I had heard about this impossible-to-see episode of The Name of the Game—a cutting edge television show that ran for seventy-six 90-minute episodes from 1968 to 1971 on NBC—but until recently, I’d never seen it. The Name of the Game had the biggest budget of any show of its time and a very interesting concept. First of all each episode was, in effect, it’s own semi-standalone 90-minute movie. The series was one of the first of what was then known as a “wheel series.” A wheel series was mostly known as a time slot on TV that two or three different shows shared, alternating each week. With The Name of the Game‘s high concept though, this wheel was alternating between three different stars who were featured in their own episodes/movies. And what a high concept it was!
The series was based on the 1966 television movie Fame Is the Name of the Game, which was directed by Stuart Rosenberg and stars Tony Franciosa. The Name of the Game rotated among three characters working at Howard Publications, a large magazine publishing company. Jeffrey “Jeff” Dillon (Franciosa), a crusading reporter with People magazine (before there was a real-life People magazine); Glenn Howard (Gene Barry, taking over for George Macready, who had originated the role in the earlier film), the sophisticated, well-connected publisher; and Daniel “Dan” Farrell (Robert Stack), the editor of Crime magazine. Serving as a common connection was then-newcomer Susan Saint James as Peggy Maxwell, the editorial assistant for each.
Which brings us to one of the last episodes of the series, LA 2017 aka Los Angeles: AD 2017. This episode was the first long form directing assignment for 24-year-old Steven Spielberg. Written by well-known offbeat author Phillip Wylie (who wrote Gene Barry’s wild episode Love-In At Ground Zero in the first season). Wylie’s work is known to have inspired the characters of Superman, Doc Savage and even Flash Gordon (from his story that was later made into the film When Worlds Collide). In this episode, Glenn Howard is hunted down in a lethally polluted, frightening and sometimes hilarious Los Angeles of the future, where the fascist government is ruled by psychiatrists and the populace has been driven to live in underground bunkers to survive the pollution. Sounds about right, right? This was the sixteenth episode of the third season, and the cast included Barry Sullivan, Edmond O’Brien, and (in a brief cameo) Spielberg’s friend Joan Crawford.
It starts out with a car crash while character Howard (Gene Barry) is seen driving through the mountains recording a memo to the President to do with an important pollution scandal story that will appear in his magazine, and ends up being a dream, which allowed the science-fiction plot to fit into the modern-day setting of the show, though in the final moments he is still contemplating what happened while driving back in his car (cue close-up shot of his tail pipes chugging out 1971 style car exhaust fumes). In the end, we see a stiff bird hanging in a tree… a close encounter of the (dead) bird kind indeed!
Watching this 1971 pop culture prophecy in the actual Los Angeles of 2017 is a total mindblower. Some of it is insanely far-fetched and yet there are a few humdingers that really freak you out and make you think, the most well known being my favorite scene where we are taken into a truly “underground” club with a demented octogenarian acid rock band totally freaking out (or at least trying to):
Here, exclusively for Dangerous Minds, Reyes has selected six standout classic examples of the genre—and has provided a little introductory commentary too. The list include credits from the likes of none other than a young Steven Spielberg, Dennis Weaver, Valerie Harper and Charles Durning. And they’re all classics.
But best of all—you can view most of them right here right now. So without further ado, here’s Amanda to tell you about our first little feature…
1. Duel (1971)
Amanda Reyes: Duel is the ultimate Movie of the Week. It was an early directing job for Steven Spielberg and he shows off some amazing directing skills in this tale about a man being chased by a creepy semi across a desert highway.
Everything is simple, pure and absolutely petrifying. Dennis Weaver plays the man on the run, and turns in an excellent performance. The script was written by the great Richard Matheson, and there’s not much I can say about this one except it’s very near perfect on every level.
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
The Giant Spider Invasion (Japan). Based on the low-budget 1975 film produced by Transcentury Pictures, directed by Bill Rebane
As a huge fan of horror films, especially those of the vintage variety, I really enjoyed pulling together this post that features foreign-made film posters advertising various horror films from the 1960s and 1970s.
Suspiria (1977) movie poster (Italy)
The best thing about movie posters made for consumption outside the U.S. is that they are so much more adventurous. Few of these posters would have ever seen the light of day in a U.S. theater lobby due to their their liberal use of unorthodox imagery and nudity. Some of what follows may be considered NSFW—which is precisely why you MUST see them!
The Exorcist (1973) movie poster (Turkey)
Dracula A.D. (1972, Hammer Films) movie poster (Italy)
More of these marvelous posters after the jump…...
Publicly shaming poachers and assholes who kill exotic or endangered animals on Facebook has been going on for years. But this photo takes the cake of the worst kind of “hunter” on the planet! Just look at Steven Spielberg’s smug face!
Click here to see the full top image. Click here to read the image below.
Robert Shaw liked to drink. Indeed, the actor, author and playwright liked to drink a lot. And it often led to some disastrous consequences.
During the making of Jaws, Robert Shaw had an alcohol-induced blackout during the filming of that famous S.S. Indianapolis speech. Shaw had convinced director Steven Spielberg that as the three characters in the scene (played by Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss) had been drinking, it might be an idea to have a wee chaser before filming, just to get him in the mood. Spielberg agreed. It was an unwise decision as Shaw drank so much he had to be carried back onto the set. Hardly any filming took place that day, and Spielberg wrapped the crew at eleven in the morning.
Later that night, in the wee small hours, a panicked Shaw ‘phoned Spielberg to ask if he had done anything embarrassing as he could not remember what had happened. And would the director let him film the scene again?
The next day, a sober and contrite Shaw turned up early for work and delivered one of cinema’s most memorable speeches.
“Drink?” Shaw once famously said in 1977, “Can you imagine being a movie star and having to take it seriously without a drink?”
“I agree with Richard Burton that drink gives poetry to life. Drink for actors is an occupational hazard born largely out of fear.”
The stories of Shaw’s alcoholic excesses, often abusive behavior, and on-set pranks can sometimes overshadow his quality as an actor and his talent as a writer. The academic John Sutherland has pointed out Shaw was a far better writer than many of the best-selling authors whose books inspired the films he starred in, particularly Pete Benchley (Jaws, The Deep) and Alistair MacLean (Force 10 From Navarone), though sadly none of Shaw’s five novels or his three plays are currently in print.
I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie.
I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.
Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.” I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.
But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10-page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut-down.
Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.
During the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, Wim Wenders set-up a static camera in a room at the Hotel Martinez. He then invited a selection of directors to answer a series of questions on the future of cinema:
“Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?”
The directors, in order of appearance were:
Mike De Leon
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Each director was alloted 11 minutes (one 16mm reel of film) to answer the questions, which were then edited together by Wenders and released as Room 666 in 1982. Interestingly each director is positioned in front of a television, which is left on throughout the interview. It’s a simple and effective film, and the most interesting contributors are the usual suspects. Godard goes on about text and is dismissive of TV, then turns tables by asking Wenders questions; Fassbinder is distracted (he died within months) and quickly discusses “sensation oriented cinema” and independent film-making; Herzog is the only one who turns the TV off (he also takes off his shoes and socks) and thinks of cinema as static and TV, he also suggests movies in the future will be supplied on demand; Spielberg is, as expected of a high-grossing Hollywood film-maker, interested in budgets and their effect on smaller films, though he is generally buoyant about the future of cinema; while Monte Hellman isn’t, hates dumb films and tapes too many movies off TV he never watches; all of which is undercut by Turkish director Yilmaz Güney, who talks the damaging affects of capitalism and the reality of making films in a country where his work was suppressed and banned “by some dominant forces”.