1/12/07

811 parts: the clonus horror

(1979, SciFi-Political/Horror, color)

Only YOU can prevent groin fires.

Rating: *1/2

In a nutshell:

A depressed clone escapes an illegal organ bank.

Summary:

Bob Organ-Bank on his way to the slaughterhouse.Rock-stupid twenty-to-forty-somethings frolic in a utopian resort, watched over by surly track-suited minions known as “guides.” The infantile tenants spend their days racing, biking, and wrestling for the privilege of going to America, depicted in training films as a utopian resort much like the one where they already live.

Only the permanently worried Richard finds this odd. He questions his fellow tenants, guides, and the facility director Dr. Jameson (played by Bewitched’s Dick Sargent) about such unexplainable phenomena as America, beer cans, and Milwaukee, but receives unsatisfactory answers. During the course of his soul-searching, he meets a tiny-nosed woman named Lena who shares his doubts. Richard hypothesizes that he and his fellow tenants are under constant surveillance, and fakes a heart attack to prove it. Sure enough, the guides come running, even though no one was around to see him fall.

Dr. Jameson examines him and sees through the ruse. He determines to send Richard to America to get rid of him. (In previous scenes, we’ve learned that “America” is a euphemism for getting stuffed into a plastic bag and frozen to death.) Richard leaves the night before his scheduled murder to infiltrate the administration building. Sneaking through the porous facility security, he happens into an unlocked room filled with unlocked filing cabinets, which, in turn, are filled with clearly labeled expository file folders. He runs off with three items: an incriminating VHS tape explaining the facility’s purpose (to breed and house lobotomized clones), a handy security map, and a page from his records, providing the name and address of the man from which he was cloned. He steps over the knee-high perimeter fence and escapes the facility grounds with only a dozen or so minor bullet wounds.

He finds himself wandering the crime-ridden streets of an undefined American city, chased by sinister bikers down narrow alleys. He eventually outruns them on a stolen bicycle, winding up in the garbage pile of former newspaper reporter Jake Noble (Keenan Wynn). The elderly Mr. Noble bickers with his wife for no apparent reason, then agrees to drive Richard out to meet his human original, Professor Richard Knight. The Professor compares birthmarks with Richard, and watches the tape with his son Ricky. He decides to ask his senator brother Jeffrey (Peter Graves) if he knows about the clone farm.

Senator Jeffrey admits to knowing about the clone farm and explains it’s an organ bank. When someone rich and/or influential gets old and throws a kidney, the clone farmers kill his clone and harvest the organs for replacement parts. They argue, and the Professor thinks about how nice it would be to have a new liver when he wears out his old one. Back home, his son Ricky points out that clone Richard is, for all practical purposes, a human being, and takes Richard back to the borders of the clone farm.

Senator Jeffrey and some random thugs show up to collect Richard and the tape. Both are missing, so they torture and murder Ricky and the Professor. Meanwhile, Jake Noble and his wife exchange innuendo-laced barbs until the bad guys blow them up. Richard returns to the clone farm to find that Lena has been lobotomized. Dr. Jameson and the guides stuff him in a plastic bag and freeze him. Later, Senator Jeffrey gives a vague press conference, fielding questions about human rights as part of his presidential campaign. Some reporters arrive to ask him questions about the Clonus tape.

Introduction:

Senator Evil observes his brother's murder from another dimension.Mike has grown a mustache. He asks the ‘Bots what they think. This earns him several back-handed compliments in which Crow calls it “a look that challenges people,” while Tom compares it to “a big, stinky spiral-cut ham.”

Host Segment One:

Mike has shaved. Crow notes the prodigious size of Mike’s nasal-labial trough, while Tom suggests he consider a mustache. Down on the camping planet’s surface, a trio of omnipotent runaway children wakes Pearl and company to demand food and new parental figures. Pearl tries to refuse but the children use their powers, forcing her to punch herself in the face until she agrees. Her cohorts can’t help; quoth Brain Guy, “They have powers far greater than my own.” Mike fluctuates rapidly between cajoling and threatening in his plea to let him go. The Space Children think it would be funny to send him a really bad movie.

Host Segment Two:

Space Children Bobby and Darlene play Candyland with Pearl and Brain Guy. Brain Guy tries to cheat, but the children force him back into Chocolate Lake. “My own personal hell,” moans Brain Guy. Space Child Scooter nails Bobo several times in the groin during a game of catch.

Host Segment Three:

Brain Guy tries to cheat at Candyland again; this time the children relegate him to Molasses Swamp. Pearl begs Mike to help her calm them down. Mike does a spot-on impersonation of Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark, then helps Tom and Crow put on a soothing PBS-ish educational program. The children are mesmerized almost into insensibility—until Mike changes into glittery hot pants to perform a Hispanic educational extravaganza. The frenetic new show jars the omnipotent youngsters into tears.

Host Segment Four:

The Space Children have asked certain questions, so Pearl, Brain Guy, and Bobo struggle to explain the Facts of Life. Pearl immediately becomes drunk and bitter. “It’s every chick for herself...if he wants to paint the house, then he has to buy the enamel...” Brain Guy waxes poetic about love’s gossamer beauty, but thankfully he’s evolved beyond it. Bobo explains how gorillas find mates; apparently the first step is to grab a leg and hang on. “You’re going to get kicked, that’s always part of it...” Space Child Scooter nails him in the groin with a ball.

Host Segment Five:

In an effort to more closely imitate Lena (the other non-stupid clone of the film) Crow has shrunk his own beak almost to the point of invisibility. Down on the planet, the Space Children have finally gone to sleep. Tom composes lyrics for a tender lullaby, set to the blasting music of a marching band. The children wake up crying.

Stinger:

“Sure!”

Thoughts:

The only unlobotomized clone on the ranch is still remarkably stupid.From the above summary, you may be wondering why Richard and Lena are so much smarter than the other clones. Answer: at one point Dr. Jameson refers to them as “Controls,” which I understand to mean they have not been lobotomized. “Why not?” asked my wife during the viewing. Answer: well, a “control” is a subject on which no experimental action has been taken, so that the subjects on whom you have experimented will have a basis for comparison. “But wait,” you may respond, “it’s a farm, not a laboratory. They’re not experimenting on them, just popping them into the freezer for later.” At this point my superior, know-it-all attitude crumbles and I mumble something about it being “just a movie.” This catch-all response also applies to Paul Chaplin’s reasonable objection in the official online episode guide, where he points out that, given the age of the clones, the clone farmers must have had this science perfected by the 1930’s at the latest.

If you ignore these problems (along with several flat characterizations, some bad dialogue, and a few amazing leaps of logic) it’s actually one of the best-made films featured on MST3K. The plot and message unfold in a topical, if somewhat non-urgent fashion. The morality of cloning (or, extending it a little further, using any marginalized human beings as a test subjects) is put to the test by Richard’s whiny, depressing, but thoroughly human character as the film meanders towards an ending that can’t be happy for anyone, not even the bad guys.

Once we move past the unfortunate mustache episode, the host segments center around the omnipotent Space Children and their demands for attention. All the segments dealing with the children are good, and the actors playing them, (Mike Nelson, Bridget Jones, and Paul Chaplin) obviously know what kids that age are like. Mike’s bipolar plea for help is particularly entertaining, as is Crow’s previous advice—“Be firm but gentle. Then offer them money.” The Facts of Life speeches work well too, but my favorite is Mike and the ‘Bots’ portrayal of a Latin American children’s show. I worked a couple of years in South America, and on several different occasions managed to glimpse a Saturday morning abomination called Nubeluz that looked like…well, imagine Sesame Street on a Nickelodeon game show set with all the Muppets replaced by Vegas showgirls on speed. The Satellite crew’s hyperactive parody has been significantly dialed down from the real thing.

The film segments have some funny moments as well. Noting the facility’s monochromatic tenant population, Crow says, “Regardless of race, black people are not allowed at this university.” During one of the many giggly wrestling matches near the beginning, Mike calls it, “Hop On Pop: The Movie.” After spending the night in the wilderness with Lena, Richard leans back at just such an angle as to make it appear the smoke from his campfire is coming out of his Area, prompting Tom to take a Smokey the Bear tone. “Only YOU can prevent groin fires.” As the body count rises near the finale, Crow notes, “This doesn’t look like it’s heading towards a happy ending,” to which Mike replies, “Any ending would make me happier than I’ve ever been before.” Given the strong host segments and the decent film segments, you may be wondering why I rated it so poorly. I guess because the film is better than most of the tripe that appears on MST3K (not high praise, but praise nonetheless), and because that film is depressing. A high rating means I’ll go out of my way to watch it again, a middle rating means I’ll watch it again if the opportunity arises, and a low rating means I’ll go out of my way to avoid it in the future. Regardless of relative quality, I don’t think I’ll watch this one again.