Monday, August 31, 2015

land of the lost: 'the sleestak god'

If you want an example of how intense "Land of the Lost" could be for young children, check out its second episode, "The Sleestak God."

A similar concept to the Silurians on Doctor Who, but with slightly better productions values, the Sleestak are a race of reptile people who soon became the main villains of the series and its most iconic characters. They're tall, skinny and long-limbed. They don't move particularly fast, and they hiss instead of talking.

During "The Sleestak God," Will and Holly are sent to fetch water -- even in the Land of the Lost, this is still a family, with chores and whining over having to do them -- and decide to go exploring as they go. One of their discoveries is a mysterious and midlly foreboding building. Before long the two of them are caught by the Sleestak, put into a net and hung over a pit to be fed to a monster in the pit, the presumed Sleestak god.

The children are saved by their father (of course) after their friend Cha-Ka is able to alert him to the danger they're in, but if you think about it, this is a pretty intense concept for a young child. It's probably one of the chief reasons that the Sleestak gave me nightmares when I was younger.

'To Catch a Killer': Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy


I've spent about three hours the past two nights watching Brian Dennehy play John Wayne Gacy in "To Catch a Killer."

Gacy, for those unfamiliar with him, was a Chicago-area serial killer convicted of sexually torturing and murdering some 30 teenage boys and burying their bodies in his basement, under his garage, under the floorboards of his rec room, and elsewhere. To all outward appearances, he was an upstanding member of the community who regularly donated to civic organizations, and who performed for children as Pogo the Clown. The movie was made for TV, and aired in 1992.

Dennehy gives a great, just-the-right-side-of-creepy performance of Gacy, a man with cocksure grin who engages police in cat-and-mouse maneuvers as the pressure slowly builds; opposite an equally strong Michael Riley as Detective Joe Kozencza, who becomes convinced early on that Gacy is behind the recent disappearance of a local teen and then gradually realizes the monstrosity of Gacy's crimes.

The movie's got some good drama. In addition to the performances of its leads and supporting actors, it depicts Kozencza as a man under pressure as he overcomes colleagues' professional skepticism to bring Gacy in. He's got to convince not only his chief to provide the manpower, but his detectives that he's not wasting their time; and he's got to complete the case before Gacy's attorney can file a harassment lawsuit that will shut the case down.

It's got a few weak points too. I could have done with fewer car chases, myself; and the decision to include a psychic (Margot Kidder) seems silly in a story that focuses on more serious detective work in a true crime story. It also felt too often like the movie focused on Gacy's orientation, as if that were a sign of his depravity instead of incidental to it; but that at least may be a product of when the movie was made.

Still, what a movie. Dennehy was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Gacy; and Riley and director Eric Till each were nominated for a Gemini Award. I generally don't think much of TV movies, and there's no doubt that the movie glossed over the more horrifying elements of Gacy's crimes; but this was a good movie.

Part two:


Friday, August 28, 2015

land of the lost: 'cha-ka'

Today I began a task that every man must undertake when he is a father. Today I began watching "The Land of the Lost" with my youngest daughter.

"Land of the Lost" was created by David Gerrold for Sid and Marty Krofft, and originally ran on Saturday mornings on NBC beginning in 1974. For a show that ran opposite cartoons like Bugs Bunny, "Land of the Lost" had a pretty intense setup. It was about a father and his two children trapped in a mysterious land with dinosaurs and other menaces.

The episode Alex and I watched tonight was "Cha-Ka," on YouTube. It's the pilot episode, but the theme song that plays over the open credits is really all the introduction you need: Rick Marshall and his two children, Will and Holly, are whitewater rafting when a terrible earthquake drops them 1,000 feet. They miraculously survive the terrible fall, only to find themselves running from a Tyrannosaurus rex they call Grumpy.

The episode picks up not long after the Marshalls' arrival in the Land of the Lost, and for a young child especially, offers a fantastic mix of adventure and risk. There is Grumpy, a regular dramatic threat who chases the Marshall children or who corners them in their cave. And there is Cha-Ka, a missing-link ape boy whose friendship the Marshalls cultivate by rescuing him from Grumpy and by treating his broken leg.

The writing is a little corny some times, and the banjo soundtrack adds a touch of feelgood sensibility to what could be an otherwise scary show for a young child. But all that aside, it's as engaging to Alex as I remember finding it myself. Two hours after watching it, she was walking around the catching saying "Cha-Ka! Cha-Ka!"

She's already asking to watch Episode 2 tomorrow.