Sunday, October 20, 2013

October is Spookey Month: Cindy Lee's scary alien encounter!

What is Halloween without creepy aliens from space?  My close friend, the late Orson Welles, forever linked the holiday to space invasions with his infamous 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.  Orson (or Mr. Welles, as we used to call him during our monthly poker games/discussions of magic and illusion) once confided in me-- while we were in Morocco shooting some footage for his proposed film version of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days-- the panicked public reaction gave him quite a thrill and his supposedly chagrined mea culpa the next day was largely tongue-in-cheek. 

Welles was always fond of hoaxes and trickery (witness his F For Fake), so it's quite fitting to present once again a little look at the very first episode of that ever-popular Saturday morning children's show Isis, "The Lights of Mystery Mountain.  This one features spooky UFOs, or as they're popularly known, "flying saucers."  Just in time for Halloween and a million re-broadcasts of War of the Worlds!

This particularly Isis installment, which aired on the comfortably non-Halloween date of September 6, 1975, probably comes closest to eliciting anything approaching genuine fright, or at least menace, than any of the others.  While a later Isis would feature an Old West ghost town-- but nary a ghost-- this program was not given to horror or even weird themes.  Plots usually involved more down-to-earth elements such as troubled students, automobile safety, horseback riding and SCUBA safety.

Unlike the writer of this blog, the Isis folk don't waste any time getting down to business.  In the opening scene, Larkspur High School's star student Cindy Lee displays rather alarming photographic evidence of eerie lights of unknown origin.  She took them herself on a hiking trip and breathlessly relates the story to school principal Dr. Barnes and her favorite teachers Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason.  After a discussion of the UFO phenomenon during which Mason scoffs at the idea of alien visitation and both Barnes and Thomas remind him they're not necessarily talking about interstellar spacecraft but simply the more general term "unidentified flying objects."  But it's Thomas who ties the lights to the strange disappearances of two campers and a tourist.

His curiosity piqued, Dr. Barnes asks the two teachers to accompany Cindy back to the rustic mountain town of Mountain Park adjacent to the aptly named Mystery Mountain and there undertake a thorough investigation.  As scientists and educators and proponents of rationalism, Thomas and Mason demand empirical evidence before accepting the rather outrageous hypothesis suggested by the wild stories and rumors surrounding the recent incidents.  Extraordinary claims, they declare, require extraordinary proof.  Well, they don't declare this so much as they kind of hint at it.  With Cindy Lee acting as their more open-minded foil, the group journeys up the mountain, quite like the trio led by the character Professor Armitage in H.P. Lovecraft's 1929 tale "The Dunwich Horror." 

Armitage and company soon reach the inescapable conclusion there are indeed supernatural forces at work and engage them in a life-or-death struggle to prevent their entering our world or dragging it into their own dimension to serve their unspeakable ends.  The events recounted in "Lights" are their Saturday morning analogue.  For once atop Mystery Mountain, Cindy Lee experiences a moment of terror so stark I feel compelled, as if by the memory of my late friend Mr. Welles, to present here.  Witness then, the most shocking events of "Lights" as they unfold in front of Cindy Lee's very eyes!

Cindy Lee remembers her camera is still in the car...
The mysterious lights over the mountain.
Gotta snap some photos!
Oh no!  I'm out of film!
The frightening alien tones continue.
Ms. Thomas!  Mr. Mason!  Where are you?
I need you!

A few moments later and Thomas and Mason sense something amiss.  They parked the cars only a few yards away.  Cindy should have returned by now.  The teachers clamber down the mountain trail after her only to find...

No one.  No Cindy Lee.  A moment later, Thomas comes across this...

It's just like the burned spots found at sites where the campers and tourist disappeared.  Have bizarre, inhuman beings from another world spirited Cindy Lee away?  Kind of...

It looks as if this is a job for...

Isis eventually presents a prosaic explanation for all these strange happenings, but not before our favorite goddess swoops to the rescue and uses her magic to give a mean old real estate baron a fright of his own.  Of course, one might expect a universe that allows for the existence of magic and ancient Egyptian goddesses living dual lives entwined with 20th century pedagogues to also allow for the existence of life on other planets, and to posit this life as a regular, if secretive, visitor to our own humble world.  Indeed, Isis does leave open this very possibility even while suggesting what we must chiefly concern ourselves with are terrestrial threats-- corrupt old men who would employ fun-loving pranksters to help them achieve nefarious goals.  And scare nice kids like Cindy Lee.

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