Friday, November 28, 2014

Top Ten - Strangest Movies Watched on Mystery Science Theater 3000

So according to the theme song for Mystery Science Theater 3000 the mad scientists subject Joel or Mike to “cheesy movies, the worst we can find. La la la.” Now, you could make a fair argument that some of the movies featured on the show aren’t even that bad. Cheesy I’ll give you, but not the worst.

But one of the reasons I love the show so much is that it exposed me to a whole world of weird, off the wall and just plain “the hell?” movies that I’d never heard of. Some of them may be sparks of genius that we will never understand, and others must have been created by a fevered brain boiling with ideas inspired by the beings from another dimension… or drugs. It could always be drugs.

In any case, I picked my top ten strangest movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I selected one film per season, but I’ll also mention a few runners up (because some seasons were rich in weirdness). Watch any of the following at the risk of your own sanity, or at least the loss of a few brain cells. Ready? Let’s go!

Season One: Robot Monster
In a post-apocalyptic future a bizarre alien torments a young boy and his family. He is called Ro-man, short for Robot Man. Thing is, he doesn’t look like a robot, at all! He uses a bubble maker to create a shield of bubbles. He wanders around a wasteland and kills a couple people. It doesn’t sound too strange, right?
  • Ro-man the alien is a gorilla suit with a deep-sea diving helmet. Wasn’t that a ghost on Scooby Doo?
  • Ro-man has some very odd meandering speeches about the Hu-man
  • The bubble machine gets a mention in the credits – because it is that cool!

Season Two: The Ring of Terror
This odd little film starts with a funeral director looking for his cat named Puma. Eventually he tells us a story about a group of medical students, and how a hazing goes wrong. Someone dies. There is a ring, but I have yet to experience any terror.
  • What is the deal with the whole looking Puma sequence that goes on way too long?
  • Why are all the medical students in their 40s and 50s? Seriously these folks look way too old.
  • Is this a dark comedy, a teen (mid-life crisis) comedy, a horror film or just a huge mess?

Season Three: Pod People
A spaceship lands on earth and the aliens who look like furry brown elephant things wander around. One of them is murderous and kills some egg poachers and then starts killing off a teen pop band that his vacationing in the woods. The other meets a young boy and befriends him E.T. style.
  • The aliens are not scary looking at all, but they are supposed to be cute… kinda.
  • The three different sets of characters seem randomly thrown together.
  • Is this a horror film, a family friendly adventure, or just a huge mess?

Season Four: Monster a Go-Go
An astronaut returns from space in his super tiny capsule. But he has been mutated in a lumbering huge hulk of a monster that kills and kills and kills. Soon scientists and the military are mobilized to stop him, but he is nearly impossible to catch. And the movie just kinda stops.
  •  All key plot points are provided by rambling narration
  • Scenes seem to be haphazardly edited together
  • “… there was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called “Douglas” to be followed.” That’s the end folks, right there!
Runner Up – “Manos” the Hands of Fate, Bride of the Monster

Season Five: Santa Claus
I don’t like to pick on child friendly fantasy films, because they are made for kids and just have to be colorful and entertaining. But this movie… even with Santa Claus, even with the fact that it is dubbed, even considering it was supposed to be silly and fun… this movie is just plain strange!
  • Santa comes across as insane, bonkers, mad as a hatter and just plain scary.
  • The antagonist is a demon from hell. I’m not even kidding.
  • This movie has so many strange things in it.  To list them all would take at least three pages.
Runner Up – The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, Alien from L.A.

Season Six: The Starfighters
Some pilots arrive at an air force base and are trained to pilot the F-104 Starfighter. They refuel in mid-air… a lot. They play stupid pranks. Mostly we get to see a bunch of flying and guys jumping into a pool in their “poopie suits”.
  • Bob Dornan is the main character and romantic lead.
  • All the mid air refueling footage adds up to be about 10 minutes of screen time, an eternity!
  • Who the hell was the target audience for this film!?
Runners Up – The Creeping Terror and The Dead Talk Back

Season Seven: The Incredible Melting Man
An astronaut is exposed to solar radiation through the rings of Saturn. His spaceship returns to earth, but he is an oozy drippy mess. He is also insane and must kill! So he spends the rest of the movie melting and killing. Dr. Ted Nelson loves crackers in his soup but is also tasked with finding and stopping the melting man before it is too late.
  • How can someone who is melting get stronger and faster?
  • There is an incredibly long scene that follows an old couple in an orchard.
  • Yelling, “I’m Dr. Ted Nelson.” will get you shot by the police.
Runner Up – Laserblast!

Season Eight: The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies
Surprisingly the title only tells part of the story. A group of friends go to a carnival and have their fortunes told. Jerry acts like an ass so the fortuneteller hypnotizes him and he goes on a killing spree. In the meantime there we get to see a lot of singing and dancing featured in a burlesque show. There is a mutated looking guy named Ortega. Jerry ends up getting gunned down by cops at the end.
  • Singing, dancing and even bad comedians are all featured prominently in the film – for pretty much no reason.
  • The dream scene where Jerry gets caught in some kind of modern dance hell
  • There are no zombies in the movie – at all.

Season Nine: The Puma Man
An Aztec travels to London to find the savior of the world, Puma Man! It turns out to be a dweeby guy, who whines a lot and can’t fly without failing his arms like a spaz. Donald Pleasance wants to take over the world using papier-mâché heads. Puma Man attempts to stop him but is really just inept. Oh yeah and there are aliens somehow worked into the plot.
  • The sidekick is more effective and likeable than the “hero”.
  •  The flying sequences are so, so bad.
  • Is this supposed to be funny, thrilling, or is it just a mess?
Runner Up – The Hobgoblins

A grandpa tells his grandson a few strange stories about Merlin when the power goes out in the house. The stories contain pet murder, horrible mutations, evil spirits, child endangerment, and an old man asking women if they have seen his monkey. By the time the movie ends you will question your sanity as well as the sanity of the storyteller – Ernest Borgnine!
  • Did the director really think that cobbling together three different films/storylines was going to make a cohesive film?
  • So many strange things happen in this movie it is competing with Santa Claus.
  • Who the hell was the target audience? The movie feels like a Tales From the Darkside episode with whimsical moments inspired by The Princess Bride.
Runner Up – Future War

Strangest Short: Out of this World
I couldn’t make this one up if I tried. So an angel and a devil are chatting away about bread salesmen. They decide to tempt one bread salesman to resume his lazy ways as part of a bet. But he faces down both of them proving that maintaining grocer goodwill and plus volume is the only way to succeed in the business of bread delivery and sales.
  • What the hell is going on with a devil and an angel hanging out in heaven together?
  • Why are they obsessed with bread delivery and sales?
  • Why the hell was this made?
Runners Up: A Case of Spring Fever, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Design for Dreaming

So there are my picks for the top ten strangest films in the Mystery Science Theater library. So if you feel like something a bit unusual, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) – MST3K Review

The story starts when two boys Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy) see a flying saucer land in the field near Akio’s house. They get pretty darn excited about this and head off to investigate. Akio’s little sister dogs their trail and they manage to avoid the goofy local cop named Officer Kondo (Kon Omura). When they find the saucer they discover that the ramp is down. So they just walk right on in and start messing with the controls. Well wouldn’t you know it, the ship blasts off and they are traveling the solar system to a mysterious planet.

Gamera (friend to all children) tries to save the boys, but the saucer is too fast for him. When the boys land on the mysterious world they meet two space babes named Florbella (Reiko Kasahara) and Barbella (Hiroko Kai). The two gals try to convince the boys that they want to meet peacefully with the people of earth. But obviously something sinister is afoot. They control a horrible monster with a knife shaped head and a lousy attitude. His name is Guiron, and he’s just itching for a fight with the biggest monster of all – Gamera! Will Akio and Tom escape the clutches of the space babes and survive the epic showdown of Gamera vs. Guiron?

Movie Review:
Guiron attacks the city of tomorrow!
To me this is the best of the Gamera films from this era. It has Gamera beating up monsters, it has bad dubbing, it has creative miniatures and special effects, it has a couple kids caught up in the action – it just hits all the right beats. But on top of all of that, Gamera vs. Guiron goes completely off-roading in the plot department. This nearly breaks the goofy meter and makes the whole thing a blast to watch.

Most of these movies, from Gamera to Gamera vs. Gaos (and most of the Godzilla movies as well) have a standard plot. A Major metropolis is threatened by giant evil monster. Japanese scientists and the military attempt to stop the threat, but fail. The Hero monster shows up and faces the villain monster. Much property is destroyed, but the hero monster fails. Villain monster goes on the rampage, and our primary human characters are threatened. The Hero monster returns and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Villain monster. More property damage is caused, but in the end the earth is saved.

The only way that saucer could pass me was if
was running on Nitro.
Gamera vs Guiron eschews that plot and focuses on the adventures of two young boys. This plot is something that only a young boy who has grown up on Japanese monster movies could come up with. Our heroes live the ultimate adventure! They ditch their parents and little sister. They outrun a ROCKET POWERED TURTLE! They find an alien planet. They meet space babes. They see a super scary monster that has the head of a knife and can shoot shuriken (ninja stars) from his face! Then it turns out the space babes want to eat the kid’s brains (see, girls have cooties and are scary!)  Finally Gamera arrives to rescue our heroes, trounce the monster and save the day. When the boys get home, they are famous, praised for their bravery and Akio even delivers an emotional speech that inspires the adults. I’m telling you, this film was aimed directly at the target audience and delivered.

So yeah, the 8-year-old boy in me thought this one was just great.

Space babes provide Akio with a close encounter.
One of the reasons this film is more interesting to watch than the previous ones is the amazing creativity on display for the alien world and technology. Granted it isn’t anything super complicated, but it is all bright, colorful and just plain wacky looking. The space babes are dressed in ridiculous costumes, and I love that their normal language is sped up chipmunk style gibberish. The transporter pyramids and triangle buttons are really cool looking. And then you have all the model work for the alien world, which provides Gamera vs. Guiron with plenty of material to destroy and use in the battles. The flying saucer is cool looking even sporting fins and spinning lights. But one of my favorite bits of technology is the trap the space babes use to shave Akio’s head so they can devour his brains. One of these devices should be in every home.

Guiron himself is ludicrous looking. He crawls on all fours, slices and dices with his knife head, and can shoot shuriken in just about any direction he wants. Only a kid could come up with that creature. When we first see him, he actually fights with a Space Gaos (a silver version of the monster seen in Gamera vs Gaos). Guiron makes quick work of the monster and starts slicing him up like a sushi roll. The amount of monster blood on the screen is surprising. But this also makes the viewer realize that Guiron is one bad monster. Remember how much trouble Gamera had with Gaos? Well Guiron just kicked Gaos’ ass without even trying. Damn!

I swear this looks less obscene in the movie... kinda.
Needless to say the monster fights are a ton of fun . With so many whirling blades, Gamera really takes a licking. In fact Gamera is spouting blood from many wounds by the end of his first encounter. There are a few classic moments in these battles that you have to see if you love giant monster films. Gamera swings Guiron by his tail in one scene. In another you witness Gamera perform some gymnastics… a scene so hilarious it matches Godzilla popping a wheelie in Godzilla vs. Megalon.

One of the new elements of Gamera vs Guiron that immediately catches your attention is the score and song by Shunsuke Kikuchi. The score is comprised of some really catchy tunes. Unfortunately they are played over and over again, so you may start to lose your patience with them. But this is also the first film to feature the Gamera theme song! This puppy is an instant earworm, and you’ll find yourself singing along in Japanese before you know it.

Here's a tip, if the door to the alien craft is open...
don't wander in!
Let’s talk a bit about the dubbing. Yes, it’s horrible. But we knew that going in. What is really strange about this dub is the odd stilted way the kids are performed. Most of their dialogue sounds clunky and way too elaborate to be coming out of kids who are in the single digits. I’m not sure if this was done to match the lip flaps, or if it a more accurate translation. The final result is some stupendously awkward line readings by Akio and Tom. Another oddity is that they keep referring to planets as stars. So when the boys land on the strange alien world, they keep referring to it as “a newly discovered star”, even though the planet is still in our solar system. Also of note is the scientist in the opening sequence. His speech during the press conference is absolutely horrible. The way the script is written he…. keeps pausing… at the strangest…. times, and …. often confusing the point…. he… was trying to…. make. It is so stilted you’re wondering if it is supposed to be funny, or just one of the worst dubbing jobs you’ve ever seen.

Kon-chan finds a clue.
Aside from that, most of the acting works OK. Akio and his little sister are probably the best of the lot. Tom is a bit wooden, but hey, if you watch the Japanese version, you’ll notice that he and his mother are actually speaking their lines in Japanese. Not bad for gaijin. Comic relief comes in the form of Officer Kondo, who the kids call Kon-chan. By adding “chan” to the end of his name, this make it sound like he’s a little kid, and Kon Omura plays the part very broadly like a child-like adult. He is the only one that believes the little sister (Miyuki Akiyama) that her brother flew away in a saucer. He is also the first person to believe that Gamera may be able to save the boys. Kon-chan mugs quite a bit, but he doesn’t have much screen time.

Time for us to kick this film up a notch.
One of the biggest improvements Gamera vs. Guiron shows ever the likes of Gamera vs. Barugon is the pacing. The movie plugs along at a fair clip, always putting the boys into new adventures, new environments, or adding a twist to the plot of the Space Babes. The only slow part is that fairly useless sequence with the scientist at the press conference at the beginning of the film. It doesn’t have much impact on the rest of the story, and it drags like you wouldn’t believe. But once the boys show up everything starts moving a lot better.

To me, this is a very entertaining giant monster movie. It’s creative and fun. It has moments that come out of left field. It has some bloody and brutal monster action. Best of all, it moves at a really good pace. As much fun as Gamera vs. Gurion is without any riffing, for Joel and the bots, this is a gift-wrapped present that they can’t resist.

Episode Review:
He looks great so far, but will he land the dismount?
Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a lot of fun with dubbed Japanese movie riffing. Godzilla vs Megalon is a classic. Time of the Apes and Fugitive Alien are some of the best riffing of compressed televisions shows into movies they’ve ever done. But when it comes to Gamera, Gamera vs Guiron is the funniest episode by far. Everything is fair game and the writing just nails all kinds of riffs from the obvious and silly to the absurd and obscure. There is so much good material here, I don’t want to spoil any of it, but I’ll give you a few ideas of where the boys go.

Some of the funniest riffs come from the score and the Gamera theme song. In the early portions of the film, a silly little tune plays as Akito and Tom attempt to reach the saucer. Joel, Tom and Crow come up with various lyrics for the tune that will crack you up. But the big musical winner here is the Gamera theme song. It is so catchy and exciting Joel and bots can’t help but bounce around in their seats and soon adapt lyrics for the song. This spills over into two musical host segments based on the Gamera theme.

Cornjob is filled with surprise and delight at Gamera's
This episode also features a couple of running jokes. Because of the poor dubbing, Joel and bots don’t hear that the kids call Officer Kondo, Kon-chan. Instead they hear, Cornjob. So the rest of the film they keep calling him officer Cornjob and take off with the riffs on this buffoon.

The other running joke is that little Tom looks a teeny tiny bit like Richard Burton – you know if you squint real hard. So the boys just have a field day with all kinds of Richard Burton jokes and lines. So yeah Gamera vs. Guiron now has a connection to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Who knew?

Of course the monsters get a lot of attention by the riffers. Guiron with his knife shaped head induces all kinds of cutting and knife puns. Just when you think the boys are spent, they come up with another clever play on words. Gamera’s actions inspire plenty of riffing, especially his turn at acrobatics. I love when Gamera comes charging in and Crow gasps, “Gamera is playing chicken!” Tom responds, “No, he just tastes like chicken.”

"Don't start with me Akio!"
The model work on the alien world also gets its share of riffing. Tom decides it looks like “a Ramada Inn from 1976.” But Joel thinks it looks like “Fraggle Rock”. But once Guiron explodes from the earth, Tom decides, “Oh they landed in California: earthquakes, no water, giant monsters.”

Near the end of the film a group of scientists rush to the saucer-landing site, Tom quips, “We are form the padding department. Show us to the plot hole.” Crow determines that Gamera vs Guiron “is just like Hamlet.” Tom replies, “Yes. There are many parallels…. Wait, WHAT?”

The host segments are pretty solid too. The episode starts with Tom and Crow discussing trading school lunches from MST3K lunch boxes. For the invention exchange, the Mads create Rorschach test centerfolds. They see some pretty steamy stuff in those inkblots. Joel creates a collapsible trash can for camping. At the first break the boys hold a “Let’s Go Gamera” sing along! At the next break Joel attempts to saw Crow in half using Tom as Guiron blade. Crow ruins the whole skit. When we come back again, the Crow is Richard Burton and Joel narrates a biopic of his life. Tom rounds out the cast as Liz Taylor and Lee Majors. When the episode ends, Joel and the bots attempt to sing the Gamera theme song in Japanese. This is either really silly or borderline offensive. I can’t deiced which, but it is pretty darn funny either way. The episode ends with Mike playing Michael Feinstein crooning to the Mads and telling them the origin of the Gamera theme song. The Mads are driven to kill.

The Gamera Theme song gets mutilated by Joel and the bots.

Well this may not be a Shakespearean epic, but it is a lot of fun. I’ve just given you the tip of the riffing iceberg, so go ahead and seek this episode out. You will not be disappointed.

Gamera will return in Gamera vs. Zigra!

I give Gamera vs Guirion five gymnastic rocket turtles out of five.

This episode is available on the MST3K vs Gamera boxset (Vol. XXI).

And now, the Gamera Song, so you can sing along at home...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gamera vs. Gaos (1967) - MST3K Review

After thrashing Barugon really good in the previous film Gamera vanished. The folks living in a village not far from a volcano believe that Gamera is camping out inside. This is making them a bit nervous, and also freaking out a crew attempting to build a road through the village. The villagers are pulling a scam on the road working team, so they can get more money for their farms when they sell them off. A photographer goes out to snap some pictures and maybe get a few shots of Gamera. Along the way he meets a young boy Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe). Eiichi and the photographer end up awakening a monster – but it isn’t Gamera.

This creature is called Gaos. It his huge, bat-like with powerful wings, a deadly laser beam blast from it’s mouth and some kind of fire extinguishing cloud from its armpits. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.  When Gamera arrives to save Eiichi from certain death, Gaos nearly slices his leg off with the laser beam! Gaos is now free to torment the area around Nagoya. Scientists try to figure out what Gaos is and how to stop him, but really all they need to do is listen to Eiichi. This kid knows that only Gamera can save them. But will faith be enough for a terrapin victory in this heavy weight bout of Gamera vs. Gaos!

Movie Review:
We told Gaos not to buzz the tower! Maverick!
After the sluggish first film, Gamera and the turgid follow-up, Gamera vs. Barugon, I was hoping we would get something a bit more lively. I wasn’t hoping for something as fun as Godzilla vs. Megalon or even Time of the Apes, but at least something as entertaining as Prince of Space. Well we did get an improvement in this film. There is more monster combat. We have a little kid calling the shots and telling the grown ups what they need to do. There is even one of the strangest and wackiest monster traps I have ever seen (and that is saying something). So really Gamera vs. Gaos is an improvement overall.

Like the previous film, we get lots of rich color and fun models in this movie. Gaos itself is a funny looking creature. He appears to be inspired by Rodan, but with a boxier body and flat head. His huge wings can stir up quite a ruckus, but it is his laser beam that causes the most damage. She blasts Gamera a few times with it and causes the rocket turtle to gush green blood. While I’m on the topic, these Gamera films are pretty gory in general (something the Godzilla films of the period shied away from). Gaos gets his foot ripped off by Gamera during one battle and there is blood spurting everywhere. Later on Gaos grows the foot back as good as new… but man I was surprised it went there in the first place.

"Either this is real good blood or the room is
I have to talk about one of the key plot points because it creates one of the most unusual images in the entire Gamera series. About half way into the film Japan’s scientists determine that Gaos will be destroyed by sunlight. So they plan to get him so dizzy that he can’t fly back to his volcano cave. In order to do this they have to create a spinning trap that will cause Gaos to get dizzy. They rig a rotating restaurant as the trap. For the bait, they determine that Gaos is attracted to human blood, so they create a HUGE blood fountain on top of the restaurant. Once Gaos stops for a sip, they’ll spin him silly and he’ll be destroyed by the sun. I can’t see how this can possibly go wrong. So the scientists create some synthetic blood, and start the fountain. With all the blood gushing into the air, Gamera vs. Gaos becomes the goriest film in the series (and the goriest film in Mystery Science Theater 3000 history).

Beyond the outrageous blood fountain, all that the model work is still a lot of fun in this movie. Gaos’ mountain home is craggy and filled with glowing lights. When he goes on the rampage there is plenty of destruction. While it lacks some of the stand out set pieces like Osaka castle in Gamera vs. Barugon there is still plenty of good stuff here.

Just try to ignore the comic relief in the background.
The sound and music are typical of Gamera movies of the period. Also typical is the horrendous dubbing in this film. Performances range from bored and stilted to over the top and insane. It creates plenty of unintended laughs. On a positive note, the voice actor for little Eiichi is much less annoying that the one for Kenny in original Gamera film. There are a couple of comic relief characters that are part of the road crew, and they win the prize for the most annoying performances: both visually and in the audio department.

I suppose I should talk a bit about the acting. Kojiro Hongo plays the roadwork foreman, and I suppose he is our main heroic lead. He is earnest and brave, pretty much a clone of the hero from the previous film. You also get Dr. Aoki (Yoshiro Kitahara) the mastermind behind the blood fountain concept. Someone revoke his monster scientist cred! There are various folks running around and taking up valuable monster fighting time. But Eichi is really the focus of the flick, and brings a kids point of view to the film.

Gaos, get off my lawn!
Gamera vs. Gaos brings the series into a more Godzilla style monster versus monster territory. The two creatures get much more battle time with a few good face offs, and plenty of crashing and smashing. But both monsters here don’t have much of a personality. They seem to just be huge animals out to destroy each other. Gamera saves Eichi, but he doesn’t seem quite as invested in the kids as he does in later films like Gamera vs. Guiron. But to be fair the monster outfits in the early Gamera films don’t really allow for much expression. Godzilla always seemed to be better at that.

When it comes down to it, Gamera vs. Gaos meets your Japanese monster movie needs. It’s poorly dubbed, has some fun monster battles, plenty of property damage and moves at a better pace than the previous films. Sounds like something Joel and the bots can really sink their teeth into.

Episode Review:
Hey Aeschylus, look out below.
Luckily the crew at Mystery Science Theater 3000 was not burnt out on Gamera films yet. It’s a good thing too, because they still had a couple more to tackle after this one. What works out well for them (and us) is that movies became more outlandish and goofy as they go along. The basic story elements improve. Each of these monster villains seems tougher than the last. Gaos really seems to give Gamera a nasty time. This makes them more fun to watch and all the action gives Joel and bots plenty to work with.

Gamera vs Barugon dropped the child from the story, but Gamera vs. Gaos bring him back in the form of Eichi. But a combination of a bad dub and the boys not really paying attention causes them to dub him “Itchy”. When Itchy and the nosy photographer stumble upon Gaos mysterious cave the riffs come fast and furious. A glowing light appears and the photographer gasps “What is that?” Crow responds for Itchy with “I’m only 6. Who do you think I am? Carl Sagan?” Gaos appears and quickly devours the photographer. Crow declares, “It’s time for another episode of Eat the Press.” Gaos grabs Itchy and is about to make him dessert. Itchy is yelling like a howler monkey and Tom observes, “He’s no Fay Wray, is he?”

"Itchy" waves to his adoring fans.
Gaos enormous bat body and oddly shaped head make for plenty of jokes. The monster turns around quickly with his wings open and Tom says in his best Michael Keaton, “I’m Batman!” When Gamera crashes into Gaos noggin, Crow shouts, “Grace Jones takes one to the head!” When Gaos is exposed to bright light his forehead begins to glow red. Tom observes, “He’s embarrassed.” Joel responds, “If you had a head shaped like a Dixie cup you’d be embarrassed to.”

When Gamera vs. Gaos’ infamous blood fountain trap is revealed the boys just kick it into overdrive with lots of funny riffs but also just letting the ridiculous scene play out for you to enjoy. But Tom does think that the fountain looks like “a blood atomizer”.

He may have a beard and glasses, but this man came
up with the blood fountain idea!
Of course Gamera isn’t immune to riffing. When the terrapin hero pulls his legs into his shell to avoid Gaos’ deadly beam, Joel quips, “Ballpark Feet, they shrink when you cook ‘em”. But one of my favorite riffs and maybe one of the nerdiest riffs they have ever uttered is when Gaos seizes Gamera by the shell and takes to the air with him. Then when they are both at a great height, he drops Gamera like a hot potato. As the turtle comes crashing back to earth Tom muses, “Isn’t that how Aeschylus died?” This joke requires the viewer to know who the hell Aeschylus is, and then to know how the famous ancient playwright died. Damn, I love this show.

The episode starts off with Crow and Tom impersonating their favorite raspy voiced stars. Crow is Lucille Ball and Tom is Harvey Fierstein. It is as goofy as it sounds. For the invention exchange, the mad scientists reveal printers that reveal your self-identity. Frank is a clown and Dr. Forrester is Mrs. Ohio. Joel creates a fax machine that prints out on tissue paper, so you can recycle the faxes when you blow your nose. After the first break Joel attempts to show the folks at home how to make your very own Gaos out of household stuff. The bots think he’s being dorky and ruin it. When we come back from the next commercial: Joel, Tom, Crow and Gypsey present the Gamera-dammerung. It is one of the silliest skits they’ve done in Season three. The next break features Joel as Gaos the Great and he tries to spin plates that look like Gamera. He’s not very good. After the movie ends, Joel and the bots discuss less goofy ways to snuff Gaos, and then ask viewers to write in with some of their own ideas.

Joel and the bots attempt a skit of Wagnerian
Gamera vs. Gaos is a fun episode and certainly an improvement over the previous two films. But it still doesn’t quite hit that sweet spot of being the best of the Gamera episodes. There are still plenty of moments with the human characters that are just plain boring and go on way to long. The boys do a good job with most of these, but it does hurt the pacing a bit. Still you can’t go wrong with this episode if you need to get a Gamera fix.

Gamera will return in Gamera vs. Guiron!

I give this episode 3 blood fountains out of 5.

This episode is available on the MST3K vs Gamera boxset (Vol.XXI).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Starcrash (1978)

After Star Wars crashed into the public in 1977 it was time of everyone and their brother to jump in and make their own take on large-scale space opera. While Roger Corman is best known for his 1980 epic Battle Beyond the Stars, he also helped produce an Italian film that somehow managed to score Christopher Plummer in a lead role. Holy Moley! This is either a sign of cinematic apocalypse or one of the most amusing Star Wars rip offs ever put to film.

Alas for the Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher Plummer)! The evil nasty and wicked Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) has cooked up a super secret weapon and he is just about ready to unleash it. The Emperor sends an expedition force lead by Simon (David Hasselhoff) to find the weapon, but they are attacked by glowing red blob monsters and crash on multiple alien worlds.

Meanwhile, Stella Star (Caroline Munro) a sexy smuggler and her boy toy Akton (Marjoe Gortner) are on the run from the space police lead by Thor (Robert Tessler who looks nothing like the Norse god) and Elle the police robot (performed by Judd Hamilton and voiced by Hamilton Camp – I’m not making that up). They are captured, but their wily skills are enlisted by Emperor to find the lost spaceship and help thwart the evil count. These four mismatched heroes will face an army of amazons, crazed troglodytes, tons of explosions, hilariously goofy model work and of course the dreaded space bikini. In the end, there is no choice but to unleash the ultimate weapon: Starcrash! Will Stella Star survive this adventure to trek another day?

Good Points:
  • Filled to the brim with energy, oddity and laugh out loud dialogue
  • Crazy and colorful models, special effects and characters
  • A surprisingly good score by John Barry

Bad Points:
  • The script was possibly written by a 10 year old with some help from his older brother
  • Attempts to ape Star Wars without understanding what made that movie work
  • This is s stupid silly movie.

Wonderfully bad in all the right ways, Starcrash is worth checking out on bad movie night. Munro looks super sexy in her space bikini but ends up playing second fiddle to the amazing Akton and his glowing magic and light saber. Hasselhoff hams it up, but not nearly as much as Joe Spinell who makes the evil count one of the most over the top villains I’ve seen in a while. Some scenes imitate Star Wars closely but then go completely wrong with editing and flow. The costumes remind me of a dress rehearsal for Flash Gordon in 1980. The dialogue is just plain bad. Still I had a great time with this one and the 92 minute running time flew by. Imagine a cheesy sci-fi serial from the 1940s given a disco makeover by an Italian production company… you’ve got Starcrash. A perfect match for the equally colorfully cheesy 1983 adaptation of Hercules with Lou Ferrigno.

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

Space bikini for the win!

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) - MST3K Review

This Gamera flick picks up right where the first one left off, with Gamera, the giant rocket powered turtle, being shot into space in a rocket. Before you can say “watch out for that tree!” a meteor crashes into the rocket and Gamera is free to return to earth and wreck a little havoc.

While all this is going on three men journey to an island in the South Pacific to find a giant opal. One of men, Onodera (Koji Fujiyama) is a real jerk and wants the gem all to himself. So he kills his buddies and returns to Japan. Little does he know that Kawajiri (Yuzo Hayakawa) survives the attempted murder. A lovely girl named Karen (Kyoko Enami) tells him that the opal is actually the egg of a wicked creature called Barugon. Now that egg is headed to Japan, and hatches! Barugon is a large reptilian beast that has a long chameleon-like tongue that can spray a freezing blast. In addition this monster can fire a very FABULOUS rainbow beam that destroys anything it touches. Barugon starts to really trash Osaka. Kawajiri and Karen attempt to work with the Japanese military to stop Barugon using an enormous diamond. But the wicked Onodera is still around and when he finds out about the diamond his greed gets the better of him. Oh yeah, and Gamera decides to waltz in at the end and actually give us the title Gamera vs. Barugon, but only because Onodera the Greedy Bastard just wasn’t as catchy a title. Prepare yourself for intrigue, mayhem and lots of tonguing in this film. Just don’t prepare yourself for much Gamera.

Movie Review:
"Gamera comes running for the creamy taste of flames."
The first time I watched this episode I thought that maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it. Gamera vs. Barugon seemed like a dull slog of a movie. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Gamera film, but it seemed to have a bit more life than this movie. Sadly, this second viewing only confirmed it. This second Gamera flick just doesn’t work for me.

Part of the problem is that the monster action gets seriously sidelined for a good portion of the film. Gamera himself only shows up about three times. Each time his appearance is abbreviated. His battles with Barugon just don’t amount to much more than the two rolling around. Yeah Barugon gets the upper hand on their first meeting, but even the thrilling backdrop of Osaka castle doesn’t help the thing: it just kind of a bland affair.

Barugon himself really seems like an odd creation. His lizard-like body is interesting, and I like his long tongue attack. But the freezing blast and rainbow beam – well it just seems extremely goofy. Of course calling anything Gamera related “goofy” is redundant. Keep in mind; the series eventually delivers a monster with a head shaped like a knife. The rainbow blast just reminds me of all those rainbow themed kid focused art, stickers, and shirts of the 1970s and early 80s. That isn’t’ the creators fault, but that is the side effect here. Barugon blasts Gamera with his super sparkly happy rainbow beam. The Care Bear Stare LIVES!

I don't think Kermit had this in mind when he sang, "The
Rainbow Connection."
So it seems that the “versus” part of Gamera vs. Barugon is flat, but what about the rest of the movie. Well this is the only movie in the original franchise that does not feature a small child somehow involved in the story. Instead all the human characters are adults. Normally I think that is a great idea, since an over abundance of kids can drive me batty (I’m looking at you Prince of Space). But Gamera actually works best when the kids get in on the action. Without even a kid like the annoying Kenny of Gamera running around, things just don’t seem as fun.

Instead you get the thuggish and greedy Onodera, who is just a jerk from the moment you meet him. His greed drives many of the nasty consequences in the film. Even Barugon’s rampage can be put on this guy’s shoulders. Fujiyama gives a good performance, and you really detest the guy before he is finally devoured by Barugon (in one of the best death scenes in the entire series). Kawajiri is our stalwart hero. He’s a bit rough around the edges but has a heart of gold. He does seem to be easily discouraged though. After his plot to defeat Barugon fails, he just crumbles. Enami as Karen is an interesting character. She’s an islander who knows all about Barugon and tells us about his history and his abilities. She also comes up with an idea to drown the giant creature, but it doesn’t go well, and she breaks down too. See, this is why we need the little determined kids to show these adults that giving up is not an option!

"Oh no, he thinks it's a fire hydrant!"
Gamera vs Barugon is in rich color and that does help the film a bit. Since the previous film was in black and white, I can see why the creators went with an extremely colorful attack for Barugon. But the color also helps when we see Gamera rampage at the beginning of the film. His flames now have real heat to them. We even get some gore in this flick when the monsters have their final showdown, and this stuff is also rich in color. This style will set the tone for the following Gamera films, which all went big and loud with the colors.

Model work in the film is pretty darn impressive too. I love the Osaka castle model during the first face off between Barugon and Gamera. That thing looks so cool. But the port of Osaka gets really trashed by Barugon too, and the entire sequence is pretty impressive.

Alas, the dubbing in this film is about as poor as it was in Gamera. Some of the cast sounds bored to tears. Other folks sound confused by the lines and the whole concept of the Gamera film. Once again, the villain gets the best performance, with the voice actor chewing the scenery and providing some unintentionally funny moments with his hyper-intense performance. Some of the dub script is just bizarre and nonsensical, and that always works for some laughs.

Way too much screen time is spent with these
Unfortunately the real issue with Gamera vs Barugon is the pacing. This movie just drags. The script set up with the search for the opal and the aftermath takes up way too much screen time. The human characters aren’t that interesting. The plots they come up with to defeat Barugon aren’t too interesting. The script meanders from scene to scene. In a lot of ways it seems to be following the template from Gamera, but with Barugon in the title role. It’s an odd choice, especially since Gamera is still wandering around, but in the world of the film he just… um… is sleeping or something.

The movie just doesn’t deliver what it promises: two huge monsters slugging it out in Japan. Yeah it eventually happens, but it is too little and too late. The film seems slower than Gamera, and has a less interesting script than that film. But the scope is bigger in Gamera vs Barugon and the addition of color and some amazing model work makes this a slightly more entertaining film. But only by a little bit. Still all these colorful additions may be just what Joel and bots ordered for their second tackle of this turtle-tastic film.

Episode Review:
"He's making everything Christmasy."
So Season Three continued to truck along with Gamera films, and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew was ready and raring to go. In some ways I think the addition of color energized their riffing efforts a bit. At the same time, the human side of the story didn’t give them nearly as much to work with. Kenny was the main focus of their riffing in Gamera and with him gone from the film (and no surrogate in sight) I think they found the film a bit harder to write jokes for.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t laughs to be found in Gamera vs Barugon. This episode has plenty of great riffing. It just feels like the best moments are ones when either Gamera or Barugon is on the screen. Sadly, that just doesn’t happen that often in the middle portion of the film.

When the boys realize the film is in color Crow quips about Gamera, “You know in color I thought he’d be a strawberry blonde.” But once Gamera disappears from the film, Tom asks Joel, “Wasn’t this a Gamera movie?” Joel replies, “He must have a real good agent.”

Extreme joy or extreme constipation.
The funniest riffing for the middle portion of the film revolves around the three explorers on the island. Of these jokers, Kawajiri (Yuzo Hayakawa) spends most of his time mugging away and acting like a spazz. When the trio finds the “opal” he starts dancing around and shouting, only to be stung by a scorpion. His death throws are something to witness. Crow declares “He died as he lived: goofy.”

Gamera vs. Barugon picks up when Barugon hatches form his opal and starts to trash Osaka. As he hatches Tom declares, “Caution: filling his hot… and alive.” Barugon’s tongue attack is perfect for quips, and when he shoots it out Joel does his best Freddy Krueger imitation with “I’m your boyfriend now!” This riff would re-appear in The Giant Gila Monster. The frosty blast from Barugon’s tongue causes Joel to say, “You don’t see that too often in nature.” To which Tom adds, “Frosted mini-tanks?”

"Help! I'm being frenched to death!"
One of my favorite lines from the movie is when a defense minister declares, “This monster destroys everything with its tongue.” Crow adds, “You try saying that without laughing”. And speaking of that tongue, it also leads to one of the funniest (and naughtiest) exchanges of the film. When Barguon uses his tongue to capture and ingest a man, Joel declares, “There is something about watching a man getting tongued to death.” To which Tom replies, “That’s how I want to go.” Joel and Crow just turn and stare at him.

The host segments start off with a classic battle. Tom is a Mac user and Crow is a PC user. They can’t agree on anything, until Joel shows up and says he’s using his Amega. They proceed to mock him mercilessly. For Joel’s invention he takes the dancing soda cans (remember those things?) and turns it into a spokes-can for recycling. The Mad scientists unleash the Cummer-bubble-bund - cummerbund that shoots bubbles. But this one is adapted for Disco! It has to be seen to be believed. At the first break Joel and bots perform a radio ad for Make Your Own Tokyo playset. It has a bunch of models, fire, and a panicky Joel. At the next break Tom and Crow dress as monsters going out to eat at TGI-Tokyo. Joel is their server and he has a lot of flair! For the next break Joel tries to convince the bots that the Gamera series is filled with big named stars. He rolls a slide show and proceeds to give all the Japanese actors celebrity identities. The bots don’t buy any of it. When the movie is over the bots complain about the lack of Gamera in Gamera vs. Barugon. Joel explains that Gamera was behind the camera for this one.

I wonder if he pitched the Jack Daniels grill already?
As far as Gamera’s directorial debut, well this movie has its moments. Some of those moments translate into some fun riffing. As a MST3K episode I rate this one higher than Gamera but still less entertaining than the episodes that followed it. Is it worth checking out? I think if you are a fan of Gamera and MST3K, yeah it’s a no brainer. But if you want to start with a single Gamera episode, I’d say give Gamera vs. Barugon a pass, and seek out Gamera vs. Guiron instead.

Gamera will return in Gamera vs. Gaos!

I give this episode 3 opal/eggs out of 5.

This episode is available on the MST3K vs Gamera boxset (Vol. XXI).