I confess that when I see an actor from the Comfort TV universe in a project well outside its safe borders, I find it disconcerting.
That doesn’t happen often because I’m not someone who seeks out horror movies with sadistic violence or exploitation films with other graphic content. But sometimes flipping channels you never know what you’ll see. A few months ago I accidentally stopped on a showing of Hostel: Part III, because I spotted Ernie Douglas from My Three Sons about to torture someone with power tools. If I saw that 20 years ago I’d still be in therapy.
Sid Haig is a more interesting example because he’s achieved his greatest fame as a psychotic murderer in two films I wouldn’t walk across the street to see for free (House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects). I concede that Haig makes an effective villain with his imposing 6’4” frame, swarthy beard and pockmarked visage. I’m just partial to his work as an evildoer who was still family hour friendly.
Here are some memorable TV moments from Sid before he got really vicious.
The Untouchables (1962)
Sid Haig’s television debut came in “The Case Against Eliot Ness,” a typically violent episode set amidst preparations for Chicago’s Century of Progress celebration. He appears about 25 minutes into the show as Augie, one of Frank Nitti’s hoods. You’ll probably recognize the voice before the face. He’s not around long but the episode (which is on YouTube) is worth a look for Pat Hingle’s fiery performance as a corrupt city councilman. Was there any other kind in Chicago back then?
The Lucy Show (1965) and Here’s Lucy (1969)
Haig appeared twice with TV’s first lady, and coincidentally it was in two of the most bizarre episodes of her respective series. “Lucy and the Monsters” may be the worst offering in six seasons of The Lucy Show, but it’s one of those rare examples of an episode that is so awful it actually becomes rather fascinating. I watch it every Halloween. Haig plays a mummy in the episode’s extended dream sequence that finds Lucy and Viv in a haunted castle. Only his eyes are visible beneath the bandages.
From Here’s Lucy, “Lucy and the Great Airport Chase” was filmed entirely on location, a rarity for any Lucy episode. The plot here is one long, silly chase sequence around Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where Lucy is given a secret formula by a spy, and is then pursued through terminals, tarmacs and baggage conveyer belts. Haig plays an enemy agent who vows, “Formula 14 will never reach the so-called free world.” If you ever wanted to see scary Sid Haig take a pie in the face, this is the show for you.
Star Trek (1967)
“The Return of the Archons” is the first of several Trek episodes in which Captain Kirk outsmarts a computer, as well as one of Gene Roddenberry’s more heavy-handed condemnations of socialism. Haig plays the First Lawgiver, one of the hooded figures charged with keeping a brainwashed society in check for its mechanical master. Not much of a part, but over the years I’ll bet he signed plenty of photos from the episode at conventions.
Get Smart (1967)
Max infiltrates a gang of thieves in London that includes The Turk (Haig) a master of weapons. “That Old Gang of Mine” gave Haig one of his meatier sitcom guest spots, as he works alongside Don Adams in an extended (and very funny) heist sequence played without dialogue. Haig’s reactions to Smart’s bumbling reveal a largely untapped talent for comedy.
Mission: Impossible (1968)
Given the number of episodes set in fictional foreign lands, it’s not surprising that Haig, with his flexibly ethnic features, would be utilized often (nine times!) on Mission: Impossible as various henchmen and heavies in Arabian, Latin or Eastern European locales. “The Diplomat” didn’t offer much of a challenge beyond the menacing look he had already mastered, but it’s the best episode in which he appears. He plays Grigor, one of three enemy agents in possession of vital U.S. defense secrets. The IM Force must convince them that the authentic information is inaccurate.
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976)
A superhero series always rich in over-acting serves up a Golden Corral Buffet of scenery chewing in “Ali Baba.” Haig plays a nasty genie opposite veteran screen baddie Malachi Throne. He delivers lines like “Soon you will be the most powerful man in the world!” with diabolical gusto, while Judy Strangis (as an evil Dyna Girl) sets a new and yet to be equaled benchmark in maniacal villain laughter.
Jason of Star Command (1978)
Before his cult movie status kicked in, Sid Haig’s most prominent claim to fame was this serialized Saturday morning sci-fi series. It was ambitious for its time, as were all of the 1970s Filmation live action shows, which is one reason why it’s still so fondly remembered. Haig played Dragos, “master of the cosmos” whose plots to conquer the galaxy were thwarted by Jason and his pocket robot WIKI. There’s a Flash Gordon vs. Ming vibe to these adventures, and Haig impressively maintains an optimal level of villainy – intimidating enough to frighten younger viewers without traumatizing them.
Charlie’s Angels (1978)
“Diamond in the Rough” is a fun caper episode set in the Caribbean (but shot in the Hollywood Hills) in which the Angels are hired to steal a priceless diamond protected by a high-tech security system and a poisonous snake. Haig plays Reza, who is supposed to be protecting the gem but loses focus when confronted with the seductive charms of Kelly Garrett. Who could blame him?
Fantasy Island (1978)
In “The Sheikh” Arte Johnson plays a meek teacher who dreams of having his own harem. Sid Haig plays Hakeem, palace bodyguard and conspirator in a plot to assassinate the new sheikh. Once again Mr. Roarke nearly gets one of his guests killed without being sued, in a story that offers a perfect blend of ‘70s jiggle TV and dated Middle Eastern stereotypes.
Sledge Hammer! (1987)
Now more than 20 years into his acting career, Sid Haig still received scripts from shows like The A-Team, The Fall Guy, MacGyver and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, offering the parts of outlaw bikers, scary foreigners and other ne’er do wells that by now he could play in his sleep. He’s a bad guy again here in the funny Robocop parody “Hammeroid,” but at least he gets some laughs as military traitor General Skull Fracture.