(1980, SciFi/Action-Superhero, color)
In a nutshell:
An Aztec-American superhero opposes a flamboyant British villain.
Before our story begins, the movie thinks it important that we understand two things: First, an ancient Christmas-ornament-dwelling alien once gave a golden mind-control mask to a sect of Aztec priests, and then sired a line of superhuman pumamen to protect it. Second, an evil man named Kobras (played by the villainously shiny Donald Pleasence) has stolen this mask as part of an elaborate scheme to rule the world! To this end he has hypnotized a number of hirsute minions, several highly placed aides-de-camp, and the lovely daughter of the Dutch Ambassador.
Now we meet our hero, American paleontologist Tony Farms. While working at an undefined British University, a slab-faced Aztec priest named Vadinho manhandles him out a third-story window to see the way he lands, cat-like, on his feet. The oddly dressed Jane (a.k.a. the lovely daughter of the Dutch Ambassador) arrives shortly thereafter; she invites him back to her father’s embassy for research and implied nookie. That night, as Tony spruces himself up, Vadinho arrives again to ply him with a magic belt. Tony refuses and runs away to meet Jane.
At the embassy, Tony meets the even more oddly dressed Kobras and his goons. They interrupt his nookie-in-progress to beat the crap out of him. He fights them off and flees to the attic, breaking his way through to the roof. Far below, he sees Vadinho, who throws him the belt and urges him to jump. After some hesitation, Tony complies and discovers that he is, in fact, the Pumaman of legend. Some construction site chases and hallucinatory exposition reveal he can fly, teleport, and phase through walls just like a real puma.
He threatens hairy minions and pleads with Jane to tell him about Kobras’ secret plot, but everyone has been hypnotized not to tell. Eventually, he borrows a tracking device from a fireman friend and follows Jane back to Kobras’ palatial secret lair. He phases through a few walls to discover that the golden mask makes papier-mache duplicates of its victims’ heads, and thus controls them from a distance. Tony gets caught and hypnotized, but manages to escape before Kobras completely strips him of his powers. He tries to commit suicide per Kobras’ long-distance orders, but Vadinho teaches him how to die temporarily (just like a real puma) so Kobras will think he has complied and leave him alone.
At this point Vadinho gives up on Tony and goes to take the mask back himself, girding on a dynamite belt in preparation for a hostage and/or suicide run. Kobras uses the mask on him, but the mentally resistant Vadinho only pretends to be hypnotized so he can get close enough to blow up the papier-mache heads. Jarred free of her villainous instructions, Jane smashes Tony’s false head the rest of the way. Tony regains his powers and returns to the hideout to jump around on people, while Kobras takes the secret escape tunnel to his secret escape helicopter. Tony flies after him and crashes it with Kobras inside.
Vadinho takes the mask to Stonehenge, where the Christmas-ornament-dwelling alien will pick him up and give him a ride back to his temple in the Andes. Tony and Jane see him off, and then continue their nookie while flying.
Tom has come down with Short Man’s Disease. He overcompensates for his lack of height with karate lessons, weight-lifting, a motorcycle, and a girlfriend in a thong. Mike treats his problem with baby aspirin.
Host Segment One:
Tom feels much better. Quoth he, “Turns out I’m not even short!” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has dressed in nineteenth century frippery and invited “everyone, simply everyone” to her ball. Problem is, no one showed up but Bobo, who sits in the corner to chow down on canapés. Up in the Satellite, Mike and the ‘Bots attempt to draw in guests by pretending to mingle. Crow hits on Gypsy, who stalks off in disgust while Tom dons a dress and powdered wig to shrill with laughter. Down in Castle Forrester, the guests finally begin to arrive...to watch Sliders in Brain Guy’s room.
Host Segment Two:
Mike wants “the dry look,” i.e.: the breezy hairstyle sported by the movie’s hero. Unfortunately, the only nanite stylist available is Shelley, who gave him a pompadour several miles high back in Episode 812. Mike points out this prior mistake, and the offended Shelley makes his head so dry it includes cactus, sagebrush, and the sun-bleached bones of miniature cattle.
Host Segment Three:
Aztec High Priests Tom and Crow have chosen Mike to become the powerful and benevolent Coatimundi Man. At their instructions, he dons his holy costume: a knit vest, a Dr. Who scarf, a giant foam cowboy hat, and swim fin gloves. Mike quickly abandons his sacred responsibilities to finish the leftover sesame noodles in the refrigerator.
Host Segment Four:
Tom and Crow have used their Aztec mind-control mask to invoke the papier-mache head of Roger Whitaker. Mike is unimpressed and refuses to assist them, provoking the ‘Bots to threaten him with the wrath of their new folk-song-crooning mind slave.
Host Segment Five:
Having resigned at the end of the last film segment, Crow returns almost immediately to accept a part-time position with no benefits. Down in Castle Forrester, Brain Guy’s raucous gathering is in full swing, leaving Pearl depressed and alone. Fortunately, Roger Whitaker arrives to cheer her up. He sings snippets of his more famous songs while she plots to gather an army of aging folk singers and rule the world! Enticed by the happy sounds from Brain Guy’s room, Roger tries to sneak away. The offended Pearl assaults him with his own guitar.
Vadinho throws Tony out a third-story window.
My favorite thing about Pumaman is the action music—though describing it as such is somewhat misleading. It is unmistakably music, and it plays while action occurs, but the former does nothing to underscore the latter. In fact, if we imagine that Mr. B Natural sits at the very summit of Mount Inappropriately Chipper, we must put the staunch and earnest Pumaman Theme more than two thirds of the way up the North Slope. It’s so light and banal that Mike and the ‘Bots spend most of the final battle scenes making up ad jingles to go with it. Somehow listening to someone sing, “When / you want / the flavor of bacon / in a dip,” puts the incidental music a much more convincing context.
My other favorite thing about Pumaman is the way Tony flies. Arms flapping, legs kicking, body bend at an awkward angle—if I didn’t know better (which I don’t), I’d say someone was dangling him by his back belt loop in front of a rear projection screen. I’m pretty sure they don’t make sensible slacks with reinforced belt loops anymore, if they ever made them at all. Perhaps the unbreakable belt loop is a feature unique to the ancient magical puma slacks of the Andean Christmas ornament gods.
My other, other favorite thing is Donald Pleasance’s wardrobe. His two basic modes of dress are “casual” and “formal,” where “casual” translates as “skintight black leather” and “formal” means “silvery muumuu.” Mr. Pleasence is, of course, somewhere around five feet high, bald as a billiard ball, and slightly rotund. (Not that it matters much. Even the most physically attractive of male humans would be hard-pressed to overcome the extremely high silliness factor inherent in such outfits.) Fortunately, he is also a superior actor; despite the ridiculous costumes and unintimidating physique, he never loses his air of menace.
But my really, really most mostest favoritest thing of all is the fact that MST3K actually featured a movie about which I could write four consecutive paragraphs that begin with some variation of the phrase, “My favorite thing...”
The host segments are decent. Tom’s, um, short brush with illness is the best by far. My favorite part is at the end, when he supplants his self-esteem issues with denial. Pearl’s party vs. Brain Guy’s is the running joke of the Castle Forrester segments, and Brain Guy’s nonchalant and utter destruction of Pearl’s gathering is one of the best things about them. The “dry look” sketch didn’t really do anything for me, but the Coatimundi Man sketch is worth a chuckle, as are the Roger Whitaker sketches. Perhaps I would have thought them funnier if my parents had exposed me to more of Mr. Whitaker’s music as a child.
The film segments are where this episode really shines. The movie is already ridiculously goofy and happy to be so (see above), but Mike and the ‘Bots find just the right moments to make just the right comments to make it even goofier. Donald’s first appearance in his shiny dress prompts Mike to say, “My name is Pleasence, and I am funky.” Upon seeing Tony magically dressed in the sacred vestments of the Pumaman, Mike says, “It gave him the Captain Dork costume by mistake.” As the giant extraterrestrial Christmas ornament flies away at the end, he says, “If the Puma-God-From-Space thing turns out to the correct religion, I, for one, will be very surprised.” This would be a fun move to watch without the commentary, and with the commentary it’s even better. This is one of the funniest episodes to appear in the run of the show.
(1980, SciFi/Action-Superhero, color)