Michael "Klaatu" Rennie leads the way as his alien henchmen escort David Vincent toward a flying saucer that has conveniently landed in the back yard.
When I was a kid, I loved the outer-space adventures of the original "Star Trek" series, which I found entertaining and thought-provoking. But another series at that time managed to scare the living bejeezus out of me -- and still does.
The Invaders: Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: The Earth. Their purpose: To make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him it began one lost night on a lonely country road looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.
The show's first season is now available on DVD and I've been watching "The Invaders" with new appreciation. Unlike a lot of series from that era, it sure holds up. The few effects are done well and the attention paid to lighting, music and art direction rivals that of many contemporary theatrical films.
Cloned from Quinn Martin Productions' "The Fugitive," this show follows "architect David Vincent" -- played by 29-year-old Roy Thinnes -- that's him then and now, at right. Although he gains allies in the second season, Vincent initially leads a desperate, one-man campaign to expose the vanguard of an alien invasion. The aliens themselves are among the reasons why the series proved so frightening to people. They're only shown in their human forms, which often aren't 100 percent perfect, and can be identified usually -- but not always -- by a misshapen pinkie finger.
To maintain their human shape, the invaders must periodically step into regeneration tubes. Only occasionally, a human gets to see one in its actual native form. Those who do often are driven to the point of madness.
And although within the context of the series these humans see the invaders, viewers never do. We see only the humans' terrified reaction to these aliens, which makes their presumed appearance all the more terrifying.
Almost as terrifying are the ways in which the invaders infiltrate human society. They're small-town sheriffs, government officials, leading scientists -- and in one notable episode even a stripper played by Suzanne Pleshette. It's a rich vein of paranoia later mined to similarly chilling effect by "The X-Files."
Although it's difficult to believe these invaders are here from "another galaxy," they've definitely come a long way to get here and their resources are being stretched to near the breaking point. Their most effective weapons are seldom a large scale effort, but rather treachery, brainwashing -- and a nasty little disk that when pressed to a human's neck induces death by cerebral hemorrhage.
But the biggest problem facing David Vincent is that it's next to impossible for him to prove that the invaders are here because when one is injured or shot, they just about always go up in a blaze of spontaneous combustion.
Most of the episodes in this set have been transferred in crisp color and with a rich soundtrack that allows Dominic Frontiere's chilling musical score to properly frost your spine. Roy Thinnes, now 70, introduces each episode and is also featured in a supplemental interview in which we learn that some of the show's crew thought UFOs were no laughing matter.
Series creator Larry Cohen narrates much of "The Innocent," which, although he didn't write it, is his favorite episode. Cohen offers up some interesting stories, but his narrative tends to wander. And he also gripes way too much about how his "Created by Larry Cohen" credit is at the end of each episode rather than at the beginning. Larry: If it's any consolation, I noticed and remembered it. So much so that when I saw "It's Alive," "Q" and "The Stuff" years later, I thought wow, this is by the guy who created "The Invaders"!
Genre fans will especially enjoy "The Innocent," which was originally telecast March 14, 1967. It's not hard to see why Cohen counts this episode among the best. In it, Vincent is abducted and taken aboard a flying saucer by one of the invaders' leaders -- played by Michael Rennie, famed for his portrayal of Klaatu in the seminal saucer movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
This episode illustrates how "The Invaders" sparingly used special effects to such advantage. Vincent is driven to a mission revival ranch house and taken to see Rennie -- and then he's escorted into the back yard where he's manhandled into the saucer. It all plays out so matter of factly that you'll think they were stuffing him into a Lincoln.
Perhaps the saucer's best appearance is in "The Mutant," which finds David Vincent tracking down reports of a crashed saucer in the Desert Southwest. The scene in which he stumbles upon aliens repairing their saucer does a great job of laying the early groundwork for vectoring the Roswell legend.
Starting with an impromptu recitation of a poem by then-15-year-old Donald A. Wollheim and then progressing through a wide-ranging discussion that included politics, popular culture and a look back at the history of fandom, science fiction legend Frederik Pohl delighted WindyCon 39 attendees last month in Lombard, Illinois.
Anybody even remotely versed in the world of sf knows who Frederik Pohl is, but if you and your reading habits haven't crossed paths with him yet, here's a brief bio courtesy of Pohl's blog, The Way the Future Blogs:
He is 93 years old, and apart from a few years in the 1940s when he was busy defeating Adolf Hitler with the assistance of the U.S. Army Air Force, has been involved in science fiction activities since the age of 11.
First he was a compulsive reader of sf magazines, then a fan who was a publisher of fanzines and a member and sometimes organizer of six or seven fan clubs in the New York area, including the fabled Futurians.
At 16, he took part in the first sf con ever, in Philadelphia in 1936. At 19, he became the editor of two professional sf magazines, and somewhere in that period he began writing sf, by now having published some 60 or 70 novels, half of them written alone and the other half being collaborations with C.M. Kornbluth, Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and several other writers.
He has received multiple Hugos, three Nebulas and forty or fifty other awards, some of which he has given himself.
Pohl is interviewed by journalist and author Leah A. Zeldes. Elizabeth Anne Hull also participates. Many thanks to ChicagoScope cohorts Dick Smith and Leah A. Zeldes for inviting me to WindyCon.
At this year's WindyCon 39, cocktail expert Tammy Coxen and ChicagoScope cohort Leah Zeldes presented "The Lore of the Zombie Cocktail: A Seminar." Lucky participants heard a detailed history of this famed concoction and sampled several classic versions of this deliciously intoxicating libation that long predates the current zombie craze.
Here's one of the earliest zombie recipes unearthed by Leah and Tammy for the seminar...
ZOMBIE PUNCH (1934)
Donn Beach's original, as uncovered and decoded by cocktail historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry from the 1937 notes of Dick Santiago, a Don the Beachcomber waiter.
3/4 ounce lime juice 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice 1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup 1/2 ounce falernum 1-1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum, such as Appleton Estate V/X 1-1/2 ounces gold rum, such as Cruzan 5-year-old 1 ounce 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum Dash Angostura bitters 1/8 teaspoon Herbsaint or Pernod 1 teaspoon grenadine 3/4 cup crushed ice
Put everything into a blender. Blend at high speed for 5 seconds. Pout into highball glass and add ice cubes to fill. Decorate with sliced fruit or berries and a mint sprig.
By the way, if you'd like Leah and Tammy to teach your group about zombies -- and provide delicious samples, just contact Leah Zeldes.
A couple of weeks ago, I found a 35mm cartridge of film that I'd left in the freezer for 12 years. I hadn't had the film processed at the time because I'd shot it with a Widelux F7 swing-lens panoramic camera -- and labs charged extra for this nonstandard format.
Today, it's relatively inexpensive to have film developed and scanned, so that's what I did. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the images on that roll came out perfectly.
The Widelux is enjoying new popularity due to the fine work done in this format by Jeff Bridges.
I haven't had good luck with the flat iron steak served on Amtrak's California Zephyr, but accidentally ate their spicy black bean veggie burger … and loved it!
As I've reported here several times, I tried the flat iron steak, a relatively new cut, while traveling on Amtrak and was never especially impressed with it. As a result, I've tended to avoid trying dishes I haven't eaten before when on the train.
However, thanks to an accident, the best burger I had recently turned out to be a spicy black bean patty. Again, I was traveling on Amtrak earlier this year and at a table in the dining car with three other folks for lunch. (Unless there are four in your party, you'll usually end up seated with strangers -- which is fun for those who love conversation.)
Three of us ordered Angus burgers and the lady across from me ordered a spicy black bean veggie burger.
When the burgers arrived, the lady immediately grabbed the burger that had been placed in front of her and took a big bite. That's when I looked down and saw that I'd been given the veggie burger
"How's your veggie burger?" the lady's companion asked her. "It's great!" she replied. "Tastes just like the real thing."
I was about to tell the lady that she was eating actual meat, but I wasn't sure what her reaction would be and besides she'd already eaten half. (She was one of those folks who treats a sandwich like a musician with a harmonica playing "Orange Blossom Special.") In similar situations over the years, I've seen the response vary from mild annoyance to projectile vomiting. So I kept quiet and ate the spicy black bean veggie burger.
AND IT WAS GREAT!
The added spice and flavor really made the difference, but what really sold me on the burger was that the manufacturer had made no attempt to conceal the vegetable sources. After biting into the burger, you could see the occasional whole black bean or kernel of corn. The texture wasn't exactly the same as a beef patty, but it had a satisfying mouth feel.
If the lady who accidentally ate the meat burger noticed anything, she didn't let on.
I had originally recorded this essay some months back, but decided not to run it for a variety of reasons. Then, this morning while standing in a CTA train packed with other commuters, I saw a guy give up his seat to an attractive young woman -- after having not done so for several women who boarded at previous stops. I guess chivalry depends on whom you want to shag.
Last year, my cousin Brian Hague declared that the movie "Captain America" was soft on Nazis.
He still thinks that's true, but finds its sequel, "The Avengers," to be both a worthy slice of summertime entertainment and a thought-provoking look at life.
Brian also suggests that despite its big stars, big sounds, big budget, big box office and 3-D, "The Avengers" works because of the small details that director Joss Whedon gets right. As Brian explains, these crucial details are what make or break any movie — in any genre or with any budget.
Thanks to Paul Swansen for letting me know about ipadio, a nifty and free service that allows you to create audio programs on your iPhone or Android and then publish them to the Web.
You can listen to ChicagoScope's brief mobile podcasts by clicking on the player at right. The ipadio shows also are being sent through my Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts.
I've been impressed with the audio quality, and the interface couldn't be easier. Sometimes, ipadio has even converted speech to text. It hasn't done so for the past couple, so maybe I accidentally changed a setting. I'll have to check into that.
Is ipadio a success? Time will tell, but I'd be willing to pay for it.
I'm having a ball with ipadio. Why don't you give it a try yourself?
ChicagoScope visitors might have noticed that a number of photos, graphics and related images have disappeared from this site. For the past several years, I'd been manually posting images and uploading them into what turned out to be a non-supported directory path. When Liberated Syndication moved to a new publishing system, those links broke.
The good news is I've figured out how to fix things. The bad news is that I'll need to manually replace five years worth of URLs.
In the meantime, please enjoy this actual Chicago Tribune headline from a couple of years ago. Doesn't it make you think of that famous scene from Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita"?