12/29/06

610 The Violent Years

(1956, Drama-Teen, b&w), with:

A Young Man’s Fancy
(1952, Educational-Industrial, color)

When he looks at me I get, you know, squishy.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A squishy young woman snares a man with the help of her electric kitchen.
Film: Overindulged rich girl Paula goes on a self-destructive crime spree.

Short Summary:

Electric Bob warns his electric sister to keep her hands off his electric friend.In A Young Man’s Fancy, young Judy shrills with delight when her older brother Bob brings home his handsome college buddy Alex. She calls up her best friend to gush, declaring that Alex makes her feel “squishy.” But, despite her best efforts look beautiful and squeak invitingly, Alex is an obsessed bore who talks of nothing but manufacturing efficiency. Acting on expert advice from her mother, Judy attracts his interest by feigning ignorance of kitchen appliances, and then listens to him blather on about them while she cooks him a delicious meal. In the end, Alex is so impressed that he decides to forgo a lecture on basement mycology so that he can take Judy dancing.

Film Summary:

The Violent Years opens with an extremely tedious judge, going on and on to a couple about something or other. Apparently, they’re horrible, miserable failures, though he won’t tell us what they failed at until the end of the film. He drones us into the flashback…

Enter plucky teenager Paula Perkins, whose awful failure parents were seen in the opening sequence. That they supposedly failed at being parents is heavily implied by the voiceover. Paula’s horrible failure mother is a kindly and concerned woman who trusts her enough to write her blank checks, but stays out every night at charity events, raising money to feed the poor. Her horrible failure father is open and friendly and always willing to talk, but as a newspaper reporter he has to stay out late every night to cover the story of a violent gang that has been robbing gas stations at gunpoint.

That night the gang strikes again. They take all the station’s money and pistol-whip the attendant into insensibility. Their leader removes her mask while they drive away and — Surprise! —she’s Paula, commanding a violent gang of hot young women who live on the edge, robbing gas stations for kicks.

Apparently they got themselves all excited during the robbery, so they drive down to Lover’s Lane looking for thrills. They find a young couple engaged in tentative osculation. They rob the girl for her sweater and then rip her skirt into strips so they can leave her tied up in her underwear. They rob the boy for his wallet while making suggestive comments. The four of them lead him into the underbrush while tugging at their own clothing. The next day the newspaper headlines say he was “criminally assaulted,” leaving us to fill in the blanks for ourselves.

It’s Paula’s birthday, but neither of her parents can be there for her party. Her mother has a heart-to-heart chat with her in the morning, and makes her breakfast. Her father had to leave early, but is willing to talk with her about her schoolwork and his newspaper story when she shows up at his office. She learns that the cops are stationing armed guards at gas stations now to catch them, and so she tells her girlish cohorts-in-crime to cool it for a while. They take their ill-gotten loot to their fence, a top-heavy foreign-ish woman named Sheila. They haggle over prices , and it comes out that the gang needs a new criminal angle. Sheila lets on that certain “foreign interests” (i.e. communists) will pay top dollar to anyone willing to vandalize the local high schools.

That night, after a protracted pajama party scene (in which one of her father’s cub reporter friends delivers her an expensive watch and a new convertible from her absent parents) Paula and her gang head to school where they toss desks and smash windows. A security guard sees them and calls the police. The cops arrive, and the ensuing firefight leaves one cop and two girls dead. Paula and her last girlish flunky escape. They take Sheila hostage in her apartment, and then kill her when she tries to call for help. They steal money and clothes but the cops spot them on the way out of town. This provokes a high-speed chase that ends when Paula drives her new convertible through a department store window. Her last flunky dies at the scene. Paula ends up in a prison hospital, where she discovers that the earlier “criminal assault” has left her pregnant.

Judge Tedious comes back briefly to sentence her to life in prison. This doesn’t turn out to be very long, since she dies in childbirth. Her parents try to adopt their granddaughter, and the resulting hearing finally leads us out of the flashback and back into the adoption proceedings. Judge Tedious reiterates everything he said at the beginning and more, declaring them the most failed of the failed, the lowest of the low, and the most loathed among the loathsome. He denies their adoption request, as they can obviously never be trusted with any kind of child ever again.

Introduction:

And so on, and so forth...Tom Servo has removed his old head and replaced it with one from a ventriloquist dummy, provoking horrified screams from the satellite’s other residents. Quoth Gypsy, “I feel ill.”

Host Segment One:

Mike has caught Tom and starts to pry off the disturbing new head. Down in Deep 13, the Mads treat us to their new theme song. “Ruling the world / with our heads in a swirl / and it’s keen! / We’re living in Deep 13.” They demand that Mike and the ‘Bots sing theme songs too. Tom declares that he’s had a theme song since infancy and proceeds to belt out his own name over and over again to the music of O Fortuna, from Orff’s Carmina Burana. Crow’s theme song is simply “La, la, la, la, la, Crow!” repeated tunelessly. Mike doesn’t have a theme song, so Crow does one for him. It’s “Mike, ma-ma-ma-Mike, ma-ma-ma-Mike!” repeated tunelessly. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester introduces the film while Frank sings Mike’s theme song to himself.

Host Segment Two:

Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have scrapped the whole theme song idea in favor of starting a country music radio station, called “Frank.” They invite Mike and the ‘Bots to “Turn your crank to Frank!” When the SOL crew seems hesitant, the Mads go on at length about the all the popular country singers they plan to play, and the whimsy of naming a radio station Frank.

Host Segment Three:

Magic Voice introduces a bewigged Tom as “Esther Hoffman Howard.” Tom tries to sing, but he can’t stop sobbing. Quoth he, “Are you watching me now?”

Host Segment Four:

Crow has written a one man show about Keanu Reeves, to be performed by Mike. Mike plays along despite his doubts, but a lame potato joke about My Own Private Idaho causes him to stalk off stage in disgust.

Host Segment Five:

Gypsy and Tom watch as Mike and Crow reenact the gas station robbery from the beginning of the film. This involves a masked Crow pointing a gun at Mike for most of the segment. Tom and Gypsy get bored and read a letter. They finish about the time Crow finally pistol-whips Mike. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank are still pitching their radio station. Frank recites the names of performers all the way through the closing credits.

Stinger:

Paula rolls over and says, “so what?”

Thoughts:

A scene that will live in infamy.On the surface, A Young Man’s Fancy seems to be an instructional video, detailing the steps young women must take to get themselves husbands. In a nutshell: if you can cook him a meal and feign interest in his hobbies, he’s yours. This message is the shallow grave from which we unearth the short’s real purpose, which is to make you buy things. Electricity is just so darn convenient, after all. Who wouldn’t want an electric razor, an electric oven, an electric water heater, an electric toaster, an electric range, an electric mixer, an electric refrigerator, and an electric freezer? It seems like I’m exaggerating, but if anything, I’ve missed several of the amazing new electricity-powered gadgets touted by the short. In fact, now that I think about it, I could use an electric laptop, an electric high-definition TV, an electric video processor card, an electric digital camera, an electric cell phone, and any number of new-fangled electric video game consoles. I’m sure you could too. So go out and support the economy. Buy something electric today!

I’ve mentioned previously how much I hate these angst-ridden, moralistic delinquent teen flicks. I’ve covered the basic theme (parental inattention turns kids into murderous criminals) so often that I feel like any further treatment of it would be redundant. There are, however, a couple of things that set this film, not above, but apart from its peers.

First, the parents in no way deserve the verbal abuse heaped on them by Judge Tedious. It’s not like they’re out carousing at all hours of the night and day like the awful failure parents of I Accuse My Parents. They’re out setting a good example, working hard with charities and trying to catch criminals. They are kind, conscientious, and caring. They’re not around enough, and they probably give her too many things, but they clearly love and trust her. At the beginning her mom says she doesn’t have time to talk to her, but then she hangs around for several minutes and talks to her anyway. Her dad may not be home much, but when she visits him at work he’s always available and interested for as long as his daughter needs to talk. At one point Paula’s mother gives her a blank check, implicitly trusting her not to do anything inappropriate with it. And you know what? Paula doesn’t do anything inappropriate with it. She doesn’t give them any warning signs, playing the perfect daughter the whole time. In spite of the love, trust, and good examples of her parents, she deliberately and maliciously deceives them throughout the entire film for no good reason. The whole ugly mess is completely her own fault.

Second, the inimitable Ed Wood wrote the screenplay in a brutally inept style that combines cold war paranoia with a thirteen-year-old boy’s wet dream. His message seems to be that teenagers are implicitly untrustworthy. You must be at your child’s side every second of every day, he seems to say. Otherwise, who knows what they might be doing? Right now your tender young daughter could be out with her hot delinquent friends, forcing herself on helpless young men at the park. You could come home one day and find she’d been killed working the wrong side of a communist plot against our schools. It might happen. I bet you’ll be really sorry when it does.

I liked the host segments. Only the fifth segment relates to the film, accurately portraying the long, awkward robbery scene. Tom’s new head is wonderfully disturbing, and the theme songs are funny. The Mads’ attempt to pitch a new country music station is amusingly pathetic, and “Turn your crank to Frank,” is a phrase that will live in infamy for many MST3K seasons to come. Host segments three and four parody unrelated films. I initially had no idea what Tom was doing in host segment three, but I laughed very hard anyway. Later research reveals he is reenacting the last scene from Barbara Streisand’s remake of A Star Is Born. Host segment four has a Keanu Reeves impression that references his appearance in My Own Private Idaho, a film about a narcoleptic male prostitute that takes its title from a silly B52s song, which, in turn, seems to be about people who behave like potatoes. The sketch made fun of this fact, and though I (amazingly enough) got the joke, I didn’t find it as funny as the previous segment.

The film segments dealing with the short are gut-bustingly funny. Judy’s squishy antics over her brother’s handsome friend provide some irresistible set-ups to the SOL crew’s quips. When Judy preens herself to meet Alex, Crow says, “Thank goodness for my electric dress.” When the overly chummy Bob and Alex admire their own faces after using Dad’s amazing electric razor, Crow says, “You can hardly see where you bit me.” The movie segments, though funny, don’t measure up quite as well. When the girl gang robs a convenience store, Tom calls out, “Society owes me a Kit Kat Bar.” While the soon-to-be-molested couple makes out in lover’s lane, Mike says, “Oh, [the] smoldering averageness.” While the girls flee the police at the end, Crow notes, “This whole thing is just a commercial for Light Days Pantiliners.” Despite the tired subject matter, the movie’s worth at least one viewing, and the short is worth several.

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609 The Skydivers

(1963, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:

Why Study Industrial Arts?
(1956, Educational, b&w)

Filmed in Despair-Vision™.

Rating: 1/2*

In a nutshell:

Short: An obsessive young man proselytes his friend into taking an industrial arts class.
Film: Marital deception and murderous sabotage take place at dreary airfield.

Short Summary:

Shop class stimulates young minds and other organs.In Why Study Industrial Arts, a young man crafts a table in shop class. While he works he thinks about how much pleasure the task gives him, and while he contemplates his pleasures, he flashes back to earlier that day, when his teacher haltingly explained all the lucrative employment that could be gained with industrial arts skills. His buddy comes in and questions the usefulness of such skills to non-mechanical professions, provoking a “handyman-around-the-house” lecture from a nearby basketball coach. With his buddy’s doubts resolved, the young man proceeds to give him advice on how to alter his car into “a real [hot] rod.”

Film Summary:

Take a deep breath and put on your thinking caps. Ready? Here we go.

In The Skydivers, the terminally depressed Harry owns a skydiving school, which he runs with helmet-haired wife, Beth. Harry cheats on Beth with a smirking villainess named Suzy, who also dallies with Harry’s plane mechanic, Frankie. The doormat-ish Beth knows Harry’s cheating, and with whom, and handles the situation by hanging around the airfield with a permanent worried frown. Weasel-faced Frankie gets jealous of Harry’s relationship with Suzy, and starts to drink and sabotage planes. This gets him fired.

Still with me? Good, because that’s just the backstory.

The movie starts with a bunch of dirty looks between Harry, Suzy, and Beth on the airfield. Later, Beth almost dies in a sabotaged plane that may or may not have been moving. Harry sends for an old war buddy of his to come and be their new mechanic, and then fools around with Suzy. Later that night, he catches Frankie trying to sabotage another plane. They beat the crap out of each other, whereupon Frankie tells Harry, “Suzy’s my girl.” Harry agrees to leave her alone and runs him off the airfield.

Interspersed are scenes of Harry’s clientele. Rather than catering to thrill-seeking jocks, the airfield seems to attract a set of desperate geeks who look like they would be more comfortable spouting Klingon at science fiction conventions. There are interminable sequences of them jumping out of planes, with their cheeks and jumpsuits flapping in the wind while they roll and grab each other’s ankles in mid-air. The FAA shuts the airfield down after one of the less stable patrons doesn’t pull his chute and goes splat.

Harry’s old buddy Joe comes to take the mechanic job. Harry’s not there when he arrives, so he and Beth get really enthusiastic about coffee. Later, this somehow leads to an illicit kiss on a ladder. Harry doesn’t notice anything going on for a while. He’s too busy brushing off Suzy and getting the airfield back in operation. He gets things patched up with the FAA about the same time he sees Joe paying a little too much attention to Beth, and they have words about it. Not very many words, but enough that we are supposed to assume that the whole thing has been resolved. Later, Beth and Joe amicably break up over coffee.

Meanwhile, the scorned Suzy plots revenge with Frankie. She leaves him waiting in the car while she gives implied sexual favors to an elderly chemist, who in turn gives her a vial of potent acid. They sneak into the airfield and dump it into Harry’s chute during his grand reopening celebration—a hallucinatory shindig complete with a sexy giantess, a wiggly black woman in a polka dot bikini, an incomprehensible Scotsman in full regalia, and an indeterminate number of thin, spastic youths. Predictably, during the next jump the chute doesn’t open properly and Harry goes splat. One of the younger party-goers saw people who looked like they might have been Suzy and Frankie around the hangar earlier that evening, so the enraged townsfolk gather to gun down the fugitive pair. Beth rejects Joe’s offer to assist her with the airfield, and everyone (including us) goes away depressed.

Introduction:

Crow wants to probe Uranus.The lights dim to allow planetarium projector Tom to give Crow and Mike a tour of the solar system. Crow interrupts continually with such jibes as, “Let’s probe Uranus!” Tom flees the room in tears.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester challenges the SOL crew to a swing choir competition. Everyone dresses up in fruity sequined costumes and prances around, singing medleys stitched together from songs ripped out of Grease, Pippin, and various other musicals, mixed with popular songs of yesteryear (“Tall and tan and young and handsome the guys from Deep 13 go walking”) until Dr. Forrester puts a stop to it and declares himself the winner. Frank introduces the film by calling it, “Kind of like Manos without the lucid plot.”

Host Segment Two:

As the Industrial Arts Teacher, Mike asks Tom and Crow how their shop projects are going. Tom hasn’t made much progress, and blames this on the fact that his arms don’t work. Meanwhile, Crow disregards several basic safety rules and bandsaws himself in half.

Host Segment Three:

Crow puts himself into a double jock lock, a complicated high school prank that seems to involve the use of a jock strap as a restraining device. Crow explains by saying, “I wanted to see if I could get out of it.” He concludes that he can’t.

Host Segment Four:

Determined not to fall behind in the “hot rod race” with Tom (see episodes 604 and 607 for short host segments that feature Tom running over Crow) Crow builds a car of his own. By this time, Tom has moved on to planes. He flies by, strafing Crow’s new car into smoldering wreckage.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow have attempted to go skydiving inside the Satellite of Love, but their parachutes have caught in the rafters, leaving them trapped in their tangled lines. Mike offers to help, but they decline, citing a need to “persevere.” Mike reads a letter and then launches into another swing choir medley. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has switched from swing choir to dodge ball, and pelts Frank mercilessly.

Stinger:

The suicidal jumper says, “I feel real free up there in the high blue sky.”

Thoughts:

Two women at odds over their love for the same coffee, er, man.Why study industrial arts? The short goes on at length about lucrative professions and the ability to do things around the house without having to hire practitioners of the aforementioned lucrative professions, but its main argument seems to boil down to the obsessive sensory tendencies of its spectacled protagonist. Basically, if tablesaws and leatherworking tools turn you on, then shop class is for you!

Ed Wood has a reputation as being the worst director ever, but his title really ought to be amended to worst interesting director ever. Yes, his movies are brutally inept, but they are brutally inept with passion. If you want to see something slow, gray, incomprehensible, and utterly joyless, then look no further than the oeuvre of Coleman Francis.

Coleman Francis only directed three films. The Skydivers is one of them. We will witness the other two later in the sixth season. I say “witness” because words like “see,” “view,” and “watch” are associated with “movies.” Coleman Francis’ films qualify more as “horrific events” like train wrecks and car accidents. We’re not really “watching” per se; we’re rubbernecking. We’re slowing down our metaphorical vehicles to peek at the cinematic carnage out of the corners of our eyes. So, one Coleman Francis film down, two Coleman Francis films to go. Heaven help us.

Though I never really liked the “Tom runs over Crow” series of host segments, I liked the version in host segment four is a little better because it takes the scenario to the next appropriate level. The rest of the host segments evince a preoccupation with the more embarrassing aspects of high school, i.e. scatological jokes in the planetarium, swing choir, shop class (though this one is related to the short), jock strap mishaps, and the dodge ball torments. It’s always fun when they pick a theme and run with it, and though it’s not as funny as the waffle theme of Episode 317, it still works quite well—probably a lot better than it would have if they had attempted four host segments about the film.

Despite the movie’s bleakness, the satellite crew gets off some funny comments during the film segments. When the short’s title pops up to ask, “Why Study Industrial Arts?” Crow replies, “Because you’re bad at math?” Later, while the protagonist gets more and more excited by his tools, Crow says, “I keep Popular Mechanics under my mattress.” The Skydivers is riddled with continuity errors, so that it’s difficult to tell who is where, and when, and how, and sometimes minor things like costumes, cars, boats, buildings, etc. change inexplicably between shots in supposedly continuous scenes. This leads Crow to observe, “Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder edited this film.” When Frankie runs away on his motorcycle after Harry beats him, Mike says, “I was born to be wild. My mom said I was.” When a skydiver looks down while hanging from his parachute, Mike says, “I can see my feet from here.” This episode has decent host segments and competent mocking, but the bleak, incomprehensible film remains all but unwatchable.

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608 Code Name: Diamondhead

(1977, Action-Spies/Television, color), with:

A Day at the Fair
(1947, Educational-Newsreel, b&w)

Is it just me, or did nothing just happen?

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

Short: A bland farm family spends the day at a bland county fair.
Film: A bland secret agent and his generic Hawaiian sidekicks foil a bland supervillain.

Short Summary:

Let's go eat something gray.A Day at the Fair chronicles a farm family’s outing to the local county fair, where they pit their agricultural specialties against those of their neighbors. One of the sons wins an honorable mention for his calf while his brother’s calf is dismissed from competition. Sister’s pigs, father’s ear of corn, and mother’s homemade jams are also thrown into their respective rings, but we never discover how they fare. When the judging and prize giving are through, the family reunites to seek thrills on the midway through such diversions as game fish displays, miniature carnival rides, and buggy races. Ah, the joys of the fair.

Film Summary:

The thrills continue in Code Name: Diamondhead. A long time ago (several acres of polyester fibers seem to indicate the 1970s) in a faraway place (which the movie alleges is Hawaii) an evil priest goes through customs at an international airport. In a gripping scene fraught with something that desperately wants to be drama, we learn that he has nothing to declare. A few minutes later, he hangs the customs agent from a bell tower.

At a swanky party across town, cops arrest a notorious gambler for vague gambling-related shenanigans. We soon discover the arrest to be a cover for his secret gambler identity—he’s actually the eponymous Diamondhead, a superspy in the service of that bastion of freedom and goodwill, that defender of peace and innocents everywhere, Aunt Mary. I’m not sure whether that’s the name of the secret organization or the code name for the gray-haired, ship-dwelling man who runs it, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Aunt Mary warns Diamondhead that an enemy superagent (the villainously named “Tree”) has infiltrated the island disguised as an evil priest. Diamondhead recruits a dangerously slinky woman named Tso-Tsing and an enormous ukulele player named Zulu to help him investigate.

Tree wants the secret formula for a deadly gas currently in development by the Navy. (One wonders why the Navy is developing a weapon they’re expressly forbidden to use under the terms of the Geneva Convention. One of the peripheral characters brings this up at one point, but no one bothers address it further.) As a master of disguise, Tree has the astonishing ability to murder and take the place of people who already look just like him. Luckily, one such person is the colonel in charge of inspecting the deadly gas tests. He goes into the top-secret facility, demands that they show him their security codes, and schedules a demonstration of the gas the next day.

That afternoon and evening, Diamondhead and his cronies run around the allegedly Hawaiian streets, ducking darts and exchanging meaningless banter with their enemies. It all comes to nothing when Diamondhead somehow falls off a cruise ship. The bad guys get away and Tso-Tsing goes into hiding for some reason.

The next day, Tree starts his ingenious plan to steal the deadly gas formula while his henchmen prepare his avenue of escape. In the meantime, a hysterical jogger finds the slain colonel’s body washed up on a jetty. Aunt Mary realizes what must have happened and sends Diamondhead and Zulu to the test facility. They arrive too late.

Tree kidnaps Tso-Tsing for some reason, and takes her away to his surf shop hideout. Zulu finds them there and gets captured as well. It’s up to Diamondhead to rescue them, but he arrives just a little late and only manages to rescue Zulu and catch one of Tree’s henchmen. Fortunately, Tso-Tsing drew them a map with a ring and a bar of soap, so they hire a boat from a zany ship captain and give chase.

Tree gives up after a brief nautical tussle, and they all share a hearty laugh while the coast guard comes out to pick them up. Later that night, Diamondhead and Tso-Tsing try to slip off for some sweet lovin’, but Zulu and the zany ship captain have invited half the island over for a luau.

Introduction:

He knows a thing or two about a thing or two.Mike and the ‘Bots muse about cleanliness while wading through their own filthy mess. Crow wonders about that “faint, soggy, rotting, industrial, grandma smell.”

Host Segment One:

The Mads point out the obvious incongruity of professing to love cleanliness while living in a pigsty. Mike and the ‘Bots thank them and start to throw garbage through the airlock so they can watch it float off into space. They quickly get bored of this and spread a rug over the rest of the garbage pile. Down in Deep 13, the Mads get worked up about dirt and germs and start to scrub themselves. Dr. Forrester pushes the button and then washes his finger.

Host Segment Two:

Tom reads over Crow’s shoulder, Crow complains about Tom’s breath, and they start to tussle. Mike comes in and amiably breaks up their fight. The ‘Bots complain about his niceness as soon as he leaves, but Magic Voice breaks in to present a little film she’s prepared to show them the error of their ways. Tom and Crow learn how miserable their lives would be if Mike dressed and talked like an evil Den Mother. Quoth Den Mother Mike, “I know a think or two about a thing or two!”

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow want to play whiffle fungo (whatever that is) but Mike can’t—he has to alphabetize his CDs. They complain about how boring he is as soon as he leaves, but Magic Voice breaks in to present a little film she’s prepared to show what it would be like if Mike were a Crash Test Dummy. Apparently, she means Brad Roberts of the band The Crash Test Dummies, because Mike in her film has long straight hair, plays an acoustic guitar, and sings something incomprehensible in a deep, quavery voice.

Host Segment Four:

Mike has made sandwiches for Tom and Crow. They complain about his inability to cook as soon as he leaves, but Magic Voice breaks in to present a little film she’s prepared to show them what it would be like if Mike were the Frugal Gourmet. Mike dresses and talks like late television chef Jeff Smith, cutting off Crow’s net and twisting Tom over it like a pepper mill. When the real Mike returns, the ‘Bots thank him profusely for the sandwiches. Quoth Tom, “They’re better than anything any cloying old Seattle windbag could make.” “You didn’t have to say that,” Mike replies.

Host Segment Five:

Mike and the ‘Bots have a luau to celebrate the end of the film. Crow asks Mike repeatedly if he wants a Hawaiian Punch. When Mike finally replies in the affirmative, Crow gives him a glass of blended fruit juices. Mike reads some letters while Tom does an interpretive hula dance. Down in Deep 13, the Mads bathe together, still arguing about which of them is cleaner. Dr. Forrester claims that he has moved beyond mere dirt and is now scrubbing away at the dark stain on his soul. TV’s Frank claims that he is further still, and is now trying to cleanse away Original Sin. Dr. Forrester reaches out to press the button with a wet finger and electrocutes them both.

Stinger:

A hysterical jogger finds the slain colonel’s body.

Thoughts:

Gettin' cozy after a long day of secret agent-ingThis episode reminds me of Episode 305, which, according to my notes, featured a strange little film called Stranded in Space. Looking back at the review for that episode, the best four-word summary I can come up with for it is “actionless Orwell in space.” By way of comparison, a good four-word summary for Code Name: Diamondhead would be “actionless spies in Hawaii.” The keyword in both summaries is “actionless.” The heavily implied fifth word in both summaries is “1970s.” Neither film is particularly fun or painful. I endured both with few laughs and minimal discomfort. Pain and pleasure both inspire memory, and if a film invokes neither, then essentially all I’ve got are the notes I took during the viewing and a vague notion that I once watched a movie called Code Name: Diamondhead.

On a related note, the short film about county fairs in the 1940s feels accurate to me. Its depiction of a family waiting in an enormous barn of livestock is probably every bit as exciting as the real thing.

The best part of this episode is the host segments. Of the two running gags, the “what if” series of films is best. I like Mike as the Den Mother from hell, though his impersonations of Jeff Smith and Brad Roberts are also spot on. The cleanliness gags work as well, especially once the Mads get into their bathing contest. Thankfully, both Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank both remain fully clothed throughout the host segments.

According to my notes, the Satellite crew says a number of funny things during the short and the movie. When the farm family starts to feel hungry, Tom says, “Let’s go eat something gray,” and then sings Nirvana lyrics during the marching band sequence. During the movie, the SOL crew devotes some time to thinking up new code names, like Cubic-Zirconiumhead and Diamondheadcold. After some oddly threatening banter at a blackjack table, Crow tries to work out what they were talking about and says, “Is it just me, or did nothing just happen?” Tom later notes that the heist scene was “pulled off without a moment of suspense.” Like Stranded in Space, this episode is neither frustrating nor particularly funny. I suppose you could watch it one night if you were really bored, and wanted to become more so.

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607 Bloodlust

(1961, Horror/Drama, b&w), with:

Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm
(1960, Educational, b&w)

My pants have reached a crisis point.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Short: Pale city youngsters become strong and tan while in their farm uncle’s care.
Film: A murderous hunter stalks two young couples on his island resort.

Short Summary:

...is where I take my kids to look at cows.  Then we go home to enjoy such modern, manure-free conveniences as sleeping in, and not working on weekends.In Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm, a pair of pasty weak city kids gets dropped off at their uncle’s farm for the summer. They play with their heartier country cousins, and soon learn to perform such dairy farm chores as climbing ropes, washing pigs, kissing chickens, and gobbling down butter by the pound. They sure seem happy to go home when the summer’s over.

Film Summary:

In Bloodlust, two young couples (predictably paired up by hair color) are at sea, engaged in such nautical pastimes as fishing and skeet shooting. In what passes for character development, we learn that the blond boy (Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch fame) is an expert marksman, the blond girl is a judo master, and both members of the brunette couple are useless nerds.

Their skipper celebrates himself into a drunken stupor, so the couples decide to take a lifeboat out to a nearby island to search for buried treasure. They find some clams and wander into the jungle in search of banana leaves to bake them in. The blond boy discovers a pit trap; a hunter and his assistants come along to pull him out.

The hunter takes them back to his mansion, where he offers them his vaguely threatening hospitality. The couples sneak out of their rooms and split up to go exploring. The blond couple is immediately stopped by the hunter’s frightened wife and her drunken friend, who tell them the awful truth about their host. The brunette couple wanders into a cave complex beneath the mansion and sees the hunter’s human quarries being skinned and stuffed for display.

The wife and the drunk offer to swim out to the boat and bring back help, so the young couples distract the guards while they head out into the jungle in bathing suits. Two days later, help has not come. The blond couple happens to be hiding behind some stuffed animals when the hunter’s hulking mute henchman wanders through a secret door. They wait until he leaves and then sneak though it.

They find the hunter in a vast cave. He turns on various display lights to show his stuffed human trophies, posed as they were at the moment of death. He lingers over the display of the drunk embracing his wife. He decides to hunt down the boys (along with their recently captured skipper) and take the girls for his new wives. Inexplicably, everyone agrees to this plan with only minimal grumbling. The hunter finds and kills the skipper while the boys narrowly escape from quicksand. Meanwhile, the girls escape the mansion by judo-throwing a stripe-shirted henchman into a vat of acid. The couples are reunited in the woods and make their way back to the mansion for weapons. They sneak past the guard (important!) to find rifles, but no bullets.

The hunter abandons his hulking mute henchman to the leech-infested quicksand and returns to the mansion. He finds the dead guard at the gate (also important!). He finds the partly armed couples huddled in his human trophy display area, and forces them to arrange themselves to his satisfaction on the spiked trophy rack. They tell him they didn’t kill the guard, and he suddenly becomes frightened. The brunette boy turns on the last display light, and the estranged hulking mute bursts from the shadows, taking several bullets before he impales his former master on the display rack. Even though he’s clearly already dead, the movie ends with a gurgling scream.

Introduction:

Crow did it.Tom is Crow’s psychotherapist. He tries to get Crow to talk about his childhood (he didn’t have one) his parents (he doesn’t have any) and the movie Cliffhanger (he never saw it). Crow reluctantly confides that he uses a Rebel Deep-Diving Lure for early spring.

Host Segment One:

Tom breaches his confidentiality agreement with Crow as soon as Mike walks in, and they deride him about his choice of fishing equipment. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester prepares for his mother’s visit. He gives them scripts to read to her. When she arrives she’d rather talk to Frank than her son. She and Frank gossip and compare swatches while Mike and the ‘Bots read their scripts.

Host Segment Two:

Crow sets up a vegetable stand on the desk while Mike wanders off to be Kenny G. He waits a while for someone to buy produce. After a minute, Tom’s car runs over him.

Host Segment Three:

A fiddle-playing Crow leads the rest of the Satellite crew in an old-fashioned square dance. He makes up folksy old rhymes, ending each verse with, “Promenade!” In the last verse he devolves into vaguely violent lyrics and gravelly-voiced shouting while Mike, Tom, and Gypsy begin to mosh. They mosh until they drop and then Crow staggers up to say, “Promenade!”

Host Segment Four:

Tom has organized a murder mystery party, with each person attending assigned a character. Crow starts things off by declaring, “I did it!” Everyone leaves, disgusted, while Crow spoils Citizen Kane and The Crying Game as well.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow suddenly realize the obvious: Mike is a big game hunter, secretly stalking them on the satellite. They shriek and flee the room when he comes in to read some letters. He’s almost finished when they catch him in a large net. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has prepared a large, elaborate meal for his mother. She goes out clubbing with Frank instead. Dr. Forrester seizes the apple out of the roast pig’s mouth, takes a bite, and throws it at the button.

Stinger:

The bare-chested skipper takes a crossbow bolt to the gut.

Thoughts:

...which, oddly enough, contains both blood and lust.Farms are the greatest! There certainly is no greater pleasure than getting up at four a.m. to milk the cows, feed the pigs, and collect the eggs!! Chasing down sheep in a muddy field to give them their shots makes my heart race with joy!!! Shoveling out a manure-filled barn is pure Elysium, unmatched by any other human experience!!!! There just aren’t enough exclamation points in the English language to convey my feelings about farm work—the sure cure for any pasty, pencil-necked, clean-fingernailed, overeducated city kid’s problems!!!!!

Unlike many of the other films in the MST3K canon, Bloodlust actually delivers on its title, in that it presents both blood and lust. Also unlike many other MST3K films, it mostly manages to hit its targets. I’ll grant you, it’s aiming low, but for a horror film from the early sixties it’s fairly competent. There are suitable moments of irony and villainy, clever escapes, treacherous henchmen, and so on, and so forth.

I have just one main complaint. They build up the whole expert marksman/judo master thing in the beginning, but it never pays off. I guess that’s not strictly true. At one point the blond boy tells the skipper, “I’m a better shot than you are,” and there’s a scene where the blond girl throws a henchman several times larger than herself into a vat of acid. But with the number of times the hunter has his back to them, you’d think the blond girl would disarm him and kick the weapon to her boyfriend. He’s already stated that he’s going to kill and/or rape them no matter what they do, so they’ve got nothing to lose, right? Well, nothing but the film’s running time.

The host segments are bookended by Dr. Forrester’s mother, Pearl. It’s funny enough to see her getting along so well with Frank while ignoring her son. It’s even more interesting when we realize this is a woman we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future episodes. Crow’s instant confession in the murder mystery party is good, and Tom’s psychoanalysis of Crow works well (“I didn’t see Cliffhanger.” “This seems painful for you.”). The vegetable stand sketch started off promising, with Mike inexplicably dressed like Kenny G, but then it devolved into another unsatisfying “Tom runs over Crow” gag. My favorite is the hard rock square dancing. Watching them dress in hillbilly outfits and mosh themselves almost into insensibility is funny to start with, but watching them get up again afterwards to “Promenade!” is just the right touch.

The film segments are not all that quotable, but they’re good enough make the episode fun to watch. When the title for the short appears, Crow says, “I thought I smelled something.” After both the skipper and the drunken friend have appeared, Tom notes, “There’s a two drunk minimum in this film.” When the drunken friend hungrily smooches the hunter’s wife, Crow says, “Your lips are like crisp, delicious bacon.” It’s not a bad film by itself, and it’s decently funny with the commentary.

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606 The Creeping Terror

(1964, SciFi/Horror, b&w)

Well, it is creeping. You’ve got to give it that.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Beleaguered earthlings feed themselves to an extraterrestrial carpet monster.

Summary:

The title's only half-accurate.This movie has two “plots” (for lack of a better word) happening side-by-side, which I will separate for the sake of clarity. As you read the following keep in mind that Plot One, though summarized in a single paragraph, takes up at least twice as much screen time as Plot Two. You should also understand that there is almost no dialog; the “plots” mainly unfold by means of narration and screams.

Plot One: “The Waddling Inconvenience.”

A spaceship crashes in the woods (we assume). A flap lifts in the side and a giant slug-carpet-thing creeps out at approximately three feet per hour. It creeps across the countryside and finds hot make-out teens. They manage quite a lot of screaming while they sit there, waiting until it can waddle close enough for them to obligingly crawl into its mouth. It creeps on, repeating this process with a young mother hanging her laundry, a boy and his grandfather, another make-out couple, a folk-singer and his spellbound audience, an entire auditorium full of dancing party-goers, and two or three more make-out couples in their cars in Lover’s Lane. At this point people finally get worked up enough to do things like run away and notify the authorities. The army shows up and we crash directly into Plot Two.

Plot Two: “The Dryly Narrated Military Investigation.”

While driving home from his honeymoon, sheriff’s deputy Martin and his new wife drive past his boss, the sheriff. The sheriff pulls them over and asks them to help him investigate a plane crash in the woods. They arrive and find, not a plane, but a missile-like contraption with what looks like a large swinging pet door in the side. They find the discarded hat of another deputy and guess that he must have crawled inside. When he doesn’t answer their calls, the sheriff pulls his gun and crawls in after him. Hearing shots (followed closely by tortured shrieks of pain) Martin and his wife stroll back to the patrol car and call for backup.

An army truck full of log-pushing soldiers arrives to take command of the situation. Their colonel sends in a pair of soldiers to investigate. They come back alive, reporting of a monster chained up at one end of the ship. Unlike the sheriff and his deputy, they had enough sense to stay away from it. The colonel hushes the whole thing up and calls in an extraterrestrial expert. This is Dr. Bradford, who wanders through the spaceship (filled with dials and gauges clearly marked with standard Arabic numerals) trying to communicate with the chained-up creature.

There’s an odd bit here where Martin goes home and makes out with his wife in front of his embarrassed deputy friend while the narrator goes on about their personal lives and the nature of marriage as an institution, etc., etc., etc…

We rejoin the movie in progress. There are a number of narrated office consultations before the military finally goes out to confront the monster (fresh from Plot One) near Lover’s Lane. They go right up close and fire small arms at it until it pushes them down and waits for them to crawl into its mouth. Over Dr. Bradford’s objections, the colonel kills it with a grenade.

Dr. Bradford has an idea and steals the military truck to run back to the spaceship. Martin and his wife follow him in the patrol car. When they get back to the ship the other creature has gotten loose and eaten the guards. Dr. Bradford somehow gets badly burned while trying to stop it, but foils the creature by refusing to crawl into its mouth. Martin arrives and squishes it with the patrol car.

Dr. Bradford reveals that the monsters were chemical laboratories sent to digest and analyze human beings for weaknesses. He begs Martin to break the transmission equipment before the information can be sent back to the monsters’ alien overlords. Martin tries to comply, but the alien dials and gauges are too resilient. Dr. Bradford says (or is narrated to say) that maybe the aliens aren’t listening, or maybe they won’t get here for a really long time, or maybe we’ll be scientifically advanced enough to be ready for them… He dies, and the movie ends.

Introduction:

Love, Satellite of Love-style!Tom has appointed himself security for the Satellite of Love. He forces Mike to sign in and out when he wanders past to lend Crow some Moleman comics.

Host Segment One:

Tom has fallen asleep, drooling on his sign-in sheet. When Mike wakes him, he rushes off to defend the vending machines. It’s laundry day down in Deep 13. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “Once a year, whether there’s a full load or not.” He postulates that coffee houses reek of pretentiousness, and therefore the trappings of a coffee house will make anyone pretentious. Given berets, guitars, books of poetry, and, of course, coffee (surly waitress not included) Tom says, “The only question worth asking is, what am I going through?” while Crow listens to Gypsy’s hate-drenched ballad against the “white male oppressor” and says, “Her soul cried out to me!”

Host Segment Two:

Mike raises the Satellite of Love Flag, while Crow recites an odd pledge of allegiance. “One nation, indirigible…” Maddened with patriotism, Tom cries, “Give me liberty or kill me!”

Host Segment Three:

Mike and the ‘Bots do a series of short sketches parodying Love, American Style, wherein Crow chases Gypsy around a water cooler, Tom proposes to Mike, and Mike clears up a misunderstanding Crow.

Host Segment Four:

Mike has built himself an impressive (and no doubt expensive) sound system. The ‘Bots are not impressed, especially when he starts to play the gratingly repetitive dance music from The Creeping Terror. It plays for a long, long time.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow have climbed into Gypsy’s mouth. Mike pulls out Crow and they read letters while an embarrassed Gypsy coughs up Tom. Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank has shrunk all of Dr. Forrester’s clothes, and is flattened in the wringer as punishment. The Creeping Terror dance music plays interminably over the closing credits.

Stinger:

People at the dance shriek and wait to be eaten while a woman cries, “What is it?”

Thoughts:

She'd rather ask a rhetorical question than run away.Good gravy, that was awful. I’m guessing that the dialog was either gratingly tedious, badly recorded, or both because most of it has been dropped and the few lines of dialog that do come out were obviously been looped into the film in post-production. Given the dubious quality of the narration, I’m guessing that “badly recorded” was the more pressing reason. Sometimes there’s a lot of dead air. Sometimes the narrator talks about nothing in particular in a seeming effort to fill it. How are Martin and Barney’s personal lives relevant to the film? And since we’re talking about relevant, how does the rectal thermometer fit into the story?

Sigh. At this point I suppose I could go on about the glacial monster and its willingly swallowed victims. Or perhaps I could touch on the Internet rumor that the film’s director partially financed the film by selling screen time to investors (which is supposed to be the reason we see so many pairs of legs slowly disappearing into the creature’s maw) and then vanished before anyone could see how awful the whole mess turned out. I could write about things like that, if I felt like doing such a thing. What a wretched, wretched film.

The host segments are decent. The security guard and laundry day sketches are amusing. “Once a year, whether there’s a full load or not,” still makes me laugh. The Satellite of Love flag works all right, though it’s a little odd. The concept of listening to The Creeping Terror dance music for a long, long time is worth a chuckle, but actually listening to it for that long is rather tedious. It was amusing to see Mike smooching with the ‘Bots in the Love, American Style sketch, but the rest of it feels rather flat. My favorite segment is the coffee house sketch. I’ve spent quite a few hours in coffee shops (which is, perhaps, admitting to certain level of pretentiousness myself) and they’re not far wrong about them.

The miracle of this episode is that, for a movie that ranks with Castle of Fu Manchu and Red Zone Cuba for sheer badness, the film segments are actually enjoyable and quotable. The opening shot is a darkened road, so dark that it’s almost a black screen, and Crow calls it, “The point of view of Helen Keller.” When Martin and his wife make out in front of his deputy friend, Mike calls him, “Officer Third Wheel.” During the long and awkward dance scene, Tom says, “If my deepest, darkest despair had choreography, this would be it.” The commentary does not stop it from being an utterly wretched film, but it does make it an enjoyable episode.

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12/28/06

605 Colossus and the Headhunters

(1962, Fantasy-Sword & Sandal, color)

Must…avoid…action…at…all…costs…

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

A shirtless do-gooder rescues various island tribes in distress.

Summary:

Originally titled Maciste and Those Italian Guys.An island mountain explodes, showering the local tribe with volcanic Styrofoam. Their king dies beneath the rubble, and his permanently worried son Ariel (one of the only fully dressed men in the film) leads the survivors in an aimless charge away from the destruction. They soon run into our bare-chested hero, Maciste (pronounced “My Cheese Steak”), who had just arrived from somewhere over the sea. He takes them back to his oversized raft and sails off with a dozen or so survivors just before the whole island disintegrates.

They sail many implied days over the water to a new island, where Maciste dumps his passengers on the beach and wanders into the jungle looking for food and water. While he’s gone, a tribe of drape-headed warriors captures the volcano survivors and force-marches them to their secret encampment. Maciste runs into a Drape-head patrol. One of them shoots him without provocation. They presume his mild shoulder wound to be fatal, and leave him for dead. Maciste pulls out the arrow and limps away through stock jungle footage. He runs into a beautiful warrior maiden and takes her captive. The Drape-heads come to rescue her, taking him captive instead.

He wakes up in the warrior maiden’s tent. Her name is Amoa, and she’s the Drape-heads’ exiled queen. She assumes him to be a great hero (despite the fact that he’s done nothing more impressive than pilot a raft, get shot, and faint during capture) and begs for his assistance in defeating their headhunter enemies. Apparently, her tribe used to live in a city of gold…etc., etc., etc…corrupt royal advisor betrayed her father the king to the enemy tribe of…blah, blah, blah…forced to hide in the woods for fear of…rapeta, rapeta. The noble and sensitive Maciste asks a lot of nosy questions and then refuses to help, citing a previous responsibility to see the volcano survivors to safety. He starts to lead his charges back to the raft. While he’s gone, the headhunters attack the secret encampment, slaughter most of Drape-heads, and carry the rest away captive. Maciste sends the volcano survivors to the raft by themselves while he runs back with Ariel to check on the commotion.

At this point, Maciste takes charge of the situation, running around with Ariel to the golden city’s ruins to find the blinded and imprisoned king, sneaking through the obvious and unguarded back entrance to Amoa’s prison, and organizing the volcano survivors and the remaining Drape-heads into an army. The evil former royal advisor forces the king to let him marry Amoa, and then makes him promise to abdicate the Drape-head throne in his favor. At Maciste’s instructions, Amoa drags out the wedding as long as possible, throwing fits about the presence of her father, and the lack of dancing girls. A dancing girl is provided; she has a lengthy and arbitrary wiggle fit.

Amoa finally depletes her excuses for delay and the marriage ceremony is about to be performed (apparently headhunters solemnize their weddings by ritually slitting the bride’s wrists) when the combined armies of the Drape-heads and the volcano survivors arrive. Footage of the ensuing carnage is interspersed with shots of Maciste, miles away, running aimlessly through the woods for no apparent reason. He arrives several minutes later to toss a makeshift tower onto an already ruined building. This turns the tide somehow, and the headhunters are quickly defeated.

But not entirely, for the evil former advisor has kidnapped Amoa and run off into the woods. Maciste and his pals give chase and corner him in the ruined Drape-head palace. Maciste frees Amoa and locks himself into a room with the advisor. The advisor tries to lock our hero into an even smaller room, but our muscular hero frees himself fairly easily. They tussle for a bit, and the advisor accidentally impales himself on his own sword.

The blinded king resumes his throne…blah, blah, blah…plans to rebuild the city of gold…etc., etc., etc.…volcano survivors are welcome to begin a new life with them…rapeta, rapeta… Maciste takes off on his oversized raft. Amoa abandons her people to swim after him. We’re supposed to assume that they live happily ever after, but I’m looking at a list of at least fifteen Maciste sequels, so I’m guessing after a brief, euphoric relationship, she’ll probably suffer an early and tragic death to clear the decks for the new love interest.

Introduction:

TV's Frank suffers loneliness and loss.Accountant Tom is preparing tax returns for Mike and Crow. Crow owes $37,000.00 in back taxes for $12.00 of income. Mike, on the other hand, will receive a $20,000.00 refund.

Host Segment One:

Crow goes over Tom’s calculations, noting such things as, “Eight times seven isn’t two hundred,” and “Six times three isn’t two hundred, either!” Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has created Nummy-Muffin-Coocol-Butter, the world’s cutest pet. Unleashed on the world, it will lull the general population into placid tranquility, allowing Dr. Forrester to seize control. He seizes his furry pink creation away from the adoring Frank so that he can send it up to the Satellite of Love. Frank throws a tantrum.

Host Segment Two:

Mike adores Nummy-Muffin-Coocol-Butter and grooms it obsessively. Down in Deep 13, Frank sings (badly) of his love for NMCB, and his overwhelming feeling of loss.

Host Segment Three:

NMCB has shed all over the satellite, coating Crow’s lollipop with pink hair, filling Tom’s head with fuzz, and provoking a severe allergic reaction from Gypsy.

Host Segment Four:

NMCB is very ill. Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank has fallen ill as well. NMCB and Frank exchange looks of desperate longing, and Mike reluctantly sends NMCB back down to Deep 13.

Host Segment Five:

Mike wonders if sending NMCB back to Frank was the right thing to do, but Crow has a much more pressing question. He wants to know what it feels like to have your head cut off. After some brief discussion the ‘Bots conclude that you would still have a few seconds to think and look around, and they ask Mike to help them test their theory. Mike declines and reads some letters. Down in Deep 13, both TV’s Frank and Dr. Forrester have fallen victim to NMCB’s cuteness.

Stinger:

An elderly volcano survivor takes an arrow in the chest.

Thoughts:

That shot's got to be worth at least twenty points.The Spanish word machiste literally means “studly.” I don’t speak Italian, but since they’re both romance languages based largely on Latin, I assume that maciste is a cognate. Watching a Maciste film is like going down to the store with a prescription for a well-known brand of Greek demigod, and asking the mythologist on duty fill it with the cheaper, generic version. If you look carefully, you’ll see “Compare to Hercules™ Brand Entertainment” written on the box, next to the part that lists the active ingredient as “Large, Oily Pectorals.” Since American audiences are mostly unfamiliar with Maciste’s generic sword-and-sandal flicks, the films often dub the hero with such familiar names as Sampson, Colossus, Goliath, and the original hunk himself, Hercules. (Hercules Against The Moon Men is an altered Maciste film, which explains the total lack of Greek mythology in that picture.) In this case, the name has been changed in the film’s title, but not in the dubbing.

This is, perhaps, not the best example of a Maciste film. It says something about your hero if he wears a sword all the time, but never, ever draws it. One indicative scene happens shortly after our hero has been shot, while he wanders limping through the woods. It goes like this: A lion sees him from afar and begins to stalk. Maciste does not notice. The lion loses interest and wanders away. The whole film is like this, setting up expectations of our hero’s prowess, but never delivering. Like the gigantic boulder that he puts great effort into moving over the cave opening to cover his escape, only to have the guards move it right back out of the way as soon as he leaves. Or the rickety rope bridge that, when broken, drops his pursuers all of two feet into a nice clean creek. What about the climactic battle (which, now that I think about it, begs the question, if there were so many Drape-heads in the forest, how did their secret encampment get overrun in the first place? Also, the number of volcano survivors seems to expand from a dozen or so people on a raft into a couple hundred seasoned warriors for the convenience of the final battle…)

Where was I? Oh yes. What about the climactic battle, where he arrives late for no apparent reason, and then just knocks over buildings that are already on fire when he gets there? And of course there’s the ending, when the villain has to accidentally stab himself to die. I’m not saying that there isn’t any action. It’s just that action we get is brief and unsatisfying.

Most of the host segments are, of course, all about Nummy-Muffin-Coocol-Butter, which is kind of a fuzzy pink dog/rat/bunny/kitty/hand puppet creature. It’s not that cute, but I guess this does not preclude the secretion of some sort of “cute pheromone” deviously concocted by Dr. Forrester to help ensnare the thing’s caretakers into a life of soulless pet servitude. The whole NMCB thing is a serviceable storyline, but not among their best. My favorite segments were the “Tom as accountant” sketch and the decapitation discussion. Frank’s tender song in segment two is some of the worst singing I have ever heard in my life. I think that’s what he was trying for.

Like most sword-and-sandal epics, the movie gives quite a few opportunities for mockery. When the oddly dressed Drape-heads capture the newly arrived volcano survivors, Tom says, “They’ve washed up in a Klingon language camp.” When the headhunters return to their village with a whole platoon of captured Drape-head women, Crow calls it, “Seven hundred brides for seven hundred brothers.” While Maciste creeps through the hall, studiously avoiding contact with the guards, Mike says, “Must…avoid…action…at… all…costs…” It’s also amusing to hear the satellite crew make chicken noises during some of the more poultry-inspired segments of the dancing girl’s performance. Ultimately, the movie is dragged down anyway by its lack of interesting action and its incomprehensible story. It’s worth at least one viewing, though.

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604 Zombie Nightmare

(1986, Horror, color)

Bow down to my nipples!

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

A Voodoo Priestess raises a hit-and-run victim from the dead.

Summary:

What kind of nightmare?A young black woman pauses in a white neighborhood to watch a high school softball practice. The beefy coach hits balls into the fields and shouts encouragement to his team members while his wife and young son shout out their adulation of him from the stands. The woman drifts on and is soon accosted by a pair of knife-wielding greasers. The beefy coach sees the assault and springs to the rescue. He drives off the assailants, receiving a fatal knife-wound in the process.

Years pass, and the beefy coach’s son has grown into a beefy teenager in a revealing tank top. He goes shopping one night at the local convenience store, driving away a pair of would-be robbers. Fresh from his victory, he steps out into the street gets run over by a car full of loaded teenagers. They include a big-haired psycho teen, a snooty teen (with his petit blond girlfriend), and a verbose teen (with his Tia Carrere girlfriend, seen here in her pre-Wayne’s World days). The teens drive on, fearfully discussing the possible consequences of their actions while psycho teen revels in his hit and run prowess.

An Italian grocer flags down some passers-by to help him discern the slain teen’s level of deadness. Rather than call an ambulance or the cops or something, they choose to drag the corpse in front of his mother. Understandably distraught, she summons the exotically named Molly (the young black woman from the opening scene) who has grown up into a young black woman with streaks of white paint in her hair. Molly has become a Voodoo Priestess with an incomprehensibly quivery voice. Somehow her helpers understand her well enough to bring her some face paint, the blood of a live animal, and several truckloads of candles. The slain teen rises from the dead, takes up a baseball bat, and vows inarticulate revenge on his killers.

First he tracks down the snooty teen and his girlfriend, who have stripped down to their athletic support underwear to make love in a hot tub. They die horrible baseball bat-induced deaths. The next one to fall under the sporting implement of vengeance is the big-haired psycho teen, who is impaled upon it while attempting to rape an innocent ice cream diner waitress.

Meanwhile, a fresh-faced detective wanders from crime scene to crime scene with a baffled expression, enduring verbal abuse from a penguin-voiced forensics specialist and his contemptuous police chief. The reprehensible chief (played by the original caped crusader himself, Adam West) issues false information to the press and closes the case by bringing in a random thug who looks like he might have done it. For some reason, the detective fixates on a woman who keeps showing up in the crowds (Molly) and brings her to the attention of the chief. The chief tells him to go home and calls up psycho teen’s dad. Some audio-only flashbacks reveal that the two of them were the knife-wielding greasers from the opening scene.

The zombie teen swings by psycho teen’s dad’s house to avenge his own long-dead father. His prey hits him in the chest with a shotgun blast and then waits patiently with his car door open until the zombie to gets up to kill him. Meanwhile, the verbose teen and Tia Carrere stop by an auto repair garage to steal some cash on their way out of town. Zombie teen shows up to stalk them, followed shortly thereafter by Molly, who in turn has been followed by the fresh-faced detective. While the detective looks on, the zombie finishes off Tia and her verbose boyfriend and shambles off into the night. The detective follows it to a graveyard, where Molly and the police chief soon join them. Police chief explains the plot to that point and then shoots the zombie teen dead(er). It seems that zombies lose their invulnerability once all their killers are dead, something no one bothered to mention until this point in the film. Molly wiggles and does a quivery little chant until police chief permanently silences her with his gun. He’s about to finish off the fresh-faced detective as well when the ground opens up and the long-dead beefy softball coach rises out of his grave to drag his killer down to hell. The fresh-faced detective shrugs and wanders off into the fog.

Introduction:

Tom exercises his right-of-way.Tom and Crow are the secret service, protecting Mike from harm by repeatedly pushing him to the ground. Tom’s head falls off, provoking panic.

Host Segment One:

Tom and Crow lose their enthusiasm for being secret service men when Mike explains the concept of “taking a bullet.” Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank don face paint and grass skirts to practice voodoo. They send a voodoo kit to Mike and the ‘Bots, who decide to use its powers for good. They hug a doll of Jimmy Carter, do a quick hair combing for Mike’s sloppy high school friend, and give a scalp massage to Cokie Roberts. They tease a Dr. Forrester doll, brushing its nose with a feather, tapping it on the shoulder, and putting its hand in water.

Host Segment Two:

Crow eats chocolates and reads a romance novel until Tom drives by and runs him over.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow relax in the hot tub. They enjoy themselves until Mike comes up between them in scuba gear, displaying a fish he speared with a trident.

Host Segment Four:

Tom and Mike have dressed as Batman and Robin to do a reading of Crow’s Batman script. Crow has forgotten all about it, but gamely does his Riddler impression anyway. Mike starts to tear off his costume in disgust while Tom accidentally slips into an Adam West impression.

Host Segment Five:

The ‘Bots write letters to Adam West, liberally peppered with backhanded compliments and condolences about his post-Batman career. Quoth Crow’s letter, “I’m sending you all my allowance. Please don’t buy beer with it.” Down in Deep 13, Frank has turned Dr. Forrester into a zombie, and can’t figure out how to turn him back.

Stinger:

Molly finishes her chant, and the zombie teen rises up to scream.

Thoughts:

Zombie dude wishes the sheep lady would shut the hell up.This must be one of those “horror” films I’ve heard so much about. I use the term loosely, since hard eighties rock and green rubber masks don’t really scare me as much as the filmmakers seemed to think they would. Maybe I’m just jaded. The only moment of actual horror I experienced happened during the hot tub scene when one of the characters stripped down to sheer bikini briefs. (It wasn’t the petit blond girlfriend.) To add insult to injury he then passed his wet and barely clad batch directly across the screen in close up. It speaks volumes about a film when its only moment of true horror is the result of a botched attempt at titillation.

This episode was originally aired at the end of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon on Thanksgiving Day, 1994. Adam West hosted it with a series of bumpers (prerecorded segments that usually cluster around commercial breaks) wherein he stated that his role as the sleazy police chief required a “cold, hard, desperate Adam West,” and the more he thought about how his agent roped him into making this film, “the more desperate I became.” Though he gets top billing, Mr. West doesn’t actually show up in this film until more than halfway through. He only gets about fifteen minutes of screen time at most, but his performance as a cynical law enforcement bureaucrat, who cares more about closing cases than actually figuring out who did it, is the most convincing acting in the film. Not that he has much to compete with. I think Voodoo Molly is trying for a Jamaican accent, but she sounds more like a cartoon sheep.

I liked the idea of using voodoo for good instead of evil, and the first host segment was well done. The Batman costumes were cool, and Crow does a great Riddler impersonation. Crow’s letter to Adam West was funny as well. The second and third host segments were quite short, suggesting that perhaps they needed more time for the film in this episode. The “running over Crow” sketch was too hurried to include any kind of punchline, but Mike showing up with a fish he speared at the bottom of the hot tub was just the perfect weird moment to make the brief segment worthwhile.

The film segments have some memorable lines, such as Mike’s “Bow down to my nipples,” addressing the pre-zombie teen’s interestingly cut tank top. After the bad teens have run the good teen down, Crow sings, “Dead hunk in the middle of the road.” While the green, shambling zombie lurches across the screen, Tom calls the film, “Ally Sheedy’s Frankenstein.” I get the impression that it was difficult for the SOL crew to keep up the comments in the face of the non-stop screaming eighties hard rock that permeates the film, though there is one funny bit where a song shrieks “Come on, let’s go!” over and over again until they try to comply by leaving the theater. It’s an entertaining episode, but not especially memorable.

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603 The Dead Talk Back

(1957?, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:

The Selling Wizard
(1954, Educational-Industrial, color)

Another senseless drive-by filming.

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

Short: A mute woman hawks freezers for a beer company.
Film: Fake metaphysical science solves a woman’s crossbow murder.

Short Summary:

SALES appeal.  Riiiiiggghhht.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.

Film Summary:

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.

Introduction:

Mike can't believe someone referred to him as 'rugged.'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.

Stinger:

An interchangeable brunette gives a siren-like scream.

Thoughts:

This woman has only twenty-three minutes to live.  Let's narrate every last one of them in excruciating detail.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.

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602 Invasion USA

(1952, Drama-Political, b&w), with:

A Date With Your Family
(1950, Educational, b&w)

Emotions are for ethnic people.

Rating: *1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A video style manual of family mealtime regulations.
Film: Bar patrons are hypnotized into thinking that World War III has begun.

Short Summary:

Everyone prays that they will never have to come to another family dinner, ever again.In A Date With Your Family, a narrator shows us the proper way to hold a family dinner. He details this highly regimented nightly event down to such minutia as: dress code (business casual at least), who serves (Dad), who eats first (Mom), and how much emotion can be displayed (none).

Film Summary:

In Invasion USA, five strangers gather in a New York bar to drink and complain about the government. One of them is a TV news announcer; he wanders from person to person, asking what they think about the universal draft, which seems to mean that the government would draft every man, woman, and child in the country and put them to work in various war-related industries to fight the communist menace. One of them (the doughy industrialist) rather reasonably opines that it sounds like communism. An accented stranger suggests that everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants to make sacrifices for safety. He twirls his drink hypnotically…

Suddenly, an army of heavily accented interlopers invades the United States through Washington State. They drop A-bombs on airfields and while liberally peppering the northwestern states with paratroopers in American uniforms. Ironically, the doughy industrialist had refused to refit his tractor factory to make tanks for the military just a few days before. He flies home to rectify his mistake, but it’s too late. The communists gun him down and take over the factory for themselves.

The others fare just as poorly. The rancher has flown out with the industrialist and then hires a cab to drive him from San Francisco to his family in Arizona. Unfortunately, hostile bombers destroy the Hoover Damn just in time to drown them all in the middle of their reunion. The congressman returns to the Capitol to raise more money for the military just as enemy paratroopers rain down in Washington, D.C. and wipe out the government buildings. The news announcer and the industrialist’s girlfriend get together and survive the bombardment of New York only to be captured by large, drunken commies. They shoot the announcer over some refused whiskey and then try to rape the girlfriend. She kicks them away and leaps out the window to her death.

…and the accented man’s drink stops twirling. Some brief patter amongst the patrons reveals they have all experienced the same apocalyptic vision. The accented man returns to repeat his moral from the beginning of the film, and they all go home (the industrialist’s girlfriend goes home with the announcer), determined to contribute more to the fight against communism.

Introduction:

Dr. Clayton Deborah Susan Forrester won the World Series in 1986.Tom and Crow observe Mike as he attempts to build a new robot. They comment about how touching it seems, evoking “the innocence of youth.” When activated, the robot goes crazy and attacks. Mike puts it down by stabbing it repeatedly with a screwdriver.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester sets up an experiment to see which a robot would prefer: a Dr. Forrester doll or a wire mother with a bottle attached? (As his control group, Frank is required to dress up as a giant pincushion.) He sends both items up via the Umbilicus. Crow weighs the pros and cons and then throws himself on the wire mesh mother, suckling at the bottle. Mike convinces him that it’s not his mother. Quoth Crow, “Are you my mother?”

Host Segment Two:

Mike and the ‘Bots dress their finest and sit around the dinner table, conversing pleasantly about non-specific topics. Crow and Tom talk about an undefined sporting event, wherein one of the teams won while the other, sadly, lost. Quoth Gypsy, “Such are the vicissitudes of sport.” They eventually get bored with the inane patter and dig heartily into their meal.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Mike goad Crow into delivering a lengthy lecture, discussing the pros and cons of the two original Lois Lanes (both of whom appear briefly in the film). They burst out laughing when Tom gets Crow to try and answer the question, “Which one played Juan Epstein?”

Host Segment Four:

An alcoholic atom bomb calls them up in the Hexfield Viewscreen from a bar to bemoan his lack employability now that the Cold War is over. Mike asks, “Should you really be smoking?” and then suggests that he might find work with a maniacal despot somewhere.

Host Segment Five:

Based on the film, Tom has convinced himself that reality as he knows it is a dream, and if someone hits him hard enough, he will wake up to actual reality. At his suggestion, Mike knocks him across the room with a clown hammer. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester is delivering his usual parting threats when a fatigue-clad Frank stops him a gunpoint and demands to know who won the World Series. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “I did.” This distracts Frank long enough for Dr. Forrester to club him into insensibility with the butt of his own rifle.

Stinger:

An unconvincing paperboy walks in and out of frame while the news announcer and the industrialist’s girlfriend gaze deeply into one another’s eyes.

Thoughts:

This mystical glass of hypnotic brandy can cause temporary loss of consciousness and hallucinations.  Just like ordinary brandy.Who knew dinnertime had so many rules? I’m all in favor of sitting down to eat together as a family, but A Date With Your Family is more than a little extreme. At my house, we’re lucky if everyone somehow gets seated for more or less contiguous periods of time without having to draw advanced diagrams on my napkin to figure out who is supposed to seat whom. The narrator gives us a long list of topics that cannot be broached over a meal, but offers no suggestions for what can be discussed beyond the vague “pleasant, unemotional conversation,” guideline. Given the age of my kids, dinnertime conversation for my family consists largely of strident demands for water and tense negotiations to determine how many more spoonfuls must be consumed before the meal is considered finished.

Invasion U.S.A. is a 1985 Chuck Norris movie. I’ve seen bits of it on late night cable. It’s an utterly wretched film, comprised mainly of various scenes where Mr. Norris kicks, stabs, and shoots his way through the ranks of would-be Russian invaders. Standard action flicks that take themselves far too seriously can be great fodder for Mike and the ‘Bots, so I was very disappointed when I looked up the film right before the screening to find that I was going to watch a different, older piece of Cold War tripe with little to no action and a heavy-handed moral. All the Russian soldiers wear American uniforms, ostensibly to blend in with the natives, but since sixty to seventy percent of the film is stock footage lifted from World War II, I’m guessing it’s because they didn’t have enough Russians on film. At least the Chuck Norris flick shot its own footage.

As I mentioned in the summary, the film postulates that everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants to make sacrifices for safety. This is a good point and might actually have been relevant if they hadn’t taken it to such ridiculous extremes. The writers made a good (albeit probably unintentional) counterpoint when the doughy industrialist equated the idea of a universal draft with American communism. Why would we need to borrow a page from Marx’s idealistic but utterly impractical book to defend ourselves? Capitalism, though admittedly flawed, still functions far better than any other large-scale economic system currently in use. As long as the U.S. military is willing to pay top dollar for munitions, we’ll remain the best-armed nation in the world.

Mike’s attempt at robot-building is really funny. When it comes to life to interrupt Tom and Crow’s discussion of innocence with a murderous rampage while Mike stabs it over and over again…well…I guess it doesn’t sound that funny when I put it like that, but it’s really well timed, and I laughed very hard. Crow’s willingness to suckle from his wire mom is kind of creepy but funny, and Frank dressed as a giant pincushion tomato is inexplicable but amusing. The two Lois Lanes lecture, the A. Bomb sketch, and Tom’s clown hammer adventure are all decent, but my favorite is when Mike and the ‘Bots sit down to dinner and make carefully sanitized conversation. “I read a book the other day. The author made his point with sentences and paragraphs…”

The SOL crew has a great deal of fun with the short with Mike suggesting that the narrator “go to the flow chart” during his seating arrangement lecture. When the narrator goes on about all the things not to discuss during dinner, Crow says, “Emotions are for ethnic people.” When he suggests “pleasant, unemotional conversation,” Tom says, “I can’t stress ‘unemotional’ enough.” The film doesn’t fare so well. Many of the comments have to do with the plethora of stock footage, mainly because that’s what we’re seeing most of the time. Crow notes that, “World War III is a lot like World War II,” while Mike observes that, “This was all cut from Free Willy.” When a pilot requests landing instructions, Tom tells him, “Just keep coming down until you’re not in the sky anymore.” The short is available from Rhino Home Video in Mystery Science Theater Shorts, Volume One, and the film is a test of stamina and patience. You might want to watch it once for the funny host segments, but the movie’s not worth the bother.

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