Horror on the Power Rangers set
TO MOST sane adults, the phenomenal success of the Power Rangers during the 1990s was baffling.
The show was shockingly low-rent and brilliantly simple, taking stock footage from a Japanese television show named Sentai Zyuranger, and retrofitting an American superhero saga onto these wordless fighting scenes, starring brightly coloured heroes.
Working backwards from this found footage, the show's creator Haim Saban cast five American teenagers, paid them peanuts, worked them hard, and cheaply fleshed out the nonviolent segments of the show.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers launched in August 1993, and was basically a 50/50 blend of badly choreographed hand-to-hand combat from the Japanese stock footage, and badly-acted Saved By The Bell level teen drama from the American actors.
The five teens, so the show's premise goes, were chosen for their "attitudes" and thus granted the ability to morph into Power Rangers in order to foil the villainous Rita Repulsa - a Cruella De Vil meets the Wicked Witch of the West type.
Why these attitude-laden teens would actually want this job is never made clear, but they seemed committed to their destiny.
It goes without saying, therefore, that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers quickly became one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the '90s, turning over billions in merchandising, movies, and everything morphin'.
The television show is still running strong: next February will see the 26th series, which - in keeping with the spirit of the show - leans on stock footage from a 2012 Japanese show.
In May, toy giants Hasbro acquired the Power Rangers brand for half a billion dollars.
Despite this continued growth, it is the '90s run of Power Rangers episodes that launched the brand into the stratosphere.
They were crude, racially tone-deaf, and largely plotless. But the five main characters were broad enough, the acting was just the right side of terrible, the costumes weren't that bad, and the karate was the most violent thing a lot of kids got to see back then.
It made stars of its five young actors.
Unfortunately for fans with fond memories of these early Power Rangers episodes, it would seem these young stars were poorly treated on set.
David Yost, who played the nerdy Billy (the Blue Power Ranger) was relentlessly teased by staff for being homosexual, to the point where he stormed off set one day after enduring the abuse.
"The reason that I walked off is that I was called 'fag' one too many times. I had just heard that several times while working on the show from creators, producers, writers, directors," he explained in a 2010 interview.
"Basically I just felt like I was continually being told I was not worthy of being where I am because I'm a gay person.
"And I'm not supposed to be an actor. And I'm not a superhero."
He quit the show, with Billy sent to live on a distant planet - a suitably permanent way to write a character off.
Conditions on the non-union show were so bad that three of the original five Power Rangers quit abruptly, midway through the second season.
Red Ranger Jason, played by Austin St. John; Black Ranger Zack, played by Walter Emmanuel Jones, and Yellow Ranger Trini, aka Thuy Thang, all walked over a pay dispute. Despite the show's massive success, the actors were only earning $600 an episode. None of the kids had agents. Things got so dire that, when a resolution couldn't be met, all three actors were actually replaced midway through a two-part episode.
Yost, and Amy Jo Johnson, who played Kimberly, the Pink Ranger, were almost set on fire during the making of Power Rangers: The Movie in 1995, after a pyrotechnics stunt went wrong on the low-budget set.
"It was this machine and all of a sudden it started smoking", Johnson explained last year.
"I could see smoke out of the corner of my eyes, I was like 'What is happening?', and then we realised that the machine was on fire.
"Just silly things like that, that on a union set would never happen."
Johnson left the Power Rangers that same year, but returned for the 1997 movie.
In keeping with this disregard for on-set safety, Johnston was electrocuted on set during the filming of this, narrowly avoiding death.
After leaving the show in 1994, Austin St. John (Red Ranger) hit the skids.
"I ended up sleeping out of my jeep for a while with my dog," he told the Huffington Post.
In that same interview, he explains how the cast were worked hard for minimum pay.
"We worked around the damn clock. We worked long, long hard hours on a non-union show. And we'll just never be paid what we should have been paid."
Tragically, Thuy Thang (Trini, Yellow Ranger) was killed in a road accident in 2001.
She was travelling along the freeway, when the car she was in lost control, and slid into the rock face.
Her car flipped multiple times, and crashed over the safety rail and off the bank. She was 27 years old.
As the seasons rolled on, creator Haim Saban shuffled various teens in and out of the five main roles. In 2002, he unknowingly introduced the most infamous cast member of the show's history.
MURDER ROCKS THE CAST AND CREW OF POWER RANGERS
Ricardo Medina played Cole, the Red Ranger, in the tenth season of the show. He was also recast as a villain nine years later, with Saban obviously feeling the odds of anyone following the show for a solid decade and noticing this double casting were very slim.
In January 2015, three years after filming the show, Medina stabbed his 36-year-old housemate to death using a Conan the Barbarian sword.
Joshua Sutter and Medina had only lived together for two months at that point.
He claimed self-defence, saying Sutter stormed his bedroom after an argument.
Medina was arrested and held on $1 million bail, but was initially released without charges being filed. A year later, he was again arrested for the murder, and faced life in prison.
Medina pleaded his way down to a felony count of voluntary manslaughter, and is currently serving a six year prison term.
CREATOR SLAMS POWER RANGERS
The Power Rangers franchise has made its creator Haim Saban a billionaire, but he is famously dismissive of it. Still, he believed strongly in the initial idea, and fought resistance, telling NPR last March the show's success came after "significant rejection and repeated rejection."
St. John was still bitter about his treatment in 2014, saying "Saban just had absolutely zero conscience about making billions using our faces because it was his idea and he owned it."
Despite the hard times on set, actor Amy Jo Johnson thanked Haim Saban in an open letter published last year in Variety.
"I wanted to take this opportunity to finally thank you for allowing me to be your original Pink Power Ranger", she wrote.
"Now, despite the fact that this was a non-union television series and I was paid peanuts and almost died a few times because of the makeshift low-budget stunts we performed, I am forever grateful."
- Nathan Jolly is a Sydney-based writer who specialises in pop culture, music history, true crime and true romance. Continue the conversation on Twitter @nathanjolly