Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Retro TV: A Roy Thinnes Double Feature

The 1970s were the golden age of the TV movie, with all three networks producing original films for television on a regular basis. Many of these made for TV productions fell squarely into the sweet spot for genre fans, including classics such as Trilogy of Terror, Gargoyles and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. One actor who appeared in several of these fright flicks was Roy Thinnes. The Chicago born actor is probably best known to genre fans for his work on The Invaders. Thinnes portrayed David Vincent on that late 1960s TV series, which was produced by Quinn Martin. After witnessing the landing of a flying saucer, architect Vincent discovered there were aliens among us…and they weren’t friendly.  For two seasons, he tried to convince the world that “the truth was out there,” long before Agents Mulder and Scully. But that wasn't the end of his genre adventures on our TV screens.

After The Invaders, Thinnes starred in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, a 1969 big screen sci-fi movie produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, of Thunderbirds, UFO and Space: 1999 fame. He then appeared in several genre films for the small screen during the 1970s, including the creepy The Horror at 37,000 Feet (which co-starred William Shatner and Buddy Ebsen) and The Norliss Tapes, a Dan (Dark Shadows) Curtis production with some marked similarities to Curtis’ earlier project The Night Stalker. Thinnes also managed to play roles on both sides of the battle between good and evil in a pair of telefilm tales of terror: the offbeat western Black Noon, and the memorable chiller Satan’s School for Girls. Let’s take a look at this diabolical double feature:

Roy Thinnes & Yvette Mimieux in Black Noon
Black Noon was first telecast on CBS in 1971. Thinnes stars as Reverend John Keyes, who’s on the way to his new parish, along with his wife Lorna. They have trouble with their wagon, and get stranded in the desert. The pair are rescued and given refuge in the town of San Melas. While Lorna’s recovering from her injuries, Caleb (Ray Milland) the town elder, asks John to give a sermon to their congregation.  The preacher’s words seem to have a powerful effect on people, even enabling a lame boy to walk again! John also learns the town is being terrorized by a black clad bandit named Noon, who lusts after Caleb’s daughter, Deliverance. John stands up to the villain and drives him away. A grateful Caleb asks John to stay on permanently as their pastor, and help them build a new church. But our hero is plagued by mysterious nightmares, and Lorna’s condition never seems to improve. Deliverance, who’s been mute for years due to a childhood trauma (or has she?) takes a shine to John, and tempts him to stay. But why is everyone pushing John to remain? And what is Deliverance up to in that little shack of hers? Certainly not just making candles, as she so innocently claims.

The Old West setting is fairly unique, and the movie has some eerie sequences, courtesy of director Bernard Kowalski. Of course, we know something’s wrong long before John does, and things move along to a deadly conclusion. John finally learns the truth about San Melas (spell it backwards!) but not until it’s much too late. The movie ends with one of those scenes fairly common to 1970s horror tales, indicating that evil just might have won out after all. The cast is quite good; Thinnes is solid as the stalwart John, and Lynn Loring (Thinnes’ real-life wife at the time) is appropriately terrified as Lorna; she knows something’s wrong, but can’t convince her husband of the danger. Ray Milland hits all the right notes as the seemingly kind Caleb, and Yvette Mimieux is effective as the lovely, sensual but very dangerous Deliverance. Old pros Hank Worden, who should be familiar to Western fans from movies like The Searchers, and film noir bad girl Gloria Grahame appear in supporting roles. Veteran bad guy Henry Silva chews the scenery as the evil the outlaw Noon. The film was written and produced by Andrew J. Fenady. Black Noon isn’t screened as much these days as some of the more well remembered TV films of the era, but it's worth a look for genre fans.

Thinnes may have been on the side of the angels in Black Noon, but he’s firmly entrenched in the dark corners of the room in Satan’s School For Girls, first shown on ABC in 1973. After her sister Martha’s mysterious death is ruled a suicide, Elizabeth Sayers (horror film veteran Pamela Franklin) enrolls in the exclusive Salem Academy For Women, where Martha was a student. Elizabeth wants to find out if there’s more to the story of her sister’s odd demise. She’s befriended by several of the students, but even as she settles in, it becomes apparent that there are a lot of weird things going on at this particular school. Strange events and further deaths occur; is the person responsible Mrs. Williams, the ineffectual (and very quirky) headmistress? Or perhaps it’s the acerbic Professor Delacroix, who torments the students in his classes? Maybe it’s the handsome Dr. Joseph Campbell, the well-liked teacher who seems to hold all the students in his class spellbound?

Pamela Franklin & Kate Jackson in Satan's School for Girls
Remember, this is the Salem Academy For Women, and it’s just possible that some of the students know more than they’re telling. As Elizabeth’s investigation uncovers the terrifying truth, it all leads to a fiery finale. Can anyone escape the evil that lies beneath the surface at Satan’s School For Girls? You’ll just have to watch this enjoyable, atmospheric chiller to find out. Thinnes is excellent as Dr. Campbell, who’s popular with his students, and seems to have all the answers about the dark history of the school. His hellish exit at the climax of the film leaves no doubt about his character’s devilish origins. Lloyd Bochner (often cast as a villain on 70s TV series) is delightfully over the top as the ill-fated Delacroix. The cast also includes Kate Jackson and Cheryl Stopplemoor (aka Cheryl Ladd) who would team up once again for producer Aaron Spelling’s later hit, Charlie’s Angels. Directed by David Lowell Rich and written by Arthur Ross, Satan’s School For Girls is a prime example of 1970s movie of the week fare. It's fondly remembered by many of us who saw it on its first run, or subsequent rebroadcasts on the afternoon and late movie showcases later in the decade.

So that’s the end of our Roy Thinnes twin bill. The likable and talented actor continued to appear in genre projects on television throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, including Battlestar Galactica, War of the Worlds, the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, Poltergeist: The Legacy, and The X-Files. As for the movies covered in this post: Black Noon hasn't officially been released on DVD, but you can find it on YouTube. Satan’s School for Girls has been released on DVD and you can also view the film on YouTube. By the way, Satan’s School For Girls was remade (also as a TV movie) in 2000. The remake starred Shannon Doherty and featured Kate Jackson taking over the role of the headmistress, played by Jo Van Fleet in the 1970s version. The remake lacks the charm and old school fun of the original. If you’re feeling nostalgic and looking for some retro-style scares, you could do far worse than Black Noon or Satan’s School for Girls.

Please Note: If you enjoy reading my work here at Eclectic Avenue, I'm also writing for Culture Sonar, an excellent arts & entertainment website. Please check them out at Here's a link to one of my recent posts, a feature about TCM's Sunday morning showcase "Noir Alley," hosted by Eddie Muller: Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dillard & Clark's "Fantastic Expedition"

Country rock came into its own in the late 60s and on through the mid 70s, with artists like Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Poco, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles and even ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith contributing to the genre. One of the best albums to come out of this era is Dillard & Clark’s 1968 release The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. The group was founded by Gene Clark, a former member of The Byrds (no strangers themselves to the country rock sound) and Doug Dillard, who had just left his family’s bluegrass outfit, The Dillards. They recorded the album with some talented collaborators, including guitarist Bernie Leadon, who later went on to join The Eagles, and bassist Chris Hillman, who had also been a member of The Byrds. Hillman and Leadon would help form The Flying Burrito Brothers, another well regarded and highly influential country rock band.

The album is awash with the sounds of banjo, fiddle and organ, and features some incredible songs, including the opening track “Out On The Side,” and “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” which was later covered by The Eagles during Leadon's stint with that group. Other notable tunes include the haunting “She Darked The Sun,” and Clark's melancholy “Why Not Your Baby?” which is included as a bonus track on the CD version of the disc. The inspired songwriting by Clark, Dillard and Leadon, their stellar playing and achingly beautiful harmonies all combine to make this album a high watermark for the genre. The group recorded one more record together, 1969's Through The Morning, Through The Night. That sophomore release leans even more heavily toward the country and bluegrass side of the road. It wasn’t as well-received as their debut, but there are still some great songs to be found, including the title track and outstanding covers of The Everly Brothers classic “So Sad” and The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.” On both of these albums, you can hear the lasting influences these incredible musicians would have on modern artists who have visited these wide-ranging soundscapes in their own careers.

Sadly, Gene Clark died in 1991, and Doug Dillard passed away in 2012. But they left behind a musical legacy that still enchants listeners and fans to this day. I first discovered The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark in the 1990s when I was going through a major Byrds listening phase, and it has remained a favorite of mine. If you’re a fan of country-flavored rock, which has seen a resurgence in recent years with the success of groups like The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons and The Zac Brown Band, you owe it to yourself to check out the album. It’s truly an aural journey worth taking. Both Dillard & Clark albums are available on a "two-fer" CD which can be found on Amazon and other online sites. Here are links to the songs “Why Not Your Baby?” and "She Darked The Sun"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Fantastic Four are "Doomed!"

The Fantastic Four is the title that kicked off the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, and helped start a revolution in the four-color world. But the group’s road to success on the big screen has been a lot more difficult than their battles against super-villains like Dr. Doom and Galactus. While three films featuring the characters have been released to date, none have quite captured the public’s imagination like recent Marvel Studios productions featuring Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. You may be familiar with the 2005 film Fantastic Four, and it’s sequel, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Both were somewhat successful at the box office, but were not particularly beloved by fans or critics. A 2015 reboot, Fantastic Four, was a significantly troubled production that was a huge failure upon its release, and a film that quickly disappeared from view.

But did you know there was an earlier cinematic version of the super-team’s adventures, co-produced by B-movie veteran Roger Corman? The labyrinthine twists and turns in the production of this unreleased film are recounted in director Marty Langford’s absorbing documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic FourThe movie features extensive interviews with the cast and crew, who were surprised to find out after completing the project that the 1994 film was never intended for release. Apparently, producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Films, who owned the screen rights to the characters, had to make a movie, or the film rights would have reverted back to Marvel. Eichinger partnered with Roger Corman, and they entered into an agreement to produce the film for a budget of one million dollars. 

The cast included Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm, with Carl Ciarfalio portraying his alter ego, The Thing, and Joseph Culp as the evil Dr. Doom. The entire crew, including director Oley Sassone, were passionate about the project, and committed to making a film that would be faithful to the comics, despite the relatively low budget. Everyone hoped the end product would be well received by fans of the characters. Comics fandom was still largely in its pre-internet phase at this point, and the age of the big budget superhero movie was in its infancy. The cast and crew made appearances at Comic-Con and several other events in order to promote the film, often paying for their travel expenses out of their own pockets. The fan community was looking forward to the film, with their interest piqued by meeting the cast at comic book conventions. There were also articles in various genre publications articles detailing the making of the film, including Film Threat, whose writer had visited the set and spent time with the crew.

As the film’s opening date drew closer, rumors began to circulate that the premiere had been cancelled, and the movie wasn’t being released. The film's cast and crew were stunned; everyone had given their all to the production, and they had been excited to view the finished product. The behind the scenes dealings of Bernd Eichinger and Marvel’s Avi Arad were ultimately revealed, and the real reasons for the film's shelving came to light. Making the movie had merely been a way of retaining the option on the characters, so a big budget version of The Fantastic Four could eventually be produced. As with many things in Hollywood, this had all been about the money. But the original film version of the FF's origins refused to die. Bootleg copies of the movie began to surface, and the movie gained a second life with fans who still wanted to see this version of the FF's adventures. 

Director Marty Langford examines the entire history of the movie’s ill-fated production, and talks to virtually all of the cast and crew, including producer Corman and director Sassone. The interviews are frank and insightful, and there's a wealth of behind the scenes footage from the set of the film. Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four is an engrossing story that is definitely worth watching for Marvel fans, and movie aficionados who enjoy behind the scenes stories. The film is one of the best documentaries I've seen recently; it's an engaging, compelling, and revealing Hollywood tale. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is also available for purchase at Here’s a link to the trailer for Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four:

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Video Watchdog: An Encomium

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to an old friend. I recently received my copy of the “Farewell Issue” of Video Watchdog magazine. The indispensable “Perfectionist’s Guide to Fantastic Video” has been a part of my life ever since Tim and Donna Lucas began publishing it back in 1990. I remember discovering a copy at my local newsstand, flipping through it, and quickly snatching it up. A publication devoted to all those offbeat movie genres I loved, including sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, which not only took those films seriously, but also provided intelligent writing about them! I was instantly captivated, and in a sense, it was love at first sight. For the next 26 years, VW delighted, informed, amused, thrilled and intrigued me. The comprehensive features, articles and in-depth reviews taught me new things about the filmmakers I already loved, like Ray Harryhausen, Val Lewton and Mario Bava, and gave me fascinating insights regarding my beloved Universal horror films, the Roger Corman Poe cycle, Japanese kaiju movies and the James Bond series, to name a few. VW also encouraged me to check out movies by filmmakers I hadn’t yet discovered, including Jess Franco and Georges Franju. And VW guided me towards additional watching, reading (and listening) with their insightful book reviews, Douglas Winter's fabulous "Audio Watchdog" column, Ramsey Campbell's compelling "Ramsey's Rambles" and Larry Blamire's excellent "Star Turn."

Video Watchdog is quite simply, indispensable reading for film fans. Tim, Donna and their incredible roster of writers never ceased to astonish me with their perceptive and illuminating work. As time went on, and the publishing world changed due to the proliferation of the Internet, normal outlets for newspapers and magazines began to fall by the wayside. I changed from buying my copy of Video Watchdog at Barnes & Noble to becoming a loyal subscriber. The magazine continued to knock it out of the park with extraordinary pieces like the Dark Shadows roundtable in issue 169, an engrossing discussion of the classic Dan Curtis TV series (a personal favorite of mine) as well as an absorbing look at "Quentin Tarantino’s 50 Best Sequels" in issue 171. Basically, every issue and every article was essential reading for me. When Tim and Donna began publishing digital editions of VW, a marvelous magazine become even more magnificent, with added depth and features, and the invaluable ability to view issues of VW on electronic devices. But even those additional benefits couldn’t forestall the effect on traditional magazines the digital revolution had wrought. The publishing world had changed.

When Tim and Donna made their difficult decision to cease publication of Video Watchdog in 2016, I was heartbroken. I realized I would no longer be able to look forward to new issues arriving in my mailbox, and relish the remarkable writing I’d come to enjoy so much. VW has been a part of my life for so long that it was truly like losing a dear friend or family member. Not only did VW entertain and enchant me; it was one of the things that encouraged me to pursue my own writing, something I had long wanted to do. While I’m sad to lose VW, I will always be grateful for the many years of fine work and intelligent writing about the cinema of the fantastic that I’ve been able to savor in its pages. I’d also like to give a special shout out to Donna for her remarkable layouts and production on the magazine, and her awesome work in creating the digital editions of VW. If you’re already a fan of this superb publication, you don’t need me to tell you how incredible it is. If you haven’t checked out Video Watchdog, please head over to their website at, where you can purchase back issues and digitial editions, and check out Tim’s blog. I want to sincerely thank Tim, Donna and everyone who was a part of Video Watchdog over the years for all the joy you’ve given me, and I wish you all the best of luck with your future endeavors.