12/13/06

311 It Conquered the World

(1956, SciFi, b&w), with:

Snow Thrills
(1950’s-ish (unknown), Educational/Newsreel/Sports, b&w)

He learned too late that man is a feeling creature...

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: Amateur winter athletes embarrass themselves on camera.
Film: A stoic scientist defends the earth from a mind-controlling alien vegetable.

Short Summary:

...sliding on their butts the entire way.In Snow Thrills, an enthusiastic announcer narrates a montage of amateur winter sports events at a breakneck pace, including speed skating, bobsledding, and skiing (which the he pronounces, “shiing”).

Film Summary:

In It Conquered the World, professional crackpot Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef) warns the heads of an unnamed space agency that unknown alien forces want the earth to stay out of space. They dismiss his concerns as absurd, and launch their satellite anyway. Three months later, the satellite disappears, and Tom invites the scientist in charge (his friend Paul Nelson, played by Peter Graves) to gloat and show off a nifty ham radio that can pick up static from Venus.

The satellite comes back a day later and crashes in the mountains. Unbeknownst to Paul and his cohorts, but knownst to Tom, a slavering, whiskered cucumber from Venus has hitched a ride. It communicates with the traitorous Tom via the radio, and then stops all power at the source (whatever that means) so that only its slaves and co-conspirators can have cars, electricity, and running water. It spits out eight spiny flying crepes that will infect and control the top decision makers of the area and their wives, including Paul and his wife Joan.

Running around on a bicycle, Paul runs into the mind-controlled sheriff on a murderous rampage, and then the mind-controlled general. He knocks out the general and steals his jeep to go confront Tom. They get into a boring philosophical argument and Paul storms off in the jeep. Back at home, he finds that his wife is mind-controlled too. She sics a spiny crepe on him and takes a walk. Paul kills it with a poker, then kills his wife.

The alien from Venus calls Tom up on the radio and orders him to kill Paul. Paul shows up and they get into another boring philosophical argument. Tom’s wife Claire (Beverly Garland) finally snaps and runs off to the alien’s cave with a rifle, but the alien is impervious to bullets and kills her. Listening to his wife’s death over the radio, Tom decides to help Paul. Together they hunt down and slaughter all the remaining mind-control victims, then Tom torches the pickle-shaped alien with a handheld flamethrower. Paul stands over his friend’s corpse and delivers one of the longest, boringest, faux philosophicalest, moralisticest movie speeches I’ve ever heard. “He learned too late that man is a feeling creature...”

Introduction:

I think Joel should be mayor of the winter Olympics.Joel is a ventriloquist and Crow is his dummy. Acting as Ed Sullivan, Tom introduces and critiques their horribly lame act. Quoth Joel, “He’s a woozle and his name is Peanut.”

Host Segment One:

Crow is a ventriloquist and Joel is his dummy, but that turns out even lamer than the first attempt. Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have invented their ready-made Halloween costume. It’s a noose made out of stiff rope, so that you can dress up as a dead guy. Joel’s invented the Sony Sea Man, which is a conch shell attached to a pair of headphones.

Host Segment Two:

Tom narrates a bunch of bizarre winter sports at a breakneck pace while Tom and Joel act them out in the background. These include, but are not limited to, speed skating/kickboxing, hockeyball, ice fishing (fishing for ice cubes), and frozen pole frenching.

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots reenact the sarcastic dinner scene from the film and extrapolate their insults to Albee-esque levels of family dysfunction.

Host Segment Four:

When musing about Peter Graves and his actor brother, James Arness, Joel decides to sing a little song about celebrity siblings with the same last name. When the ‘Bots object to this lame idea, Joel informs them that the film is too short, and they need to pad the episode.

Host Segment Five:

Joel and the ‘Bots eat TV dinners and watch the final speech of the film again. Then they each read a letter. Crow needs help reading long words, like “cafeteria”. Gypsy has trouble reading long words too, but only because they were written wrong to begin with. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank watch the last speech of the movie again. The speech plays again over the closing theme, taking up the entire reel of credits.

Stinger:

He learned too late that man is a feeling creature...

Thoughts:

Venus: Home of the Giant Man-Eating Pickles.The film’s auteur, Roger Corman, is a repeat offender in the MST3K Canon, of the same ilk as Bert I. Gordon, Coleman Francis, and Sandy Frank. Apparently, producers liked Corman because he specialized bringing films in ahead of schedule and under budget. This is obvious in his films, as they’re all quite short, with only two to three sets and half-a-dozen characters. It Conquered the World goes all out with two short crowd scenes as well, and the story holds together than most of his other films, though it’s no less talky and boring. It’s better than your average Corman flick, but that’s not very high praise.

The short, Snow Thrills, doesn’t really instill me with a hankering to go play in the snow. None of the people filmed are very good at what they do, and about three quarters of the scenes end with someone falling down, wiping out, or otherwise seriously injuring themselves and others. This is especially evident during the skiing (shiing?) scenes where, out of two to three dozen quick scenes, only one or two of the skiers (shiers?) depicted were still upright in time for the jump cut. And what’s with all this “shiing” crap? According to the film, it’s the original pronunciation. By way of comparison, a few hundred years ago linguists believe the word “right” was probably pronounced phonetically. If you insist on doing that nowadays, however, people will assume that you’re an idiot.

This episode’s best host segment is Joel and the ‘Bots arguing over dinner, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-style. The constant barrage of insults is bitter, interesting, and well timed. The episode’s worst host segment is the “Celebrity Siblings with the Same Last Name” song, which is lame, poorly executed, and (as they admit during the sketch) just a bad attempt at filling time to make up for a short film. The rest of the host segments fall somewhere in-between; and some of the weird winter sports Tom describes are hilarious, and the three-time repetition of Peter Graves’ long moralizing speech at the end is bizarre and funny.

The Satellite Crew lets fly with some good riffs during the film. When the short depicts female speed skaters, Joel says, “We don’t approve of fast women.” When the narrator insists on pronouncing it “shiing,” Joel says, “you’re full of skit.” During one of Paul’s long-winded philosophical speeches where he threatens to kill Tom, Servo supplies “You’re trying to bore me to death, aren’t you Paul?” When we finally see the low-budget alien rushing towards its prey, Crow shouts, “It’s the Kool-aid guy, gone rogue!” The movie is slow and painfully bad, and some of the host segments are uneven, but it’s funny enough to go out of your way to watch. Fans should see this one just to listen to the mother of all heavy-handed morals.