The MST3K Journal: Season 5

When you get down to it, Season 5 was an otherwise ordinary set of twenty-four episodes. However, it was halfway through that the fandom experienced a traumatic event that would go down into legend. Brothers turned against their own brothers and handed them over to be killed. Children rebelled against their parents and had them put to death. Dogs and cats living together. Also wailing and gnashing of teeth. But then the revelation of something like the existence of Hamdingers will leave a mark on your soul.

I kid, of course. The reactions to Joel leaving and being replaced by Mike is something that, in retrospect, looks silly in the excessiveness of it all. Then again, I’m a latecomer who didn’t become aware of the show’s existence until its twilight years on SciFi. Had I been in the thick of the action, I’ll concede that I would have almost certainly fallen prey to the madness. But most have come to terms with the change and look back on their behavior at the time with a twinge of embarrassment. At least they should if they have any sense of decency.

The new host would also present a different attitude. Though occasionally exhibiting rebellious behavior, for the most part Joel was submissive to the Mads. Not so with Mike, who was defiant to his core and regularly sought a way to escape from his situation. Since we wouldn’t have a show otherwise, these attempts inevitably concluded in failure.

While the movie selection saw many entries from familiar genres, a few new ones were introduced. We saw our first superhero movie, our first old school isekai (as Kids These Days call them) movie, two westerns, and two spy movies attempting to hitch onto the James Bond gravy train (with one being especially brazen about it).

The content of the host segments also saw a shake-up. Sketches that lasted over multiple host segments became more common. The Invention Exchange (which played off Joel’s prop comedy background) was quietly retired, with the movie introduction usually being preceded by the Mads subjecting Mike and the Bots to an experiment or competition. Also, Mary Jo Pehl made her onscreen debut as an Amazon soccer mom.

Speaking of the Mads, they cropped up during the inter-movie host segments much more frequently than they did in the Joel era. This gave us a more detailed look into life in Deep 13, whether we wanted it or not.

Well, that’s all the introduction I have, so let’s get on with the experiments.

501: Warrior of the Lost World [Grade: B]

Antiheroes are a tricky sort of protagonist to pull off. Their motives are by nature more selfish than with a traditional hero. Yet they must possess at least a few redeeming traits so that audiences can sympathize. Probably the best-known example of an antihero done right is Han Solo. The primary issue for this post-apocalyptic film is that the nameless protagonist remains unlikable throughout and always needs to have his arm twisted to do any good.

Except we don’t really get a solid impression of either side possessing moral superiority. The designated villain organization possesses some overt trappings of evil. They have Donald Pleasance as their Blofeld-like leader, their mook troops wearing black uniforms, and their insignia looks like a Nazi armband with an omega in place of a swastika. Subtle it is not. But that’s all we really get. Meanwhile, the designated hero organization is very mystical, and that’s about it. I suppose you could see the absurd casualty ratios as an indicator as to who is in the right. Designated hero deaths are virtually nonexistent on account of the inability of the black-clad mooks to hit the broadside of a barn inside the barn. Even the Star Wars franchise can be bothered to kill off a few name characters from the protagonist side.

Another annoyance comes in the form of the lead protagonist’s motorcycle, which is equipped with a KITT-like AI. Only instead of William Daniels, its voice is high-pitched and squealy and speaks by repeating the same sentence two or three times. It’s quite satisfying to watch it get crushed under the weight of Megaweapon. Megaweapon is the real hero.

Host segments are mostly winners, such as Servo and Crow being fitted to slot cars and a sketch where they envision the mush mouth protagonist as a whiny teenager who flunks his learner’s permit test and has to be driven by his mom in a minivan.

  • Favorite riff: You swing your partner with the chain, ’cause love is best when there’s sweet pain. Dosy do.
  • Stinger: The Paper Chase Guy leers at Persis Khambatta.
  • Alternate Stinger: A mook receives a groin grenade.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters audibly converse with one another.

502: Hercules [Grade: A]

Steve Reeves is back as Hercules. But not really, since this is technically the first Hercules movie he appeared in. While a bunch of myths and original material are stitched together as is typical with these Sword & Sandal films, the main plot focuses on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Also standard operating procedure is that liberties are taken with the source material, even when considering how different tellings from ancient times can be inconsistent on the details. One of the more notable instances is how the serpent/dragon that guards the Fleece looks more like a T. Rex. There’s also a random encounter with Amazons during the voyage.

The biggest issue is not with the movie itself, but how it was cut to fit in the MST3K time slot. These Sword & Sandal films are among the longest to be featured on the show, with Hercules clocking in at an hour and forty-seven minutes in its original form. As a result, it’s hard to discern if a plot oversight is caused by the inopportune edit of a key bit of exposition or merely ineptitude on the screenwriter’s part.

Host segments are an odd lot. Crow’s one-man Match Game show is quite bizarre, especially when it takes a sudden morose turn. Sometime after seeing it, I came across 1970s-era Match Game episodes online. I found that Crow’s impression of Brett Somers was so bad…

“How bad was it?”

It was so bad that, combined with the androgyny of the name, I thought Brett Somers was supposed to be a man. A bit more nasal and a bit less smoker’s voice would have made it more convincing. At least his takes on Charles Nelson Reilley and Nipsy Russell were passable. The best one was when they were visited by a pair of Amazons in their space minivan, hilariously portrayed by Bridget and Mary Jo as Midwestern soccer moms. Though considering the high percentage of people of Scandinavian descent in that region, you’d think that characterization would be more appropriate for Valkyries.

  • Favorite riff: Looks like it’s a big, brawny, hairy, glistening, two-fisted, manly day!
  • Stinger: “It’s like something out of a bad dream”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. All conversations between female characters are about either Hercules or the crew of the Argo.

503: Swamp Diamonds (with What to Do on a Date) [Grade: C-]

Another episode where the short overwhelms the feature. What to Do on a Date follows nebbish chump Nick as he works up the nerve to ask out his crush Kaye, but even then, he’s not sure what they can do together. Maybe take her to a rummage sale or a weenie roast. Sad, really.

The main feature is notable in part for being an early role for Mike Connors of Mannix (da-da da-da!) fame. It involves a female cop being sent to infiltrate an imprisoned girl gang and help them break out. Once free, it’s hoped that they’ll recover a stash of stolen diamonds they hid out on the bayou. It’s a tedious affair and evidence that Roger Corman doesn’t really fare well when handling mundane subject matter.

During the yellow and brown Mardi Gras parade (probably not the one in New Orleans), there’s a brief shot of what looks like some guys in blackface. Since it takes place in 1950s Louisiana, that’s not a big surprise. What is unexpected is that it goes unremarked by the Joel and the Bots. Another unfortunate thing was Beverly Garland’s hair, with that unnatural shade of red making it plain that it came from a bottle.

But a rattlesnake gets plugged with a .38 on camera, so the production wasn’t a complete waste.

As alluded to earlier, the host segments completely ignore the feature and reenact the short, with Servo as a more deluded version of Nick asking Gypsy out on a date. Unlike the short where it’s indicated that the relationship between Nick and Kaye is going in a promising direction, it’s an utter disaster which concludes with Gypsy giving the Let’s Just Be Friends Talk.

  • Favorite riff: “You’re going to be pursued. Unsuccessfully, of course.” Story of my life, sir.
  • Stinger: “Shut up!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. There are multiple non-male conversations held among Lee and the gang members.

504: Secret Agent Super Dragon [Grade: B]

Back in the 1960s, it seemed like every studio was intent on creating the next James Bond. The Italians were especially keen on this. Mixed in with the spaghetti westerns and the Sword & Sandal films were scads of superspy flicks, usually with an American as the lead.

The villain’s scheme in this one involves some sort of drug-laced chewing gum that doesn’t really make much sense. Part of me suspects that it’s a component in one of the many plots concocted in Pinky and the Brain. Also, his minions seem unusually ready to commit suicide at the slightest provocation. Sad, really. As for our master spy, he’s the sort of smarmy, unctuous cad you got in the spy films of this period. Oh, and apparently Michigan has canyons. Overall a rather underwhelming example of the genre.

As for host segments, the best one involves Crow whipping up a screenplay entitled The Spy Who Hugged Me, in which the superspy is very sensitive and kind of femmy to reflect modern sensibilities or something like that. The Invention Exchange is also one of the more memorable ones, with Joel and the bots demonstrate Micro Golf (played on microscope slides) and Frank enjoying himself on the Virtual Comedy Simulator (until Dr. Forrester cranks up the heckler setting).

  • Favorite riff: Well, at least his vicious beating has a cool accompaniment.
  • Stinger: An acrobatic thug leaps onto Super Dragon’s back, with xylophone accompaniment.
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Cynthia and Charity comment on the auction.

505: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad [Grade: A+]

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room, shall we? That’s not Sinbad, either the legendary sailor or the stand-up comic. Rather it’s a renowned Slavic adventurer known as Sadko and this was originally a film version of the Rimsky-Korsakov (of “Flight of the Bumblebee” fame) opera. Though curiously enough, director Aleksandr Ptushko had previously been involved with an animated short called Sinbad the Sailor. Judging from the stills on IMDB, that was Sinbad.

The basic plot involves our hero going off on a voyage to find the Bluebird of Happiness and bring it back to Copasand (actually Novgorod). He fails miserably of course and returns without so much as a friendly chicken. But it gets proclaimed that the metaphorical Bluebird of Happiness had always been within them. Bah! Bah, I say! Bah!

Like the other Soviet-backed fantasy films that have been screened on MST3K, it’s colorful and bizarre. This particularly comes through during the third act when He’s Not Sinbad visits the kingdom of Neptune, with the catfish puppet and the disco ball octopus and the escape by riding on a giant seahorse.

Host segments are a strong lot this time around, with the top one being Crow leaving on a voyage of discovery, only it doesn’t go too well. The town meeting for addressing the Sinbad Problem is also worthy of a few guffaws.

  • Favorite riff: Hoist the Failure Sails, mates. We’re going home.
  • Stinger: The magical white horse laughs maniacally.
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. There is no instance of two female characters conversing.

506: Eegah [Grade: C]

Another rehash of the King Kong formula, though with a less extreme size difference between the belle and the bête. Our sex-starved brute is an immortal cave man portrayed by hulking goon standby Richard Kiel. The damsel is Roxy, whose actress was allegedly the producer’s secretary. Seeing as her other two film credits were with the same producer, this seems plausible. Then there is her ineffectual chump of a boyfriend portrayed by one Arch Hall Jr. The Brains as well as many viewers were repulsed by his oddly shaped face. For me, it’s the pompadour he sports which I find off-putting.

So how did such a useless lump get cast as the male lead? If you check out the IMDB entry, you’ll see Arch Hall Sr. listed as director, writer, producer, and the actor portraying Roxy’s father Mr. Miller. Not that this is immediately apparent to the casual viewer, as he used a couple of different pseudonyms in the credits. The script sticks close to the standard beats for this kind of story. But there are moments where it gets kind of gross, particularly concerning Eegah’s Torgo-like romancing techniques.

The most memorable host segment is where the Bots surgically alter Joel to look like Arch Hall Jr., with Gypsy as a condescending nurse adding the perfect touch. Along with the prologue where Joel’s putting a stop to freezing Crow to absolute zero causes him to fall apart and his slapdash repair job, these come across as something you’d expect from Mike’s time as host. Though we are getting into that overlap period. There are also a couple of those random talk segments, the more interesting one being on why so many 1960s sitcom dads are widowers.

  • Favorite riff: Would the gentleman beside the pool please discontinue the song, and watch out for snakes.
  • Stinger: “Fake it.” “That’s what I’ve BEEN doing. Now I’m getting sick!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. There is no instance of two females conversing, with Roxy being the only speaking female through most of the film.

507: I Accuse My Parents (with The Truck Farmer) [Grade: A+++]

Perhaps you’ve considered instructing some half-wit kid who believes that foodstuffs are magically conjured onto store shelves about the nature of logistics and supply chains. In that case, The Truck Farmer might not be the best tool for this. As well as being over sixty years out of date, the narrative structure is a bit random (though still not as bad as Barbers and Beauticians).

Speaking of stupid kids, our main feature’s protagonist Jimmy Wilson is one of less astute lead characters we’ve encountered in these movies, and that’s saying something. The riffing focuses primarily on his gullibility. Certainly, you can shake your head in disbelief at how he doesn’t suspect that being paid large amounts of cash to deliver packages in the small hours might be a little sketchy. But there’s also his inability to learn from his mistakes. Consider the whole essay contest fiasco, where he pretended to have ideal parents when they’re really a couple of Lockhorn-style drunkards. You’d think the derisive laughter of his classmates when his mom shows up at the graduation planning meeting absolutely plastered would shame him into keeping his yap shut on the subject in the future. But on meeting curvy blonde nightclub singer Kitty Reed, he’s back to spouting the same falsehoods. Sad, really.

Of course, he topped all this by claiming that at the root of all his misfortune was the shoddy job his parents did in raising him. Now granted Ma and Pa Wilson weren’t exactly setting a good example. Still, other than his chronic lying, he appears to have a basic grasp of right and wrong. His primary failing is that he’s a spineless nitwit, and that’s all on him. So it doesn’t really hold water, though the film would have you think otherwise.

The host segments are in top form, with the best being where Joel and the Bots try to chart the intricacies of Jimmy’s messed-up life.

  • Favorite riff: So then my mom says to Roosevelt and Churchill, she says, “What about some kind of Lend-Lease Program?”
  • Stinger: Mr. Wilson laughs at his wife’s stupid hat.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. Both conversations between Kitty and Vera are about Jimmy.

508: Operation Double 007 [Grade: B+]

As mentioned with Secret Agent Super Dragon, back in the 1960s you couldn’t swing a dead shark with a laser beam without hitting a James Bond knock-off. But this one went the extra mile by casting Sean Connery’s brother Neil in the lead role as the brother of Britain’s most capable agent. Going a couple more extra miles, it also featured Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell (M and Miss Moneypenny respectively), as well as the From Russia with Love Bond Girl and the villains from Thunderball and Dr. No.

But while the Connery angle is hammered in for all it’s worth, the camp value is more likely to recall Roger Moore’s tenure in the franchise. As for what the evil scheme is, there seem to be quite a few, with no clear indication on how they connect. Something to do with an anti-tech device and radioactive carpets that will somehow cause the world’s gold reserves to fall into the hands of the villain organization. The Bond parody sketches on Round the Horne has less ridiculous schemes (except maybe the cold porridge one).

Of the host segments, it’s clear that the best one is where they chart and compare the life fortunes of Sean and Neil Connery. Obviously, this occurred well before the former made his much-derided appearance in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Meanwhile, the one where Torgo returns to Deep 13 with some Mr. Pibb makes more sense if you’ve watched the episodes in order.

  • Favorite riff: Sean Connery’s brother won’t be back again. In anything.
  • Stinger: Largo pushes the button.
  • Alternate Stinger: A shot minion does a Mamie dive.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. The old woman subjects Yoshiko to a general interrogation.

509: The Girl in Lovers Lane [Grade: C-]

Bleh. These mundane dramas rarely do anything for me. And I doubt you could find two less interesting characters than clueless runaway Danny Winslow and cynical drifter Bix Dugan, at least not on such short notice. Bix’s awkward romance with lonely waitress Carrie is also a trial to sit through. Joel and the Bots do make a game effort with their riffing, but they aren’t able to fully hold back the tedium. One of those different in retrospect riffs is how they note the physical resemblance between creepy stalker Jesse (portrayed by character actor Jack Elam) and Garrison Keillor. Though it’s probably not all that relevant, the film’s script was written by Jo Heims, who would later team up with Clint Eastwood to take part in the writing of Play Misty for Me and Dirty Harry.

Of the host segments, the memorable one is when Crow becomes Jack Elam’s character. I particularly like how they emulate Elam’s wonky eye. There was also the Invention Exchange where Dr. Forrester and Frank come up with evil baseball promotions. Back when Satellite News still did them, there was a weekend discussion where people were asked to come up with their own evil baseball promotions. My contribution was Chocolate Bar Night, where everyone gets a free chocolate bar. Now you might say that there’s nothing evil about that. Well behold the subtle working of my talents! The catch is that the chocolate bars are really Ex-Lax. Okay, maybe not all that subtle. But if you though the restrooms at your team’s stadium were already disgusting, just wait.

  • Favorite riff: He does look like an easy target for thugs. Hell, I’d like to beat him up.
  • Stinger: “Are you waiting for a bus?”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. All Carrie and Peggy talk about with each other is guys

510: The Painted Hills (with Body Care and Grooming) [Grade: D+]

The short gets off on the wrong foot immediately when the narrator takes on a judgmental tone regarding the disheveled young woman. As a result, instinctive contrariness results in viewers dismissing everything he says. This despite how he makes the occasional valid point.

As for the feature, apparently someone saw Treasure of the Sierra Madre and got the idea it should be remade into a Lassie film. Since Treasure of the Sierra Madre is already terrible, this is a dubious line of thought. What’s even more unfortunate is that it means an annoying kid is added to the storyline as a result. Lassie is unusually vicious in this one, frequently attempting to maul the film’s antagonist. Really the only other thing worth noting is the presence of Chief Yowlachie as the medicine man. Most of his lines are what is presumably native dialect. Assuming it’s not just gibberish, there’s a strong possibility (if Tony Hillerman is to be believed) that he’s saying something obscene, or at least rude.

The host segments are a worthy lot, with Crow’s poorly researched report on Rutherford B. Hayes being especially hilarious. The one where Servo crushes Crow into an ingot has some creative puppet design behind it.

  • Favorite riff: Now is this the real Old West or the Roy Rogers Old West where they had electricity and cars?
  • Stinger: Naughty girl gives a come-hither look from the shower.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another.

511: Gunslinger [Grade: D]

The dreariness just keeps coming. In my above remarks concerning Swamp Diamonds, I mentioned that I believe the handling of mundane settings are a weak point for Roger Corman. Consider this movie as Exhibit B. Beverly Garland portrays Rose Hood, the wife of a town marshal who was killed by hired thugs. So she badgers the mayor into letting her take up her deceased husband’s badge to take down the miscreants. You could see Corman as being a bit ahead of his time by featuring such a go-getter as the female lead. The film can also be said to have presaged some of the more nihilistic undertones associated with the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. There is a myriad of secondary plots, most of them irrelevant filler aside from the land speculation scheme by the shady saloon owner. Not that it matters, since everyone except Rose is killed by the end.

Host segments are fairly underwhelming this time around. A couple are moderately clever (such as Servo’s demonstration of quantum linear super-positioning), but nothing gut-bustingly hilarious. In particular, the one where they discuss their funerals is bland and goes nowhere.

  • Favorite riff: “I’m the same man that’s wanted in three states and five territories, remember?” And I’m not allowed in The Sizzler.
  • Stinger: Rose runs the dancing girls out of town with just the clothes on their backs.
  • Alternate Stinger: Rose shovels dirt into a thug’s face.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Rose and Erica have multiple non-male conversations with each other and with the dancing girls.

512: Mitchell [Grade: B-]

Not since the conclusion of the Doctor Who serial “The Tenth Planet” has there been such a fraught change in cast, with a similar mixed reaction from the fanbase. But first our feature, which looks like a TV movie even though it apparently received a theatrical release. Pretty much the only thing that distinguishes it from the other cop shows of the 1970s is the repulsiveness of the title character. The apparent intent is a cowboy cop in the vein of Harry Callahan, but the overall characterization is too slobbish to pull it off.

Then there’s the fact that Mitchell isn’t that good a cop. This is notable in how he tries to prove that Deaney had altered the scene of his shooting a burglar to make it look like self-defense. In the manner of a tenth-rate Encyclopedia Brown knockoff, he determines that the burglar was too short to have gotten one of the pistols mounted on the wall which he supposedly wielded. But even if this evidence hadn’t been obtained illegally, there are a multitude of ways that a competent defense attorney could rip it to shreds. He also earns low marks in surveillance. After being assigned to watch a suspected drug runner, he practically comes up to the guy and introduces himself. Add in tepid chase scenes and shootouts and you have what amounts to some uncompelling viewing. Good thing Joel and the Bots are in top form with their riffing, or it would have also been painful.

Obviously, the host segments focus on Joel’s departure. The highlight of these is the parody of the HAL lipreading scene from 2001. From a vantage point of nearly thirty years later, it was handled as smoothly as could be expected.

  • Favorite riff: Sorry, bud. We thought you were Rockford.
  • Stinger: “You’re lying through your teeth!” “Buzz off!” “No, you buzz off!” “I SAID BUZZ OFF, KID!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another.

513: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die [Grade: C-]

As initial movies for a host go, this feature is considerably rougher going than The Crawling Eye or Reptilicus. After the string of crime dramas and westerns, we’re back to more traditional MST3K fare of a mad scientist Tampering in God’s Domain. Dr. Cortner leans more towards the tradition established by Herbert West, as he uses a specially brewed chemical to reanimate organic parts. It certainly comes in handy when his fiancée Jan gets decapitated in a car accident.

This begs the question on how she can talk without any lungs. While this sort of thing is normally handwaved, an explanation of sorts is provided. It’s indicated that Jan in the Pan (as Mike and the Bots call her) has developed telepathy as a result of her reanimation. Her primary use of this is to communicate with a monster locked up in a closet, because of course there’s a monster locked up in a closet. So, it’s not a stretch to assume that this is what’s really occurring when she talks to Cortner and his lackey Kurt, and she just moves her lips out of habit.

Overall it hits many of the standard beats for a mad scientist film. Monster gets loose, kills the lackey and the mad scientist (though this instance is much more graphic than what is usually seen), carries off a damsel, and causes the laboratory to go up in flames. The one distinguishing aspect is the greasy coating of sleaziness as Cortner goes looking for a replacement body to pop Jan’s head on.

Hard as it may be to believe, someone actually produced and released a remake in 2020. When I first saw the IMDB entry, I believed it to be a hoax on account of its initial release date being listed as April 1. But apparently it’s real and was screened at a virtual version of the Portland Horror Film Festival in June of that year.

Host segments are surprisingly unmemorable for such a key episode in the show’s history. The one that sticks out the most is where Mike is convinced to recount an embarrassing story from his past and the Bots give him a hard time over it. Though sketches of this nature were hardly unknown during Joel’s tenure (Wild Rebels and The Giant Gila Monster immediately come to mind), they were more frequent for Mike, reflecting the different relationship he had with the Bots.

  • Favorite riff: You’re not my dad! You’re Hitler!
  • Stinger: “Who’s to tell me to blow, if I don’t want to?”
  • Alternate Stinger: Kurt is disarmed.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. The two strippers exchange insults. Also, Donna and Minnie briefly talk about the beauty contest.

514: Teen-Age Strangler (with Is This Love?) [Grade: D-]

The short applies the “Goofus and Gallant” formula to the romantic relationships of two college roomies. But even considering how shorts of this type tend to present the two situations as extreme contrasts, Peg still comes across as a colossal idiot. The sad part is that her self-destructive behavior isn’t that implausible.

The feature can be described as what you would get if you crossed a 1950s teen angst film with a slasher flick. There’s even a female victim who gets killed by the mad strangler while she’s nude. Though the vintage of the movie means viewers don’t get to see anything. It’s not all that memorable except for Mikey, the younger brother of the film’s brooding persecuted teen. Mikey is what Mr. B Natural would be like as a whiny chump with no social skills. Even those of us who once resembled Mikey in our younger days may have trouble resisting the urge to give him a wedgie or at least a wuss slap.

Host segments are still going through the change of host adjustment period, with none that particularly stand out. In particular, “I’m a Janitor” is probably the weakest song of the season (though I suspect this would be a minority opinion).

  • Favorite riff: Meanwhile, back in the cold, bitter, loveless life of her parents.
  • Stinger: “And he didn’t steal no bike neither. I did!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Betty and Ann speculate on the nature of a sinister noise from the dark.

515: The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman (with Cheating) [Grade: A]

There’s something about the first episode you encounter from a show that you eventually become a fan of. For instance, my first Doctor Who serial was “Revenge of the Cybermen”, for which I have a great fondness even though it’s widely regarded as mediocre at best. Similarly, the opinion on this episode is very much split, though not provoking the same levels of nerd rage as certain other episodes. But it was my first proper exposure to MST3K and will always have a special place in my heart.

Much of this has to do with the infamous Cheating short, where John Taylor’s entire life is ruined when he gets caught cheating on an algebra test. Mind you, his pal Mary did a terrible job of explaining to John how factoring equations works. And that brings up a theory I’ve concocted. I posit that Mary is filled with rage over John’s inability to comprehend what she regards as a blindingly obvious process. This is why she’s not exactly discrete when she allows John to copy her answers. Her fury is such that she’s willing to take a hit to her own grades so long as John goes down in flames. An uncut copy I recently came across on YouTube that includes a scene where the narrator comments on how Mary is starting to resent the way John takes her help for granted bolsters this hypothesis.

As for the feature, it’s clearly intended to cash in on the popularity of the 1960s Batman television series, but with a lot more cheesecake. Truth be told, it’s a colossal mess littered with scenes that either go nowhere or have no connection to the narrative. Even the main plot is poorly thought out. Rat Fink’s scheme is needlessly complicated by bringing in Batwoman and her dingbat Batbabes. Had he not deliberately drawn her in, the caper could have been pulled off with far less effort. The only reason (and it’s plausible though stupid) for him to do so is a petty desire to show up Batwoman.

Host segments are finally clicking after the mediocrity of the past couple of episodes. The short is the focus (though the feature isn’t completely ignored) and provides for one of the better multi-segment sketches. I particularly like how Gypsy thinks that it’s an amazing coincidence that Crow’s essay on cheating is identical to hers.

  • Favorite riff: If I could get all the dancing Ratfinks on one side of the stage and all the singing Ratfinks on the other, please?
  • Stinger: The batgirl gives Bruno a bat bite.
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Batwoman calls for a vote on skipping directly to the main business of the meeting and the Batgirls respond in the affirmative.

516: Alien from L.A. [Grade: C]

The film industry has been known for shooting movies with a non-actor (usually a singer, athlete, or model) in the lead role for some time. The performances they give rarely make it above mediocre. In this respect, Kathy Ireland is no different in this film. However, she experiences a handicap that was common for silent film actresses like Dolores Costello and Paulette Goddard. Though they were easy on the eyes, the transition to talkies revealed speaking voices that could be tactfully described as unpleasant. But even they can’t compare to the ear-piercing squeak which Ireland emits. Not having seen any other media in which she appears, I can’t say for sure if that’s her real speaking voice or if it’s something the director had her do. I hope for her sake it’s the latter. Meanwhile, male lead William Moses affects this horrible caricature of what may be intended to be an Australian accent that comes and goes at random. Since these two do the bulk of the talking, it’s a torturous auditory experience.

The plot? It’s some underground hidden civilization setting with a production design that employs the grungy looks of 1980s science fiction popularized by Blade Runner. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything more. It’s that much of a mess.

Of the host segments, “My Wild Irish Ireland” is one of the better songs of the fifth season. Dr. Forrester’s Vend-A-Gut invention is also quite nasty, especially when you consider how this was before bill accepters that wouldn’t take anything less than fresh from the bank crisp existed.

  • Favorite riff: Dad’s yearbook. He was voted Most Likely to Have an Annoying Daughter.
  • Stinger: “Yuck!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Wanda has a general non-male conversation with the blonde bartender. Also, the Southern waitress takes orders from some female customers.

517: Beginning of the End [Grade: A-]

Bert I. Gordon is back, and this time the featured oversized abominations are grasshoppers. And much like the SDF in various kaiju films, the American military is largely helpless against this threat (though in this case it’s more thanks to overwhelming numbers). The technique used to realize them is a combination of split screen and rear projection. Though during their climatic infestation of Chicago, the effect for one scaling the Wrigley Building is accomplished by having it walk along a postcard. Needless to say, the illusion is shattered once it steps on the sky without any unfortunate consequences.

The ultimate solution to eradicating the pests involves using audio equipment set up in a boat on Lake Michigan to simulate a mating call. Thus, the lust-crazed locusts are lured to their cold, watery deaths. Mind you, there’s bound to be some long-term ecological ramifications having all those bug corpses floating about. As if Calumet Harbor wasn’t already a mess. There were also some human characters but, as with kaiju movies, they don’t particularly register.

Host segments are a mixed lot. Especially weak was Servo’s grasshopper stand-up comedy routine, which did its job too well. By that, I mean that the apparent intent was to show how the style of stand-up used isn’t very funny, resulting in a sketch that falls flat. More promising are the reading of Crow’s screenplay about Peter Graves at the University of Minnesota and an unwitting look into the daily life of Dr. Forrester and Frank. Just plain bizarre is when they get a wrong number on the hexfield from a trailer park trash woman portrayed with unsettling conviction by Mary Jo Pehl.

  • Favorite riff: “You can’t drop an atom bomb on Chicago!” Sure you can!
  • Stinger: “Alright, men. Into the woods.”
  • Alternate Stinger: Frank signs a scream.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another, with Audrey being the only female character through most of the film.

518: The Atomic Brain (with What About Juvenile Delinquency?) [Grade: B-]

The short has not aged well. Notwithstanding their beating up a guy for sitting at a stop sign for too long, the threat posed by these would be punks isn’t that convincing. The proposed restrictions by the more hardline members of the city council are also comical in how over the top they are.

Meanwhile, the feature is another foray into mad science, where the Tampering in God’s Domain involves reanimating corpses and swapping brains between bodies employing atomic energy. The whole purpose is that miserly biddy Mrs. March wants to be young and beautiful and has hired three foreign women under false pretenses as domestics. The only authentic accent belongs to Nina, whose actress is originally from Germany. The others (particularly Bea) are not that convincing. The rest of the film moves at a sluggish pace and is quite tedious. The one truly distinctive aspect is the audio. As well as poorly synced ADR and unusual music selections, there’s a narrator that pops in from time to time. He mostly expresses the inner thoughts of the antagonist characters, sometimes switching between characters in mid-narration to jarring effect.

If there’s someone to blame for this, it would be Sue Dwiggins. For most of her career, she was a production secretary. Though she did manage a couple other writing credits, this movie appears to have been her personal dream project. As well as writing and producing, she also did props, assistant camera, wardrobe, and script supervision.

Host segments are again hit and miss. Weather Servo Nine is a gut buster, and Magic Voice being harassed by the movie’s narrator gets a few chuckles. The rest are rather weak, with the chin puppet being especially unfunny.

  • Favorite riff: The continental breakfast is at eight, and if you hear screaming, don’t listen.
  • Stinger: Anita screams.
  • Alternate Stinger: The night watchman’s delightfully whimsical murder.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. There are multiple non-male conversations conducted among Nina, Bea, Anita, and Mrs. March.

519: Outlaw [Grade: B+]

I’ll readily admit that I haven’t read any of John Norman’s Gor novels, descriptions of which give the impression of a knock-off of the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Much of their notoriety comes from their alleged misogyny. The levels of unflattering depictions of female characters claimed can range across the spectrum of possibilities depending on who you ask. The one that strikes me as being most plausible (though I may be wrong) is that the first few volumes were perfectly serviceable sword and planet novels, but they went off the rails later.

This film adaptation is similarly ambiguous. The costuming is typical for a 1980s Pecs & Pulchritude fantasy movie. While this means the female cast isn’t wearing much, it’s not like they’re being singled out. Aside from a couple of geezer characters, the men wear just as little and frequently even less (including several who really shouldn’t). The sticking point comes with Lara, the requisite Evil Queen (you can tell she’s evil because she’s the only female character who doesn’t have frizzy Eighties Hair). This archetype can be mishandled easily, and the movie does so in an epic fashion. In essence, she always acts on malicious impulse with no evidence of rational behavior. Or as the Xenos (portrayed by Jack Palance) puts it more colorfully, she is, “Behaving like a bitch in heat and not like a queen.” The female slave that our hero Cabot rescues offering him sex as a reward likely doesn’t sit well either.

Then there’s the matter of Watney, the whiny chump who gets dragged along to Gor with Cabot. If Cabot could be seen as analogous to the Pevensies, then Watney is Eustace Scrubb. The big difference being that, unlike Eustace, Watney never gets his act together. Even his exposing Lara’s crimes to the public is due to purely self-serving motivations. What I mean to say is that Watney is a repulsive Load.

Host segments are a marked improvement from the last episode with “Tubular Boobular Joy” being the best song of the season. The examination of Mike’s stage career (where he’s always dressed as a sailor even in productions where it wouldn’t fit like Death of a Salesman, Hamlet, and Oh! Calcutta!) is worth a few chuckles.

  • Favorite riff: I have come to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of ass.
  • Stinger: “Get out of here, you disGUSting WOORRRRRM!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation with two females is a brief one between Lara and Talena about the death of Marlenus.

520: Radar Secret Service (with Last Clear Chance) [Grade: C+]

Another instance where the short outshines the feature. Last Clear Chance is a typical traffic safety PSA, though the sponsor Union Pacific makes sure that there’s a strong emphasis on railway crossings. In particular, it hammers in how railway crossing accidents are always the fault of the car driver. Now it can be easy to dismiss it (as Mike and the Bots do) as shameless propaganda. However, it’s not entirely without merit. Consider how a train would be unable to steer out of the way and that its mass prevents it from braking easily. So keep that in mind next time you feel compelled to reenact the lyrics of “Teen Angel”.

The feature recalls how people in the film industry tend to have a rather shaky grasp of science and technology. Much of this likely has to do with how scriptwriters tend to gravitate towards the humanities. So the movie has radar being able to perform a wide variety of crimefighting applications (many of which are potentially unconstitutional) that can kindly be described as preposterous. Aside from the radar angle, it’s a typical crime drama to the point of being bland filler. This is exacerbated by how grey and non-descript the characters are. Often, it’s difficult to keep track of who is part of which faction.

Host segments are an odd lot, particularly the Quinn Martin Nature Preserve. Like the feature, they aren’t that memorable. Though Servo’s parody of the rage-filled state trooper from the short is worth a few guffaws.

  • Favorite riff: But can radar save our stifling marriage?
  • Stinger: A relieved maid shrieks out her gratitude.
  • Alternate Stinger: “Why don’t they look?”
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Marge and Delilah have multiple non-male conversations.

521: Santa Claus [Grade: A-]

Producing another Christmas episode might seem pointless. After all, how could anyone top the likes of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? The answer comes from this piece of South of the Border insanity brought to us by our old pal K. Gordon Murray. It takes quite a few liberties with the classic Santa Claus mythos. For instance, he now lives in an orbital castle instead of at the North Pole. Also, his helpers are a collection of child national stereotypes rather than elves. His spying apparati for determining who is being naughty or nice are quite unsettling, featuring actual eyes and ears. A bit surprising is how the movie goes about acknowledging the religious aspects of the holiday, as most Santa Claus films are aggressively secular in tone.

The bulk of the action involves a devil named Pitch who goes about interfering with Santa’s Christmas Eve duties and encouraging children to be bad. A particular target for the latter is the poor yet obnoxiously adorable Lupita, who only wants a doll.

Out of all the movies screened so far, this one has the most scenes worthy of being used as the stinger. Certainly, the mechanical reindeer with its unsettling laugh is an excellent choice, but there are others which offer a strong case. For instance, there’s the hideous animatronic department store Santa Claus that rivals the one from the Are You Being Served? Christmas episode. Or the scene where Santa out of the blue gets hit with a rock. And you can’t discount any of the slapstick indignities Pitch suffers through.

With all this in mind, it’s too bad that the host segments aren’t on the same level as the movie or the riffing. In my likely unpopular opinion, “Merry Christmas If That’s Okay” is the most overrated song that’s been performed on the show. Most of the others barely make it to okay, with the only guffaw worthy material occurring in the prologue with the caroling gone wrong.

  • Favorite riff: Action Jesus! Manger sold separately.
  • Stinger: The mechanical reindeer laughs.
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Ambiguous. It depends on whether you consider the talking doll in Lupita’s dream (with whom she engages a discussion about having a doll) to be a separate character from Pitch.

522: Teen-Age Crime Wave [Grade: C]

Let’s start by stating the obvious, shall we? Jane is an idiot. First, she gets set up with a rotten blind double date where her partner had apparently felt free to grope her. Then the other participants finish the evening by mugging a random shmuck. After her wrong place at the wrong time arrest, she has every reason to squeal (though not like a pig). Since the others have records and she doesn’t, it’s feasible that she would be given the benefit of the doubt. Yet she stays quiet. My best guess is that she’s doing it to spite her judgmental mother, as teenagers are perfectly capable of not considering the long-term consequences of their actions. Still doesn’t stop it from feeling a bit contrived.

Worse than that is the second act, where the intrinsic tedium of hostage films comes out in force. If Mike and the Bots hadn’t been on their game, it would have been absolutely Hell. But even though they were firing on all cylinders, it’s still a relief when we go to the chase to the Griffith Observatory.

Host segments are a bit hit and miss, with the Mystos ad being a solid dud. Apparently, it was a parody of a series of ads for Mentos that I was unfamiliar with and am better off for it. More effective is Dr. Forrester’s demonstration of Mace Mousse as well as the tribute to doughy guys.

  • Favorite riff: At this point, it’s more of a teenage crime ripple.
  • Stinger: “Turn it off!”
  • Alternate Stinger: “You’re dirt, Terry. He’d never touch you.”
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Jane and Terry have multiple non-male conversations between themselves and with other female characters.

523: Village of the Giants [Grade: C-]

Bert I. Gordon is back with his size alteration tomfoolery, this time in a very loose adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Food of the Gods. Not that I’m one to get all huffy about literary sacrilege in this instance, since I don’t care for anything Wells wrote. I must say that it did my heart good to see him portrayed as a blithering moron in the Doctor Who serial “Timelash”.

The setting is now contemporary and has been reinterpreted as a teen film. One of the more heavily promoted sequences was the sudden growth of the rebellious teens, causing them to burst out of their clothes. However, this leads to a major inconsistency that happens when they get treated with the gas that shrinks them back to normal. The theater curtains they used as improvised garb shrink along with them. Something similar occurred in The Wild, Wild West episode “The Night of the Raven”. The effects are accomplished in the manner we’ve come to expect from Bert I. Gordon. As well as the usual rear projection and split screen work, there’s also a bit of forced perspective and some horribly fake looking giant body parts.

The host segments feature a storyline where Frank is fired and replaced with Torgo. While there are a few clever bits (such as how the Torgo theme speeds up when Dr. Forrester drags him in), it’s one of the more underwhelming multi-segment sketches they did. And as songs go, “The Greatest Frank of All” is far too sappy for my tastes. As a point of interest, this is the first episode since Wild Rebels where they didn’t have a stinger, instead featuring a tribute to then recently deceased Frank Zappa.

  • Favorite riff: As in tune as Bert I. was with the Fifties, he just didn’t get the Sixties.
  • Proposed Stinger: Cowboy rides the rack.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between two females occurs between Nancy and the sheriff’s daughter, and it’s about Fred.

524: 12 to the Moon (with Design for Dreaming) [Grade: C+]

They really shouldn’t keep pairing these wacky color shorts with bland black and white features, since the former always ends up overwhelming the latter. The short is a promotional piece for the 1956 GM Motorama that features a lot of dancing and awkward singing, as well as a presentation of a future that didn’t really pan out. A bit surprising is how it’s directed by William Beaudine, a director so notorious for rushed and slapdash shooting schedules as to make Roger Corman look like George Stevens in comparison. The elaborate nature of this production is a far cry from the cheapie westerns he normally cranked out.

As for the feature, in many ways it can be regarded as an American counterpart to First Spaceship on Venus. Both feature a multinational rocketship crew journeying to another world where they get a less than friendly reception and not all of them make it back. Of course, there are some differences. For instance, the token black guy is not killed off in an undignified fashion. Or at all. Even so, it’s a mediocre effort with ham-handed moralizing and very unconvincing sets.

As you may have guessed from my earlier remarks, the short serves as the inspiration for the host segments as Mike and the Bots are visited by the singing and dancing woman from that production. Particularly notable are the creative designs featured when the Bots are converted into kitchen appliances in the penultimate host segment.

  • Favorite riff: “Now I’m turning on my invisible electromagnetic ray screen…” Even I don’t buy it. “Which forms a protective shield over our faces.” Of course it does.
  • Stinger: “Ahh, ridiculous!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Hideko and Sigrid talk about the ultrasonic showers.

Bechdel Test totals as of Season 5: 53 Pass, 44 Fail, 1 Ambiguous

That’s all we have for now. Be sure to come back next time, as you shall learn the true meaning of pain.

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