Tag Archives: The A-Team

Throwback Thursday: “Wizards and Warriors” (1983)!

I suppose that “Wizards and Warriors” was what passed for “Game of Thrones” in 1983.  Except it was cheesy as hell (which of course meant that I loved it as a fourth grader), and it didn’t last longer than eight episodes.

It was CBS’ mid-season replacement for my beloved “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (the Bruce Boxleitner retro adventure series that I’ve written about here previously), which was cancelled due to low ratings.  “Wizards and Warriors” ran in its 8 PM time slot, and then itself was cancelled due to low ratings, so it never saw a second season.  (I believe both shows were competing with NBC’s ratings juggernaut, “The A-Team,” which every kid in the world loved except me.  I was weird.)

“Wizards and Warriors” was really just an obvious effort to capitalize on the popularity of the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing game.  The show was campy stuff.  The pilot episode, which you can watch in its entirety over at dailymotion, was entitled “The Unicorn of Death.”  It dealt with a time-bomb hidden inside a princess’ birthday present, which strikes me as a pretty surprising plot for a sword-and-sorcery program.

It had a cast that went on to better things, though.  One was Julia Duffy, of “Newheart” (1982-1990) fame.  Another was “Grease” (1978) veteran Jeff Conaway, who most 80’s kids will remember from “Taxi” (1978-1983).  The dastardly villain of “Wizards and Warriors” was played by the terrific character actor Duncan Regehr, a “that guy” actor who popped up in a lot of genre roles in the 80’s and 90’s.  Here’s the thing about Regehr — I want him to be a real-life bad guy.  He’s got an absolutely sly, suave, villainous face and manner — and his name just sounds like a villain’s name.  If he’d left acting to commit a series of high-profile crimes in the real world, that would be wickedly, awesomely meta.

 

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A review of “Damnation Alley” (1977)

I’m not sure how to review “Damnation Alley” (1977).  I can’t call it a classic.  Portions of it are just too poorly made for that — even to the point where it deserves the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment.  But it is an extremely enjoyable 1970’s end-of-the-world flick, it has some notably successful key scenes and it’s nothing less than venerated by people who love 70’s science fiction.

The movie’s story sounds as though it were conceived by scientifically illiterate teenagers who were passing a joint around … and the joint was laced with hallucinogens, and it was the crazy 70’s.  A nuclear war with Russia has actually tilted the earth on its axis, so it’s spinning askew.  This (and apparently not radiation or nuclear winter) has caused all sorts of cataclysms, and mankind’s best hope is that, through an act of God or something, the correct axis just sort of … reasserts itself.  In the meantime, the same threats you’d usually expect are inhabiting 70’s cinema’s postapocalyptic America: sick hillbillies and mutant fauna.

A trio of United States Air Force servicemen are forced to leave a protected California missile silo that has allowed them to survive the holocaust.  (It burns down after a drunk commanding officer passes out and drops a lit cigarette.  Seriously.)  Our heroes embark across America in the desperate hope to reach the one city that has apparently survived the nuclear fire.  And that’s Albany, for some reason.

I’m pretty sure Roger Zelazny’s 1967 novel, upon which this is ostensibly based, has little to do with this simplistic and head-scratching screenplay.  The book sounds much smarter and more interesting.

The movie gets off to a rocky start, in an ineptly blocked scene in which the director can’t even manage to get the three principal actors to make their faces visible during their conversation with one another.  (These would be a pre-“The A-Team” George Peppard, a pre-“Airwolf” Jan Michael Vincent, and a pre-“Terminator” Paul Winfield.”)  Just after this is an action sequence with “giant” scorpions that are composited onto the action via blue-screen.  The special effects here are embarrassingly bad; for a frame of reference, consider that this is the same year that the studio, 20th Century Fox, also released “Star Wars.”

Still, this ridiculous movie rises above its failings with some elements that were damn good.  For starters, I inexplicably found myself liking Peppard’s stern, laconic, Southern-drawled leader, and Winfield’s likable sidekick.  Even Vincent’s mimbo antics weren’t too grating.  He must have been a fan-favorite heartthrob back in the 70’s; the writer and director keep him front and center — saving girls, cracking jokes and riding a dirtbike.  (His character, “Hell Tanner,” was actually the main protagonist of Zelazny’s book.)

Here is where “Damnation Alley” actually reminded me of some of the better George A. Romero films.  Despite thin and slightly offbeat characterizations, the protagonists still managed to turn out cool and likable.  I identified with them.  (Is it just because this and the “Dead” movies seem to portray real, regular people instead common tropes?)

Second, certain scenes worked beautifully.  A no-budget scene depicting the inside of a casino was perfectly atmospheric and haunting.  The abandoned-town-with-a-secret scene was perfect, horrifying and unforgettable.  (And it had some nicely conceived antagonists.)  What should have been a by-the-numbers, cliched, post-apocalyptic hillbilly gang turned out to be genuinely frightening.  (The actors in these minor roles were quite competent.)  Don’t these prosaically characterized evildoers menace us more effectively than the clownish supervillains of the “Mad Max” films?

And, crappy scorpions notwithstanding, some of the period special effects actually worked.  The centerpiece of “Damnation Alley,” for a lot of fans, is the “Landmaster” — the  quite genuine 12-wheel, seven-ton, futuristic amphibious armored personnel carrier constructed specifically for the movie.  (That’s it in the second photo below.)  Seeing the actual (badass) vehicle instead of a model for the film should appeal to the kid in a lot of filmgoers, even today.  (I’m not even a gearhead, and I had fun with it.)  The custom vehicle cost $350,000 to build in 1976, and it’s still a legend in the 70’s science fiction fan community.

Another “special effect” that strangely holds up over time is the movie’s depiction of “radioactive skies.”  It’s a gaudy visual effect that would be cheap and low-tech by today’s standards, and it absolutely screams “1970’s cheese.”  Yet, as a modern movie fan, I loved it.  It’s perfect for setting the film’s unintentional clumsy-yet-creepy mood; it sets the tone for a beloved vintage B-movie classic, and it’s just neat to look at.  Wikipedia has some interesting information on the back ground for “Damnation Alley” — the radioactive skies effect actually took up 10 months of post-production, despite a final result that paled in comparison to “Star Wars.”  It was a troubled production, and its story is interesting reading.

Seriously, I had fun with “Damnation Alley.”  If it isn’t quite a “classic,” then it’s at least a really fun movie to which I’m sure I’ll return.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’m going to label it a Triple F — it’s a Forgivably Flawed Favorite.

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Throwback Thursday: Wrist Racers!!!

What you see below was the holy grail for little boys in 1980 — Wrist Racers.  Although Knickerbocker produced versions of these for TV shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider” and “The A-Team,” I had the plain shiny red version.

I got it for my birthday one year, I think.  And man did I love it like Gollum loved the goddam Ring.  The concept for the toy is a little weird … it was just a windup toy car that you wore on your wrist like a cheap, bizarre, oversized bauble of a wristwatch.  Because God forbid you went through the trouble of slipping a tiny toy car into your pocket.

You wound it up manually as it was in its clear plastic housing.  And when you wanted to launch it across the floor, you held your forearm down to the floor with that little retractable red car ramp deployed.  Then you pressed a button and the thing would shoot across any smooth surface — delightfully fast.  (If you think about it, this toy’s design was a slightly reminiscent of the Evel Knievel wind-up motorcycle toys of the 1970’s.)  I remember shooting it under my family’s dining room table (the same place I loved to hurl those tiny period “bouncey balls”), so that it ricocheted off of all the table and chair legs.

And very soon after I got it, I lost the damned thing.  I was playing hide and seek in a vast cornfield (yes, rural New York indeed has cornfields, people), and I f@#&ing lost it.  The clear plastic housing had sprung open, and I lost that damn shiny red car.  Words cannot describe the remorse I felt.  I still remember looking down to see the empty housing on my wrist, like a missing limb, and gaping dumbfounded at my discovery.  And that car was absolutely impossible to find in acres of high corn (even though I tearfully attempted that Sisyphean task anyway).

I might one day find and order one of these off of eBay, just to achieve closure for that event in my childhood.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Tales of The Gold Monkey” and “Bring ‘Em Back Alive”

I was chatting the other day with author and blogger “Porter Girl,” about what I call the “80’s ‘Raiders’ TV ripoffs.”  And that’s … probably an unjustly harsh term coming from me, because I absolutely loved both shows in question when they were on the air in 1982.

I’m talking about “Tales of the Gold Monkey” and “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” which both aired for only a single season.  (“Bring ‘Em Back Alive” had the misfortune of airing opposite “The A-Team,” a show I never liked but which was a LITTLE popular among my peer group of 10-year-olds.)

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” had hit theaters a year prior.  Countless adults will tell you today that the “Star Wars” movies were part of their childhood, and that’s true for me too.  But “Raiders” was a far larger part, and today it is still tied with “Vanilla Sky” (2001) for my favorite movie of all time.  And if you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know that I watch a lot of movies.

So I was thrilled when two shows appeared that were so much LIKE “Raiders.”  Both were sort of … “Raiders” Lite.  (I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that the sometimes grim inaugural 1981 movie was unambiguously aimed at adults, while the sequels were geared toward the younger set.)

And, to be fair, each show stood on its own.  “Tales” was set in the Pacific in 1938, and followed cargo plane pilot Jake Cutter (played by Stephen Collins).  He and his near-sentient, one-eyed dog, “Jack,” adventured among all manner of period players: Nazi spies, American spies, Imperial Japanese officers, et alia.  (I think that both “Tales” and “Raiders” misled an entire generation about the degree of gunfights and swordplay connected with certain careers.)

The show’s title derives from the adventure in its pilot episode; Jake and company face a mysterious island in which giant, vicious were-monkey cryptids protect a golden monkey statue.  (Think of the evil primates in “Congo” (1995).)  I explained to my friend that I thought this was maybe inspired by the Hovitos’ gold idol in the opening of “Raiders.”  Quite honestly?  I remember that pilot episode being pretty scary for a kid, and it was unusually dark for early 80’s primetime show.

“Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” while also developed to capitalize on “Raiders'” popularity, was actually based on a real person.  Bruce Boxleitner’s “Frank Buck” was based on the very real Frank Buck, a famous big game trapper in the 1930’s.  He wrote a book entitled “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” and the film treatment followed in 1932.

I’m surprised that anyone even remembers “Tales” or “Bring ‘Em.”  I don’t ever remember meeting another fourth grader who talked about either show.  It was always about “The A-Team” in the lunch room, and the “DID YOU SEE WHEN THAT GUY SHOT THAT GUY?!”  But Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison chimed in immediately when I posted about “Tales” on Facebook, and there are people in the blogosphere who fondly remember them too.

If you do recall them with a smile, as I do, I think they’re both available on DVD.

 

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Goldmonkey     jakecutter1

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