Remember the Horta, from the Star Trek episode titled “Devil in the Dark”? I grew up watching Star Trek in black and white, so I’m always stunned to see it in color. It was news to me that the Horta was anything other than black with grey spots. In fact, it’s brown and orange, which makes it look like a shag rug or a wet piece of pepperoni pizza. And it turns out there’s a Hungarian underneath it, giving it life.
The Horta is a silicon-based life form that eats rock and wreaks havoc on a mining operation on what sounds like a pretty dismal planet. A handful of heroes from the starship Enterprise arrive to help the miners fight this acid-spewing “monster.”
Curious as to who played the part of the Horta, I looked it up. I thought someone must have a great story to tell at cocktail parties: “Oh, and in 1967 I played the Horta on Star Trek.” Turns out that someone was a Hungarian-born Hollywood actor and stuntman, Janos Prohaska. You can read a nice little biography of Prohaska here at Harpies Bizarre.
He got around. Prohaska was in a bear suit on The Andy Williams Show from 1969 to 1971, doing a regular comedy bit as Cookie Bear. Janos Prohaska also worked on Bewitched and Perry Mason and The Outer Limits.
Janos Prohaska was killed in a weird plane crash in 1974.
“Devil in the Dark” is a great episode, despite the cheesy monster costume and all the other oddball things about 1960s TV shows. Yes, the lines are dopey (McCoy: “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”), but in a classical way. At one point, Spock explains to Kirk that level 2 phasers are “far more powerful” than level 1 phasers. Always good to have a Science Officer on board!
The episode’s also got that basic bunny-hugging message, “hey, wait, it’s not a monster, it’s just a mommy!” As if the two are necessarily contradictory. First Kirk wants to kill it and Spock wants to save it, but by the end Kirk wants to save it and Spock wants to kill it. But Spock uses the Vulcan mind-meld to communicate with the Horta:
“Getting to know you….” “PAIN! PAIN!”
Kirk then finds the stash of Horta eggs and we get it — she was just protecting the eggs, that’s all. She doesn’t hate the miners — even though she owns the mine.
A mommy alien who spews acid kills a bunch of workers on a mining planet, and it turns out she’s merely protecting her eggs. Gosh, that would make a great movie with Sigourney Weaver.
In the end, everyone is happy except the Horta, who dies. Everyone’s happy, see, because the Horta’s been tending to thousands of eggs. Hortas eat rock, the miners need to penetrate rock, so the plan is the miners will exploit the baby Hortas for the Federation’s profit. These will be motherless Hortas, keep in mind (Spock,, who was briefly of one mind with Mama Horta, explains that “she tends to the eggs and then acts as their mother…”).
[Update: a reader informs us the Horta does not die in this episode… perhaps I condemned it to death because I assumed the new generation of horta includes the next mother horta. I mean, does this one mother horta live forever and only produce eggs every 50,000 years? Or maybe I cynically assumed the next generation of horta would put the mother horta on trial for the crime of selling her children into slavery… after all, the deal the horta makes boils down to “if you humans don’t kill us, we’ll do all your work for you.”]
It’s good to know that in the future we will be saving species so we can exploit their offspring. They’re lucky they’re not edible.
I snapped a shot of Dr. McCoy as he argues with Kirk, who has ordered him to try and heal the Horta. See, in their first encounter with the “monster,” Kirk and Spock shoot it and wound it. In the butt, as it turns out. They don’t explicity say this of course, but they do say that Spock has to touch its head for the mind-meld, and the wound IS on the opposite end of the Horta, so… once again McCoy has been punk’d by Kirk and Spock.
Unless of course, silicon-based life forms don’t even have butts.
For more Horta, check out this guy’s photo of the Horta behind a clapper, on set at filming in January of 1967.