Archive for the 'Sci-Fi Movies/TV' Category

Movie Theater Marquees: Friday the 13th, Don’t Go in the House, and Aliens (1980, 1986)

Friday the 13th 1980

The Warner Cinerama Theatre in New York, originally The Strand Theatre, opened in 1914. It was demolished in 1987.

Don’t Go in the House is a very low budget slasher about (the IMDb description is brutally succinct) “a victim of child abuse… who grows up to become a maniacal construction worker. He stalks women at discos, takes them home, then hangs them upside-down in a special steel-walled room and sets them on fire.” The trailer is here.

Below is the same theater seen from the opposite side. You can see a Howard the Duck poster to the left of the marquee.

I saw Aliens four or five times at the theater in the summer of ’86. It was a perfect movie then, and it’s a perfect movie now.

Aliens Marquee 1986

(Images via Jane R. Fink/Pinterest and Cinema Treasures)

Halloween, 1984: Ghostbusters

Halloween Ghostbusters 1984

Very clever. I can’t tell what the backpacks are made of, but the proton guns are Uzis. The kids’ names are sewn on the uniforms.

UPDATE (10/23/13): Nick sent me details regarding the costumes:

The costumes were built with a pattern that had come out during that year for costumes. The backpacks were simply spray-painted cardboard boxes with shoulder straps. However, a special opening at the top allowed people to drop candy inside, so we could have theoretically mopped up some serious candy because the boxes could hold a lot. While we never got a photo of the rear of the backpacks, my brother designed the outside with all sorts of hoses and accouterments so it would have a “wow” factor that made it look very fancy and techie. The Uzis were just the standard toy gun from K-Mart that you could buy at the time. Through standard rubber hoses, they were then attached to the backpack.

(Photo via nick_cw1861/Flickr)

Super 8: Mikey Walters’ Target: Earth (1979)

As if there weren’t enough evidence* that Mikey did more before he turned 13 than I’ve done ever, here’s a movie he shot during the summer after 6th grade. He gave me some production notes to go with it.

  • My dad shot the scenes that I was “acting” in. Shot in order, no editing.
  • Original film had no sound, but I made a cassette tape using the Star Wars soundtrack and various sound effects. The tape is long lost, but I “recreated” the sounds for YouTube.
  • Stop-motion titles and credits.
  • Nerf ball planet, Earth image cut out of National Geographic.
  • My idea of kitbashing was gluing two battleships together (standard plastic model kits) and painting them white.
  • The famous black helmet that we both had is featured!
  • The control panel includes a Merlin.
  • Please ignore the hanging potted plant when the ship takes off.
  • Lasers were scratched directly onto the film.
  • The doomed city is an HO-scale train set and a bridge building set that I loved to play with.

We think the top button on the control panel says ‘power’. The other two say `take off’ and `fire’. The dials and graphics on the control panel were cut out of Mikey’s dad’s old Air Force training manuals, and the buttons were capsules from vending machines.

As for the movie itself, the violence the director perpetrates on our poor planet is shocking! The slow head turn of the caped figure (who in no way resembles Darth Vader) is unnervingly menacing. And what about that innocent kid, sadistically vaporized right out of his clothes? Is there no mercy? No. Only death and destruction, and the realization that all men are mortal, that everything we build will eventually crumble.

By the way, Mikey hadn’t seen 1954’s Target Earth, a classic robot invasion movie starring Richard Denning, before he made his existential sci-fi flick, although he says he might have come across the title in Starlog.

*Mikey’s homemade D&D modules are here. His published (and now playable!) Atari BASIC video game is here. My interview with him is here.


If you made a movie as a kid, I’d love to feature it. Contact me at

Fantastic Films #27 (January, 1982): Interview with Jim Steranko

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Comics and illustration genius Jim Steranko on his Raiders of the Lost Ark pre-production art:

The first Raiders painting I did established the character of Indiana Jones. There was really no actor discussed at this point, at least not with me […]

I got a note from George’s [Lucas] secretary describing Indiana Jones, which said that Indy should have a jacket like George wears. That was the only instruction. Fortunately, I knew what kind of jacket George wears. It all worked out very well. I perceived Indiana Jones as a cross between Doc Savage and Humphrey Bogart […]

The definitive image appears on Kenner’s 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark Game.

Raiders Board Game

Steranko’s Outland adaptation was serialized in Heavy Metal from June, 1981 through January, 1982. You can read the first few pages here.

The movie it’s based on, written and directed by Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, 2010), is generally dismissed as a heavy-handed retelling of High Noon (1952). That’s a mistake. As Steranko says, “[Outland] struck me as being the first noir science fiction film, somewhat in the ‘Chandleresque’ vein.” The film also verges on cyberpunk, and it came out a year before Blade Runner.

It’s fitting that Steranko, deeply influenced by the pulps, also did the cover for the Marvel Super Special Blade Runner cover.

Marvel Blade Runner

Ertl’s Die-Cast Blade Runner Cars (1982)

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My mom took me to see Blade Runner at the theater because I convinced her that it was a Star Wars sequel. I was 10. After Leon shot Holden in the first five minutes (“My mother? Let me tell you about my mother…“), she tried to forcibly remove me, but I wouldn’t budge. I was totally mesmerized by Ridley Scott’s haunting, desperate, Promethean vision of the future. I still am.

I’d forgotten about the toy cars, but they really did exist, and that makes me happy. Kids would have seen the “spinners” (designed by conceptual artist Syd Mead) prominently featured in the trailer, but most wouldn’t have been lucky enough (or duplicitous enough) to get a peek at the movie. It was a brilliant try by Ertl, anyway.

Toys and other kid-marketed merchandise were almost always designed to extend the experience of the production they were based on. (I’ve talked about this before.) In the case of Blade Runner and other R-rated features, that merchandise was meant to replace the experience of the film. Think of all the Alien stuff from ’79: Target Set, Movie Viewer, Board Game, Trading Cards, Kenner’s wicked 18″ action figure.

We’d seen the previews, we gleaned what we could from the adults willing to talk to us, but that’s it. Like Ridley Scott, we had to invent a world and a story for those spinners and that alien to inhabit.

UPDATE (5/8/15): David Augustyn spotted a mistake on the four-pack. Rachael’s Spinner is labeled as Bryant’s Police Spinner and vice versa. The Spinner second from right is clearly a cop car and even has “Police” written on the side.

(Images via eBay)

What the Future Looked Like: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)












(Most images via The Lucid Nightmare and John Kenneth Muir)

Movie Theater Marquees: Escape from New York (1981)

EFNY Marquee 1981

If this is Escape from New York playing in New York, that’s pretty cool. Even better if it’s Manhattan.

Sign me up for Firecracker, also from 1981: “She’ll mix seduction with destruction in the screen’s first erotic Kung Fu classic.”

(Photo via Daniel Aull/Flickr; video via Shout Factory)

James Cameron Painting a Matte for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

BBTS Cameron

Above: Cameron paints the hero’s village—a beautiful, surreal design—from BBTS.

Below: Cameron painting the skyline for Escape from New York.


And here’s a short magazine blurb on Galaxy of Terror. The man squatting next to the pyramid is Robert Skotak. The two also worked together on Battle Beyond the Stars and Escape from New York, and Cameron later hired Skotak as visual effects supervisor for Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Titanic.

Cameron remembers his friends, I’ll give him that, and Aliens is the greatest sci-fi action movie ever made.

GOT Cameron

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(Images via, Ain’t it Cool News, and Atomic Donkey)

Fantastic Films Collectors Edition #20 (December, 1980): Interview with Chuck Comisky

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Chuck Comisky was the special effects supervisor on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a fun, clever sci-fi adaptation of The Magnificent Seven. His interview defines what was great about B movies when the people who made them had the integrity and talent to turn serious time and money constraints into lasting artistic triumphs, many of the productions outdoing their big budget counterparts. Here’s Comiski summing it up:

And what we’re doing is we’re substituting ingenuity, hard work, and a little bit of common sense for a big budget. When you don’t have money and you don’t have a big budget, it forces you to think creatively. You have to say, “How the hell are we gonna’ get the shot and make it look good: We don’t have any money to do it with.” So then you find yourself manufacturing some of your models out of greeting card racks and terrariums and developing systems… to avoid matte problems.

Comiski has some curt words for the first art director on the film, who “never took the trouble to look at the [spaceship] models and try to match up the interiors to the ships.” Comiski and his crew had to sort all of that out in addition to doing all the effects. The first art director was fired before shooting started and Comiski hired a replacement: James Cameron*. It was Cameron’s big break, and he went on to do some really brilliant work for other notable B features, including Escape from New York and Galaxy of Terror (both from 1981).

Comiski has great things to say about the visual effects in Star Wars, but he pans The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being bloated and unimaginative—for substituting money for “creative imagination.”  Fantastic Films asks him if he would have done more elaborate effects if the budget had been bigger. “No,” he says. “If I had more money, the one thing I would do is pay my people more money.”

Cameron, after Titanic made all that money and won all those Oscars, would return the favor and hire Comiski as visual effects supervisor for Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) and, later, as 3D specialist on Avatar (2009). The irony is almost painful: Avatar is the most bloated sci-fi production in history, a textbook case of throwing money at effects to gloss over a hackneyed script. I won’t say it doesn’t look like shiny candy, or that it didn’t make a gazillion dollars, but I’d much rather rewatch Battle Beyond the Stars. It’s a superior film with, yes, better special effects.


*In The Directors: Take One, Volume One (Ed. Robert J. Emery), Cameron says: “I was actually hired by the head of visual effects on a movie called Battle Beyond the Stars… Then they fired the art director because he wasn’t prepared… So I said, `Oh, I’ll do that.’ So I became the art director on the film.”

The Wikipedia entry on Battle Beyond the Stars reads, in part: “after the original art director for the film had been fired, Cameron became responsible for the special effects in Battle Beyond the Stars, or, as Cameron later put it, `production design and art direction.'” This is incorrect. Comiski was in fact responsible for special effects, which are not the same thing as production design or art direction.

Charles Breen appears to be the art director who was fired. Breen was assistant art director on, go figure, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

(The first installment of Fantastic Films #20 is here.)

Super Star Heroes #11 (January, 1980): Meteor and American International Pictures

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All I know about Super Star Heroes magazine right now is that there are at least 11 issues, and this one is pretty cool. According to my recently established formula, I’ve posted the front cover, inside front cover, table of contents, inside back cover, back cover, and a couple of full articles. (Click pages to enlarge.)

I have a strange fondness for Meteor (1979), a Cold War relic that tried to capitalize on the post-Star Wars sci-fi craze within the disaster picture formula. I find Connery and Wood charming, the script has some moments, and I love the eerie, bombastic music that plays every time the meteor is shown hurtling towards Earth. The special effects sequences by Glen Robinson (Logan’s Run) are abysmal, especially the destruction of Manhattan, but I do like the space nuke miniatures.

American International Pictures (AIP), my favorite studio of all time, produced and distributed the film, and studio head Sam Arkoff was determined to make “the most expensive, most sensational disaster picture of all time.” The budget was $17 million, $10 million more than the 1974 blockbuster Earthquake. Compare that to 1998’s un-dynamic duo, Deep Impact ($75 million) and Armageddon ($140 million).

The AIP article gives a short history of the studio, which at the time was an improbable recipient of a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.




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