The MST3K Journal: Season 6

Watching MST3K in production code order has provided a different perspective from just popping into the DVD player whatever happens to suit my mood. This is especially true with the sixth season. In The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, the introduction of the Season 6 chapter presents it as some sort of grand convergence. Watching the episodes in order, all I could think was, “Dear Gawd, so many crime dramas!”

There is a total of eight straight-up crime dramas and another five that come in as close enough. Now I don’t hate all the crime dramas that were featured on MST3K. For instance, I Accuse My Parents is one of my all-time favorites. But I prefer them in lower concentrations, especially when they possess such a massive dreariness content. Even the best riffing can only counter so much. And this is before you consider that antithesis of joy and happiness that is the Coleman Francis Trilogy of Despair.

What I’m saying is that Season 6 proved to be a rough patch for me. Though I never seriously considered giving up on my MST3K marathon, it did become something of a chore at this point. Though I must say that the Brains brewed up some of their most creative designs during this period.

This deep into the series, you can’t really expect much in the way of new movie genres. As well as the crime dramas, we get the usual mix of alien invaders, supernatural tomfoolery, off-brand Hercules and James Bond wannabees, and a Soviet produced fantasy film. But we do get a sort of new genre in the form of a luchador movie. And I have to say it’s surprising that it took so long for one to be screened on the show.

Season 6 also saw a bit of shuffling with the cast and crew. Not apparent when it was first broadcast was the introduction of Pearl Forrester. Viewers at the time (and possibly the Brains as well) likely presumed she was going to be a one-off character. But thanks to later circumstances, she would end up as a more permanent fixture.

There was also a below the radar addition to the writing staff late in the season. A certain Brooklynite of Irish descent who would gain greater prominence during the SciFi years.

But the big shift was the departure of Frank. Now the other Mads combinations each had their own strengths. But there was a certain magic to the relationship between Dr. Forrester and Frank which couldn’t be truly replicated. It was a sad moment. But at least we know Frank went to a better place.

Enough morose brooding. Time to get down to the experiments!

601: Girls Town [Grade: C]

The opening scene of the feature is rather disconcerting, as our antagonist Fred briefly witnesses what could easily be regarded as an attempted rape and laughs it off as if they were frolicking. Perhaps it’s meant to establish him as a horrible person, but still. Our would-be sexual predator ends up taking a fatal tumble off a cliff, though only we the viewers see that it’s through his own actions. However, the punk’s father is a man of influence and wants bad girl Silver Morgan (who was tentatively IDed as the girl with him) tried for murder. Now such a case is so flimsy that even the greenest public defender could get a grand jury to throw it out, and the D.A. knows it. To placate him, Silver (who already has a bunch of misdemeanors) is sent to Girls Town, a rehabilitation village run by a group of nuns. The usual teen angst tropes are then let loose.

There’s also a subplot where Silver’s roomie has a stalker-like obsession with a local crooner. Then we have this one scene which involves what can be best described as hands-free drag racing. Even considering how recklessly stupid Kids These Days are capable of being, that a whole different level of idiocy right there.

Overall, I can’t imagine this film, with its favorable depiction of the nuns, being played straight nowadays. At best, Girls Town would be depicted as something akin to the titular institution from the Night Gallery segment “The Academy”.

Fortunately, Mike and Bots are in top form with their riffing, making the experience tolerable. It’s more than can be said for the host segments, which are shockingly bland. In particular, the scatting segment just feels so pointless.

  • Favorite riff: Sister, if you hear any shooting, just pull around the corner and get ready to gun it!
  • Stinger: “You tell that boy to go home right now, or I’ll call the police!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Vida beans Fred’s crony with a frying pan.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. There are a multitude of non-male conversation amongst the predominantly female cast.

602: Invasion USA (with A Date with Your Family) [Grade: D]

The short is one of those instances where style undermines substance. Some of the content does have its uses. However, the authoritarian pomposity of the narrator encourages a contrarian reaction, further fueled by some dubious aspects. In particular, some may take issue with how the father’s concerns trump all, while the daughter gets conscripted as the Goofus for most instances of demonstrating mealtime don’ts.

The feature posits a provocative scenario which gets mishandled. The concept regarding the desire for safety versus the unwillingness to accept the necessary sacrifices to guarantee that safety is one fraught with possibilities. In particular, the maxim attributed to Benjamin Franklin about those who would surrender essential liberties for temporary safety deserving neither could also be put into play here. But if a movie had that sort of nuance, it wouldn’t be a likely candidate for screening on MST3K. So legitimate concerns about government overreach brought up by some of the bar patrons are casually brushed aside as the Russians invade and the principals are killed in a variety of horrific ways. Only they don’t really die, because it turns out to be a dream. At least Rocket Attack U.S.A. had the guts to stick with the Russians turning New York City into a glassy crater.

Host segments start out strong but fizzle out as it goes along. Mike’s foray into robot building is worth a few guffaws, as is Dr. Forrester recreating Harry Harlow’s infamous love deprivation research. But everything after that just kind of flops. In particular, Crow’s dissertation on the two Lois Lanes in the feature (Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill) is just pointless.

  • Favorite riff: “Ever go see the Cubs play?” Yeah, they won… Oh damn no.
  • Stinger: A newsboy inexplicably appears in the bar announcing the invasion.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. The customer in line talks to the airline clerk about getting a ticket to return home.

603: The Dead Talk Back (with The Selling Wizard) [Grade: B+]

Odd as it may seem, we have a unique instance where the color short does not overwhelm the black and white feature. Much of this is due to the short being a far cry from the lunacy of the likes of Mr. B Natural and Design for Dreaming. Despite the presence of what Servo refers to as the Pizza Dominatrix, it’s a rather dry presentation on freezer display cabinets. In fact, it’s so unmemorable that it was the only Jam Handy short screened on MST3K that goes unmentioned in the Ballyhoo documentary Jam Handy to the Rescue.

The feature is another of those X Meets Y movies. In this case, the X is Dragnet and the Y is Inner Sanctum, complete with the supernatural element being revealed as a hoax. Mind you, the narration by Lt. Lewis gets into all sorts of obsessive minutiae. Certainly, Joe Friday never yammered on the way this guy does.

The movie itself has an unusual history. Shot back in 1957, it spent the next thirty-seven years collecting dust. It’s quite probable that its screening on MST3K was the first time it was seen by the general viewing public. What a way to premiere. Another curious aspect involves Aldo Farnese, the actor who portrays spirit radio inventor Henry Krasker and spent most of his career hosting a children’s show on a Philadelphia TV station (Pennsylvania, not Illinois). Apparently, he died two days before this episode first aired (insert Twilight Zone music should you so desire).

Host segments are significantly improved compared to the past couple episodes. The highlight is where Crow’s call-in show The Dead Talk Back is contacted by Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, but they only want to talk about the prospects of the Bills making a fifth straight Super Bowl appearance. Crow’s guitar solo as he channels Jerry Garcia is also worth a few chuckles.

  • Favorite riff: “I don’t think I’ll ever get callous to murder.” Now where’s the stiff?
  • Stinger: Woman screams after seeing dead body.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Renee and Hope briefly discuss the former’s minimal social life and employment prospects. Also, the photo studio clerk and her customer talk about how the latter’s picture turned out.

604: Zombie Nightmare [Grade: B]

Of all the slasher flicks featured on MST3K, this probably sticks closest to the standard formula, as a group of nihilistic teens are slaughtered by an unstoppable supernatural killer. The crime that warranted this extreme response was that they were responsible for a hit and run that killed good kid Tony. Aside for the psychotic Jim, the experience had them on edge. Mind you, this is more due to them worrying about getting caught rather than any remorse. Too bad for them Tony’s mom is owed a favor from a voodoo practitioner.

Probably the only good thing to say about the movie is that its approach to zombies goes back to their mystical roots rather than be another Night of the Living Dead rehash. Its biggest problem is one common to slasher flicks in that none of the characters are particularly likable. The plight of the teens inspires reactions ranging from apathy to contempt. I suppose the mom is sympathetic, but she pretty much disappears once the rampage starts. The cops are varying flavors of useless, from the overtly crooked captain (portrayed by Adam West) to the jaded cynic crime lab tech and the babyface rookie detective. The last one is presumably meant to be our viewpoint character but doesn’t work well on account of him being an ineffectual chump. His insensitive treatment of the waitress Jim attempted to rape doesn’t make him very endearing either. About the only thing he does is blunder along and witness both the slaughter and his boss getting dragged down to Hell.

Host segments are mostly strong, with the best of the lot being Crow’s Batman play which features some well-made costumes. Thankfully Mike’s Robin costume wasn’t fully authentic. The using voodoo to do nice things to people, as well as the Bots writing letters to Adam West, set a tone more commonly associated with Joel’s time on the show. Though the use of a voodoo doll to prank Dr. Forrester is more typical of this era. Seeing as how we’re deep enough into Mike’s stretch that they’re beyond any overlap, I think it’s safe to say that claims of stark differences between the tenures of the two hosts are exaggerated.

  • Favorite riff: Cut! Cut! Tia, you’re supposed to be in your underwear in this scene.
  • Stinger: Incantation and screaming.
  • Alternate Stinger: Now it’s garbage.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The only females who converse with each other are Molly and Louise, and they talk exclusively about the zombification of Tony.

605: Colossus and the Headhunters [Grade: A-]

I have no idea what kind of name Colossus is supposed to be or who it alludes to. Not that it matters, since it’s really Maciste, just as it was back in Hercules Against the Moon Men. What’s weird is that he gets called Maciste in the English dub instead of the weird made up name in the title. So really, what was the point?

One of the more implausible moments in the film occurs early on when Maciste helps some islanders escape death by volcano. The raft used to transport them is a tiny affair that’s standing room only and has no visible supplies. And somehow, we’re expected to believe that they could have traveled several days under such conditions. After that, it’s a typical Sword & Sandal plot of a treacherous court flunky attempting to usurp the throne from the rightful ruler. One of the more significant differences is that the requisite curvy queen who desires to get into the loincloth of the well-oiled beefcake protagonist is not evil for once.

The host segments combine into a single sketch where Dr. Forrester creates Nummy Muffin Coocol Butter, a pet so adorable that the placidity it induces will allow him to rule the world. I found the whole thing rather blah, with Frank’s little ode to Nummy Muffin Coocol Butter being a particular low point. I get the impression the song was supposed to be bad. But once again the problem with using deliberate badness for comic effect is how easily it can backfire. And boy does it ever.

  • Favorite riff: Meanwhile, Sonny’s upstairs with the maid of honor.
  • Stinger: Exhorting guy gets shot with an arrow.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Two of the islander women discuss the lack of supplies on the raft.

606: The Creeping Terror [Grade: B]

This is one of those movies that, like Robot Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space, is a legend in its own right. The story goes that director/leading man Art Nelson drove into a small California town with his jailbait arm candy (who appears in the movie as Brett). He then bamboozled the locals into financing the production by having them pay for the “privilege” of appearing in it. As the scriptwriter Allan Silliphant noted in an interview, in retrospect the situation was reminiscent of The Producers. There’s even a documentary about the fiasco called The Creep Behind the Camera. I myself didn’t get too far into it, as it employs a reenactment style which I don’t care for.

Certainly, the background is far more interesting than the actual movie, which is a colossal yawn. The monster itself very much deserved its Golden Turkey Award for Most Laughable Concept for an Outer Space Invader. For one thing, its sluggish pace is such that all you need to do to escape it is to move away from it at a brisk walk. You’d be amazed at how many characters prove incapable of this simple action. Even when you consider how fear can make a person do stupid things, they charge headlong into Too Dumb to Live territory. The most egregious instance occurs at the dance hall. For unknowable reasons, they decide to crowd into a single corner to make it easier for the monster to chomp them in one fell swoop. A similar thing occurs during the climax when the soldiers tasked with killing the monster while in an open field cluster together as if they were Doctor Who extras, but without the excuse of being in a cramped studio.

And perhaps viewing the movie caused me to hallucinate. But I swear to Gawd there was one scene where Brett’s actress was openly fondling Nelson’s area. Later, girl, later.

Capping off the idiocy is how the audio was done entirely in post, with the bulk of the dialogue being substituted with a narrator whose descriptions frequently didn’t match what was happening on the screen or were just plain irrelevant. It’s quite fortunate that Mike and the Bots were in top form with the riffing.

The host segments fail to make it to the same level though. In particular, the one where Mike shows off his elaborate audio set-up by playing the tepid dance hall music from the movie is mildly amusing on paper but goes on far longer than is advisable. I will admit that Servo and Crow experiencing the effect of being eaten by the monster by using Gypsy makes for an interesting visual.

  • Favorite riff: Now that we need a narrator, he clams up. What’s going on?
  • Stinger: “My God! What is it?”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The only time we see two women talking to each other is at the dance hall, and the sound is out. It was likely rhubarbing anyway.

607: Bloodlust! (with Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm) [Grade: B-]

In the short, a couple of pasty unathletic kids are sent to spend the summer at the title farm. Not much to say except how the riffing primarily consists of taking issue with the idealized portrayal of farm life.

As for the feature, the Richard Connell short story The Most Dangerous Game is one of those works that, like A Christmas Carol, is seemingly adapted all the time, or at least the core concept. The protagonists here (which include Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch) are a collection of vacationers who land on a mysterious island on a whim. Compared to the original story’s big game hunter protagonist, they’re out of their league. Meanwhile, our human hunter is a former museum curator who had been a sniper during the War and affects the mannerisms of a store brand Vincent Price. Oh sure, he makes a big show of how he’ll be giving them a fighting chance by letting them have a firearm while he’ll be using a crossbow. Mind you, the pistol is useless since the firing pin was removed beforehand. This is probably the biggest deviation from the source material, as the antagonist from the original story wanted some genuine peril for himself.

If a movie could be said to have a Challenge Rating in the same fashion as an RPG scenario, then this one is far too high for the adventuring party. Not only does the ending prove to be a deus ex machina, but it didn’t even come about through the efforts of the protagonists. Instead, a vengeful lackey left for dead comes to whack the antagonist just as he had them dead to rights. Really disappointing.

Host segments are notable for having the first appearance of Pearl Forrester, accompanied by an obligatory Psycho reference. Otherwise they’re random in their content. Not necessarily bad, but neither are they all that memorable.

  • Favorite riff: On his resume, Robert Reed listed this as The Tempest.
  • Stinger: Boozy skipper gets a crossbow bolt in the stomach.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Betty and Jean discuss their situation as well as plan out an escape attempt.

608: Code Name: Diamond Head (with A Day at the Fair) [Grade: B+]

The short is pretty much what it says on the tin. A farm family take their choice livestock and produce to a county fair to be entered in competitions, while experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells. One line that sticks out occurs when the narrator insists that judging cakes ought to be fun. In an ideal world, I imagine it would be. However, being subjected to a series of mediocre cakes could be enough to induce soul-crushing despair in anyone.

As for the feature, it’s another of those television pilots that failed to go to series. What makes it different from other such features screened on MST3K is that it was produced by the Gawdfather of Sixties and Seventies Prime Time Dramas, Quinn Martin. He was responsible for some of the most popular shows of the era, including The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., and The Streets of San Francisco. He also had the occasional culty title like The Invaders.

Of the reasons cited as to why Code Name: Diamond Head failed so spectacularly, the most common is bad timing, since the spy craze was winding down when it aired in 1977. One could also argue on how it makes poor use of its setting. Though shot on location in Hawaii, from most of what we get to see it may as well have been Fargo. Another potential strike against it is how low key the spycraft is. While this makes it more grounded, anyone expecting another The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Mission: Impossible would be sorely disappointed. Then there’s the ending where the antagonist, once cornered with no avenue for escape, just surrenders. Since his characterization established him as an amoral mercenary, it’s more believable than having him go out in a blaze of glory. Even so, this anti-climax was probably the final straw for dissatisfied viewers.

The host segments are an odd though amusing lot where, in response to Crow and Servo speaking ill of Mike, Magic Voice and Cambot create a series of alternate realities. Even though I’m not familiar with This Boy’s Life, Jeff Smith, or the Crash Test Dummies, they still generated some chuckles. However, a small but obstinate collection of folks who have refused to come to terms with the change in host have interpreted these sketches in a fashion which can kindly be described as delusional. In this cuckoo fantasy hellscape, it’s seen as a variant of the guilt trip about starving Third World children parents use to get their kids to eat their vegetables. That this is the way the Brains are surreptitiously telling them to stop whining and be grateful for what they get. Sad, really.

  • Favorite riff: In retrospect, the luggage scene was really fascinating.
  • Stinger: “Aaaahhh! Johnny! Down there!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. There is no instance of two female characters conversing, with Tso-tsing being the only speaking female character for most of the film.

609: The Skydivers (with Why Study the Industrial Arts?) [Grade: C]

The short is a pitch on the benefits of taking a shop class. While there’s nothing wrong with the intent, the way that one shop class student tries to wax poetic about his tools could be regarded as mildly creepy.

As for the feature, it’s the first (second chronologically) movie in the Coleman Francis Trilogy of Despair. This is probably the least incoherent of the bunch, as it has something that resembles a plot. Don’t let that get your hopes up, because it’s spiteful, low end soap opera shenanigans, full of pettiness and infidelity. You get the sense that the characters engage in skydiving to distract themselves from their bleak lives devoid of hope. The acting is uniformly terrible, as everyone speaks in a lifeless monotone. Checking the listings at IMDB, only a few of the people involved had significant acting careers, with several listing The Skydivers as their sole screen credit. Sad, really.

The host segments are a bit front loaded this time around. While the later sketches are perfectly fine, the disruption of Servo’s planetarium show and the swing choir competition are true gutbusting experiences that are hard to top.

  • Favorite riff: Filmed in Despairvision.
  • Stinger: “I don’t know. I feel really free up there in the high blue sky.”
  • Alternate Stinger: “Suzy, you’re a broad. Get lost.” Followed with Harry getting wuss slapped.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between two females occurs at the very beginning, and it’s about Frankie.

610: The Violent Years (with Young Man’s Fancy) [Grade: D]

The short is one of those productions where the purpose is not immediately apparent. On the surface, it’s the tale of a teen named Judy who suffers an estrogen overload (referred to with the euphemism “feeling squishy”) when her older brother Bob comes home with his college buddy Alex. After a while, it becomes apparent that the intent is to promote how wonderful and handy a variety of then-new electrical appliances are. One aspect that has aged awkwardly is how Bob dissuades Judy from employing her feminine wiles on Alex. Audiences of the time would likely regard it as an older brother twitting his annoying little sister. For modern viewers, it can appear more like the behavior of a jealous boyfriend signaling at a romantic rival to back off.

As for the feature, it was scripted but not directed by our old pal Ed Wood. Unfortunately, it’s a crime drama, which does not bring out Wood’s goofy tendencies (at least not in a good way). It’s a mostly standard kids with inattentive parents gone bad, though with its own set of issues.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s compare some relevant aspects between it and I Accuse My Parents. In I Accuse My Parents, Ma and Pa Wilson are a couple of erratic drunkards. Meanwhile, Ma and Pa Parkins are genuinely concerned about their daughter, if sometimes a bit distant. Jimmy Wilson is a mostly good kid whose primary faults are being a gullible idiot and a bit of a coward. Paula Parkins (incidentally portrayed by Playboy centerfold Jean Moorhead) is a two-faced hellion who presents a sweet-natured persona to her parents while going out robbing gas stations and pistol-whipping grease monkeys, as well as occasional sexual assault. In its concluding courtroom scene, the judge in I Accuse My Parents delivers an admonishment to the Wilsons that is a bit pompous but not entirely out of line. Meanwhile, the judge in The Violent Years upbraids the Parkinses as if they were the personifications of Dwight Hansen and Joan Crawford. While both narratives have their faults, The Violent Years is completely out of proportion.

One other oddity that sticks out is the slumber party scene. It’s indicated that Paula and her fellow miscreants are high school seniors. Slumber parties have always struck me as more of an activity for junior high girls, so it’s comes across as a bit weird.

Host segments are mostly a loss. Servo installing a ventriloquist head on himself is mildly amusing, but everything else ranges from bland (the Keanu Reeves one man show) to painful (the reenactment of a scene from the 1976 version of A Star is Born). Were it not for the short, this would have received a solid F.

  • Favorite riff: She died as she lived. Failing algebra.
  • Stinger: “So what?”
  • Alternate Stinger: “They’re shooting back!”
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Paula has multiple non-male conversations with the members of her gang, her mom, and the fence.

611: Last of the Wild Horses [Grade: B+]

It’s rare when the host segments overwhelm the film segments so thoroughly. This occurs here in part because the movie is a bland and unmemorable range war horse opera. It’s somewhat notable for being the only film where shlock producer Robert L. Lippert tried his hand at directing. It didn’t come naturally to him, and he ended up hiring another guy to finish it up while he would stick with producing for the rest of his career. But otherwise the only thing that distinguishes it from the mass of westerns Hollywood was crapping out at the time is the unfortunate overuse of coincidence to drive the plot. Coincidences are fine when used sparingly and in the first act. Often a coincidence is necessary to get the story rolling. But the degree in which they get used to drive the narrative here is just lazy.

It’s the host segments that really carry the day and make the episode worth viewing. While someone unfamiliar with Star Trek can probably get a few chuckles out of it, true appreciation requires that you have seen the fan favorite episode “Mirror, Mirror”. Seeing as how most MST3K viewers have at least a passing familiarity with that franchise, this was likely not an issue.

  • Favorite riff: “Do you have a girl?” No, I’ve got me a horse.
  • Stinger: Cooper laughs.
  • Alternate Stinger: Duke does an unimpressive drop mount.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. In a squeaker, Terry and Jane exchange greetings near the end.

612: The Starfighters [Grade: C]

The poster for this movie proclaims, “The blazing adventure of the men and planes who rocket to the edge of outer space!” I assure you that this is a complete lie. What you really get is a ton of stock footage of jets taking off, landing, and refueling in mid-air. The original footage isn’t much better, as it consists primarily of pilots yammering on about flying with much technical jargon and the lamest phone prank since the Prince Albert in a Can gag. There are also a couple of mild propaganda moments which have not aged well.

About the only joy that can be found occurs near the end when we’re introduced to the poopie suit. It’s not called that because you’re supposed to poop in it (if you do, you’ll probably regret it). As I understand it, it’s an insulated suit designed to stave off hypothermia should the wearer have to bail out over the ocean. Of course, the wearer will be sweating bullets at room temperature and it’ll get foul-smelling in quick order.

Thank goodness the host segments are in top form. Crow’s travails on attempting to connect to the internet is something that has aged reasonably well, even if the technical specifications are obsolete. The reenactment of the mid-air refueling is mildly creepy with all sorts of unfortunate implications, while the debriefing is good for a quick guffaw. But the star production by far is the United Servo Academy Men’s Chorus, which featured some amazing puppeteering and audio work. Mike also does an excellent job of mimicking the pompous intonations frequently heard from NPR announcers.

  • Favorite riff: It’s the New Air Force Goofy Bomb, from Wham-O.
  • Stinger: Betty elbows her husband.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. Mary and Betty never speak to one another.

613: The Sinister Urge (with Keeping Clean and Neat) [Grade: D+]

The short covers a lot of the same ground as Body Care and Grooming (seen with The Painted Hills). The main difference is that it’s aimed at the elementary school set. What struck me as a rather inane moment occurred when the narrator talks about color combinations in your clothes. That’s all well and good, but the point is undermined by how the short was filmed in black and white. For all we know, the subject could be wearing orange and purple together.

The feature is another clunker written and directed by Ed Wood and can be regarded as a pornography variant of the Reefer Madness template. If you wish to proclaim arguments about the societal ills of pornography, you would probably be better off not have the assistance of Mr. Wood. To start off, the cops who are investigating the porn racket are fanatics that regard it as the root of all crime. The seriousness of the subject matter is hamstrung by how the porn is not exactly titillating (unless it’s being marketed to Discworld trolls). Then there’s the sequence with Mary, the naïve woman with dreams of Hollywood stardom. Back when porn was more underground, in all probability women like Mary were hired under false pretenses and then coerced when they learned what was expected of them. Here, this potentially dark and troubling narrative thread ends up being farcical.

Mind you, this assumes Wood was being sincere. There’s a strong case to be argued that he wasn’t. Seeing as how this was made not too long before he started working in porn films himself, it isn’t that big a stretch to think that he was doing a send-up. Who can say?

The host segments feature a sketch that goes through most of the episode where Frank, influenced by the mad bomber movies of the 1990s, schemes to blow up Deep 13. What really makes it work is the way he nails the cliché dialogue the villains in those movies were expected to spout.

  • Favorite riff: Behind the scenes at Easy Rider magazine. Not that I’d know.
  • Stinger: “Dirk? No that can’t be Dirk… uh-uh… no… that’s not Dirk… no.”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Gloria berates Mary for her reluctance to play ball, who in turn grovels pathetically.

614: San Francisco International [Grade: C+]

Another television pilot, this one differs from Stranded in Space and Code Name: Diamond Head in that it actually went to series. I find this perplexing, as its premise of the doings at the titular airport strikes me as being the least interesting of the three. Then again, it came out the same year as the very similar movie Airport, so the tastes of the early 1970s are clearly beyond my comprehension. Though I feel vindicated in how it ended up as a one season wonder of only six episodes. And even though it comes from the very start of that horrible decade, it has the look nailed down with a palette that consists primarily of brown and orange.

Of the three plots, the one that involves a convoluted scheme to swipe a cash shipment is relatively engaging. But considering the other two, that’s a low bar to clear. The one involving a hostile encounter between a bald doughy guy and what must be the most hygienic hippie in existence kind of peters out, not really going anywhere interesting. Then there’s the tale of Davey, the mopey kid whose parents are divorcing. I get that a divorce can be traumatic for the youngsters, but it takes a turn for the absurd when he somehow gets himself in the air with a prop plane. Watching it again, I can’t follow how this turn of events came to be. Fortunately, this fires up the creative juices of the Brains, as the riffing rags on Davey and his idiotic behavior. While the whole mess gets presented as reuniting his parents, my pessimistic side suspects it won’t last.

In comparison to the excellent riffing, the host segments are quite disappointing. In particular, I’m thinking of Mike’s Urkel impression. For those who don’t remember or have blocked out the memory, Steve Urkel is an object lesson in the dangers of allowing a moderately popular supporting character in a continuing work of fiction to dominate the narrative. Just think of how dreadful The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would have been if Marvin effectively became the main character. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise, it would be Deep Hurting. Anyway, everyone laughing at the Urkel impression until Torgo points out that it’s not all that funny might have been tolerable if it had been confined to a lone segment. Stretching it out over three just made it tedious.

  • Favorite riff: Davey, probably the wrong time to tell you. But this is a federal offense, stealing a plane and all.
  • Stinger: “My job, my way.”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with each other.

615: Kitten with a Whip [Grade: C-]

The continuous bombardment of mundane premise films is really wearing me down. And this one where a delinquent who had escaped from juvenile hall and hides out at the home of a Senate candidate (portrayed by Ann-Margret and John Forsythe respectively) making his life a living hell is especially trying. Much of this has to do with how the two characters have no chemistry, with Ann-Margret being over the top and Forsythe being aggressively bland. Then there’s how his character gets a multitude of opportunities to extricate himself from the mess but blows each one. Now granted, the average person placed in an unusual and high-pressure situation like this won’t always think clearly and will be prone to making bad decisions. Still, it comes across as being done more for keeping the narrative from ending prematurely. This only serves to make the cop-out ending (where the delinquent has a change of heart and her dying words clear Forsythe’s character of any perceived wrongdoing) even more frustrating. Though I guess we should be thankful they didn’t go with the classic It Was All a Dream.

One point of interest is the appearance in the film of Jerry Dunphy, who was a prominent TV news anchor in the Southern California market at the time and often portrayed himself in several movies and TV shows of the day. He is alleged to be the template for the Pompous News Anchor archetype and is cited as the inspiration for Ted Baxter (of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Kent Brockman (of The Simpsons).

The host segments once again use the best material at the start, when Crow’s infiltration of Deep 13 to bring the others down ends in failure. The others are rather underwhelming, with the appearance of a kitten with a whip on the hexfield meandering without point before it fizzles out.

  • Favorite riff: This changes nothing. I’m still selling you to white slavery.
  • Stinger: “I’ll be a celebrity! And so will you!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. The conversations between Jody and Midge concern Stratton.

616: Racket Girls (with Are You Ready for Marriage?) [Grade: D+]

Thank goodness there was a short included, or this would have been intolerable. For the sample couple of Larry and Sue, the answer to the title’s question is a resounding “No”. Especially considering how the latter has kept track of the length of their relationship down to the hour. But unlike Betty from Is This Love?, Sue doesn’t want to alienate her parents, so they go consult a marriage counselor who advises them to take it a bit more slowly. If you can get past the silly props and the Boing, the advice offered is quite solid. However, the inherent goofiness in the way it’s presented makes for an easy riffing target.

As for the feature, it was produced by George Weiss, who gained lasting notoriety for producing the Ed Wood film Glen or Glenda. In the Tim Burton biopic, he gets portrayed as a cynical profiteer who knows that his films are crap and he doesn’t care, so long as they perform well at the box office. In all likelihood that’s a fair assessment. You certainly won’t see anything in the neighborhood of quality in this slipshod tale of women’s wrestling and mob match fixing. In particular, I can’t imagine Peaches Page (who was an actual wrestler) being thrilled with getting portrayed as a gullible idiot.

Little wonder that the host segments choose to focus on the short, with a story where Crow and Servo getting married is approved thanks to a quiz in Cosmopolitan generating some chuckles.

  • Favorite riff: When Ed Wood saw this, it was like when Truffaut saw Citizen Kane.
  • Stinger: SNAP! “It’s gone!” “Where’d it go?”
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Peaches and Ruby discuss the former’s training.

617: The Sword and the Dragon [Grade: B-]

It’s such a relief to get a reprieve from all those dreary crime dramas, even though it will be temporary. And what better way to do it than with one of those crazy Soviet produced fantasy films (unfortunately the print they screened was badly scratched-up). Though it’s restrained in comparison to the others. Part of this is likely due to the hero Ilya Muromets kind of sort of being a real person. Granted some of the incidents associated with him may be fantastical, but he’s got a more solid historical basis than the likes of King Arthur or Charlemagne’s Paladins.

While it cobbles together various tales associated with Muromets, the main story involves his defending what is now Ukraine from a Mongol invasion (which is depicted with a genuine horde of extras and no CGI trickery to fill it out like they did in Forrest Gump). Mind you, it’s difficult to discern this from the English dub, which takes a few liberties with names and such. Another interesting thing about the dub is that the Mongol horde leader Kalin is performed by Paul Frees using his Boris Badenov voice.

One scene that really stands out occurs when’s Ilya’s wife weaves a tablecloth while singing and surrounded by woodland critters engaging in goofy antics. It’s like something out of an old school animated faerie tale from Disney, only it’s all live action. I would say it’s better than the official live action adaptations of the Disney animated faerie tales.

Host segments are a mixed lot. The Mark Russell send-up in the opening is just painful and the “Joke by Ingmar Bergman” is merely odd. It gets balanced out by the recreation of the above-mentioned tablecloth weaving scene and a visit by Ilya Muromets on the hexfield, where he talks about his new career as a waiter at IHOP.

  • Favorite riff: The wind demon has killed a lot of people, but it’s all in good fun.
  • Stinger: The wind demon takes a dive.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. At no point do two female characters converse with one another.

618: High School Big Shot (with Out of This World) [Grade: D-]

One more burst of color before diving back into the fetid mill pond of yet another crime drama. The short could be best described as an odd reinterpretation of the Book of Job. In this case, we have an angel and a devil who for some reason are tasked with tracking the souls of bread deliverymen. They make a bet concerning one who had recently gotten his act together on whether he can be tempted back into his old habits. To describe the theology behind this as confused would be an understatement. There’s also the issue of the visualization of angels going from the androgyny seen in Renaissance art to the modern depictions as explicitly feminine and possessing a C cup at minimum.

As for the feature, nebbish loser protagonist Marvin could have benefited from a couple of the shorts previously screened on MST3K. Are You Ready for Marriage? might have helped him realize that going to a movie one time with two-timing slut Betty is not a good basis for matrimony. Of course, the only reason she did go out with him was to get him to write her assigned Hamlet essay. Which brings us to Cheating. Even if you ignore the core message that cheating is bad, it should be kept in mind that sudden improvement in a subject can be regarded as suspicious. Because people just don’t learn how to correctly use semicolons overnights. This misadventure loses him a recommendation for a scholarship which, combined with how his boozy father can’t hold down a job, destroys his hopes for college. Overhearing plans for a heroin transaction at shipping office where he works, Marvin decides to swipe the million dollars being kept in the office safe.

One of the bigger flaws of the movie is how any attempts to garner sympathy fall flat. It may be regrettable how Marvin’s future is wrecked over one slip in judgment. But the way he adds on increasingly bad choices (largely thanks to his inability to process that Betty had been using him) gets tiresome. Meanwhile, it’s strongly implied that Betty has an abusive father. However, the way she uses both Marvin and her usual sugar daddy Vince is at best selfish and certainly not endearing.

One dissertation on this movie I read claims it to be inspired by Hamlet and notes the initial connection with the English term paper. Personally, I don’t buy it. Other than the protagonist being an ineffectual chump and most of the principals being killed off, Gamera vs Guiron could be said to display stronger parallels to Hamlet. If anything, Othello would be the more fitting Shakespeare analogue, with Marvin as Cassio, Vince as Othello, and Betty as a weird combination of Desdemona and Iago. A more plausible theory is that it’s a knock-off of the Stanley Kubrick film The Killing, which it broadly resembles. However, the specifics differ enough to keep it out of full-on rip-off territory. The only good thing to say is that it’s not quite as soul crushing as what is to come.

Host segments start out strong as off the shelf chemistry sets get used to clone dinosaurs and make Servo big and stupid. Everything afterwards falls flat, though the puppet designs used in the segment where Crow and Servo attempt to unsuccessfully crack open Gypsy’s diary with explosive are impressive. Since the movie is a colossal void, it no surprise that host segments inspired by it fail. But the short is brimming with potential, and they piddle it away in the one segment based off it by focusing on the boring deliveryman instead of the campy angel and devil. This is particularly frustrating when you consider how Bridget Jones has a near perfect physical resemblance to the former.

  • Favorite riff: A safe?!? You said the money would be in the toaster!
  • Stinger: “A million bucks!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. Betty and the landlady are the only female characters with speaking roles, and they don’t even share scenes.

619: Red Zone Cuba (with Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance) [Grade: C-]

Before getting subjected to another installment of the Coleman Francis Trilogy of Despair, a brief respite comes in the form of a short from the Centron Speech series concerning platform posture. While the points made about posture affecting your balance as you deliver a speech are valid, I’m skeptical that the Knee Test will be of any help.

But it isn’t long until all hope is abandoned as we witness Coleman Francis at his most nihilistic. The primary issue is that lead character Griffin has absolutely no redeeming traits and assaults people at the slightest pretext (or none at all). I don’t think we’re ever given a good reason to have any concern for or even interest in the character. The general incoherence of the plot isn’t entirely the fault of the movie, as 20-30 minutes of run time got trimmed by the Brains to fit in the show’s time slot. Then again, I think we’re all better off not seeing the alleged scene where Griffin rapes then kills the piano playing woman. Or perhaps it was kills then rapes. Truly, the soul of Coleman Francis is as black as the Ace of Spades.

One aspect where the movie is to blame involves the inappropriate music selections in the soundtrack, in particular the use of whimsical tunes in scenes that aren’t. It’s like they went to the stock music library and grabbed selections at random. Thank goodness the riffing was in top form, or the episode could have ended up as another Attack of the The Eye Creatures.

This is especially apparent with the substandard host segments. They feature what may be the worst multi-segment sketch ever performed on the show (at the very least tied with the one from Village of the Giants), involving a Mafia enforcer sent to beat up Frank for failure to pay up on a debt and getting Dr. Forrester instead. Fortunately, this joyless stretch is almost done.

  • Favorite riff: Coleman Francis is Curly Howard in The Fugitive.
  • Stinger: Blind lady playing piano.
  • Alternate Stinger: Griffin strangles Cook.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. Ruby is the only female character with a speaking role.

620: Danger!! Death Ray [Grade: A]

As far as names for a Bond-like superspy go, Bart Fargo is less than ideal. Aside from its obvious suitability for juvenile gags, it doesn’t really flow off the tongue. But thanks to a script that was written by someone whose first language wasn’t English, Bart Fargo is what we get.

His assignment is to recover a stolen death ray built for peaceful purposes as well as the scientist who invented it. There’s the usual assortment of mooks to be pummeled, loose women to be bedded, and other such 1960s superspy tomfoolery. In contrast with the excessively high Challenge Rating seen in Bloodlust!, this movie’s Challenge Rating is quite low, with Bart Fargo possessing a preternatural ability to detect an ambush or evade an attack in an unlikely fashion. It’s not quite as bad as what happens in your typical Steven Seagal film, as the mooks do land a few hits. But most of the time, they practically walk into Bart Fargo’s fists. The special effects budget was also rather limited. This was particularly noticeable in the scene where a helicopter docks with a submarine, as both vehicles are obvious toys and it’s being shot in a bathtub or kiddie pool.

Host segments are an interesting lot. Easily the best is where Servo builds a death ray for peaceful purposes but ends up using it on Crow. The one where Crow tries out contact lenses is gross and has convinced me to stick with glasses.

  • Favorite riff: Just because you’re having a high-speed chase doesn’t mean you can’t have an adequate space cushion.
  • Stinger: Bart tosses his watch in the drink.
  • Alternate Stinger: Bart sidesteps Dishonest Abe’s flying tackle, who flies out the window.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another.

621: The Beast of Yucca Flats (with Money Talks and Progress Island, U.S.A.) [Grade: C+]

Before our final dive into the twisted psyche of Coleman Francis, a rare double dose of shorts. The first one has a spendthrift teen being visited by the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, who advises him on how to improve his money managing habits. If you can get past the goofy framing device, it provides some solid advice. Meanwhile the second one is essentially a Chamber of Commerce type promotional video designed to encourage investment in the economy of Puerto Rico. Obviously, that didn’t pan out. Also, I think the narrator may be the guy who narrates those insane At Your Fingertips craft shorts from ACI, though I’m not absolutely sure on that count.

The feature is the first attempt at directing by Coleman Francis, and it really shows. The primary issue is how there is no synced sound, so that anyone who is speaking is either not on screen or doesn’t have a visible face. Even more telling is the lack of a coherent narrative. There’s a rather tenuous connection involving a Russian scientist (portrayed here by Tor Johnson) becoming a mindless killer after being exposed to an atomic blast. But they don’t really mesh well.

The most problematic of the lot is the prologue where a young woman has just finished showering when an unseen killer strangles her. Since the bulk of the action takes place mostly in the irradiated wilderness of Yucca Flat, it’s not clear what relevance this has with the rest of the movie. As an aside, according to IMDB, the actress in that scene has no other screen credits. Can’t say that I’m surprised. Not much kills visions of Hollywood glamor more effectively than having to appear on set stark naked while surrounded by a bunch of leering middle-aged guys.

Then there’s the narrator, who goes about spouting random phrases. The only common theme to his yammering is a rather cynical view about progress. This makes an interesting contrast with the Puerto Rico short, which went on about how wonderful progress is. The only good thing I can think of regarding the film is that it’s not as hateful in tone as the other Coleman Francis movies.

Host segments are a bit hit and miss. The weakest is the “Is It 11:30?” sketch, which apparently is based on how Frank Conniff would get antsy over the approach of the daily 11:30 lunch break. These private joke sketches never work for me, as there’s almost never anything inherently amusing about them to an outsider. More than making up for it is Crow’s appeal for the Film Anti-Preservation Society, a worthy cause if there ever was one.

  • Favorite riff: This movie stops at nothing and stays there.
  • Stinger: The Beast tosses a rock and screams in rage.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters share scenes.

622: Angels Revenge [Grade: B-]

The basic formula of The Seven Samurai has proven to be a popular template, with the best-known adaptation being The Magnificent Seven. But not all imitators are created equal, and this is one of the less dignified takes. Yes, even more so than Battle Beyond the Stars. The stalwart defenders take their inspiration from Charlie’s Angels while the roving bandits are now a narcotics ring in Southern California. But even though these vigilante vixens are the lead characters, the actresses have their names buried in the opening credits behind several other more prominent actors, a few (such as Pat Buttram and Arthur Godfrey) of which have only one scene. Though admittedly, aside from Playboy centerfold Susan Kiger and maybe Kieu Chinh, none of them were widely known.

The Challenge Rating on this one is a bit unusual. Much of their success appears to come from how most of their opposition are bumbling incompetents, since they don’t appear all that capable in their own right. This is especially apparent when they raid a fascist enclave (who make the Black Shorts look threatening in comparison) for weapons and ammunition. None of the protagonists are capable at acting, and even genuine talents like Jack Palance and Peter Lawford give rather half-hearted performances. A good thing the riffing made the overall experience tolerable.

Too bad the host segments weren’t up to the same standard. Crow’s blaxploitation screenplay and the Shame-O-Meter were mildly amusing, but everything else came across as a bit random.

  • Favorite riff: Mom! Mom! A bunch of girls took my drugs and snagged on me!
  • Stinger: “Shine your love!”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. The title characters have multiple non-male conversations.

623: The Amazing Transparent Man (with The Days of Our Years) [Grade: F]

The short gets its title from Psalm 90:10. Like Last Clear Chance, it was commissioned by Union Pacific and concerns workplace safety. All well and good, but it comes with an odd framing device of a minister in a railroad town recounting three workplace accidents involving railyard workers. Granted their actions were careless and arguably stupid. Yet the judgmental tone of the narration comes across as a bit meanspirited.

As for the feature, despite its mad science trappings, at heart it’s a plodding crime drama. Not really a mark in its favor. The plot involves expert safecracker Joey Faust (not exactly going for subtlety here) getting busted out of jail by a rogue army major. He has under his thumb a scientist who invented a machine that uses radiation to turn subjects invisible. The major wants to use it on Joey for him to steal better quality radioactive materials so that he can create an invisible army. A man of base instincts, Joey would rather use his new state for robbing banks and feeling up Token Girl Laura’s naughty bits without the risk of being wuss slapped for his impertinence. The key flaw in this scheme is that anything the invisible person carries can be seen, which pretty much kills the attempt at stealth. Otherwise it’s just a bland crime caper with a mad science angle that doesn’t enhance it in any useful fashion.

Host segments are mostly a loss. While the Aunty McFrank’s Tangleberry Inn sketch is some sort of fan favorite, it leaves me cold. Though the way Mike goes through his bit without blinking is effective in how unsettling it is. Fortunately, better things are to be had with the season finale.

  • Favorite riff: The North Dakota film industry never really took off.
  • Stinger: Petting the invisible guinea pig.
  • Alternate Stinger: Joey gives Laura an invisible groping.
  • Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another, with Laura the only speaking female through most of the film.

624: Samson vs. the Vampire Women [Grade: A+]

Season Six has been quite a slog, with its larger than usual number of soporific crime dramas and the soul crushing horror of Coleman Francis. So, it’s a pleasant surprise to have it wrapped up with a luchador movie, specifically one that features El Santo (referred to in the English dub as Samson). It’s rather strange that they never did more of these prior to Season 13, as they’re full of campiness and supernatural tomfoolery, making them perfect as riffing fodder.

As the title indicates, the antagonists are a coven of vampire women who happen to be of the sexy variety. Their leader wishes to return to Hell and reign there as queen, so she needs a suitable replacement. That happens to be Diana Orloff (possibly alluding to Count Orlock from Nosferatu), whose fake piano playing of “Moonlight Sonata” is not at all convincing. Her professor father has an inkling of her peril, thanks to a prophecy inscribed on what looks like an Egyptian papyrus (don’t ask me why). His attempts to enlist the aid of the police border on the comical due to his evasiveness on what exactly they’re supposed to protect Diana from. The way he tries to rationalize away Diana’s sightings of vampire shenanigans is quite unconvincing and likely just aggravates her anxieties. Throw in some bat on a string that would be at home in a Hammer film and goofy wrestling sequences and you have riffing gold.

The host segments center on Frank leaving the show, where he is visited by Torgo and assumed into Second Banana Heaven. Also fun is the Chinese food sketch, which involves some Swedish Chef style antics. Considering the use of puppetry in the show, it’s rather surprising we didn’t see more of this sort of thing.

  • Favorite riff: Hi honey! Gee, it’s great to be back at the castle. Hope your sister’s dress-up Halloween slumber party went we- Oh my Gawd!!!!!
  • Stinger: “Chief, I saw two corpses in the garden.”
  • Alternate Stinger: Cop gets hauled off to a padded cell.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Zorina and Tundra have multiple conversations about Diana.

Bechdel Test totals as of Season 6: 64 Pass, 57 Fail, 1 Ambiguous

Be sure to come back next time, as the Brains perform their final gig with Comedy Central.

3 comments

  1. Love that you’re including a Bechdel test score on these reviews as well. As a male who dabbles in writing, it’s always something I try to keep conscious of avoiding. Clearly, you don’t need every conversation to completely exclude speaking about male main characters, but scripts by in large can do a much better job at cutting down on them. Keep up the great work!

    • But always remember that passing the Bechdel Test does not necessarily go hand in hand with displays of feminine empowerment or even flattering depictions of the gentler sex. Though we haven’t gotten to it yet, consider that Horrors of Spider Island passes easily. I find it works better as a simple thought experiment.

      • Agreed. I guess my thinking took a quick turn during my original comment. I’ve been fascinated by the Bechtel test, as well as strong female characters. Thank you for calling me out.

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