Sunday, March 26, 2023

TV Tangent – Kolchak: The Night Stalker


Kolchak: The Night Stalker Poster

Episode 12: “Mr. R.I.N.G.” (1975) Directed by Gene Levitt; Written by Jeffrey Grant Rice, L. Ford Neale and John Huff; Starring: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Julie Adams and Corinne Camacho; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: **** (***** for the series)

“…For at least a few days, I was away, in the hands of men with no faces and no names. They broke me down, broke my story down, telling me it hadn’t happened the way I claimed. At least I think that’s what they did, between injections. Memories fade fast enough without chemical help, but if I don’t tell the story now, I don’t think I ever will...” – Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin)


Carl Kolchak

Thanks to Terence Towles Canote from A Shroud of Thoughts for hosting the 9th Annual Favorite TV Show Blogathon. Today’s post represents a landmark of sorts for this blog, which, to date, has focused exclusively on movies. Considering how Kolchak: The Night Stalker has influenced the small and big screens alike, it only seems appropriate to start with this landmark series.

Kolchak and Vincenzo

Over the course of a single, 20-episode season, Kolchak: The Nightstalker pitted its eponymous hero against supernatural forces, extraterrestrials, cryptids, and all manner of the strange and unexplained. This genre-defying mixture of mystery, comedy, science fiction and horror has made it difficult to pigeonhole the show into one easy classification. As portrayed by the inimitable Darren McGavin, intrepid Chicago-based reporter Carl Kolchak stops at nothing to get to the truth, much to the chagrin of his excitable, long-suffering editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland),** and exasperated law enforcement officials. With his rumpled light blue seersucker suit and trademark straw hat, Kolchak seems the unlikeliest of protagonists, but he's tenacious as a tick on a hound, and doesn’t care how many law enforcement officials’ feathers he rankles, or how many toes he steps on in the process of getting the scoop.   

* Fun Fact: Judging from the show’s middling review in Variety (September 18, 1974), Kolchak: The Night Stalker wasn’t considered anything particularly noteworthy, criticized for its two-dimensional characters and forced attempts at humor. The reviewer paid Kolchak a backhanded compliment, stating that the show had the “potential to survive, most likely as a marginal hit.” (Bok) 

** How Vincenzo never suffered a stroke due to Kolchak’s antics, is one of the show’s enduring mysteries.

R.I.N.G. kills Dr. Walker

“Mr. Ring” (which debuted on January 10th, 1975) starts off on a noirish note, with Kolchak sitting in his darkened office, presumably in the wee hours of the morning, dictating into a tape recorder. In typical film noir fashion, Kolchak attempts to recall the events of the past several days, through a mental fog. The story jumps to a flashback, as he receives yet another dressing down by Vincenzo. Kolchak is not too pleased to be relegated to writing an obituary about Avery Walker, a brilliant scientist, but we know there’s much more to the story than a simple death. Before long, he learns that he’s accidentally stumbled onto a top-secret project.

Kolchak visits Mrs. Walker

Kolchak’s first stop in his investigation is with the scientist’s alcoholic widow, Mrs. Walker (played by guest star Julie Adams, of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame), who seems less than heartbroken by her estranged husband’s sudden death. Although his meeting with Mrs. Walker provides few answers, it raises some tantalizing questions, including a mysterious project known as R.I.N.G. The trail leads to Dr. Walker’s colleague (and possible mistress) at the shadowy Tyrell Institute,* Dr. Leslie Dwyer (Corinne Camacho), but as he gets closer to the truth, his interviewees become more evasive. Suddenly, he finds himself under the intense scrutiny of several individuals, seen and unseen, who lean on Vincenzo to kill the story before it’s ever written. 

* Could the Tyrell Institute be the direct predecessor of Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation? While it could just be a coincidence, both organizations were involved with creating artificial people.


R.I.N.G. Lurks Around the Corner

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD) In typical Kolchak style, the persistent reporter badgers Dr. Dwyer into revealing R.I.N.G. is an acronym (Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia), describing a highly advanced android project. Ousted from Tyrell due to a difference in opinion with military priorities, Dwyer reveals that R.I.N.G.’s intellectual development was incomplete (“Ethically/emotionally, he’s still a child.”). In the interest of informing the public, he endeavors to find R.I.N.G. before the police and military have time to cover up its existence. While it’s obvious there’s a human face beneath the makeup, R.I.N.G. seems suitably intimidating, with its expressionless face, comprised of circuits and a mass of blinking lights. When R.I.N.G. fashions a crude face out of mortician’s wax, it only succeeds in making its appearance more unsettling. In addition to recalling 1973’s Westworld, the unstoppable android seems to anticipate Halloween’s similarly expressionless Michael Myers.

R.I.N.G. and Dr. Dwyer

Also in typical Kolchak fashion, what should have been the scoop of the decade is buried amidst a web of obfuscation and deceit. As we’ve come to learn with each episode, he might be down but never out, left to fight the good fight for another day. Paranoia, is a completely sane reaction in an insane world. Reflecting the early ‘70s disillusionment with the Vietnamese war, distrust of government and local law-enforcement officials is de rigueur. Kolchak’s sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong is simply a part of the checks and balances that we would expect from a just world. Unfortunately, none of Kolchak’s colleagues or antagonists share his idealism. “Mr. R.I.N.G.” is a solid entry in the series. While perhaps not one of the better-known episodes, it stands with the best of them, balancing the lighthearted moments with the dark, reminding us that the truth, for many of us, remains tantalizingly out of reach.  


Thursday, March 23, 2023

March Quick Picks and Pans

Blue Monkey Poster

Blue Monkey (aka: Insect) (1987) In this entertaining mess, an old hospital becomes ground zero for a new species of giant insect with an accelerated reproductive rate. Police detective Jim Bishop (Steve Railsback) teams up with Dr. Rachel Carson (Gwynyth Walsh) to stop the deadly infestation. John Vernon plays a hospital administrator more concerned with bad publicity than a potential health epidemic. Things get a bit muddled with too many threads about the hospital’s various patients, including parents-to-be George and Sandra Baker (played by SCTV alums Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke) and a group of  precocious little tykes (featuring a very young Sarah Polley). Quibbles aside, it’s a solid B-monster movie, albeit with updated practical effects. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and Tubi

Cowards Bend the Knee Poster

Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) Looking for a change of pace? How about some more insanity from Winnipeg-based filmmaker Guy Maddin? This dreamlike, black-and-white silent film, told in 10 chapters, follows the exploits of Maroons star hockey player Guy Maddin (played by Darcy Fehr), as he falls into a love triangle between femme fatale Meta (Melissa Dionisio) and the ghost of his deceased girlfriend Veronica (Amy Stewart). In a nod to The Hands of Orlac (1924), he embarks on a murderous rampage, convinced that he’s possessed by newly transplanted hands from Meta’s father. What does it all mean? Who knows? Just roll with it. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy

The White Buffalo Poster

The White Buffalo (1977) Director J. Lee Thompson’s western fable (based on a novel by Richard Sale) had an undeserved reputation for being a box office and critical flop when it was released, but it deserves a reappraisal. What if Wild Bill Hickock (Charles Bronson) teamed up with Crazy Horse (Will Sampson) to hunt a mythical albino buffalo? While the western action (including the obligatory bar fight) is fairly standard, it features engaging performances by Bronson and Sampson as former enemies who form a bond. Kim Novak, Jack Warden, Slim Pickens and John Carradine round out the stellar cast. The eponymous buffalo (brought to life with guidance by effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi) is a force of nature, analogous to Ahab’s white whale. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi

Class of 1984

Class of 1984 (1982) Andrew Norris (Perry King) is a new, idealistic music teacher at one of the worst high schools in the country. This teensploitation flick ticks every box of youth-gone-bad stereotypes, but succeeds thanks to a surprisingly good performance by Timothy Van Patten as Peter Stegman, the sociopathic ringleader of a gang with a stranglehold on the rest of the students. Lisa Langlois is also compelling as his equally unscrupulous companion, Patsy. The real standout, however, is Roddy McDowell as an alcoholic science teacher who’s been pushed too far. Watch for a young Michael J. Fox (before he added the initial “J” to his name) as a band student who pays the price for cooperating with Mr. Norris. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video and Tubi

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

February Quick Picks and Pans


Cannibal Poster

Cannibal (2013) Carlos loves women… as food. He works as a tailor in the city, while indulging in his culinary hobby in a secluded mountain cabin. His rituals are thrown into disarray when a young woman (Olimpia Melinte) moves into his apartment building, plunging him into an existential crisis. Rather than dwelling on the sordid details of Carlos’ macabre lifestyle, director/co-writer Manuel Martín Cuenca presents a character study of a deeply conflicted man. Antonio de la Torre’s measured, idiosyncratic performance as Carlos is oddly mesmerizing – portraying a man who can only enjoy intimacy with women through eating them. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating, surprisingly subtle portrait of sociopathy.     

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and Kanopy

The Moviegoer Poster

The Moviegoer (2023) Filmmaker Ross Munro’s (follow him on Twitter @rossbrew)  semiautobiographical love letter to the movies (told with a combination of animation and still images) is seen through the perspective of a preadolescent boy and his cinematic crush for a fictional Venezuelan actress. Set in 1972 and narrated by Munro, The Moviegoer features an homage to the late great Raquel Welch (with a parody of Kansas City Bomber) and ‘70s sexploitation movies (with some saucy Swedish stewardesses). Running a scant 19 minutes, Munro’s short film is part tall tale/part fact, but (as Werner Herzog would likely attest) only in the service of a greater truth.  

Rating: ****. Not available (yet), but watch for it at the American Documentary & Film Festival (and hopefully a film festival near you!).


4D Man Poster

4D Man (1959) Producer Jack H. Harris’ follow-up to The Blob (also filmed in Pennsylvania), is comparatively lower key but more thoughtful. Dr. Scott Nelson (Robert Lansing) oversees a research team (including his younger brother, Tony). Meanwhile, Tony (James Congdon) spends his spare moments pursuing an invention that enables objects to pass through solid matter via the amplification of brain waves. Scott duplicates the experiment, permanently transforms his body in the process. He can walk through walls, but a side effect of the process is that he begins to rapidly age (the only way to slow his condition is to sap years of life energy from other people). 4D Man is a bit on the talky side, taking its time introducing the main characters and establishing a love triangle between the brothers and a pretty lab assistant (Lee Meriwether, in her first feature film role). Once it builds momentum, however, it grabs hold and doesn’t let go. Unfairly overshadowed by its contemporaries, 4D Man deserves to be rediscovered as a forgotten ‘50s sci-fi gem. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


Crazy Love Poster 

Crazy Love (1987) Not to be confused with the 2007 documentary with the same name this story in three acts is based on the work of Charles Bukowski (the third act adapts his story, “The Copulating Mermaid of Venice Beach”). Set over a 21-year span, Belgian director/co-writer Dominique Deruddere focuses on Harry (played by Geert Hunaerts and Josse De Pauw), who’s perennially unlucky in love and life. It’s a sporadically humorous, often painful look at the perils of adolescence and the lost dreams of adulthood. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Dark Places Poster

Dark Places (1974) Edward Foster inherits an old mansion and its hidden fortune from a deceased mental patient. Unscrupulous brother and sister Ian and Sarah Mandeville (Christopher Lee and Joan Collins), along with unprincipled attorney Prescott (Herbert Lom), plot to cheat him out of his inheritance. Foster’s sanity gradually erodes, amidst a series of strange occurrences. The film enjoys a languid pace (some might just call it slow), taking its time to reach a surprise ending that probably won’t surprise anyone. It’s a mildly entertaining thriller, despite the reprehensible insinuation that mental illness correlates with homicidal behavior. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (available individually or part of The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection 2)



Sunday, February 26, 2023

Something Weird

Something Weird Poster

(1967) Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis; Written by James F. Hurley; Starring: Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums, Ted Heil and Lawrence J. Aberwood; Available on DVD 

Rating: *** 

“The witch has a painting on her leg, which is a mouth. There are areas in here where we truly intended to keep the audience a little off-balance as to what was happening.” – Herschell Gordon Lewis (from DVD commentary) 

Many thanks to Rebecca from Taking Up Room for hosting another round of the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, celebrating the best of the worst. After reviewing Blood Feast for last year’s blogathon, I’m back with a look at another Herschell Gordon Lewis movie that truly lives up to its title. 

The Hag

Hey, do you wanna see Something Weird? Well, yes, I often cover the weird side of cinema on this blog, but this time, it’s literally the movie, Something Weird.*/** H.G. Lewis *** was a showman first, with filmmaking a distant second priority, which informed his quick and cheap approach. His aptly named movie, with its ESP-meets-LSD theme, was shot in Chicago in under two weeks for a budget of roughly $35,000. As with H.G. Lewis’ other productions, don’t expect great acting, story, cinematography, or anything profound – but that’s not the point. The film was purposely designed to be part of a double bill (most likely at second-rate grindhouses and drive-ins), and in his words, “It didn’t detract” (High praise, indeed). Typical of H.G. Lewis casting, you can expect doughy middle-aged men that recite their lines like they’re perusing a cafeteria menu, and young women that are easy on the eyes, but have all the personality of a sea slug. The filmmaker admitted that he especially looked for actors that showed up and knew their lines, so there you have it. 

* Fun Fact #1: The movie started out with the Jim Hurley script, The Eerie World of Dr. Jordan. Lewis didn’t think it had box office potential, as written, so he made multiple changes. 

** Fun Fact #2: According to Lewis, the original title of Blood Feast was Something Weird. Several years later, when he made today’s film in question, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to repurpose the title.  

*** A Word to the Wise: Unless you need a cure for insomnia, I strongly recommend skipping the Something Weird DVD commentary. Mr. Lewis only appears in the first 5-10 minutes, while for most of the film’s run time, it’s about the origins of Something Weird Video, as recollected by its late founder Mike Vraney. I’m sure there’s a fascinating story there somewhere, but you won’t find it here.


Mitchell's Ruined Face

After a mishap with a downed power line, Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe) gains the gift of second sight, but his face is horribly disfigured. A hideous witch (Mudite Arums) seemingly appears out of nowhere, promising to restore his appearance if he becomes her lover (think of every stereotypical portrayal of a cackling, warty-faced old crone, minus the pointy hat, and you have a pretty good idea). To everyone else, she appears as Ellen Parker (Elizabeth Lee), a blonde bombshell. He reluctantly accepts the witch’s offer, taking on a partnership of sorts. Mitchell’s ability to predict people’s futures becomes a more lucrative business than his former profession (whatever that was), and he’s soon enlisted by the local police department to help solve a serial murder case. Enter kung-fu-kicking federal agent Dr. Alex Jordan (William Brooker) who’s interested in Mitchell’s extraordinary talent. Thinking it might enhance Mitchell’s extrasensory abilities, Jordan provides a vial of LSD, and trippy hijinks ensue.  

Church Ghost

Something Weird is filled with moments that will likely have you questioning if someone spiked your morning coffee with something more potent than caffeine. The top highlight is the cartoonishly over-the-top performance by the aforementioned Arums,* who deserved her own origin movie. There’s also the requisite LSD hallucination scene** tinted orange (where Mitchell learns the identity of the killer) and a wayward ghost in a church. But the biggest “what did I just watch” moment belongs to Dr. Jordan, when he settles down for a good night’s sleep, only to find himself battling a blanket with malevolent intentions (No, really!). 

* Fun Fact #3: Searching several databases for Mudite Arums yielded nothing, other than the fact that this film was her sole acting credit, leading me to wonder if her unusual name was an anagram. If anyone has insight into the mystery, let me know. 

** Fun Fact #4: 1967 was a banner year for movies about lysergic acid diethylamide, including The Trip, LSD Flesh of Devil, The Love-Ins, The Weird World of LSD, and The Acid Eaters (produced by former H.G. Lewis business partner David F. Friedman).

Dr. Jordan Tricked by the Hag

Of course, none of this exactly adds up to a cohesive whole. Arguably, Something Weird has first, second and third acts, but I’d wager no one would ever describe the plot as tightly constructed or more than marginally coherent. Instead, think of the movie as a mélange of different elements shoehorned into an 80-minute package. If remembered at all, it’s best recalled for its individual moments, rather than a whole. If you’re anything like me (not that I’m wishing that on anyone else, mind you), however, you’ll appreciate these moments, recognizing the fact that schlock needs love too. At the end of the day, the question remains, does Something Weird live up to its title? Why, yes it does. So, watch it with the libation of your choice, turn off your brain, and tune into the psychedelic vibes. 


Sources for this article: Something Weird DVD commentary by H.G. Lewis, David F. Friedman and Mike Vraney; Herschell Gordon Lewis interview with Boyd Rice, Incredibly Strange Films 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Double Take: The Stepford Wives


Stepford Wives at the Supermarket

The times, they were a-changing. Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives,* reflected the evolving sociopolitical climate of the turbulent late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when many women, tired of being regarded as second-class citizens, and shackled by domestic life, demanded more. At the same time, they faced a backlash from those who wanted to preserve the status quo and keep them in the kitchens. Although Levin didn’t consciously intend to write a story with overt social commentary, his novel astutely captured the growing war between the sexes, through a satirical lens. Another layer of Levin’s novel (underscored in the 1975 film), was the “white flight” of upwardly mobile (predominately Caucasian) families from the densely populated, racially/ethnically diverse cities to the more vanilla, WASP-centric suburbs. Levin used his experience living in the suburban Connecticut town of Wilton as a template for his picture-postcard, Norman Rockwell-esque town of Stepford. 

* Fun Fact: The Stepford Wives started as a play, which eventually evolved into a novel.

Joanna Eberhart

Enter our protagonist, Joanna Eberhart, a smart, independent woman with aspirations of becoming a professional photographer. She begrudgingly acquiesces to her husband Walter’s desire to transplant their family to Stepford, and its quaintly manufactured trappings. With a couple of notable exceptions, she fails to connect with the women of Stepford, and their single-minded obsession with housekeeping. The move only exacerbates the divide between Joanna and Walter, when he spends more and more time away from the house, working long hours in the office or cavorting with his new chums at the shadowy Stepford Men’s Association. But beneath the “boys will be boys” veneer lies something much more sinister.

Stepford Wives_2004 Version

Levin’s novel endures, not only because it’s a taut, well-crafted thriller, but because its core implications are just as relevant today. “Stepford” and “Stepford Wife” have entered our general lexicon, to describe something (or someone) as bland, pre-programmed, or homogenous. The current climate is equally ripe for satire, with the alarming rise of groups that would prefer to return to a mythical, “great” time in America’s past, when (predominately white, heterosexual) men were men and women knew their place. An entire generation separated the 1975 and 2004 film versions, which took wildly divergent approaches. How successful was each respective film, in relation to the source material? Let’s take a look…

The Stepford Wives_1975 Poster

The Stepford Wives (1975) Directed by Bryan Forbes; Screenplay by William Goldman; Based on the novel by Ira Levin; Starring: Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, Nanette Newman and Tina Louise; Available on DVD 

Rating: **** 

 "A lot of horror movies are dark and gloomy and sinister, but this was a horror that was in sunlight with beautiful surroundings and beautiful people. It made it so it lulled you along until it finally terrified you." – Nanette Newman (who appeared as Carol Van Sant in The Stepford Wives)   

Joanna and Bobby

Joanna and Walter Eberhart (Katharine Ross and Peter Masterson) leave the hustle and bustle of New York City to suburban Connecticut, where life is simpler and the pace is slower. Something, however, isn’t quite right in the seemingly idyllic domestic world of Stepford (filmed in Darien and Fairfield, CT). Joanna* immediately feels alienated by the cleaning-obsessed housewives and their selfless devotion, catering to their husbands’ every whim.** But as Joanna is repelled by Stepford, Walter seems immediately at home, joining the exclusive Stepford Men’s Association. They carry out their meetings, sequestered in a 19th century mansion, away from the eyes of their spouses, who dress like they belong in Leave it to Beaver. Joanna finds comradeship in two other independent spirits, Bobby Markowe (Paula Prentiss) and Charmaine Wimpiris (Tina Louise), but their alliance proves to be short-lived when both friends seemingly transform into mindless housewives overnight.*** Soon, it’s Joanna against the rest of the town.  

* Fun Fact #1: Before Ross landed the role, Jeanne Seberg, Diane Keaton, and Tuesday Weld were considered for Joanna Eberhart. 

** Fun Fact #2: Levin, himself, wasn’t terribly pleased with the results, asserting the filmmakers missed the point: “In Stepford, the women would have been in hot pants and the men would have been at a softball game with the women bringing them cold beer.” (from 2002 Los Angeles Times interview) 

*** Fun Fact #3: In the scene where Joanna stabs her friend Bobbie’s doppelgänger, it’s not Ross’ hand but director Forbes.


Incident at the Pool

The Stepford Wives lays bare the awful truth about the “boys club” mentality, with the Men’s Association an antiquated rationalization for misogynistic behavior. The men in the film, galvanized by association leader Dale Coba (Patrick O’Neal), exert their considerable peer pressure on Walter to fall in line. Through the dynamics of the group, the men perpetrate what would be unthinkable as an individual. The Stepford men fear women as equals, so they must keep them subordinated. In a brief moment of vulnerability, Walter’s tearfully confesses his love to Joanna, but it’s not as much an admission of spousal devotion as a resignation that he’s already sold out. As Joanna gets closer to the truth behind Stepford’s patriarchal conspiracy, her husband gaslights her at every step. The disturbing climax, reinforced by the chilling final scene, suggests that suburbia has no place for diversity or outliers.* In the town’s push for absolute conformity, there is no escape. 

* Fun Fact #4: Jordan Peele cited The Stepford Wives as an inspiration for his own suburban nightmare film, Get Out.

Joanne's Doppleganger

In the world of The Stepford Wives, plausibility takes a backseat to building a satire of Swiftian proportions (instead of eating babies, they’re killing their wives). The women of Stepford are only good as servants and sex objects – a terribly dull existence for life partners. But the men of Stepford are equally vapid – they don’t want significant others that are intellectual equals or display independence, they only desire subordinates. And what about their children (as my wife pointed out)? It wouldn’t take very long for the kids to notice something’s wrong with mom. But exaggeration and contrast (tempered with a healthy suspension of disbelief) are cornerstones of satire. While the film version makes some necessary omissions and changes from book to screen, it remains largely faithful to the novel, underscoring the wide chasm between the men and women of Stepford. The Stepford Wives wasn’t met with unanimous praise upon its release, with some feminists decrying it as anti-woman, but it’s since withstood the test of time. If nothing else, it’s forced many to re-examine what a partnership means. 


The Stepford Wives 2004 Poster

The Stepford Wives (2004) Directed by Frank Oz; Screenplay by Paul Rudnick; Based on the novel by Ira Levin; Starring: Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart and Jon Lovitz; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: **

“The Stepford Wives was too big and it was unsatisfying to do. Not that it was unsatisfying to do, but it was unsatisfying as a result, because as much as I loved parts of it, and I'm really proud of so much of it, the entire movie wasn't what I wanted it to be. It's my own fault, I didn't follow my instincts.” – Frank Oz (from 2007 AV Club interview with Nathan Rabin) 

Joanne at the Supermarket

If the 1975 film version utilized Levin’s novel as a template, the remake used the story as a springboard. But what should have been a refreshing update proved to be a glaring weakness. Compared to the relatively low budget of the original film, the $90 million remake seems bloated (other than the sheen of Hollywood schmaltz and A-list actors, you’d be hard pressed to find where the money went). Instead of depicting a modest, bucolic neighborhood, the 2004 version goes one louder, making Stepford an exclusive gated community filled with gaudy, soulless McMansions. This could have been a good launching point for commentary about mass consumerism and America’s “bigger is better” mentality, but the satirical elements never go beyond the superficial.

Joanna at Awards Show

A successful book adaptation doesn’t require slavish devotion to the minutiae of the source material, but it should, at the very least, capture its spirit. Somehow, the filmmakers made the wrong choices about what to change every step of the way, starting with Joanna Eberhart (played by the usually reliable Nicole Kidman). This version of Joanna (a producer of a mean-spirited reality TV show) comes across as self-centered and unsympathetic. Likewise, it’s difficult to buy Matthew Broderick as her would-be alpha male husband. His character seems too wishy-washy to comply with the Stepford conspiracy. When he ultimately musters the courage to stand up to the town’s male leadership, it’s more of a plot contrivance than a natural progression of the character. But one of the film’s greatest mistakes is showing its hand far too soon. One of the wives begins to malfunction (sped up for “comic” effect) at a barn dance, leaving no ambiguity about Stepford’s secret. Compare this to an early scene in the 1975 version, in which one of the Stepford wives (following a seemingly minor car accident in a supermarket parking lot) appears to be experiencing a nervous breakdown. While her reaction seemed somewhat abnormal, given the context, it was entirely plausible.

Joanna and Bobbie

One bright spot in the remake is Bette Midler’s performance as Joanna’s nonconformist neighbor Bobbie Markowitz,* who seems to be the only character that could have been transplanted from the original film. Midler is obviously having fun with the role, and delivers some of the best lines. Unfortunately, Midler and Kidman don’t have nearly the same chemistry as Ross and Prentiss in the original film. We’re forced to take their friendship at face value, when in reality they’d probably never move in the same circles. 

* Fun Fact #5: According to a 2002 Hollywood Reporter article, Joan Cusack was originally cast to play Bobbie.

Microchip Implants

If the original film required suspension of disbelief, the remake stretches our resilience to the breaking point. We’re never entirely clear on where the film stands, with the transformation of the eponymous wives. Instead of employing android duplicates, the Men’s Association uses computerized brain implants to make the wives compliant. But when one of the wives pays out like a cash machine, it’s clear there’s more than microchips in the mix. When we learn that the effect of the neural implants is a reversible process, it takes the horror out of the original premise. 

Explaining the Process

(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Perhaps the greatest betrayal of Levin’s story is that the source of the wifely switcheroo isn’t a male-led conspiracy, but the brainchild of welcome wagon lady Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), who only wanted to preserve the status quo. Instead of co-conspirators, the Stepford men (including her husband, the Men’s Association leader) are nothing more than pawns. When we see the Stepford husbands bumbling around in a supermarket towards the end of the film, it’s an obvious nod to the original’s final scene, but it isn’t as much a tribute as it’s a mockery. This is not to say that there couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be a comic reimagining of The Stepford Wives, but the 2004 version lacks the sardonic edge the material requires. Better luck next time?  

Sources: “The Art of Darkness” (2002), The Los Angeles Times, by Mary McNamara; “Cultural Studies; Stepping Out in Stepford Style,” (2002), The New York Times, by Ginia Bellafante; “The Stepford Wives: Inside the Making of the 1975 Feminist Horror Classic,” Entertainment Weekly, by Devan Coggan (2022); Hollywood Reporter (Nov. 25, 2002); Frank Oz Interview (2007), AV Club, by Nathan Rabin  


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Announcing The Futurethon


“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future…” – Criswell (Plan 9 from Outer Space)

Things to Come

Oh, the future… What secrets lie in store for us? Will we eventually reach a utopian paradise, or will it be a dystopian nightmare? Since the dawn of movies, conjecture about what kind of world our descendants will inherit has long fascinated filmmakers. With this in mind, Gill Jacob of RealweegiemidgetReviews and Yours Truly, are excited to present a new blogathon for the 21st century, the Futurethon. It’s a three-day exploration of what might be (or what never was).

2001: A Space Odyssey

If a significant portion of the movie or TV show takes place in the future, it’s fair game… let your imagination run wild. Not sure what to write? Here are some suggested topics to get your creative juices flowing: 

·       What movies about the future got right – and especially, what they got wrong.

·       Post-Apocalyptic Films (the Mad Max series, Waterworld, A Boy and His Dog)

·       Retro Future (Things to Come, The Jetsons, Metropolis)

·       Comedies (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Idiocracy)

·       Time Travel (The Time Machine, Back to the Future II)

·       Hopeful Futures (Star Trek, Forbidden Planet)

·       Bleak Futures (Cowboy Bebop, Blade Runner, The 10th Victim, Gattaca) 

As we’ve mentioned in the past, don’t let the “blog” in blogathon scare you. We will happily accept submissions from your podcast, YouTube channel, Facebook/Instagram post, or interpretive dance performance. Let your imagination soar! Still unsure about a topic? Don’t be afraid to reach out and bounce your idea off us. More likely than not, we’ll say, “Go for it.”


Terminator 2

What: The Futurethon 

Who: Hosted by Gill Jacob and Yours Truly (Barry P.) 

Where: Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis 

When: April 28-30, 2023 

How: Please read the rules below, and send us your post request (review, podcast, etc…) via email (, Twitter (@barry_cinematic), or by commenting below. You may contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page (Be sure to include your preferred name, along with your blog’s title). Please Note: Since Gill and I will be taking our respective vacations (Or “On holiday” to those from across the pond) in February and March, respectively, plus the fact that we reside in completely different time zones, we humbly suggest that you send all post requests to both blog hosts – Don’t miss out on the chance to stake your claim.

The Time Machine

Here are the rules… 

1.     You may review any films or TV shows set in the future (in whole or part).

2.     Due to the vast number of potential subjects for this blogathon, ABSOLUTELY NO DUPLICATE TITLES WILL BE ACCEPTED, unless it’s part of a career retrospective, or a series of films or shows.

3.     Choices are first-come, first served. Consider sending us your top two choices, just in case your first choice has been claimed.

4.     Claim your blogathon topic by entering a comment on this page and/or through the methods listed above (see note).

5.     Add your Twitter username (if you have one) so we can promote your post.

6.     A full list of blogs and review choices will be posted on a separate page, and updated regularly.

7.     Only original, never-before-published posts will be accepted.

8.     Send a link of your finished post to Gill or me on one of the days of the blogathon.

9.     Note: We will be publishing all links on both blogs, each day of the blogathon.

10.  Please also note: Gill and I have already claimed the following titles below:

Barry at Cinematic Catharsis – Logan’s Run (1976)

Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Pilot) (1979)


The Black Hole

One more thing... 

If you plan to participate, or just want to show your support, please grab one of the following banners to display on your blog:


Futurethon_Forbidden Planet

Futurethon_Logan's Run


Futurethon_Star Trek IV


We can’t wait to see your submissions. Have fun, and we’ll see you in the future!