It was a dark time for MST3K after being dropped by Comedy Central, and at first it looked as if the show would be consigned to the same sort of oblivion as Love, American Style. However, there was no intention to go down crying and wetting.
Taking a cue from the original Star Trek fanbase, a massive write-in campaign was organized to find a new home for everyone’s favorite cowtown puppet show. This would land them a spot on SciFi, who ordered twenty-two episodes. But there were a few conditions attached.
One was the insistence that all movies featured have a science fiction angle. There has been a considerable amount of sound and fury over this. Except calling it that gives it more dignity and importance than it really deserves. SciFi’s qualifications for science fiction can be pretty elastic. About the only films screened during the Comedy Central years that wouldn’t fit are the straight teen exploitation and crime dramas.
As far as I’m concerned, it was no great loss.
More of an issue was how they were told to add a continuous storyline in the host segments. Now some of you snotnose punk kids with your loud music and your hula hoops and your multi-season narratives might not get what the problem was.
Back in the previous century, extended narratives in a TV show were largely unknown. Aside from soap operas, the only programs committed to such ambitions at the time were Twin Peaks and Babylon 5. For everything else, each episode may as well have occurred in a largely similar parallel universe where none of the other episodes transpired.
But despite the hassle of having to build new sets on a regular basis, it would result in a net positive. Though rarely appreciated in the moment, writers being taken out of their comfort zones can have an outcome of unexpected creativity. I would argue that their adventures through time and space included many of the show’s best host segments ever.
Of course, the departure of Trace Beaulieu presented a massive recasting headache. For Crow, the auditioning process winnowed out Bill Corbett, who had contributed some writing late in the sixth season.
It was a rough start, to say the least. Crow is the most elaborate puppet on the show, and Bill’s on-the-job training resulted in some awkward puppeteering during the first few episodes. There was also discontent among certain factions over the cast change. But that’s pretty much par for the course. Consider how Josh Weinstein was only around for one season of the national show and Kevin Murphy is the performer most associated with Tom Servo. Yet even then, a fan put considerable effort in conveying his ire over the little red bot’s new voice.
But even more troublesome was replacing Dr. Forrester. Without an antagonist to inflict Z-grade cinema on Mike and his robot friends, the basic premise was undermined. So Pearl, who had been such an awkward component in the previous season, served as the core of a new triumvirate of incompetent evil. Where Dr. Forrester and Frank were a comic duo in the vein of Laurel and Hardy (in which one annoys the other without realizing it), Pearl, Bobo, and Brain Guy were more akin to The Three Stooges. This proved to be a more effective formula that helped wash away the bad taste of what occurred in Season 7.
Something introduced this season which never got the love I think they deserved was the Nanites. A significant portion of the fanbase appears to dislike them, and their use became increasingly sporadic in Season 9 before they disappeared. But I liked them, as none of the sketches in which they were featured were outright unfunny, with many of them being hilarious. Oh well.
Let us now go to the Year 2525, where man is not still alive, and woman can’t survive because apes have evolved from men.
801: Revenge of the Creature [Grade: A]
After the dreariness of the last few movies in the prior season, it’s nice to get a dose of hokey 1950s monster action. And not just any monster, but the Creature from the Black Lagoon (or the Gill Man as he’s referred to here). Allegedly the concept came about when director Jack Arnold heard a story from Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa about a tribe deep in the Amazon Basin which regularly offered up a young maiden to a fish man for unspeakable purposes. Or maybe one of them had read The Shadow Over Innsmouth and decided it needed to be tarted up. Regardless of the actual source, the Creature has been enduring enough to be regarded as the last of the Universal Classic Monsters.
This installment goes all in with the King Kong formula, as the Creature gets captured by an expedition and hauled off to a Sea World type facility for study. Of course, he ends up lusting after cute blonde ichthyology grad student Helen. So, after he escapes, he makes a point to pursue and eventually capture her. Though considering that she was in a romantic relationship with a character portrayed by John Agar, it might have been a change for the better.
But I should explain. As an actor, John Agar was okay in supporting roles (as in Women of the Prehistoric Planet). But whenever he was the lead, he always played it as a condescending and smug chauvinist. I’m not certain if it’s because he always got typecast in such roles or if he chose to perform them in that fashion. Regardless, if his name gets top billing in a movie, it’s not a good sign.
One more item of note is how this was the film debut of Clint Eastwood. It’s an inauspicious start, where he performs a lame mouse in the pocket gag.
As the first episode of a revamped series, it was inevitable that the host segments would be devoted to reestablishing the setting. While serviceable enough, it would have been nice to have devoted at least one to the movie.
- Favorite riff: The Ichthyology Department at the State U. has declared martial law!
- Stinger: Clete swims softly and carries a big stick.
- Alternate Stinger: The Creatures gets his take-out order from the Lobster House.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another.
802: The Leech Woman [Grade: C-]
And we’re back to dreary. It’s not a promising sign when a film opens with a middle-aged couple sniping at each other. The hatebirds are endocrinologist Paul Talbot, who is researching the creation of an antiagapic, and his boozy wife June. The former goes off to Africa to learn the truth about a substance that can only be found there which can reverse aging, bringing along the latter for use as a test subject. It turns out to be true, though the catch is that the powdered orchid used as the base ingredient must be combined with the secretions of the pineal gland, the extraction of which kills the donor. Naturally, June chooses Paul to provide for the first dose. Another catch is that the treatment only lasts a few days, so she’s constantly on the lookout for more donors.
There are bits and pieces of various others works floating about here. These range from The Picture of Dorian Gray to Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and just about any serial killer story (though with a woman as the perpetrator). The problem is that none of the major characters are all that engaging, as they are predominantly hateful, or at best just stupid.
One aspect that caught my attention occurs in the climax when two cops arrive at June’s house thanks to the trail of bodies she’s been leaving. Now screenwriters often have a poor grasp of how the Fourth Amendment and search warrants work. One extreme has cops bursting into domiciles as they please while the other has them obtain warrants in situations where they’re not required. This instance hits the middle, as the situation would require a warrant and the cops have the probable cause needed to have one issued.
Of the host segments, the one that can serve as a sort of Rorschach test is where Servo and Crow attempt to trick Mike into having his pineal secretions harvested like in the movie. Those inclined to hate Mike can regard it proof that the character is a buffoonish clod not worthy to be the show’s host. If you’re like me (and I know I am), it appears that Mike is just messing with the Bots. But decide for yourself.
- Favorite riff: It’s not stock footage. It’s more like stock mileage at this point.
- Stinger: The wily cop outwits his suspect.
- Alternate Stinger: “You are the one I see in my dreams of blood!”
- Bechdel Test: Pass. June mocks Sally on her lack of caution, who in turn makes a show of bravado.
803: The Mole People [Grade: B+]
Apparently, the title is intended to refer to the albino Sumerians rather than the hunchback slaves. In a certain light this makes sense, with them being underground dwellers and all. Still, the erroneous assumptions of viewers over the decades are understandable, as the inhuman appearance of the hunchbacks makes them more visually distinctive.
It starts off with a prologue hosted by USC professor Frank Baxter which has been the subject of much controversy in MST3K fandom. Some regard it as an attempt to sell junk science as authentic. Personally, I didn’t think it came off that way at all. My impression was that he was explaining how the belief in other civilizations living underground is an ancient concept that managed to persist further into the modern age than you might think. I also believe he made it apparent that the movie had no basis in reality. Mind you, some of the incidents he recounted were far more interesting than what we end up getting. If there were any justice, a movie about John Quincey Adams attempting to greenlight a North Pole expedition to find a shaft leading to the center of the Earth would get produced and be box office gold. Though there’s the question of whether it should be a drama or a comedy.
Instead, we’re subjected to a demonstration of Universal Studios learning about the cost cutting wonders of stock footage. Even more irksome is that it stars John Agar, whose negative character traits which I mentioned above have been jacked up to eleven. Much of this is likely due to how his character appears determined to get in the last word in every conversation. Other notable actors include Hugh Beaumont as a fellow archaeologist and Alan Napier (Alfred on Batman) as the antagonistic high priest.
One of the more grating aspects involves Adad, a young woman whose primary purpose in the narrative is to be a recipient of Agar’s condescending chauvinism. She gives off the impression that sex is a foreign concept in her mind and that she believes babies are delivered by storks, or whatever her culture’s equivalent is. Then there’s the rather undignified manner of her demise where, shortly after they return to the surface, she inexplicably bolts off and a column falls on her. Allegedly the original ending had her and Agar going off in the sunset to Live Happily Ever After. But apparently executives at the time got worried about perceptions of miscegenation and had the unhappy ending shot and used. This would certainly explain how abrupt the scene feels.
Host segments are a strong lot. Mike’s imitation of Professor Baxter and the unimpressed reaction from the Bots is worth some chuckles. The best one however is when Crow does an archaeological dig to learn about a previous culture of Crows on the Satellite of Love. One particularly impressive moment occurs when he uncovers an image of a previous Crow which Mike points out is a selfie Polaroid. Though visible for just under a second, the Polaroid is in fact a picture of Crow, rather than just a random Polaroid one of them dug up to use as a prop. The fertility idol is kind of creepy, though.
- Favorite riff: “With your cylinder of fire, you could bring them under control.” Why, thank you! Oh, you mean the flashlight.
- Stinger: The Load hits the wall.
- Alternate Stinger: Agree.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. Adad is the only female character with a speaking role.
804: The Deadly Mantis [Grade: B]
As the title suggests, it’s another of those giant bug movies that swarmed through theaters in the 1950s. So what differences does it possess to make it stand out from the others? The first that comes to mind is a rather lengthy prologue featuring an infodump about the radar system set up in the icy wastes above Canada. This is meant to warn about any nukes fired by the Soviets over the Arctic Circle. As you might guess, the film came out well before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
While explaining why there’s a military facility up there, it goes on far longer and in greater detail than is necessary. Also, Marge is much more advanced in years than you usually see with the Spunky Girl Reporter archetype. Makes the reactions of the female-starved servicemen at her presence even more sad. There’s plenty of stock footage, mostly of military aircraft in action, but also a bit featuring an Inuit tribe. Otherwise, it’s a typical giant bug movie that hits all the expected beats, for good and for ill.
The host segments of this episode begin the network mandated storyline in earnest, with the destruction of Earth being blamed on Mike (who at most was an accessory). Though the Brains have expressed resentment at having to do this, they appear to have been professional enough to not self-sabotage their efforts. Particularly memorable is the humbled alien (because it ate Crow) they accidentally hit, which looks to be a cartoonish design of either a Flying Polyp or a Dark Young of Shubb Niggurath.
- Favorite riff: And this just in. The colonel’s advances were rebuffed once again. Sweaty hands slapped away. Breasts escaped unharmed.
- Stinger: “She’s like a butterfly, gliding across the lily pond.”
- Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
- Bechdel Test: Fail. At no point in the film do two female characters converse, with Marge being the sole female character through most of the film.
805: The Thing That Couldn’t Die [Grade: A+]
A rather misleading title, considering that the titular Thing does die. Then again, it’s a lot punchier than the original though more accurate title The Water Witch. This refers to female lead Jessica’s dowsing abilities, and not her being able to conjure water spirits or anything cool like that. The story’s conflict is established when one of her dowsing efforts uncovers a buried chest dating from the Drake expedition. While the everyone else speculates what wealth it might contain or its value as a historical artifact, Jessica is convinced that nothing good can come of it. As you might guess, the chest doesn’t contain gold but rather the still living head of British warlock Gideon Drew. A couple of dishonest ranch hands find this out the hard way and the head hypnotizes one of them into lugging him about until the rest of him can be unearthed.
As a movie, it’s okay, though dull in spots. While nothing mind blowing, it manages to hit the horror beats with reasonable competence. One neat aspect is how the head never speaks aloud before being reattached, presumably communicating with his thralls through telepathy. Too bad the climactic scene where the headless body climbs out of the coffin looks so silly.
As a point of interest, it’s quite possible that Gideon Drew was loosely inspired by Thomas Doughty, a member of Drake’s expedition who was tried and executed on charges of treason and witchcraft. Of course, Doughty was nothing like the unrepentantly wicked Drew. Even the treason charge was considered pretty sketchy, both at the time and as analyzed by modern historians. The whole affair certainly doesn’t present Drake in a very favorable light.
The host segments continue to impress. It’s here that the Observers (which parody the supposed highly advanced aliens the crew of the Enterprise encountered on a regular basis) are introduced. Other bits of amusement include Mike getting repeatedly sucker punched by Finnegan (of the classic Star Trek episode “Shore Leave”) and Crow’s Civil War documentary, which still manages to be superior to the work of that hack Ken Burns.
- Favorite riff: “Jessica was only thirteen when I went away to college.” And now she’s twenty-nine. I kind of had a bit of a hard time.
- Proposed Stinger: “I hate you all! I hope a tree falls on you!” And one does.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Jessica has multiple non-male conversations with Linda and Aunt Flavia.
806: The Undead [Grade: A]
Another misleading title, in this case because there are no vampires or zombies or the like. In fact, I can’t think of how it’s even vaguely relevant to the actual film. Of course, the original title of The Trance of Diana Love has strong allusions to the story elements concerning past life regression, a fad that was starting to become passé during production. So they added some time travel and a neat little ending that makes it rather like a feature length middle of the road episode of The Twilight Zone.
Really, it’s one of Corman’s better efforts and doesn’t deserve the harsh reactions of the Brains. Now granted Leonard Maltin’s three-star ranking may be overly generous, the old timey English is kind of silly, and the sets are laughable (there’s one instance where a prison wall wobbles just like the sets on Doctor Who were alleged to do all the time). However, the narrative holds together reasonably well. Though there are a couple of instances where Pendragon is required to be a gullible idiot. Digger Smolken is a memorable supporting character, with his songs and his at least partially feigned madness, which he uses to play mind games with the other characters. Memorable in a different way is the witch Livia (portrayed by B-movie bombshell Allison Hayes), mainly due to her very form-fitting dress. Seriously, it looks like one sudden movement would cause her breasts to pop out.
During my most recent viewing, I noticed something I missed in previous instances. When Quintus talks with Satan, the latter indicates that this is not his true identity, and he uses it because it’s something the populace recognizes. This has me thinking that perhaps he’s Nyarlathotep. After all, Corman is something of a Lovecraft fanboy who had directed the very first film adaptation of a Lovecraft story. Also, Nyarlathotep is shown running an operation like what’s seen in the movie in The Dreams in the Witch House.
Of the host segments, the only weak one is where Bobo makes himself a sandwich, mostly for being far too stretched out. The rest are in top form, particularly where the witch visits and her shapeshifting has gone haywire, as well as the Digger Smolken album.
- Favorite riff: This guy was never in Heaven. He was cast out of community theater.
- Proposed Stinger: “STAY!!!!!”
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Helene and Meg have a general non-male conversation. Also, Meg and Livia engage in some smack talk.
807: Terror from the Year 5000 [Grade: C]
I get that Hollywood screenwriters have always had at best a shaky grasp of science which continues to this day. I even understand that Carbon-14 dating was still relatively new at the time this film was made, so wouldn’t be fully understood by Joe Average. Still, the writer appears to believe that the process is accomplished by shaking a Magic 8 Ball over the object to be dated and it will display the origin year, which is flawed to say the least. It certainly couldn’t determine that something had come from the future. What’s more, due to how the people of the year 5000 had tossed about their nukular bombs with wild abandon, the artifact in question would likely be too contaminated to date.
That’s one of the many stupidities to be encountered in this movie, which is essentially a time travel variant of It Conquered the World. And as you can imagine, it’s inferior in every way. But the one scene that bothers me here involves a trope which has never made sense to me. A common method used in movies to illustrate that a character is a sleazy creep is to have him go a peep at a woman who is getting undressed in front of her bedroom window (usually in silhouette). Aside from compulsive exhibitionists, I’m skeptical that this sort of thing actually occurs.
Host segments continue to be strong, with the Observers going full on Gamesters of Triskelion. We also get the first song host segment since the end of season six, and it’s a winner.
- Favorite riff: I realize now I may have oversold the terror at the beginning and for that I apologize.
- Proposed Stinger: Hedges tackles Angelo.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. The Terror requests aid from the nurse, who refuses.
808: The She-Creature [Grade: C+]
Like in The Undead, this movie attempted to cash in on the past life regression craze. Though it managed to get released while the fad was still hot, it’s by far the less engaging of the two. A big part of the problem is that lead actor Lance Fuller delivers his lines in an unintelligible mumble. Though when you consider how poor enunciation is a frequent issue in current films, it could be argued that he was ahead of his time.
He’s easily upstaged by the evil hypnotist Carlo Lombardi, portrayed by a slightly past his prime Chester Morris (known best for his role as safecracker gone straight Boston Blackie in fourteen movies and on radio). The conflict centers around the busty young lady Lombardi uses in his past life regression demonstrations. I’m not sure I truly follow the purpose for the summoning of the prehistoric lobster woman. I suppose it could be for the notoriety of predicting the deaths, but that still seems a bit weak.
Host segments continue to be strong, with the best of the lot being Crow’s demonstration of the Tickle Me Carlo Lombardi doll. Watching it, you can see that Bill Corbett’s puppeteering skills have improved immensely.
- Favorite riff: “You’ll remember nothing.” You’ll remember how to go potty and chew and stuff.
- Proposed Stinger: The She Creature has her “Here’s Johnny!” moment
- Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between females occurs with Mrs. Chappel and a couple of nameless demonstration attendees, and unsurprisingly they talk about Lombardi.
809: I Was a Teenage Werewolf [Grade: C]
Teen angst movies and monster movies were popular back in the 1950s, especially at AIP. Inevitably you’d get one genre in the other. But unlike chocolate and peanut butter, the resulting quality was hit and miss. Then again, teen angst movies have never appealed to me.
Title character Tony is portrayed by Michael “Little Joe” Landon, so expect plenty of Bonanza jokes. He’s got a hair trigger temper that makes Donald Duck look mellow in comparison. As a result, he gets pressured into seeing psychiatrist Dr. Brandon. Too bad he’s a mad psychiatrist who sees Tony as the perfect subject for his experiments in regressing humans into an animal state, which for some reason causes the subject to become a wolf man. Even by mad scientist standards, nothing about this experiment or Brandon’s reasons makes any sense. It ends as you might expect, with the wolfman Tony killing both Brandon and his assistant before he gets gunned down by the cops. Rather depressing, really. The only thing noteworthy about it is that it’s the source of the infamous, “And you call yourself a scientist!” quote.
The tone of the host segments takes a bit of a shift. Previously, they had mostly been parodying Star Trek. This time around, the inspiration comes from Alien, as the Satellite of Love gets invaded by them. Perhaps it’s because I only know it by reputation and have never actually seen it, but I don’t find them quite as hilarious as the material from earlier in the season. Even so, it manages to be amusing in its own right.
- Favorite riff: Remember, only get injections and past life regressions by a licensed Mad Psychiatrist
- Stinger: “People bug me, too!”
- Alternate Stinger: Random girl unexpectedly wuss slaps the guy she was just kissing.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Theresa and Mrs. Ferguson talk about the former’s improvement in her gymnastics routine.
810: The Giant Spider Invasion [Grade: C-]
Well, that was unpleasant. Shot in Wisconsin, it is in many respects much like Attack of the The Eye Creatures. Both have titles that focus on unknowable invaders from without, in this case giant spiders coming out of a black hole that formed during a meteor strike (the science is rather flimsy, to say the least). Just as much effort in both is put into following the doings of characters with rather tenuous connections to one another who are loathsome to varying degrees. And while none of them quite match the greasy carnie in the knitted nightshirt in that category, the unhygienic farmer going about in his long underwear and back brace sure gives it the old college try. Both also employ several attempts at levity which go horribly wrong.
But it’s the differences that matter, and The Giant Spider Invasion comes out looking less ghastly. First off, it has some actors the general public would recognize. These include Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) and the unrelated Barbara Hale (Della Street on Perry Mason). Leslie Parrish’s own claim to celebrity can be regarded as a bit more nebulous. Likely due to having been a model at first, she’s the sort of actress who can be seen as getting by on looks instead of talent. At this point in her career, she’s clearly gone to seed concerning the former trait. Though considering that her character is the alcoholic wife of the above-mentioned farmer, this fits the role. But the most important difference is that this time, the Brains didn’t find themselves stymied. Instead of indulging in frustrated ranting, the riffing stays on point and concentrates on being funny. Mind you, any Cheeseheads who are proud of their heritage and their beloved Packers may find some of the cracks about Wisconsin to be a bit harsh.
Host segments continue to excel, this time featuring a parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Particularly memorable bits include the Pod Gypsy and her weird lullaby as well as the design modifications to the Crow puppet to reflect his overcaffeinated state.
- Favorite riff: I hate it when a movie kills off a beloved character. This is great, though.
- Stinger: The hick jeweler gives a raspberry.
- Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
- Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between two female characters is when Dr. Langer introduces Dr. Vance to Mary.
811: Parts: The Clonus Horror [Grade: A]
How many of you recall the 2005 movie The Island? The premise of a clone farm that provides replacement organs for the elite is much more high-concept material than what is usually associated with Michael Bay. So it’s not surprising that it was likely ripping off Parts: The Clonus Horror. At least the copyright infringement case was considered strong enough to go to jury trial before Dreamworks chose to settle out of court.
One of the last pessimistic science fiction movies of the 1970s, these clones live in a reasonably idyllic life and hope that they’ll be selected to go to America. As it turns out, this is a euphemism for getting put into cryo-storage at peak condition. The sequence is quite unsettling.
Though now that I think of it, the setup is rather like the anime series The Promised Neverland, which is quite good so long as you don’t follow up with the horrible second season. Should you decide to check it out yourself, I ought to warn you that the character Krone has all sorts of Unfortunate Implications (though I believe these were done out of ignorance rather than malice).
Anyway, the narrative focuses on a clone named Richard, whose worldview gets challenged when he discovers a beer can by the river. The evasive answers he gets when he asks what it is merely provoke him into trying to find out the truth and eventually escape the facility. The hilarity of groin fires aside, it’s this close to being a good movie. Unfortunately, one of the most pivotal scenes also happens to be the most contrived, as Richard uncovers what the riffers refer to as the Department of Backstory, a lightly guarded facility where he has little trouble learning details about the Clonus Project and his own origin. Looking at it, there really was no graceful way to accomplish this necessary piece of narrative. A shame, because otherwise it could be considered a quality film. The ending is kind of weird, as if it wants to be downbeat but is unable to fully commit.
The host segments return to using Star Trek for parody material, specifically the episode “And the Children Shall Lead”. For the Space Children, the Brains use the same technique employed by Tim Conway with his Dorf character. It works out reasonably well.
- Favorite riff: Sir, does he have to be nude for a simple hangnail operation?
- Stinger: “Sure!”
- Alternate Stinger: Lena with her frozen grin.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. There is no instance of two female characters conversing.
812: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies [Grade: D]
This one has sometimes been referred to as Mike’s Manos, and it’s not hard to see why. As well as possessing an impenetrable plot with a dreary conclusion, the alleged color cinematography is incredibly murky. It’s as if there were a greasy film over everything. Loathsome henchman Ortega can also be regarded as being analogous to Torgo. But one advantage Manos has is that you can more or less follow what’s going on. This movie not so much. There’s something involving a gypsy fortuneteller at a ramshackle carnival who has a closet full of deformed freaks and hypnotizes a guy who looks like Christopher Eccleston into killing random folks. Or something like that.
There are also many, many inept song and dance numbers (I’m unconvinced that a proper choreographer was hired) included as part of the ad line billing it as the first monster musical. Though like most advertising it’s misleading, as these are shows which the characters attend rather than them randomly breaking out into song. The Rocky Horror Picture Show would probably be a more fitting candidate for that title.
The host segments go back to focusing on the movie, though the final one has Pearl return the Space Children from the previous episode to their parents in a nod to the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos”. Of those, the only memorable one is where Ortega offers his unhygienic catering during a film break.
- Favorite riff: Shots ring out, but the people of Bosnia bravely go on with their peep shows.
- Stinger: “What do you think we came here for… to eat?”
- Alternate Stinger: “You dirty, feelthy peeg!!!!!”
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Margie gets her fortune read by Estrella. The “shick out of shape” singer discusses Margie’s murder with Estrella.
813: Jack Frost [Grade: A+++]
After slogging through that last movie, I really needed something completely different. You don’t get much more different than one of those wacky and insane Soviet produced faerie tale films. And this must be the wackiest and most insane of the lot. As well as Russian folktale standbys like Ivan, Morozko, and the Baba Yaga, we get some animated lumber, a skanky gang of gravity defying bandits, and a self-propelled pig sled.
The plot primarily focuses on the sweet and self-effacing Nastenka, a recipient of abuse from her standard issue wicked stepmother, who dotes on her own personal spawn. Truth be told, I feel kind of sorry for Marfushka. Now granted she’s mean and kind of stupid, as faerie tale stepsisters are wont to be. Still, I can’t help thinking about the way her mom keeps setting her up for failure, however inadvertent. It just bugs me for some reason.
There a bunch of different folktales stitched together here, with some of the more recognizable Western European analogues including Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Honest Woodcutter. As a result, it can feel a bit disjointed. Even so, the narrative has so much energy that such a complaint is trivial. I imagine some would object to the cartoon-like sound effects that appear to have been added to the English dub. But considering the action on the screen, one could say that it makes for a good fit.
The host segments are mostly decent. Some fans don’t care for the two where Crow contacts an “expert” on the Hexfield to explain the Russian folklore in the movie. Personally, I enjoy them, especially the second one with its Six Degrees of Separation chain. That one is more about the journey than the destination so to speak.
- Favorite riff: “And they lived happily ever after.” Yeah right, until the mushroom guy moved in.
- Stinger: “Bring on my fiancé!”
- Alternate Stinger: Treebeard and Friends haul ass.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Nastenka and the stepmom have multiple non-male conversations, as do the stepmom and Marfushka.
814: Riding with Death [Grade: B+]
Another one season wonder attempting to keep the memory alive with a series of “movies” consisting of two episodes stitched together. Though unlike the ones for The Master, there’s an effort here to use episodes that have a common link. In this case, both feature guest character Buffalo Bill Joe Hickens. To give you an idea, imagine if Firefly had been given similar treatment and slapped together the episodes “The Train Job” and “War Stories”.
The original series Gemini Man followed the adventures of superspy Ben Casey, who can turn invisible for limited stretches of time thanks to radiation exposure. Like a lot of espionage type shows, the conceits don’t hold up well under scrutiny, with the schemes of the antagonists bordering on the absurd. The plot of the first half makes some sense, as fraudulent miracle energy generation gadgets are something that have been pulled off in the real world. However, it’s not all that clear if it was a scam from the get-go or the researcher was simply frustrated at the lack of progress on his work and chose to embezzle the funds into a Swiss account. There are plenty of contrivances, most notable where Token Girl Abby stumbles over the paper trail of the fraud.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the inanity of the second half. There’s something about an element that explodes when subjected to a radio signal on a certain frequency or something like that. Honestly, I couldn’t follow how the antagonist benefited from this scheme or why the element in question was in a stock car racer. Apparently, the show was cancelled before this episode had a chance to air, and it probably should have stayed that way.
Host segments are a mixed lot. The weakest is Servo’s ballads of the Seventies and the Fifties that go on about the destruction of Pompeii and St. Paul’s missionary work in Greece, which falls flat. The high point is Turkey Volume Guessing Man, which helps refute a complaint from people who wouldn’t accept Bill Corbett as Crow. Their claim is that under Bill, Crow went from a demented childlike persona to a cranky, angry old man. First off, Crow has displayed cranky traits as early as the third season. Though granted they become a bit more pronounced in the Sci Fi years. This sketch and others show that the demented child aspects of the character are hardly forgotten.
- Favorite riff: Sam, I’ve been blown to several thousand pieces, but I must finish these patent papers.
- Stinger: Buffalo Bill whoops it up.
- Alternate Stinger: “No! This can’t be!!! You’re dead!!!!!”
- Bechdel Test: Fail. Abby and Tina are the only female characters with speaking roles, and they never converse.
815: Agent for H.A.R.M. [Grade: A+]
At first, this might appear to be one of the many attempts to cash in on the success of the James Bond franchise back in the 1960s. But it owes more to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as it was originally intended to be the pilot for a television series. For whatever reason, it got a theatrical release instead. Perhaps the S&P Boys didn’t care for some of the more gruesome makeup effects.
One of the sadder parts is the performance by Wendell Corey as spy chief Jim Graff. This was shot as his career was in decline and it’s obvious that he’s mumbling his lines in an alcoholic haze. The fact that he died a couple of years later from cirrhosis can make the cracks about his inebriated state in the riffing seem in poor taste. Peter Mark Richman (whom some might recall in his role as the cranky guy in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Neutral Zone”) is difficult to take seriously as a superspy, whether from that eyesore of a cardigan he wears or his condescending approach in his interactions with the femme fatale. The accuracy and deadliness of that hold-out pistol he uses also strains credulity.
Not that it matters much, because this is one of those episodes where the host segments overwhelm the film (but not because it’s dull and dreary). In this case, Mike finds himself on trial for all the planets he destroyed (though he was more of an accessory in the case of the first two). This situation might be a nod to the 1961 film The Flight That Disappeared, in which a group of scientists are pulled out of space-time and put on trial for developing a bomb that could destroy all life on Earth. It sounds rather like a particularly sanctimonious episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits stretched out to feature length. I doubt it would be as enjoyable to watch as Mike’s, which is full of bumbling hilarity. Both have a cop-out ending when the defendant is found guilty but gets off easy, though it works better with Mike due to it having no pretense at being serious.
- Favorite riff: A traitorous Frenchman. Who would have thought?
- Stinger: Malko spazz chops Stefanik.
- Alternate Stinger: Agree.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters share scenes.
816: Prince of Space [Grade: C+]
The movie featured in this episode recalls a story I once read about the original production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. Apparently, they were making every effort to be sure that the costumes and props were as authentic as possible. But to the consternation of the wardrobe department, it was learned that a Japanese woman and her kimono is rather like a Scotsman and his kilt. And as we see in this movie, the tradition continues. It’s bad enough that we have the greatest number of ill-proportioned men in unflattering tights since Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. But it’s made worse by how the tights clearly define their genitals. I’m surprised this got cleared to be broadcast on American television Back in the Day.
The main plot involves the inhabitants of the planet Krankor invading Earth, with the titular caped crusader being the only one able to stop them. Most of the time he prances about yelling, “Your weapons are useless!” or some variant, which he accomplishes with a wand he uses to deflect back their energy blasts. Needless to say, the Challenge Rating on this one is quite low. There are also some snot-nosed punks who occasionally butt in on the action. Fortunately, their presence doesn’t quite reach the point where they become a major irritant.
The host segments are an odd lot which involve traveling through a wormhole, with all sorts of shenanigans resulting. In particular, the one where everyone is temporally out of sync is tricky to comprehend but rewarding when you do.
- Favorite riff: “I can’t move!” Oh wait. Sorry, I can move. I just forgot how to for a second.
- Stinger: Krankor laughs.
- Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Near the beginning, Kimmy asks Susie if she’d be afraid to go into space and she replies in the affirmative.
817: The Horror of Party Beach [Grade: D]
There’s always something vaguely pathetic about thirty-somethings attempting to portray teenagers on film. Especially when engaging in activities associated with the younger end of the spectrum, like slumber parties. This is even more evident with independent productions like this one, as they rarely have access to relatively youthful looking performers that are available to major Hollywood studios.
The title is a bit misleading, as virtually all the monster attacks occur away from the titular beach. Even by the already low standards of B-movie monsters of the 1950s and 1960s, these were particularly ill-conceived. In particular, the mouth has what looks like a mass of hot dogs sticking out of it. I have been unable to unearth an explanation (convincing or otherwise) as to what purpose it was meant to serve.
One thing that’s sure to rub modern audiences the wrong way is the black housekeeper Eulabelle (to be fair, that is also the name of the actress). Her character is so much of a 1930s stereotype that it’s hard to believe that this was made in 1964. Then again, Hurry Sundown came out in 1967.
The host segments for this episode begin the arc where they’re in Ancient Rome. Unfortunately, of all the settings they visit during this season, that was the most underwhelming. And the segments for this episode are among the most painful. Even those confined to the SOL are weak, with Servo’s newspaper boy gag being especially trying. Of course, that was likely the point, but it’s another case of succeeding too well.
- Favorite riff: Original soundtrack not available. You’ll thank us.
- Stinger: Wispy speedo clad wimps dance on the beach.
- Alternate Stinger: Agree.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. The slumber party attendees speculate on what’s happening outside. The road trippers comment on the town’s woes. Eulabelle and Elaine talk about voodoo.
818: Devil Doll [Grade: B]
What is it about ventriloquists and their dummies which provokes suspicion that something untoward is afoot? It’s possible that even Edgar Bergen wasn’t exempt from such distrust. Certainly, Mortimer Snerd is the sort of dummy you’d be uncomfortable being alone with in a dark room. It’s this sort of unease which this movie feeds on in a big way.
Truth be told, I can’t comprehend why Vorelli’s act is so popular. Is the overt hostility between him and Hugo that big a draw, or were the British of the time so starved for entertainment? Perhaps something got lost in the transition from the original short story to film. Another strike against it is that Mark English is another one of those ineffectual chump protagonists. He spends most of the film blundering about being thwarted at every turn, only to be saved by Hugo’s falling out with Vorelli. There’s also the uncomfortably sleazy content, in particular when it gets implied that Vorelli uses his hypnotic hold on Marianne to rape her (which provoked a strong reaction from Mike and the Bots).
In the host segments, the Ancient Rome material continues to underwhelm. The English pub sketch is also quite blah. However, more than making up for this are the two segments which feature Pitch the Devil selling products to Crow as Mike disapproves, which are comedy gold.
- Favorite riff: Well, that scene’s going nowhere. Let’s try this one.
- Stinger: Hugo attacks.
- Alternate Stinger: Agree.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Marianne has brief non-male conversations with Magda and Aunt Eva.
819: Invasion of the Neptune Men [Grade: D]
Ever wonder what Prince of Space would be like if the kids were the center of attention and the action was even more lifeless? It would probably be something like this movie, magnifying all that movie’s faults while dispensing of what few virtues it had.
Yes, upon reflection, Prince of Space does have some good points (at least in comparison to Invasion of the Neptune Men). Most important is how Phantom of Krankor is a distinctive villain who regularly engages in witless badinage with Prince of Space, providing some entertainment value. And if nothing else, his staccato laugh is memorable. Meanwhile, the Neptune Men are voiceless and faceless goons who move and fight like some of the more ill-conceived Doctor Who monsters. Our caped crusader Space Chief isn’t much better, as he is just as lacking in personality. Watching him mince about while combating the Neptune Men, it’s hard to believe that’s he’s actually renowned marital artist Sonny Chiba. Then again, this was quite early in his career. And if you thought it wasn’t possible to make a climatic dogfight tedious, here’s proof that it is.
All of this means is that much of the narrative relies on the child characters to drive it. As you might expect, they’re not up to the task. It’s made even worse by the English dub, which features the worst examples of middle-aged women attempting to sound like boys. A solid reminder as to why Charles Schultz insisted that Peanuts characters were to be voiced by actual children in animated adaptations.
Of the host segments, the clear winner is the Who’s on First inspired sketch concerning Noh Theater. The roji panty complex is an odd one that’s based off a misheard line of dialogue. My best guess is that what had been said was Roppongi Complex. Roppongi being a district in Tokyo that had some American military installations at the time of the film, and in more recent years has become known for its nightclub scene.
- Favorite riff: Due to the apocalypse, cram school will be delayed by forty-five minutes this morning.
- Stinger: Fat kid screams and falls on his hinder.
- Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Two random women comment on the recent odd weather patterns.
820: Space Mutiny [Grade: A]
Stock footage is ubiquitous in the movies featured on MST3K, as obtaining it from a film library can be far less expensive than shooting it yourself. A similar cost-cutting measure involves reusing effects shots from previous films. For instance, the dinosaur footage from One Million B.C. can be seen in both Robot Monster and Teenage Cave Man. But even more flagrant is how Space Mutiny cribbed footage from Battlestar Galactica for the spaceship shots. At the time this episode first aired, it was considered a minor crime among the fan base that this wasn’t acknowledged in the riffing (apparently Trace and Frank were responsible for the bulk of the riffs which alluded to older TV shows).
An unusual aspect of the movie is how it features the generation ship concept, which you’re more likely to see in literary science fiction. For those who have not seen The Expanse or might otherwise be unfamiliar with it, a generation ship travels from one star to another at sub-light speeds. But unlike a sleeper ship where the passengers are kept in some form of stasis, people continue to live and die, with several generations never knowing life outside a spaceship. This informs the motivation of the antagonists, which came across a bit more clearly in the uncut version that was screened at the RiffTrax Live presentation. Their scheme is to sell the crew and passengers to pirates as slaves and use the proceeds to settle on a closer world. Honestly, I don’t buy it, as interstellar travel through generation ships isn’t conductive to the sort of commerce that would make piracy feasible.
The casting for the leads is unusual, as the roles in question are the sort that normally go to younger performers. Reb Brown and Cisse Cameron were in their mid to late thirties at the time, and it showed (especially for the latter, who was wearing an unflattering leotard). Then there are the Bellarians, who can probably be best described as Space Wiccans. The bulk of their screen time has them doing interpretive dance with no obvious connection to the rest of the plot. Apparently, the footage was shot and tacked on late in the production when it was found that the movie didn’t come up to feature length. Sad really.
For once, the host segments down in Ancient Rome are actually pretty good, as Bobo’s blundering has resulted in them being locked up in a dungeon. Up on the Satellite, Mike’s teatime being interrupted by Servo and Crow engaging in a dogfight is especially memorable. The sight of him daintily dropping a sugar cube into a cup is just so incongruous to his usual image.
- Favorite riff: “Are there any other of you that wish to confuse freedom with treason?” I’d like to confuse bok choy with cabbage, sir.
- Stinger: Big McLargeHuge screams like a little girl and bails out.
- Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
- Bechdel Test: Fail. At no point do any two female characters converse with each other.
821: Time Chasers [Grade: A+]
Thanks to the Star Trek franchise, I have very little patience with time travel stories. Especially if they get all worked up over a timeline gone wonky that needs fixing. I can muster up some good will if the story indicates that space-time can hold its own thank you very much (Babylon 5), it’s comedic in nature (Back to the Future, Peabody’s Improbable History), or it just doesn’t care (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, much of Doctor Who).
Not only does this indie film from Vermont feature many of the histrionic clichés associated with the genre, but it indulges in a trope which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I speak of the concept of the evil, soulless corporation. My issue is that while such entities are regularly portrayed as evil and soulless, they rarely behave like corporations. For an example of it being done right, consider the Doctor Who serial “Colony in Space”. A significant plot point in that one involves a mining company attempting to drive off a foundering agricultural colony so that the world’s mineral rights can be obtained cheaply.
I believe the core issue is that many writers regard the desire to turn a profit as intrinsically evil. The problem manifests with the leap in logic where it’s assumed that this means they’ll indulge in other acts of evil, regardless of their effects on the bottom line. This can sometimes result in absurd end games, like the erasure of all existence. Unless the corporation is a front for a cabal or an individual is using company resources for personal purposes, a board of directors signing off on such actions is a stretch.
The evil CEO in this movie features one of the more obnoxious caricatures in recent memory. Even so, it fails to distract from the time machine inventor’s smug pomposity, making him an underwhelming protagonist. And much as the film tries to convince us otherwise, the constant dunking on Matt (AKA Pink Boy) is not hilarious.
Yet in spite of these irritants, this way outside the Hollywood system production has the quirks needed to be a top-notch riffing subject, and Mike and the Bots are in top.
Inspired by the film, the host segments involve Crow traveling back to 1985 to prevent Mike from ending up being shot into space, with disastrous (and hilarious) consequences. The neighborly talk between Mike and Pearl is also worth a few chuckles.
- Favorite riff: I leave for twenty minutes and EvilCo is in shambles.
- Stinger: “Matt, it’s time for you decide if you’re gonna be one of my team players or not.”
- Alternate Stinger: Agree.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. The redhead survivalist asks Lisa if they still have their time transport, and she replies. Lisa and her boss talk about covering a plane crash.
822: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank [Grade: B]
This movie feels like a 1980s Doctor Who serial with the Doctor inexplicably missing, complete with it being shot on videotape and the shoddy chroma key effects. But that’s only the start of the many issues to be seen.
First off, our alleged “hero” Aram Fingal is a self-absorbed jerk who never displays any redeeming traits. In particular, his unwanted advances towards one of his co-workers early in the narrative make him unappealing. Then there’s the flagrant violation of the screenwriting principle of show, don’t tell. Now many an inept screenwriter will use narration to convey bits of exposition which they are unable to present in the dialogue in a convincing fashion. But in this case, the narration focuses on exposition that is obvious to the audience. It’s like one of those really bad DVD commentary tracks where the commentator just describes what’s happening on the screen without offering any insights.
I suspect the major issue is that the original short story didn’t have much in the way of conflict, so some was added to pad the adaptation out to feature length. This worked out about as well as you might expect. Again, Fingal proves to be an issue, as he instigates the conflict rather than react to it. In particular, his misadventures in the Novicorp mainframe result in mucking up weather control systems, resulting in much offscreen damage and loss of life. Now it’s certainly possible that Fingal might not be fully aware of the consequences of his actions. Even so, asking the audience to regard him as a lovable rebel is a bit much.
Likely the only reason Mike and the Bots weren’t even harder on the character was because actor Raul Julia had died an early death a couple of years prior to this episode airing. Apparently, he’s a respectable actor, though the only other movie he appeared in that I’m familiar with is Street Fighter. But at least in that one he delivered a truly great putdown line concerning the inflated regard protagonists often have as regards their importance in the greater scheme of things.
Since the feature was made to be shown on PBS stations, many of the host segments concern Pearl running a pledge drive to fund her racetrack betting habit. Meanwhile, the one where Servo shrinks himself to visit the Nanite world is one I consider underrated. I’ll grant that the (literal) punchline is a bit obvious, but it still provides some decent laughs. There’s also a fun bonus sketch that happens over the end credits, where Mike and the Bots find that sending in their complaints about the movie is more trouble than it’s worth.
- Favorite riff: Wanda Cannon? Now that’s a porno name if I’ve ever heard one! Not that I’ve ever heard one. You know, I don’t subscribe to lots of publications or anything.
- Stinger: “Am I nuts?”
- Alternate Stinger: “I’ve interfaced!”
- Bechdel Test: Pass. While the bulk of female conversation is between Apollonia and Djamilla about Fingal, there is a point where the field trip chaperone reprimands a female student for not washing her hands after eating, who responds by sassing her.
Bechdel Test totals as of Season 8: 79 Pass, 70 Fail, 1 Ambiguous
And that’s all for now. But our journey will continue. Just remember to bring plenty of Cheez-Its to munch on.