blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Spider-Man: Wolfpack and the Kirkwood Haunting (1979, Joseph Manduke and Don McDougall)

Wolfpack and the Kirkwood Haunting once again proves me very wrong in thinking these two-episode compilation movies were the way to watch the old “Amazing Spider-Man” show. However, that revision is less about the narrative packaging this time and more about the show itself. Independently or consecutively, Wolfpack and Kirkwood are stinkers. But the Wolfpack half is at least a fun stinker, whereas Kirkwood is mind-numbingly dull. Except when Spider-Man (Nicholas Hammond or his stunt man) fights a lion, and a bear; oh, my.

Wolfpack also has the much better guest stars. While Gavin O’Herlihy and Will Seltzer are fairly dull as Hammond’s grad school buddies, Allan Arbus plays the villain. He’s a shitty scientist turned middling middle manager who has been overseeing O’Herlihy’s grant from Dolph Sweet’s chemical company. When O’Herlihy accidentally discovers mind control mist, Arbus sees his chance to finally get rich. However, instead of robbing a bank or anything simple, he does things like getting O’Herlihy and his sidekicks to steal a Gutenberg Bible or brainwashing the local military base into helping him pull a heist.

Arbus is phoning it in, but with enough energy it’s fun to watch him seventies camp it in a Spider-Man. Chip Fields has been helping out O’Herlihy and Seltzer—in their unregulated human experimentation trials they’re all obviously doing—so she gets to be in the main plot, and she’s delightful. Even when the scenes are dull exposition full of fake science words for eight-year-old boys who talked their parents into letting them watch prime time, Fields is a delight. Other series regulars Robert F. Simon and Ellen Bry are around a bit—Simon’s a gruff old grandpa in this half, much different than his “We blue bloods need to stick together (with international arms dealers)” in the second. But Wolfpack treats Bry like garbage, as though her agent demanded they shoehorn her in, so her scenes are usually just Hammond telling her to go away because she’s not part of the main cast.

Bry does a little better in the second half (Wolfpack and Kirkwood are compiled in reverse order, presumably because there’s never any character development, so what does it matter). Simon has Hammond go check on his arms dealer friend’s widow, a suffering (the role) but earnest Marlyn Mason, who’s getting shaken down by psychic huckster Peter MacLean. Hammond’s supposed to suss out whether Mason is actually haunted or if it’s fake. Given the first scene with Mason seemingly unintentionally reveals it’s fake—MacLean’s sidekick, Paul Carr, starts the episode (sorry, half) as the medium but then becomes the sound van guy. It’s like no one can see him except MacLean. Wait a second… he’s just walking around like a regular person….

Anyway. Much like there being wild animals all around the mansion who terrorize Bry and Mason at various times but are never a danger to the actual villains, so there are no good comeuppance scenes, Kirkwood misses any opportunities it might (accidentally) have.

Manduke's Wolfpack direction is nothing spectacular, but it’s much better than McDougall’s attempts at sophisticated suspense. Though MacLean’s such a hack, Kirkwood never has a chance. Maybe if he’d brought some Arbus-level scorn to it, but no. Kirkwood tasks MacLean with more than he can handle.

Also, Fields is barely in Kirkwood, which is a bummer. While Bry’s better when she’s not just around for Hammond to clown on, Fields’s the closest thing to a breakout in Spider-Man. She’s at least got a personality.

There are some decent stunts, occasionally solid music from Dana Kaproff (and occasionally not), but Wolfpack and Kirkwood is bland and blah.

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