Friday, November 30, 2012

Space Mutiny (1988) – MST3K Review


Hurtling through the cosmos is the spaceship, the Southern Sun. Captained by the bearded and wise Alex Jansen (Cameron Mitchell) the ship is looking for a habitable planet to colonize. But not everyone aboard the Southern Sun is willing to wait to find the perfect planet. They want off this tin can and they want it now! Lead by the scowling Commander Kalgan (John Phillip Law) they stage a mutiny and capture Jansen’s daughter Lea (Cisse Cameron).

But help is on the way in the form of big beefy Dave Ryder (Reb Brown). This fearless pilot to takes a shine to Lea and wants to help the Southern Sun in any way he can. This translates into punching people, shooting laser guns, driving a armored golf cart and screaming in a high pitched voice. Added to the mix are the half naked writhing Bellerians, who may help or hinder our hero in his quest to quell the Space Mutiny.

Movie Review:
Holy guacamole is this a huge slab of hilarious low budget 80s sci-fi cheese. If you love bad 80s movies, then you really need to see Space Mutiny. It is an amazing mish mash of corny dialogue, poor acting, ridiculous plot and borrowed footage from the 70s version of Battlestar Galactica the result is a movie that is pure comic gold.

Lets start with the visuals. The special effects for nearly all the space scenes including the battle sequences comes directly from Battlestar Galactica. These effects were done by several of the folks who worked on the original Star Wars and didn’t join Industrial Light and Magic. As a result, this stuff looks pretty good, maybe a little out of date when Space Mutiny appeared in 1988 (by this time Star Trek: The Next Generation was already using computer graphics for the visual effects). But the detailed models used in those scenes clashes horribly with the low budget costumes, props, and sets used for all the interior shots of the film.

The bulk of the action scenes look like they were filmed in an industrial building somewhere, with all the railings, metal stairways and heavy machinery around. Oddly this same approach was used with greater realism in the update of Star Trek in 2009. But here, they just aren’t able to make the transition convincing. These folks are obviously running around a boiler room, not the high tech innards of a space ship. The scenes that don’t take place in the industrial settings look like typical spaceship interiors, not bad for the budget actually.

But the costumes, especially for the ladies are pretty horrible. Most of these aren’t flattering in the least, and have such garish colors (but so very 80s) that your eyes might burn out their sockets. Lea is the worst offender, but nearly everyone in the disco scene will is dressed, well, I’m at a loss for words. These are up there with the outfits used in Warrior of the Lost World. I also loved Ryder’s flight helmet, which I swear was something a neighbor of mine bought at Toys R Us, with its blinking LEDs and faceplate. You’ve also got some serious hair in this film. From Mohawks to mullets, nothing is left without hairspray.

Perhaps the silliest element of the interior scenes are the Enforcers, little golf carts covered with some kind of metal to make them look armored. The villains drive around in these and they look so comical that they lose all credibility. But the real cherry on the sundae occurs during the chase scenes with these little guys. It has to be seen to be believed.

You know on the face of it, the plot to Space Mutiny isn’t half bad. The struggles of the faithful crew against the mutineers could provide some tense moments, plenty of action and danger in the right hands. But we got two directors here, and rumor has it that neither of them liked the final result (and tried to get Alan Smithee credit). While action ends up being the main focus of the film in the second half, the poor dialogue ends up scuttling most of the tension (the acting choices don’t help either). Then you’ve got the Bellarians, half naked women writhing around who supposedly have some kind of supernatural power that comes into play at the end. But really it’s just an excuse to have half naked women writhing around. Sadly all their scenes are pointless and destroy the pacing by removing any tension present in the story.

But the real joy here is the acting. You’ve got some folks going all out, and others who are there for the paycheck. In the later is Cameron Mitchell as Commander Jansen. Saddled with a ridiculous looking beard and a silly looking robe, you get the feeling that Mitchell was counting the days till the shoot was over. He’s not wooden, but he doesn’t seem to put in much effort, or really grasp what his role in the story is.

On the other end is John Phillip Law, a veteran of these types of movies (he’s a darn good Sinbad in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). He plays the evil Kalgan as a completely arrogant, megalomaniacal madman. This comes complete with an evil laugh, deranged eye popping and straining with so much fury that you’re afraid his neck cords are going to pop right out. It’s wonderfully over the top and more than a match for the protagonists.

Yes Reb Brown has also done his share of cheesy action films, and Space Mutiny is no exception. As Dave Ryder he pretty much has to look buff, throw people around and shout a lot. He does all of these with gusto, Whenever Brown is moving around kicking ass, he looks at home. But in the dialogue scenes we start to see some limitations. He flubs lines, gets a bit incoherent and shows little chemistry with Cisse Cameron (who he ended up marrying after the film).

Cisse Cameron as Lea seems to be having a blast. She gets into the role, from playing the outraged daughter to blasting away at mutineers with abandon. Her unfortunate wardrobe and dialogue doesn’t stop her either. You can tell she decided to just go for it, no matter how stupid the whole thing was. Go Cisse.

The whole movie is a mess, a big wonderful mess. Even without Mike and bots around to riff it, Space Mutiny would be a bad movie lover’s heaven. But the bad movie gods decreed that MST3K would tackle the film, and it was good.

Episode Review:  

Season eight of Mystery Science Theater 3000 ended with the three best episodes of the season. This is possibly one of the best episodes of the entire series run. I know, that’s saying a lot, but Mike and bots really make this already hilarious movie a whole lot funnier.

As the opening titles for Space Mutiny blaze across the screen looking like rejects from an old Atari game Tempest, the guys know they are in for a good one. They get on a roll with some of the names in the credits and the pace never slacks from there. The movie keeps gift-wrapping ludicrous moment upon ludicrous moment for them.

Perhaps the most memorable set of riffs comes when Dave Ryder first appears on screen. Mike and bots start coming up all kinds of outrageous names for the character including (but not exclusive to): Blast Hardcheese, Stump Chunkman, Slab Squatthrust and Big McLargehuge. Not only are the names creative but the timing of the delivery just makes each one funnier than the last. When the finale hits with Dave running around blasting away at villains and tossing them over railings, the nicknames come fast and furious.

Kalgan’s ranting and raving followed by his evil laugh cause the boys to snicker enough. But they really go to town on his lackeys, one who is dressed in red armor and they dub lobster boy. When Kalgan tries to lead his army of badly coifed evil doers in a final battle, the laughs really kick in. Kalgan screams, and strains and laughs so much that Mike and bots are pretty sure that the actor has flipped his lid.

Lea is pretty much a walking punch line. Her hideous wardrobe, which makes her look more like a space-whore instead of the daughter of the noble commander is the first big problem. Tom dubs her a “sexy senior citizen” because she looks quite a bit older than our protagonist (unfortunate make up and hair don’t help). Her first scenes have her coming across as shrill and annoying, but once she falls for our big rubbery hero, she starts vamping it up. The amazingly garish disco scene has her dancing provocatively or as Crow points out “presenting like a baboon”.

It would be impossible to really cover all the great riffing going on in Space Mutiny. The overwhelming 80s atmosphere to the whole film causing all kinds of jokes related to the Regan years. A continuity issue featuring a character killed appearing in the background of later scene causes quite a bit of confusion for Mike and the bots. There’s even a running gag with one of the bridge bunnies wandering around “collecting signatures for Sherry’s birthday card”, that delivers a pretty hilarious payoff. Then there’s all the jokes provided by the Bellarians and their writhing. When you boil it down, Space Mutiny is one of the best-riffed flicks the boys did.

The host segments are part of the Roman Empire world storyline. But things kick off with the bots complaining about Mike's archaic encyclopedias, which contain factoids like “Someday man may walk on the moon” and “In the future we may learn to harness fire, instead of hide in our caves from it”. On the planet Pearl, Observer and Professor Bobo are imprisoned by the angry empress Flavia. Pearl hatches a plan to have Mike distract Flavia (played by Mike’s wife Bridget). During the first break Mike attempts to enjoy some quiet time when the bots have a full blown space battle – with the only remaining escape pods! At the next break Crow is convinced he is a Bellarian. Turns out he’s just a freak. At the next break, Tom is inspired by all the railing kills to put up a bunch of railings around the ship. My favorite is the whisper quiet spinning spiked railing. When the movie ends, Pearl has Mike attempt to distract Flavia with a fake seduction. Mike fails utterly, but it’s enough for Pearl, Observer and Bobo to make their escape – but not before Bobo starts the famous fire of Rome.

Space Mutiny kicks off the triple threat. Followed by Time Chasers and the hilariously riffed Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, you have three of the best episodes of the series back to back. It is easily one of my favorites. And one of my favorite Internet reviewers, Alison Pregler (Obscurus Lupa) declares it her favorite episode of the series. So take it from folks who know cheesy good fun, Space Mutiny is one to watch.

I give it 5 Blast Hardcheeses out of five.

Here’s a treat,:  the final chase scene un-riffed. It gives you a taste of the wonders in store.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume 4.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Giant Gila Monster (1959) – MST3K Review


For the teens in a small town in Texas, there isn’t much to do but talk about cars, listen to a popular radio show and hang out with Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) the good looking musical tow truck driver. Well all that is about to change when a ginormous Gila Monster starts devouring folks, smashing cars and making a general mess of things.

Sheriff Jeff (Fred Graham) does his best to figure out what is going on (there are no witnesses after each horrible attack). But everything is out of his jurisdiction. Luckily he’s friends with Chase and since the lad is the smartest person in the town, they work together to figure out what is going on. Prepare yourself for a a renegade tow truck driver, songs, a severely drunken DJ, driving around in jalopies, and an actor named Shug. But nothing can prepare you for The Giant Gila Monster.

Movie Review:
There is something with huge lizards with names that start with “G” that just fascinated folks in the 50s and 60s. First Japan gave us Godzilla. Then the flying turtle Gamera exploded on our screens. In between we get Gila! Well this critter doesn’t have a cool name. In fact some folks say the animal in this movie is actually a Beaded lizard. But the Giant Beaded Lizard just doesn’t have the same ring. And it doesn’t start with a “G”!

When you boil it all down, this is your typical 50s monster movie, with the misunderstood teens who see the menace but can’t get the adults to believe them. Oh, The Blob, what have you wrought? In fact this film only came out a year after The Blob and has many of the same beats. Chase is really a good kid at heart. Sure he like cars and racing them. But he’s not a real delinquent. In fact Sherrif Jeff goes out of his way to explain that the kids in the town would be getting into a whole lot more trouble is Chase was around. This doesn’t stop grumpy Mr. Wheeler (Bob Thompson) from determining that Chase is the source of all the bad things going on in town.

Not only is Chase a good kid, but he’s also got a little sister who has to walk with braces. So in a touching side story, he tries to raise enough money to get these braces. To do this, he is attempting to start a singing career. Or more like he is discovered after he rescues the drunken DJ “Steamroller” Smith. He’s see’s Elvis-like potential in the kid. Odd since Chase only really sings a super mellow song called “Laugh Children, Laugh”.

But wait, what about the Giant Gila Monster? Well he spends most of the film wandering around watching teens make out (and sticking his tongue out at them, the pervert!) and eating random people. The creature is a fairly large specimen put on a model railroad set and let loose. This combined with reaction shots is supposed to show how darn huge this monster truly is. Sadly the model trees, bushes and cars aren’t too convincing and you end up giggling. My favorite scene is when Gila goes nutty and attacks a train. The combination of the obviously annoyed lizard, the trashed train and the overlaid screams of the passengers is pure bad movie gold.

Luckily the Gila Monster is not the best actor of the bunch. Don Sullivan does a good job as the likable Chase. While the script saddles him with some lame dialogue he does a decent job with it. His singing voice isn’t half bad either. But once again, the songwriters need to be hit on the head a few times. The two songs Chase performs are pretty bad. But the  “Sing Whenever I Sing” song became an instant MST3K classic.

Fred Graham as the Sheriff isn’t too bad either. He treats Chase more like a son, which is a bit odd. But the script ends up making the Sheriff look like a moron who doesn’t have any power to do anything. Jeff ignores all the obvious signs of some kind of animal. Even when things start happening he keeps saying how he doesn’t have the jurisdiction to act. He’s one of the most pointless law enforcers I’ve seen in a movie. But he is willing it listen to the teens and believe that they mean well, even if they are a bit noisy with their rock music and fast cars.

No the worst actor in the flick is Mr. Thompson playing Mr. Wheeler. Not sure how he got picked to be the human antagonist here, but he flubs lines, looks lost most of the movie and comes across more whiney then aggravated and aggressive. The big success of his performance is that you want him to be eaten by the Giant Gila Monster by the end of the flick.

All told, it’s not a bad low budget monster movie. Not really scary, but still a lot of fun when the Gila Monster is smashing the train set. The movie does take quite a while go get going. It focuses on teen/town drama for the first half. But once the Gila destroys a gasoline truck, things pick up a bit. It all leads to an explosive finale and a couple musical numbers. What more could you ask for? Joel and bots of course.

Episode Review:  
This was the second episode of the forth season of the series, and by this point the crew at Best Brains was well versed in the art of riffing a bad movie. They had been tested with the previous episode Space Travelers (which was a really dull episode all the way around). But this flick seemed to invigorate them, maybe because it was their bread and butter – the 50s monster movie.

The Giant Gila Monster starts out a little slow in the movie and riffing department because of the all the teen/town drama going on. The movie gives us a little bit of giant lizard action, and the boys have a great time with it. But when the things get mired in talky scenes the riffing slows down a bit. By this time they had pretty much used all the gags about teens, cars, making out and drunken hobos in previous films and I think they were at a loss here.

But then the Gila Monster destroys a gasoline tanker with his tongue and all bets are off.

Of course I can’t discount the humor in the musical scenes. When Chase whips out his first song earlier in the film, it seems to invigorate the riffing. First off, Chase is singing a little tune that sounds like “I sing whenever I sing whenever I SIIIINNNGGGGG!” while hammering a fender. This becomes an instant classic. With Joel or the bots having any character start singing this little ditty as they enter or exit the screen. It also became a reoccurring riff right into the Sci-fi Channel years.

Chase’s second song describing how “The Lord said laugh children, laugh” over and over again, provides some great riffing fodder. Joel wonders if the Lord said it that many times. Crow replies, “That’s why Deuteronomy is so long.” The inane lyrics combined with Chase strumming a ukulele to his adoring is hilarious stuff.

Another running joke comes with the fact that nearly everyone in the movie ends up putting their foot up on something. Chase does it frequently, but the Sheriff, the teens and even the hillbilly mechanic get in on the action. Joel and the bots start looking for when the next actor will “put their knee up” on something. While looking at a wrecked car, Tom has the Sheriff say, “You know a clever man could put his knee up on something like this.”

But the lizard on a rampage steals the show. Joel gives him a gruff voice (something he’d provide for most animals during his tenure on the show). As the Theremin induced music plays, Joel will give the lizard all kinds of silly lines. When some teens are making out and the lizard attacks, the camera provides a close-up on a screaming girl and then a close-up of the lizard’s face as his tongue shoots out. Joel says, “I’m your boyfriend now!” (a reference to Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street). Then there’s the scene where Chase tastes some water in a creek bed and The Giant Gila Monster exclaims “Hey, that’s my urine. Even I don’t do that!”

No one is spared from riffing. As the sheriff proclaims that the latest actions are out of his jurisdiction again, Tom shouts, “What is your jurisdiction?” Or when Chase’s French girlfriend hurries off to a meeting with him in a garage with an ornate roof (looking for all the world like the old architectural design for the International House of Pancakes) Crow says in a silly French accent, “Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity for me!”

The host segments are mostly inspired by the film. Things start off silly when Tom and Crow are bonded together to be The Thing with Two Heads. For the invention exchange the mad scientists create punching bags of Renaissance Faire characters (most of the crew at Best Brains hated the Ren Faire, see Quest of the Delta Knights for more information). Joel creates a plot point specific radio that comes in very handy if you need exposition on the fly. For the first break Joel is inspired by the very narrow teen hangout in the film, and creates his own soda fountain in the laundry nook. At the next break Joel and the bots discuss their favorite funny drunks, based off the drunken hobo in the film. At the forth break the boys do a Criterion Collection style retrospective on the film style of the director Ray Kellogg. Basically all the blocking in the film revolves around someone putting their foot up on something.  When the movie ends the boys reveal their new rock band Hee-la. It all gets really silly.

For me the second half of the movie has the best riffing (and the most scenes with The Giant Gila Monster), but as a whole the entire episode is a lot of fun and worth seeking out.

I give it four renditions of “Sing Whenever I Sing” out of five.

This episode has an odd history on DVD. It was offered as a replacement for the episode Godzilla Vs. Megalon after Rhino got in trouble for releasing that episode. You’d get The Giant Gila Monster if you showed proof of purchase of the boxest with Godzilla vs. Megalon. The DVD was also available separately from Rhino shortly afterwards. These days it seems to be out of print, but is available as a download on Amazon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hercules (1983)

I’ve said it before, but it needs repeating, the first half of the ‘80s were a glorious time for fantasy film buffs. Every studio was out there trying to cash in on the Dungeons and Dragons craze, and Conan the Barbarian sparked a huge influx of sword and sorcery films. But it was also a time of great joy for fans of bad movies – because this set of years was a gold mine of low budget/high hilarity films. I only mention this because… well… you’ll see.

Everyone knows of good ol’ Hercules (Lou Ferrigno in this version). He’s super strong and he fights monsters and evildoers. He wears a tiny skirt and flexes a lot too. Well in this version we get a “space age” twist. The gods are more like alien benefactors. Evil king Minos (William Berger) trusts in science over magic and uses robots to take out our hero. Yes, this version has chariots, swords and skimpy togas, but it also has laser beams, disco inspired costumes and space travel. Sure the basic story is mythical, but it is all given a new coat of 80s florescent paint. Your brain may melt but it’s hard to deny that this is Hercules like you’ve never seen him before (or since really).

Good Points:
  • Ferrigno and Berger give it their all and seem to be having a blast
  • Fans of beefcake and cheesecake will be in heaven
  • Pino Donaggio provides a full-bodied heroic musical score

Bad Points:
  • The lower budget shows its seams a few too many times
  • The clash between classic and futuristic is over the top and then some
  • This movie is a mess

This movie is pure gold for fans of cheesy fantasy flicks from the 1980s. Between the bizarre sci-fi/fantasy merging and the hilarious acting choices, you end up with something that can never be confused for “good” but is entertaining the whole time. Ferrigno is doing his best to play it straight, and isn’t too bad. But Berger takes the cake and scenery and chews threw it all. Much like Herc himself, it’s big, bold, kinda dumb and a lot of fun. Check it out at a bad movie night near you.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 2
Script: 2
Music: 2
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4

In Depth Review
Full confession time, I saw this in the theater. I’m pretty sure I suckered my grandmother into taking me because I loved Clash of the Titans so much. But I’m sure she got a kick out of it too. She loved over the top action movies and television series – and if anything this version of Hercules is over the top. The movie made an impression on me. Sure it was miles away from the mythic story I knew well, but it had robots shooting lasers at Hercules! How could that not be completely awesome!

Looking that film now, well it’s a whole different kind of awesome.

First of all this was brought to us by some of the kings of ‘80s schlock, the Golan Globus Production company (aka Cannon Group). They’ve blessed us with classics like: the American Ninja series, Over the Top, Firewalker, Cobra, King Solomon’s Mines (with Richard Chamberlain), and Masters of the Universe. I had the pleasure of reviewing one of their films that was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 offering: Outlaw. Oh yeah, they were that good a what they did. What did they do? Make some of the most amusing and bizarre films of the decade with just enough of a budget to grab some big names (like Stallone and Chuck Norris) and get a competent enough crew to put together something entertaining – but not necessarily good.

Visually the movie is all over the map. You’ve got typical ancient Greek visuals, with folks in togas, riding in chariots and even a colossus standing in front of the gates of Atlantis. But there are also some more fantasy style costumes, with Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) and Ariadne (Sybil Danning) looking more like Xena the warrior princess. Finally there are the futuristic elements. First there’s the Gods: Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli), Hera (Rossana Podesta) and Athena (Delia Boccardo). They all look like they combined some eccentric diso wear with glowing neon and some fantasy accessories. It’s so stunning goofy that you have to see it to believe it.

But this futuristic look crosses over into the visual effects, with the robotic monsters. Previous to this, most Hercules films used some bad costumes, puppets or stop motion to create their creatures. Well in this case we get some not so smooth stop motion for the robotic creatures, and it works fine in the end. Since these are robots, they don’t have to move smoothly like Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans or Jason and the Argonauts. Plus you get a nifty looking robot version of the hydra and a giant metallic centaur with one eye (a nod to Golden Voyage of Sinbad perhaps?). You also get a giant metallic bug, not sure how he fits into mythology, but there you go.

The rest of the visual effects are all over the map, with some below average model work, to a glowing flame sword (nothing like a lightsaber at all!). You get a hilarious stop motion hand, followed by some water snakes that look like, well I’ll just come out and say it – animated turds with glowing eyes. The opening sequence goes over the creation of the universe and the gods and all kinds of stuff in a bizarre prologue. The visuals here are dreamlike and actually kind of effective. But then you have the hilarious scene of Hercules and Circe flying into space on Prometheus’ chariot. You’ll fall out of your sofa laughing, it looks so ridiculous and the reaction shots of our heroes are priceless.

God bless composer Pino Donaggio for doing his best to make the whole movie have some kind of heft. He creates a huge over the top theme for Hercules. It’s full bodied and orchestral and more than a little reminiscent of John Williams’ work on Superman and Star Wars. But I suspect that was a request from the producers who also asked Bill Conti to make his score for Masters of the Universe sound like Superman and Star Wars. The only downside is that there appear to be very few tracks. Because the same music keeps getting used over and over again. By the end of the film you’re just wishing for some variations on the whole thing.

Ferrigno certainly looks the part as Hercules. During most of the action scenes he holds his own, tossing stunt men around with verve and fighting with various weapons (Including a tree trunk against a guy in a bear suit) to save the day. He’s a bit wooden when it comes facing the stop motion creatures, but that kind of thing can be tough for seasoned actors. As far as his performance goes, well he’s not bad. A little stiff at times but he’s giving it a good try.

Brad Harris as King Minos is anything but stiff. He’s over the top evil to his core. His obsession with science and it destroying the power of the gods is played to the hilt. He’s sinister, cold, cruel and pompous. All of his scenes are classic hammy actor material and plays it with gusto. Bravo!

For our trio of lovely ladies, well there’s plenty skin of display. Sybil Danning is our villainess who spends most of the movie vamping it up and bursting out of her strategically cut dress. Near the end, she gets her best scenes as she threatens Herc with sex (don’t see how that is a bad thing) and even throws a spear or two. Ingrid Anderson plays the princess Cassiopea who is Herc’s main love interest. She appears to have been dubbed, so her performance is hard to judge. But she looks ravishing in all her cloths (what little there is). Her “outfit” for the sacrifice leaves very little to the imagination and is probably the reason she got the part. I’m not slamming her performance, but the part is severely underwritten. Much more interesting is the sorceress Circe played by Mirella D. Angelo. Her character has a personality (even if she is dubbed) and does more interacting with Herc than Cassiopea does. Yes she’s dressed in cleavage and leg enhancing outfits, but she has more dialogue than the rest of the females in the cast (and that includes the two goddesses).

Now most of the old Hercules flicks from the ‘60s didn’t skimp on the oily muscle men and the half naked girls. It was part of the deal. This movie keeps that fine tradition alive. But the older films seemed like they were targeted at an older audience than this film. There are moments in Hercules where it feels like this is a movie made for young boys. The simplistic dialogue, the repetition of plot points and the bright colors all seem targeted at boys around 9 or so. But all the skin on display just feels a bit odd. Maybe it was for the fathers who were taking their sons, or for the teens who were getting high in the back of the theater and tripping on all the neon, robots and cleavage.

 Do I need to say that the script is the real downfall here? Well it is. It makes some sense, but there is no real concept of cohesive structure. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens to Herc in his quest to save Cassiopea. King Minos wants to harness the power of the Phoenix and destroy the gods. Zeus picks Hercules as his champion, and helps him along the way. Hera is bitter and tries to stop throw a wrench in the works every once in a while. Some moments are lifted right from the classic myth. Baby Herc kills two snakes (glowing eyed turds) with his bare hands. He cleans the filthiest stables on earth by changing the course of a river. He travels to the underworld. But other moments, like where he and Circe cross a rainbow bridge to get to Atlantis come out of nowhere.

With all that said, the movie is a mess, but a glorious fun mess. It was great to revisit it, and see that it was a bigger slice of cheese than I remembered. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First Spaceship on Venus (1960) – MST3K Review


In the middle of the Gobi desert a mysterious magnetic object is found. The world’s scientists rush in to determine the origins and meaning of the object. Dr. Yu (Tang Hua-Ta) and Professor Sikarna (Kurt Rackelmann) identify the object as a communication from the planet Venus. The message is damaged, so the scientists don’t know exactly what it says, but it is enough to get an expedition ready to head out to Venus and communicate back.

Luckily an East German rocket called the Cosmostrator has been created for a trip to Mars. The leaders of the world decide to go to Venus instead and assemble a crackerjack crew. This includes medical expert Sumiko Ogimura (Yoko Tani) and daredevil German pilot Raimund Brinkmann (Gunther Simon). Soon the journey begins, past an asteroid shower and then exploring the surface of the Venus. But along the way, Yu and Sikarna discover that the message was an invasion plan intended for the Venusian’s high command. Will the First Spaceship on Venus be seen as a visit of friendship or an act of war?

Movie Review:
With science fiction films being big crowd pleasers in the 1950s thanks to movies like Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still, it was only a matter of time before other countries jumped on the bandwagon to create their own visions of space travel and interstellar adventures. I was familiar with a couple of the Japanese efforts, usually featuring giant rubbery creatures, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw efforts from behind the iron curtain.

I reviewed the English adaptation of one re-titled Voyage to the Prehistoric Plant (and it’s badly re-edited sibling Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women). This Russian film had a very similar plot to First Spaceship on Venus and had a very similar scope and visual style. What sets this film apart is the attempt to make a unifying world effort out of the whole endeavor. Time and again, we are told how the “world’s scientists” or the “world’s leaders” have come together to accept this challenge. In many ways this looks forward to the world of Star Trek with it’s unified world looking to explore it’s surroundings. I also like how it leads to the truly international crew with members from China, India, Japan, Africa (never say what country in Africa), America, Russia, France and Germany. Each member has a specialty that comes into play during the voyage, and some even make the ultimate sacrifice to save their fellow crewmates and possibly the earth.

One of the elements about this movie that I really appreciate is the design. From the pointy yet super cool looking Cosmostrator, to the weird and funky surface of Venus the movie has plenty of interesting visuals to reveal. Sure not all of it works. The space suits used while the crew is in the main ship look really silly. But the ones used to explore Venus’ surface are colorful and more functional. The robot Omega (who none of the dub actors can pronounce with any consistency) looks pretty silly rolling around the ship, but he seems a bit more useful on the surface of the planet. There are smaller craft used to explore Venus, from mini-rockets, two person cars and a strange gyrocopter. All are very creative looking and would have made some great toys.

First Spaceship on Venus does seem to borrow from some earlier films, with the look of Forbidden Planet really seeming to influence the ship and spacesuits. Also, just about every movie that contained a rocket hurtling anywhere would wind up coming across a meteor shower. So that little plot point seems stale. The robot talks like any other robot in any other sci-fi from the 50s or 60s. You know the whole I… AM… A… ROBOT! voice.

However what the crew discovers on Venus seems quite different from any other movie from that time period. The technology and its purpose is creative and the rising seething black slime that comes to life late in the film is pretty nifty. I even appreciated the fact that not all the scientists make it out of the voyage. There’s no villain in this flick, instead our heroes face the dangers of space travel and the unknown. The ones that end up dying are usually in the wrong place at the wrong time, or victims of some random act. In a way it was refreshing not to have an evil alien or traitorous crewmember mess with the explorers.

Not to say the movie is perfect. First off this is an American dub of the original. It’s been edited down by twenty minutes, poorly dubbed and appears to have been pan and scan edited from a widescreen presentation. The pacing is a bit off, especially in the exposition heavy first third. A tepid romance is attempted between Sumiko and Brinkmann, and that slows down the proceedings. A few humorous moments with Omega also make the robot appear to be more like Twiiki from the 70s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than HAL (Joel and bots pick right up on this). The result is a movie with some high aspirations mired by some dull pacing and a poor adaptation. What did Joel and Bots make of it?

Episode Review:  
The crew of Satellite of Love tackled the First Spaceship on Venus during their second season. For many viewers its one of the weakest episodes of the season. This seems odd especially since the movie provides such a rich bounty of visual oddity and bad dubbing. But for one reason or another, Joel and the bots just don’t seem up for this one.

Things start off oddly with the opening host segment where Joel is messing around with Tom’s sarcasm sequencer. Tom becomes really, really, annoyingly sarcastic, which Joel immediately regrets and tries to ratchet it back down. But as the movie plays, Tom starts getting more and more sarcastic again, eventually ending with his head exploding in the final host segment. This sounds like a funny idea in theory, but most of the “sarcastic riffs” are variants of “Ohhh a robot that talks like and idiot, where can I get one?” or “A planet with a toxic atmosphere? Sign me up for vacation right now.” All this is said in an extremely snooty sounding voice. A little of this goes a long, long way, and sadly it just increases during the film.

In addition there are a lot of what Mike ended up calling “state park jokes”. These aren’t really jokes, but observations, such as “Looks like they filmed this at a state park” when in fact they did. Here you get stuff like, “Looks like a model.” Or “I can see the strings”. Um yeah guys, we were thinking the same thing here. In the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide that was released shortly after the end of the Comedy Central run, Kevin Murphy comments that the writing crew needed a vacation after this show and that it was pretty obvious. I agree, especially when you compare the lackluster riffing here to the amazingly hilarious riffing for the next episode Godzilla vs. Megalon, one of the best episodes of the entire run (and done after the crew at Best Brains had taken that vacation).

That’s not to say that this episode is a complete loser. Most of the best material occurs once they land on Venus and get a lot of the really great visuals to work with. They have some fun with the space suits the astronauts wear during the voyage with Tom singing “This is the day the teddy bears fly to Venus”, because of the odd ear coverings. I also got a laugh every time one of the scientists records his log entry into what appears to be an electric toothbrush. The boys start a running commentary how he tells his toothbrush all his secrets and has fallen in love with it.

When they get to the surface of the planet with it’s dark crystalline surface, Joel quips, “We’ve secretly replaced their planet with Folger’s Crystals. Let’s see what happens.” During a panning shot of some frosted geometric structures Crow asks, “Doesn’t Superman live here?” Joel replies, “If he does, then he’s got a bad case of freezer burn.” Tom sums up his thoughts with “Guys, someone with a very different vision made this movie.” Crow replies, “It was based on a novel by Lewis Carroll”.

The host segments aren’t very good or memorable. Joel creates a junk drawer seeder, in which you put a few items in a junk drawer let it sit for a couple minutes and poof instant junk drawer. The mads root through their junk drawer and find Abe Vagota. The first break has the robots create their own super cool robot that only speaks in foam. Yeah I don’t get it either. The next segment has a completely non-sequitur bit about a gorilla in space. That is Kevin’s description and it fits. Then you get a commercial about KLACK foods, that is one long attempt at a gross out joke. As I mentioned the episode ends with Tom’s head exploding.

While I won’t say that your head may explode while watching this episode, your mileage will vary. I’ve seen some folks who really like this episode, but each time I watch it, I feel like they really missed out on some top notch riffing here. There are some good moments, but a lot of it is mixed with filler material that never connects. The movie is pretty watchable by itself, so that helps my rating of it. But it also makes me want to see the unedited version of the film Silent Star instead.

I give it two Omega (Ohm-iga or O-meega or Ah-miga) out of five.

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Troll 2 (1990)

Every few years a movie comes along that gets declared “The Worst Film of All Time!”. I always sigh and shake my head. Most of these aren’t truly bad. They are inept, inert or just kind of lame. But not the worst by any means (check out something like Starfighters or Monster A Go-go and you’ll know true pain). But sometimes you get a movie so amazingly inept and confounding that you’re left saying – oh bad movie, where have you been all my life! I had heard that this little flick was one of those.

In a sequel (but not really) to the forgotten film Troll we follow the story of young Joshua (Michael Stephenson) and his family as they participate in a bizarre family exchange program. His family will live in a country house, while the country family of complete strangers will live in their suburban home.

While you’re still scratching your head over that one, we also learn that young Joshua is seeing dead people, or more specifically dead person, or even more specifically grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby). Seems like the ghostly gramps is afraid that the family is in grave danger. Well because the movie’s title contains the word “troll” in it, we learn that goblins are out and about in the town and want to turn the family into plant based ooze and eat them. A few other dead-meat characters are introduced to they can be terrorized and it becomes a fight for survival that includes bologna, popcorn shooting out of a woman’s… um, I’m still not sure what happened in that scene, a guy turning into a tree, and some of the worst acting I’ve seen since Birdemic. Nothing can really prepare you for Troll 2.

Good Points:

  • Embraces the horror and doesn’t care who it offends
  • You’ll be able to say with confidence, “I’ve never seen that in a movie before”
  • Some of the gross out effects are pretty good
Bad Points:

  • The acting… oh sweet gods, the acting
  • Never has a clear idea of who this movie is supposed to play to
  • Hampered by a low budget (or enhanced depending on your view)
This movie is bold in its ability to completely confound the viewer. One minute it seems like a silly kid based horror film. The next there’s a bunch of teenagers running around making out and getting killed, like a slasher film. There’s blood, there’s skin, there’s jump scares, and there’s people melting into green ooze and getting eaten up by little folks in horribly cheap costumes. The pace never flags as the movie just keeps tossing bizarre scenes at you. Such a clash of oddities makes it one of the most entertaining bad movies I’ve seen. While not as bizarrely awesome as House it is still heartily recommend for connoisseurs of the weirdly bad.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 2
Sound: 2
Acting: 1
Script: 1
Music: 2
Direction: 1
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Starfighters (1964) - MST3K Review

Lt. John Witkoski (Robert Dornan, yes of senatorial fame) has just accepted a transfer to a fighter jet squadron that uses the incredible Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. John is pleased as punch about the assignment and is a natural when it comes to flying these babies. But his father, a powerful congressman, wants his son to fly huge old bombers.

But nothing doing! John participates in dangerous training maneuvers, hits on a local hottie and gets into some shenanigans with his buddies Lt. York (Steve Early) and Lt. Lyons (Robert Winston). Meanwhile the audience is treated to endless footage of refueling planes, some really bad underscore and a bunch of men gadding about in their poopie suits. I can’t make this up folks. The Starfighters proves that something as exciting as jet fighters can be made more dull than watching an apple brown.

Movie Review:
If you take Top Gun drain away all the entertaining cheese, replace the likable cast with wooden performances, inject about 15 minutes of midair refueling footage and then set it back in the 1960s, you have a pretty good idea of what The Starfighters is like.

When of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans discuss the worst movies ever made this one will usually come up. With its paper-thin plot, one dimensional characters and endless use of stock footage the whole package is painfully dull. Yet, you can see that money was spent on the film. It was obviously filmed at the George Air Force base in California.  You can tell that all the plane footage is real, with no use of special effects. You can even tell that some of the airmen in the film are actual servicemen pitching in with some bit parts.

But this does not excuse the basic issues with the story telling. There is essentially no plot to speak of. John is our main character because the camera spends the most time pointed at him. He has a basic conflict with his father, but it is comprised of boring scenes with the congressman calling up John or his commanding officer and whining about the F-104’s safety record.

A quick check on wiki reveals that this was an actual concern with the Starfighter jet. In the mid sixties a series of well-publicized accidents involving the jet occurred in Europe and Canada. Was this movie made to bolster support for the jet? If so, who was the audience?

Some other things happen. John and his buddies clown around a bit. John meets a local girl and hits on her. And if you ever wanted to watch Bob Dornan make out, than this is the movie for you!

Mostly you get to see lots of training exercises. It contains everything from routine maneuvers and mid-air refueling to combat training using missiles and guns. The “set piece” if it can be called that is when our heroes get lost in storm and the commanding officers attempt to find the missing planes. Did one go down? Was it John’s plane? Is he OK? Does anyone care?

And that brings us back to the basic question. Who is watching this movie? Would Air Force personnel be entertained by minute after minute of midair refueling footage? Maybe they’d enjoy the tepid romance? Oh who am I kidding, there would be few people even watching this film if Mike and bots weren’t on hand to give it a proper skewering.

Episode Review:  
I’ve mentioned this episode a number times in previous reviews and for good reason. When you’re looking for an example of a movie in which nothing happens and yet the riffing is top notch, you need look no further than The Starfighters. Now this episode is one that fans of the show can’t agree on. Some love it (like me) and other find it to be one of the worst.

I won’t deny that the movie is a real loser. It’s dull, it’s pointless, and it’s soulless on top it. It has all the qualities that I find in Monster A-Go-Go, without the catchy name. And yet, that episode never works for me and The Starfighters is a favorite.

The reason is simple. Mike and the bots attack the movie with all the guns blazing. The riffing starts and never stops, pushing the pacing forward at a tremendous speed – in fact creating it’s own pacing buy sheer will. The boys pick up on everything they can, from the hilarious musical score during the flight scenes to the extreme close ups of some seriously craggy faces.

The episode is worth watching for two key scenes. The first is the mid-air refueling sequence at the start of the film. Mike and the bots unleash an amazing set of jokes spanning sex, drug use and toilet humor. Just when you think they can’t come up with a new barb, they do and it’s hilarious. The scene feels like it goes on for roughly 3 hours, and yet the boys make the most of it, getting really creative with the jokes. And then the movie throws in another mid-air refueling scene later the boys provide a laundry list of the jokes they’ve already said, impressing as much as it amuses, and then fill in any gaps they missed. It’s one of my favorite riffing sequences from the whole series.

The other classic scene is the introduction of the “poopie suit”, an actual term used by the air force for a specialized suit worn during intercontinental flights. There is no way the Mike and the bots can ignore this, and so they dive right into the fecal based humor and hit a goldmine. Tom even sings a song with the annoying musical score about “filling you pants over France in your poopie suit”. Usually a little lowbrow humor goes a long way with me, but the movie is asking for it and the boys deliver. Great stuff.

This is a season six episode and it really shows the cast and crew at the height of their comedy writing. They take a movie that could have been as weak and dull as Mad Monster and make it one of the funniest episodes of the season. And since this is an episode from the Comedy Central run, the humor is less acerbic and barbed. They never get nasty with the movie, but seem to genuinely have a good time riffing it.

The episode starts with Crow attempting to log on to the Internet (this episode aired back in 1995, when the interwebs were shiny and new to most folks). Try as he might, he can’t merge onto the information superhighway. The mad scientists show off their cranial ports and now they are linked together with cords and connections. Mike and bots pitch “Cowboy Mike’s Ricochet Barbeque Sauce”, inspired by the countless BBQ sauce commercials on TV. The dialogue in this sequence has inspired my wife and I to talk about “extree bold” sauce to this day. At the first break Crow and Tom attempt some mid air refueling and it gets a bit disturbing actually. At the next break Crow and Tom decide they need to debrief Mike after he viewed top secret information in the movie. Yeah, they go for the underwear joke. We get a musical break next with Tom Servo and his singing airmen providing a clever medley of flight based songs a cappella. This allows Kevin Murphy to show of his singing chops (which are considerable). Once the film is over Crow is finally able to access the Internet and promptly discovers it’s a complete waste of time.

When people say they hate The Starfighters episode, I understand. If you can’t get past the painfully dull film, then the riffing can’t help you. But if you can get in the groove, and let Mike and Bots be your guide, you’ll enjoy a really top-notch effort.

I give it five poopie suits out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 12.