Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

World Beyond, The (1978) (TV)

... aka: Monster
... aka: Mud Monster, The
... aka: World Beyond - "Monster," The

Directed by:
Noel Black

A listing in a January, 1978 TV Guide calls this "a pilot for a proposed, but unscheduled, series." Actually, it was the second pilot episode for the same proposed series devised by "Dark Shadows" writer Art Wallace. The first episode, aired nine months earlier in April 1977, was called The World of Darkness and featured the same lead character / actor, same concept and same opening sequence. CBS ran both of these hour-long- including-commercials episodes but apparently decided the ratings weren't good enough to commission more and that was effectively the end of the World. All that's available to us now is a faded, poor-quality copy that someone recorded off of television back in the day. It's sold on several bootleg sites like iOffer and Cinefear complete with commercials from its (one-time?) TV airing and has also popped up on Youtube. Unfortunately, no one seems to have recorded the first pilot episode and thus it may be lost to the sands of time. The only footage currently available to view from it are contained in a 10-second-long TV promo that hints its plot involves some kind of haunting. Does anyone out there have a copy of The World of Darkness? That's what I'd like to know.

Sportswriter Paul Taylor (Granville Van Dusen) gets in a motorcycle accident, is rushed off to a hospital, dies for exactly 2 minutes and 37 seconds and is then resuscitated with defibrillator paddles. He's not only picked up "an intimate knowledge of death" in the process but now he's also in tune with the spirit world and is given instructions by whispering ghosts as to who needs help from various supernatural threats. In this case, he's given a location, a name and is simply told to "help her." The place is Logan's Island, the person is Marian Faber and she's in need of assistance, so Paul gets in his car and takes off. Since the island is accessible only by boat, Paul gets a lift from Andy Borchard ("special guest star" Barnard Hughes) and ends up meeting Marian (JoBeth Williams) on the ride over. Marian has received a letter from her brother Frank (Richard Fitzpatrick), who's one of the island's only inhabitants, telling her he has a surprise to show her. What that is has yet to be determined.

Various clues that something isn't quite right turn up immediately upon arrival. Frank's boat is sunk, Andy's docile pet pooch Lover (yes, he named his dog Lover, which goes beyond weird right into the realm of creepy) turns on him and chews up his arm and they hear strange noises coming from the woods. Upon inspecting Frank's house, they discover that he's boarded up all the windows and his bookshelves are filled with books about casting spells and incantations. Something sinks their boat. The dog is killed. A neighbor is found dingy, dying and muttering a three letter word that begins with M and ends with D. I'm sure U have figured it out by now. And lots of wet dirt seems to be all over the place. Turns out that Frank has created himself a Golem, a figure in Hebrew folklore said to be a body without a soul fashioned from mud and sticks and brought to life through magic. And though this particular Golem isn't very friendly and kills for no apparent reason, he'd prefer it if you didn't call him salty!

So what we have here is a modest, simple, undemanding little monster movie that's pretty fun for what it is. The acting's good, the dialogue's pretty silly at times (Doubt you'll be hearing anyone utter "Mud pies don't go around killin' dogs and people!" anywhere but here) and there are a few neat little touches here and there, like the mudman's hand continuing to attack after being severed. Director Black began his career with a short called Skaterdater (1966) that earned him the Palme d'Or at Cannes and an Oscar nomination and followed with the excellent black comedy Pretty Poison (1968) starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld. After that, several critical and commercial flops no one was interested in seeing relegated him to TV for most of the rest of his career, He does a fairly good job with what was handed to him here and even orchestrates one of the best jump scares I've seen in quite some time.

Oh, you want to see the monster now, do you?

And not even a 'mud angel' will pacify you? Fine.

Yes, I know that's just a hand on fire, but...

Yes, I know there's a flame covering most of it, but...

Too blurry? Yes, well...

Too blurry and too dark? I guess I see what you mean...

I'm seriously trying here... but this print is so bloody awful I don't think I can get a decent shot...

OK, screw it. I'm giving up now.

This was a Time-Life Television production filmed in Canada and has a copyright date of 1977, which means it was likely filmed back-to-back with the first World. The poor condition of the print I viewed didn't help in the creature visibility department any, but it was designed by the prolific Roger George. It's often said to have the alternate title The Mud Monster, but I can find no proof it was ever released under that title. The one I viewed called the episode simply Monster.


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