Friday, March 29, 2013

Michael Gough: The Other Gentleman of Horror


"I never really 'made it' like Chris Lee and Peter Cushing. But I wouldn't trade places with them for anything. I'm doing what I like."--Gough in a 1989 Fangoria interview, issue #84 pp15

The devoted fans of horror cinema are very familiar with the iconic names associated with it. The mere mention of Lugosi, Chaney Sr. and Jr., Karloff, Cushing, Price and Lee all derive imagery of vampires, mummies, werewolves, Frankenstein and his creation, and tortured souls living isolated in ominously spooky castles. There are others, too, like John Carradine and Peter Lorre that evoke macabre memories of creepy classics shown in movie theaters or on late night television. One name that rarely gets discussed, or spoken of in the same breath is the late, great British actor, Michael Gough.

Gough (pronounced Goff) was born in Kuala Lampur (his father was a rubber planter there) on November 23rd, 1916. Returning to England, Gough eventually dropped out of Agricultural College to pursue a career on the stage, which kept him increasingly busy. He was such a dedicated, intense stage actor, broken ribs and bloodied lips dotted some of his performances. In 1978, he won a Tony Award for his work in the play, Bedroom Farce.

In between his stage appearances, Gough also took roles in motion pictures of various genres and varying quality. Arguably, Gough will likely be best known to mainstream audiences for his recurring role as Alfred the butler in the first four BATMAN movies beginning with Tim Burton's interpretation from 1989. However, lovers of horror cinema will likely remember him most fondly from a string of character roles in genre fare beginning famously with Terence Fisher's HORROR OF DRACULA in 1958. Gough had appeared in the forgotten British thriller THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS the previous year. The Hammer film, while a showcase for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, featured Gough in a worthy supporting role that led to more in a similar vein. He also appeared in similar genre fare on television in shows like THE AVENGERS, DR. WHO and BLAKES 7.

"I have done a lot of rubbish, but then I've been a hostage to fortune with too many wives and too many children and one thing or another, so I had to earn that bread and butter."--Gough in a 1989 Fangoria interview, issue #84 pp16.

The actor was reportedly not fond of his roles in horror pictures; though there's no denying he made the unwatchable watchable by his indomitable presence significantly categorized in a few wildly over the top leading roles. He possessed what was undoubtedly the most garishly penetrating scowl the world of cinema had ever seen. His curled lip and vicious grin were trademarks of his notably ferocious leading roles. Truly nobody could display a face filled with rage the way Michael Gough could.

"You're a delicious little thing... I'm going to enjoy teaching you..."--Ambrose d'Arcy from Hammer's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)

Outside of HORROR OF DRACULA, Gough starred in only one other Hammer picture -- their version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962). While a lesser work, Gough made a good go of it as the main villain of the piece, Lord Ambrose d'Arcy; he succeeded in being of greater interest than the title character played by Herbert Lom. Gough's performance is one of pure, unbridled villainy. He was essentially playing a Victorian Era version of the sort of duplicitous scoundrel he essayed in two earlier Herman Cohen modern day 'B' pictures of the trashiest sort. Gough is arguably the best thing about Hammer's PHANTOM, and well worth watching if only for being awestruck at Gough devouring the scenery as the lustful, outright despicable Ambrose. 

Curiously, we never even see his fate in the film. His character is simply forgotten about towards the end after Ambrose gets a gander at the Phantom's face. It was another case of Hammer attempting to make latent love stories disguised as horror pictures and never quite satisfying either side.

Beginning in 1959, the mesmerizing actor would show moviegoers how it's done. He headlined a string of fiendishly vicious roles playing some of horror cinemas great unsung examples of sadism laced with underlying themes of sexual desire, dominance, impotency, and spousal abuse. Some of these films would never be mistaken for high art, but Gough never fails to turn even the most lowbrow of cinema into something gloriously entertaining.

"Three young women have been killed in London within the space of two weeks... each murder more horrible than the last..."--Edmund Bancroft from HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) 

Prior to his second Hammer Films role, Michael Gough took the lead in two notably sleazy British horror movies for producer Herman Cohen. The years 1959 and 1961 saw the actor with the devilishly serious visage star in the marvelous B movie trash heaps HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM and KONGA respectively.

The former has Gough playing Edmond Bancroft, a crippled newspaper crime columnist who makes his living writing sensationalist articles regarding murders of the grisliest sort. The weapons of death (a rigged pair of binoculars, a guillotine, a nasty pair of ice tongs) just happen to be similar to those found in Scotland Yard's 'Black Museum' -- a murder gallery of criminality. Bancroft happens to have his own secret Black Museum along with a basement laboratory complete with a convenient vat of acid that dissolves the remains of snooping victims-to-be.

The venomous, and murderous author also moonlights as a mad scientist utilizing a serum that transforms his young assistant, Rick into a Mr. Hyde type animalistic murderer. The young man naively, and dotingly follows Bancroft in the form of a twisted father-son type relationship. The film was financially successful back in the day. The US release had a William Castle type 'Hypnovista' addendum tacked on to the beginning that extended the picture from its original 77 minutes to 90 minutes.

"Through Konga I shall not only dominate a corner of the Earth, but blaze a new trail in science. That little chimp will become the first link in modern evolution in plant and animal life."--Dr. Decker from KONGA (1961)

What initially began as I WAS A TEENAGE GORILLA, ended up as KONGA, a 1961 production from American producer Herman Cohen; who had enjoyed success with teen horror flicks I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (both 1957) among others. In KONGA, Michael Gough was in overkill mode once more, portraying a full bore mad scientist-botanist who gleefully kills cats and grows flesh-eating plants in his greenhouse. Meanwhile, he experiments with a chimpanzee he names Konga, brought back from the Congo.

"You fool! You think I want the biggest experiment of my life menaced by a cat?! Even those few drops might of made tabby swell up to huge proportions! We're not ready to have a cat the size of a leopard running through the streets!"--Dr. Decker from KONGA (1961)  

Gough was famously dismissive of this movie, and it's easy to see why if you've sat through it from beginning to end. It's riotously bad in every sense of the word, but it's never boring. Gough makes it even more memorable than the giant ape of the title. During the laughable finale, Konga (or, more accurately, a British stuntman wearing George Barrows famous ape suit) grows to giant size and rampages through the streets of London.

Gough is incredible. His villainy is of an outrageous exuberance rivaled, and possibly exceeding anything from Vincent Price, or even Gough's other horror colleagues. I say exceeding because Price's characters of evil (and those of others) are almost always sympathetic to some degree. Not so with Gough's characters in a similar vein. His portrayals are simply diabolical with no sympathetic qualities, or socially redeeming values.

"Children... I've brought you here because we'll have to face a problem. Do you know what they on the outside, the so-called humans, the schemers, the scavengers of land and life. Do you know what they are plotting to do? Listen carefully... evil men want to steal our land... and our home. In their greed, they might even want to kill you. But don't fear. As long as I am here to protect you that will never happen, and I will always look after you. As for our evil enemies, together we will take care of them."--Michael Conrad from BLACK ZOO (1963)

The US production, BLACK ZOO from Allied Artists (again produced by Herman Cohen), attempted to replicate the narcissistic sadist Gough had infamously chiseled out in the two aforementioned British horror pictures. BLACK ZOO has an air of sordidness about it, but director Robert Gordon (IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA) keeps things from getting too carried away; although the same can't be said for Gough's performance as the insane zookeeper-animal worshiper, Michael Conrad.

Unlike the other horror movies with Gough as the lead murderer, he's not a scientist in any sort of capacity, but a devout lover of animals with an unhealthy aversion towards humans. Whereas his BLACK MUSEUM's Bancroft had a hatred towards women, that sentiment is extended to the human race in BLACK ZOO. In fact, ZOO's Conrad shows little to no interest in women whatsoever; the polar opposite of Dr. Decker in KONGA.

Furthering the connection with Gough's earlier Cohen produced movies, Conrad's mute assistant Carl mirrors Rick from BLACK MUSEUM, but his character is more clearly drawn and sympathetic. Of the four main pictures discussed here, BLACK ZOO is the more slickly produced of the bunch; and the most meticulous in its characterizations.

"In one of my experiments, I applied Academician Pavlov's theory of conditioned reflexes to sexual behavior. In my view, Freud had failed. I succeeded in controlling human desire, but there was still a missing link. My subjects could not yet fulfill the desires I had created in them."--Dr. Storm from HORROR HOSPITAL (1973)

HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) is arguably the wackiest of these four. It's missing Herman Cohen as a producer, but British born Richard Gordon made a suitable successor with his own worthy resume of trash. Gough plays Dr. Christian Storm, who runs a health clinic that doubles as a hi-tech lab where lobotomies are conducted. Gough is slightly restrained here, but flamboyant in other ways. He's a kinky version of Doctor Frankenstein (effortlessly dwarfing the famous Baron's arrogance) by way of Dr. Phibes in this one.

Resembling a bit of ROCKY HORROR, this "hospital" is under the guise of a health clinic where the patients literally lose their minds -- and heads via the Mad Doctor's specialized car with its own built in guillotine and sack to collect the bloody noggins! Midget actor, Skip Martin enlivens things as Dr. Storm's assistant. Gough looks zombie-like himself with his pale complexion. Wheelchair bound, his true identity is revealed in a weirdly shocking ending. Silly, gory and splattered with an irreverently black sense of humor, Gough is essentially Dr. Frankenstein -- The Dirty Old Man.

"One must never put any trust in a woman. It was no accident that Satan was able to tempt Eve before Adam."--Edmund Bancroft from HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) 

Of these four mad doctor/psychopathic killer roles, there are similarities between them (some of which was mentioned above) as well as varying layers of sexual subtext scattered throughout the psyche's of these four madmen.

As seen in HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, Edmond Bancroft -- who walks with a cane -- hates women. His pretty, if crude girlfriend chastises him for his impotence (his limp symbolizes his impediment) and she, along with other beautiful girls, suffer for his shame in spectacularly nasty fashion for 1959. Gough's insidious character was virtually recycled for 1963s BLACK ZOO; but unlike BLACK MUSEUM, his character in ZOO has a hatred for all mankind.

In KONGA, Gough's Dr. Charles Decker is not only the sort of maniac that would make Frankenstein blush, he's also a voracious sexual predator. He lusts after the young, busty students of his science class, and grows these bizarre plants that look like giant, erect penises -- veins and all. The lascivious looks he gives his gorgeous blonde student comes to a head at the end when he attempts to rape her with his conspicuously placed penile plants standing at attention in the background. The plot device of an evil man getting revenge on those who wronged him, or threatened his success found its way into BLACK ZOO from 1963.

Michael Conrad of BLACK ZOO is essentially a less sleazier version of Edmund Bancroft from BLACK MUSEUM. He shows the same lack of interest in sex (in the earlier film, it's not of his own volition; in the other, his animals are of greater importance), even displaying an abhorrence at kissing his wife (played by Jeanne Cooper); except once he's struck her in the face after a rage. There are also shades of KONGA's Dr. Decker present as well as another killer gorilla. The sexual subtext is slight (if even intended), but there's a disturbingly thick air of child and spousal abuse running throughout this movie.

"You're too old... to run a whore house..."--Dr. Storm from HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) 

1973s HORROR HOSPITAL (also known as COMPUTER KILLERS of all things) was a very unique example of subversive British horror; and one that reflected the 70s era of 'Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll'. Its edgy style is diametrically opposed to the previous decades Gothic horrors, and of those that Hammer were still desperately clinging to. The act of sex is intermittently on display here, but Gough's aforementioned 'Dirty Old Man' really comes to the fore at the end, and in a particularly sleazy fashion. He creates living zombies in both male and female, with the latter performing their duties as sex slaves. Gough only goes on a rant a couple of times here, but even then, it's never to the extravagant degree of the above three films. While his demeanor and appearance are wildly over the top, he's far creepier here than previously seen.

"I don't think it's a classic, no. It didn't have the imagination. The wild mountains hardly seemed wild enough. I remember Lugosi's DRACULA, with the bat flying around the coach where the driver should be. Now that gave the film a sense of atmosphere. The newer film lacked it."--Gough referring to Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA in a 1989 Fangoria interview, issue #84 pp15

Below is a litany of the actors other genre roles, predominantly of the supporting variety, and nowhere near the scene slaughtering depravity of his four major madman roles discussed above. Even so, the actor had stated he preferred these types of roles over the leading ones.

Michael Gough had supporting roles in two films for Freddie Francis in 1965. These were THE SKULL and DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS. The former saw him playing an auctioneer overseeing a bidding war between Cushing and Lee over the skull of the Marquis De Sade. The latter offered the actor a bit more substance as an artist ridiculed by Christopher Lee's stuffy art critic. Of course, things come to a bad end for the subject of this article when he gives the critic a taste of his own medicine resulting in gruesome consequences.

The actor worked with Joan Crawford the first of two times in the circus set BERSERK (1967). His role is relatively small and inconsequential, coming to a gory end when the killer rams a metal spike through his skull. Basically a remake of the sleazy 1959 British horror flick CIRCUS OF HORRORS, this glossier version lacks the salacious aura that permeated that earlier film.

In 1967, the actor found himself working with Freddie Francis for the third time in the lackadaisical science fiction alien invasion movie, THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE. In it, Gough plays The Master of the Moon, the leader of a roomful of guys who look like interplanetary satanists doused in flour. This was Amicus' attempt at capturing some of the Sci Fi pie Hammer was baking with their lucrative Quatermass series.

Vernon Sewell, the man who gave the world of horror its only film about a man-eating were-moth, THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968), also managed to gather a number of the genres greatest performers together in one movie and make it a plodding, boring production. That film being 1968s THE CRIMSON CULT aka CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR. With Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough, what could possibly go wrong? It has the makings of a genre classic, but fails to capitalize on its potential. Gough's role is minimal, playing a servant named Elder.

Michael Gough again worked with Joan Crawford in TROG (1970), another awful ape picture; the second monkey movie Gough appeared in, the first being the aforementioned KONGA from nearly a decade earlier. Unfortunately, TROG couldn't be saved by a leading showcase of over the top, scenery scarfing villainy from Gough -- Crawford takes centerstage for this one.

1971s CRUCIBLE OF HORROR was a re-telling of DIABOLIQUE (1955). For this British version, Michael Gough plays a sadistic head of household who beats and humiliates his wife and daughter, yet adores his son. The two women poison him and if you've seen DIABOLIQUE, you have some idea of what happens next, only there's some additional twists here. Frequently tedious, it's enlivened by Gough's outbursts and rantings, and general despicableness.

LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) remains one of the best haunted house movies. It features an uncredited Gough as a corpse; so no dramatic ranting and raving from him this time. He also played a stiff in NO PLACE LIKE HOMOCIDE! from 1961 -- a role the actor described in a Fangoria interview as therapy for the absurdities of KONGA (1961).


Gough (having already been afraid of typecasting for some time) took a three year hiatus from horror, not appearing in the genre again till 1976 with Norman J. Warren's gory trash fest, SATAN'S SLAVE aka EVIL HERITAGE. In this one, Gough is a satanist living in a mansion with his psychotic son awaiting the fateful arrival of his niece. It's not too difficult to figure out what happens next.

Five years later, Gough appeared briefly in the star-studded pseudo horror suspense thriller, VENOM (1981). Gough plays a zookeeper again, but this time he catches animals as opposed to feeding people to them. His screentime amounts to about two minutes and he never gets to go mano-a-mano with the escaped Black Mamba snake loosed in a London household.

Further evidence of Gough shying away from the genre, it would be seven more years before he'd appear in another horror picture; this time for Wes Craven in a small role on THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988). 

Tim Burton thought very highly of the distinguished actor and cast him as Alfred Pennyworth, the butler in the first two BATMAN movies. Gough reprised the role two more times in two Burton-less sequels. Tim Burton continued to cast Gough in his movies with the lushly Gothic SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) and the British actor lent his voice to Burton's CORPSE BRIDE (2005) and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). The latter film was also Gough's last credited work. Following that, he was unwell for approximately a year leading up to his death on March 17th, 2011. A cause of death was not released. He was 94 years old.

"...I've been blessed in that I have done some lovely things that have been denied to other people. I've done things that I want to do, and it probably shows."--Gough in a 1989 Fangoria interview, issue #84 pp17

Having appeared in a flurry of productions of stage and screen, Michael Gough gave fans of horror and science fiction some wonderful gifts in his performances in many films -- big and small. Possessing an ego totally opposite that of some of his exemplary bad guy interpretations, the unforgettable actor enjoyed playing supporting roles best because of the lack of responsibility. He also shied away from discussing his roles in horror, nor sought recognition for them. A truly unique talent, Michael Gough will remain unforgettable in the eyes of his fans; and any new ones who may notice the shining light emanating from his infamous scowl and gravely line delivery found in any number of his memorable performances.

For a more extensive overview of Michael Gough's stage career, you can read the UK Guardian obituary HERE.

***Poster images from Wrong Side of the Art***

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Euro-western Edition!



By Kevin Grant

480 pages; softcover; color and B/W; editions: 2011 (Hardcover 2012)

All the Euro-westerns big guns, banditos and more are corralled into this sumptuous volume covering the beginning of the Eur-oater through its transformations, and its eventual decline. Any fan of the genre -- as well as those who think the films began and ended with Leone -- should own this book. A monumentally impressive first work by its author, Kevin Grant.

There have been a few top of the line volumes written on the subject of the European western over the last decade. While those touched on the genre as a whole, Kevin Grant's lavish book on the subject goes into far more detail. The West German successes that paved the way for the Italian variants are given a wider berth than normally afforded them, for instance. 

The chapters all follow the Euro-western trajectory from its early 60s beginnings to its decline in the 70s; yet each is chapter is topic specific ranging from the various Italian western styles, the numerous anti-heroes that became iconic domestically and internationally; and also the themes of the genre like that old standby, revenge as well as the political agendas of these films.

Skimming through the book, the passion for the subject material is increasingly obvious to the reader. It's quite a staggering accomplishment. You'll get the impression Mr. Grant desired to go on longer about certain topics, but space permitting didn't allow for it. Still, there's an incredible amount of information crammed inside, as well as plentiful footnotes supplied for each chapter.

The author also includes a 'Who's Who' chapter covering literally everyone that appeared in front of, and behind the cameras where these western productions were concerned.

For those who desire lots of pictures, the book is generously dotted with dozens of photographs in both B/W and color. These include rare behind the scenes images, publicity photos and also promotional materials including posters and lobby cards from around the world.

A Foreword by Franco Nero compliments the package making this a truly essential purchase and, at the moment, the best all around volume on the genre. The books from FAB Press are exhaustive, meticulous works and 'Any Gun Can Play' sits proudly amongst the best of their publications. An exemplar work among the accessible books on the subject, and highly recommended.

You can buy the softcover edition at amazon HERE. A hardcover edition is available there as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Horror-Sci Fi Reference Guide Edition!



By David Elroy Goldweber

630 pages; softcover; no photos; 1st edition June 14th, 2012

I don't always agree with every review, but that's what makes cross referencing entries all the more enlightening, and Goldweber tackles his subjects with a leisurely frankness that differs from the work of others in the same field. The reviews themselves are done in a unique, if unorthodox fashion that is refreshing in itself.

As a child, I remember scouring the bookshelves of our now long gone bookstore, Waldenbooks for anything genre related. Film review guides were a favorite, but the most widely accessible at that time were those written by the likes of Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin -- neither of which were particularly kind to horror and monster pictures.

In 1984, it was a revelation for my young 11 year old eyes to pick up a copy of John Stanley's terror-ific review book, The Creatures Features Movie Guide. Having bought a number of other genre review guides in the intervening years (as well as accumulating hundreds of the films on DVD), the need for purchasing genre review books had waned, at least from my perspective.

Along comes this hefty, review packed encyclopedia covering 70 years worth of horror, sci fi and fantasy films from around the world... and it brings back those memories of sitting and reading about those Late Show offerings covered in Stanley's loving tome to terror cinema.

Within its 630 info packed pages there are over 1,500 entries by Goldweber. There are entries missing, but then there's a ton of other entries that aren't typically found elsewhere. Goldweber's equally dedicated website fills in these blanks (see updates) and is linked below. It also becomes obvious rather quickly how big of a fan he is of the films he's discussing; even going through the trouble of offering very brief summations from other reviewers (including John Stanley) on many of the titles.

I don't always agree with every review, but that's what makes cross referencing entries all the more enlightening, and Goldweber tackles his subjects with a leisurely frankness that differs from the work of others in the same field. The reviews themselves are done in a unique, if unorthodox fashion that is refreshing in itself.

They're are set up like this: Title (director, running time, color or B/W and year of release)

What's Happening is a brief line or two about the basic plot of the film.

Famous For equates to whatever notable quality said film in question is best remembered whether in cult circles, or the mainstream.

A few paragraphs (occasionally an entire page) cover the mechanics of the film reviewed, analyzing its good points and bad. 

Following the guts of the review, you'll find a numerical system rating the Action, Gore, Sex, Quality and Camp. To my knowledge, Chas. Balun's Gore Score books were the first to utilize a gore rating, but Goldweber's version isn't about the quantity of viscera strewn across the screen, but the "quality", as he puts it in the books Introduction. His vast compendium expands this number system by an additional four categories. Again, this system of reviewing entries is explained in detail in the Introduction.

Below the numbered ratings, there are an additional two categories -- these vary, but mostly they consist of Don't Miss (noting a particular standout moment) and Quotable Line.

If you're a collector of film reference guides, this one is a welcome addition to anyone's collection. The lack of images isn't a hindrance, and you may find yourself too busy scouring to find what the author thought of a particular title to notice. Click HERE to go to Goldweber's Claws & Saucers website where you will find links on where to order your preferred version (paperback, kindle, ebook, etc) and also many other things related to this massive, and massively recommended reference guide to those great movies you grew up with at the Drive In, or on the television late at night.

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Crood Caveman Edition!


By Noela Hueso

178 pages; hardcover; color; 1st edition 2013

Scattered throughout the near 180 pages are dozens of concept drawings and lush imagery showing the gradual  evolution of the characters from the artists pencil to the silver screen.

As a kid growing up I had a fascination with dinosaurs and literally anything of a prehistoric nature -- whether that be in research books, movies, cartoons, or comic books. Now there's a family oriented animated feature from Dreamworks entitled THE CROODS. The visual compendium -- out from Titan Books in a hardcover edition March 26th -- is by Noela Hueso, a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter and a passionate admirer of animation. She's demonstrates this admiration in this, her first book.

If you've seen the film, or are interested in it, The Art of the Croods is a detailed dissection of every character seen in the film. Chapters also entail the various environments of this prehistoric world created by the talented hands at the Dreamworks factory. 

Scattered throughout the near 180 pages are dozens of concept drawings and lush imagery showing the gradual  evolution of the characters from the artists pencil to the silver screen. Anecdotes from the character designers themselves are also included among the text for additional information regarding the creation of the Crood world.

Of particular interest is a chapter titled 'Anatomy of a Scene' where the steps taken in creating an animated sequence are laid out in visual detail on the page.

The book is loaded with splash pages showcasing the vibrant colors found in the picturesque designs of the Crood world surroundings. If you've an interest in art or animation, especially if you liked the movie, this book is viable purchase for a fan. Nicolas Cage (the voice of Grug) provides a Foreword.

The book can be pre-ordered (it's available for purchase March 26th) through amazon HERE.

You can read more on the book at Titan's website HERE.

And also check out this interesting post at the Titan Books Blog regarding THE CROODS and Stonehenge HERE.

Friday, March 22, 2013

From Beyond Television: The Wildest Episodes of The Wild, Wild West Season 1

This compilation is literally what the title means -- the wildest episodes from seasons 1-4 of this immensely creative and innovative television series. It's not a 'Best Of', although some episodes seen throughout this quartet could be deemed among the best. Season One was quite dark and sinister at times with some of its subject matter. It's arguably the most adult of the entire run, containing some truly creepy episodes with a unique horror element to some of them. Granted, all but a few of the season one programs had some sort of James Bond gadget or wacky scripting device; these listed here were frequently pushing the envelope for anachronistic and phantasmagorical spectacle (the series would get really crazy in season 2). 11 of the 28 season one episodes are on this list. An article about the entire series can be found HERE.


6th episode shot; aired October 1st, 1965

James West is assigned to foil an attempt by Dr. Loveless in obtaining a formula for a special type of explosive from a former colleague named Professor Nielsen. West fails, and the professor is killed by a pea-sized bomb. Loveless then plans to kill 5,000 Californians unless the formula is handed over to him. 

This was the world's introduction to the crazed, super intelligent villain, Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless. Played by Michael Dunn, the adorable midget madman became hugely popular with viewers. There are four Loveless episodes in season one, four in season two, and one a piece between seasons three and four. Sadly, declining health resulted in Dunn's dwindling participation in succeeding seasons. All the Loveless shows are wild, but this one, outside of being one of the best shows, is notable for being the first to display his kooky genius. You'll also see him tossing big burly men around during a wrestling session!

Gadgets include a weapons-laden carriage (Hal Needham is the guy jettisoned out of the coach) Artemus builds for West. Richard Kiel plays Loveless's thuggish henchman, Voltaire (he played the role three times). He also participated in the horror themed season three show, 'The Night of the Simian Terror'. The duplicitous Miss Piecemeal (Sigrid Valdis aka Patricia Crane; Bob Crane's wife) returned later in season one for 'The Night of the Torture Chamber' episode.


9th episode shot; aired October 29th, 1965

During a scientific conference at the French Embassy, a consignment of Franconium -- a radioactive substance that causes anything exposed to it to glow -- is stolen by an "old woman" and a giant man. With the enemies of France having their sights on the substance, Jim and Arty must try to retrieve it before it's smuggled out of the country.

Irving J. Moore's first WWW episode has a great carnival sequence (one of numerous other carney/circus style plot contrivances throughout the series) that features a cameo by the Metaluna Mutant (the head, anyways) from THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). There's a plethora of traps and weird devices such as Artemus's early version of an artificial lung that will hold up to five minutes worth of oxygen. Of course, this apparatus comes in handy when Jim is trapped inside an enclosed metal box with lethal gas pumped in. The series occasionally had a lumbering, imposing thug for Jim and Arty to contend with; in this case, it's a mute giant with Iron legs and feet.


11th episode shot; aired November 19th, 1965 

Dr. Loveless's second appearance sees him kidnapping Jim West to his underground laboratory. He plans to turn his deformed assistant Janus into an exact double of the secret services most trusted agent in an effort to get back his atomic formula for making devastating explosives. Of course, once this plan is enacted, the real West will no longer be useful.

This is a fun episode featuring little in the way of gadgets, but with Loveless onscreen, there's never a dull moment. Dunn is in Mad Doctor mode for this one; a role he undertook a few times in an effort to realize his diabolical plans. This time his Frankensteinian skills are put to use as a plastic surgeon; turning a deformed subordinate into a doppelganger of James West. Voltaire (Richard Kiel) also returns as his brutish assistant. Both Wests' end up battling each other and only a woman's kiss can determine who the real one is. A similar contrivance befell Mr. Spock in the season three ST episode, 'Whom Gods Destroy' only there was no kissing involved.


14th episode shot; aired December 10th, 1965 

This episode is a ton of fun, and its major reason for being on this list is in the hilarious plan of the main villain, Professor Horatio Bolt (Alfred Ryder). He intends to absorb millions from the State Treasury to finance the most expensive, and extensive art collection in the world! Insane, I know, but Ryder is hilarious as Bolt. The governor is kidnapped and replaced with a lookalike. When Jim and Arty are sent to investigate, Bolt plans to kill them using various traps set in his house.

Highlights include Artemus (Ross Martin) donning one of his best disguises as a French art critic who informs Bolt that his entire collection is made up of forgeries! Another has our heroes trapped inside a wine press. This was one of a handful of episodes that would seem to have influenced Italian westerns. Stunts and fights are plentiful and exciting as usual. This was Fred Frieberger's last producer credit on WWW. The series went through a slew of producers and they lost a good one in Frieberger who later went on to produce episodes of STAR TREK -- a series that occasionally borrowed, or resembled WWW.


16th episode shot; aired January 1st, 1966

Having rebuilt his body with metal limbs and pieces, Torres seeks revenge against seven former members of his Civil War regiment that he believes are responsible for the bodily destruction he suffered during an explosion. One of the men is Ulysses S. Grant, now the President of the United States.

This was the very first WWW episode I remember seeing as a kid. The sight of a skulking man with metal plates built into his body -- some of which are exposed on the outside -- made an impression on me. It's a basic revenge episode with hypnotism and a presidential assassination plot thrown in for good measure. There's a definite air of horror about it. There's some choice stunts and action, too -- a staple of the series. These include Jim shooting the villain in the head peeling his skin away revealing the metal underneath; and the assassination attempt on the president -- one rocket is set to fire at president Grant and another targeted at a bound Jim West.

There's one plot hole here -- after Jim and Arty manage to escape from Torres's clutches, they end up at a dead end and are gassed into unconsciousness. In the next scene, Jim is captured again, yet Arty is free and next seen disguised as the president. It's presumed Artemus has gotten away, yet it's not mentioned, nor does Torres show any concern that Artemus has escaped.


19th episode shot; aired January 28th, 1966 

For this episode, Jim and Arty are assigned to protect a Middle Eastern ruler targeted for assassination. The agents discover a plot by an upper class club of assassins that want the Emir's life. Noting Jim's amazing skills in action, the club tries to make him an honorary member, or kill him trying.

This is a fast paced episode with lots of action, intrigue, and a lot of characters engaging in near constant subterfuge. Yvonne Craig (Batgirl on the 60s BATMAN show) plays the gorgeous hit girl who ends up as Jim's love interest. Richard Jaeckel has a supporting role as another member of the killers club. This episode is a bit more violent than normal -- there's a glass container death device rigged with poisons; an early version of The Flying Guillotine via a head lopping tambourine; and a great stunt-filled, upstairs-downstairs fight between Jim and around ten assassins.


20th episode shot; aired February 18th, 1966 

Jim West and Artemus Gordon must collect $5,000,000 from three of the wealthiest men in California to help keep the state from falling into bankruptcy. However, Dr. Loveless intervenes by delivering explosive toys to the three unlucky, rich recipients.The tiny madman's scheme this time is to steal each of the 5 million in donations, plunge the state into chaos, and take it over as sole ruler of California.

The first segment of this show has a bit of A CHRISTMAS CAROL feel about it. The use of innocent toys as a means for destruction is a novel, if brutal idea. Loveless even secretly runs a toy shop where he builds his elaborate, and deadly toy soldiers and train sets. This was Dr. Loveless's third television appearance, and Voltaire's last appearance. Interestingly, Voltaire is showcased with a more child-like persona and also gets more dialog than his previous two episodes.


21st episode shot; aired February 25th, 1966

Zachariah Skull (Lloyd Bochner), thought to be dead after jumping from a prison train, seeks revenge on the Supreme Court Justices who sentenced him to death by using lethal marionette's as his instruments of retribution. Jim is captured by Skull, who resides deep beneath the Earth inside a dark, cavernous facility.

To call this episode bizarre is an understatement. It's arguably the most macabre season one show what with its creepy, deformed puppets and PHANTOM OF THE OPERAish finale. The story and setting is beyond wild, not to mention about as outlandish a concept as you can get. The photography is exceptional. Not only one of series favorite Irving J. Moore's best, but one of the best shows of the entire run. Fans will recognize Lloyd Bochner as the man attempting to decipher what 'To Serve Man' truly means from that classic TZ episode.


24th episode shot; aired March 25th, 1966

Jim West's former professor, Dr. Robey, dies in a gruesome fashion by Spontaneous Combustion. After attempts to remove him from the case, Jim discovers a string of violent deaths of prominent scientists all linked to a creepy satanist named Asmodeus (played by Don Rickles!) and the beautiful, young wife of Senator Waterford.

This episode is in the running for wackiest season one show and easily on par with the above 'Puppeteers' show. Put up against season two, it'd have some serious competition. 'Druid's Blood' is possibly the craziest season one WEST, period. There's some cool stunts and traps (including a pit of poisonous snakes) and the finale revealing the true main villain, an evil scientist who uses the disembodied brains of the dead scientists for his experiments!


26th episode shot; aired April 8th, 1966 

Serbia's irreplaceable Kara Diamond is inexplicably stolen by an invisible force while in federal custody. Jim gets blamed for involvement in the theft and ultimately discovers who the true thief is -- a young scientist who has created a serum that enables a person to move faster than the eye can see! 

Ken Kolb wrote this sci-fi west tale about a diamond elixir capable of allowing those who drink it to move so fast, everyone around them appears motionless. Jim and Arty are either suspects, or on the run throughout this episode, and features one of many scenes during the course of the series where Jim leaps through a window. If you're a STAR TREK fan, this plot device will sound familiar to you. It was a feature of the season three episode, 'Wink of an Eye'.


27th episode shot; aired April 15th, 1966

The subject of drugs are the main focus in this ghastly, if darkly humorous episode. Dr. Loveless is at it again, this time determined to both torture, and take out his nemesis, James West. Loveless sneaks a powerful powder into his shaving water which, upon contact with the skin, results in Jim hallucinating. The evil midget's plan this time is to destroy humanity with this drug transferring it around the world via a flock of geese.

This was the fourth Dr. Loveless episode; and the most violent and downbeat of the ten featuring the diminutive madman over the course of the series. Loveless was always evil, but here, he's especially diabolical. There a few blackly humorous moments with Loveless and the hefty Kitten Twitty in between Jim's Twilight Zone style hallucinations (where he kills Artemus, for instance). However, the highlight of the show is a very disturbing sequence where the mad Doctor proves his potions potency by using it to turn his entire staff into raving maniacs! While 20 people scream and pound the walls killing each other in another room, both Loveless and his frequent companion, Antoinette sing 'Lullaby and Goodnight'

Phoebe Dorin was the real life singing partner to Michael Dunn. She played Antoinette in a total of six episodes spanning the first two seasons. This was Richard Donner's second of three WEST programs -- the others being season one's 'The Night of the Bars of Hell' and season two's 'The Night of the Returning Dead'.

This season by season list of the Wildest WILD, WILD WEST episodes continues with SEASON TWO...
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