Armagideon Time

In the haunted realm of Romania, it is said that a wolfman who dies shall return as to wreak evil as a vampire. In the blighted hellscape of Hollywood, it is documented fact that an Altman cursed by a career-ending catastrophe….

…shall return a few years later as Count Downula, to plague Solid Gold viewers with hacky comedy routines between interpretive dance numbers based on the week’s top pop singles.

Some vampires can’t cross running water. Count Downula couldn’t say no whenever his agent called and said “I’ve got an offer, buuuuuutttt…”

Recommended listening:

Look, I won’t pull some contrarian revisionism and claim Pink Lady and Jeff wasn’t one of the most bizarre (and borderline offensive) misfires ever broadcast on network television. I will say, however, that this opening number is so utterly, in-the-moment perfect that it almost justifies the rest of the misguided fiasco.

Please, if they were real witches, they wouldn’t be casting hexes on Starsky and Hutch while intimidating a small rural community.

They’d be endlessly arguing about closed practice or how much to charge for their handmade herbal satchets at next weekend’s street fair.

(“Satan’s Witches,” originally broadcast on 2/8/1978, is actually pretty fascinating because it incorporates multiple 70s exploitation horror tropes — the scared townsfolk who hate strangers, the city folks who stumbled into a creepy situation, the sinister cult up to some mysterious evil — and goes nowhere with them because it’s not as if they were going to stuff Starsky and Hutch in a wicker man and set it alight.)

Recommended listening:

Ah, the good old days of wholesome kids’ television!

Recommended listening:

Scary: Linda Blair in Hell Night (1981)

Scarier: Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973)

Scariest: Linda Blair in Roller Boogie (1979)

The sanity-shattering apex of existential terror: Linda Blair on The Love Boat (1982)

Recommended listening:

It’s like my grandpa used to say: “The only thing worse than a haunted muscle car is a haunted racist muscle car.”

Multiple problematic aspects aside, this episode (“The Ghost of General Lee,” 10/29/1979) creeped the heck out of me as a kid, even though it was clearly established as a hoax out of the gate. The presentation was so dang spooky that it totally eclipsed the “Bo and Luke pretending to be dead to get revenge on Rosco” angle.

It’s a prime example of the “I can’t believe I was young enough and dopey enough to be enthralled by this trash, but it sure was fun at the time” dichotomy which continues to drive my popcult dumpster diving.

Recommended listening:

Between The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)…

…and The Devil’s Rain (1975)…

…the once and future Captain of the USS Enterprise didn’t fare well in his early 1970s encounters with the occult. Come to think of it, he didn’t do much better against spiders, either.

Recommended listening:

In Search of… has to be near the top of my personal list of formative TV viewing experiences. The syndicated series covered all manner of topics under the expansive rubric of “strange phenomena,” which was quite the cultural obsession during the uncertainty and turbulent 1970s.

The legend of Dracula one week, Amelia Earhart the next, and UFO sightings the week after that — if there was a throughline to In Search of…, it was “shit with the potential to fascinate and terrify an impressionable grade schooler.”

The program’s slant was exemplified by its choice of host. While Leonard Nimoy had the stage presence and voice for the such a gig, it was hardly random chance the producer picked a person best known for playing a space alien governed by pure logic. Wildly improbably theories about King Tut and ancient astronauts seemed a little less ridiculous when spelled out by Mr. Spock himself.

I loved this stuff as a wide-eyed kid, and still retain a great deal of affection for it as a jaded adult. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the keystone of my 1970s childhood, but it’s certainly one of its major load-bearing beams.

My good pal Matt Maxwell (go buy his books!) generously gifted me a DVD box set of the show’s entire run a few years back. I’ve dipped in and out of it since then, but haven’t been able to commit to a full-on bingewatch.

The problem I’ve discovered is that when I watch it during the daylight hours, the science-informed skeptic in me takes over and I spend the entire time rolling my eyes and shouting “what bullshit” at the screen. Should I watch it as I originally experienced it — at 5:30 AM on a weekend morning, sandwiched between The Muppet Show and The Herculoids — those fanciful accounts of the paranormal will bypass my rationality and dive straight into the primordial childhood creep-out cortex.

Look, I’m absolutely certain that ghosts don’t exist…but that’s also not an internal debate I want to have when I’m alone in the pre-dawn downstairs of an old and creaky house.

Recommended listening:

Rule #1 of late 1970s theme songs is “There is always a disco mix.”

I am a ghoul who will lurk by your graveside
I’ll be the fiend that you’re fighting off
We’ll mope forever
Knowing together
That we did it all for the glory of goth

After all these years I’m still wondering whether it was a “Robert Palmer being a Husker Du fan thing” or that some stylist dressed Cetera for the video shoot.

Recommended listening:

One of the happier events to come out of the pandemic lockdown period was discovering a full run of Our World on YouTube. The short-lived ABC show was a favorite of my teenage self, and its weekly wide-angle coverage of particular historical moments had a tremendous impact on my own academic development. It racked up both critical acclaim and industry awards but the real reason for its existence was to serve as a Thursday night sacrificial goat to throw up against The Cosby Show.

In a better world, ABC would’ve just ceded the time slot to NBC and played up the prestige and public service angle of a show that was cheap to produce, beloved by educators, and had a viable aftermarket as a curriculum supplement for high school history classes. In this world, they replaced it with Sledge Hammer, The Charmings, and Probe.

At least one kind soul had bothered to tape the entire series, then upload grainy VHS rips of the episodes onto YouTube. I’d long since given up hope of ever watching the show again, and was thrilled when an offhand search turned up the full playlist. The show held up pretty well, despite some takes which have since fallen to better scholarship and the flashes of Reagan Era triumphalist exceptionalism within the show’s otherwise liberal-leaning slant.

“That’s all well and good, you decrepit old gasbag,” I hear you asking, “but what does it have to do with the spooky season?”

I’ve already mentioned how these episodes were transferred from old VHS tapes. While the quality is adequate enough for a documentary program built around commentary, interviews, and archival footage, the video suffers from the usual issues you’d expect from thirty-five year old videotapes — tracking issues, visual noise, sloppy button-mash editing to remove commercials during the recording process, and the like.

For the most part, it adds to the nostalgic charm, but

During the end credits of each episode, hosts Linda Ellerbee and Ray Gandolf would rattle off various factoids about the historical period covered in that week’s show. During one particular episode, the credit scroll and narration evaporated into thirty seconds of white noise and visual distortion.

When the image finally quiet down, this greeted me…

…for a brief but soul-flensing instant before the screen faded to black.

And now that you have seen it, the curse has been transferred to you. Sweet dreams!

Recommended listing:

All right, my fellow fiends, it’s time to descend into a realm of truly tragic horror…

…otherwise known as “mid-1970s primetime television.”

“Vampire,” a second season episode of Starsky & Hutch originally aired on October 30, 1976, is part of the long if not proud tradition of tossing some modestly macabre plot into the mix during the spooky season. While the tradition has survived in some quarters into the present day, rarely does it match the levels of tacky gusto in reached during the Me Decade — which applies to a lot of popcult nonsense, to be honest.

The titular vampire was played by the late, great John Saxon, who sinks his teeth into the role with scenery-chewing aplomb.

Of course, he wasn’t really a vampire — just a dance instructor whose grief over his departed wife (portrayed by a black velvet painting of what appears to be Susan Anton) led him into the occult, and thus the need to pop in some plastic fangs, don a black cape and white satin blouse, and prey upon his female students.

Saxon’s aura of menace wass somewhat undermined by the silly slo-mo shots of him charging towards his intended victims, whose attempts to flee would get fouled up by their platform shoes and massive bell bottoms. No, I’m not making this up.

The pursuit of the delusional Dracula took Starsky and Hutch to a Satan-themed strip club — with bean bag chair seating, so you know the Devil had an active hand in running it — run by the legendary G.W. Bailey as a dirtbag diabolist…

…and featuring a somnambulist Suzanne Sommers as his prize dancer.

Eventually the heroic duo tracked the bloodsucking baddie down to an abandoned theater. Before the obligatory final fight scene could commence, however, the audience was treated an extended sequence where Saxon and/or a body double performed a vampiric ballet dance.

Ever watch something that made you feel so embarrassed for the parties involved that you felt actual physical pain as as a wince reflex wracked your entire physical and spiritual being? This was a few orders of magnitude worse than that.

Such crimes against man, nature, and Terpsichore cannot go unpunished, so it was no surprise that the frantic fight in the theater’s scaffolding ended with the wannabe vampire taking a fatal dive onto the stage below. Case closed, cue borderline tasteless joke and some pass-agg ribbing between buddies.

Oh, well, at least we got to see Huggy Bear take up a side hustle selling “vampire prevention kits” for $7.50 a pop, teasing me with visions of a spin-off I could fully get behind.

Recommended listening:

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © Armagideon Time. All rights reserved.