Sunday, January 23, 2011

From Beyond Television: Buck Rogers In the 25th Century--Space Vampire



Season 1 episode 14 (aired January 3rd, 1980)

Directed by Larry Stewart


Buck and Wilma are on their way to Genesia for vacation after dropping Twiki off at Theta Station for repairs. Before they can leave, the I-S Demeter crashes into Theta Station. Finding the entire crew dead from mysterious circumstances, Buck and Wilma learn that a vampiric creature called the Vorvon sustains its existence by sucking the very souls from its victims. The creature now sets its sights on Wilma and Buck must protect her from joining the growing legion of undead.

Of all the campy episodes of this two season sci fi saga, SPACE VAMPIRE is one of the most fondly remembered and the single most horror oriented episode of the series. The script squeezes in established vampire lore such as a farmer named Helson (like Helsing?) who became a bounty hunter and has pursued the Vorvon for years only to lose his soul when the I-S Demeter log tapes reveal him to have been killed by an invisible force. There's also a futuristic object that serves the same function as the cross in Euro bloodsucker lore.

The Vorvon design itself was inspired by the make up Max Schreck wore in the 1922 creep-fest, NOSFERATU. Instead of biting its victims on the neck, the Vorvon places two of its elongated fingers to a man or woman's throat and sucks away their soul turning them into the undead. Christopher Stone plays Commander Royko who had a previous relationship with Wilma Deering. There's a last minute script attempt at suspense where Royko, denying any existence of a space traveling soul sucker, believes Buck has foul intentions on Wilma. This is quickly done away with once the Vorvon makes his last appearance taking the now "vampirized" Wilma with him with Buck in hot pursuit to stop the monster before it reaches the stargate.

Fans will remember Christopher Stone from THE HOWLING (1981), which he appeared in alongside his then wife, Dee Wallace Stone. Nicholas Hormann played the Vorvon and he also had a supporting role in the funny product placement science fiction comedy, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN (1981) from director Joel Schumacher. Larry Stewart, the director of this episode, was partial to fantasy as he directed a number of other BUCK ROGERS episodes (including a couple of Princess Ardala shows) and also some other 70s sci fi shows such as THE BIONIC WOMAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN.

SPACE VAMPIRE was also one of a handful of episodes released to VHS tape back when that format was still viable. This is usually the episode people talk about when the show is mentioned among nostalgic television fans. The bulk of the first season shows had a decent amount of effects footage and space battles, but this one opts for more spooky atmosphere. Gil Gerard's hilarious attempt at doing fight scenes are fleeting here, but not nearly as funny as in other episodes where he does the same kick over and over again. SPACE VAMPIRE is an extremely fun program and one of the best this campy series has to offer.


From Beyond Television: The Wild, Wild West--Night of the Torture Chamber


THE WILD, WILD WEST Season 1 episode 13 (aired December 10th, 1965)


Guest stars: Alfred Ryder

Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.

Jim and Arte are dispatched to protect Governer Bradford who, unbeknownst to them, has been kidnapped and replaced by an imposter. After several unsuccessful attempts on Jim's life, the duo discover it's a plot by Professor Horatio Bolt, a mannered, yet mad art dealer with plans to extort state money to fund his ever growing art collection as well as lay his hands on the Mona Lisa.

This relatively simple and silly plotline manages to turn into one of the most fun first season excursions and one of the more memorable villains solely for the reason he isn't trying to take over a state, assassinate anyone, but utilizes elaborate traps in an attempt to get rid of West and Gordon to obtain the paintings he so richly desires. It's a droll performance by Alfred Ryder (Professor Crater from 'The Man Trap' episode of STAR TREK) as the meticulously reserved art collector, Professor Horatio Bolt.

His obsession with famous paintings proves to be his downfall and ultimately, not much of a match for West and Arte, but he's still humorous to watch. Arte has a bit of fun with him when he shows up disguised as faux art critic, Gaston LaRusse of Sorbon who convinces the villainous art collector his paintings are all fakes! It's a humorous sequence watching Arte play bolt right into his hands and even funnier to see Bolt laugh a sigh of relief that his mass collage of art are not forgeries; this is far more important to him than the fact that he has been outsmarted by the government agents.

Horatio's methods of dispatch include placing our heroes in a wine press and also a booby trapped room where his paintings are kept. This sequence would be copied in Gianfranco Parolini's SABATA in 1969. To throw Horatio off his game, West takes a Rembrandt off the wall to hold both Bolt and his giant mechanical crossbow at bay. There are a few fight scenes with West and Arte taking on multiple villains (and as usual, Arte gets knocked out quickly) and Jim jumps through yet another window to escape death. Sadly, this was the last Fred Frieberger episode (he contributed ten shows on THE WILD, WILD WEST). Sigrid Valdis (real name Patricia Crane, the wife of Bob Crane from HOGAN'S HEROES) plays Miss Piecemeal, a role she previously essayed in episode three, 'The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth', the first of ten appearances by Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless.

H.M. Wynant plays Durand, Bolt's main thug. Wynant appears in a few other WEST episodes and will be recognizable as the lead in the classic TZ episode, 'The Howling Man' as a stranded man who finds the Devil locked away in a hermitage. Director Alan Crosland Jr. became one of the most prolific directors of THE WILD, WILD WEST taking command of 11 episodes. Despite a fairly weak villain, this is played to the characters advantage and there are other elements that make this show quite a bit of fun.


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