Willard

Tear Into the Original Willard – Out On Scream Factory Blu-ray & DVD!

I’ll be totally honest with you dear reader, I’d never seen the 1971 horror film Willard until I received my review copy of this Blu-ray. Sure, I knew it was about rats. Yes, I guessed the rats committed some violent acts. That was it.
Willard - Bruce Davison

After watching, I admit it’s not the movie I thought it was. I imagined it being a dark, gruesome horror film from top to bottom. It isn’t. It’s an oddball drama about a socially awkward man named Willard who doesn’t have many friends. His home has become infested with rats, but instead of obeying his mother’s orders to kill them, he saves them. In fact, he shares some of his birthday cake with them! Then, the rats become his friends. He gives them names, talks to them and even brings them to work. Eventually, they become the only friends he can trust. This friendship Willard has with his rats doesn’t extend to some of the other people in his life, namely Willard’s cavalier boss, Mr. Martin. Like me, you can assume how the film ends, but it is truly spectacular and worth the lean 95 minute runtime.

The title character of Willard is played by Bruce Davison, an actor who’s been in everything – no really, he has 244 acting roles listed on his IMDB. Davison solidly walks a tight rope between Willard’s macabre loneliness and momentary charm. Sondra Locke, Elsa Lancaster and Ernest Borgnine fill in the other major roles and each performance is planted firmly within their reality. Even with the camp factor, the all star ensemble plays it up just enough to keep the movie grounded, but quirky.

Equally as interesting as the film is its history, which you can learn all about thanks to the wonderful release Scream Factory has put together. The audio commentary with star Davison is full of facts and anecdotes, and he shares a real passion for this movie. Davison explains that this release is a big milestone in Willard because it was a box office hit when it came out, yet due to legal issues, fans had a hard time finding many home releases and certainly nothing in HD. Until now!

I don’t know how the transfer compares to any of the limited previous releases, but knowing Scream Factory I would imagine they found the best version available. For my money, it looked and sounded great. And Scream Factory has also released Ben, the sequel. If rats are your thing, then they’ve got you covered.
Willard - Ben Poster

Friends, Patrick was kind enough to let me chime in on his article. When he submitted his latest review I kind of freaked out. As I have been wanting a proper release of Willard for quite some time. In fact the only way I have been able to watch this cult classic besides the occasional television airing is thanks to my VHS copy. If you will pardon the pun I would point out that its certainly become rather ratty.
Willard

I would add that the equally awesome 1972 sequel Ben also provided the late Michael Jackson an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song! – Vic

[Via] Oscars

The Black Hole

Retro Records: The Black Hole Book and Record (1979)

It’s turning out to be a Black Hole kind of weekend. I mean – just look at Earl Green’s excellent Cygnus model post from the other day. A fan made piece of art that blew us away to say the very least. And now in addition we have this offering. The book and record adaptation of The Black Hole from 1979!
The Black Hole

Thanks to this video upload by Old Disney Records we can thrill once again to the exploits of the crew from the U.S.S. Palomino. Crossing paths in the darkness of space with the crazed Dr. Hans Reinhardt and the dangerous Maximilian. Aboard the mysterious Cygnus and the very real threat of the ravenous Black Hole.

I have an incredible amount of fond memories concerning the Walt Disney Productions’ book and records. I still have many of those I grew up with including this record. TRON, Davy Crockett, Mary Poppins, and more. Granted not all of them are in as good a condition as the one you will hear in the video below.

While the book and records were well known in their adaptations of trimming the fat for a story. Of course I will remind you they only had a small amount of time on the 33 and 1/3 records. The fact is the total running time for The Black Hole is a little over 9 minutes. To help in this process the adaptation of the Black Hole cuts loose two crew members of the Palomino.

For example Ernest Borgnine’s role of Harry Booth, the engineer, has been excised.
The Black Hole

As well as Anthony Perkins’ part as Dr. Alex Durant.

Having said that it is still a solid package. Managing to keep the main gist of the story and exciting moments intact. They even use some of John Barry’s excellent soundtrack as well as sound effects from the film.

The most interesting aspect of it is how it tackles the ending of the movie. For those of you that haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing The Black Hole the conclusion is…equal parts terrifying and subject to interpretation.

Now without further ado, joins us on Retro Records as we listen to 1979’s The Black Hole!

A Review of the Nearly Forgotten TV Show, “Future Cop” on DVD

Ten years before Brent Spiner’s Data had to convince a ship full of gently skeptical crewmates that an android could be an asset to their crew, there was Future Cop. I mean, we all remember Future Cop, right?

No. Nobody remembers Future Cop. But that’s okay. Mill Creek Entertainment’s budget-priced 2-DVD complete series set is here to rectify the situation.

Future Cop is the story of Haven (Michael Shannon), a “biosynthetic android” police officer who’s being beta tested on the mean streets of 1970s Los Angeles. The LAPD’s Commissioner, unenthusiastic about having to lumber his officers with a walking, talking, badge-wearing, gun-carrying tech demo, assigns two of his crustiest, most senior officers to “train” Haven. Enter Officers Joe Cleaver (Ernest Borgnine) and Bill Bundy (John Amos). Cleaver discovers the truth about Haven by accident on the “rookie”‘s first day of duty, but is sworn to keep that secret from Bundy, his partner of many years.

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Hilarity, as one might gather, ensues, but only for a little while: Future Cop ran for a pilot plus six episodes on ABC in 1977 before the show was cancelled. A year after its premiere on ABC, Future Cop was “re-piloted” with the same cast and crew under the title Cops and Robin, which aired as an NBC movie-of-the-week in 1978. Cops and Robin is included at the end of the second disc on this set, and it feels like another movie-length episode of Future Cop.

Future Cop is a fun show; all of the scenarios that you can envision with this premise happen as you would imagine them. That, perhaps, was the show’s downfall – it’s just a little bit predictable. But hard-driving cop show action was never going to be Future Cop’s forte; it’s meant to be a fun, fish-out-of-water buddy cop show. The one attempt to do serious drama, the glued-together two-parter “The Mad Mad Bomber”, loses the flavor of the lighter-hearted episodes. (Amusingly, the opening credits on that story feature an abrupt voice-over announcing “The ABC Friday Night Movie!”)

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It’s also surprisingly forward-looking for 1977: a test scenario enacted for Haven in the pilot episode forces him to decide if the suspect holding up a grocery store is an elderly white woman, or a token ethnic character. Surprise: it was the old lady. And because he has sensors that do a nitrite test on the fly, Haven apprehends the correct suspect. It’s a nice little piece of anti-racial-profiling humor for nearly 40 years ago. (To be fair, though, other episodes reinforce typical ethnic/gender stereotypes of the ’70s, so Future Cop really doesn’t feel that much like the future.)

Video and audio quality on the DVDs is pretty average for a four-decade-old show, but the decent image and sound quality are a huge step up from the previous state of affairs (i.e. wondering if the master copies of the episodes still existed at all). The discs themselves are bare-bones: just the show, nothing else. But as obscure as this show is (even Wikipedia and IMDb don’t have 100% correct episode titles as of this writing), to expect anything in the way of bonus features is to expect too much. The menus are basic, functional, and quite ably show off the fact that even the publicity photos for this show haven’t been kept in great shape.

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The sad thing about the lack of bonus features is that there’s one hell of a story behind the making (and the eventual fall) of Future Cop: immediately after the broadcast of the pilot in 1976, science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova sued ABC and Paramount because the basic storyline of the series – android cop alongside a crusty, curmudgeonly human cop – was almost identical to a script they had adapted from their own 1970 short story, Brillo. The Brillo pilot script was shopped around Hollywood in 1973, and ABC optioned it, but allowed the option to expire…and then Future Cop went into production. Ellison and Bova waited for four years to get their case before a judge and jury, who took only four weeks to decide in their favor. ABC, Paramount, and a former Paramount executive shelled out over $300,000 in damages in early 1980, the largest punitive award in a plagiarism lawsuit up to that point in American legal history.

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There’s no word on whether or not Ellison and Bova are getting a cut of Future Cop DVD sales, but it is known that Harlan Ellison used part of his lawsuit proceeds to lease a billboard directly across from the Paramount lot in 1980, bearing the warning “WRITERS! DON’T LET THEM STEAL FROM YOU!” in enormous letters. Obviously, there was enough of a saga there to make for at least one really juicy bonus featurette, but probably not one that would’ve made the show’s rights-holders very happy ? and given the obscurity of the show itself, probably not worth the expense of producing such a documentary.

Fans of outdated genre TV have a new treat to look forward to, as do students of TV: whether one attributes the Future Cop premise to Ellison & Bova, or to the nominal writers of the series itself, it casts a very long shadow over the genre. Everything from Automan to Mann & Machine to Almost Human owe a debt to Future Cop. It’s a snapshot of the state of TV science fiction before Star Wars: keep it cheap by intermingling with a “modern day” genre. If Future Cop didn’t achieve escape velocity in early ’77, it wasn’t going to fly under a different title in 1978 either: the audience’s expectations of the genre had changed. (Perhaps tellingly, the premiere of Cops and Robin was paired with an episode of the Buck Henry sci-fi sitcom Quark on NBC.)