Vintage Cable Box: “Wavelength”, 1983

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“Iris, they gotta put something on.  We can’t run around with three naked kids.  Not even in Hollywood.”

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“Wavelength”, 1983 (Robert Carradine), New World Pictures

“Wavelength” plays out almost like a hallucinatory daydream, seen through the eyes of a ghost-like Cherie Currie (who is always illuminated by key blue and green lights). She tells the story of how she met burned-out rock star Bobby Sinclair and consequently, a trio of aliens, whom can communicate with her telepathically. Cherie plays Iris Longacre, an earthy artist who hooks up with Bobby, and starts hearing strange whale-like sounds (like cries for help), somewhere buried within the Hollywood Hills. They take a walk around the neighborhood and come upon an enclosed structure, built like a fort, with barbed-wire fences.

Intrigued by her claims, Bobby takes her to meet an old miner (Keenan Wynn) who had assisted in the construction of a top secret Air Force base in the Hills. The reasoning being no one would ever suspect a compound in such a bizarre location. Wynn shows them a network of elaborate tunnels that lead to the base. Bobby and Iris make their way inside, and as they get closer, the cries get louder. As it happens, scientists are conducting an autopsy on what appears to be an alien, recovered from a crash site in the desert. It is this alien that is crying. Iris freaks out and screams in a kind of sympathetic pain. They are caught and arrested.

Examinations reveal Iris to be a twin (interesting in that Cherie indeed has a twin sister, Marie – who appeared with her in “The Rosebud Beach Hotel”), which scientists theorize give her latent psychic abilities. Iris and Bobby are reunited and then confined to the laboratory where alien canisters are being stored. The Government orders the base evacuated and sealed, effectively sentencing the kids to death. Bobby opens the canisters. The aliens come out. They look like naked, bald children. They have superhuman strength and preternatural powers, and they break down the doors, engineering Iris and Bobby’s escape. In a clever twist, the Government tells authorities to launch a dragnet for three missing “kids”, presumably abducted by Bobby and Iris.

The alien crash site is causing all the land around it to be subsumed in a poisonous environment. Witnesses and base personnel are dying off, and plant life is eroding. Iris and Bobby (with the help of Wynn and a pair of intrepid Native Americans) transport the remaining three aliens to their crash site. The movie (and the climax) bears some striking similarities to John Carpenter’s “Starman” (for which director Mike Gray coincidentally co-created the TV series spin-off), released a year later, especially with the revelation of the alien spacecraft: a mirror-like glowing sphere that casts a reflection.

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While obviously a low-budget science fiction, “Wavelength” is a beautifully-shot, impeccably edited (by Mark Goldblatt, who would go on to become Hollywood’s premiere action movie editor), swiftly-paced (yet thoughtful and sublime) and atmospheric film. Even in the murky, old VHS version, I can still appreciate the photography, but I would love to see an HD transfer. Robert Carradine shows he can act without having to dress up like a nerd. Cherie Currie is photographed like a gorgeous ghost, and at times, her performance is flirtatious, solicitous, and downright creepy. I love her face in this film. Director Mike Gray had previously co-written (with James Bridges and T.S. Cook) the screenplay of “The China Syndrome”, as well as an excellent documentary about artist Marc Chagall, “The Gift” from 1973. Gray passed away in 2013.

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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