Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jetways and Dramamine Fiends

Blogging will likely be light this week as I head to Miami Beach (poor poor pitiful me) for Graphics of the Americas. In the meantime, those who have been looking for downloadable and printable versions of some of the items posted on this blog can find them here.

Speaking of traveling, I will also be attempting to keep the Frank Locator updated. (And what's with the Bridgecam?)

Y'know, according to The Beatles, one could fly non-stop from Miami Beach to the U.S.S.R., but I have to transfer in Charlotte. Grr. Anyway, here is my usual pre-flight ritual:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More War

Here is part 2 of the original screenplay, Veteran of the Psychic War. Part 1 is here.

Veteran of the Psychic War
An Original Screenplay--Part 2

After the school day is done, Leonard and JOSH RHODES, 43, are on the basketball court, playing casual one-on-one.
I hear through the grapevine that things are not going well with you and Elizabeth.

The grapevine talks too much.

What can I say—grapes get lonely.

And they wine too much.

Oh, boo.
I thought everything was going great with you two.

I thought so, too, but it seems the minute I got the Skeptics Quarterly gig, it’s like I’ve impugned her religious beliefs. I honestly had no idea she was so into all this New Age, pseudoscience crap.

Gee, it’s hard to see why she’d be offended...

When we first started going out, it seemed like we had a lot more in common than we by rights should have.

That’s a sentence that’ll make your head explode.

I mean, I’m fairly well-read, we like the same kinds of movies, going to plays and readings. Everything was going great. Then I started writing for Skeptics Quarterly—which I’m really proud to be doing, by the way—and ever since then every conversation with her involves astrology, or psychics, or how I have no imagination, or how I’m completely soulless. We don’t have dates any more so much as inquisitions.

And you never knew that she was into these things?

Not a clue. And it’s not like I’ve ever chided her for believing in these things. I’m perfectly happy to live and let live. But she just keeps dwelling on it. It’s driving me nuts.

Have you tried talking to her about it?

We have some kind of mystery date tonight, so we’ll see how it goes. The thing, Josh, is...

He stops playing and looks down.

Uh oh.

The thing is that I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort anymore.

No love lost?

We haven’t been going out for that long and I was still deeply in...well, in like with Elizabeth. Love hadn’t entered into it—yet-and now it just seems like the whole possibility of that has been short-circuited.

Because you’re such a closed-minded sum’bitch.

Apparently, yes. And in point of fact, I’m not really.
Or at least I don’t think I am.

A quaint, small town downtown street, populated by diners, antique stores, etc. Leonard and Elizabeth walk along the street, holding hands.
Where are you taking me? I’m not even sure what time zone we’re in any more.

You’ll see.
They come to a storefront, in the window of which is a neon sign that says “Madame Zenyatta Psychic Reading.” they stop, and Leonard looks at the sign.
You’ve got to be kidding me.


A psychic?! Do you have no sense of accumulated knowledge whatsoever? You know I think these people are all cons and charlatans.

Not this one. Madame Zenyatta comes highly recommended.

Madame “Zenyatta.” By who? Sting?

"Whom." I don’t even know what that means, but I’m sure it’s insulting. Come on! It’ll be fun.

Apparently there’s a definition of fun with which I am unfamiliar.

(a bit pissed)
Ooh, you’re such a stick in the mud. Well, I’m getting a reading.

What am I supposed to do?

As far as I’m concerned, you can stay out here and fuck yourself.
That was far more hostile than he had ever seen her, and it hits him. He gets an idea.
OK, I’ll do it. And I will provide to you these people are all assclowns.

She finds the term somewhat amusing and it breaks the ice a little bit.
All right, Sir Isaac Newton, you’re on.
She gestures for him to enter first. They walk down a small flight of stairs to a glass door.


Inside, it is brightly lit by fluorescent ceiling fixtures. The walls are bare and white, with a few motivational posters on the wall—most of them with a New Agey tone to them. the floor is covered with rust-colored wall-to-wall carpeting. The room is smallish, and has a single desk toward the back, with own chair behind it and two chairs in front of it. In fact, the whole place, rather than looking like a stereotypical psychic reader’s gypsylike den, as Leonard says:
This place looks like a real estate office.
One conceit to the location is that Indian sitar music plays over a loudpeaker.
Although I suddenly have a craving for tandoori chicken.
A door behind the desk opens and MADAME ZENYATTA, 55, enters. In keeping with the conservative trappings, she is dressed in a conservative pantsuit. In fact, she looks very much like a real estate agent. She notices them standing in front of the desk.
May I help you?

We’re here about the ad for the three-bedroom colonial.
Elizabeth smacks his shoulder lightly.
Leonard is here for a reading.

Sure. Please sit down.
She gestures to the chairs. Leonard and Elizabeth sit.
Have you ever had a psychic reading before?

I have not, no.

Well, we’ll see if we can’t make it as painless as possible.

Speaking of which, how much is this going to cost me?

Just for your reference, I charge $45 for a half hour session and $80 for a full hour.

Good grief.

I do have many clients who have special financial needs, and if you need to, we can negotiate a special rate.

He doesn’t have special needs. He’s just a cheap bastard.


It’s on me, so don’t you worry about it.
There is a pause. Madame Zenyatta has been watching them like a hawk, and Leonard catches her and smiles very slightly.
You know how us engaged couples are.


Very clever. You were trying trick me. I know you’re not engaged.

You can see it in our auras?

I can see it on her fingers. No ring.
Anyway, shall we get started?

Ready when you are.

Do you have a piece of jewelry or some other possession I can hold? It helps focus the psychic energies.
Leonard pats his shirt and pockets.
Um, not really, no. Oh, wait...
He reaches into his pants pocket and removes a paper clip.
It’s a paper clip. It’s all I’ve got.

(under her breath)

It may not have the full complement of psychic vibes, but I’ll see what I can do. Anyway, let me hold your right hand.
She holds his right hand in her right and the paper clip in the left. She closes her eyes.
Ah, yes, I see it all...

The street outside Madame Zenyatta’s office. Leonard is walking calmly up the stairs to street level while Elizabeth is, um, pissed and trails him a bit.
Could you have made any less of an effort to cooperate?
Leonard stops and thinks mock seriously.
No. Honestly, I don’t think I could have.

So is it any surprise to you that she was way wrong?

No, it’s no surprise to me at all, since I never in a million years expected her to be correct.
He starts walking again.
You’re supposed to provide feedback. You’re supposed to respond in some way so they know they’re on the right track. You’re not supposed to just sit there, stare blankly, and say “Go on” for a half hour.

She’s the psychic. Isn’t she supposed to know this stuff without my having to give her a Scooby Snack every time she gets something right? And, forgive me if I’ve missed the point of this, but isn’t she supposed to be telling me the future? Is there any point in paying $45 a half hour to hear about the musical instruments I played in high school?

That’s not how it works.

I know. Because it doesn’t work! It’s like any other con game or scam. The con artist goes fishing, and when they get a bite they reel you in. You know how you win at three-card monte?


You don’t play!

(after a beat)
She was right about the flute?

How was she right about the flute?

She said “I see a musical instrument in your past.” She called that one.

Gee, what are the odds that any given person would have had some contact with a musical instrument at some point in their life? And it was clear that when I did say, “yes, a flute,” she thought I played the flute. “If you had practiced more...” she started to say.

Then she realized that you didn’t play the flute!

Yeah, because I started laughing. My only contact with a flute was in seventh grade when Jennifer Zannini smacked me in the head with hers because I made a lewd remark to her. Bear in mind that was the only contact with a musical instrument I have ever had in my life.
And the last time I made a lewd remark to a woman, now that I think about it...

He rubs his temple, and they walk up the street in silence for a while.

She was right about us.

In what way?

She said “I see trouble between you two.”

It doesn’t take a sixth sense to see trouble between us, Elizabeth. All it takes is someone with any two of the other five senses working reasonably well to see that there’s trouble between us.
Elizabeth stops walking and looks after him, a hurt expression on her face. He stops, and turns around, only half contrite.
Look, why don’t we discuss this over dinner. I’m starving.

No, I don’t think so.

Elizabeth, what’s wrong? Why do you take this whole psychic business so damn seriously? This never used to be an issue until... Look, let’s talk about this.

No, I can’t imagine that you’d ever understand.

I’m a smart guy. Try me.

No. And to be honest, if I had a flute right now I’d smack you in the head with it. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.
And with that, she abruptly crosses the street and leaves him standing, staring after her. After a few beats, he finally realizes:
Wait! You drove!
He is about to chase after her, but stands resignedly instead. He stares into space for a moment. A young female voice from behind him says:
Sucks to be you.
He turns around and spies a girl, KAYLEIGH, 16, leaning against a wall beside the sidewalk. She is smoking a cigarette and has a detached, world-weary attitude, which, at 16, she doesn’t carry especially well.
You have no idea.
She tries looks at him expressionlessly, but can’t entirely suppress a little smile.
I suppose you heard all of that altercation.

I heard even more than that. I’m Madame Zenyatta’s niece, Kayleigh.

“Kayleigh.” That’s a nice name. Like that old song.
(starts singing)
“Do you remember, chalk hearts melting on—”

Thanks. I never get that at all.

And I thought I was the only one who remembered that song.

Unfortunately, you’re not.
The sound of a CAR approaches. Suddenly, Kayleigh looks past him, and her eyes grow huge. She drops her cigarette, and leaps on top of Leonard. They fall to the sidewalk behind a parked car.
Shit! Get down!
A black car cruises by and several objects are hurled out of the car windows. They are crystal balls, and they smash on the brick wall of the building behind them, fortuitously missing Leonard and Kayleigh. Shards of crystal rain down on them. The car careens around a corner and is gone. Leonard and Kayleigh get to their feet. Leonard is more than a little freaked out.
What the hell was that!?

What was what?

He is too aggrieved to speak.
It was probably just Mando again.
And on Leonard’s confused expression, we

To be c0ntinued...

Blurrier Image

When you were in the market for outrageously expensive and wildly impractical--but somehow viscerally "cool"--gadgets, where would you go? The Sharper Image, of course. Alas, I guess we've been so gadget-saturated as of late we've become rather blasé about them. Which is one reason why...
Sharper Image files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Retailer Sharper Image Corp has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing declining sales, three straight years of losses and litigation involving its Ionic Breeze air purifiers.
She said the company has suffered from increased competition, narrowing margins, litigation, lower consumer and market confidence, tighter credit from suppliers, and poorly performing stores.
Sharper Image has seen its sales decline steadily since 2004, and has posted net losses in fiscal 2005, 2006, and 2007.

According to court papers, the electronics retailer also cited "negative publicity" from the litigation involving its Ionic Breeze air purifiers for its falling revenues.

In October, a federal court denied approval of a settlement of class-action suits related to the efficacy of the air purifiers. The product was sold to 3 million consumers, according to a previous filing.

Go Ask Alice

Someone (not me) with way too much time on their hands did a mashup of Jefferson Airplane's classic "White Rabbit" and clips from the original "Star Trek" that is pretty funny.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Culture

Here's another blast from the past from a "Rich Text" column published in the September, 1997, Micro Publishing News. Yeah, it's a little dated, technologically, and so derived from a Woody Allen New Yorker piece.
A Little Culture (Very Little, Actually)

As opera and ballet companies mourn the continuing decline in patronage, it is probably not surprising that they have turned to digital technology to try to appeal to a broader class of people. I therefore present this short summary of a few of the new ballets and operas soon to hit the stage.

In this ballet, utterly ghastly, upbeat music plays as the curtain rises on a stage designed like a large computer motherboard. The male dancers—labelled as “0”s—and the female dancers—labelled as “1”s—cavort and gambol on the large circuit board. Suddenly, ominous music plays. The oboes play wildly out of control as a large floppy disk descends. A figure dressed in black emerges from within the floppy and leaps upon the motherboard. After a series of jetés that cause several of the more fainthearted in the audience to wince in pain, the dark figure—the Virus—begins chasing the other dancers, erasing their 1s and 0s, and making sarcastic comments. Mournful music plays as the de-labelled dancers loll mournfully upon the stage. The curtain falls.

Act II opens with the same vision of moroseness. The brass section perks up and as triumphant march music plays, a figure in white—the Anti-Virus Program—enters stage right and battles with the Virus. Blood is shed, insults are hurled, and finally the Virus is dead. The other dancers are relabelled and life continues, happy in the promise of everlasting protection from the dark forces of the world.

Based on Norse mythology, this 36-hour opera tells the story of Ostragulard, a Viking warrior endowed by Odin with magical powers, which he unfortunately uses only for card tricks. Begged by the people of his village to use his powers for something far less irritating—like, say, eradicating their crushing poverty, vanquishing encroaching invaders, or making better hats—he ignores their pleas and focuses his energy on sawing a lady in half.

One evening, Ostragulard is bewitched by a beautiful enchantress named Brangularaglump. They dance tenderly together and she whispers softly in his ear, “You’re a yutz.” Realizing the error of his ways, Ostragulard uses his powers to install the first digital press in Scandinavia. There is a moderate amount of rejoicing—the people were rather looking forward to the hats—but prosperity does in fact come to the village. However, after a spell is cast on Ostragulard by an evil witch, he is eaten by his own beard.

This Russian opera, written originally for children (albeit disturbed ones), tells the story of Vladimir (not surprisingly), a carnival barker who surreptitiously spends his evenings programming computers. If his father—a Luddite who owns the carnival—ever finds out about his son’s shameful pastime, Vladimir would be toast.

One evening, Vladimir is visited by a fairy godfather, who prances about and sprinkles pixie toner on Vladimir’s Pentium Pro-based Windows machine. The computer comes to life and—in one of the strangest moments ever committed to the legitimate stage—belts out an aria, the likes of which have not been heard since Caruso. Essentially, the computer wants to run and jump and play, just like a real live litle boy, which would no doubt cause some degree of difficulty during cub-scout jamborees. Vladimir’s father walks in at that moment and, in a moment of rage, hurls an immense turnip through the monitor. Vladimir is distraught and, in the heartfelt aria “Files Do Live,” Vladimir mourns the death of his “sibling.”

After a brief intermission, during which the audience are far too dumbstruck to even move from their seats, Vladimir has his computer repaired, much to his father’s disapproval. It finally dawns on Vladimir that he is nearly 40 and probably shouldn’t care what his father thinks. He and the computer emigrate to the United States, where they start a very successful lounge act in Vegas.

In this ballet, the curtain rises on an idyllic stage. Pastoral music plays as a female dancer—the font—enters. She conveys through dance, “Garamond Bold Italic, set 12/14,” which is no easy feat, let me tell you. After the excruciatingly lovely “Dance of the Serifs,” the curtain falls. The curtain rises again, then falls. It again rises halfway, then falls again. The audience is horribly confused, and business at the bar increases tenfold. Finally, the curtain rises again, and Act II begins. The font prances about for quite a bit longer until a large RIP appears on the stage. The font dances lasciviously about it, and the music gives us hope of successful output. Unfortunately, in the thrilling climax, the font is output as Courier, which dances clumsily around the stage, and finally falls into the orchestra pit. The curtain drops, and there is much talk of ticket refunds.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It's Easy Being Green When You're a Huge Frog

Way cool. "Beelzebufo"...gotta love it. Sez the L.A. Times:
A frog the size of a bowling ball, with heavy armor and teeth, lived among dinosaurs millions of years ago -- intimidating enough that scientists who unearthed its fossils dubbed the beast Beelzebufo, or Devil Toad.

But its size -- 10 pounds and 16 inches long -- isn't the only curiosity. Researchers discovered the creature's bones in Madagascar. Yet it seems to be a close relative of normal-sized frogs who today live half a world away in South America, challenging assumptions about ancient geography.

The discovery, led by paleontologist David Krause at New York's Stony Brook University, was published today by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This frog, if it has the same habits as its living relatives in South America, was quite voracious," Krause said. "It's even conceivable that it could have taken down some hatchling dinosaurs."

Krause began finding fragments of abnormally large frog bones in Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, in 1993. They dated back to the late Cretaceous period, roughly 70 million years ago, in an area where Krause also was finding dinosaur and crocodile fossils. But only recently did Krause's team assemble enough frog bones to piece together what the creature would have looked like, and weighed.

The largest living frog, the Goliath frog of West Africa, can reach 7 pounds. But Krause teamed with fossil frog experts from University College London to determine that Beelzebufo isn't related to other African frogs.

It seems to be a relative of South American horned frogs, known scientifically as Ceratophrys. Popular as pets, they're sometimes called pacman frogs for their huge mouths.

Like those modern frogs, Beelzebufo had a wide mouth and powerful jaws, plus teeth. Skull bones were extremely thick, with ridges and grooves characteristic of some type of armor or protective shield.

Site for Sore Eyes

After three years, my Web site has finally been redesigned and updated. Check it out at

Robot Holocaust Part [I Don't Remember]: They're in Our Dreams!

...Or vice versa, actually. True, I have not mentioned the coming robot holocaust in a while,
but this seemed too creepy to pass by:
Fernando Orellana and Brendan Burns have teamed up on a neat project, which involves a robot logging and re-enacting dreams of a human subject. Brainwave patterns and eye movements during dozing will be monitored, depending on what is logged, the robot will alter its behavior accordingly.

Leeching Nuts

This is a bit beyond me, but if anyone is having problems with neighbors leeching your un-encrypted WiFi, here's a link to a clever yet arcane way to toy with them:
which will have their browser displaying characters back-to-front, upside down or in an annoyingly blurred out fashion.

Remote Luxury

Oh, I think it's just a matter of time before we all get to the point where we see the TV remote the way Grandma does.

Cruel Shoes

Um, OK:
Kool-Aid has teamed up with Reebok to create Kool-Aid scented shoes.
Available in grape, cherry, and strawberry, for reasons passing understanding. Hopefully, they're running shoes; I can envision being chased by a swarm of bees every time I leave the house.

A Very Silent Night

Hmm...this sounds kind of like a John Cage composition:
A Very Silent Night, recorded at a frequency only dogs can hear, was so popular among owners it hit number one at Christmas, but has been receiving mixed responses from listeners.

"The most violent one was a dog that physically attacked the radio when it was played and went quite berserk and totally destroyed it," said Bob Kerridge, chief executive of animal welfare group, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
Ironically, I have the same reaction when I hear those dogs barking "Jingle Bells."
"On the other side of the scale, they just lie down and did nothing." The charity CD, priced at NZ$4.99 ($3.93), contained an instrumental and a vocal version of the song, but Kerridge said he did not know what kind of music dogs would hear.

"Never having heard it myself, I don't what they'll hear and of course I don't know how dogs hear music," he said.

Kerridge added dogs in Australia and the United States could soon have a listen.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bark at the Moon

Another movie from the Sci-Fi "classic" collection.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Daniel Petrie
Star of Shame: David Janssen
Monster(s): Werewolf that resembles Pink Floyd's Roger Waters

Ah, the 1970s. Cars were as big as houses, houses were as big as cars, and big actors from previous decades found themselves in cheesy, low-budget movies. Today’s case in point: David Janssen. No longer pursuing the one-armed man (in TV’s 1967 hit series The Fugitive) and yet to revive his career as Harry O, he took time in 1972 to star—uncomfortably, by the looks of it—as Sheriff Aaron Whitaker in the made-for-TV movie Moon of the Wolf, a pretty much by-the-numbers-but-not-really-wretched werewolf movie that only gets really goofy in its last moments. (Bradford Dillman co-stars, looking almost as uncomfortable.)

For the record, just to get this out of the way right here at the beginning: the werewolf in this movie did not have a Chinese menu in his hand, nor did he walk through the streets of Soho in the rain. He was not looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s, nor was he going to get a big dish of beef chow mein. The werewolf was also not drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s. He was, however, heard howling around a kitchen door and although several people were in fact mutilated, a little old lady was not one of them. There; I feel better getting that out of my system. Rah-hoo!

Based on a novel (out of print, not surprisingly), Moon of the Wolf is set in Marsh Island, Louisiana, your standard-issue swampy bayou country. It is supposedly a highly Francophone area (called Frenchtown), although it turns out that only two people there actually know how to speak French.

The movie opens at night—shot not so much day-for-night as impenetrably-black-for-night—and outside the run-down bayou-ish shack of Tom Gurmandy (Junior and Senior), they are awakened by the sound of dogs barking. Tom Senior sounds exactly like Gabby Johnson, the grizzled old prospector from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, which is to say that it is impossible to understand 99% of what he is saying. Jr. and Sr. take their shotguns and try to find out what the dogs are barking about. They come across the mutilated body of Ellie Burritos (I think that’s what he said her name was). “Mumble muffle mumble mumble...taste of human blood...mumble...mumble muffle...Ain’t nobody gonna be a-safe in their houses...mumble...mumble...” OK.

Jr. calls the sheriff and it takes until daybreak for him (Janssen) to show up. He is not happy. Tom Sr. explains what happened, which means that no one will have any idea.

Dr. Druten is examining the body and is not happy about it. He crankily suggests they take it to the hospital for a proper autopsy. “Do you think that can be accomplished by the neighborhood clods without obliterating any chance of discovering the cause of death?” What a grouch.
Ellie’s brother lives in Frenchtown, where only the preacher has a phone, and it isn’t too long before Lawrence, said brother, arrives. He is played by Geoffrey Lewis, who is Mr. 1970s Horror Movie Character Actor and I could swear he was also the “Hamburger isn’t chopped ham” guy from the old A1 Steak Sauce commercials. (I could probably do a search on YouTube but that would be really pathetic. It’s bad enough that I remember this as it is.) He is, as you can imagine, upset, the lack of proper condiments notwithstanding. He is told that his sister was killed by wild dogs. David Janssen briefly lapses into a southern accent.

At the hospital, the sheriff asks Dr. Druten if it was in fact the wild dogs. “Show me a pack of wild dogs that know where to hit you on the side of the head to knock you unconscious.” It was a reasonable question, Mr. Grouch. She was struck by someone strong and left-handed. “You’ve got a murder, sheriff.” “Just what I need.” Why do all sheriffs in these moves always say “That’s just what I need”? Do they teach those things at the police academy?

Sheriff Janssen heads out to the Burritos home, which is guarded by Sarah, a very mannish nurse who is looking after old Hugh, the Burritos family patriarch who is dying, and very loudly. Lawrence is still unhappy. And again one could hardly blame him. Janssen asks about old Hugh. “You wanna pay your greetin’s?” asks Sarah., “That would pleasure me,” says Janssen. Um...yeah... Old Hugh is moaning “Mon Dieu” and “Loup Garou” over and over again, and sounds exactly like Chochem from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. No one knows the “word” loup garou and thinks he has been saying “lookarook.” Loup garou is, of course, a “werewolf.” A1 Steak Sauce Guy says that Ellie has been “having trouble” as in “man trouble” (and not finding a quality condiment for her beef products), and with someone up on “Pecan Hill” (?), “Marsh Island snobbery.” “I could read her face like a newspaper,” he says of his relationship with his sister. I wonder if he ever got ink stains on his hands. A1 admits that he had struck his sister in argument, and it turns out that he is left handed....

Anyway, the Marsh Island snobbery to which A1 had referred is the “Rodan” clan, specifically Andrew Rodan, who is not a giant mutated pterodactyl that destroys Tokyo but is instead Bradford Dillman, scion of the exceedingly wealthy and snooty family that originally settled Marsh Island. Andrew rides up in a white horse as the sheriff pulls up to the stately Selznick International Pictures-like house. It turns out that the body was discovered right across the Rodans’ grove. The sheriff asks where Rodan was between 8 and 9 the previous evening, and Rodan says not that he was demolishing a large Japanese city but was in fact in bed with a case of malaria, which passed by 1 or 2 a.m. Ah, one of those 4-hour malarias.

At that point, Andrew’s sister Louise (Barbara Rush) comes out of the house. She has returned to Marsh Island after having been away for a long time. She admits that she had a crush on the sheriff in junior high school, and he admits the feeling was mutual. Sure, they went to the same school. Uh-huh. Louise provides the background on the Rodan family and prattles on endlessly. She was apparently vaccinated with a phonograph needle. Rodan wisely shoos his sister inside; he tells the sheriff that she has been ill, which is why she has returned (and also explains the plaid outfit). The sheriff then ambles off, while Rodan stares at him suspiciously.

The sheriff is walking along the bayou and finds a locket in the mud, and he is met by Gabby Johnson and his son, which means that none of the dialogue is remotely intelligible. The upshot is that they both have alibis for the night Ellie was killed. “Why are you askin’ us things?” asks Jr. “Warn’t it wild dogs that done it? You sayin’ it warn’t wild dogs?” “There’s more than one kind,” says the sheriff and gets in his car.

In town, he meets the mannish Sarah, who is buying some supplies that old man Hugh sent her to get: assiphusteen (I have no idea) and sulfur; “for the ‘lookarook.’” Can you get sulfur at a small town’s general store? Sarah says that she knows who killed was the man who made Ellie pregnant, which she doesn’t know (?). “Find the man that got her pregnant, and you’ll find who killed her.” Da Dum! Moon of the Wolf will be right back, after these messages...

We’re back from commercial, and Janssen is grilling Dr. Druten about not telling him that Ellie was pregnant. “I was performing an autopsy. Pregnancy didn’t cause her death.” “Well, I’m not so sure.” Zing. In an awkwardly blocked scene, Jannsen sits while Druten rises and it looks like a seesaw. “Doc, if she was pregnant, someone got her that way.” That’s why he’s the sheriff. Dr. Druten pours himself a drink; it turns out he was the father. Janssen stops acting for a moment and swigs the whiskey directly from the bottle. It turns out that Druten had a date with Ellie the night she was killed. Druten wanted to abort the child, Ellie wanted to get married and have it. She never showed up for their date, so he went home. Ah, so that explains why he was so cranky at the crime scene. He reiterates that he did not kill Ellie. The sheriff asks him what he would use acifederen (?) and sulfur for. “Nothing, not any more,” he says, adding that his grandmother used to use those items to keep wolves away. Boing.

Coming out of the hospital, the sheriff runs into Louise, and they go to a coffee shop. There is some kind of awkward flirtation going on, artistically filmed through a pool game which doesn’t exactly heighten the intimacy of the scene. She is apparently on the wrong side of her tracks, and everyone stares at her. She drones on quite a bit about how important her family is, and that she was brought back from New York because she had been shacking up with someone (who was socially unacceptable) who then left her and “you don’t walk out on a Rodan.” Well, Godzilla would. As it turns out, Andrew has all the money and would have cut her off if she didn’t come back with him. Being wealthy, she has no skills it seems, and is unable to get a job. Andrew shows up and is not happy. Janssen looks like he was dozing off, when Andrew wakes him with news that the townfolk are organizing a posse to kill the wild dog population.

At A1 Steak Sauce Guy’s house, old Hugh stares at A1’s palm and starts screaming “lookarook,” “mon dieu,” and “chopped ham.” Dr. Druten pulls up in an immense car and sedates the old guy. “You might as well start thinking about him dying, Lawrence,” says the doctor, whose bedside manner needs some work. He again asks about “lookarook,” which still no one knows. Mannish Sarah is pissed about something. But what? After Druten drives off, Sarah tells A1 Steak Sauce Guy that Ellie had been pregnant with the doctor’s baby....

As the dog hunting posse is being organized, Steak Sauce runs up and slugs the doctor. The sheriff takes Steak Sauce away to the jail. the leader of the posse says they had better get going, “while we still have the light,” even though it’s about noon.

The sheriff is driving past the Rodan place when Louise spots him and beckons him inside. He had been looking for her but for some reason says he was just going to drive on by. Huh? She asks about the murder investigation. “Do you have a that the word?” She doesn’t know the word “suspect”? Jeez, hasn’t she ever watched a crime show? They sit down to lemonade, and for some reason David Janssen starts talking like Inspector Luger from Barney Miller. What’s in the lemonade? Their awkward flirtation gets even more uncomfortable. The soundtrack then starts playing the haunting “Love Theme from Moon of the Wolf.”

We then cut to a shot of the moon (actually, a crescent moon...I guess the werewolf doesn’t like to go out when there’s a full moon; you know, all the crazies are out), and a wolf bays off camera. Finally! At 38:00, something werewolf-esque is going to happen.

A1 is in jail which, by the sound of it, is located on the median strip of the Santa Monica Freeway. Oh, that’s not traffic noise; it’s actually a fan. It was a bold move on the part of the sound recordist to put the microphone inside the grating of the fan. They decide not to actually lock the cell that A1 is in. They’re all apparently on the honor system. Outside, we switch to standard horror-movie monstercam, in this case, the wolf’s point of view: shaky handheld camera, accompanied by asthmatic wheezing. It moves toward the jail, and the wolf’s eyes seem to have a problem pulling focus. The deputy guarding the cell hears a noise and goes off to investigate, so you know he’s doomed. To be safe, he locks Steak Sauce in his cell. Three guesses what’s going to happen. Steak Sauce hears some shots and the deputy screaming. Then, the “thing” walks calmly in the door, then rips the iron bars off the cell. We don’t see the creature, just a close up of A1 screaming (in a badly overdubbed manner) and complaining that if he’s going to be eaten, the creature could at least use good steak sauce.

Everyone comes running to the jail. Dr. Druten examines the remains of A1 and the deputy. “Who ever did this tore them both apart with their fingernails.” The sheriff points out that it wasn’t wild dogs this time, and then ambles off muttering (in a strange accent) about not having any suspects. He then takes volunteers for deputies. He gets no takers. He then seems to think that old Hugh is the next victim and wants to post a guard around Hugh’s house.

The next morning, the sheriff is out wandering around town, when Rodan pulls up in a Rolls Royce, which I’m guessing comprised 90% of the budget for this movie. Rodan volunteers to be the deputy, citing his giant leathery wings and ability to demolish entire cities. The sheriff asks “What happens when I have to give you orders?” “You’ll just have to forget who I am.” Jeez, what a snob. Shoot him now. (Three guesses where this is going, though.)

They drive round to Hugh’s house and, as they walk up the front porch, Rodan smells the sulfur burning, and has a seizure. Yep, saw that coming. No one makes the connection and he is rushed to the hospital. Dr. Druten has no idea what is wrong with him. “But you’ve been the Marsh Island doctor for 20 years.” “Yes, but not the Rodan doctor. I wasn’t good enough for them. They went to New Orleans.” Class warfare among three people? Jeepers. “This isn’t malaria,” is all the doctor can offer. The sheriff decides to interrogate Louise (like he needs an excuse) to find out what her brother’s problem is.

They meet inside the Rodan home and once again the sound recordist made a bold move by placing microphones inside David Janssen’s shoes, since their squeaking as he walks almost drowns out the dialogue. Louise says that weird seizures run in the family; her granddaddy used to have his “spells” that no one used to talk about. The sheriff notices a picture of Louise in which she is wearing the locket he found in the swamp. She says she had lost it, and he produces it for her. He then is determined to find out how Ellie got the locket, forgetting all about Andrew’s seizures. “Can I come with you? Oh, please?” begs Louise. Like she has to plead.

Andrew is awake, and admits that he gave Ellie the locket the night she was murdered. He is OK now, and the doctor is sending him home. Huh? I thought no one knew what was wrong with him? Anyway, Rodan gave Ellie the locket out of gratitude for the small “favors” she had done for him. No, not that, he hastens to add; he suffers from “Seibert’s syndrome,” an offshoot of black water fever (a kind of malaria) that is incurable. Ellie had been procuring for him the only drug that keeps the attacks under control. She had brought him the drugs shortly before she was killed. He admits that he neglected to take the drug that evening, having been distracted by how pretty Ellie was. The next thing he knew, it was 5:00 in the morning and her was taking a shower. Uh, too much information, buddy. The sheriff, clutching at straws, asks if Andrew is left-handed (he’s still on that track?). Rodan admits that he is ambidextrous. Of course he is. He boasts how it runs in the family, which is an odd thing to take pride in. To each his own.

In the waiting room, the doctor is discussing old Hugh and the “lookarook.” Louise overhears this and says that she knows French, and he asks for her help. The sheriff can find no other person in “Frenchtown” that speaks French? At Hugh’s, the old guy is still on about the “lookarook.” It takes Louise’s spotty sub-high school French to figure out that what is is saying is “loup garou,” or “werewolf.” He stares at her palm and goes nuts again and starts barking (?). We then cut to a close up of a hairy-handed gent in the hospital—yes, Andrew Rodan is the loup garou. Surprise!

Dr. Druten walks into Andrew’s room and Andrew is missing. He sneaks up behind the doctor and smacks him to the ground. He then charges into the reception area, revealing that more money went to renting the Rolls Royce than the werewolf’s makeup effects. Kind of looking like Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, he knocks some doctors and nurses around (while calling them "David Gilmour"), then jumps through a window.

The next morning, the entire town seems to know that Rodan has turned into a wolf and they are all organizing another posse to hunt him down. (Don’t these people have jobs?) Louise is upset and tries to convince them all that Andrew is merely sick and gets these seizures. They are not convinced. “He had fangs coming two inches out of his mouth.” No, he didn’t! Tom Jr. says, “It’s his sister. How do we know she ain’t gonna turn into a wolf?” Our bright young friend makes a good point. “You shut up!” retorts Louise with her rapier wit. The sheriff tries to stop them; however, the leader of the gang says that he is assuming the power invested in him by the Marsh Island charter and that Gabby Johnson is now in charge. Huh? How drunk were the town fathers—and, by the way, weren’t they the Rodans?—to sanction mob rule in the event of a crisis? The sheriff and Louise drive off while everyone else sort of ambles about cluelessly.

It is suddenly night. Louise is at her house reading up on lycanthropy. There is a knock at the door; she thinks he sees Andrew but it is only the sheriff. She then reads to him what she has learned about “lycanthropy-like diseases.” Apparently, there is a whole hitherto unknown medical literature dedicated to the subject. Being a werewolf is “a disease that you can take a pill to control.” There are some clinical studies I’d like to see the raw data for. I can also imagine the TV commercials pitching anti-lycanthropy drugs. Some celebrity comes on and says, “When I grow fur and fangs and crave the taste of human blood, I take Lycor. You may not be able to stop the family curse, but you can control it. Common side effects include headache, diarrhea, and random howling.”

Anyway, Lycanthropeia veritas, true lycanthropy, may also respond to the same drug as “quasi-lycanthropy,” but over time the victim builds up an immunity to them. Of course they do. “In true lycanthropy,” the book says, “the victim’s taste for blood turns him into a most powerful and deadly killer.” Hmm...I didn’t know Stephen King got his start writing medical reference books. Also, werewolves are rendered temporarily harmless by the smell of sulfur. Well, I think we’re all pretty much on board with that one. Some people can also—“without scientific proof”—claim to see the shape of a pentagram in the hand of the werewolf’s next victim. Ah, that would explain old Hugh. Or something. I don’t know which is worse: the existence of werewolves or the existence of predestination and the lack of free will. But I digress...

Suddenly, they are interrupted the loud baying of a wolf, followed by the frightened whinnying of horses. “He’s out there,” says Louise. Ya think? The sheriff closes the wooden shutters and locks the windows. Louise correctly points out that Andrew had torn iron bars out of cement. “He grew up in this house. Maybe he’ll have more respect.” Oh, that’s a reach. He’s torn apart three people and is suddenly going to be squeamish about breaking a window? The sheriff then goes off to hunt for him. “I don’t know what I’ll do when I find him but it won’t be what they’ll do.” Sounds like a plan! “If he has to be killed,” she requests tearfully and haltingly, “not their way.” What did she have in mind: slow torture? The gas chamber? Lethal injection? I think shooting him quickly would probably be the most humane. A moot point, though... The sheriff leaves, and she locks herself behind the safety of a set of louvred doors. She continues to read: there are only two methods of destruction (presumably of a werewolf): death by burning and death by shooting with bullets that have been “blessed.” Blessed by whom? A priest? Rabbi? Native American medicine man? Anyone in particular?

Andrew arrives at the house and uses every ounce of his strength to burst through the louvred doors. So much for that idea. Andrew also quickly figures out how to unlock the doors, what with having grown up there and all. Louise opens a window and escapes from the house. She runs to the barn and starts loudly calling for the sheriff. She locks herself inside and lights an oil lamp. Andrew is suddenly standing in the hayloft. Now how did he just appear there? Lycanthropy is one thing, magic teleportation is another. She chucks the lamp at him and he and the whole hayloft burst into flames. He flails around and howls a bit, then falls out of the hayloft and is engulfed in flames. Actually, it’s a cheesy process shot that superimposes flames over the scene of him flailing on the ground. She flees the barn which is now completely consumed by fire.

She goes back to the house and stares tearfully at a picture of Andrew, then ambles upstairs. There is the loud baying of a wolf again, and then suddenly, Andrew is in the house, without a mark or a singe on him. What?! How did he escape the burning barn? And I thought burning was one of the ways to kill a werewolf. She locks herself in a bedroom and takes a gun out of a desk. Andrew bursts in and she lets him have it, and down he goes. Meanwhile, the sheriff comes to the rescue...too late. The werewolf is now officially dead. Wha? “He knew,” says Louise tearfully. “He made me fire it. The bullets...he must have had them blessed.” Say what? Oh, come on! That’s a bit cheesy. One last shot of him shows that he has turned back into Andrew. He does clean up nice. And Louise and the sheriff walk off together.

End credits. Now stay tuned for your local news.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Wright Stuff*

Posting has been light this week, as I have been spending my spare time learning Dreamweaver and thus finally, after three years, updating my proper Web site. Look for that next week, if you dare (and if I can figure out how to fix one or two things). It will include links to all my various blogs and articles, as well as an archive of fiction posts (in downloadable PDF format, by request).

*What--you didn't know that Gary Wright was the singer of the 1976 top 2 hit "Dream Weaver"?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Last night, my Toastmasters Club held our Tall Tales contest, in which I participated (and won, actually), with a story adapted from a brief passage in Chapter 2 of Jewel Box. I confess that I cannot take complete credit, as the basic idea for classifying animals according to how they tasted came out of a conversation with Ken A. Anyway, the text follows:
Systema Unnaturae: An Alternative to Traditional Linnaean Taxonomy

How many of you know the name Carolus Linnaeus? Linnaeus was an 18th-century Swedish botanist and zoologist who developed the current system of taxonomy, or grouping animals and plants with similar physiological characteristics into phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. For example, biologically, humans are Homo sapiens, dogs are Canis familiaris, cats are Felis silvestris catus, cows are Bos taurus, and the Atlantic giant squid is Architetuthis dux.

Needless to say (although I’ll say it anyway, otherwise this will be a really short speech), not everyone is happy with that system for categorizing nature. In particular, Dr. Edward Munch (who, by the ways, is no relation to the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch famous for the painting The Scream), dissatisfied with the Linnaean system of classifying animals and plants, was the founder and leading researcher in the field of what he called “gustatory taxonomy.” That is, Dr. Munch sought to classify animals and plants according to how they tasted. Ultimately, he desired to answer a question that had been eating him (as it were) his entire scientific career: how many animals actually do taste like chicken?

Dr. Munch received his training in zoology at Syracuse University—not that he was enrolled there; rather, he worked in one of the dining halls, where he came into contact with a variety of insect life, and began taking copious notes about which foods even the roaches steered clear of. When he was in his early 20s, he was inspired by a class in comparative biology he took at the American Culinary Institute. And, some years later, tanks to a generous scholarship bestowed by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, he was able to kick his career up a notch, afford the necessary research facilities—that is, cookware—and pursue his investigations into the culinary classification of animals and plants.

As you can imagine, such a system required a not insubstantial amount of empirical research—which is to say, eating. So, for years, Dr. Munch traveled the globe, sampling as many creatures as he could, and his life’s work—the immense Concordance of World Organisms—Encyclopedia and Cookbook—was coming together nicely. His monograph, “Functional Morphology of H. hydrochaeris With and Without Pork Gravy,” was a smash hit at that year’s National Zoological Conference, an event which he also catered, and had even led to his helping found a new cable channel, a joint venture between the Discovery Channel and the Food Network.

But, alas, it was all to end too soon. While in the Amazon rain forest, he had no sooner taken a bite out of a large, brightly colored, and—unbeknownst to Dr. Munch, poisonous—tree frog, than he uttered what were to be his last words (“needs salt”) and, according to one witness at the scene, did a remarkable imitation of his Norwegian namesake’s most famous painting. He then fell face first onto the frog, and a brilliant scientific career ended just as it had begun: with Dr. Munch wearing a lobster bib.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hooray for Santy Claus!

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Nicholas Webster
Star of Shame: Pia Zadora
Monster(s): Guy in polar bear costume, evil Martian with fake mustache

Robert and Kristin Romano contributed to this post.

One of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of the classic “bad movies” of all time, up (down?) there with Plan 9 From Outer Space, and the complete, unexpurgated (unfortunately) movie was included in the 50 Classic Sci-Fi Movies box. On a trip to Boston last weekend, I took the box set with me to inflict it upon those who had given it to me for Christmas, and, because misery loves company, we hunkered down and endured Santa Claus Conquers the Martians en masse.

I should point out that the movie was not digitally remastered for inclusion in this box set. If anything, it was burned to DVD from a tenth-generation VHS copy.

The movie dives right in with the cloying and truly irritating opening song “Hooray for Santa Claus” which after about 10 seconds will make you want to chew your own head off. The staggering low-budget animation sequence forms the background to the parade of shame (i.e., opening credits). We are promised “Martian furniture,”designed by Fritz Hansen. However, one harbinger is that “costume” is spelled wrong in the opening credits, the first indication that quality control was not present when making this thing.

We then start on a closeup of a TV set—KID TV is on the air! They are about to cut live to the North Pole, but before that, the camera pans slowly over and and are introduced to Bomar and Girmar, two Martian children, the latter played by Pia Zadora in her film debut. They are watching the Rip Taylor-esque reporter Andy Henderson almost certainly dressed inappropriately for 90 below 0 temperatures, although he does seem to have the world’s longest microphone cord. We then go inside Santa’s workshop and meet the big man himself, who has obviously either been drinking copious amounts of spiked eggnog or has something other than tobacco in his pipe, and makes reference to his reindeer “Vixen and Nixon.” Mrs. Claus steps in and is a shrieking harridan who gets far too excited by the prospect of being on television.

Santa then shows some of the new toys that he has been making. Winky the Elf—who bears a striking resemblance to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop—is in charge of the “space division,” and has made the latest toy rocket which, Santa says, “runs on real rocket fuel.” Huh? Liquid oxygen? I guess Santa’s workshop is exempt from toy safety regulations. Henderson then finds an “action figure” (well, not in this movie) made by Winky, which is the elf’s conception of a Martian—which, as it turns out, is staggeringly accurate. “Wowy wow, I’d hate to meet a creature like that on a dark night.” I bet, especially seeing as it’s basically a guy in a cape. “I wonder if there really are people on Mars,” muses Henderson. “If they do, I hope they have someone like you, Santa.” Flattery will get him everywhere, I guess, but it also does spell out the premise of the movie. Santa then refers to Andy Henderson as “Mr. Anderson,” either, again, due to the fact that Santa is drunk off his jolly old butt, or the filmmakers just didn’t care.

We then go to Mars. Now, a note about Martian physiology. The Martians are basically humanoid, but with shoe polish smeared on their faces, upsettingly tight green leotards, a festive looking green cape, and helmets with a variety of pipes and antennae sticking out of them, made apparently out of random kitchen implements. It’s a rather elaborate headpiece, but serves absolutely no purpose. Despite the fact that the Martians are pretty much just humans in goofy costumes (or custumes, according to the opening credits), all the doors are thin and oval and are completely wheelchair inaccessible.

Kimar, the leader of Mars—a terrifying thought—enters, looking for “Dropo,” the “laziest man on Mars,” and cannot be find him anywhere, despite the fact that he is lying on the floor directly in front of him. He finds him, and activates what appears to be a touchless cattle prod, which jolts Dropo awake with fits of painful-sounding fake laughter. It’s described as a “tickle ray.” Huh? Dropo is to be the comic relief, which means you will want to kill yourself every time he appears on screen. Mars is apparently a joyless place of work and toil, with no allowance for leisure or pleasure. Why they have a tickle ray, then, is a mystery. Perhaps it’s best to not overanalyze this. After all, I think we’ve already established that the filmmakers just didn’t care. Dropo informs Kimar that Lady Momar has gone to the “Food Pill Center” to get some “food pills.” Now, is that all spacey and alien or what? Their children, apparently, have not been eating, and Kimar is distraught that they just sit in front of the videoset all day watching “those ridiculous Earth programs” (he has a point). Why they don’t just block the transmissions from Earth is anyone’s guess.

Kimar then confronts his children, who are staring raptly at the videoset. Bomar and Girmar ask each other poignant questions, such as “What’s a doll?” and “What’s tender loving care?” This hits Kimar where he lives. Kimar tries to get his children to go to sleep, and he has to resort to using the “sleep spray” on them. (What parent wouldn’t want a sleep spray?) Part of the problem could be that they have sleep on a flat plastic surface under a wire pyramid with a lucite cube in place of a pillow—oh, and with those silly helmets on. Heck, I’d need a sleep spray.

Lady Momar returns from the Food Pill Center with a bag full of vials of pills—hamburger, buttered asparagus (they look like those flavored jelly beans). It’s basically a Judy Garland fantasy. However, why Martian food is pill versions of Earth food is a mystery. But, why dwell on it (the filmmakers didn’t). Dropo says he has been vacuuming the room—I guess he’s their houseboy or something, which is more upsetting than you can imagine. Kimar says that he is worried about the children, and that he has met with the “Council Chiefs” and the problem is the same with children all over Mars. “Something is happening to the children of Mars,” intones Kimar portentously. “As the leader of Mars,” says his wife, “you must do something about it.” “I know,” he responds, “but what?” “Why don’t you go to the forest and seek Chochem, the Ancient One. He’ll know what to do. He’s never failed you.” There’s a first time for everything, I suppose. “You speak wisely,” says Kimar. “You speak goofily,” one would be tempted to respond. He then summons the Council Chiefs—Rigna, Hargo, and Voldar—to meet him at “Chochem’s chair in Thunder Forest.” We also get the first sense that Voldar is going to be a complete dickweed.

We then go to Chochem’s lair which, it should be pointed out, is a cave and nothing like a forest. Maybe a single tree would have helped allay the sense that the set designer really didn’t read the script. They were specifically ordered to meet at Chochem’s realm and yet Voldar expresses surprise that they are meeting with Chochem.

Voldar, who wears a really fake-looking Oil Can Harry-like mustache, is against the idea, and is kind of a Marcus Porcius Cato figure, a hardline conservative who dislikes change and wants to keep Mars warlike—or preserve the Republic and condemn Santa (or Julius Caesar, one or the other) as a traitor and an enemy. Ahem, but I digress....that’s what I get for watching this and an episode of Rome in the same sitting. We are then informed that Chochem is over 800 years old-and he looks it. Kimar then summons Chochem with the haunting chant “Chochem...Chochem...are you there?” There is a puff of smoke and the Ancient One appears. He is not dressed in green, or is he encumbered by the odd helmet. He does have a phenomenal amount of white hair and acts and talks like he is going to keel over at any moment. Come to think of it, he kind of looks like Gandalf after a weekend bender. Kimar puts the children problem to Chochem, and Chochem asks what time of year it is. (On Mars it is the month of “Septober.” Yeah.) Some wise sage—he’s going to solve all their problems but he doesn’t even know what time of year it is? Has anyone checked his credentials? Jeesh. Chochem delivers a lengthy monologue, stating that they have no children on Mars, that they are adults in children’s bodies (I'm sure there's a Paris Hilton joke to be made there). Chochem had seen this coming for centuries, but apparently didn’t want to give anyone a heads up or anything. Long story short: they need Santa Claus on Mars to teach children how to be children.

Chochem has an intense bout of gastric distress (it looks like), then vanishes abruptly in a puff of smoke to look for some Immodium.

Kimar then hatches an idea to fly to Mars and kidnap Santa Claus. Voldar is against the idea. So, with a roar that sounds like a toilet flushing and a cheesy spaceship, the Martians are off to Earth. They all sit around an octagonal control panel and occasionally release blasts of gas. They arrive in Earth orbit pretty quickly. Voldar has to pooh-pooh the Earth conception of a city. “We could destroy it with one blast of our Q ray.” Martian snob. At least Earth has better mustaches. They then begin looking for Santa Claus, a difficult task in a population of "millions of people" (off by an order of magnitude, but hey, they’re not from around here). Still, “It’s like looking for a speck of space dust in a comet’s tail.” I guess they don’t have needles, haystacks, or decent analogies on Mars. They do manage to find several Santa Clauses hanging outside Earth stores.

Meanwhile, Dick York-like newsreader breaks in with a news update about a UFO sighting. We then launch into a lengthy stream of stock footage as rockets and missiles (and paper towel rolls) are deployed.

The Martians detect Earth radar waves bouncing off the ship, and they turn on the radar shield (it probably would have been a good idea to have turned it on before they were spotted, but maybe the Martians don’t get out much). As it happens, the radar shield is malfunctioning, so Rigna checks the “radar box”--which obviously serves no other purpose than to have characters hide in it. And, indeed, they find Dropo hiding in it. Doh! Gilligan!

They get the radar shield working, even as the military launches stock footage of fighters and, inexplicably, bombers to chase down the UFO (why bombers? Are they going to get above the UFO and drop bombs on it?).

The Martians then prepare to land—lowering the landing legs, which involves pulling a series of levers, which seems like a kludgy way to lower landing gear. Everything else is push-button—why not the landing gear? Jeesh. It does use up a few moments of film.

The ship lands, which is obviously just the film of the ship taking off reversed.

Meanwhile, our two young heroes, Billy and Betty Foster, are lying in the leaves, listening to the plot development on a radio newscast. The consensus is that the UFO was a meteor, but Professor Werner Von Breen is convinced that it was a Martian spacecraft (and since he is played by the same guy who was Chochem—sans the white hair and beard—he should know). Betty asks some pointed questions about what Martians look like, and right on cue, the Martians arrive. Betty legitimately asks “What are those funny things sticking out of your head?” To which Kimar responds, “Those are our antenna.” “Are you a television set?” asks Betty. Kimar is amused; Voldar is not. “Stupid question. Is this what you want to do to the children on Mars? Turn them into nincompoops like these?” He’s got a point. Kimar says that they are looking for Santa Claus, and Billy immediately rats out Santa. “There’s only one Santa, and he’s in his vorkshop at the North Pole.” Why Billy and Betty Foster have Germanic accents and pronounce “w”s as “v”s is a mystery. Anyway, the Martians kidnap Billy and Betty. Almost immediately, Dick York, the hardest working newscaster in show biz, reports on their disappearance.

The UFO hunt continues with stock footage of jets refueling, for some reason.

Against orders, Dropo brings the kids up to the bridge which, as it happens, is unoccupied. Everyone else must have gone out to get a paper or find an ATM or a Starbucks or something, but Dropo makes it a point to indicate the elevator light, which, he says, flashes when someone is coming up to the bridge. This serves no real purpose except as a plot device, and, sure enough, there is a beat as the three wait for it to start blinking. Which it does. Doh! This is where things get severely Sherwood Schwartzian. So Dropo hides the kids in the radar box. There is a moment of deep suspense as Voldar is about to open the radar box; he is stopped by their arrival at the North Pole. Voldar then points out that the kids have to come with them back to Mars. Without witnesses, the argument goes, “No one on Earth will ever know that Santa was kidnapped by Martians.” Kimar grudgingly agrees. The kids overhear this conversation and decide that freezing to death in the Arctic would be preferable.

Despite the fact that Kimar orders one of the others to keep the ship on standby for immediate blast off, everyone leaves the bridge, giving Billy and Betty the opportunity to sneak out of the radar box, but not before pulling out the wires and deactivating the radar shield. “If this ship ever leaves Earth, they’ll have the whole U.S. space force after them.” Ooh, that would be a threat. This is 1964. We haven’t even made it to the moon yet, we’re going to chase a ship all the way to Mars?

Somehow Billy and Betty sneak out of the ship, and they are so not dressed for the North Pole. The Martians then come out of the ship—very slowly. “This action must take place swiftly,” says Kimar, despite the fact that it took three people a half hour to climb down a ladder. Voldar is defiant, and says that the children have escaped. Rigna then points out the children’s footprints in the snow. By the way, the soundtrack has what sound like gale force winds blowing, but there is no flying snow, and the Martians’ capes are not even fluttering in the slightest. I guess the sound editor decided to make his own movie. Kimar calls to “Torg.”

But before we can find out who or what Torg is, we cut to Billy and Betty, getting tired and cold. Voldar is nearly on their trail, but they elude him only to get menaced by a polar bear. Well, I should say, a guy in a really lame polar bear costume. This is about where the wheels start to come off the wagon. The kids climb into a cave where they can be easily cornered, but the guy in the bear suit gives up pretty quickly. Guess the bear must be on a hunger or or something. Betty wants to find Santa’s “vorkshop.”

We then find out what Torg is: a guy in a box with a coffee urn on his head. That is, I mean, a robot. The robot captures the kids, and while Voldar tries to order Torg to kill the kids, Kimar had reprogrammed Torg to obey only him, and the kids are sent back to the ship. Kimar doesn’t want anyone hurt, and Voldar summons up the memories of the great warriors of Mars. I sense a civil war brewing. Or, at the very least, a really dull argument.

Torg breaks down the door of Santa’s vorkshop and the elves are no match for a guy in a box. But, “by the great Dog Star, he’s treating him like a toy!” exclaims Kimar, noticing that Santa is not frightened in the slightest. Inexplicably, the robot succumbs to the power of Santa. The Martians then charge into the workshop with hair dryers, which freeze the elves in their tracks. Mrs. Claus shows up and is not happy. She is frozen, too, and Santa thanks the Martians profusely (or at least he should).

They then take Santa back to the ship, leaving Torg there, for reasons passing understanding.

Meanwhile, newspapers around the world—and Dick York, of course—report on Santa’s kidnapping. The U.N. convenes, and Werner Von Breen is interviewed and explains that they are expediting astronaut training to “go after those Martian monkeys.” There is then more stock footage of rockets and bald men talking on phones.

Despite all of this, Rigna says, “Earth hasn’t reacted yet” and Kimar detects no radar beams bouncing off the ship. Hargo comes in and is a bit too amused by Santa. Voldar of course has no sense of humor, his mustache notwithstanding.

In the brig, Santa is boring the kids to death. Then Dropo comes in, and they all pledge a suicide pact. He brings in some food pills and the kids comment about how awful Mars must be. On the bridge, the Martians discover a ship chasing them, and that Billy ("Earth's secret weapon") had disabled the radar shield.

Voldar then defies Kimar and takes Santa and the kids on a tour of the ship, starting with the airlock which, due to another strictly plot-specific feature, has no door controls in the airlock itself, but only up on the bridge which, again, is suddenly deserted, even though they should be flying back to Mars. He attempts to have them sucked out into space, but somehow Santa saves them by magically escaping through a small air duct, which you would think would not have a direct, open path to the rest of the ship when the airlock is open (oops). Kimar and Voldar then come to blows, Santa and the kids reappear dramatically, and Voldar is thrown in the brig.

They arrive back at Mars, and Rigna again lowers the damn landing legs. “We’ve landed,” he says dramatically.

Meanwhile, Voldar has escaped, “which can only mean trouble.”

At Kimar’s house, Kimar returns, with Dropo, Billy and Betty, and Santa. On Mars, the customary greeting is a head butt, for some reason. They go in and say hi to Bomar and Girmar. It all goes very awkwardly and upsettingly, with everyone bursting into uncomfortable laughter for no reason. Bomar and Girmar have apparently never laughed before. Dropo then does a little dance which will forever haunt your dreams.

After the kids have gone to bed—without the sleep spray—Kimar tells Santa that he will set him up with his own toy workshop on Mars. Oh, and that he will never go back to Earth. That makes the old man a tad less jolly.

Meanwhile, in a cave, Voldar is hiding “like a speckled Mars worm.” Ah. I see exactly what he means. One of his henchmen—who looks like the love child of Soupy Sales and Jamie Farr—is with him, and overacts horribly. Another henchman approaches—Jim. “Jim?” Did a writer’s strike break out suddenly? Anyway, we discover that the cave is guarded by a “nuclear curtain.” Ah. I’ve seen those in the Home Decorators Collection. Jim enters, and, in a very Jimmy Durante-esque manner, describes Santa’s automated workshop. He then mugs for the camera as he describes a Slinky. Voldar will have none of it. “Soon all of Mars will be blithering idiots!” Soon? Voldar then hatches a cunning plan to discredit Santa and make him a laughing stock throughout Mars. Yeah. Despite the fact that the workshop runs round the clock, it closes at 10:00. Huh?

At Santa’s workshop, laundry baskets are coming off the assembly line by the dozen. Martian children must really love doing laundry. Santa runs the entire assembly line from what looks like the control room at Abbey Road Studios. Tired of pushing buttons, Santa makes a poignant commentary about automation. Well, its no elf-based manufacturing industry, but what can you do? Santa then explains to Dropo that Lady Momar made him a extra suit—I guess the old one was getting a bit ripe by now. Dropo asks if he can wear it, which is getting into a whole weird area. Santa then makes fun of the fact that Dropo is not obese.

Back at Kimar’s, Billy and Betty are now getting despondent. Doh! There’s no winning for Kimar, is there? It takes Momar to point out that the kids are homesick, and to suggest that he take them back to Earth. “Impossible.” But why?

Then, in a truly upsetting peek into Dropo’s private life, he is putting on Santa’s extra suit and wearing his extra beard (huh?!), stuffing pillows into the suit, and prancing around singing and dancing. Death would be sweet relief at this point. He hangs Santa’s extra hat from one of his antennae and his helmet is still visible. He goes to the workshop and, as Voldar, Jim, and the Jamie Farr/Soupy Sales guy start sabotaging the machinery, Dropo is mistaken for the real Santa, despite the fact that he looks nothing like the real Santa. Voldar and co. then shanghai him back to the cavern.

Momar is upset that she cannot find Dropo—why would anyone be upset about that? Santa says his extra suit is missing—and suggests that Dropo is at the toy shop. Santa is starting to get sarcastic and heaps shame on his hosts’ food pills.

Santa and the kids go to the workshop, cannot find Dropo, and then discover that the machinery is screwing up all the toys—a doll has a bear’s head and a teddy bear has a doll’s head. It’s kind of cool, actually. Something goes wrong with a toy train, though we can’t see what it is. Maybe it has human body parts mixed in with it. Who knows? Santa complains about the machinery not working; what do they say about a poor workman blaming his tools? What a whiner. Take away the guy’s elves and he’s lost.

Meanwhile, the Three Stooges hatch another plot to confront Kimar, thinking that they have Santa as a hostage. They leave Jim behind to guard Dropo/Santa.

Kimar suspects Voldar is behind Dropo’s disappearance and the sabotaged equipment. At that point, Voldar and Soupy Sales/Jamie Farr show up and laugh diabolically, the latter utter ridiculously. Kimar holds them at hair dryer-point and asks for their demands. Voldar wants the toy machine destroyed and the Earthlings sent back to Earth. Kimar then points out that Santa has escaped. Kimar calls for reinforcements, and attempts to hold Voldar and Stobo (ah, the Jamie Farr guy’s name is Stobo) in a storeroom. Kimar orders Lomas to search for Jim. In the storeroom, we find that the Martians do have fun, as there is a water ski in there, for some reason.

Dropo escapes from the cave by switching the lightbulbs on the nuclear curtain, flummoxing Jim who, himself, is not the brightest bulb (he makes reference to the “nucular curtain”—it could be George Bush).

In the storeroom, Voldar escapes by smacking Kimar with the water ski (ah, that’s why it was there). Santa and Billy have finished fixing the sabotaged machinery and, ever the perfectionist, Santa wants to touch up the sabotaged control panel with some red paint. (It’s Monk all of a sudden.) Naturally, this is solely to get Billy to the storeroom so he can overhear Voldar. Billy warns Santa, and the climactic battle for Mars begins: the kids unleash a barrage of toy weaponry on Voldar. In one classic moment, for which I am sure the film editor won an Oscar, Stobo is looking into the workshop, the film cuts abruptly, the soundtrack drops out, and Stobo suddenly has a red ball in his mouth. It’s so deftly handled, I really believed he had been hit in the mouth with a red ball. The music reinforces the slapstick with a “wah wah wah” trumpet noise. Fortunately, Kimar wakes up and puts a halt to the whole thing.

The battle for Mars being won and Voldar in custody, Santa and the Fosters are about to go back to Earth. “Thank you Santa for bringing happiness to the children of Mars,” says Momar. “And the Christmas spirit to everyone,” adds Kimar. Dropo comes prancing in in a Santa suit; yes, he is to be the Santa of Mars. I give it one more year before he is locked in a spaceship and fired into the Sun.

Santa yells “Merry Christmas!” and the cloying “Hooray for Santy Claus” song pipes in again as the end credits run, followed by the song lyrics. (See, you spell it “S-A-N-T-A C-L-AU-S” but you say “Santy Claus.” FYI.) The end!

Whew! This was a rough one. The thing is, the idea behind the movie really isn’t all that bad, and is certainly no cheesier than any other holiday movie. Even the script isn’t too bad in spots (“in spots,” I hasten to add), but the attempts at comedy rarely rise to sub-Sherwood Schwartzian levels, and the guy who played Dropo—the Gilligan character—makes Bob Denver’s performances seem subtle and nuanced. Shockingly, he (Bill McCutcheon) won a Tony award in 1988 for a Broadway revival of Anything Goes. The acting was pretty bad across the board, though, and not surprisingly only Vincent Beck (Voldar) had a career after it (according to IMDb, he was a character actor staple of 1960s and 1970s television).

Still, what kills this movie are the production values which are non-existent. It seems like the entire budget went to the Martian furniture and the Milton Delugg score. However, the song “Hooray for Santa Claus” did not turn out to be the holiday classic they apparently hoped it would be, although I do recall hearing a punk metal version of it (performed by a no-name band called the Swamp Zombies) in a record store in Manhattan once. The punk treatment did not improve it appreciably.