Found-Again Friday: The Moon-Spinners

Settle in, children—here, near the fire. (Not that near, little Timmy—whoops, there he goes.) I’m going to tell you all the story of what it was like to have the Disney Channel as a premium channel in the mid-1980s, in the days before ubiquitous original programming. Would someone please pour some water on Timmy?

I suppose that characterization is a little off, both because I have yet to roast a small child and because, in addition to things like their aerobics show Mousercise, technically EVERYTHING on Disney at the time was original programming in the sense of being Disney. It’s just that it was original programming of old Disney movies and even older cartoons, many in heavy rotation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ichabod and Mr. Toad more than I have seen The Thin Man, one of my favorite movies ever.

And so one summer I came into near-constant contact with The Moon-Spinners, the caper film with a nearly grown-up Hayley Mills and Peter McEnery, who seems to have been told “Just do your best Connery Bond swagger: it’ll be fine.” (And it is.)

Why Found-Again? The simple answer is that I took a few decades off between viewings of The Moon-Spinners until tracking down the DVD a few years ago. The honest answer is that, between Blue Labyrinth coming out this week and my local library’s complete dearth of books I may well hate rereading (though seriously, who checked out ‘Salem’s Lot?), none of us are quite getting the F-AF post we deserve.

The Premise: Nikky Ferris (Mills) is a young English girl traveling Greece with her musicologist aunt. While on Crete, she meets a nice young man named Mark who’s being stalked by their innkeeper’s crooked brother (Eli Wallach, who in an unintentional bit of hilarity resembles nothing so much as an evil Walt Disney). Mark is eventually shot, and Nikky’s attempts to help eventually start the caper in motion: can she find out what’s going on and get them both out of this alive?

In case it wasn’t clear from my post on Hart to Hart, I grew up so steeped in the mystery genre that my 10-year-old self watched The Moon-Spinners—the romantic setting, the danger, the bronzed young Englishman—and essentially decided this was a suitable life plan. (If that didn’t work out, late in the movie Pola Negri appears as a fabulously wealthy woman with a yacht and a pet cheetah, which to this day seems like a decent fallback position.) When I rewatched it, I fully expected to be cynical about all those things, but in my opinion The Moon-Spinners still holds up, even now that I can recognize all the unflattering English-tourist-abroad stereotypes.

The movie is based on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novel of the same name, and as always, I marvel at the instinct Disney movies of this era had for adaptation. Clearly some of the things in the novel—a dead child, a religious conflict—weren’t likely to stay in the script for a Hayley Mills vehicle, but it would never occur to me to move the pieces around the way Disney did and still come up with a coherent heist movie.

The Verdict: Even now, from the moment the weary travelers open the shutters and the sparkling water stretches before us, I am a goner for The Moon-Spinners.

Might go well with: Greek food, early Bond films…and possibly earplugs, because that song is going to be stuck in your brain for a while.

Next time: Hack (of some definition) and slash.

There Can Be Only Monday! Talking about Highlander… A Lot, Part 4

Last time: The Kurgan invents an early form of Where’s Waldo?

4. Why would anyone expect this to work: The Musical!

There’s a case to be made for calling this part 3a, because it’s hard to let go of just how silly this plan is. Even setting aside that we’re expecting an entire clan of rough ‘n’ ready Scots to ID one of their bitter enemies’ D-list from a name (or a photo shared through the Google Glass skull helmet, but somehow I have doubts), the middle of a battle is a terrible place to do this. Ballads are written about it, for heaven’s sake.

Admittedly, ballads will also give you the impression that half the soldiers are actually women who disguised themselves to loyally follow the other half, but that’s my point: confusion reigns, and someone as smart as the Kurgan is supposed to be—we’ll talk about that later—should know better.

Heck, here’s a song in which adverse weather conditions cause a guy to mistake his girlfriend for a game bird, no battle needed:

Listen to this, then look at the sky in the battle scene in Highlander and tell me what’s about to happen has any real chance of happening. It’s probably statistically less likely than the existence of immortals.


Read the next one: Connor flails and is impaled.

Next time on TCBOM: Finally, stabbing (Kurgan) and weltering (Connor)!


Found-Again Friday: the 1980 Goldblum The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

If I’d only known this was available on YouTube, I’d have done this one for Halloween; still, better late than never…

Watch it here!

Why Found-Again? …which might as well be the motto for this particular movie. The last time I saw this, I was a nerdy 12-year-old with a massive crush on The Fly-era Jeff Goldblum. I have a tendency to “collect” movies when an actor comes to my attention, and so I spent my tween years watching (among others)  Into The Night more than any other person who didn’t have family involved in the film. At one point, I could watch Silverado and count down from 10 (Goldblum’s character gets stabbed) to 0 (Goldblum’s character finishes dying … er, spoiler alert?) with consistent accuracy.

If dorkiness ever becomes the most desired trait in a leader, I promise to rule you all with justice and mercy.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was the only time Goldblum was freely and consistently available on network television at the time, and so it held a special place in my warped little heart. Watching it again, I can see why: he looks good.

The Premise: If we all cast our minds back far enough, we can maybe remember a time when this story was about a schoolmaster, a love triangle, and a headless guy who occasionally chased people in the autumn. This version sticks pretty close, with rival Brom Bones (Dick Butkus—you read that right) and love interest Katrina (Meg Foster) joined by a pretty widow who has her sights set on Brom, a community full of believers in ghosts, a previous schoolmaster who may or may not be (un)dead, and an owl who lives in the schoolhouse for no discernible reason*.

Did I mention it’s not even set around Halloween?

By the standards of 1980, this might have been considered a fairly crazy adaptation of the Irving story; in the intervening years, of course,  Tim Burton and Len Wiseman have taken the story out, gotten it loaded on absinthe, and tied tinsel around its naughty bits, so to 2014 eyes this seems like traditional fare.

The Verdict: It’s cheesy and silly, of course, but rather sweet—sort of Jane Austen with ghosts and Dick Butkus and just a touch of Farmer Boy from the Little House books.

Might go well with: mulled cider, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the SNL Jeopardy! skit with David Duchovny as Jeff Goldblum, because all the mannerisms are already there in this movie.


*The owl is supposed to be a reincarnated Native American, which is still no reason to hang around a school full of kids who can’t conjugate worth a damn.

Next time: I continue picking at Highlander, possibly with musical interludes.



What I Did With My Halloween: Pumpkinhead and Belphegor

I’m writing about the horror movies I watched last Friday in part because they provide an interesting study in contrasts and in part to avoid dwelling on the near-complete lack of trick-or-treaters this year. I’m only half joking when I tell people I save all my extroversion for October 31, and this time it had nowhere to go. (I am filled with the urge to do a loud musical number and then barely speak for a while, like an AU version of Michigan J. Frog who knows the lyrics to “Different Drum.”)

Anyway, on with the show!

Pumpkinhead has all the stereotypical marks of a certain kind of 1980s horror movie: group of psychologically varied young people takes a trip to hillbilly country, does something terrible, and is served with swift vengeance. The movie takes the unusual step, however, of making its characters fairly well developed and realistic—from genre giant Lance Henriksen as a man who loses his son and learns the lessons of revenge the (extremely) hard way to the group of outsiders, whose responses to the titular monster’s onslaught meet with varying degrees of success.

The friend with whom I watched the movie kept saying, “I don’t remember this from the last time,” as the plot unfolded, and I think that’s why Pumpkinhead doesn’t always get the credit it deserves: it’s an elevated slasher, but one that hits its beats so well as a slasher/monster-in-the-woods movie that sometimes that’s all people can remember about it.

Next up was Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre, a 2001 French horror film with Sophie Marceau and Julie Christie (and subtitles, if anyone is averse to such things) in which an ancient Egyptian spirit possesses a young woman in an attempt to cross over to its promised afterlife. I can’t really speak to whether it’s “good,” because frankly, my goodwill as a viewer can be almost completely bought with mummies. This is the second movie with French-speaking mummies that I have enjoyed this year—the other being The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec—and at some point one just has to admit to having a weakness other people don’t have.

The reviews of this I’ve found online haven’t been complimentary, and it is apparently a remake of an earlier film that people also disliked. Perhaps some of this stems from stereotyping, though: most American viewers expect a French film to be artsy, and horror-savvy viewers likely associate French film with Haute Tension and the like. For my part, I fully support the right of any nation to make slightly silly horror fare, and thieving mummy-spirits amok in the Louvre is a lot of fun indeed.


Next time: In which I am briefly twelve again.







There Can Be Only Monday! Talking About Highlander… A Lot, Part 3

We last left off in a battle in 15-something Scotland, where we met the Kurgan and wondered how you hire the Big Bad to fight your little wars.

No matter how you do it, the MacLeods’ enemies have pulled it off. The Kurgan’s price: Connor, whom he names by name.

This seems improbable for several reasons, the biggest of which is the question of how much immortals can sense about each other; the movie’s Wikipedia page implies a lot of leeway here, which would explain several things in the movie, but has the side effect of making Connor look a bit underpowered.

We know from the opening scenes that they can sense each other’s presence, but anything else is uncertain. Later, when Ramirez catches up with Connor, he knows things about him, but so much that it gives the impression Ramirez has been doing some good old-fashioned detective work in addition to any superpowered knowledge. Connor can sense other immortals to the extent that he knows when one’s around…sort of (I understand the scene late in the movie where dude, he’s like twenty yards away from you! We can all see him! may have originally been cut from the US theatrical release and then added back to the version on my DVD), but there’s no suggestion that he’s getting any sort of comprehensive telepathic news wire.

How, then, does the Kurgan get this information? By asking around? About some 18-year-old kid nobody knows from Adam, and who at the beginning of the battle scene it is strongly implied has never really been anywhere? Because nothing says “unobtrusive surveillance” like a large, ferocious barbarian?I can’t even imagine him beating the information out of people for once, because I can’t imagine anyone having the information.

My frivolous fanwank explanation is simplicity itself: early adopter, Google Glass Skull Helmet.

So the whole thing is like a word problem from hell. “A train leaves Chicago, may actually be a stack of pancakes, and crashes off a bridge. How long until the entire opposing army figures out which one is Connor?”

Read the next one: Connor Is Not Well-Known: The Musical!

Next time: It might still be Pumpkinhead.

Next time on TCBOM: More on this, possibly with reference to balladry. Hey, I’m as eager to get to the stabbing as anybody.




Found-Again Friday: the Hart to Hart TV Series

It’s no exaggeration to say that culturally, I was raised on mystery: the first grownup TV show I remember being around was Baretta (which went off the air when I was 4), and by age 8 I had a special dispensation to stay up late for Remington Steele. I whiled away my childhood reading time with Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators and irritated my peers by quoting extensively from The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook, which was the pride of my book collection for an embarrassing length of time.

Why Found-Again? In light of all this, it’s surprising that I’ve only watched Hart to Hart, the husband-and-wife detective series, a few times. The first time was in real time, when I was a little kid and a couple of millionaires might as well run around punching people and solving mysteries as not, so long as they had an adorable dog to keep them company. The second time was in 2008, when it was on the newly developed Hulu site, and it turns out that watching the show at 1 in the morning is a lot like watching it as a child: stove bombs? Why not? Dognapping? Bien sûr! This is my third time.

The Premise: Robert Wagner plays millionaire-with-spare-time Jonathan Hart, who apparently made his fortune on “two transistors and a dream,” if I remember the quote correctly. With his beautiful wife Jennifer (Stefanie Powers), who is nominally an ex-reporter but hardly does anything journalistic in the course of the show, they solve mysteries that usually involve a chase, a corpse, and the realization that yet another person in their social circle is a killer. (The Harts could possibly stand to make different friends.)

Add to the main pair the rough-around-the-edges servant Max (Lionel Stander, whose opening voice-over may be the most memorable thing about the show) and pup Freeway, and what you have is a recipe for some harmless fun.

The Verdict: All this notwithstanding, Hart to Hart is far goofier than I remembered—there is a dog-food mind-control plot in the second season!— and I don’t know if there will be a fourth viewing. Know what you’re getting into if you decide to watch this series.

Might go well with: The Love Boat, pink wines, cheese.


Next time: If I’m ambitious, Pumpkinhead for Halloween; if not, well, the tag is called  “Oh Good Lord More Highlander” for a reason.

Twofer The Horrorshow: A Personal Tour

When I had this post in mind, I thought I had five of those things: the bargain solution for entertainment that keeps my shelves from occasionally running red…er, black with horror DVDs. It turns out I never got around to buying the original  House of Wax on a twofer with the original Night of the Living Dead, because I hate Romero-style zombies and didn’t want it in my house—and if that meant pre-pseudonym Bronson had to stay out too, so be it.

Nonetheless, with Halloween drawing nigh, I’ve been thinking about these four a lot, each in a category all its own.

THE LITERARY: Tales of Terror/Twice-Told Tales


(Pardon my flash on the photo.)

Like most of the twofers, this stars the amazing and wonderful Vincent Price: in this case in two anthology movies, one with Poe stories and one with Hawthorne. The stories themselves are hit or miss (personally, I’d have preferred House of the Seven Gables to be as soapy when I read it in tenth grade as it is in this reincarnated-lovers-heavy adaptation), but with additional talent including Sebastian Cabot, Peter Lorre, Beverly Garland and Basil Rathbone, it’s a lot of fun.

THE ONE-SIDED—TO ME, ANYWAY: The Haunted Palace/Tower of London


More Price, this time in Corman’s Poe/Lovecraft unholy hybrid, The Haunted Palace, and as Richard III in Tower of London. I’ve owned this DVD for years, but since Haunted Palace is my favorite Vincent Price horror movie, every time I try to watch the other side, I just end up watching Haunted Palace again.

THE UNFORTUNATE: The Oblong Box/Scream and Scream Again


Did you know that Christopher Lee and Vincent Price cancel each other out? I didn’t when I bought this, but it soon became apparent. Possibly nothing could redeem the whacked-out Scream and Scream Again, a movie with serial killers and amputations and mad scientists and fascists in uniforms and lots of Mod clothing. (You will notice I didn’t mention a plot. When you find it, please let me know.) But The Oblong Box is a perfectly nice little voodoo/burial alive movie that should be great with those two stars in it, but isn’t. While I’m not about to throw away a Price/Lee twofer, I’m not about to watch it, either.

THE INEXPLICABLE: The Relic/Pet Sematary 2


It’s no exaggeration to say the only reason I own this is that its existence as a twofer baffles me: Who looks at a monster-in-a-museum movie (incidentally, a Pendergastless adaptation of Preston and Child’s first Agent Pendergast novel) and thinks, “You know what would go great with this? That movie where Edward Furlong is creepier than a devil dog and zombie Clancy Brown combined, even when he’s just standing there.” In fairness, both of these movies were better than I remembered when I rewatched them, but the combination remains bizarre.


Next time: “…when they met, it was murder.”

Three Kinds of Complicated Relationships With Books

This post comes with a couple of caveats: the first is that I am not, by using specific examples, trying to say that any book I mention here is bad. When I am trying to say that, I will leave you in no doubt.

The second is that the title probably doesn’t mean what you think it means: there’s been a lot in the media lately about the perils (if any) of liking things that are problematic in terms of, say, race, gender treatment, violence, etc. But this isn’t about that. This is living-room stuff.


1. The Masochist Read

Three things I find unnerving: frogs, eyeballs, the end of the world.

One thing I love: Hellboy comics, in which characters I adore are basically wallowing 24/7 in the entire list above.

These are the books you keep going back to and it sort of torments you, not necessarily because of the kind of problematic material I mentioned above but because, strictly considered, reading them is not you. You don’t read the book where they kill the dog for a cheap scare. You don’t read the romance where it’s A-OK for the heroine to end up with someone who appears to be an alcoholic. You don’t read the techno-thriller with details so transparently flimsy you start mentally adding scare-quotes to the narrative. Except you do.

2. That Series Book You Hate

The very first Terry Pratchett novel I ever read was Small Gods. My least favorite Pratchett book: also Small Gods. In theory, one of the marvelous things about the Discworld novels is that the world of the series is big enough for readers to only follow the characters they want to, but try telling that to Me Circa 1994–2004, who just couldn’t bring herself to stick the book in the Goodwill bag. For series readers, completism can be like a sickness, and you end up giving shelf space/device memory to things you’ll never read again.

3. Discreet Dalliances

Now more than ever, e-books have made it possible to hide away the books you don’t want anyone to see you reading: the pop-lit, the young-adult books, the steamy romances, the improbable thrillers with equally improbable heroes. (15 days till the next Pendergast novel comes out, but don’t say I’m the one who told you). In some ways, this one is the opposite of number 2 above, in that shame is causing you to not use bookshelf space. Wouldn’t want anybody seeing that you have Roger Moore’s autobiography, would we?


What are the books you have complicated relationships with?


Next time: A seasonal meditation on two-movies-on-1-DVDs…because I have no non-horror two-movies-on-1-DVDs.


There Can Be Only Monday! Talking About Highlander… A Lot, Part 2

Notes: It occurs to me that last week’s introduction neglected one detail, which is that I will be trying, as much as possible, to take the movie as it comes. I’ve listened to the DVD commentary—though not for a long time—and turned in confusion to the movie’s Wikipedia entry a few times before deciding to do this project. As the sort of person hardwired to turn into a research monkey when I encounter something I like, this will likely not be as easy as it sounds.

I’m also going to skip over the initial swordfight between Connor and Fasil, even though a) Why the backflips, really? and b) If I were 500 years old and nonetheless dressed like Lt. Columbo, I like to think I’d be begging somebody to cut my head off. Instead, we’ll head for one of the best parts of the movie: the Highlander’s origin story. We’ll be spending a bit of time here, so make yourself comfortable.



In flashback to the 16th century, young Connor rides off with the other MacLeod clansmen to do battle against the Frasers, who seem to have a few advantages:

  • High ground;
  • Superior banners and a better-looking tartan (hey, it could affect morale);

I assume that last one will definitely affect morale.

If you haven’t watched the movie for a while, I suggest at least checking out our first glimpse of the Kurgan, silhouetted against the sky, because it’s pretty transcendent—YouTube has the battle scene here, with Spanish subtitles, but as the precise moment itself is silent, that should work fine.

The armor is magnificent. You hear Wagner playing where there is no Wagner. (You also suspect he mugged Zorro and stole his horse.)

Once the Kurgan ceases posing ominously and joins the MacLeods’ enemies, things begin to get both exciting and odd. I’ll save the fact that he somehow not only knows the MacLeods have an immortal around somewhere, but knows his name! for next week. What I find myself wondering, as the clan leader re-confirms their deal, is how the hell do you hire the Kurgan anyway? Did he approach the Frasers because he knew about Connor—for that matter, is he in Scotland because he knows about Connor—or did they somehow manage to ask for help without the Kurgan singlehandedly wiping out their best fighting men? I find myself trying to imagine this, and the death count is always at least one:

RANDOM FRASER 1: Our leader wants to know if—

KURGAN: * stab*

RANDOM FRASER 2: We could pay you maybe—

KURGAN: * kick, followed by stab *

RANDOM FRASER 3: I like your armor?

At some point, however, an accord seems to have been reached.

Read the next one: The Kurgan: not a detective.

Next time: Complicated relationships with books.

Next time on TCBOM: Where everybody knows your name, but especially that one guy with the skulls and the sword and the voice.