Vintage Cable Box: “Krull, 1983”

“Power is fleeting.  Love is eternal.”

Krull, 1983 (Ken Marshall), Columbia Pictures

American novelist Stephen King once described Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his book, The Shining, as a “… great big beautiful Cadillac with no engine under the hood.  You could sit in it, enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery … the only thing you couldn’t do was drive it anywhere.”  Krull from 1983 is the Cadillac of science fiction/fantasy motion pictures.  Derek Meddings’ production design is an incredible feast for the eyes.  James Horner’s Star Trek-like musical compositions are appropriately epic in scope.  The visual effects and photography are awe-inspiring.  Lysette Anthony is unbelievably beautiful  as the damsel-in-distress Princess Lyssa.  Unfortunately, the movie takes us nowhere but the back-alleys of Star Wars retreads.

When the Princess is abducted by the evil “Slayers” interrupting her wedding to Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall, resembling a young Richard Chamberlain), he summons the power of the “Glaive”, the five-bladed handheld pinwheel that looks like an over-sized throwing star seen in the film’s promotional advertisements (and which I’ve always wanted to own), from the top of a mountain and bands together with a motley crew of criminals (among them Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in early roles) in a bid to rescue her.  While we have our requisite laser light show, Krull is a movie that favors swordplay, Errol Flynn-style leaps from balconies, and swinging from chandelier ropes.  The strange, slimy, tentacled “Beast” informs the Princess that she is to marry it, perhaps to destroy the prophecy of the “girl that shall become queen.”

Colwyn is tutored by the wizardly Ynr (Freddie Jones as “The Old One”), collects his “merry” men, and heads for the Black Fortress, the stunning starship/castle that appears to be built out of a mountain.  In a narrative reminiscent of Bert I. Gordon’s The Magic Sword, Colwyn and his band of mercenaries must overcome disparate “challenges”, such as a misanthropic (and rather unpleasant) cyclops, various illusions conjured by the Beast, and assorted Slayers sent to assassinate Colwyn.  Meanwhile, Ynr must monitor his sands of time (given to him by ex-girlfriend, The Widow of the Web); for when the last of the sand diminishes, he will die.  It’s nice to know when you’re gonna go, is all I’m saying!  I remember being frightened by the giant spider in the movie when Ynr traverses an enormous web to to see his old squeeze.  Giant spiders freak me out!

It can even core an apple!

An enormously expensive movie (for the time) when produced, Krull would’ve benefited from substantial rewrites.  As it stands, the performers merely serve as window-dressing for truly beautiful art direction, cinematography, and stunning action set pieces.  Krull is everything I love in science fiction and fantasy, except that it lacks substance.  The story is a lazy mix of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Clash of the Titans (another early cable favorite of mine), with a little bit of Robin Hood and Jason and the Argonauts thrown in for good measure.  Recently, I watched an excellent high definition transfer of the film, and as much as the technical aspects of the film are heightened by it, the deficiencies of the editing and screenplay are displayed as well.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “Death Hunt”

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“That look on your face would turn good whiskey into sour piss.”

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“Death Hunt” , 1981 (Charles Bronson), 20th Century Fox

“This motion picture is based on a true story” is written in schlocky big-and-bold red titles; Charles Bronson is “Death Hunt” – not quite, but wouldn’t it be cool if his given Christian name were, indeed “Death J. Hunt”, or whatever? I mean, talk about the coolness factor. Here we are in the wild, white Yukon with some splendid Steadicam-aerial photography and we’re thrust into a literal dog-fight. The year is 1931, so it’s probably not illegal yet. Bronson runs afoul of the locals involved when he rescues one of the dogs involved. You get that steely-eyed Bronson trademark gaze. He gives the owner (the great character actor Ed Lauter) $200 for the wounded dog and leaves.

Lauter isn’t having any of it. He takes up arms with an Alaskan version of a posse (among them Carl “Apollo Creed”/”Action Jackson” Weathers, William Sanderson, and Maury Chaykin) to apprehend Bronson. Bronson nurses the dog back to health, feeds him and bonds with him. The heavies case Bronson’s hunting shack, but he is ready for them, and he plugs one of them. Lauter alerts the authorities (in this case, Mounties Andrew Stevens and Lee Marvin, who knows Lauter is lying) and they lead the hunt for the so-called “Mad Trapper”.

The movie’s story depends on Bronson staying one step ahead of his pursuers, which he does with aplomb. He is skillful and resourceful, but unfortunately an act of self-defense is added to his perceived list of crimes. It’s amazing to me (looking at the movie now) how quickly this narrative moves. We have to remember, the movie was made at a time when action/adventure movies didn’t have to be nonsensical, bloated epics. The editing is lean, action-oriented and economical. The scenes between Marvin and Bronson ooze testosterone. Both men have desperation in their eyes. Marvin wants an end to the violence. Bronson just wants to be left alone.

Death Hunt

When Marvin and Stevens’ caravan of vengeance-minded soldiers set out to capture the Trapper, he rigs his property with booby-traps, digs a trench in the middle of his cabin, and positions his guns at strategic points. The Peckinpah-inspired scenes of violence are well choreographed, and the liquored-up, tense dialogue of Lauter’s posse is hilarious. Marvin’s character is lost in his own idealistic past while Stevens represents a future of two-way radios and explosives.

The men constantly put each other through frenetic games of machismo, and all Bronson can do is shake his head and listen to their endless tirades. In the middle of the long Alaskan night, they blow up his cabin with dynamite, and he is forced to take to the snow, but not before cutting down most of them. Ultimately, the posse divide into separate groups, so that they don’t have to split the reward money. They kill each other off as a result of their incompetence until it finally comes down to Marvin and Bronson.

Charles Dennis Buchinsky appeared in “House of Wax” with Vincent Price. His first lead role was in Roger Corman’s “Machine-Gun Kelly”. He became a ubiquitous presence in revenge fantasies, starting with Michael Winner’s “Death Wish” (spawning four sequels), “Hard Times” as well as becoming a staple for Cannon Films (along with Chuck Norris) with “10 to Midnight”, “Murphy’s Law”, and “Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects”.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.