Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dracula and Baby Jane vs Uncle Jesse's Space Kin!

Return from Witch Mountain  (Disney, 1978)

Before the Camera:

Christopher Lee  (Starship Invasions)
Bette White  (Wicked Stepmother)
Ike Eisenmann  (Escape to Witch Mountain)
Kim Richards  (Escape to Witch Mountain)
Jack Soo  (TV's Barney Miller)
Anthony James  (Burnt Offerings)
Dick Bakalyan  (The Strongest Man in the World)
Ward Costello  (Terror from the Year 5000)
Stu Gilliam  (Blazing Saddles)
Denver Pyle  (Uncle Jessie himself!)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by John Hough

Produced by Kevin Corcoran, Jerome Courtland, and Ron Miller

Written by Malcolm Marmorstein   based on characters created by Alexander Key

    In the 1970's, Walt Disney Studios was not the company it had been in the previous decade. Both Walt and his successor Roy Disney had died by 1971 (well, officially, anyway...unofficially there might still be a Waltsicle wrapped up in the back of a Disney freezer somewhere). So the 70's saw the studio in a bit of a slump, both creatively and financially. There were some bright spots here and there, it just wasn't a golden era for the company. One of the bright spots came with the release of Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975. This live action flick told the story of Tony (Eisenmann) and Tia (Richards), two kids with strange powers,   pursued through the film by bad guys Ray Milland and Donald Pleasance, and helped by crusty old guy Eddie Albert.
    Three years later, Disney brought the kids back for a second go-round. The movie opens as the kids' Uncle Bene (Pyle) flies them lickety split over southern California in a blazing fast flying saucer (take that, Duke boys!) and lands in the Rose Bowl stadium. The kids are taking an ill-defined "vacation" from Witch Mountain ostensibly to let them experience some Earthly education but really to get them back into the world for another round of adventure. The fun starts right off when the taxi driver waiting to take them into town turns out to be Dick Bakalyan, coming off like Paulie Walnuts' more stable brother (and seriously, whoever isn't casting Dick Bakalyan and Tony Sirico as brothers in something while they're both still around is totally missing a REAL opportunity!)
    But I digress.
    The taxi runs out of gas, which conveniently leaves the kids Bakalyan-less for a few minutes. The kids promptly split up for no particular reason and leave the area of the taxi. We then meet our baddies, scientist Victor (Lee), financial partner Letha (Davis) and their henchman, Letha's nephew Sickle (James) as they test out Victor's latest invention, a mind control device worn behind the ear and guided by a large solid state remote the size of a toaster with antenna. Victor makes Sickle climb a fire escape and walk around the top of a building despite a fear of heights, proving his invention works, but Letha gets whiny worrying about her nephew and knocks the remote out of Victor's hands. This causes Sickle to get dizzy and walk off the side of the building to his doom - except no - Tony shows up and uses his levitation power to lower Sickle safely to the ground. Thinking quickly and proving his villainous worth, Victor then immediately pops the kid with a hypo and the trio run off with the unconscious lad to their hideout so Victor can slap a mind control thingie on him. Meanwhile, Tia wanders into the middle of a gang of pre-teen ne'er do wells calling themselves the Earthquake Gang who mainly try to stay out of school and avoid truant officer "Yoyo" Yokomoto (Soo).
    Now Victor and Letha have a mind controlled Tony in their power and begin a series of escalating crime capers going from gold theft to nuclear terrorism while Tia and the Earthquake gang try to track them down and save Tony. Can a bunch of kids outmart all those adult authority figures who dismiss them and save the day?

Disney's first topless scene, with bonus booze!
    I didn't see a lot of the live action Disney movies back in my childhood - my parents just weren't much on taking me to movies like this - they instead took me to movies they might enjoy, so my earliest movie memories are of Night of Dark Shadows, Little Big Man, The Sting, and Papillon. I did see The Apple Dumpling Gang and The North Avenue Irregulars, but missed almost everything else. I didn't even see them on TV because the Sunday night Disney program was not a staple of our household viewing. So, I'm now setting forth on a program of checking them out when they cross my path, and this sequel became the first in that new directive! For a G rated flick from 1978, this was pretty palatable. Disney's formula of a very solid cast of old pros, good production values, and pretty amazing special effects (considering no computers were available to assist) works well, and this was a fun watch. As far as the actors go, the kids are okay; Lee is great as usual as the villain; Davis is more whiny than anything else; and the rest of the familiar character actors all bring something fun to the table. There's certainly nothing edgy or daring about the movie, but that just makes the picture a kind of filmic comfort food. If you are looking for something to watch with the nearest kid, or want to relive some cinematic memories from your own childhood, or if like me you also missed this one as a kid, give it a try!

Let's Get Out of Here ?
At around the 47:00 Bette Davis indicates she doesn't like the idea of a family reunion; and at about 1:13:00 Christian Juttner sees truant officer Jack Soo before anyone else does.

Eye Candy ?
I love Bette Davis, but no. Kim Richards wears a fetching red skort outfit, but she's 14 here. So no. Sorry ladies.

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Return from Witch Mountain is the best
movie from 1978 starring someone named Ike you might ever see."

And that wraps this one up! Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

1 comment:

  1. I worked with John Hough although id wager its not the same one!