Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) - Wolfpack

Spidey takes on a mind-controlling villain.

After hitting what I consider to be the show's lowest point (despite the presence of Geoffrey Lewis) with the episode Photo Finish, the short-lived Amazing Spider-Man series thankfully swings back up with Wolfpack, a decently entertaining episode that even features an antagonist with supervillain potential. If this show had supervillains.

Directed by Joseph Manduke from a script by Stephen Kandel, Wolfpack finds that Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) has been assisting his grad student buddy Dave (Gavan O'Herlihy of Never Say Never Again and Death Wish 3) as Dave tries to develop a "consciousness control drug" for the Sorgenson chemical company. "Consciousness control drug" doesn't sound good, but the idea is that this could be put to use as an anesthetic. Peter is comfortable enough with the process that he has gotten his Daily Bugle co-worker Rita (Chip Fields) involved, typing up reports and even serving as a human test subject.

Things go wrong when an improper mixture of chemicals results in the accidental creation of a gas that makes people mindless zombies, completely open to suggestion. This accident is witnessed by Sorgenson representative George Hanson (Allan Arbus), a disgraced chemist who was accused of stealing chemical formulas back in the day but was never prosecuted. It becomes clear that Hanson really is a thief when we see his reaction to the realization that Dave, Rita, and fellow student Art (Will Seltzer) will do anything he commands them to. When they regain consciousness, they'll even forget what he made them do.

Hanson goes to work using this gas for criminal purposes, his heists getting bigger and more dangerous each time. After testing the gas by having Rita and the students steal a Gutenberg Bible from the college, Hanson next enlists a group of security guards to attempt a jewel heist, and then takes control of a platoon of Army soldiers to steal 1100 pounds of data files from Sorgenson.

A character actor who earned 75 screen credits during a 40 year career, Arbus is best known to me for his role as Arturo Vitroni in the Pam Grier / Jack Hill classic Coffy. He seemed to be having fun playing Hanson, but doesn't go too far with that fun to become over-the-top. He plays the role just right. Watching Hanson boss around his zombified lackeys, I could imagine him becoming a recurring villain (if this show had lasted) and taking on a name like Doctor Mindbender... Of course, he couldn't actually be Doctor Mindbender, that's a character from G.I. Joe, but something along the lines of that.

Wolfpack gets even better when its comic book style plot and villain is combined with the fact that Spider-Man is more useful in this episode than he was for most of this show's entire second season. Peter suits up multiple times and is present for each one of Hanson's heists. Hanson is ambitious, sure, but thanks to Spidey his success rate is in the toilet. The only thing holding Spider-Man back is that it takes him a while to deduce that Hanson is behind the crimes; that information has to be extracted from where it's buried in the minds of Dave and Rita.

This was one of the better episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man in my estimation, and certainly one of the best episodes of season 2. If there were more episodes of this quality, I'd be wishing this show had lasted a lot longer.

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