Monday, August 6, 2007


WUTV, or 'channel 29', a television station broadcasting out of Grand Island, NY, and before it became an affiliate of the (garbage) Fox Broadcasting Company, used to play a program in the 1970s entitled Sci-Fi Theater. (Note U.S. spelling of 'theatre'.) This show was essentially a framework device -- no onscreen host, just a voice accompanying a human eyeball shot in extreme closeup -- for various classic science fiction and fantasy feature films. If I remember correctly, Sci-Fi Theater ran on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. Attack of the Monsters, Voyage to the End of the Universe, Demon Planet, Queen of Blood, Godzilla vs _____, were just a few of the pictures shown on the programme. Arch Oboler's low key 1951 science fiction jewel, Five, might also have played but I don't remember. As a matter of fact, back in the early to mid-seventies, Five played in high rotation on a few television stations in southern Ontario. I watched it just about every time... could not get tired of seeing that film, I guess.

A film I do not remember seeing on Sci-Fi Theater was The Wizard of Mars, David L. Hewitt's film made in 1965 under the banner of his American General Pictures company, for a the tiny amount of $33,000. It was inspired, if you haven't already guessed, by L. Frank Baum's book, "The Wizard of Oz". In this case four astronauts become stranded on the surface of Mars and hope to reach safety (finding their rocket's main stage) before their oxygen runs out. Their journey takes them very slowly over and under the Martian surface. To be honest, this film is a bore. The stranded crew spends most of their time walking or sitting as they conjecture about this or that. The plot moves at a Martian glacial pace.

They eventually find a Martian city, with a little help from a certain yellow path, and meet up with a vision or projection of a guy who looks like verteran actor John Carradine. He has quite a long speech to give to our intrepid astronauts but does so with some conviction. Carradine was the professional -- he gives a little something even though he appears only in the last ten or fifteen minutes of running time. I'm sure he didn't object to what must have been some easy money and a short shooting schedule; and no doubt understood that having his name attached to the flick added some marquee value for distribution and exhibition purposes.

I saw a bit of this film on late night TV a few years ago and found it a tough go. It has been really hot in Toronto lately and when I watched a DVD-R (supplied by a friend) of Wizard one evening last week, this heat made the proceedings even more uncomfortable. But hey, I made it to the end and can't say that I didn't find it enjoyable at all.

(To be continued... )


Greg Woods said...

I remember Sci-Fi Theatre. Although I don't remember the eyeball opening as described, I did see Demon Planet on that timeslot; the image of that big ghostly thing rising from the crypt or whatever (seen on a little B&W TV) haunted me for years. (Demon Planet, for those who don't know, was a TV title for maestro Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires.)

Another WUTV Sunday afternoon memory I have is watching The Eye Creatures around that same time. Not sure if it was on the 4PM slot, or if the 2PM show also had similar programming. Although I watched that one on a colour TV, for years, I had sworn the film was in black and white. Had a soft spot for that picture for years and years- saw it again on WJET in 1985, when they were doing a hosted creature feature show (more on this in my own blog soon), and yes, it was in colour- and I enjoyed the movie then too. Now the movie is barely watchable to my jaundiced eyes.

Man, WUTV was quite the station in the 70s and in the 80s, still too before the Fox takeover circa 1989-90. In our town, WUTV used to be on Channel 9, until about 77-78, before it was swapped out by the French station. From that point forward you needed a converter to see it (I think) on channel 19 or 28. WUTV remained unseen to me until 1984, when I was finally was able to convince my mother that a converter wasn't going to blow up the television set.

Barry Smight said...

In downloaded The Eye Creatures a few weeks ago. Time for me to watch... this weekend!

Yes, WUTV back in the 1970s and 1980s was a very special channel. It was very important to me in the early-mid '70s since I was at that eyes-wide-open phase in those years.

Thanks for your comment, including info on the TV 'dial' distribution in your viewing area!

By the way, B&W prints of otherwise full colour films was not uncommon in TV distribution back in those days; Island of Terror, Battle in Outer Space, and Five Million Years to Earth I knew only in B&W, even though we had a colour set from 1970 onward. Island and Five Million, particularly, actually played better in monochrome. "More scarier." Battle was shown by my local movie theatre in 1974/75, and after my exhortation of "it's in colour!", I found the film to be even more enjoyable in Tohoscope and color.