Sunday, March 28, 2010

Incredible Petrified World (1957)

Sometimes you know a movie’s not going to be good. I mean, I’m not expecting much from these 100 Sci-fi Classics. I just want some fun, simple and cheesy entertainment. They are usually pretty short and even if the movie is a little dull I’ll stick it out. But sometimes a movie comes along that just does absolutely nothing – nothing at all. The Incredible Petrified World may be just such a movie.

Professor Wyman (John Carradine) has perfected his diving bell technology. He is ready to test it in extremely deep waters. For reasons never explained, Wyman can’t go himself, so he hires a crew of four to test it for him. Craig (Robert Clarke) and Paul (Allen Windsor) are both scientists who helped work on the bell. Lauri Talbott (Sheila Noonan) is also related to the project. Dale Marshall (Phyllis Coates) is a plucky reporter with some anger management issues. The four a lowered into the depths, but when the cables snap they are sent hurtling into the abyss. Wyman blames himself but prepares another expedition to rescue the stranded folk. Meanwhile the four explorers escape the bell and find themselves in a strange series of underwater caverns with breathable air. But what secrets does this Incredible Petrified World hold?

Good Points
  • The idea of combining Journey to the Center of the Earth and deep sea exploration has potential.
  • John Carradine is his usual entertaining and craggy self.
  • Some of the stock footage is mildly interesting
Bad Points
  • There is some seriously bad acting going on in this movie – seriously bad.
  • The movie doesn’t actually start for nearly 10 minutes – instead you get a dull documentary on the ocean.
  • The plot and pacing are inert – making the 70 minute film feel 3 hours long
This is a painful film. It’s not bad enough to be funny. It doesn’t do enough with its barely interesting premise to make anything fun. It just lays there like a cold dead fish. And I dare say that watching it could turn you into the Incredible Petrified Audience.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals – 2
Sound – 2
Acting – 2
Script – 1
Music – 1
Direction – 1
Entertainment -1
Overall – 1

In Depth Review
This movie is a real toughie. It’s gotta be one of the most dull and brainless exercises in film making I’ve seen in a while. And yes I’ve seen some doozies. What really makes this one tough to even review is the fact that I felt nothing but apathy for it during the bulk of it’s running time. I barely cared enough to even review it. But hey, I felt it was a challenge, and I should take it up. Even if means trying to remember a movie that my brain was eager to forget.

You can tell from the scores that this movie is poor. It’s highest scores were for basic technical items and even those were below average. For visuals I give it a two because some of the stock footage (and there is a ton in this movie – Ed Wood would be proud) is interesting. Also the movie’s cave sequences were filmed in an actual series of caves in Arizona. Sure the director managed to make them look boring, but they didn’t look like sets and that’s a good thing. The sound follows the same boat. It’s functional, but at times bizarrely off. My favorite was what sounded like someone blowing bubble through a straw to mimic the sound of a boat churning through water. Wow.

The acting ranges from horrid to bland. John Carradine turns in the best performance, but even he looks bored. He is more interesting to watch than our two male leads who are of the 50’s block of wood variety. The women offer a bit more, since they are allowed to show emotions. Of the two Sheila Noonan is the more likable, but her character isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Then there’s the patented Crazy Old Man with Bad Fake Beard. Maurice Bernard gives some life to the character, but honestly this movie needed more scenery chewing and that would be the perfect place for it. Bernard only nibbles gently at the scenery.

The rest of the film is pretty much a failure on a grand scale. The idea of ocean exploring and finding a hidden world with oxygen could lead to some fun if silly adventures. But the budget must have been blown on the Arizona caves, because nothing of real interest happens. Lots of walking scenes. A few scenes of tension (or yawn filled) in fighting. The crazy old man appears and you get some hope that there might be some fun to be had. But it’s all in vain. The most action we get is a volcanic eruption that causes fake boulders to come crashing down and stock footage of what look like mud slides to occur.

The movie’s construction is what baffles me. As I mentioned after a credits sequence with some promising storm footage and full throated music, we dive right into a series of oceanic stock footage and with narration. It goes on for what feels like forever, telling us things we don’t know or care about. I was reminded of The Mole People where a scientist goes on and on about Hollow Earth Theory as if trying to justify the goofy movie you’re about to watch. In both cases this does nothing but start your ADVENTURE movie with a dull speech. Really bad move.

Then you’ve got the dull office scenes and John Carradine on a boat talking to dull people. This is all intercut with the actual ADVENTURE part of the story. So instead of creating excitement or tension in those exploring scenes, they are actually made duller by jumping to these dull talky scenes of men talking really bad pseudo-science. Some of the dialogue is funny, check out Carradine’s reasoning for why the diving bell failed in the first place. But most of it is lifeless and limp.

Structuring an ADVENTURE movie this way is contrary to anything that makes an ADVENTURE movie fun. Why am I shouting the word ADVENTURE? Because the stupid screenwriter and director obviously forgot what kind of movie they was attempting. Now I’m sure Jerry Warren had a small budget. I’m sure he was just trying to make a drive-in cheapie for 1957. But if you’re gonna make this kind of movie, you’ve got inject something of interest into it. And I’m sorry but Mr. Warren (who made the equally abysmal Wild World of Batwoman) made a movie that just lays there. Even Mystery Science Theater 3000 would be extremely hard pressed to turn this dull flick into an amusing episode.

And while the film didn’t actively hurt me, I’m sure that if you ask me about it next week, I won’t remember a thing. This is only worth one petrified star.

100 Sci-fi Classics

Because of the entertaining time I was having with the 100 Mystery Classics, I decided to grab 100 more movies, this time with a more sci-fi bent to them. I enjoy sci-fi, horror and fantasy films a great deal and even bad ones can make for a good time. I hoped that they would provide a little more entertainment value than the very spotty mystery classics (which have yielded only one good film and a lot of boring ones in 7 viewings).

I’m going to review these films as I watch them and for the most part I’ll be watching them in the order they are presented. In a few cases, these films are also featured in MST3K episodes. In that case, I may review the MST3K episode but mention that it is part of the 100 Sci-fi Classics set.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this little adventure turns out, but I’m also very afraid at the same time.

Hope you enjoy!

Review List

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Final Sacrifice (1990) – MST3K Review

Troy McGreggor (Christin Malcolm) is a little curious about his father. After digging around in his attic he finds evidence that his father was involved in some kind of strange treasure hunt. Before you can say “ski masks”, a bunch of cultists storm Troy’s home and chase him. But help is on the way in form of pudgy, down on his luck, but looking good in his mullet, action hero – Zap Rowsdower (Bruce J. Mitchell). Rowsdower takes Troy under his wing reluctantly, and Troy’s gonna need all the help he can get. You see, evil cult leader Satoris (Shane Marceau) has plans to make one of our heroes The Final Sacrifice.

Movie Review
Found out recently that this film was a student effort that somehow got a release on the direct to video market. I’m not surprised in the least. This movie has an extremely low budget and it shows. From its zero budget visual effects to the script with more holes in it than a screen door – every thing about The Final Sacrifice is bottom of the barrel.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but when you’ve got a chase scene involving a kid on his bike and a bunch of goons in a car – and the goons can’t catch the kid, well that means they couldn’t afford another car or the screenwriter/director Tjardus Greidanus had other things on his mind.

Maybe he was wondering if anyone was going to buy the name Zap Rowsdower.
The acting is about what you’d expect for a student film. Malcolm was a skinny nerdy looking kid playing a skinny nerdy looking kid. So he’s believable at least. Like almost everyone in the film, he overacts, but in a way it’s believable. I mean, he is being chased by cultists that could be Mexican wrestlers gone to seed.

Mitchell goes for the gusto as Rowsdower. He plays the burnt out reluctant hero well enough. Some of the action scenes don’t quite work out so well, since Mitchell isn’t in the best of shape. But he gives it a good try. Shane Marceau as Sartoris chews the scenery with the best villains in B movies. Some of his lines are certainly ridiculous, but Marceau goes for it. Usually with comic results, but at least he’s trying.

Last but not least is the scraggly craggily Ron Anderson as grouchy hermit Mike Pipper. The man sounds like Yosemite Sam and could have stepped right out of a western as the half crazed prospector. He injects the movie with some life, as well as the large chunk of exposition he is forced to give. I love it when an actor like this just throws caution to the wind and plays the part in cartoon character mode. It’s why I love bad movies.

What else is there to say? You’ve got bad sets for the ruins. Honestly they look like they were cobbled together out of cardboard, 2x4’s and clay. The action scenes range from hilariously under choreographed to badly filmed. The dialogue is groan worthy, and the plot needed a lot more tightening. The editing really hurts the film, especially with the endless scenes at the beginning of Troy going over his father’s papers in the attic. In a way I feel bad for picking on The Final Sacrifice, because it is only a student film. But at the same time – it’s just a bad movie.

MST3K Review
I was surprised to learn that this film was released in 1990, because it looks very 80’s. And as you know, I love a good cheesy 80’s flick. For me these often turn out to be some of the funniest films to watch with or without MST3K.

It’s mostly the characters that provide all the riffing fodder in this episode. Troy is such a skinny little guy that Mike and bots just go for him right off the bat. They add little grunts and sighs when he lifts napkins, opens doors and just walks in the woods. Poor Troy also seems to have a bit of a lisp and a high pitched voice – so that adds fuel to the fire, especially after he says “Rowsdower” in an especially breathy way during a camping scene.

Mike Pipper’s Yosemite Sam character is also a source for comedy, with his crazy voice, and crazier eyes he’s a gold mine. And his unique look even carries over into a host segment. Sartoris with his black trench coat, goth make-up and exceedingly deep voice is almost funny enough without riffing, but Mike and the bots love to put words in his mouth and it’s a good time.

But the true running joke in The Final Sacrifice is the character and name Rowsdower. The minute his name is mentioned Mike and Bots turn it into a running joke, turning all kinds of things into Rowsdower accessories, or just saying his name during an action scene (reminding me a lot of the same riffing technique used in the season five classic Mitchell). Some people find the whole “Rowsdower” running joke to be done to death, but I think they do it just enough to keep it funny.

The movie is Canadian and that just opens the door for all kinds of jokes at our Northern neighbors expense. Much like they did with the British earlier in this season and the Japanese in the previous season – some of the jokes get a little too mean. They’re funny, but they aren’t PC at all. I do notice that in the years on the Sci-fi Channel, this kind of humor increased quite a bit. I find I have to be in the mood for it, and I’ll enjoy it. But this time it seemed a bit too much, especially when it oozed into the host segments.

Speaking of which, the show starts off with a power outage on the Satellite Of Love and Crow and Tom try their hand at some looting. Then Pearl decides to take over the world, one human at a time. It doesn’t start out too promising. Tom Servo attempts to sing an Ode to Canada and things get real mean – real fast. Inspired by Zap’s mullet, everyone in the show comes down with “Hockey Hair” – even Brain Guy! Mike is immune to hockey hair, because he had it during the 80’s and when you’ve had it once you don’t get it again (that’s good news for me!). Instead he comes down with Grizzled Old Prospector’s hair. The show wraps up with Crow and Tom starting their own cult and Pearl nearly taking over her first person.

The first couple times I saw The Final Sacrifice I loved it. But watching it again this time, I felt that it takes a while to really get going. The scenes with Troy digging in the attic take a lot of time, and Mike and Bots really start running thin on riffs. It isn’t until Rowsdower makes his appearance that the energy comes back and the laughs are steady. As I mentioned the Canada bashing bothered me a bit this time too – so I can’t give the episode top marks. But it is a good one.

Four Zap Rowsdower’s out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XVII.

For those that are curious, I included the picture that does not show the Troy or Rowsdower featured in the film, and they changed the title to something a little more Indiana Jonesey. It was just too cool not to include.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gorgo (1961) - MST3K Review


Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) find themselves in the middle of a terrible storm. They barely make it to the shore of a remote Irish village. Here they encounter a huge reptilian beast. They capture the creature and take it to London, where they sell it to Dorkin’s Circus for a large amount of money. The creature is dubbed Gorgo and brings in the crowds. Little to they know the horror they’ve unleashed on the city. Because when the wrath of Gorgo strikes – there is no escape.


I love Godzilla flicks. They are so goofy, over the top and silly fun, that the little kid in me just goes nuts when one comes on. I know they’re dumb, but that’s the point. Big guys in rubber suits throwing each other into detailed miniature sets – that’s what movies are all about. OK, maybe that’s what 60’s and 70’s Godzilla films are all about (with the exception of the first Godzilla film, which was actually pretty serious).

Well take that basic idea and give it to British cast and crew and you’ve got “Gorgo”. Well, don’t forget to add all the British sensibilities that seemed to rule in the early sixties. You know like making a movie that was paced about as slow as a snail and managing to sap all the fun out of the concept by making it dower and stodgy. But I kid the Brits… a little. Honestly, they didn’t know how to make a fun monster movie fun – and this flick is the proof.

The first big problem is that the monster doesn’t get a reveal till nearly halfway into the film. The rest of the movie is spent with our dull heroes, neither one really provided with much character to work with. The people who inhabit the Irish village aren’t too interesting. You’ve got the stereotypical moppet in the form of Sean (Vincent Winter). I guess he’s a bit like the Japanese equivalent of the little kid caught in the action, but he lacks the verve and the bad dubbing to make it fun.

Finally the monster smashing action kicks in with about 20 minutes of movie left. The creators give it a good try, and some of the models are pretty good (watching The Tower Bridge and Big Ben getting taken out by a rubber monster is pretty fun). But once again, the pacing is just off. There is carnage and terror and running crowds, but it all seems stodgy and too proper. By the time the movie ends, you’re left wishing that this had been more like Gorgo vs. The Moon Men, or something more silly – because this movie just doesn’t scratch the Godzilla itch.

MST3K Review

Leonard Maltin gave “Gorgo” three stars.

That is all the team at Mystery Science Theater needed to know, and they decided to have some fun with the episode. I mean if Maltin recommends it, the movie can’t be that bad right?

Mike and the bots are back with the Brit bashing in this movie. Much like “The Deadly Bees” and “The Projected Man” before them, this flick provides all kinds of avenues for jokes at the expense of the United Kingdom. But since some of the best had been used in the previous episodes things seem to wear a little thin in that department.

So the team goes for other targets. Gorgo himself is ripe for mocking, mostly because he’s the cutest darn monster in England. You just want to reach out and hug him. So when there is destruction and chaos, it just doesn’t seem to fit. Our guys make the most of it. They also have fun with actor William Sylvester who’s appeared in two previous films (“Devil Doll” and “Riding with Death") not to mention appearing in “2001: A Space Odyssey” as Heywood Floyd.

But the richest mine for comedy is the name Dorkin. Mike and Bots seize the name of the circus owner and just go to town. It’s the running joke that keeps on giving, popping up when you least expect it and when it is most obvious. Yes, they kind of beat it to the ground, but they guy’s name is Dorkin – it kind of begs to be mocked.

The host segments are a bit mixed. But when they hit they are hilarious. Things start off with Crow being the perfect place for a rare bird to nest. Then the crew decides to put on a play of “Waiting for Gorgot” – because on actor looks like Samuel Beckett if you squint hard enough. Mike becomes obsessed with William Sylvester and buys a Trivial Pursuit game based on the actor. Then the nanites (the little robots who live on the Satellite from the previous season) create a circus and Mike ruins it. Then Tom and Crow try to make a calendar of the Guys and Gals of Gorgo – turns out there weren’t too many women to pick from.

All are mildly entertaining but the real treat are the bookend sequences with Pearl and Leonard Maltin. These are hilarious segments where Maltin admits that he did give “Gorgo” three stars but that several of interns were rendered brain dead by the film. Pearl accepts the recommendation and inflicts the film on Mike. In the closing segment, Maltin is baffled that the film didn’t destroy Mike and the bots and vows to help Pearl find an even worse film; “Something with Mickey Rourke perhaps?” Maltin really gets into the whole evil movie reviewer performance and seems to be having a blast. Great stuff. Click here for a link to the Episode Guide with a picture of Pearl and Mr. Maltin.

When the riffing is on, it is pretty funny, but the movie once again ends up being too much of a slog. I have to say that once Dorkin shows up, the laughs were pretty steady, but it takes a while to get there (and if you have a low tolerance for running jokes this episode may rub you the wrong way). The Maltin host segments were classic and that helps, but I have to say that this one misses an average rating by a little bit.

I give it two and half Dorkins out of five.

This episode is available on DAP

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Watchmen (2009)


I wonder how many people out there assumed that “Watchmen” was going to be just another comic book turned into a movie? I wonder how many of them were disappointed in the result? I can only imagine what it would be like: going to see this movie and expecting something like “X-men” or “The Fantastic Four”. Turns out that “Watchmen” is more like “The Dark Knight” – but with a slight twist. Turns out, “The Dark Knight” is more like “Watchmen”.


In the year 1985, the masked hero The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered, it seems to trigger a series of grim events. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is convinced that there is a killer who is targeting masked heroes and super heroes. He tries to alert the remaining heroes to the danger, but is written of as paranoid (and a little crazy). Then Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) leaves the earth, and more importantly the United States for Mars. The Russians have been waiting for this, and begin to make moves toward a world war. When Rorschach is arrested and an attempt on the life of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) fails, the remaining two heroes Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Specter (Malin Akerman) decide to unravel the mystery. But with nuclear holocaust imminent, and the world is on the brink, does it make any difference if The Watchmen live or die?

Good Points:

  • Captures the visual feel of the original graphic novel almost perfectly
  • Retains much of the depth and themes from the graphic novel
  • The acting is uniformly very good

Bad Points:

  • Exposition is delivered in a very clucky fashion, slowing the film down a great deal
  • The visual feel becomes so stylized that it goes from impressive to overly flashy and distracting
  • The end of the movie falls short, due mostly to an anti-climax directly from the graphic novel


Any adaption of “The Watchmen” was going to be difficult, but I have to admit, this is probably as good a movie as we will get from it. The script could have used some streamlining and manipulation so that the exposition and themes flowed more naturally for a film. The movie is long and it feels long. However anyone who is willing to think during and after their superhero film will find a lot to digest here. On top of that the technical merits of the film are of a high caliber. If this sounds like your kinda movie – give it a try.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 5

Sound: 5

Music: 4

Acting: 4

Writing: 4

Directing: 4

Entertainment: 3

Total: 4

In Depth Review

The first thing I said after reading “The Watchmen” was, “How did they make this into a workable movie?” The answer is that the director Zack Snyder took a lot of risks. For the most part his daring works well. The movie is about as good as I hoped it would be. Not a perfect film by any means, but given the depth of the material and the density of its background information – the movie version of “The Watchmen” could have turned out a lot worse.

Zack Snyder has done an amazing bit of technical wizardry here. His previous work on “300” was equally impressive. That movie had a particular look and feel that meshed will with the over the top nature of source material. It showed me that Snyder has a great sense of how to make comic book visuals work on the big screen. In “The Watchmen” he does an even better job with a lot more color and depth to the images than what he did in “300”. Again it goes to the source material. “The Watchmen” has a lot of darkness to it, but the colors pop off the page when they are featured. Snyder does the same thing here. Blood stands out against stone. The yellow smiley face of The Comedian becomes a symbol of sorts and it is clearly visible in all the scenes it is featured. The brilliant blue flesh of Dr. Manhattan as well as his signature energy shimmer are presented perfectly, often overpowering the colors around them. In many ways this film reminded me of the visual delights of Speed Racer. But instead of bringing a 60’s cartoon to life – Snyder brings an 80’s comic book alive.

If there is anything negative to say it’s that this style straddles the line of being impressive and oozing into flashy and silly. This occurs in most of the fight scenes where the extra layer of slow motion and amazing acrobatics goes from cool to funny. Yes, I was laughing during the fight scenes. I had the same reaction to the battle scenes in “300”. Again, compared to “Speed Racer” where the fight scenes were supposed to be funny, and executed in a similar fashion – I think Snyder would have been better off having the action play out in real time with a realistic brutality. It would add to the themes of the film and kept things from going just that extra bar over the top.

Sound effects are excellent in the film with lots of interesting elements being brought into play. Whenever Dr. Manhattan is on the screen, there is a dull throb of power always droning, as if reminding us of his unnatural presence. All the super heroes have gadgets or special moves that are perfect for a sound designer to amplify. In addition the visual style of the movie cries out for a sonic style to match. It is top notch work here, one that allows us to buy into the world we are seeing.

The music is a tricky beast. The score is functional, providing elements when needed, but never giving us an identity or theme to marry to the image. Compared to the excellent score by Danny Elfman for the first “Batman” film or if you want a more recent example Elfman’s work on the “Spider-Man” series, the score is nondescript. This actually allows the song choices to stand out even more. We get some great selections here, stuff that would make Tarantino proud. Many of these songs were quoted or used in the graphic novel and so it adds to the authenticity. The first few minutes of the film the use of Nat King Cole crooning “Unforgettable” followed by a powerhouse of opening credits to Dylan’s “Times, They are a Changin” is a excellent example of the work here. Irony abounds, and again, it might cross the line for some viewers, but I found it all very much in keeping with the film and its themes. I do find it odd that the music comes mostly from the 60’s and 70’s, even though the film is firmly set in the middle of the 80’s.

The acting is uniformly good across the board. All the main heroes do a very good job bringing their characters to life. The graphic novel went to great lengths to give depth to all these characters, so the actors had plenty to work with. Nearly all of them nail the parts and make these people believable. I have to give special mention to Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Granted the character is the most flashy and interesting of all the Watchmen, but Haley inhabits the character perfectly. His scenes in prison are perfectly executed and add to the mystique of the character. But again, I thought all the actors did a great job with some complex characters.

Adapting this graphic novel must have been a real task. You’ve got to make a decision early on. Do you adapt this to make it palatable for the general audience? Do you make it for fans of “Watchmen”? Do you try to do both. In the end I think that this movie was made for fans of “The Watchmen” graphic novel. So much of the material is kept nearly intact that it’s amazing. But it quickly becomes apparent that what worked better on the page does not translate onto the screen without some pruning or modification. When push comes to shove, some changes were made. Much of the exposition for Ozymandias is placed in a long monologue. But we aren’t given the benefits of the flashbacks we get for the other characters. The other major change is the ending. The climax of the graphic novel worked good enough on the page, but even while I was reading it I couldn’t think of any way it could work cinematically and not look ridiculous. The compromise is surprisingly efficient and completely fits the plot and themes. I could even argue that it works even better then the original ending – but I don’t want to incur the wrath of the dedicated fans.

For the most part Snyder keeps all the balls in the air and does it for most of the film. The main problems I have with the film are based on the graphic novel. Snyder’s decision to keep as close to the source as possible ends up making the movie clunky in places. It does not flow smoothly and as such it ends up dragging at times. Snyder does as much as he can to keep things visually interesting during these dull spots, but there is only so much he can do. A movie requires attention to pacing and story flow, and Snyder is limited by trying to keep the pace and flow of a literary work. That and his over the top action sequences are really the only missteps. I think for some viewers it might be enough to keep them from appreciating the film. But if you look at all the things he does right, it’s actually very impressive. I think someone with knowledge of the graphic novel will appreciate the final product the most.

I enjoyed the movie, but as I mentioned, I felt it was too long. The narrative could easily been spread into two films. But just making one “Watchmen” film was going to be a gamble. I don’t’ think making two films was an option. The only way to keep close to the source was to make a long film. But long films shouldn’t feel long. In addition the graphic novel’s anti-climax is kept (if altered slightly). I appreciate what it does for the themes of the story. But it does not make the film satisfying after it’s over. It’s slightly more acceptable in the graphic novel, because of the depth of the world created. In the movie, that depth is reduced and because films are much more immediate as a medium, we want closure. “Watchmen” doesn’t provide that closure, it presents it’s case and then leaves you wanting more. This can work, but it doesn’t click for me in this case. Still I was able to appreciate the film as a whole and wouldn’t mind revisiting it again. It’s a bold experiment, one that almost works. I can recommend it to anyone who’s read the graphic novel and anyone looking for some interesting visual and auditory experiences. Others might want to pick up the graphic novel first, and then decide if they want to check this out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Touch of Satan (1971) - MST3K Review


Jodie (Michael Berry) is on a journey to find himself. On his journey he stops by a nice little pond and meets a nice young lady named Melissa (Emby Mellay). The two have an immediate connection and soon he goes to her family owned walnut farm to meet the folks. But something mysterious is afoot in the small town. Seems like the locals think Melissa is a witch. On top of that old granny Lucinda (Jeanne Gerson) may be creeping into yards and killing farmers. Will Jodie wise up in time to escape – or is he already contaminated by “The Touch of Satan”?


Ready for a rich and creamy helping of the 70’s? This movie provides it in spades. From Jodie’s Ryan O’Neal looks, to potholders on the Strickland’s fridge, this little movie just hits you upside the head with malaise. Of course there’s a lot more to the movie than sideburns and soft focus shots.

In many ways this isn’t a technically bad film. It’s made in a mostly competent manner. It just has a couple of points that end up sinking it. The first is the script. There are some bad lines in this film and maybe they were improvised, but in either case they should have been edited. The most famous is Melissa’s random declaration – “This is where the fish lives”. This fish is never shown, or discussed or hinted at ever again. But she feels the need to point out his home to Jodie. I think it was supposed to be a nervous cute moment a shy girl may use to distract a boy. But it doesn’t play that way. And that’s just one example, there are lots of odd lines in this film. It actually reminded me of “The Incredible Melting Man” which had a long conversation about crackers – for no reason at all.

The plot itself is an odd mix of a love story and a witch story. This could have been a great plot for an 80’s late night soft core flick on Skinamax. But for a 70’s drive in flick, it actually tries the serious route. I don’t think that Michael Berry was hired by accident. He looks like Ryan O’Neal if you squint during a soft focus scene and have had a beer or two. And there are other moments that attempt to channel “Love Story”, which had come out the year before. The witch tale should add a sinister edge, but only ends up making things seem odd. Soft focus at one moment and bloody chunks the next.

Pacing is the other big bane of this film. A line is delivered, there is a long pause, up to thirty seconds (an eternity in screen time) and then another line. And these aren’t dramatic pauses or weighty pauses. They are just long gaps of silence. For the some of the early scenes where Melissa and Jodie first meet, I can understand the technique. But it carries over the entire movie. And these add up to making the movie just crawl along slower than molasses. Now, 70’s movies didn’t really have quick pacing until “Star Wars” hit in 77, so that is part of it. But it is also editing and directing issues. The movie needed to be tightened up a bit, especially if some kind of horror was going to be generated. But hey man, maybe I’m just missing the mellow vibe of 1971. Either way, the movie’s pace suffers, and that makes the audience suffer too. Just how long is this movie and when will it end?

MST3K Review:

The crew tackles this movie with gusto and there is a lot to work with. The screenplay feeds them plenty of gems. They take the “This is where the fish lives” line and turn it into a great running joke throughout the film, inserting concerns about the fish when you least expect it. The use of the song “Amazing Grace” provides plenty of comic moments, especially when Tom decides to modify the lyrics to suit the film.

The actors all provide riffing material too. From Melissa’s eternally sweaty father who makes moonshine, to the super wrinkled and mumbling Lucinda. There’s even a special appearance from the actor in “The Giant Spider Invasion” who played the disgusting, cheating husband with the back brace. He appears in this film during a flashback to what looks like the late 1800’s. This gives Mike and bots fuel for some call backs to the spider movie as well.

The pauses could prove the death of the riffing, and they do provide a challenge, but everyone seems to boost their energy and just go for broke. They start commenting on the pauses, timing them and even betting on how long the next one will be. This turns the pain into some fun and they really make it work.

The host segments are some of the funniest of the Sci-fi Channel years. Pearl ends up leaving Bobo and Brain Guy alone in the castle – with a babysitter named Steffi. Steffi calls Brain Guy, Brian and is convinced that Professor Bobo is a dog. It’s all silly fun, that had me laughing. Mike and bots attempt to obtain wassail, try their hands at walnut farming (Mike becomes immediately sweaty like the dad in the movie). Then Crow thinks he might be a witch and has Mike bury him in rocks. Then Servo’s deadly grandma appears and tries to kill Mike with a pitchfork. The final segment has Crow selling his soul to Stan, instead of Satan, and Steffi tries to get Brian and the dog to go to bed.

For me this is a fun episode, not top tier, but one of the better ones of this season. Fans of 70’s flicks will find lots to enjoy, but others may find the movie too slow moving. I think the riffing makes up for the slow film and the host segments make the whole thing fun. I give it four sweaty walnuts out of five.

This episode is included in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume 5.

MST3K Introduction can be found here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hobgoblins (1988) - MST3K Review


Kevin (Tom Bartlett) is hired as a security guard at an old movie studio. While attempting to help out his mentor Mr. McCreedy (Jeffrey Culver), he manages to release the hobgoblins. These little critters have been locked in the studio vault for decades by McCreedy after they caused some major havoc the last time they were free. You see, the hobgoblins have the power to create illusions of a persons greatest fantasy – and then kill them. Now it’s up to Kevin and his team of friends to find and capture the Hobgoblins before it’s too late.


At some point while watching “Hobgoblins” you have to ask yourself a question. Why? This question can be applied to just about any part of the production, and I’m sure the answer would be interesting.

Why combine the plots to “Gremins” with the plot of a teen sex comedy? Why does Kyle (Steven Boggs) wear little pink shorts? Why the battle between Kevin and Nick (Billy Frank) using a hoe and a rake? Why do the Hobgoblins grant fantasies and then kill? If Mr. McCreedy knew how to kill the Hobgoblins, why didn’t he? Why the song “Fish Licker”, oh I’m sorry, “Kiss Kicker”? And how did Roadrash (Duane Whitaker) get his moniker?

I love 80’s films. There is always something nostalgic about watching them for me – even the bad ones. And this is a bad movie, make no mistake. Its supposed to be a horror/comedy, but it’s neither scary nor funny (on purpose). Most of the jokes are painfully obvious or just lame. The horror is supposed to generated from some sharp toothed puppets – but the little Hobgoblins barely move at all. They wobble more than anything else.

The acting is poor for the most part. If anything it is the actors who jump into the exaggerated nature of the movie that make it at least a little fun. Most of the best scenes occur at Club Scum, arguably the climax of the film. It’s just packed full of bizarre characters like the bouncer Roadrash, the MC (Daran Norris) and the tall haired Pixie (Kari French). Combined with the fantasy sequences, Amy (Paige Sullivan) and her decent into debauchery, and explosions you’ve got an extravaganza of 80’s cheese.

Honestly this movie can cause those with low tolerance to anything 80’s to break out in a road rash. If comedies that are terribly unfunny horrify you, then avoid this film. But if you’re looking for a movie with all the needed ingredients to make a classic episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000… look no further.

MST3K Review:

One of the writers of MST3K said something close to the following – “It seems that the movies that hurt us the most are the ones that people love the best.” I have to agree. A truly bad film with all the right ingredients can make a top notch episode even if the writing staff suffered because they had to watch the movie multiple times. By all accounts, “Hobgoblins” caused some major suffering.

This is actually reflected in the host segments for the film. After a brief incident in which Mike and the bots accidentally turn each other on (as Robert Palmer suggested in his song, “I didn’t mean to turn you on”), Pearl decides to store her couch on the satellite for until the rest of her new furniture arrives. Mike and the bots proceed to dress in kiddie pajamas and jump up and down on the sofa squirting juice boxes at each other. It’s as silly looking as it sounds.

This causes Pearl to be filled with rage, and unleash the worst film she knows – “Hobgoblins”. Bobo screams in terror! Brain Guy is profoundly disturbed. Bobo screams again. The look on Mike and the Bots face is one of true fear. The movie starts and as the credits roll – the bots try to make a break for it, unable to come up with any funny riffs because they are so scared.

It’s a funny sequence and one that makes the viewer wonder, just how bad is this movie? It’s bad, but honestly I’ve seen worse ones. But rarely has a perfect storm set itself up so well for riffing.

Everything seems custom tailored to provide laughs that are unintentional and just feed into the riffing machine. You’ve got the bad dialogue – especially the sex comedy stuff that is just bizarre beyond belief. My favorite is the phone sex sequence with Kyle and Fantazia (Tamara Clatterbuck). The combination of lines and acting is just made for mockery.

Then there’s the entire character of Daphne (Kelly Palmer). Palmer does a great job selling the slutty character, but the outfits combined with the over the top acting is just a walking joke. Every time she’s on screen Mike and the bots have a field day.

The rest of the host segments feed off the film and those are usually my favorite kind. Crow is inspired the treatment of women in the movie to make a short film about women. This is one of my favorite Crow moments from Sci-fi years. Up next, Crow sets up a crisis hotline for people who watched “Hobgoblins” – and Bobo calls in for some help. The movie proves too much for Mike and bots and they create cardboard doubles to trick Pearl so they can escape. This leads into a sequence in the theater during the end credits where Tom creates a cardboard cut out of director Rick Sloane and “interviews” him (Crow provides the voice for Mr. Sloane). The last segment has Tom travel back in time to deal with Sloane – Terminator style – so that “Hobgoblins” will never be made.

For me, this is a real highlight of Season 9 and the entire Sci-fi run of Mystery Science Theater 3000. You’ve got a super-cheesy 80’s flick, top notch riffing and some really funny host segments. I give this episode five Hobgoblins (or pink shorts) out of five.

This episode is available in The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 8
MST3K Introduction can be found here.