12/9/06

206 Ring of Terror

(1962, Horror-ish, b&w), with:

The Phantom Creeps: Chapter Three, The Crashing Timbers
(1939, SciFi-Serial/Mad Science, b&w)

Puma? (pronounced Pee-Yoom-Ah)

Rating: *1/2

In a nutshell:

Film: A fearless medical student dies of fright during a fraternity initiation ritual.
Short: There’s the FBI and some scientists and a robot and some spiders…

Film Summary:

It's good to see so many middle and senior-aged citizens improving their education.Ring of Terror starts with the standard funeral sequence that precedes most cautionary tales of the sixties. Suited men carry a casket through a long string of credits, as if the act of carrying a casket in and of itself is supposed to instill us with a feeling of dread. Since we don’t know the guy yet, we’re mostly just bored.

We cut to an old guy who wanders the graveyard at night babbling vaguely macabre nonsense while looking for his cat. After stomping on the cat a few times (Puma?), he tells the chilling and heartwarming story of a first year medical student, Lewis, who fears nothing—or so it seems. Lewis, a twenty-two-year-old freshman in his forties, demonstrates his fearlessness by stomping a rattlesnake to death in front of his girlfriend. He also volunteers to assist in the dissection of a corpse for the benefit of the other medical students.

Some heavy-handed foreshadowing (in the form of nightmares and a badly lit funeral viewing) reveals his Achilles heel. He’s got a very specific phobia of corpses in darkened rooms, brought on by an acute childhood trauma. Naturally, when it comes time to perform a stupid and embarrassing task to join the local fraternity, he’s required to steal a ring from a corpse in a darkened room. When he attempts to do so, a cat yowls at him (Puma?), causing him to die instantly of a heart attack.

Short Summary:

In our last exciting episode of The Phantom Creeps, we saw an FBI agent clubbed from behind by the invisible Bela Lugosi, and then rolled over a cliff in a car. In The Phantom Creeps: Chapter Three, The Crashing Timbers, we see the still-unconscious form of the FBI agent instinctively roll to safety before the car plunges to its fiery demise. Some stuff happens involving the random blonde, the big ugly robot, some gangsters (or were they spies?), and the bulletproof lab assistant. The good scientist discovers the cure to exploding spiders, and the invisible evil scientist demonstrates the dry ice key to the universe. I can’t really describe it any more clearly than that.

Introduction:

TV's Frank tries out Dr. F's new surgery machine.The ‘Bots trick Joel into thinking it’s movie sign. He jumps into chute that goes down to the theater while they laugh behind his back.

Host Segment One:

Doctor Forrester turns TV’s Frank into a life-size version of the board game Operation™! Joel gets behind an X-ray machine and swallows a meatball, using his innards to play pinball. Quoth Crow, “If you get enough points, do you get another ball movement?’

Host Segment Two:

Joel and the ‘Bot’s do an infomercial for “The Old School,” a college campus specifically for senior citizens.

Host Segment Three:

Joel makes the ‘Bots sick by doing an autopsy of a deceased vacuum cleaner named Mr. Hoover.

Host Segment Four:

In what should be a familiar routine by now, Joel makes the ‘Bots say a good thing and a bad thing about the movie in exchange for RAM chips. Problem is, they can only think of bad things. Only Gypsy gets a RAM chip.

Host Segment Five:

Frank sings the touching “If Chauffeurs Ruled the World” until Dr. Forrester beats him senseless with the scenery.

Stinger:

A weird old college student reflects on weirdness.

Thoughts:

My fraternity initiation prank is the one thing that will make me die of fright?  What are the odds?Ring of Terror is based on the kind of urban legend that perpetuates itself in summer camp cabins well after the counselors are snoring. It ought to take three minutes to tell, tops. The filmmakers pad the movie with a whiny girlfriend, a long autopsy scene, a random old guy and his cat, and a pair of really goofy fat people who engage in really goofy fat people antics while their slimmer counterparts look on and laugh, but none of these elements have anything to do with the story. It really wants to be a thriller, but plays like a sanitized Driver’s Ed film with grave robbing instead of dangerous driving habits. When it finally gets to the end the film’s style tells us that we ought to have learned a valuable lesson from all of this, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. Perhaps it’s that one should never hide from one’s fears, or that one should never pledge to fraternities. Most likely, it’s meant to educate us about the dangers of mixing cats and grave robbing.

This is the only episode where the short comes after the movie. Bela Lugosi may get top billing for The Phantom Creeps, but in this episode he only gets two minutes of screen time at the most—and a minute and a half of that comes from the montage that plays over the opening credits. Sure, he’s supposed to be there, but since he’s invisible, he’s mostly represented by floating sticks and rustling bushes. I can’t figure out the plot, and at this point, I don’t really care. They established the exploding spiders in the first episode, along with some other goofy stuff, but nothing from the first two episodes seems to be a factor. The only new element here is a dry ice box that interferes with electricity. Thank goodness this is the last installment of this serial we’ll have to endure in MST3K.

Both films sound like their microphones were stuffed in boxes of cotton, and look like they were filmed through several layers of Saran wrap.

Joel’s autopsy of the vacuum cleaner is a deft parody of the overlong autopsy scene in the film. The Old School sketch works well, too, mocking the time-honored tradition of casting fortysomethings as teenagers. Frank’s song, “If Chauffeurs Ruled the World,” based on the indestructible chauffeur in the short, is odd and kind of non sequitur. The other host segments are all right, but not special. Tom’s head is still oddly shaped from his “haircut” at the beginning of Episode 205, Rocket Attack USA. It still looks strange.

This film is the origin of the quote, “Puma?” Joel will say this in a creepy old man voice every time a main character seems to be looking for something in just about every episode of MST3K hereafter. Most of the other riffing focuses on the aged actors who are supposed to be playing teenagers, though there’s quite a few fat jokes, and a good extended bit where they try to find just the right euphemism for throwing up. Despite these good moments, it remains a wretched movie and an incomprehensible short.