Super Movie Monday – Supergirl, Part 2

Concluding our look back at the Salkinds’ final contribution to theatrical super-films, the 1984 spin-off Supergirl.

To recap: Kara came to Earth as Supergirl in seach of OH! (the Omegahedron), an otherworldly power source needed for the survival of her extradimensional home, Argo City. Unfortunately, the OH! is being used by mad witch Selena (Faye Dunaway) to conquer the Earth, that is, just as soon as she gets gardener Ethan (Hart Bochner) to fall in love with her. The fly in the ointment is that Selena’s magic hit just a little off-target and caused him to fall in love with Kara (in her Earthly guise of Linda Lee) instead. Oops.

So Selena decides to use the OH! to destroy Linda, delivering her own madly stupid line when she says, “What good is a sword if it’s not unleashed?” About as much good as a dog left in its scabbard, I’m guessing.

Selena sends an invisible id-monster to destroy Linda, but first, the DVD I have contains a scene cut from U.S. domestic release, where Linda decides to practice the weird thing Ethan did with her by making out with her own reflection in a mirror. I don’t know if it’s Slater’s performance or the perfect angle chosen for the shot, but this scene is disturbingly hot.

But she is unfortunately distracted by a crashing noise outside as the invisible monster Selena sent comes crashing through a fence outside during a storm. She switches to Supergirl to confront the invisible beast concocted by jealousy and an alien power source, which only becomes visible when she zaps it with energy bolts.

Sorry, wrong monster. She actually zaps this one with lightning she stored in a metal light pole. Just pretend it makes sense and move on.

The sound effects are sadly lacking in this confrontation, though. I swear, the monster’s roars are just a guy saying “Aaarrrrrgggghhhh!”

Not long after, Linda’s bracelet begins to flash, and she follows it to the carnival. Unfortunately, lovestruck Ethan has followed her. Their brief romantic interlude is cut short by Selena, who threatens to kill Ethan with deadly bumpercars. Supergirl saves him and flies him away, but he gets clobbered by a coconut that falls from the sky.

Selena tries using her magic powers to bring Ethan back to her, but fails. Bianca convinces her to call on Nigel for help.

While Supergirl and Ethan argue over whether Ethan needs to help Linda, whom he still claims to love even though the love spell has been broken, Nigel agrees to use a powerful evil artifact called the Burundi Wand to help bring Ethan back. And it works.

So wait, does that mean magic is real, and Nigel is actually a real wizard, not just a con man? Because other than one brief illusionist-style trick at the party, we haven’t seen any evidence of this. So far, it has seemed like the OH! was providing all the power, but now suddenly, the wand works, too. I’m lost.

Once Ethan is safely in Selena’s hands again, she steals the wand from Nigel and uses it against him. Then she transforms her pitiful carnival residence into a mountain with a castle on top, just outside Midvale.

Supergirl rushes there to save Ethan, but for naught. Ethan is under the evil witch’s spell, and Kara is trapped in a familiar-looking crystal and flung out into space.

She ends up lost and powerless on a dark world. While Selena is taking over Midvale with her motorcycle-riding stormtroopers (nope, no idea where she got them other than, you know, ‘magic’), Kara is reunited in the Phantom Zone with kindly uncle Zaltar, who, in the two or three days since she left, has been sent to the Phantom Zone, built a house that looks like a head of garlic, gone major league crazy and developed a drinking problem.

Kara tries to convince him to help her escape the Phantom Zone, and it’s a seriously badly-written scene. I’m getting really sick of Kara’s plot-convenient ignorance. This is no criticism of Helen Slater, who I think gives a charming performance, better than the material deserves.

But in the script, her knowledge of Earth and culture varies wildly depending on how ignorant the scene wants her to be. In her scenes with Zaltar, she first doesn’t know what a tree is, and later asks him about a horse he sculpted, even though she has been seen flying over a herd of wild horses earlier in the film. When Zaltar mentions a train, she’s all, “What is this train you speak of? Is it a way out?” And in her scenes with Lucy, she’s really intrigued by the concept of a bra.

But in her scene with Ethan, after he comes to, she tells him with no hesitation that he was hit by a coconut. She knows the name for it, even though moments earlier, she was shown handling it as if she had no idea what it was. And even worse, when the principal of the school asks for her letter of recommendation, she is able, without hesitation, to type up a convincing one and even file it in his cabinet for him to find on his own. Which is awfully sophisticated cultural knowledge for someone who, one day earlier, didn’t know what a tree was.

So okay, one shitty scene later, Zaltar decides  to help her. “We could die trying,” he warns.

“We won’t,” she promises.

So they leave Zaltar’s House O’Garlic and head for the Rift.

After some hard climbing and a few fireballs flung by Selena, Kara is finally within sight of her goal. Then Selena summons a “demon storm,” which sucks Zaltar away with it.

Hey, Zaltar, remember when you said you could die and Kara promised you wouldn’t? Now would be a good time to say, “I told you so.” I would feel sorry for Zaltar at this moment, except that a) I really hate everything about Zaltar, including his stupid name, and 2) anything that gets me closer to the end of this movie is a good thing.

Kara returns to the real world, smashing out through Selena’s magic mirror. Selena tries several gambits to stop Supergirl, finally summoning her Power of Shadow demon again, bigger than before. And yeah, it still says “Aaaaaarrrggghhh.”

Supergirl seems powerless against it, until the voice of Obi-Wan Zaltar tells her not to give up. She fights back, and Ethan helps out by finding the ‘off’ switch on the OH! And then there’s this incomprehensible finale where Supergirl sucks up Selena and her demon into a whirlwind and sends them (plus Bianca) through the shattered remains of the magic mirror, which seals itself up behind them. Don’t ask me.

Kara says goodbye to her friends Lucy and Jimmy and Ethan, and they all swear not to tell anybody about her. Why, I don’t know. Isn’t this movie over yet? Kara grabs the OH! and flies back down into the water and back to the magic city to live happily ever after and what the fuck ever.

It’s not an entirely bad film. As I said, I like Slater’s performance in the lead role.  But most of the other performances are awful–Dunaway, Cook, O’Toole, Mia Farrow as Supergirl’s mother. Hart Bochner as Ethan is weird, because occasionally, he’s funny and charming, but he’s also played as an idiot, and worse, when he’s under the love spell, he’s whiny and pathetic.

Technically, the film is pretty good. The special effects are handled well, although some betray a lower budget than they might have wanted. The score is good, and as I said before, I really like Supergirl’s costume.

But the script is horrid, so nonsensical and full of off-the-wall occult references, that I’m reminded of Parsival, the romance by Wolfram Von Eschenbach that is mentioned in Trevor Ravenscroft’s Spear of Destiny (and no, I’m not recommending you read Spear of Destiny) as actually being a manual of spiritual awakening, coded in the form of a fictional tale. Or maybe The King In Yellow, the fictional play mentioned in the short stories by Robert W. Chambers, which drives men mad because of the occult secrets embedded within its nonsensical dialogue.

Perhaps Supergirl wasn’t meant to be watched literally at all. Perhaps its actually some sort of arcane manual, a coded message which can only be understood by an initiated few. Perhaps David Odell has a coven somewhere which meets once every few months to take mushrooms and watch Supergirl to expand their minds in occult directions and deepen their knowledge of arcane mysteries.

It makes as much sense as the idea that people were actually supposed to enjoy this shit on its merits.

So the Salkinds got out of the Kryptonian hero business and went on with their lives. At some point, they sold the rights to Cannon Group, after which Christopher Reeve apparently got really desperate for money.

But that’s next week with Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

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