse to deliver.  It's the story's natural climax and logical end game for Chela's character arc, not this footchase nonsense and Mark's accident and patently phony turnaround with its dubious message-- if only people of color could save each and every bigot from almost certain death, we'd live in a more progressive world.  I do like the denouement with Raoul's mural displaying elements of Chela's dreams, from a boy playing with a model, to Chela herself swinging in a tire, a winged Aztec warrior, a paper airplane, to a bold astronaut figure.  It's actually quite a lovely creation.

And there's ol' Mark, sitting in the bushes, all covered in multicolored splotches of paint.

After all these years having her character denied a real triumph is probably no big deal to Avila.  Her career continues to this day, and she's peachy in her few scenes, ably conveying the sweetness and smarts of a young woman with big dreams.  Gregory and Hinckley didn't fare as well professionally.  This was Gregory's last credit as far as I can determine, and Hickley disappeared after a one-episode appearance on The Krofft Supershow, which gave us Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, certainly more colorful but in all other aspects inferior to Isis as far as I'm concerned.  No, I don't really care about people entering puberty with the help of Deidre Hall, thank you very much.  Krofft nostalgia is very 1990s and way too easy, like hacky jokes about Shaggy and Scooby Doo smoking pot or Smurfs having sex with Smurfette.  Cindy Lee wouldn't listen to that kind of crap and I suggest you practice mental hygiene and do the same.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  The guest actors on Isis.  Tom Williams, who has a quick scene as a helpful hobby shop owner, still does a lot of voice over work, most notably as a baby in approximately ten thousand TV shows and movies.  I guess that's his specialty.  He's also played cops and the like, which is probably to be expected of a tall middle-aged guy.  At least I hope he's still able to work.  He's in his eighties now, and his most recent credit was in 2006 as "Baby Ella" on the UPN sitcom Eve.  Guy's been in everything from Punk Brewster to The Torkelsons to Night Court to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Notes--  Larkspur High sure has a lot of science events.  They all seem to be fun as well as educational.  That's Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason for you-- the school was lucky when those two joined the faculty.  They're involved in the students' lives, knocking themselves out to make learning science enjoyable for everyone.  Any school would be thrilled to have two teachers like that!

Speaking of our teacher characters, I can't praise Joanna Cameron's performance as Thomas highly enough.  Whether she's encouraging Chela, verbally jousting with Mark, or giving Raoul a lesson in sibling support she's pitch-perfect in this episode.  Cameron easily could have headlined a prime-time TV show about a concerned and dedicated young teacher changing lives and boosting test scores even without the goddessy-superheroic trappings, and she still would have made it watchable.  There's never a sense of "Lord, I wish my career would take off and zephyr wind me out of here," just tons of charisma and complete commitment to making Thomas as believable as possible and Isis a dazzling role model.

Brian Cutler gives able support in his few scant scenes as well.

Sadly, we've come to the end of the Cindy Lee era.  She's not in this episode much, just at the beginning where she helps out with a little exposition and at the end declaring Raoul's painting to be "terrific!"  And wouldn't you know it-- she goes out the way she came in, wearing those baby blue overalls!  Sure, she starts the episode in a swinging blue miniskirt that Marcia Brady would kill to wear, but I can't think of a more fitting send-off for Cindy Lee than a last scene in those overalls.  Joanna Pang should have had them bronzed as a keepsake.  She might have if only she'd know this would be her final bow as Larkspur's perpetually cheerful factotum.

But don't worry, Isis fans.  We're going to keep on watching and commenting right through the Rennie Carol episodes.  I'm looking forward to them.  As I've noted before, I tuned into the second season of Isis only to feel let down by Cindy Lee's unexplained disappearance (that's still my only specific memory about watching this show).  I guess I just didn't like change.  Now I'm excited to figure out what Rennie Carol is all about.  Will she be as earnest and enthusiastic as Cindy Lee, or will she present a more low-key personality?  Whichever it is, she's definitely change the lead trio's chemistry.  And dietary habits.  No more deviled egg sandwiches for Rick Mason.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 14: "Scuba Duba"

Rick Mason is thoroughly disgusted with student Steve and his blatant disregard for scuba diving safety.  Steve lacks the patience and self-control necessary for scuba diving's many pre-dive checks and holds the buddy system in disdain.  This leads to a potentially tragic situation and only Larkspur High's resident goddess-- Cindy Lee-- can save the day.

No, just kidding again.  Of course it's Isis who help Steve learn a valuable lesson.

This is an episode heavy on the Rick Mason, which isn't a bad thing.  He's not like mayonaise, delicious in the proper proportions on a sandwich but ultimately overwhelming and muting even the sharp tang of mustard.  You can dollop Rick Mason on freely and he only brings out the best in your crisp, leafy greens such as lettuce and your thinly sliced deli meats.  I'm thinking turkey, but some of you may prefer ham or even roast beef.  Whatever you like, Rick Mason has you covered.  Brian Cutler gets to stretch a little and show greater range, within the still limited parameters of Isis.  It's not as if we're going to see an episode where Cutler gets to cut loose when Mason loses his fiance to heroin addiction or suffers a crisis of religious faith after witnessing a plane crash.  And that's okay.  We're not here for that.  We've seen flashes of the generally genial Mason's temper but "Scuba Duba" (airing December 6, 1975) shows him consistently frustrated with Steve, a nice enough but somewhat hard-headed guy who just seems determined to alienate the science teacher/scuba club sponsor.

When we first see Steve, he's excited about the possibility of photographing a rare eagle's nest.  His enthusiasm seems genuine and even endearing, and soon he's clambering down the side of a hill to get that snap.  Despite his apparent mountaineering experience and a stern warning from his more sensible friend Nancy (although practically everyone is more sensible than Steve; he makes show off Steve Elwood look like model citizen Cindy Lee), the danger-prone dude relies on a ratty old rope as his "safety" line.  It doesn't take long for him to come to grief, but luckily Andrea Thomas is on the scene with her own camera.  A quick change to Isis and Steve is free to bedevil poor Mr. Mason once more.  Twice more, in fact.

Born in 1953, Eileen "Nancy" Chesis had already been a series regular on The Tom Ewell Show (your guess is as good as mine) and clocked time on Bonanza (twice), but she seems to have made her debut on none other than Lassie.  After a guest appearance on Matt Helm, she apparently left the business, at least in front of the cameras.  Brian "Steve" Byers was a newcomer, having recently made his own debut on The Bob Newhart Show and he stuck it out long enough to play "Male Reporter #1" and "Medic" on two different episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 (although just thinking of a plot where he could have played "Male Reporter-Medic #1" on a single episode might provide fun for those of you stuck on the toilet for long periods... just waiting for something to happen).  Other credits include M*A*S*H, Three's Company, Joanie Loves Chachi and Full House.  Both give the solid, professional performances we've come to expect from Isis guest stars.  They aren't there to blow us away with flash and prove themselves the next Meryl Streep or Al Pacino.  They just have to be believable and sympathetic, and that's just what they do.

The show's underwater climax is quite exciting and the setting is a pleasant change of pace from the mountains and hills used in most episodes.  It has a novelty and a level of difficulty that appeals.  The scuba club appears to be diving in a very large lake or perhaps a cove or inlet, and once under, they encounter all kinds of underwater life, tall fronds of aquatic plants and whatnot that look more native to the ocean.  But what do I know about scuba diving?  My only experience with the sport is having some acquaintances who are PADI-certified.  I've always wanted to get certified myself, but despite my lifelong love for and interest in sharks (I've spent personal time studying them on my own, and fishing for them-- strictly catch-and-release-- off the Florida coast), I also have a strong phobia of them.  Specifically, being devoured by one while scuba diving.  I know fatal shark attacks while diving are at least as rare as fatal lightning strikes, but they're rarer still on land.

Notes--  Mason ultimately proves too nice for his own good.  Or maybe that's for the best for Steve.  It's not as if Steve's endangering anyone but himself, and this is one scare that directly impacts that aspect of the guy's personality; in this case, I truly believe he's learned a life lesson that will stick.  Although one thing that bugged me throughout the episode was the danger to the school's funding.  Kind of cold-blooded, you think?  Well, hear me out.

Mason and Ms. Thomas obviously have made Larkspur High one of the top academically performing schools in the state, which is why they get to have things like a scuba club in the first place.  That equipment is relatively expensive.  So Steve clowns around, gets himself seriously injured, or worse, killed-- then what happens to Rick Mason and Larkspur High?  Lawsuits, recriminations, possible firing, that's what.  Even though Mason has done everything humanly possible to prevent the tragedy, he's the one who will bear the brunt of the blame, and I seriously doubt the school board is willing to go down with him.  End result:  loss of a fine teacher, the collapse of the state's top academic program, the breaking of Dr. Barnes's mighty heart and declining resources left for Ms. Thomas.  Mason's career is on the line here, but so are the futures of many students like Cindy Lee and Nancy.

Sure, we worry (as does Mason) about Steve's young life, but it's also important to think of all the other consequences beyond just the grief counseling needed for his friends and classmates-- not to mention the devastation wrought on the guy's family-- if he'd managed to drown himself under Mason's supervision.  those are other reasons Mason is so angry at Steve, and why you should take some rules very seriously.  There's an Isis episode for you.

I think this way now that I'm an old person, but I probably would've been a complete Steve when I was 16 or 17.  Worse, even.

We also learn at the start of of this episode Andrea Thomas is a much better tennis player than Rick Mason.  I have to say Joanna Cameron looks like someone who knows how to handle a racket and I wish they'd thrown in a scene where she and Brian Cutler actually play a game.  Larkspur High's best science teachers are pretty well-rounded people when you think about it (and you should, rather than try to do something productive with your time).  Not only are they highly intelligent and motivated professional educators, but they're athletic and have their own outside interests--  Mason with his boating, scuba diving and pizza-eating and Thomas with her tennis prowess, trekking, bird-watching and nature photography.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 13: "Girl Driver"

The Larkspur High Car Club is holding its election for club president, and this time out it's highly controversial.  Why?  Because a girl is in the running!  Even though Frederica "Freddie" Charleton works at her dad's auto repair shop and really seems to know her stuff she can't get any respect from her male rival Mac Lennard.  After an accident that almost destroys the shop (both Freddie and Mac are to blame, at least according to Isis), the two become intractable enemies. Ms. Thomas, Mr. Mason and Cindy Lee talk them into competing in a rally to determine the better auto expert.  Mac is so determined not to lose to a girl he's willing to cheat to win, but when his little stunt puts his life in danger, a woman has to save him.  And that woman is none other than First Lady Betty Ford.

Just kidding.  It's actually Billy Jean King.  Cher.  Okay, okay, it's Tatum O'Neal.  Kristy MacNichol.  Evonne Goolagong.  Or Isis.  They're all great, so take your pick. As we've just seen in the 2012 presidential election, few things cause arguments as much as politics, even politics within a high school club.  And gender politics are still very much in play-- witness the gender divide in single women voting for Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney.  So while the whole "women's lib" movement and the Equal Rights Amendment were hot button topics back in the mid-1970s (seems like every sitcom did some variation on the "let's bet to see whose life is more challenging/women on strike" plots), the underlying concerns still bear addressing.  We've made progress, but in today's highly polarized United States, retrogressive types press their attack and hope to reverse all those hard-won gains.

"Girl Driver," its title a deliberate reference to any number of jokes and stupid cartoons about women and their supposed lack of driving skill aired on November 29, 1975, and uses its mild pro-feminist message as something of a red herring.  The lesson it really teaches is that cheating is wrong, and if you cheat, you'll probably get a nail in your tire and end up plunging off a ten-thousand foot cliff in your car, with only an Egyptian goddess to perch proudly on the hood and save you with gusts of wind.  Secondary to that is that men and women need to cooperate, especially in moving fallen telephone poles out of the road to a brighter future for us all.

Played with polish by Steve Doubet, Mac starts off seemingly a fairly good-natured guy, despite his frequent disparaging comments about Freddie's mechanical skills.  When the justifiably offended Freddie angrily declares him a "chauvinist pig," he laughs it off with an easy-going, "That's me!  Oink oink."  He's even quick to shout a warning when a gas spill outside the garage catches fire.  Not that yelling, "Watch out!  If those drums ignite, this whole place will blow up!" particularly helps anyone.  But he quickly turns creepy and alarmingly rage-fueled, first challenging Freddie to a dangerous drag race, then pulling his little trick during the rally.  Luckily he's already softening his stance even before his brush with death.

This leads to an amazing scene where Mac's car swerves off the road and over the cliff, with a close-up of his horrified face as he falls down... down... down... I mean really, they must have held this rally in the Himalayas.  Then Isis swoops in and poses goddess-like on the car's hood while saving Mac.  It involves another chromakey shot but at least they're trying something new.  I can't help but remember the scene in The Blues Brothers when the stationwagon of Illinois Nazis flies off the overpass construction which apparently wasmeant to allow drive-through access to the top floor of the Sears Tower.

Speaking of girl drivers, is that Cindy Lee behind the wheel at the episode's start, chauffeuring Andrea Thomas around and talking a mad streak about the car club election?  Why, it is!  According to Joanna Pang in her Isis DVD interview, she couldn't really drive a stick shift at the time, so it wasn't the easiest scene to shoot.  My dad was a stickler for teaching my brothers and me how to drive standard transmission.  "Learn to drive standard and you can drive almost anything.  Learn just automatic, and you're limited in emergencies." I'm sure Freddie would agree.

Susan Lawrence takes this role, and she's more than a match for Doubet.  They have a nice bickering chemistry that makes their scenes together work better than a Saturday morning children's show really deserves, but then Isis always seems to do right with its guest stars.  The performances are sometimes a bit broad, but these shows shot fast and there probably wasn't time for a lot of character building.  Casting well solves most problems, and Filmation must have hired a crackerjack casting director for their shows.

Both Lawrence and Doubet are typical of the Isis guests, capable pros with extensive 1970s resumes featuring guest appearances on various sitcoms and hour-long dramas, their careers petering out in the 1980s.  Not everyone can be a Debralee Scott.  Lawrence played a Horshack relative on Welcome Back, Kotter and became a regular on the Dr. Shrinker live-action show, one of those Sid  and Marty Krofft joints you half-believe you dreamed while running a high fever.  She also appeared on two episodes of Mork and Mindy.  Doubet knocked around a little longer, doing time on soap operas like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, turning up twice on The Love Boat, once on Dynasty and even landing a one-time spot on Trapper John, M.D. as "Reporter #2."  I wonder if he and Christopher Norris bonded over their Isis appearances.

Notes-- Once again, Cindy Lee acts as the faculty's girl-on-the-inside, just full of juicy and helpful tidbits of info on her classmates.  Some might call her a gossip, but I believe it's just because she's so involved in student life. Larkspur High is everything to that crazy kid.  She's also safety conscious.  When Mac's insulting challenge to a drag race proves more than Freddie can stand, it's a quick-thinking Cindy Lee who cools her jets and prevents her from making a serious mistake.

Dr. Barnes makes damn sure the two contestants know a rally is not the same as a race, but a test of accuracy.  Isis's concern-- beyond Mac's safety-- is getting the two enemies to learn to cooperate. I think that's a noble thing, and we could all learn a thing or two from the wise goddess.  Mac's conversion at the end is earned more than Carrie Anson's from the previous episode-- after all, we watched that guy plummet almost to his death.  It's amazing he can even function after such a thing, but there he is, offering not only his hand in congratulations, but his vote for Freddie as club president.  Another heartwarming turnabout for The Secrets of Isis.

It wouldn't be a 70s TV show without some awesome outfits.  Cindy breaks out her adorable "having fun in the sun" patchwork outfit for the rally, but early in the episode she rocks some mighty jeans.  Dr. Barnes sports a sweet denim jacket ensemble, but Rick Mason wins the couture award for this episode with his sweet blue print shirt.  Of course it's hard to argue with Andrea Thomas's short shorts.  Oink oink.

 Finally, this must be southern California, because all these kids drive convertibles.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 12: "Funny Gal"

Every school has a clown.  I don't mean the grease-painted kind.  I mean the class clown.  I imagine even North Korean high schools have classroom comedians who can tell some mean greedy, imperialistic American jokes and have their the other students rolling on the floor with laughter.  Larkspur High's resident jokester is Carrie Anson, but most of hers are directed towards herself.  The comedic impulse often springs from self-loathing, as a kind of coping mechanism.  So it is with Carrie.

Carrie has body issues and chooses to express her feelings by making everything a goof, a lark.  Everyone's friend Cindy Lee tries to help Carrie by suggesting she run for student body president.  Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason think that's a splendid idea, and talk Carrie's friend Greg into nominating her and running her campaign.  Things get a little out of hand when Carrie overhears part of a conversation where Greg makes disparaging remarks about her (he's actually voicing the secret message Carrie sends with every joke) and it drives her into a shame spiral that culminates in a bizarre and dangerous publicity stunt-- Carrie steals Mr. Mason's prized motor boat.  With a storm coming, Isis is going to need help from none other than Captain Marvel himself to save the wayward girl and convince her she has value to everyone.

Yes, it's "Funny Gal"  (November 22, 1975), with a special guest appearance by John Davey, the second Captain Marvel of Isis's sibling show Shazam!, who just happens to be cleaning up the road-- literally; he moves a large fallen tree out of the right-of-way-- near Larkspur.  After that, it's just a short flight to where Isis is battling the elements with her magic.  I'm not sure why a simple thunderstorm is beyond Isis's capabilities, since she's previous displayed power over time itself, but anything that gets two costumed heroes working side-by-side gets my vote as a successful episode.  And besides this week's problem student herself, everyone seems to get some humorous lines this time out in what-- by mild-mannered Isis standards-- is a pretty witty script.

Sandra Vacey's Carrie is less funny gal than playfully melodramatic gal, given to theatrical pronouncements.  She also owns a megaphone and a junker of a car.  She uses both to try to organize a fast-food caravan, but her brakes go out leading to the first Isis rescue of the show.  Isis tries to convince the girl there are more important things than having a svelte body so boys will like her.  That's easy for Isis to say.  Not only is she a goddess, but she's lean and muscular like a 1970s tennis pro.  But this episode has one of the show's better lessons-- you have to learn to love yourself no matter how hammered by media presentations of beauty standards hammer you.  Look for your own talents and develop them, and don't try to hide who you really are.

Body concerns continue to plague young women even today, which suggests what progress we've made since 1975 hasn't been enough.  Unfortunately, the episode's message gets a little garbled during the boat theft stunt.  Carrie comes to realize her self-worth only because superheroes are willing to rescue her and it's a turnaround that comes a little too quickly for believability's sake.  I'm left wondering if Carrie really learned her lesson or if she was merely trying to dodge the blame for grand larceny.  I suppose Rick Mason is too nice a guy to press charges, but he really could have made Carrie's life a worse hell than she's already convinced it is.

Speaking of hells, my old high school was a vicious place but at least my time there fell chronologically between when Isis aired and when kids starting shooting each other.  We were pretty rotten, though.  Larkspur High must be the most pleasant high school in the nation, if not the universe.  While students can be hard on outsiders like Wayne Moss, the only person who picks on Carrie is herself, at least as far as we're shown.  She seems to be fairly well-liked.  Of course not all personal problems are external in origin.  Sometimes the vulnerable among us convince themselves of the worst things with no help from bullies or even the merely insensitive.  Still, Carrie's lucky to have friends like Greg and Cindy Lee, plus caring teachers like Mason and Thomas.  I can see her turning more and more to the performing arts, maybe joining an improv comedy class and working her way up through the show-biz ranks.  Imagine a world where Carrie Anson, after a few successful appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman ends up headlining her own ABC sitcom a la Roseanne.

It would probably turn into a real bummer like Grace Under Fire starring Brett Butler, so maybe that's not such a good thing after all.  How about a short stint as a writer-performer on Saturday Night Live, then a collaboration with Ben Stiller on his old sketch comedy show?  Maybe she'd be doing something critically acclaimed but little-watched on NBC.  Better?


Notes--  Appropriate, I suppose, for the first episode since "Fool's Dare" to deal with the problems of a female student, "Funny Gal" mines some mild humor out of Rick Mason's mild mannered mid-1970s male chauvinism.  Thomas and Cindy invite him to a picnic lunch, so he decides to mooch rather than bring his own spread.  He manages to guilt them into giving him some of Thomas's famous fried chicken and one of Cindy's deviled egg sandwiches.

"You know something, Mr. Mason," Cindy opines, "I think you ought to get married."

"I'm going to," Mason replies soberly.

Thomas looks at him in surprise.  "You are?  When?"

"As soon as I find someone who looks like Isis," Mason tells her.  His eyes dart playfully to Cindy as if to tell her a joke is in the offing.  And here it is:  "And cooks like you."

"If that's your attitude towards women, you're going to end up a very old and hungry bachelor," Thomas says, smirking ever so slightly.

He's also apparently tricked the two into cleaning his boat for him (multiple times!), so he's kind of a con artist, too.  I know it's just a way for the episode to establish Mason has a boat-- you know, in order for Carrie to steal it later without having to create a whole new boat-owning character-- but how's he able to afford a boat on a teacher's salary?  Something odd is going on.  Probably not as odd as his love for meaty pizza pies with strawberry jam among the toppings, though.  Week by week we unpeel Rick Mason like an onion and discover new layers to his personality, while lead character Andrea Thomas remains largely a mystery.  Perhaps she simply has no hidden quirks.  Self-actualized, that's what she is.

Cindy Lee breaks out of the overalls and busts her hump down at the marina while wearing that patchwork culottes outfit she last wore in episode 6, "Lucky." Must be her tropical/resort wear.  Or maybe the overalls were in the wash.  Isis knows they could stand a vacation!

There's a slick little flying effect where Isis soars past the high school on her way to save Carrie.  They must have suspended Joanna Cameron somehow.  I'm not sure how secure the flying rig was, but Carmeron wears that confident Isis expression on her face, so either it was pretty safe or she deserved an Emmy award.  She then uses her magic powers to flip Carrie's out-of-control car around (without using a rhyming couplet-- maybe the scripters misplaced their rhyming dictionaries).  They use a simple film edit, but the shot also involves a super-imposed Isis in the foreground.  Along with boat rental and whatever equipment they used for the scene where Captain Marvel physically tows the boat to safety this must have been one of the more expensive episodes to date.

I like that Captain Marvel actor Davey (he later played a ton of roles in both The Rockford Files and Barnaby Jones, two shows I used to love back in those days) doesn't try to deepen his voice to sound more heroic, but he doesn't have a lot of vocal presence.  Seems kind of like the beefy guy next door, who just happens to enjoy cavorting in red tights and a white cape for a little post-office stress relief.  Nice dive, though!

Sandra Vacey's last credit is for the disastrous heist film Every Girl Should Have One where she appeared with John LaZar (formerly the bizarre Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell of "This is my happening and it freaks me out!" Beyond the Valley of the Dolls infamy and later the villain of Deathstalker II) and Zsa Zsa Gabor.  She's just fine in this episode, so it's surprising she didn't keep at it.  On the other hand, how can you top performing with John Lazar and Zsa Zsa Gabor?  Better to call it quits.

One little slip-up.  The opening scene apparently takes place in the late afternoon, as evidenced by the long shadows and golden light, but a few moments later as Carrie's car goes out of control, the shadows are all short and directly beneath objects indicating a shooting time closer to noon.  Boy,  I really hope someone got fired for that blunder!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 11: "No Drums, No Trumpets"

It's the big Larkspur High Science Fair and Fred Weiting is sure to win because, as Rick Mason says, he's the school's favorite radio ham... er... amateur radio operator.  I'm not exactly sure how a demonstration of a readily available technology deserves first place over homemade baking soda volcanoes and whatever amazing demonstration Cindy Lee has no doubt devised and sure enough, when Fred can't even contact Dr. Barnes by radio from fifty feet away his effort is doomed.  Infuriated at losing, he roars out of the parking lot.  He even takes his car!  Andrea Thomas, Rick Mason and Fred's friend Dorothy give chase, but it takes Isis to save the guy from himself.  On the way back to the city-- they must have chased Fred a good twenty miles-- Ms. Thomas and students end up prisoners of a group of mild-mannered crooks in a ghost town.  Thomas can't find her Isis amulet, so she has to convince the downhearted Fred to use his ham-- er --- radio skills to save the day.

Incredibly, Cindy Lee has only a minor part to play in "No Drums, No Trumpets" (airing November 15, 1975), and there's precious little Isis.  Most of the episode is given over to Ms. Thomas Fred, Dorothy and their unfortunate happenstance with the criminals.  And, as per usual, the desperate outlaws aren't so desperate they'll add murder to their list of depredations.  No one is in any real danger.  Suspense comes from Ms. Thomas's efforts at outsmarting the villains while keeping her identity as Isis a secret.

This is a solid episode, kind of a live-action Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? complete with crooks trying to fool people into thinking a ghost town is, in fact, haunted.  I've never understood this logic.  If anything, ghosts would attract more interest and visitors.  This particular ghost town is more dusty than creepy, but it's a nice change from the same old mountain, woods or lake settings for these little morality tales.  There's an exciting car chase, and a last-minute wind assisted rescue by Isis-- all in the first seven minutes.  The most remarkable thing about "No Trumpets," however, is Mark Lambert's performance as Fred.  He's the kind of guy who bristles when called a "ham," quick to point out the correct nomenclature in a supercilious way, but Lambert gives the moment an ever-so-slight tongue-in-cheek spin.  He reminds me a lot of Peter Scolari, an underappreciated actor if there ever was one.

Lambert is apparently one of the most accomplished and well-rounded performers among the Isis guest students.  According to IMDB, he's performed in Eugene O'Neill plays as well as Shakespeare at the Young Vic in London and movies with Cate Blanchett, Pierce Brosnan and Kate Winslet.  Almost as impressive is his musical work.  He contributed singing overdubs to the film Cabaret (1972) and originated the role of Henrik Egerman in the musical comedy A Little Night Music.  That is, if IMDB and the IBDB (Internet Broadway Database) are to be believed.  He's not listed on IMDB as having anything to do with Cabaret, but with plenty of UK television drama credits.  There are other Mark Lamberts in the world, you know and IMDB is full of screwed-up credits.  I prefer to believe all of the above information is correct because it sure would be cool to think someone like that passed through the Isis call sheets.

His gal pal Dorothy is played by Christopher Norris, who went on to become a regular on the TV series Trapper John, M.D., co-starring as Nurse Gloria Brancusi.  This much I know is true.  I was a huge Trapper John fan so I would recognize Norris and her name anywhere.  Okay, I wasn't that much of a Trapper John fan.  I just watched it because it was on, and most of the time I had to miss the last half of every episode because of my bedtime and I assumed the patient died at the end of each story.  These days I wonder, "Why was I watching half an episode of Trapper John, M.D. each week?  What did I gain?  A pessimistic worldview?"

A few notes-- Ms. Thomas's Firebird is still yellow.  Mr. Mason, on the other hand, drives a white VW Thing.  Remember the VW Thing?  We learn Thomas spends at least some of her free time exploring the desert, going into caves and whatnot.  Cindy does have a little comical moment to call her own-- Dr. Barnes mistakenly refers to "hams" and she tells him, "Not hams, Dr. Barnes.  Radio amateurs."  Lucky for her Dr. Barnes is such a kindly soul.  Larkspur High must be in the city of Larkspur, since Fred refers to his location as the "Larkspur ghost town."

The episode's  title intrigues me.  Some Google research shows a 1961 non-fiction book by Barry Wynne by the same name.  It's about a French woman who helped children and British soldiers during WWII.  There's another book by that name by Mary Ferebee Howard.  It tells of her own Red Cross work during the war.  There's also a 1966 episode of The Virginian.  And finally, a 1988 episode of the sci-fi cartoon Bravestarr.  The two books could possibly relate to Isis-- a strong woman aiding others in need.  As for the others, I detect no common theme.  Is this a phrase from a poem?  Is there an allusion to something here I've missed?

I could research this further but it's almost 9pm on a Sunday night and I'm dead tired.  Good night , Isis fans, wherever you are!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 10: "The Outsider"

Former child star Mitch Vogel (he had a recurring role on the last seasons of Bonanza and appeared with Tim "Otter" Matheson in Yours, Mine and Ours, the 1968 film where Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball play two people with a thousand children each who marry each other and populate an entire town with their offspring) guests as Wayne Moss, the titular outsider of Isis episode 10, "The Outsider," which aired November 8, 1975.  Wayne is a nature-loving newcomer to the big city and Andrea Thomas is so beside herself with joy at having a brilliant new biology student she's hitting up the school for more science equipment.  All this fuss over one measly guy when there's still Cindy Lee!  Cindy's not to upset about being bumped from the top of the teacher's pet ladder, though.  See, jealousy and sour grapes just aren't in her nature.  She's just too nice, so nice that when Wayne comes under suspicion for stealing the raccoon mascot of a rival school's football team, Cindy follows him to his private spot, a secluded lake area teeming with wildlife.  The two students bond over a mutual love for little critters such as ducks and snowy owls.  Cindy's admiration for the seemingly gentle Wayne is apparent in the starry-eyed way she gazes at him.  At least until Wayne finds out the area's slated for development into a ritzy subdivision.  Then he goes on a destructive rampage, first attacking a sign and, when he can't get the more sober and responsible citizen Cindy to help him vandalize it, atop a bulldozer.

"Jump off!  Jump off!  Get off before you get hurt!" Cindy shouts, but it takes Isis and a giant boulder to save Wayne.  Ms. Thomas and Rick Mason soon join Wayne's environmental crusade, but the real raccoon-nappers have a problem-- the little furry fella is sick as can be.  Only one person can help them.  Former California governor Ronald Reagan.  But they'll settle for Wayne Moss.

This is a rebound to glory episode, kind of heavy handed, but it benefits both from a lack of fake gorillas and from an incredibly intense performance from Vogel.  His Moss is equal parts John Denver, Huckleberry Finn and barely suppressed rage until he spots the sign advertising the real estate development and turns into a complete maniac.    Despite being kid-vid, Isis doesn't shrink from showing this side of him and making it frightening.  At times it's almost as if he wandered in from a show aimed at a more mature audience like The White Shadow or Family, or even a 1970s horror movie about a bullied teen with supernatural powers.  When the kids tease him, his glower is so intimidating you almost expect him to Carrie White-out on them and telepathically command the animals of the forest to emerge and rip everyone to shreds.  But once he realizes he's going about things the wrong way and calms himself, most people end up respecting the lad's passion and affinity for wildlife.  Pretty soon even the construction foreman is offering to delay draining the lake-- a process that involves dynamiting a dam-- until Mason can use his powers of persuasion on Mr. Winstead, a rich land tycoon who loves golf as much as Wayne Moss loves snowy owls.

The runaway bulldozer scene is pretty wild and provides a mid-episode action spike that contrasts nicely with the gentle scenes of Wayne and Cindy Lee holding hands as they wander around the meadows and forests near the lake viewing stock footage of squirrels.  It almost seems at times the out-of-control machine is going to crush Cindy beneath its treads while Wayne protests the controls "are frozen" and "won't work."  Or maybe the problem is a bulldozer is a fairly complex piece of machinery you don't have any business trying to operate, kid!

Interestingly, there isn't any real antagonist in this episode.  It's more a story of ideas.  Even the two oafs who bully Wayne and try to frame him for raccoon-napping quickly repent when the animal gets sick and the foreman folds after just a few words from Wayne.  Meanwhile, Rick Mason must be a silver-tongued devil indeed because it doesn't take him long to convince Winstead to eat the millions of dollars he's already spent on the land and even more he stands to profit from his plans.  The biggest moment of suspense comes when Isis has just a few seconds to stop some lit dynamite from going off, but instead of flying up to it quickly, she takes the long way around by running.  Well, she knows what she's doing.  And wow, what an explosion they have for us, folks!

A recurring element in Isis is whenever a student wanders off, all Thomas and Mason have to do is ask Cindy about his or her habits.  She knows everything there is to know about each and every one of her classmates.  I say classmates because all along I've been assuming she's a student (I love the idea of a Cindy Lee who admires Thomas and Mason and loves her school so passionately she wants to spend every waking hour there, kind of like a girl Max Fischer, but with excellent grades), but I have to admit at times her position at Larkspur High is a little ambiguous.  Supporting my student theory is her response to Thomas's assertion that Wayne knows more about plants and animals than any student she's ever taught:  "The rest of us could learn from him."

Speaking of ambiguity, Mason appears to be somewhat senior to Thomas in this episode.  The DC comic states outright he's her boss, but perhaps the show's Mason is merely assigned to the budget committee or acting as Dr. Barnes's hatchet person here. 

And I wonder about "the pond on the old Wilson property."  It looks an awful lot like the lake where Andy Taylor used to take Opie fishing.  I should ask Cindy Lee.  She'll know.  By the way-- yes, she rocks the overalls again!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 9: "The Show Off"

Little Steve Elwood has a Napoleonic complex which leads him to take dangerous chances, impressing approximately nobody.  The first time we see him, he's angrily climbed a ladder to hang a banner despite being begged by practically everyone not to.  I suppose he thinks that's the way to make friends-- act contrary, then dangle helplessly from a rooftop until Isis shows up.  And is Steve grateful?  He is not.  He feels humiliated by the goddess' interference.  Later, on the Science Club camping trip, Cindy Lee somehow gets her foot stuck in a bear trap.  She's not hurt, but Steve once again tries to make himself a big man by freeing her.  He fails because he doesn't read the instructions on the trap.  When Andrea Thomas talks to him and he reveals himself as an expert ornithologist, Steve realizes what a fool he's been.  Just in time for an escaped gorilla to trap him in a cave along with Cindy Lee, Rick Mason and another student.

Yes.  An escaped gorilla.

Okay, I thought the bear attack in "Rockhound's Roost" was laughably bad, but Isis reaches its first season nadir in "The Show Off," which aired November 1, 1975-- kind of a late Halloween trick played on its unfortunate fans, but not enough to destroy the show.  The script is full of neat little quips and the Steve Elwood part is fine (plus his last name reminds me of the Blues Brothers, which is never a bad thing unless we're talking Blues Brothers 2000, which we're not and never will), just some standard Isis fare about a troubled student getting himself into problems on his way to maturity.  Where the show goes off the rails is someone in power apparently decided Steve's little dilemma wasn't worthy enough for an entire episode.  Bizarre plot twist time!

Even before we see the gorilla we're already anticipating the horrors of a Saturday-morning ape costume-- shades of the vastly superior Tracy the Gorilla from The Ghost Busters-- but really, this whole thing is completely out of left field.  It's not even foreshadowed, basic Drama 101 stuff.  All you have to do is have some dialogue referencing a circus coming to town, or at some point have the characters listen to a radio report about an escaped gorilla.  They foreshadow Cindy Lee's animal trap misadventure and that hardly takes a minute of storytime to play out to its resolution.  The gorilla is the show's big finale and nada.  Zilch.  Non sequitor.

Really, this could hardly have been more ridiculous if they'd had the gorilla turn out to be female with the hots for Rick Mason and Isis soaring to the rescue before some kind of half-assed ape-human wedding.  It's as if someone spliced together a segment from an ABC Afterschool Special with half an episode of Gilligan's Island.

According to IMDB, Harry "Steve Elwood" Gold had a nice run of guest-starring credits throughout the 70s, a small part in Brian DePalma's 1976 horror classic Carrie and culminating in a 1980 appearance in one of my all-time faves, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.  Oh sure, he was apparently in something called First Family after that, but when you've played a bellboy on Lobo, that's like winning the Super Bowl; it's best to bow out while on top.  These days he's an actor's agent, and adopted father to the Gold sisters acting dynasty of Missy and Tracey. He's actually quite good in this episode when not playing the jerk or being menaced by an ape.  When he finally accepts his limitations and comes into his own by relying on things he's actually good at-- identifying those birds, for example-- he's got a shy smile and explains to Ms. Thomas the difference between a crow and a raven in a bright and winning way.

No one should be asked to act opposite a moth-eaten gorilla costume, though.  But even I have to admit the scene where the gorilla's keepers retrieve her and drive off in their jeep is worth the price of admission.  There's just something uniquely attractive about the way the performer waddles while looking like nothing so much as someone thinking, "I left Tulsa for this?  Thank Christ no one's going to see my face."  It's an animal portrayal almost polished enough for a kid's birthday party or a Jaycees haunted house.

The good stuff-- Rick Mason is some kind of freaky pizza gourmand.  When we first see him, he's describing the most wondrous pie to Andrea Thomas:  mushrooms, pepperoni, meatballs, strawberry jam, onions; even Ms. Thomas can't believe it.  He's also planning to turn the Science Club outing into his own personal fishing trip.  When an upset Steve runs off into the woods, Mason can't hide his disgust and lets everyone know he was afraid all along Steve would ruin everything.  Probably because it means less time for fishing and wearing his awesome bright orange fisherman's bucket hat complete with lures pinned to the top.  Tut can knock on doors when he wants to be let into a room.  Cindy Lee gets the biggest (intentional) laugh of the episode with her witty reaction to having her foot caught in the trap.  She tells Steve, "Why don't you just call a ranger so he can tag me and then let me go."  She's wearing the baby blue overalls when she says it, which is always a bonus.  I dig how Joanna Cameron can go from playing the compassionate young teacher in the more naturalistic Steve scenes to maintaining her dignity as the stately Isis even while spouting rhyming couplets at a clod in a gorilla suit.  She's marvelous!

This episode also showcases the show's increasing tendency for plot specific special effects.  Sure they use their handy stock footage of the Isis transformation and a short version of her swirling take-off (minus the "zephyr winds" rhyme), but they also include a short process shot of Isis landing on the school's roof.  It's not necessary, but as a viewer I appreciate they spent a little money this time out.  The chromakey outline around Isis is very obvious, but it probably looked a lot more convincing on yesteryear's Zenith and RCA television sets beaming in via antenna rather than over cable.  DVD and high-def have not been kind to these old shows.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 8: "How to Find a Friend"

Let me tell you, if anyone needs a lesson in how to find a friend it's Tom Anderson.  He's creeping everyone out and causing concern for teachers like Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason.  Mr. Mason even refuses to take Tom along on a field trip the local botanical gardens, which is sure to break the kid's heart because he's so into the rich fragrances of various flowers, especially the way they relate to all-natural herbal shampoos and conditioners.

The lucky kid gets to attend Larkspur High where not only are there caring adults but also a dirtbike track adjacent to the campus where he can go during class hours.  Maybe it's a PE class or something:  Intro to Dirtbiking.  Tom tries to trade his father's war souvenir-- some kind of generic-looking revolver-- for a ride on an older boy's mini-bike.  It doesn't work out and a poor car headlight pays the ultimate price.  Now there's a reckless gun-thief on the loose with a pistol that will probably explode in his hand the next time he tries to fire it.  And that's the best case scenario, because he could just as easily knock over a liquor store or go on a shooting spree.  His name is Joe, and what he really wants to do is kill some rabbits.  And possibly eat them.  Cooked, I hope.  Looks like Isis has a life-threatening crisis on her hands and what follows is a tense race against time...

It would be easy to pick the low hanging fruit (to use a phrase that seems to be popular these days) and mock this week's guest star and his connection to The Brady Bunch.  Easy, but unfair because erstwhile Bobby Brady Mike Lookinland does a credible job with his goofily-written character.  Whatever else The Brady Bunch happened to be-- I consider it kitschy TV sitcom dreck-- it featured a cast of professionals from the grown-ups down to the youngest kids.  It's obvious Lookinland has outgrown his Brady cuteness (kid has a magnificent head of mid-70s style wavy hair, though), but he brings a polish to each scene he's in.  As young as he is in this episode, he was already an old hand, a seasoned pro and Lookinland delivers his lines with conviction and believability.  Another winning guest star performance for Isis.

While playing a weirdo.  Tom isn't the worst kid in the world.  He just has some severe personality problems and is way too eager to make friends.  Witness his hasty attempt to jump several weeks of relationship time during his ill-fated attempt at befriending Joe, otherwise known as the "yellow mini-bike/rabbit hating guy."  Later, after losing a race (someone finally let him ride a bike) with Cindy Lee as the judge, Tom angrily accuses the most honest and kind-hearted student at Larkspur of cheating in favor of his rival.  I mean anyone who would shout at Cindy Lee-- of all people-- is in real need of counseling.  One can only hope at the episode's end he'll get the help he needs.

Here's a rare Isis episode where the stakes are truly high.  This isn't a contrived situation where someone's stolen some imaginary device that leaks radiation or another class outing where Cindy Lee or one of her classmates gets a foot stuck in some rocks while running from a bear or a gorilla.  Kids watching Isis would never in a million parallel universes of probability find themselves in such straits, but in the United States guns were and remain plentiful.  They're attractive and exciting.  "Friend" doesn't attempt to demonize guns or gun ownership by any means, just to instill a healthy respect for the dangers inherent in handling them, a lesson my gun-owning father worked hard to impress on me from an early age.    I'm sure Isis would agree with my dad-- guns are not toys.  Especially not old ones of uncertain provenance.  "How to Find a Friend" benefits not only from its hard-biting lesson but also suspenseful race-against-time plotting-- kind of reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Bang!  You're Dead" (directed by the master himself) where the little boy in a cowboy hat finds a real pistol and we follow him around while we wait for the explosive finale.

Director Hollingsworth Morse isn't exactly a Hitchcock and Isis as a low-budget kid show had to burn throw a lot of set-ups in a day (which means plenty of two-shots and the like rather than complex point-of-view shots) but use of foreshadowing provides a level of suspense beyond Isis's usual offerings.  Because the show needs a positive ending, it can only take us a few baby steps towards a violent or tragic outcome (as far as I know, Lucky the dog is the only character who actually dies in an episode), and once again we see in the Isis world, there are few truly bad people.  The worst you can say about Joe (Tommy Norden, who played Bud Ricks on Flipper-- another old trouper!) is he shows poor judgement.  Even he comes to realize that and all is well once again.

But yelling at Cindy Lee?  Now that's what I consider unforgivable, man.

A few little observations--   This is the second episode (maybe third) in a row Cindy Lee wears those infamous baby blue overalls, which we first see as she greets Mason in the opening scene.  It's Ms. Thomas's birthday and they've bought her a cake.  Thomas's favorite?  Chocolate, of course.  Tut likes it, too.  Crafty Mason invites Thomas out for a birthday dinner-- but she has to agree to handle his sixth period class with troublesome Tom while he takes the rest on the field trip.  Cutler gets to clown around a bit in this scene, even breaking out a very nice Arte Johnson-doing-his-German-accent impression.  But what made me laugh the hardest this episode is the follow-up scene where Cindy Lee comes back with a birthday bouquet for Thomas and the teacher jokingly asks her if she picked them at the botanical gardens.  Cindy gives her a completely sincere, "No!  On the way back!" response.  Sometimes I get the idea both Thomas and Mason like to tease credulous Cindy by asking her silly questions just to find out how she'll reply.

Another neat moment:  Mason reports he's more than likely walked through poison oak.

"You're a science teacher and you don't even know what poison oak looks like?" Thomas razzes him.

"Yeah, it looked very pretty," Mason replies.  "I was going to pick you a bouquet."  He cracks himself up.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 7: "Bigfoot"

The Larkspur High kids-- including some we've never seen before and will probably never see again because they're already old enough to be parents of high schoolers themselves-- enjoy a school picnic complete with a mellow performance of "Home on the Range" on guitar by Rick Mason.  Of course who else but center-of-every-event Cindy Lee (wearing her baby blue overalls, an outfit that gets quite a workout in the first ten or so episodes) and a male classmate also named Lee come running back with reports of having seen Bigfoot.

Actually, I should point out Cindy first sensibly suggests it may have been a bear; a rational, down to earth explanation despite her hectic state of mind.  One can understand her reluctance to commit to cryptid species identification when considering her association with the science faculty and her recent misadventures involving the worst bear costume ever captured on film.  Also, take into account Mason's openly irritated response to Lee's insistence what they saw was, in fact, Bigfoot.  He is pissed!  Cindy Lee's fun-loving and outgoing, but she's been around Mason long enough to judge his moods.  No fool that Cindy Lee.

But even the science teacher's remonstration can't stop Lee from becoming obsessed with obtaining photographic evidence of Bigfoot's existence, to the point of endangering his own life.  Once again it's Isis to the rescue.

"Bigfoot" (aired October 18, 1975), features some solid guest star work from Scott Colomby, later to play Tony D'Annunzio in Caddyshack.  He's got a cool James Franco-ish vibe.  But gosh darn it, when you promise Bigfoot you have to deliver Bigfoot, not a bearded 7'3" Bill Engesser in a floppy hat and plaid shirt along with a lot of sermonizing (with a melancholy harmonica on the soundtrack no less) about how people can be cruel to those they think are different, but you should still give them a chance.

I mean, yeah, I agree with the message; respect and cherish each other for the things that make each of us unique and all that.  Joanna Cameron certainly delivers it in a stately cadence befitting a wise goddess.  But Bigfoot, man.  Bigfoot.  You promised us Bigfoot and then you wimped out on us.  Although considering the show's bad luck with animal costumes, perhaps I should be a bit more charitable.

I haven't talked much about Albert Reed, Jr. as Dr. Joshua Barnes.  Mainly because he's not exactly a major character-- after all, the DC comic based on the show couldn't get his age, race or even his academic credentials right most of the time.  Dr. Barnes's function is to appear, offer a few words of wisdom, then glide away and let the rest of the episode bear out his gentle admonitions.  His air of calm, benign authority probably has something to do with his steady, longtime gig at Los Angeles International Airport where he retired as its Chief of Security in 1983.  Reed even played a version of himself and his job in the 1969 air-disaster flick Airport.

Nowhere is Reed's presence as Barnes felt as much as it is in this episode where he espouses a gentle, leave well enough alone philosophy regarding Bigfoot.

"Too many people think that anything they don't understand is dangerous," he tells Lee, who's ready at this point to join an armed mob to hunt down Bigfoot without really knowing why.  "That's wrong.  If you don't know what something is, you should be cautious, but not afraid.  Not set out to hunt it down.  As far as we know Bigfoot is only a fable, just like vampires and ghosts.  So let's not have anymore idle talk about it, okay?"

Words worth remembering, and Reed is convincing.  If only all our leaders were as sensible and open-minded as Dr. Barnes.  Could Larkspur High ask for a better principal?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October is Spookey Month: Happy Halloween! I'm out of Spookey videos, you're sick of my pretentious-alternating-with-silly writing style so here are some fun horror shorts instead!

Remember that horrible clown doll from Poltergeist? You know the one I mean. This story features his trans-Pacific pen pal:

The price of these canteloupes is pretty frightening:

Here's a hard-working guy trying to be a good father. Too bad he can't get it the right way 'round:

Don't hold your breath waiting for Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith to show up. By the way, Tommy Lee Jones is the face of Boss coffee here:

And last but far from least:

And that is that!  Enjoy your night of horrors, then join us here in November as I once again start hoppin' down the Cindy Lee trail with more Secrets of Isis reviews starring Cindy Lee.  I'm going to review every single one and toss in more fun stuff from the DC comic as well.

October is Spookey Month: Let Doug Moench and Richard Corben show you how to trick-or-treat!

Yes, Halloween is a fun holiday, but you should exercise at least a little caution when out trick-or-treating.  Go in a group, wear a costume with reflective tape so motorists can spot you, go only to well-lit houses.  And most importantly-- don't pull on a werewolf's lip.  These are a few simple safety tips brought to you by Doug Moench and Richard Corben in their horror-comedy classic, "Change... into Something Comfortable," which appeared in Creepy #58 (December 1973), a "special Halloween horror issue" (so it says right there on the cover).  While I didn't particulary enjoy "The Slipped Mickey Click-Flick," I'm a huge fan of this little seasonal-flavored gem.

It starts with a real werewolf ripping some smart ass kids to shreds and ends with a sweet twist I find both irresistible and hilarious.  I mean if you've ever wondered what creatures of the night disguise themselves as on Halloween, here's your chance to find out.  "Comfortable" is sort of a companion piece to Corben's even more hilarious "Lycanklutz" from Creepy #56 (September 1973).  That earlier full-color romp features a somewhat luckier werewolf in a medieval setting with some surprisingly anachronistic products available for sale.  By contrast, our contemporary, kid-killing monster in "Comfortable" strays into EC territory with tragic results.  I could have hit you with "Lycanklutz," but this one is all about Halloween and disguises and has those melodramatic Moench narrative captions.  You can read it in the Dark Horse Creepy Archive Volume Twelve.

Come to think of it, you can read them both in that book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October is Spookey Month: Remember when Swamp Thing visited the Winchester Mystery House?

"Bang.  Bang.  Bang."

You don't remember?  How about the time Swamp Thing visited the Cambridge Mystery House, the DC universe version of the same place?  Rings a bell, huh?  Bangs a nail.  Hammers and all that.  The Winchester Mystery House is a fascinating place, the life's work of Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester and heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune.  Somehow she took it in her head spirits would kill her if she ever completed the mansion where she lived, so construction went on around the clock for nearly 38 years until Mrs. Winchester's death in 1924.  Mrs. Winchester was a little eccentric (according to the Winchester House's official website, some of her employees actually thought she herself had supernatural powers), obsessed with the number 13, and her house is equally... er... original.  Stairs to nowhere, fake bathrooms, windows on the inside, liberal use of redwood because Mrs. Winchester preferred it-- although it all had to be stained or painted to look like some other kind of wood because she hated its appearance.  Given the house's origins and bizarre interior, it's no wonder the Winchester Mystery House has a reputation as a haunted mansion.

Alan Moore puts the Winchester lore to good use in "Ghost Dance" from Swamp Thing #45 (February 1986) with the help of some evocative art by Stan Woch and Alfredo Alcala.  A group of friends enter the dilapidated Cambridge House for a laugh while the reedy, Howard Sprague-with-red-hair-looking one (he proves to be as cuckolded as Jack Dodson's character in The Getaway, as well) explains the backstory, which Moore takes directly from the Winchester House.  One character even namechecks the real-life inspiration in case you had any doubts, and the NRA bumper sticker displayed on their car provides a visual clue that we're in for a lecture wrapped inside a horror yarn, one with obvious intent and an anti-gun-- or at least, anti-gun violence-- point of view, but a touch more subtle than the "Nuke-Face" environmental tale from Swamp Thing #35 and #36 (April and May 1985) with its pages full of newspaper-based collages.

This was during one of my favorite Swamp Thing story arcs, in which John Constantine, the British mystic based on Sting, takes Swamp Thing around the world to stop a rising tide of supernatural events culminating in... you guessed it... the end of the world.  Moore uses this premise to explore horror mythology, but with his characteristic brilliant improvisations on familiar material.  Swamp Thing fights vampires, but they're underwater.  He tangles with a werewolf, but it's a woman and a commentary on our patriarchal society.  In this issue, Constantine has Swamp Thing facing down the Cambridge ghosts.

And just what are these ghosts?  Apparently, they're everyone in North America who ever died from a bullet fired from a gun or rifle manufactured by Cambridge Arms.  Dead cowboys blast away at each other in the seance room (Mrs. Winchester would approve of its thirteen Victorian fireplaces), bullets whittling them both down to next to nothing while their battle rages all night.  Little girls, murdered on Christmas Day by their father, walk innocently through the spectral carnage, their wounds like red ribbons in their hair.  Buffalo stampede from a free-standing wardrobe, apparently all the way from Gunpowder Narnia.  Cowards linger in the kitchens, shamed, faces hidden in hands, each back stamped with the red badge of fear.  One especially tragic note comes when the narration points out what percentage of the ghosts are Native Americans.

"Ghost Dance" is a melancholy look at our capacity for violence and the tool that truly built our modern American society even more so than the car, the train or the rocket to the moon, as evidenced by Moore's repetition of the phrase, "The sound of hammers must never stop," fraught with double meaning.  Guns, the love of guns and gun violence are so engrained in the American psyche, we can't even have a rational discussion about them no matter how many bodies pile up.  Moore, though this fiction, might argue the victims wind up in a Mystery House of the American soul, a haunted mansion we're all still guiltily building just like Sarah Winchester and her fictional analogue Amy Cambridge, even as the sound of hammers continues to ring from coast to coast.

They have never stopped.

Disney can earn the goodwill of millions with one simple press release:

"Han shot first."

October is Spookey Month: Anton Arcane's Un-Men enjoy the refreshing taste of 7 Up, the Uncola

And in the interest of complete disclosure, I must admit I do, as well.  And why not?  7 Up is crisply delicious.  When one tires of those everyday, commonplace colas, it's pleasing to do what the Un-Men do and indulge one's palate with 7 Up, the Uncola, which isn't made using cola nuts.  7 Up is made using un-cola nuts:  lemons and limes.  So in this, the Un-Men and I are completely in agreement.  In all other things, however...

What kind of man deliberately creates monstrosities?  When Dr. Frankenstein attempted to glean the secrets of life, he meant to produce beauty but failed.  Anton Arcane, on the other hand, perversely sets out to make hideous things he then cruelly dubs the "Un-Men."  It's both a parody of the creation story-- God made perfection in 6 days, then rested-- and a misuse of science to tickle the fancy of an egotistical degenerate who wants to achieve immortality.  To this end, Arcane sends the Un-Men to the Louisiana bayou country to capture Alec Holland, who has recently become the Swamp Thing.

Marvelous!  Absolutely marvelous!  Just try making something like that out of a cola nut!  As we see in these exquisitely rendered Bernie Wrightson pages from "The Man Who Wanted Forever" in Swamp Thing #2 (January 1973), they succeed, at least temporarily.  But even this small achievement leaves the Un-Men lost in a world that never desired them.  In some ways, though, they are our children.  The unwanted, the living embodiment of our worst creative impulses, our vanity in thinking we might better nature itself, our ambivalent response to mortality.  In their nakedness, they are as newborns.  In their cruelty, they reflect their treatment at the hands of their twisted creator, as we do with our own petty crimes and misdemeanors.  Neither men nor women, they could only in the end become monsters.

Holland himself, his soul encased in plant matter and mud, provides a further tragic note.  This is before Alan Moore re-created Swamp Thing to suit his own needs-- the creature is not a transformed human, but rather a consciousness mistaken in its belief in that identity; it's a brilliant bit of revisionist storytelling that freed Swamp Thing from his ongoing quest to regain humanity and allowed Moore to take the tales along a more epic path.  But for our purposes-- and those of writer Len Wein-- this is definitely the soul of poor Holland trapped within a hulking, plant-based body, isolated not only from the humanity he desperately hopes to reclaim but also human society.  Lost in the night world of his new life, Holland now has more in common with the Un-Men than he does with Matt Cable, the human government agent searching for Swamp Thing just a few short miles away geographically, but a universe apart existentially.  Holland is also an un-man.

Now, let's all share the delicious taste of 7 Up.  The Uncola.  Why, it's even prettier than a cola.  Nuttier than a cola, actually!  HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October is Spookey Month: John Severin's zombie soldiers

Personally, I'm sick of zombies.  Well, I thought I was, anyway.  Turns out I'm sick of zombies unless they're WWI soldier zombies drawn by John Severin.  Severin could draw anything.  Zombies, war comics, westerns, horror.  Horror-war.  This is the first page of "Battle Rot," a genre-bending tale from Creepy #81 (July 1976).  Written by Bill DuBay, it's the story of a German flyer who holds his ground-based fellow officers in contempt, especially when one of them starts rambling on about undead soldiers wandering around the trenches at the front.  Later, while villainously attempting to bomb a hospital, the arrogant pilot learns this story has its basis in fact.

"Battle Rot" would fit right in with DC's similarly themed Weird War Tales anthology comic.  The final page packs a wallop, and I was tempted to share it.  But I prefer the title page because it's just so haunting, evoking the climaxes of both versions of J'Accuse, the pacifist films French director Abel Gance (later a Petain supporter, unfortunately) made and re-made in 1919 in 1937 in which the war dead return; the earlier film features actual war footage and both have maimed veterans as the walking corpses, back to lay the blame for war on everyone equally.  All war is terrible, but WWI with its rolling artillery barrages, frontal assaults into fortified positions bristling with machine guns, mass gassings, filthy, diseased-ravaged trenches, No Man's Land full of unburied corpses and satiated rats must have been a special level of Hell unto itself.  Its mechanized, technology-based slaughter convinced a number of artists and writers life itself was absurd, was without no meaning and gave rise to Dadaism, an anti-art movement that's had a profound impact on my own sensibilities (I believe life is very meaningful, yet still absurd).  It would inform the horror genre in film and literature throughout the 1920s and 1930s as well, and we can extrapolate a similar reaction to the atomic bomb in the giant bug and lizard monster films of the 1950s.

Especially here in Japan.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October is Spookey Month: "The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip"

"The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip" by Doug Moench and Richard Corben first appeared in Creepy #54 (July, 1973) and readers seemed either to love it or hate it, if the letters pages for the next two issues are any indication.  And they must be; they're the letters pages for Creepy, which printed the story, for corn's sake.

But I have to admit I don't love this story.  It's a pretty good story, but I don't think it works as well as it could have.

A twisted mutant named Diment (as in "dementia") takes offense at a certain Dr. Nugent for trying to cure him of his insanity.  He takes over Creepy magazine and marginalizes poor, innocent Uncle Creepy himself to punish the doctor.  Diment does this by way of his "Click-Lick" device, the workings of which we never truly learn; he keeps turning away from us before using it.

I'm a fan of both Moench and Corben, and I admire them for their audacity in breaking the fourth wall-- and especially Corben for visually interpreting Moench's feverish, hallucinatory script.  They playfully push the boundaries of good taste-- even by the admittedly lax standards of mid-70s black and white horror magazines-- with gruesome images like eyeball-sucking butterflies and crazy-eyed trains that decapitate people.  Oh, and a woman who explodes into maggots.  I mean, if you like people who explode into maggots, you really need to buy Dark Horse's Creepy Archives #10 so you can experience this singular event rendered by Corben in full loving detail.  Never before have maggots looked so full-fleshed as they explode out of a comic book character's torso.  Gorgeous, gorgeous maggots.  Still, I thank my Uncle Creepy this story wasn't one of their color sections, which the magazine experimented with during this era, usually with Corben's art.

Unfortunately, a lot of the non sequitor dialogue seems forced and ham-fisted, sometimes repetitious ("idiot" is over-worked and begs for a week off in the Bahamas), Nugent and his wife are little more than puppets to the story and we never learn enough about them to develop any sympathy for them or become overly concerned with their plight.  But Diment himself is no prize, either.  I find him repulsive and off-putting.  I could see myself settling down on some moldy divan to listen to Uncle Creepy spin many a yarn, but once is enough with Diment.  More than enough.

Of course, "Slipped Mickey" is psimply a psick psychedelic romp, not meant to be taken seriously by any means, but as a supposedly enlightened 21st century citizen of the world, I can't help but find the depiction Diment's mental illness troubling and retrograde even for its time.  But I have to admit I apply this standard inconsistently.  What bothers me here might not in another story.

It's memorable as all get out, enough so you can find it in its entirety posted online and a few reminisces about it from fans who read it back in the day or in the years since and fell in love.  After all, for a horror story the only true mark of failure is boring readers to sleep, and "Slipped Mickey" definitely avoids that.  As you can see, the Creepy letters page in issue #56 (September, 1973) features nothing but praise for the story, with one reader calling it a masterpiece and Moench a genius and another praising it before opining it takes place entirely in Diment's mind (which is a comforting reading, I have to admit).  Negative reaction slips into the mix with a lone dissenter, who declares it "low class horror," then intensifies ever so slightly for Creepy #57 (November, 1973) when seven letters (out of 14) mention the months-old story, five praising it and two criticizing it.

One thing I enjoy about reading the Creepy letters pages-- even though we're now years past the point their relevancy died like poor ol' Dr. Nugent, his wife and even their dog-- is the editors weren't afraid to allow some nay-saying, and in this case actually spotlighted it with a sidebar box.  There's a feeling of some real give-and-take and that someone actually read the letters and put some thought into it, but also that the letters page is largely a forum for reader opinion without a lot of defensiveness from the Creepy staff, as if dare the readers to form their own opinions instead of just joining a praise-pack, that it was just as much the fans' comic as it was theirs.  You can imagine what the message boards would have been like had this taken place in today's Internet-savvy comic book society.

Oh, and before I leave you to Google search for this story and read it for yourselves-- to make up your own minds about it, just like Uncle Creepy would have it-- let me tell you this is exactly the kind of story that would have sent me off the rails for a few days if I'd read it as a child.  I had this stupid over-imaginative reaction to horror comics, especially stories as whimsically arbitrary as this one.  I can imagine little-me trying not to think much about Diment for fear of his being real, or somehow making him emerge from the comic book into our world and wreaking havoc on me specifically.  You just do not want to piss Diment off, and disapproving of him would probably be more than enough to earn his wrath

So I would have been sleeping with the lights on in my bedroom, picturing the happy little crazy train running over my head or killing my dog.  DC's House of Secrets and Weird War Tales were bad enough, Marvel's black and white Planet of the Apes magazines scared me as often as they thrilled me with adventure (especially with their house ads for Tales of the Zombie and even Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, the latter featuring a Michael Moorcock story that crosses the border into blasphemy for those of us in the Bible Belt deep South).  I'm a little nervous even now, writing about it.