Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pod People (1983) - MST3K Review

In a very foggy forest, some egg poachers see a meteor crash. An investigation reveals that aliens have arrived on earth and have laid eggs. One of the poachers takes offense to this and starts smashing the eggs only to be killed by the brown furry alien. 

Meanwhile a very 80's band records a goofy song, and then heads out to the same woods. The aliens attack the groupie with band and this leads them to a lone house in the woods. 

In the house is Tommy (Oscar Martin) who has secreted away one of the alien eggs. It hatches and Tommy names the alien Trumpy, because of his elephant-like snout. The two become friends, but it looks like Trumpy or one of his relatives is on a killing spree, taking out the poachers and band members alike! Can Tommy convince his family that Trumpy is good and not one of the murderous Pod People?

Movie Review:

According to the rumor this movie started out as a horror film about an alien that is killing people in a forest. But when E.T. came out, the producers wanted the alien to be cute and befriended by a child. Director Juan Piquer Simon acquiesced, but really did not like the final result. I can't say I blame him.

The original title is Los Nuevos Extraterrestres or The New Extraterrestrials. The film was a Spanish French co-production, so that means the version you see here is dubbed. But what is funny is that it appears that the actors are speaking in English. Most of the time the dialogue matches the lip flaps. I'm guessing this is similar to what you see in many Italian films, where all the dialogue is looped because of poor location sound equipment.

Honestly the dubbing doesn't make things any clearer. This movie suffers from severe split personality, moving from horror tropes to kid friendly goodness at the drop of a hat. And there is all kinds of odd moments in between. Take the bizarre new age score for the film. Someone loved their keyboards, and came up with some odd dreamy music for certain scenes and for the more intense sequences, just had a drum machine on loop. Since what we are seeing here is an adaptation of the film for an American audience, it's hard to know whom to fault for the insane editing and bizarre music choices. These could have been added later.

However what can't be added later is the performances. Sure the dubbing makes it worse, but these characters are all aggressively stupid or annoying. The most likable character is Tommy's mother Molly (Concha Cuetos). Maybe its because she has the least screen time, but she manages to be believable and likable. Her son on the other hand is probably your typical child actor in the original version, sure he over-acts, but so do most kids. No, what really makes him annoying is the high-pitched dubbed voice he is given. I swear it’s a woman doing his voice and that makes it even stranger. 

Finally there is Uncle Bill (Manuel Pereiro) perhaps the grouchiest man on earth. His first moments of screen time are snapping at Tommy about using the scientific name for a centipede. Heck! I was impressed that the kid could say all that Latin without stumbling - or at least his dubbed actress... whatever. Bill continues being annoyed and grumpy and just unpleasant during the remainder of the film. He starts slamming down the booze near the end and that does nothing to help matters.

The poachers are a mixed bunch, with the older gent looking like a Spanish Lorne Greene. One carries a crossbow for most of the movie and is a real sleaze. The last wears dorky glasses and a silly hat; I think he's supposed to be funny. The movie starts with these guys and will jump to them occasionally, but they really don't figure into the story too much, other than to get the ball rolling by destroying the alien eggs.

The band is comprised of lead singer Rick (Ian Sera) who I think is supposed to be our hero, but is a real jerk. He yells at his band mates, cheats on his girlfriend and threatens to shoot grouchy Bill (not that he doesn't deserve it). But at the end of the movie we are supposed to feel good that he survived... I think. His girlfriend Sharon (Nina Ferrer) is one of the backup singers and she's bland but pretty. The same could be said for Kathy (Sara Palmer) the other backup singer. She's dating Brian (Emilio Linder) the nice guy who is the voice of reason. Then there's Tracy (Maria Albert) who is boy crazy but nice enough. Along for the ride is the rock stupid groupie Lara (Susanna Bequer). She's a cutie but dumb as a post and faces the brunt of Sharon's anger.

Last but not least is Trumpy. He's brown, short and has a trunk like an elephant and pointy ears like Spock. He doesn't speak (thank god), but pantomimes. He eats peanuts and drinks milk. And sometimes his eyes glow with a brilliant white light and things get goofy. He can make objects move on their own, he can reverse gravity and he can make telescopes super powerful. According to Tommy, Trumpy "can do magic things." There is also a grumpy version of Trumpy that is going around killing people. He does this by slapping them. One hit and you're dead. So avoid evil Trumpy at all costs!

All the characters are really enough to make things hilarious, but the editing is just the icing on this Trumpy cake. The movie jumps from scene to scene randomly. Sometimes showing us the poachers, or the band or Tommy. Sometimes cutting to an empty outdoor scene, maybe to show time passing? It's not completely confusing, but it just feels slapped together.

The split personality keeps this from being a winner in either genre. It's never scary, because the alien is silly looking. If this joker was stalking me, I'd fall down laughing instead of reacting like many of the humans do in the film. As for the fun family film, well Tommy is so grating that you want to slap him. Tthere are people getting killed all over the place. It reminds me of the duel personalities of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. Trumpy can do magic things, but he can't save the film. That's why we turn to Joel and the bots.

Episode Review:

This is one of the classic Joel episodes. It was the third episode of Season 3, and is considered by many to be one of the best episodes of the show. But I've run into plenty of people who don't like this episode and I'll explore both options.

This movie is a mess, no two ways about it. Even if it was edited properly, I still think it would have ended up on this show. There is too much to make fun of. Joel and the bots start right up as soon as the credits kick in. The opening titles play over scenes from another movie, one that looks equally bad. They pick on the names, the footage in the background and the odd music. Once the movie begins with a shot of space with stars shooting away from the camera Tom quips "Boldly backing away from where no man has gone before." It's because the cameraman knows that Trumpy is coming.

The poachers provide plenty of comedy with the crossbow wielding one being the brunt of Renaissance Faire jokes. The older poacher seems a bit too eager to steal the eggs and this leads to all kinds of jokes about his bloodlust. The dorky poacher and his egg-smashing scene is classic stuff. It's so nonsensical you can't help but laugh, and Joel and bots provide other observations.

Then there is the song the band is singing. This sequence by itself is one of the highlights of the show. The song is horrible. The acting is hilarious and the quips are top notch, especially since you can't understand the lyrics. Joel and the bots start adding their own lyrics and its great stuff. Once the band is on the road things calm down a bit, but remain amusing.

But don't let that fool you, Trumpy's scenes with Tommy are provide plenty of laughs. The charming music, the scenes that try to ape E.T. and even the clever disguise at the end of the film provide mountains of riffing. But it's the whole "magic things" moment that is jaw droopingly insane. Using stop motion animation and what Joel calls Pee Wee's Playhouse music, everything goes nuts in Tommy's room. It just happens for no reason, and you almost don't need to riff it at all. The team picks key moments to add comments and it's all gold.

The finale with the alien killing off the last of our characters and Tommy and Trumpy trying to escape isn't quite as goofy as the rest of the film, but there's lots to enjoy. The shower death scene is dumb, and Bill's drinking provides lots of humor. The ending is strangely sad, with Trumpy being abandoned in the woods. As goofy as he is, you feel bad for the little guy just standing there alone in the fog. A bizarre ending for a messed up movie.

People who dislike this episode site the following reasons. The new age music puts them to sleep. It is a very soothing score and there are lots of moments where there is no dialogue, just the keyboard. Of course the silly song at the beginning and Trumpy's magic moment are very different but it might not be enough to keep some people awake. The movie is also very foggy, literally. Nearly every outdoor scene has fog and the director even managed to fill a bathroom with fog for the shower scenes. This makes the episode a difficult watch for some people. The dubbing is also sited as too painful to ignore. I'm in the opposite side of the camp. I find dubbing to add to humor and some of my favorite episodes of the show are dubbed: Godzilla vs. Megalon, Jack Frost, Fugitive Alien, Hercules Against the Moonmen. Then there's the editing and basic storytelling. I agree that this movie moves very slowly or at least it feels that way because of the editing. This slow development of the plot along with the music can put people to sleep. There is also a running joke involving the television show "McCloud". If running jokes rub you the wrong way, you may not enjoy it, but I chuckle every time. I don't agree with these, but I figured I'd put there, in case you might find yourself in this camp.

Joel and the bots are inspired by the film and have a blast with the host segments. It all starts with a one man show by Crow followed by Tom's attempt. Then they do the invention exchange with the mad scientists. Joel creates the ultimate guitar chord - its powerful stuff. The Mads create a public domain karaoke machine and then sing the worst renditions of "Ave Maria" I've ever heard. The first break occurs right after the band records their song. Joel and the bots recreate the moment with all new and insane lyrics. This segment coined the phrase "Idiot Control Now", something I've seen all over the net and not related to MST3K items in the least. For some reason I see related to video games? At the next break, Joel is inspired by the new age music to create his own wall of keyboards. Crow helps him out. "Hold this key down for an hour or until you get a contract from Windam Hill". The next break comes after the magic moment. Joel is Tommy. The bots take turns playing Trumpy and all kinds of insanity breaks out. The Mads are stunned. The final segment ends with Joel singing a song "Will There Still be a Clown in the Sky", a heartfelt and yet melancholy ballad in honor of Trumpy's sad fate. The Mads respond by imitating Rick in his studio.

Yeah, I love this episode. It's not a fast mover, but Joel episodes always tended to be slower paced, especially in the first three seasons. The movie is amazingly goofy and bad, and the riffs are top notch. The host segments range from clever to laugh out loud funny. And so many memorable lines come from this episode "Trumpy you can do magic/stupid things." "Idiot Control Now!" "It's called 'evil', kid." "I'm going to have to find a ranger or a bear to sleep with." "No, 'M' like Manhattan or Mimosa."and the immortal "It stinks" complete with hand gesture. It's a great episode to start new viewers with, and it's very rewachable. For my money it’s easily one of the best episodes of Season 3.

I give this episode five Trumpy aliens out of five.

This episode is available in the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume One.


  1. Letting a rock and roll band play a song is usually a bad idea in a science fiction film. Perhaps there is a case in which it worked, but off-hand none comes to mind. (Maybe the bands that land the gigs -- either on screen themselves or lip synched by actors -- just aren't very good.) Sometimes the result is just stunningly bad, as in Voyage of the Rock Aliens.

    The spisode sound fun.

  2. It's a great one. Check it out if you get a chance.

    And the very title "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" makes me smile. I gotta find that one. :)

    1. I since have seen this film without benefit of Joel and crew -- not a recommended way to experience it. Just so incredibly awful I was impelled to watch it to the end.

    2. Oh, if Scott Pilgrim counts as science fiction, the rock bands worked, so my first remark is withdrawn.

  3. Oh man I can't imagine this movie without MST3K involved. I would be curious to see if the MST3K crew did some editing (as they often did to fit the allotted time). If so, is the complete film more rational, or is it just as confusing with the edits?

    1. I can't say for sure without seeing both, but it wasn't very rational so they probably didn't make it worse.