(1957?, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:
The Selling Wizard
(1954, Educational-Industrial, color)
Another senseless drive-by filming.
In a nutshell:
Short: A mute woman hawks freezers for a beer company.
Film: Fake metaphysical science solves a woman’s crossbow murder.
The Selling Wizard is a sales pitch to buy Anhauser-Busch freezer display cases. The narrator praises the various models while a mute, caped woman in a bowtie and tablecloth vest drapes herself across them, getting up occasionally to wave her baton at charts and signs. She closes the short with a long, stiff wink.
In the first scene of The Dead Talk Back, several people wander in and out of cars in the dark. We half-observe some kissing, slapping, and stalking. We can’t see anyone well enough that we’ll be able to recognize them later, but this doesn’t matter; none of it seems to have anything to do with the rest of the movie.
Next, we see a man named Henry Krasker. He sits in his laboratory, lecturing us exhaustively about his metaphysical nonsense theories while showing various devices (a grave whistle, a large fish tank, and a big glowing rock) that will someday enable him to speak with the dead.
The scene shifts to a boarding house where he narrates his roommates. They include: the blond bombshell, the elderly landlady, the creepy German, the groovy D.J., the wild-eyed street preacher, the professional stalker, a pair of interchangeable brunettes, and some random kids. A new voice-over takes over to tell us that the blond will soon be dead. He narrates the last hour and a half of her life, commenting on her behavior for each and every suspense-filled second she spends lounging on her bed reading magazines and loaning outfits to her friend. Eventually she goes out on the porch, where she is murdered with a crossbow. A minute or so later, one of the interchangeable brunettes wanders out onto the porch. An unidentified man runs past her, stumbling in the dark. The woman sees the body and lets out a self-consciously siren-like scream.
Cut to the actual sirens of the police arriving (see the expert film technique in action!). They find the stumbling man’s broken heel and hunt around for the rest of the shoe. The second narrator is identified as the police lieutenant in charge. He painstakingly questions everyone in the house in various settings. Ugly secrets are discovered about all of her housemates. The cops chase the murdered woman’s photographer down Hollywood Boulevard for no apparent reason. Eventually, they herd all the suspects into the boardinghouse for a séance with Krasker. The photographer breaks down and admits he was there. He broke his heel running away from the scene of the crime, but he was just delivering pictures. She was dead when he arrived.
They meet for another séance the next night, this time in Krasker’s laboratory. Various objects float around the room. Krasker tries to contact the woman’s spirit on his glowing rock radio. Her aura appears in the large fish tank and pulls the grave whistle. She slowly rises to speak and…the groovy D.J. breaks down and confesses. He secretly married her a month ago, but he’ll get in trouble with his rich parents if they find out. She was blackmailing him for large sums of money to keep it quiet, so he finally skewered her with a crossbow. The aura woman aura takes off her blond wig while Krasker turns on the lights and cuts the wires that made things float. The groovy D.J. is led away in handcuffs.
Gypsy conducts a fire drill on the Satellite of Love. With no way of escaping, they march several times around the desk.
Host Segment One:
Dr. Forrester tries out “Pin-Point Marketing,” designed to catch individuals not covered in the broadest demographics. He starts with Nelson brand cigarettes, “For the rugged individual trapped in space.” He sends them up via the Umbilicus, but Mike won’t buy them—he doesn’t smoke. TV’s Frank, however, is willing to smoke them while dressed from head to toe in Nelson brand merchandise.
Host Segment Two:
Tom and Crow host a radio talk show called The Dead Talk Back. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill call up to chat. Mike tries to ask them about their famous contributions to world history, but they’re only interested in discussing the Superbowl chances of the Buffalo Bills.
Host Segment Three:
Mike and the ‘Bots are The Dead. They take up musical instruments, dress in tie-dye and start to “freak freely.” Mike gets out a line or two of a song about a cosmic freight train before a whiskered Crow takes over with a long, wandering guitar solo. He’s still going at movie sign. Failing at their initial attempt to enter the theater, they have to back the camera out of the tunnel of doors and forcibly stop him.
Host Segment Four:
Crow has started to solo again, but Dr. Forrester interrupts him by donning a fedora and demanding a confession. Mike and the ‘Bots aren’t sure what to confess, but TV’s Frank quickly breaks down, shouting, “I shot J.R.! I killed that fat barkeep!” With the matter settled, Crow continues his guitar solo.
Host Segment Five:
Crow continues to solo. Mike reads a letter, while Tom narrates his reading, noting such things as whether or not these people are beyond the grave, and how much time they have left to live. Gypsy burst in to shout about the fire drill over and over again. Mike gives in to the chaos and does his Dave Seville impression. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester is trying to shoot an apple out of Frank’s hand with a crossbow. Predictably, the apple remains unscathed while Frank is riddled with crossbow bolts. The guitar solo continues over the closing credits.
An interchangeable brunette gives a siren-like scream.
As a mute, the freezer lady from the short communicates only through winks, nods, and suggestive gestures. I think it’s supposed to be enticing, but it mostly looks uncomfortable. Her outfit is somewhat to blame for this. Red-checkered tablecloths don’t exactly scream “sexy,” and neither do caped tuxedos that have been sewn from their scraps. Another factor is her partial immobility. She walks and gestures with extreme caution. Her neck is so stiff that her head doesn’t shake and nod so much as rapidly vibrate. Winking at us at the end seems to require a great deal of concentration. There’s not much to say about the freezers themselves. I guess you’re either in the market for a frozen foods display case or you’re not.
According to online sources (IMDb and Daddy-O) The Dead Talk Back was filmed in 1957, but not released until 1993. It’s not clear, but I think it may have had its wide distribution debut as an episode of MST3K. I’m not sure why it took so long to be released. Granted, it’s an awful film, but it’s no worse than most of the other B-Movie crap Hollywood was churning out at the time.
That said, the movie’s a test of patience to watch. The screenplay is a bunch of random bits of plot jammed together in no particular order. No one ever bothers to explain the first scene, and we don’t know who the second narrator is supposed to be until he mentions it off-hand about fifteen minutes into his voice-over. Lengthy metaphysical exposition abounds (purporting this to be Based on a True Story, no less) despite the revelation at the end that all the “talking to the dead” nonsense is just a ruse to get the real killer to confess. The two good points of the film are: 1) you do actually find out what’s going on in the end. This is because the filmmakers have gathered up the plot and repeatedly hammered you over the head with it by that time. 2) You can understand everything everyone says. In fact, diction seems to have been the director’s only emphasis. Any acting that happens in this film is less subtle than the aforementioned plot hammer.
The host segments are simple and serviceable. The low point is the Pin-Point Marketing campaign. The high point is the chaotic fire drill/guitar solo/narration/letter reading at the end, though the continuous guitar solo (a la Jerry Garcia) and Frank’s tortured confession tie for second. I liked the radio show sketch, but it just kind of petered out into an odd football discussion.
Mike and the ‘Bots do their best in the face of a short and a film that don’t give them very much to work with. While we peer into the freezer display, Mike notes that they have “over three kinds of vanilla.” When the freezer lady appears, Crow notes her stiff movements by saying, “she seems almost lifelike,” while Tom comments on her outfit by calling her a “pizza dominatrix.” During the film, when we have a pointless shot of a moving car, Mike calls it “another senseless drive-by filming.” When a cop jumps on the photographer from behind to twist his arm, Tom calls him a “surprise chiropractor.” As the film is closing, Crow notes, “They never talked to the dead.” This episode is not among the worst of the MST3K canon, but it’s close enough that I’ll avoid it in the future.
(1957?, Drama-Crime, b&w), with: