Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lasterblast (1978) – MST3K Review



Summary:
Billy Duncan (Kim Milford) is the local outcast, even if he does wear super tight 70’s pants and has a cute girlfriend Kathy (Cheryl Smith). He gets harassed by pot smoking cops and dweeby bully Froggy (Eddie Deezen!?) in equal measure. Then he comes upon a laser gun and amulet in the desert. By combining the two he becomes a super-powerful green faced avenger able to blow people up, because he darn well feels like it. Doctor Mellon (Roddy McDowall) tries to help Billy. There is a mysterious government agent after Billy not to mention two cute looking stop-motion aliens and their very cool spaceship. Will Billy eventually snap out of it, or will everyone end up being the victim of his Laserblast!


Movie Review:
Rich in 70’s goodness, Laserblast has several tropes that monster movies of that era possess. Our lead character is a jerk, one that is counter to everyone else, and yet unhappy that he is not understood. Billy Duncan is one of those guys who might be kinda cool until you talk to him and realize he has a huge chip on his shoulder the entire time. This makes it very difficult to root for him as a hero. Instead you kinda hope the government agent or the cute little aliens find him.

Typical of these 70’s flicks, not a single person is likable, from the cops who are all stupid and useless, to the girlfriend, who seems nice enough but is dumber than a bag of hammers. Only Doctor Mellon comes across as reasonable, and only slightly abrasive. McDowall is actually the best actor of the bunch.

The movie is also dower and downbeat. Billy is misunderstood and oppressed. Then he gets his lasergun and goes on a rampage, while growing a disgusting hole in his chest. The movie is filled with anger, even going so far as blowing up a sign advertising Star Wars. It ends on a down note with our protagonist being brought down the alien forces. So no happy ending for you! Eat that Star Wars! Heck I’m not asking for a happy ending, but at least make your monster movie fun if it’s not going for scary.

Now being a lover of stop motion animation, I have a soft spot for the cute little aliens that run around. They open the movie up with some cool action sequence (well cool for this movie) and pop up a couple more times before the big finale. They are fun looking and their ship is pretty goofy, more of this kind of thing would have helped Laserblast. I’d rather look at them than Billy’s sour mug.

Those of you thirsty for some 70’s nostalgia will get plenty to enjoy here, from the teen fashions to the old designs for the soda cans in the movie. You also have a couple of neato vans driving around. Surprisingly the soundtrack is not all 70’s groovyness, but more electronic sounding closer to an early 80’s sound. 

Surprisingly the music was co-written by Joel Goldsmith, a solid composer for television now and son of legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith (whose work includes Patton, The Omen, “tar Trek: the Motion Picture, LA Confidential and Planet of the Apes). Ok, now I’m off track here.

Lets put it this way, Laserblast feels like something that a bunch of friends put together because Star Wars was so popular. But their movie was gonna be deeper man, have more angst, be more of it’s time. Well, it also ended up being pretty lousy on top of it. Still there is enough to work with if you invite a stranded space man and his robots over to make fun of it.

Episode Review:

Laserblast goes down in Mystery Science Theater 3000 history for pretty much one reason. It’s the final episode made for Comedy Central. At the time, the cast and crew weren’t sure if they were going to be picked up by the Sci-fi Channel, so this was a farewell of sorts. In many ways it was a true farewell for one of the original writers and performers on the show, Trace Beaulieu.

But you know what, this episode is pretty funny for the movie riffing as well. Earlier this season Mike and bots struck gold with their take on The Incredible Melting Man a horrible piece of 70’s sludge that may be one of the juiciest movies they ever tackled. Here things take a decidedly more angsty view, but one that is just as 70’s. Billy is perfect for riffing. He takes himself so damn seriously, and Milford looks like he was hired because he kinda looked like Mark Hamill if you squint. He passes most of the movie with a bored look on his face, but I think that was on purpose. When he goes crazy with the laser gun and green face, it just opens up for more riffing. But my favorite Billy moment is when he first finds the gun and goes running around the desert pretending to shoot it yelling “Pow, Pow, Pow!” This guy looks around 19 or so, way too old and too cool be yelling “Pow” in the desert. I’m still not sure what the creators were going for here.

Mike and bots also fixate on the two idiot cops. One is dorky and gawky. One is huge and hairy. Both smoke some joints and love harassing Billy. The one that looks like Old Man Crenshaw from Boggy Creak 2 reminds our riffers of a commercial where we are repeatedly asked if we “are ready for some football”. This becomes a running joke, one I didn’t find that funny, but hey I don’t really remember the commercial. But aside from the football references, there’s plenty of riffing material to work with.

I think that most of the best material in Laserblast is for the stop motion aliens. They have odd rear ends that lead into all kinds of silly remarks. But between their random hand gestures and gibbering language, well it’s all tailor-made for our riffers. One scene features our alien hunters calling their boss on the view screen. One of the hunters raises his three fingered hand and Tom quips, “Read between the lines buddy!”. I also love when the two aliens are searching the desert. One has his back to the audience and is holding a long device in a pose that reminds Crow of Eddie Van Halen and so they go into a whole series of rocker based riffs.

All told, it’s a funny riffing session, not the best of the season, but a solid effort that will make you laugh. A few of the 70’s quips went over my head, and the football riff got old, but I know several fans who consider this a real classic episode. I won’t go that far, but easily a four star effort.

The host segments are what make this a real classic for fans of the show. Things start off with a very silly joke about the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome that Mike tries to stop. When Dr. Forrester appears, he reveals that his funding has been cut and the experiment is over. So he leaves Mike and the bots to drift into deep space on the Satellite and gives them one more movie to “enjoy”. At the first break a Nomad probe (Star Trek fans will know what that is) invades the ship. Mike and the bots handle it. The next break has the ship entangled in a group field of Star Babies (2001 style). It’s up the crew to change one giant diaper! Next the ship is pulled near a black hole. To solve the problem Mike dresses as Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager – yeah it’s as hideous as you imagine. But does it work? For the final segment Mike and the bots are at the edge of the universe and become pure energy. Then we switch over to Dr. Forrester for another 2001 moment that ends the show.

This ends up being a very entertaining show, with some funny and silly host segments, the last hurrah for Trace (one of the original creators of the show) and a film with lots of good riffing. For many fans of the show Laserblast is one of the best, but I think this works just as well for anyone who enjoys the show, but may not call themselves a fan. Besides those little stop motion guys are hilarious.

I give it four cool 70’s vans out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition.

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