Thursday, October 23, 2014

Culture Shock 10.23.14: 'The Great Pumpkin' is a test of faith

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" may be the first and most celebrated "Peanuts" TV special, but "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is the best by almost any standard.

The animation is smoother, the writing and acting are more assured, and the entire production seems more fully formed, which it is, given that CBS wasn't entirely sold on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" until after it aired and the ratings came in. In particular, CBS wasn't sold on using children as voice actors or the jazz score by West Coast pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio. But the special's ratings triumph led the network to go all in on two "Peanuts" specials the following year: the seldom-aired "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

"The Great Pumpkin" has more than snazzier production values going for it. It better captures the melancholy spirit of the comic strip. Of all the "Charlie Brown" specials in the world, it's the Charlie Browniest.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas," which first aired in 1965, is "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz at his most hopeful. Linus gives a soliloquy on the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown gives a ragged little Christmas tree a chance, and at the end even Lucy gives Charlie Brown a break, admitting he did pick a good tree after all. Everyone sings carols, and the special fades out with a happy ending — a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. God bless us, every one.

Premiering Oct. 26, 1966, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is Schulz at his most cynical. The Christmas special reaffirms his faith, but the Halloween special tears it back down. It isn't just happenstance that Linus, for once, ends up with his hopes dashed.

Charlie Brown is the receptacle of all of Schulz's insecurities, but Linus is his philosophical mouthpiece. "It's the Great Pumpkin" shows Schulz is keenly aware Linus can, at times, be more than a little overbearing.

Linus, who proselytized for Christmas a year earlier, is a prophet for the Great Pumpkin, who according to official doctrine, rises each year from the most sincere pumpkin patch and flies through the air with toys for all the good little children. Linus has little regard for the Great Pumpkin's more high-profile rival, "that fellow with the red suit and white beard who goes, 'Ho, ho, ho!' " He leaves Charlie Brown to sigh about how they are separated by "denominational differences."

Halloween becomes a test of faith for both Linus and Charlie Brown.

Linus, naturally, never sees the Great Pumpkin. But rather than question the object of his faith, he blames a momentary lapse. Even a little slip, he says, can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by.

The Great Pumpkin is a jealous squash, and he leaves Linus literally out in the cold.

Charlie Brown fares even worse. He first puts his faith in Lucy (and a signed document) when he goes to kick the football she so temptingly holds for him. And once again, Charlie Brown is done in, this time not just by his faith in humanity, but by a legal technicality: the document wasn't notarized.

Yet the worst is to come. Charlie Brown goes trick-or-treating Halloween night and ends up with nothing but a bag of rocks. It's probably the funniest joke in all the "Peanuts" specials, yet it's also the most mean-spirited. We thought it was just his fellow kids who gave Charlie Brown a hard time, but no. Apparently the whole town hates him.

Audiences, however, still love the blockhead, and they love to see him miserable. ABC's Oct. 15 broadcast of "It's the Great Pumpkin" scored 6.3 million viewers and a 2.1 rating among adults 18-49, according to Entertainment Weekly, topping most of the other network shows that aired that night.

In all the gloom and doom of "The Great Pumpkin," one ray of hope cuts the darkness. Schulz eases up just long enough for Lucy to go outside in the early morning and bring her shivering brother to bed.

Sisterly love doesn't conquer all, but if even Lucy has a heart, maybe there is hope for the rest of us.

Subsequent "Peanuts" specials don't go as dark, and by 1973's "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," Schulz is doing happy endings again. Staring into the abyss once a year is enough.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Culture Shock 10.16.14: Cosplay isn't a sign of stagnation

Thinkstock photo
I've never been one for cosplay. Putting together a good costume takes a lot of time and money, to say nothing of sewing skills I'm sadly lacking, as my high school home economics teacher would attest.

The most dressed up I ever get for comic book or sci-fi conventions is a T-shirt emblazoned with some obscure pop-culture reference. But I've always envied people who have the time, patience and know-how to pull off a really great costume. Little did I suspect they were an indicator of economic stagnation and poor job prospects. Who'd a thunk it? So, imagine my surprise when I read an article at The Week headlined "Why the rise of cosplay is a bad sign for the U.S. economy."

The author, James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, makes a bold and, it seems to me, wrongheaded claim. It goes like this: More and more Americans, especially millennials, are into cosplay, short for "costume play." And this is because dressing up as fantasy characters is an escape from dead-end jobs and economic malaise.

But maybe I should let Pethokoukis speak for himself: "When you're disillusioned with the reality of your early adult life, dressing up like Doctor Who starts looking better and better."

Pethokoukis argues by way of analogy, noting that Japan has lots of young cosplayers, lots of underemployed young people and an economy that's been no better than anemic for the past 20 years. This, I gather, adds up to something, but I have no idea what.

Despite the nagging feeling there must be something more to what Pethokoukis is saying, if there is I can't find it. Taken as is, Pethokoukis' argument is so wrong I barely know where to begin, but I'll start with dollars and cents.

Cosplaying isn't for the poor of spirit or bank account. It costs a lot of money to make a good costume. Some cosplayers spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their wardrobes. Some wear multiple costumes during the course of a weekend convention. Some even call upon the services of professional makeup artists. And none of that accounts for travel and hotel costs. Attending a sci-fi or comic convention isn't cheap, whether you're in costume or not.

Pethokoukis knows this and even refers to the "big bucks" cosplayers invest in their costumes.

Now maybe he assumes they all live with and sponge off their parents to supplement whatever money they make from their menial jobs. Regardless, it takes a wealthy society to be able to afford such pastimes. Cosplay isn't a sign of economic trouble, but a reminder of how rich we are, even after the Great Recession. But the problems with his argument don't end there.

It's hard to calculate how many cosplayers there are in the U.S., but we can at least get an idea of attendance at the conventions cosplayers frequent. Attendance at one of the largest, San Diego's Comic-Con International, has been growing for years, since well before the Great Recession. The fastest growth was from 2001 to 2005, when attendance doubled and reached 100,000 for the first time. Since the recession, attendance has hovered between 125,000 and just over 130,000.

That doesn't look like a post-recession flight from reality to me. It looks more like a trend line flatting out. But enough foreplay. Time to get to the crux of Pethokoukis' article, such as it is.

Though unstated, Pethokoukis makes a common but unwarranted assumption: that there is something special about cosplay. But the fact is, people escape mundane reality in lots of ways, and dressing up like fantasy characters is just one of them, albeit the one that's most easily ridiculed.

What if we applied the same illogic to jock pastimes that Pethokoukis applies to geek pastimes? Maybe we should be looking at the increasing popularity of fantasy football and baseball? Maybe the real indicators of a lousy economy are guys who turn their dens into shrines to their favorite college or pro football teams? Yes, these are expensive hobbies, too, but why let that stop us?

If Pethokoukis' argument describes reality, then cosplaying millennials aren't the only ones trying to escape it. Fortunately, they aren't the ones I think have taken a flight from reality.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Culture Shock 10.09.14: It's the end of Saturday morning as we knew it

Print advertisement for NBC's 1983 Saturday morning cartoon lineup. It was the
debut season for "Mr. T" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks," while "Thundarr the
Barbarian" moved to NBC from ABC, where it had aired the previous two seasons.
For as long as I can remember, "children's advocates" have hated children's television.

They always said the same thing: Children's television was too violent, too dumb and too commercial. And because kids watched "too much" of it, it was, by implication, too entertaining.

Not anymore. Mark your calendar, for this is a date that shall live in infamy: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, was the first Saturday since the 1960s when there were no Saturday morning cartoons on broadcast network television. For those of us who were kids during the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons, in the 1970s and '80s, it's Saturday mourning in America.

At last, the self-appointed children's advocates have slain their dragon.

In place of the animated cartoons that Generation X and the millennials grew up with are a bunch of live-action "educational and informational" programs. They're designated by the little "E/I" logo on the screen, which means the broadcaster is counting every second of them toward its government-mandated quota of E/I programming. It doesn't matter if anyone watches; it just matters that it's there and that it's "quality," as defined by the children's advocates.

Kids, meanwhile, have responded just as you'd expect. Those who can have flocked to cable TV and the children's section of Netflix, both of which operate blessedly free of the dictates of the Federal Communications Commission, for the most part. For now, anyway.

How did this happen? How did children wake up in a world with no Saturday morning cartoons?

It started 24 years ago when Congress passed the Children's Television Act of 1990. The act was the culmination of 20 years of agitation by activist groups such as Action for Children's Television, founded by Peggy Charren, who became the go-to talking head whenever the national news media needed someone to pontificate about kiddie TV, because why would you ever ask a kid?

The Children's Television Act limited advertising during both cable and broadcast children's programming and mandated that broadcasters devote a set amount of airtime each week to E/I shows.

The act's first victims were the cartoons that aired after school each weekday. The ad restrictions made them less profitable, which was the kiss of death in the highly competitive broadcast syndication market. Stations quickly dropped cartoons and added more talk shows and TV judges. Indirectly, we have the CTA to blame for Judge Judy and her ilk.

The CTA's full impact didn't hit Saturday mornings until later, as the FCC "clarified" the act and spelled out exactly what "educational and informational" meant, always tightening the screws.

NBC was the first to fall. The proud peacock that once had aired "The Smurfs" and "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" farmed out its Saturday morning airtime to corporate sibling NatGeo.

Print advertisement for CBS's 1982 Saturday morning cartoon lineup.
CBS and ABC were next, followed by Fox. When the end came, only The CW was still airing cartoons, all of them Japanese imports. It was a painful, lingering death. Saturdays deserved better.

The image of children getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to watch Saturday morning cartoons along with a sugary cereal chaser has become a cliché. But it's no less true. My generation looked ahead to Saturday mornings — filled with Superfriends and Snorks — as if each were a mini Christmas. The networks trumpeted their new Saturday morning lineups each fall with preview specials in prime time. It was a big freaking deal.

Sure, kids still have Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the Disney channels, but Saturday morning's passing matters. Maybe those old cartoons weren't "educational" in the approved sense, but they were a springboard for our imaginations. More than that sugary cereal, those cartoons fueled us, not just for the rest of the day but for life.

"Scooby-Doo," for one, taught us real-life lessons. We learned not to worry about scary-looking ghosts, because the odds were those ghosts were just con men trying to pull a fast one.

With cartoons teaching lessons like that, it's no wonder Congress was so eager to replace them with FCC-approved boredom.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Culture Shock 10.02.14: Elvira buries herself in her 'Coffin Collection'

Trigger warning: Some of the puns and alliterations in this column are particularly pungent and may produce prolonged paralysis. The author regrets nothing.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on the sofa of her 2010-11 series.
This time every year, the historic Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California, undergoes a transformation, becoming Knott's Scary Farm. It's one of the nation's most storied haunted attractions.

Returning to Knott's Scary Farm's 1,800-seat Charles M. Schultz Theatre this year "by overwhelming demand," is that horror hostess with the mostess, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It turns out you can't keep a good ghoul down. So, Elvira is dying on stage twice nightly in a Vegas-style variety show. That's about the only way nowadays you can catch her live — or even dead.

Elvira's alter ego, Cassandra Peterson, retired a while back from doing the convention circuit in character. And who can blame her? She's been donning her black, bouffant wig and pouring herself into that low-cut Morticia Addams dress for more than 30 years.

Who could have guessed Elvira would become a long-term gig or that the character, which Peterson created for local Los Angeles television, would go national, even international, like pancakes?

Elvira's original "Movie Macabre" show aired from 1981 to 1986 and featured Peterson's undead Valley girl persona hosting horrible horror flicks ranging from "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" to "Night of the Zombies." From there, Elvira branched out into merchandising, comic books, two feature films (1988's "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" and 2001's "Elvira's Haunted Hills") and a seasonal Coors Light ad campaign. You know you've hit the big time when you're shilling for the Silver Bullet.

More than almost any other horror host, Elvira has endured. But it was still a pleasant surprise when she returned to television for the 2010-11 season with a resurrected "Elvira's Movie Macabre."

Now all 26 episodes of Elvira's latest spell (including several never aired) are in one box set, "Elvira's Movie Macabre: The Coffin Collection," from Entertainment One.

At the height of her notoriety, Elvira became the
four-color hostess of DC Comics' "House of Mystery."
At a suggested retail price of $99.98, the 13-disc set isn't cheap, but the movies are. (If you're cheap, a few episodes are available at Hulu.com.) Elvira sticks with films that have fallen into the public domain. That used to happen when a production company went bankrupt and nobody renewed the copyright, or nobody bothered in the first place. Thus, Elvira serves up a bewitching buffet that includes classics such as "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" and "Night of the Living Dead," and not-so-classics such as "Attack of the Giant Leeches" and director William "One Shot" Beaudine's "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter." (Note: "Frankenstein's Daughter" is not to be confused with "Lady Frankenstein," which is also included in this set. #TheMoreYouKnow)

But don't think there's no star power here. The Coffin Collection conjures up a lot of name actors with bills to pay, including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Dean Stockwell, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Jack Nicholson and Joseph Cotton.

Still, let's not kid ourselves here. The real star attraction is Elvira, draped across her red velvet sofa and letting it all hang out. Well, not all. This is a show that ran in broadcast syndication. This isn't HBO's "Same Old Gnomes," or whatever. For that matter, some of the movies are censored, too, to meet broadcast standards. (I'll pause while we all laugh at the idea of broadcast TV having standards.)

Under normal circumstances, I don't approve of watching movies that have been chopped up for TV, but in this case some of the alterations, such as the fogged-out "naughty bits" in "Lady Frankenstein," are entertaining on their own merits. And so is Elvira.

With skills honed as part of LA's Groundlings comedy troupe, Peterson makes even the lamest jokes get up and walk. Sure, it's kind of a slow, shambling, zombie-like walk, but fast zombies are an abomination, and don't you forget it!

Inviting a horror host into your living room is like serving comfort food to your brain, and Elvira is the chocolate-covered cheesecake of horror hosts.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Culture Shock 09.25.14: Scarlett Johansson is a different black widow

It's Cold War paranoia distilled into one feverish scene: Actor Kevin McCarthy running through the streets — stopping traffic, banging on windows, yelling at anyone who will listen, as well as those who won't.

"They're not human! They're here already! You're next!"

But no one ever listens, not until it's too late. And it's always too late.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) appeared at the height of the Red Scare, with aliens as stand-ins for communist infiltrators. But the fear of being subverted and replaced by outsiders is universal. Few political issues ignite passions like immigration does, because immigration strikes at things more primal than mere pocketbook concerns. People fear waking up to find they're suddenly in a culture not their own. Every new ethnic restaurant becomes a beachhead for the "invasion."

No wonder "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" has spawned three remakes so far: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978), "Body Snatchers" (1993) and "The Invasion" (2007). And that's not counting thematically similar movies, such as 1994's "The Puppet Masters," based on Robert A. Heinlein's 1951 novel, or 1998's "The Faculty."

With "Under the Skin," now on Blu-ray and DVD, director Jonathan Glazer ("Sexy Beast") flips the invasion narrative on its head, telling it from the invader's viewpoint.

The invader is question is Scarlett Johansson, taking time out from playing the Marvel franchise's Black Widow, but still acting out the black widow role by luring unwary young men to their doom.

She's the spearhead of what seems to be an alien invasion, although we're never entirely sure. "Under the Skin" is not exactly upfront about its intentions, rather like what you'd expect of a stealth operation.

Johansson's femme fatale tools around Scotland in a minivan, giving her as unthreatening a cover as one can imagine. She goes from the streets of Glasgow to the cloud-covered, picture postcard Highlands, pretending to be lost and asking young, lonely-seeming men for directions. She strikes up conversations, flatters her would-be rescuers, and so it goes. How many red-blooded, heterosexual males can resist an invitation from a woman who looks like Scarlett Johansson?

Back at her place, these men enter a world that can appropriately be called alien. Then they disappear, never to be seen again — not as themselves, anyway. As the title implies, it's what's under the skin that counts.

McCarthy's voice echoes across the decades: "They're here already! You're next!"

Soon enough, Johansson is back on the road, looking for the next lonely guy.

Without leaving her front seat, Scarlett has a good view of humanity: people walking, people in traffic, men, women, children, families. She sees people living, loving and laughing. She sees us at our best and our worst. One wonders what she was told to expect, if anything.

Are we people to her or cattle? Or are we as much a mystery to her as she is to us?

Glazer makes "Under the Skin" deliberately disorienting, aided and abetted by the menacing drone of Mica Levi's ambient score. When Johansson's alien crosses into our world or her victims cross into hers, there is a sense that they've crossed barriers not meant to be breached.

Neither side is hospitable to inhabitants of the other.

It's not an optimistic assessment, whether you think of it in terms of immigrants getting along with natives, men getting along with women, or simply people getting along with one another.

Glazer entrusts his film to Johansson, and she rewards him with a performance that's subtle and beguiling. This is Johansson at her best.

Her performance is as enigmatic as the movie. We're not sure what "Under the Skin" is all about. As in life, we're left to make up our own meaning.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Culture Shock 09.18.14: Hipster vampires make immortality a drag

At first it seems as though we're meant to identify with Adam and Eve, the couple at the center of Jim Jarmusch's latest film, "Only Lovers Left Alive," new to DVD and Blu-ray.

If nothing else, we're to envy their glamorous lifestyle. They're beautiful, civilized and have impeccable taste. They've traveled the world, met famous people and done things the rest of us can only dream of. And their love is eternal.

Adam and Eve, you see, are vampires.

Many movies tell us immortality is boring, but Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" is the first to make the audience really experience it. Putting up with Adam and Eve, played by Tom Hiddleston ("Thor") and Tilda Swinton ("Snowpiercer"), is enough to test anyone's patience.

The movies have given us goth vampires and punk vampires. They've even — heaven help us — given us WASP vampires. But Adam and Eve may be the first hipster vampires.

Eve is the literary type. When packing for a trip, she fills her luggage with a little light reading, such as the late David Foster Wallace's critically lauded doorstop, "Infinite Jest."

Adam is a musician, and a good one, too, with a growing following on the underground music scene, nurtured by his reclusiveness and refusal to perform live. Not that he wants to be popular. Far from it. Adam regards popularity as a "drag." He was a fan of himself before he was cool.

He'd much rather hole up in his home, surrounded by analog technology and vintage recordings of musicians you've probably never heard of.

Adam is also a fan of scientists, which gives him cause to vent about how humanity keeps ignoring or persecuting them. He grumbles that people still haven't come to grips with Charles Darwin, and he powers his off-the-grid house, located in an especially bleak part of bleakest Detroit, with one of Nikola Tesla's "free energy" generators. Just when you think our hipster vampire can't be any more cliché, he dabbles in steampunk.

Both Adam and Eve have plenty of money, although neither seems to have a way of earning it. Maybe they have rich vampire parents somewhere? But money means nothing to them, except when it buys vintage musical instruments or the best all-natural, free-range, organically farmed, preservative-free blood. Eve's connection for the "good stuff" is Elizabethan playwright-turned-vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who claims to have written the works attributed to Shakespeare, although I'm not sure he's trustworthy. Adam's source is a Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), if that is his real name.

Stalking victims and sucking them dry is played out. After all, you don't know where they've been or what they've been eating.

Eva and Adam, we're told, are passionately in love, but passion seems the farthest thing from either of them. What they are is comfortable, like Adam's centuries-old dressing gown.

The film finally livens up when Eve's wild-child sister, Ava (a marvelous Mia Wasikowska), drops in and makes things uncomfortable. Ava is a mess, but she is the only one who sees Adam and Eve for what they are: "condescending snobs."

As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, we're the problem: you, me and the rest of humanity, whom they dismiss as "zombies." It recalls the words of the original hipster, Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Adam and Eve read the right books and listen to the right music, always on vinyl. When Ava asks if she can have a download of one of Adam's songs, his contempt is palpable.

Jarmusch fills the screen with pretty pictures, and Swinton and Hiddleston are charismatic enough to command our attention, even if their characters do nothing to deserve it. It's only at the end, the final shot, that we see Jarmusch has played a joke on his lovers, and perhaps, unintentionally, himself.

Driven by hunger and desperation, Adam and Eve revert to the old ways. Their masks of refinement drop, and the vampires are just zombies, too. It's a good punch line, but it's not worth the set-up.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Culture Shock 09.11.14: 'Without Warning' pits alien against Oscar winners

Future Oscar winner Jack Palance and future Oscar winner Martin Landau probably weren't thinking Academy Awards when they agreed to appear in "Without Warning." But I'll take "Without Warning" over "Ordinary People" any day.

Released the same year that "Friday the 13th" kicked the slasher genre into high gear, "Without Warning" wastes no time putting a different spin on the soon-to-be-cliched formula of teenagers venturing into the woods where an unstoppable killer awaits to pick them off one by one.

This time, the killer is not of this Earth.

Greydon Clark directs this pre-"Predator" sci-fi movie about an eggplant-headed alien who comes to Earth to hunt "the most dangerous game." Only instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers, the alien targets Palance, Landau and a young David Caruso (in his first role, unless you count an uncredited bellboy in an episode of "Ryan's Hope," and who does?).

Cult movie label Shout! Factory brings this 1980 drive-in classic to home video with a shiny Blu-ray/DVD combo set that includes interviews with the crew and an audio commentary with the director.

The movie starts with two young couples (including Caruso) heading to the woods for a day of fun and relaxation, probably because it's 1980 and YouTube cat videos haven't been invented yet.

Surprisingly, they think this whole going-to-the-woods thing is a good idea despite the scary warning they get from the creepy taxidermy enthusiast who runs the gas station (Palance) and the foreboding graffiti scrawled on the station's restroom walls.

Technically, that makes the movie's title a lie. Clearly there is a warning. Just because you ignore the warning doesn't mean there isn't one. That's just logic, plain and simple.

Anyway, by the time our young victims get to the crystal-clear lake in the middle of the woods, our extraterrestrial Elmer Fudd has already declared hunting season on Golden Age TV actors.

Cameron Mitchell ("The High Chaparral") plays a hunter, Darby Hinton (Daniel Boone's son on "Daniel Boone") plays his son, and Larry Storch ("F Troop") plays the world's worst scoutmaster.

Maybe Clark has a fetish for typecasting actors based on their most famous roles.

Ralph Meeker, who portrayed Mike Hammer in Robert Aldrich's brilliant 1955 film noir "Kiss Me Deadly," has a small role as a bar patron.

Classic television informs more than just Clark's casting choices. The alien (Kevin Hall), looks like he just walked in from the set of "The Outer Limits." And speaking of typecasting, Hall went on to portray the extraterrestrial big game hunters in "Predator" and "Predator 2."

The alien's preferred method of attack it to throw small, star-shaped aliens — blood-sucking little critters that vaguely resemble the face-huggers from "Alien" — at his intended victims. This makes for some pretty cool and squishy kill scenes.

But the real stars of the show are Landau and Palance. Both still more than a decade away from their Oscar triumphs, these old pros can chew scenery with the best of them, and they do.

Landau plays a Vietnam vet who came back from the war a little funny in the head. He's been convinced aliens are invading for years, so when they actually are, no one believes him. Not that they would have believed him anyway, what with him being funny in the head.

Meanwhile, Palance's trophy-hunter character naturally is the first to realize what the alien's game is and think up a way to fight back. Palance delivers the gasping, wheezing, snarling performance that always made him a terrifying bad guy and, on rare occasions, an even more terrifying hero.

Clark helmed two movies that ended up targets of a good-natured "Mystery Science Theater 3000" ribbing: "Angels Revenge" (aka "Angels' Brigade") and the Joe Don Baker vehicle "Final Justice." But "Without Warning" — like some other Clark movies, such as "Satan's Cheerleaders" and the arcade-culture sex comedy "Joysticks" — is plenty of fun without anyone talking over it.