Monday, January 23, 2012

Episode 13: Primal Scream

Episode 13: Primal Scream aka The Humanoids
Original Airdate: 1/17/75
Guest Starring: John Marley, Pat Harrington
and Gary Baxley as The Schlockthropus
Written by Bill S. Ballinger and David Chase
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Ages-old living cells from an Arctic expedition have resulted in the growth of a humanoid creature. It escapes and goes on a killing rampage. Once again it's up to Kolchak to save Chicago.

PE: It still amazes me that reporters in the mid-1970s could trample all over crime scenes, take pictures of sensitive evidence and, in Carl's case, lift the sheet off a corpse to get a good look. All those nasty stories of papparazzo Ron Galella are starting to gain some credibility.

JS: It's the return of the Freeze Frame Horror! Fortunately it's used less frequently, and therefore more effectively than in "The Werewolf."

PE: More startling than the fact that Sid and Marty Krofft would be kind enough to loan ABC the Cha-Ka costume is seeing Pat Harrington without his tool belt and five o'clock shadow. Harrington is very good here as an oil company P.R. man, avoiding the Snidely Whiplash cliches that can be inherent in "company men."

JS: If they were raiding the Krofft wardrobe closet, I sure hope that means we can expect a Sleestak appearance before we're through.

PE: Sandra Gould's annoying voice and "old Jewish woman schtick" is familiar to those of us who grew up with her Gladys Kravitz character on Bewitched. Only the lure of Elizabeth Montgomery kept me tuned to that show when Gould would pop into a scene. She seamlessly slips into this episode as a landlady with the same kind of screeching pap: "I told you, Mort, put in synthetics I said. 'Oh no', said Mr. Conrad Hilton. 'I'm renting quality rooms'." Does anyone really talk like that and live for long?

JS: It's always nice to see John Marley, who we've previously enjoyed in Thriller and The Outer Limits. He's another example of a perfect character actor to step into the authority role that Kolchak is destined to butt heads with.

PE: Whenever Marley opens his mouth, all I hear is "She was the greatest piece of ass I ever had, and I had 'em all over the world." Definitely a distraction when he's actually saying "A gorilla? Now, why would you think it's a gorilla?"

JS: I love when he infers that Carl is a baboon.

PE: Gladys Kravitz's recently deceased tenant, Photographer Robert Gurney, the man who always said that Hollywood gave him entertainment that was too unrealistic to be entertaining and could do a better job and then did (whatever the hell that means), is played by Craig Baxley, who played our man R.I.N.G. yesterday. Baxley was a former stuntman who went on to direct several TV movies including Stephen King's Storm of the CenturyStephen King's Rose Red, and Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital (could this be the poor man's Frank Darabont?). In his big scene here, he's attacked and "torn to shreds" by his cousin Gary Baxley, another stuntman. To complete the trifecta, his father Paul is featured here as doomed Dr. Copenick. Gurney is watching one of the Universal Mummy movies on his TV (truck driver "William Pratt" is another nod to the Universal era). My girlfriend will be happy to hear that I have no idea which Mummy movie it is. I'm sure someone out there will fill in my blanks, so to speak. Craig Baxley will return in a meatier role as a cop in "Legacy of Terror" and as the title critter in "The Sentry." Perhaps Mark D. can tell us why there was a proliferation of Baxleys around the set.

JS: I liked how when Kolchak hovers over the secretary, he leans in to sniff her hair. Clearly he was under her spell. If you watch their interplay, she stares Kolchak down, and he can't even look her in the eye. The lovely Barbara Rhodes can also be seen in Scream, Blacula, Scream.

PE: Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) gets his best screen time yet in this series and I'm beginning to reverse my earlier annoyance with the character. Yeah, he's still so prissy (and don't think I didn't notice when he arrives back from lunch a half hour late the same time as another very well-dressed man) but here he seems to be loosening up a bit. He and Carl even share a joke at Tony's expense. There was none of that previously. The running gag with the parking spot is a gem as well.

JS: It developed much more quickly with Monique and Miss Emily, but you're right. The cumulative effect of Ron has me warming up to him as well.

PE: Jamie Farr moonlighting from M*A*S*H*, here plays a high school biology teacher. With that bow tie, he's the kind of teacher I avoided seeing for private tutorial in high school. The concept of a star of a massive hit show guesting on a series on a rival network blows my mind. I would think the producers of M*A*S*H* wouldn't want the shallow minds of TV consumers misbelieving that Klinger had escaped the 4077 to become a biology teacher. I'm assuming they stressed that Farr's teacher could not be wearing a skirt when he raised from his desk.

JS: I thought Farr provided the right measure of comic relief, while also advancing the plot! My favorite line in the episode came out of this scene. When looking at the evolutionary chart, Carl points one out and says, "I know that one. I work for him." Classic!

PE: It seems strange to me (and out of character) that Vincenzo suddenly sees one of Carl's monsters as a great story. Tony's been witness to at least 14 of Kolchak's "big stories." What makes this one different? Can't be the pictures. Carl's had those before. Likewise, the science angle. Not all of the reporter's subjects have been boogiemen. It's a nice scene, which ends on that aforementioned Carl/Ron tag-team on Tony, but it doesn't ring true for some reason.

JS: I'll tell you what didn't ring true for me. When Kolchak thinks he can soothe the savage beast by playing blind hermit to Frankenstein's monster. Of course, it was amusing that as the creature attacked Kolchak, the police sure seemed to take their time to come to his rescue (I was sure that was Steve Austin, in classic so-mo gear,  heading up the crew. -PE).

PE: Seems pretty easy to me to get into a "top secret research facility" as long as you've got a pair of pliers. Would they really leave the core samples lying around?

JS: So, in a scene that's part "Horror in the Heights" (the sewer chase) and part "Bad Medicine" (the anti-monster flashbulb), we get something that's a rarity for The Night Stalker—a Kolchak stand-in! What's up with that? Was McGavin not up for the ten-yard sewer sprint for some reason?

PE: A very average episode, which is disappointing since the story's by David Chase, who usually hits at least a triple. The only distinguishing aspect of the script, to me, is that it predates Jurassic Park in the "recreated prehistoric life" sweepstakes. But we don't ever get a picture of how this thing grew from single cell to Trog in a short period of time. There's the humor but not much else. 

PE Rating:

JS Rating:

Next up... Kolchak faces Madame Trevi!


  1. Barbara Rhodes as the secretary? I'm surprised he ever got out of that "hovering" mode and got on with the rest of the story.

  2. As usual you guys have just about covered all the main points and there is nothing left for me to say about this mediocre episode. So all I can comment on is what I ate while watching KOLCHAK. A large of plate of pencil points and meatballs, preceded by a big salad and three glasses of wine. The episode took a little over 45 minutes and so did my meal.

    I then took a nap and read some ghost stories by M.R. James. I highly recommend reading M.R. James instead of watching Kolchak splash around in the sewer.

  3. Walker-

    Living in that vast museum you live in, you actually have time to read? Does the wife do the dusting of the pulps (I think not!) ?

  4. Wow. I wondered if that were the same Craig Baxley. Unreal.

    When I told Madame BOF--oops, sorry, wrong blog--I mean Mrs. Professor Matthew--oops, sorry, wrong blog--I mean my wife that I used to watch Harrington religiously on ONE DAY AT A TIME as a lad, she (to use her own vernacular) looked at me like I had six heads. But she shared
    John's affection for the hair-sniffing thing. I'm sure Jack Seabrook will appreciate my pointing out that Rhoades (note spelling) was also in two ODD COUPLES, as a group-therapy participant in the role-reversal episode and as a flapper in "Blinky" Madison's speakeasy.

    Yes, Marley is always a welcome presence, and appeared in Matheson's sole BOURBON STREET BEAT episode, "Target of Hate," with fellow up-and-comers James Coburn and Richard Chamberlain way back in 1960.

    Not sure I've ever actually seen SCHLOCK!, but I got the joke. Speaking of which, thanks for picking up on "William Pratt," which for those not in the know was Boris Karloff's real name. And I believe it was THE MUMMY'S GHOST.

    What you said about the police in the finale was so true. I was thinking, "Hell, they probably don't care which one they shoot!" That goes right along with the camera-smashing and voucher-tossing Marley being one of Carl's least honorable police antagonists. My wife marvels at Carl's constant breaking of the rules and/or laws, but when he's up against people like that, it seems much more justified.

    The metropolitan-missing-link angle always reminded me of the far superior ALTERED STATES.

  5. I assumed that that goofy slo-mo crap during the police arrival was the director (or writer) giving us Carl's perspective on how slow the cops were coming to his rescue rather than the actual snail's pace of Chicago's finest. I would have loved for one of them to open their mouth and say something along the lines of "Cwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrllllllllllllllllllll, heeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeee weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee cooooooooooommmmmmeeeeeeeeeee!"

    1. That's what I thought as well. It's Carl, looking at the cops coming down the tunnel while the primitive is squeezing the life out of him (close cousin to Peremalfait?)

  6. Peter-

    Since you've been married you may have noticed that non-collecting spouses avoid The Collection as much as possible. They hate and despise The Collection and are in fact, quite jealous of it because collectors spend more time on The Collection than on the wife.

    So in answer to your question, the wife does not dust the pulps. She plots their removal from the house and hopes to take part in their destruction.

  7. Barbara Rhoades was also in two Columbo episodes. In one of them, "Identity Crisis," wearing a halter top (luckily).
    In the other, "Lady In Waiting," she had a priceless reaction to having to babysit Columbo's cigar while he talked to someone in a non-smoking building. (Anyone who thinks early ' 70s TV didn't have anti-smoking messages - apart from PSA's, I mean - should see some of those Columbo scenes.)

  8. Can't disagree with the reviewers on this one - at best, a mediocre episode. I notice how they spend a little more time than usual with the Kolchak formula "elements" - did we need to follow the Captain into his office and see him toss out Carl's voucher? From my dvd copy it even looks like that led to an act break. That's supposed to be a climax?

    Even the Jamie Farr expert bit - which overall I liked - did tend to go on a little too long. Also, the Carl-sneaks-by-the-guard bit gets played not once but twice with the hospital doctor. Add this all up and it seems like there was simply a shortage of real story to this story!

    There's also a bit of a continuity lapse. We see the young black woman attacked, then have Carl tell us "the murder of Rosetta Mason gave the police no new leads." But later we see Carl discover Rosetta's body inside the tunnel (seemingly intact and not too mangled, unlike everything we've heard about other victims). So, how would the police have come to the conclusion earlier that she'd been murdered? At that point, she'd have just been a missing person.

    Of course, the episode does have Barbara Rhoades, so it can't be all bad. She popped up in a lot of TV throughout the 1970s and 1980s (she's even the Egyptian priestess ghost in an episode of the Forrest Tucker/Larry Storch Ghostbusters), but never lucked into a regular part on a hit series.

  9. I love Barbara Rhoades. Lust after her, actually. Even as a kid I loved her.

    In any case, I love this episode. I just do. I love monster on the loose stories.

    Great bit of low budget ingenuity when they represent Jamie Farr's students with sound effects. Presto, a quiet desk and chair classroom set instantly becomes a classromm on the verge of being filled with two dozen noisy students...and we never see a single one of 'em (we just *hear* 'em)!

  10. This is the first episode of the series I've watched in years, I also watched Chopper.
    I'm pretty disappointed thus far. I think the problem is the villians- they're just pure animalistic hunger, they're not really adversaries for Kolchak, they show up every once in a while kill someone, and then disappear. Maybe there are some good villians in other episodes but I don't remember very many.
    I didn't like Primal Scream, I didn't get why the apeman takes
    so much time trying to kill Kolchak- he clearly could just snap his neck like a twig, but instead we hear Carl screaming
    for about a minute- did they need to pad the episode for 50 minutes? I did enjoy the cameo with Jamie Farr- its hard for me not to look at his nose, its as long as the prosthetic Jeanette Nolan wore in La Strega.

    I liked Chopper even less, it was just a mess.

  11. One thing I hadn't noticed before is how similar Kolchak is to James Rockford- in his reluctant heroism and in how creative he is in
    conning his way into hospital rooms, office buildings, etc.

  12. Anybody know why Kolchak needed to go down to the caves and get a picture of the creature even though he had already stolen one from the police station and was ready to publish earlier in the episode?
    I didn't notice Paul Baxley doubling for Kolchak in that end scene. One day I want to figure just how many bit parts/victims he played on Kolchak!