2/6/07

Season Ten: Were-Not-Wolves*, or, Big Trouble in the Deep South**

1001 Soultaker

1002 Girl in Gold Boots

1003 Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

1004 Future War

1005 Blood Waters of Dr. Z

1006 Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues...

1007 Track of the Moon Beast

1008 Final Justice

1009 Hamlet

1010 It Lives By Night

1011 Horrors of Spider Island

1012 Squirm
with A Case of Spring Fever

1013 Diabolik

The final season brings no changes in cast or locale, but once again the network overlords have demanded continuity and once again it has been delivered, this time in the form of assigned experiments from Pearl’s correspondence course with the Institute of Mad Science. It’s short—launched in Episode 1002 and ended without fanfare in Episode 1005. It’s also unobtrusive—Pearl’s regularly scheduled bizarre antics don’t change very much; now she just has an excuse. Also notable are the host segments in the series finale. The song is embarrassingly bland, but the rest of their escape—and our glimpse of their life afterwards—is perfect.

Season Ten’s film selection includes the first non-scifi/fantasy films to appear on the show since they moved to the SciFi channel. (Girl in Gold Boots, Final Justice, and Hamlet.) My favorite episodes include the inappropriately gruesome Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, the Southern mad science manifesto Blood Waters of Dr. Z, the swollen-with-melodrama Track of the Moon Beast, and the evil but sexy Diabolik. The ooey, gooey Squirm made me queasy, but I must acknowledge that it features quality mockery. The only episode you truly need to avoid is Boggy Creek II, an empty and maddeningly smarmy film, utterly without redeeming features. I should probably also warn you about Hamlet (sole redeeming feature: Shakespeare) and Horrors of Spider Island (sole redeeming feature: several acres of voluptuous female flesh) as well.

Sadly, a change in network management brought the series to an end at the close of this season. Also sadly, the show’s gradually increased popularity and the resulting rise in the cost of movie rights will probably ensure that there will never, ever be a television show quite like it in the future. Fortunately, former cast members Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett have found ways around this issue with projects like Rifftrax, the Legend Films DVD commentaries, and the forthcoming Film Crew DVDs. For the time being, all you need to laugh at the Hollywood’s most ridiculous products is an internet connection and access to a video rental facility.

*Features a were-catfish, were-lizard, were-bat and were-spider. Sorry, but if it’s werewolves you want, you’ll have to go all the way back to the beginning of Season Nine.

**Features three monster films set south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Four, if you allow that Final Justice’s Sheriff Geronimo is a monster, and that by possessing the sensibilities of a drawling redneck lynch mob, he carries the Deep South with him everywhere he goes.

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2/5/07

1013 Diabolik

(1968, Action, color)

Reverse Raccoon Man!

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

A masked thief murders hundreds and steals billions in pursuit of good-natured, sexy fun.

Summary:

Reverse Raccoon-Man!Inspector Ginko has arranged for a huge contingent of armed guards to escort an armored car carrying ten million dollars—or so they think. Actually, Ginko has switched the millions with a decoy sack of blank paper. He and a trio of disguised cops plan to sneak the money to its destination in secret, thus avoiding the greatest thief in Italy, Diabolik! But the wily Diabolik (John Phillip Law of Space Mutiny) is not fooled. He lures them from their car with colored smoke, and then lifts it from the waterfront with a dock crane. He relieves the car of its expensive cargo and escapes by speedboat, and then by Jaguar. The empty Jaguar plunges off a cliff while Diabolik peels off his skintight rubber jumpsuit to drive off with his smokin’ hot girlfriend Eva. Later, in his shiny secret lair, they feed the money into a fan and make love in a shower of ill-gotten currency.

Distraught government officials react to this daring heist by calling a press conference to reinstate the death penalty. Diabolik and Eva thumb their noses at the establishment by drugging the attending dignitaries and journalists with “exhilarating gas,” which makes all assembled laugh uproariously. Meanwhile, Inspector Ginko takes out his frustration on the rest of the Italian criminal underworld by raiding a mellow hippie drug club. This really cheeses off the beefy criminal head honcho, Valmont (Adolpho Celi of Operation 007; he sports a girl yacht in this movie too). He cuts a deal with Ginko: all the criminals in Italy will band together and catch Diabolik if Ginko will just leave the poor hippies alone. Ginko agrees.

An English dignitary arrives in Italy to show off his wife’s emerald necklace. Naturally, Eva demands it as a birthday present from Diabolik. Also naturally, both Ginko and Valmont recognize the necklace as an obvious target and set traps to capture the vinyl-dipped miscreant. Diabolik avoids Ginko’s trap through the use of suction cups, a Polaroid photo, a catapult, and nudity. Eva, on the other hand, falls into Valmont’s trap when she is recognized at the scene. Valmont’s henchmen abduct her the next day.

Diabolik arranges to pay ten million in ransom, delivered mid-flight aboard Valmont’s dirigible. Valmont gives him a parachute and tell him that Eva waiting below. Diabolik jumps, but takes Valmont with him, demanding answers on the way down. They pull the parachute in time and arrive to find the place surrounded by cops. Diabolik rescues Eva and kills Valmont using the emeralds as bullets. Then he takes a drug to put himself in a death-like trance. Eva slips him the antidote in the morgue the next day. He dons a disguise to sign out Valmont’s cremated remains, sifting the ashes to recover the emeralds.

For the last caper of the film, Ginko tempts Diabolik one more time by melting down twenty-some-odd tons of gold into a single huge ingot, which he will then encase in steel and move cross-country by train. A little seduction and several strategically placed charges block the tracks, forcing the train to cross a trestle bridge instead. The bridge explodes too, sending the ingot to the bottom of the river, where Diabolik and Eva wait with floats and yellow submarine shaped like a ’53 Chevy convertible.

Back in the underground lair, Diabolik turns on the heat to melt the gold. He dons a heatproof suit and attaches a fire hose to the steel case so that he can spray the molten gold into brick molds. Meanwhile, Ginko has followed the ingot’s radioactive trail. (Oh, and the ingot’s radioactive. No one bothers to mention this till now.) The massive pipe organ/burglar alarm goes off while the formerly secret lair fills with cops. There’s an ineffectual firefight, and then the superheated ingot explodes, encasing Diabolik in molten gold.

Later, journalists gather to take pictures of Diabolik’s gilded corpse. After they’re gone, Eva appears to mourn. Ginko catches her, then lets her go when she begs him for just a few more seconds alone with her poor deceased lover. Diabolik winks at her just before she leaves with the inspector. He laughs maniacally after they leave.

Introduction:

This feels familiar...Tom can’t seem to hover at the level of the desk. Upon further investigation, Mike finds the Satellite of Love Employee Handbook wedged into Tom’s hoverskirt. It lays out the Satellite of Love’s policies on such important issues as discrimination (i.e., Pearl reserves the right to discriminate against anyone at any time). The procedure for lodging a complaint is remarkably similar to the process by which one would punch oneself in the face.

Host Segment One:

Crow asks about the Satellite of Love’s dental plan. Quoth the Handbook, “Shut up; you have no right to ask.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has purchased a joystick from Radio Shack, which she uses to force the Satellite through some very un-Satellite-like maneuvers. The joystick breaks; the Satellite of Love falls and initiates automatic landing procedures. Brain Guy’s responses to Pearl’s pleas are somewhat garbled; the Mountain Dew she poured into his brain pan earlier has inhibited his ability to speak clearly, and also negated his ability to prevent the Satellite crew’s imminent escape. (Quoth he, “Chili squint.”) Pearl throws a screaming tantrum, sobbing until her mascara runs all the way down to her chin. She sends them one last movie.

Host Segment Two:

Mike prepares to return to Wisconsin by packing a suitcase full of rice. Crow has stuffed a garbage sack with dirty laundry and half-eaten food from the fridge. Tom takes a head-count and discovers an extra five hundred and seventeen extra hims on the Satellite of Love. He gets out a detonator and starts to self-destruct all his duplicates, one by one. In fact, it turns out he’s a duplicate himself. A long string of Servos queue up to take his place at the detonator, each one convinced that he is the original.

Host Segment Three:

Crow wants to know if the Satellite of Love has any kind of severance package, so that he can set himself up with a new blue suit and several large gambling debts as soon as he arrives on Earth. Pearl avoids the question to ramble about her new position as Dictator-for-Life of Qatar. Bobo’s post-Castle Forrester future has also been assured; he’s accepted a cushy new job at the zoo. Brain Guy would like to move in with Pearl or Bobo, but is rebuffed by both. He gives in and accepts employment as the All-Knowing Universal Consciousness of Rylos-14. And by the way, according to the Employee Handbook, the answer to Crow’s question is NO!

Host Segment Four:

Mike shows Tom scrapbook photos of a giant fiberglass muskie while Crow whimpers from under the desk. Turns out he’s nervous about leaving the Satellite for the large, unknown Earth, filled with wars and traffic accidents. Mike sings a song to cheer him up. “To Earth… / Maybe we’ll meet Colin Firth.” Crow expresses his doubts in song form as well, citing such unpleasant elements of Earth life as “Sean Mullins and Alanis Morisette,” the mere mention of which fill Tom with doubt and dread. By the end of the song, Crow is convinced to come out and look at the fiberglass muskie photos while Tom whimpers from under the desk.

Host Segment Five:

The Satellite of Love reaches the final part of its descent and then suddenly plummets out of control. Mike and the ‘Bots beg Pearl for help. “Move on. I am,” she replies, and unplugs their connection. The Satellite crashes. The screen goes white. Some time later, the ‘Bots move into Mike’s one-bedroom apartment. (Tom and Crow, that is; Gypsy has her own hugely successful corporation.) They gather on the couch to mock a late-night showing of The Crawling Eye. Quoth Crow, “This movie looks kind of familiar…”

Stinger:

Valmont on his girl yacht, staring out to sea. “Is that stud coming?” he says.

Thoughts:

Another triumph for Diabolik!?Whether or not you consider Diabolik to be a bad movie depends on your point of reference. Anyone who comes in expecting a nail-biting crime thriller or a biting, satiric indictment of The Establishment will come away disappointed. It’s juvenile and ridiculous, refusing even to acknowledge the enormous death toll or the potentially disastrous economic consequences of Diabolik’s fun-loving criminal hijinks. On the other hand, it’s got lots of voluptuous women, stylized violence, and overcomplicated gadgets—just like any number of James Bond knock-offs (Operation 007, Secret Agent Super Dragon, Agent for H.A.R.M., etc.) appearing previously on MST3K. Of course, the films I just parenthetically mentioned are sexy but ultimately nonsensical train wrecks, while, for quality, Diabolik compares favorably with just about any Roger Moore James Bond flick you’d care to name. The only really major problem, for American audiences at least, is that it’s not a superspy film, and thus does not fit comfortably into the genre. No superspy means no sympathetic character, because when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, even the smarmiest, most violent spy in the world gains some measure of appeal. Also, to viewers who, like myself, have been trained to follow the superspy-supermodel-supervillain love triangle, a relationship consisting solely of a supermodel and a supervillain seems disconcertingly out of balance.

Of course, the genre inconsistencies would not be a problem for Diabolik’s intended audience: Italian comic book fans. It seems that Diabolik is a popular Italian comic book anti-hero from the sixties, and like Batman, he occupies a genre of his own. (I’ve never read any of Diabolik’s exploits, but I understand he’s even more senselessly violent in print.) I suppose I could question why the Italians choose to idolize a fictional but brutal criminal just because he robs people with murderous flair, but then I’d have to speculate about why Americans idolize fictional vigilantes, when the only famous real-life vigilantes I can think of are known solely for setting fire to churches and ethnic minorities.

In lieu of more irrelevant social commentary, I now present a few of the film’s more amusing minor flaws and inconsistencies:

• Apparently, bank chairmen, foreign dignitaries, and treasury officials are just lining up to provide Inspector Ginko with cash deposits, priceless family heirlooms, and national gold reserves to use as bait, though I can’t imagine why. After the first ten million dollar fiasco, I personally wouldn’t trust the man to guard a fiver.

• Okay, so Diabolik shoots Valmont with the emeralds, then recovers them from his cremated body. Are we meant to understand that a) the British noblewoman who originally owned the emeralds had them set in cordite-filled casings, b) though Diabolik got stripped and pulled out for an autopsy, the authorities just shoved Valmont whole into the oven without bothering to undress or look inside him, and c) though normal emeralds tend to crack and discolor under moderate heat, these are not only strong enough survive the intense sudden heat of an automatic weapon, but also the even hotter interior of a crematorium? I guess we are.

• And speaking of the crematorium, why is there an old lady waiting to see a doctor? Do combination geriatric medicine clinics/funeral homes actually exist? Would anyone go to them if they did?

• This is more a problem with the localization than the actual film, but the line chosen for the stinger wins first prize in the category of “Most Unintentionally Filthy Line of Dialogue Spoken in an MST3K Film.” The Deadly Bees and Boggy Creek II win second and third prizes, respectively.

• Why is Diabolik laughing at the end? Sure, he’s still alive, but Eva’s been arrested, and she hasn’t ever demonstrated the ability to escape imprisonment on her own. We appear to end the movie at an impasse, with each major character depending on the other for rescue.

My favorite host segment moment is the string of Tom Servos, each one pushing the detonator after the other in the sure but mistaken belief that he is the original and all the others are duplicates. My other favorite host segment moment comes just as the Satellite is about crash. Crow wanders into the panicked chaos to ask, “Have you seen my other sweater?” “Nooooooooooooo!” Mike cries as the Satellite shudders with impact. My least favorite is host segment four, which, though well constructed, is built around a mediocre song. All the other segments are well above average, though.

The ridiculous film offers plenty of opportunity for mockery. Crow comments on the groovy spy-ish soundtrack by saying, “This music would work better with women bikinis shaking all over the place. I guess that’s true of any music, really.” When we first see Diabolik in his form-fitted vinyl ninja mask, Tom says, “When he takes that mask off later, his weird tan lines will give him away,” while Mike calls him, “Reverse Raccoon Man!” As the series finale, this episode could be considered required viewing regardless of quality, but it features excellent host segments and some very funny mocking of a relatively decent movie as well. Last episode or no, this one’s worth repeated viewings.

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1012 Squirm

(1976, Horror, color), with

A Case of Spring Fever
(1940, Educational-Industrial, b&w)

No springs! [Insert mischievous whistle here.]

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A cartoon sprite converts a non-believer to the gospel of springs.
Film: Antique hunters battle man-eating worms in rural Georgia.

Short Summary:

Where does Coily fit into the pantheon?A Case of Spring Fever begins with an older gentleman sweating and grumbling from beneath his sofa. His wife won’t let him go out golfing with his friends until he fixes the bed of springs across the bottom; in a moment of frustration, he curses all springs and wishes they would disappear. A mischievous cartoon elf named Coily the Spring Sprite appears to grant his wish, and—hey presto!—the bothersome couch springs vanish. So do the springs that operate the window shades, telephone, and car. Recognizing his mistake, our hero begs Coily to undo the terrible curse he has wrought upon the world. Coily agrees, leaving our beleaguered protagonist a little sadder and a little wiser. He spends the remaining two thirds of the short film haranguing his golfing buddies with an exhaustive list of all the wonderful blessings brought into our lives by springs.

Film Summary:

In Squirm, a violent storm blocks roads and downs power lines in Fly Creek, Georgia. The power lines pour electricity into the ground near Willie’s Bait Shop and Worm Farm. Soon afterwards we meet the film’s major players, including:

Geri—our extremely thin and very redheaded Southern ingénue. She’s a young antique dealer taking care of her delusional mother Naomi and her masculine little sister Alma. They all live in a rural, three-story home that looks like the offspring of an illicit union between a step-and-columned plantation mansion and a rusty yellow doublewide. This bizarre but idyllic manor house is situated right next to the home of…

Roger—a thick-witted and emotionally stunted Southern boy who’s worked in his abusive father’s bait shop all his life. He divides his time between raising worms and pining for Geri, but alas, she only has eyes for…

Mick—our pasty Northern hero. He’s a stranger in Fly Creek, ostensibly in town to purchase antiques from one Mr. Beardsley, but he wouldn’t mind romancing Geri a little during his visit.

Geri borrows Roger’s giant truck o’ worms to pick up Mick, who can’t get through by bus because of the flooding and downed power lines. They stop in town for ice and an egg cream, only to get chased out by the irate sheriff when Mick finds a worm in his drink. When they get home, the giant truck o’ worms is empty. Roger’s abusive father blames this on Roger, who stalks off in disgust while Geri and Mick go to Beardsley’s house for antiques. In the many scenes that follow, they discover and lose a skeleton several times, finally identifying it as the remains of Mr. Beardsley. They go fishing with Roger, who tells them about the time he lost his thumb to electrocuted (and, therefore, man-eating) worms. When Mick goes to shore, Roger puts the moves on Geri, who accidentally pushes the unfortunate young man onto a pile of flesh-eating bait. The newly disfigured Roger runs off into the woods. Meanwhile, Mick discovers the worm-eaten corpse of Roger’s abusive father. Throughout, the sheriff grows increasingly threatening as Mick tries to warn him about their squishy, murderous foes.

Somehow, this leads to an awkward dinner sequence with Geri’s delusional mother. Mercifully, this ends when the worms eat through the roots of a nearby tree, causing it to crash through the roof and across the dinner table. Mick figures out that the worms are afraid of the light, which means they have to board up the house before dark. He goes out for boards while Geri tries to secure the house.

The jealous Roger ambushes Mick in the woods. He throws Mick into a pit and yells, “You gonna be da worm-face now!” He goes back in Mick’s place and kidnaps Geri, tying her up in her own attic. Meanwhile, Mick fashions a torch out of his shirt to keep the worms at bay. He heads back to rescue Geri.

A wave of many-legged worms consumes everyone in town and then washes down towards the odd yellow house. Mick wrestles Roger and then tosses him to the worms. He unties Geri, and they both climb into a tree. They’re awakened next morning by the shouts of the newly arrived Utility Man. He’s fixed the wires; without electricity running into the ground, the worms have become their old docile, limbless selves again. Mick and Geri are overjoyed to see that the platform-shoed Alma has survived by hiding in a steamer trunk. Utility Man heads into Fly Creek, where he will no doubt discover the skeletonized remains of the rest of the town’s population.

Introduction:

It's not a euphemism for deep-fried strands of shredded coconut.Mike and the ‘Bots run down a checklist of the Satellite of Love’s safety equipment. Fire extinguisher? Previously emptied into Mike’s face. Flares? Likewise. First aid kit? Used to treat the burns on Mike’s face. After several more items of this nature, Mike congratulates the ‘Bots on creating a completely unsafe living environment. Tom and Crow decide to celebrate by sticking their heads in the towel dispenser.

Host Segment One:

Welcome to the First Annual Castle Forrester Fair, the rustic country celebration that soon will rule the entire universe! Pearl enters pickles made according to the old Forrester family recipe (cucumbers and Windex), while Tom and Crow enter their giant pig Winston. Pearl awards herself a blue ribbon and offers the Satellite dwellers a box of Bobo’s quaintly named colloquial snack, Fried Ape Hair.

Host Segment Two:

Mike wonders if mainstream theology allows for a “spry satanic sprite” for every class of object in the universe. Quoth he, “Do you suppose there’s a hellish sprite for me?” Crow offers to test this theory, and loudly wishes there was no such thing as Mike. This summons Mikey the Mike Sprite; he promptly banishes Mike and then harangues Tom and Crow about all the lost advantages bestowed upon them by their missing companion. The ‘Bots reluctantly ask him to bring Mike back. While reflecting upon this adventure, Mike accidentally summons Mikesocksey the Mike’s Socks Sprite.

Host Segment Three:

Overexposure to the Tennessee Williams-esque female protagonists of the film has infected Tom Servo with severe Southern Belleness. Symptoms include a frilly, low-cut dress, a parasol, and a thick Southern accent. Mike attempts Yankee Behavior Modification by reciting Pepperidge Farm ads, but this has no effect. A photo of George Steinbrenner only gives Servo the vapors. A pastrami injection finally cures him.

Host Segment Four:

Mike hooks electrodes to his pet worm Emmett in an effort to create a “rice of verms” that will rise up to destroy humanity. The ‘Bots try to dissuade him, but he throws the switch anyway, burning Emmett into a crispy black stick. Mike mourns the loss of his wormy pal, but is quickly sidetracked by his delicious taste. The disgusted ‘Bots taste Emmett as well, and the discussion quickly turns to the subject of dipping sauce.

Host Segment Five:

Crow dresses as Alma, the enormous little sister from the film—or so he says. All we can see are the lower soles of his impossibly high platform shoes. He inevitably repeats the “endless falling” gag (as previously seen in episodes 803 and 1003) to mixed reviews from Mike and Tom. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has added a new attraction to the fair—bungee jumping! She hands Brain Guy eight feet of bungee and repeatedly pushes him off a three-foot platform.

Stinger:

“You gonna be da worm-face now!”

Thoughts:

Someone has just called someone else 'boy'.Two generations of Crow have parodied Coily the Spring Sprite, appearing first as Willy the Waffle in Episode 317, and then as Droppy the Water Droplet in Episode 1004. Both incarnations of the little cartoon fiend have regaled their fellow Satellite dwellers with the myriad uses of their namesakes. It’s nice to finally see the head-twistingly eccentric original in action, even if it’s only for the first third of the film. The remainder discards the tightly wound mascot to focus on an old man enthusing wildly about springs, while his friends’ expressions progress rather realistically from boredom to irritation and finally to rage. What’s the purpose of the lengthy spring-praising sequence, you ask? What is the old man trying to sell? Beats me. Springs are handy, I guess, and the good folks down at Jam Handy want the world to know.

Welcome to Southern Horror Movies 101. Please find your seats and take out your notebooks. When the room is quiet, we can begin.

Ahem.

Squirm is horribly wriggly, gooey and gross. Of course it’s meant to be, and by that measure it can be considered a success. For a horror film cast with unknowns and shot on a shoestring budget, it’s actually pretty competent, but of course we’re going to make fun of it anyway.

And now, we will prepare for our final examination. Please go over the sample questions below. As a study aide, I have included the answers for you:

1) Has Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever featured a horror film more Southern than the one appearing in this episode?

(Answer: No. This is, by far, the most Southern out of all Southern horror films to appear on MST3K, and there have been quite a few. Though it sidesteps any question of racial tension by featuring an all-Caucasian cast, the accents and stereotypes are thicker than molasses and the entire set of female characters seems to have been cannibalized from someone’s second-hand copy of The Glass Menagerie. And speaking of stereotypes...)

2) Has any horror movie from south of the Mason-Dixon Line ever depicted a lawman who isn’t an arrogant, condescending, lazy, philandering jackass?

(Answer: Maybe. I’m afraid to do the research necessary to respond more definitively. And speaking of being afraid...)

3) Is heroic shirtlessness compulsory in this kind of film?

(Answer: I’m afraid so. Films with wealthy backers can afford to show the tanned, greased, and well-muscled chests sported by actors like Patrick Swayze, Hugh Jackman, and Vin Diesel. These men spend ten hours a day in gymnasiums, carefully sculpting the kinds of torsos that don’t make you want to avert your eyes in sheer embarrassment, and thus do not come cheap. Bargain-hunters have to make do with the pale, slender hairlessness of Don Scardino*. And now, a bonus science question...)

4) Do worms have legs?

(Answer: No, they don’t. But the whole movie is based on the premise that continuous electric current can give otherwise docile earthworms the temperament of subterranean piranha, so I guess I can accept that the process can turn them into millipedes as well.)

The best host segment addresses the possibility of ubiquitous tiny sprites, charged to help us appreciate each individual element of the universe. Mikey and Mikesocksey are both annoying, whistling little creeps, though in funny way, and the ‘Bots reluctance to request Mike’s reinstatement works too. Crow’s “funny old man from the forties” voice is a nice touch. My least favorite segments deal with Pearl’s mostly unfunny attempt at a fair, though her pickle recipe and Mike’s astonishment over the Satellite’s previously unknown feedlot are worth exactly one chuckle each. The rest fall somewhere in between.

The film segment dealing with the short has some funny lines, many of which describe the old man, as in Crow’s, “He parted his hair with a band saw,” and Tom’s, “He looks like Eleanor Roosevelt.” I particularly liked Tom’s threat, “I’ll show Coily! I’m going to digitize everything!” The commentary during Squirm includes Crow’s description of Roger: “If Steve Young and Alvin the Chipmunk had a baby,” as well as Tom’s request of Geri: “No one’s that Southern! Tone it down!” and Crow’s description of the shirtless Mick as, “Sentient artery plaque.” My favorite quip is when Tom quotes Hamlet by calling the squirming tidal wave, “A certain convocation of politic worms,” but admitting to this probably identifies me as a huge nerd. I find all the ooey, gooey worminess rather off-putting, but I suppose that’s a matter of taste. The episode as a whole is funny enough that I’ll probably watch it again.

*Among the many odd names appearing in the various credits of MST3K, Don Scardino is probably my favorite. I imagine him with a shock of gray hair and enormous jowls, seated behind an extravagant teak desk, wearing so many jeweled rings that he can’t bend his fingers, ordering Mob hits while he sucks rich, flavored smoke through a Cuban cigar. As a name, it seems wasted on a skinny, spectacled little redhead.

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1011 Horrors of Spider Island

(1959, Horror, b&w)

An Exxon girl tanker ran aground.

Rating: 1/2*

In a nutshell:

A bevy of exotic dancer castaways wash up on a remote island.

Summary:

The giant spider in its first and only appearance.For the first quarter of the movie we watch a beefy manager named Gary, his prim assistant Georgia, and a very Dr. Strangelove-ish agent named Mike as they audition a seemingly infinite string of exotic dancers for a gig in Singapore. When the selection process finally finishes, Gary explains his process to Mike; if his legs are apart, Georgia sends the hopeful on her way, but if his legs cross, she hires the auditionee on the spot. This turns out to be of no significance whatsoever.

The second (and most eventful) quarter starts with the girls packing into an airplane, which subsequently bursts into flames and nose-dives into the ocean. Gary, Georgia and the girls put to sea in a life raft, none the worse for wear. They land on an island populated by a dog-sized spider marionette and its most recent victim: a middle-aged uranium prospector. Gary finds the prospector’s corpse strung up in his own cabin; he takes it down and moves his girls in. Of course they take off most of their clothes and drape themselves sensuously all over the immediate landscape. The most indiscriminately amorous among them tempts Gary with passionate smooches; Georgia discovers and scolds them. Gary strides out into the night, where he wrestles and kills the marionette spider. Its bite transforms him into a hideous man-spider.

The third quarter begins with the indiscriminately amorous girl’s strangulation-induced death, inflicted upon her by The Man-Spider Formerly Known as Gary. Apparently benched by the movie’s director, he sits the rest of this quarter out while the surviving six to twelve girls fret, strip to their underthings, and wrestle.

The fourth quarter tries to spice things up even further with a new pair of characters: Bobby and Joe, a pair of handsome young uranium prospectors who’ve been dropped off to assist their now-dead colleague. They seem quite happy to hang out with the marooned exotic dancers instead. Joe radios his ship and schedules it to come pick them up the next day. He spends the evening canoodling with a fresh young Minnesotan named Ann, while the libidinous Bobby arranges a secret rendezvous with a particularly needy castaway named Gladys. Bobby and Gladys slip off into the night to be murdered by the spiderated Gary. Joe arms the rest of the girls with flares; they drive Gary into a deadly patch of quicksand.

Introduction:

Mary Jo is a trooper.Following Larry King’s lead, Crow becomes a syndicated newspaper columnist. Also like Larry King, his columns steer well away from anything informative or controversial with such obvious declarations as “Shoelaces are handy” and “TV shows aired last night.” Mike rejects the column as “not particularly substantive,” while Tom calls it “brilliant” for more or less the same reason.

Host Segment One:

Pearl interrupts Crow’s brainstorming session for his next column. (He wants to take Mike’s advice and write about weightier matters, like goose poop.) Pearl tells them she has moved the castle to another neighborhood at enormous expense—more than two million dollars, by Brain Guy’s estimation—so that she can save forty dollars per year on her monkey license. The new neighborhood has its own problems, though; Bobo and the neighborhood dogs start chain barking, and soon they’ve got the ‘Bots barking along with them.

Host Segment Two:

Mike has gotten caught in the giant spider web that now stretches across the bridge. Crow mocks him until Tom arrives with their dinner: a giant potato bug, baked of course. They leave Mike hanging in the web, where his frustrated squirming attracts a giant spider.

Host Segment Three:

Mike is Gary; Tom is Georgia; and Crow is the Dr. Strangelove-ish Mike from the movie. They call up the denizens of Castle Forrester and command them to audition. Bobo starts with a soft shoe routine, but is rejected by Gary/Mike’s uncrossed legs. Brain Guy dons a long curly wig and drenches himself, Flashdance-style. Gary/Mike’s crossed legs make him a star. Pearl prances around in a tutu for a moment before she falls over. An undecided Gary/Mike demands that she “give us a little leg.” At her insistence, Brain Guy rips off one of his just below the knee and sends it up for Mike’s perusal.

Host Segment Four:

The ‘Bots come to Mike with a query. Do airplane crashes turn people into languid, helpless, sex-starved mumblers? Mike deliberately crashes the Satellite to find out. The Satellite crew’s disheveled wigs, alluringly torn dresses, and barely intelligible semi-erotic banter answer that question in the affirmative.

Host Segment Five:

Mike has become a hideous man-spider…in more or less the same way as Gary, i.e. face paint, hillbilly teeth, and one glove from a gorilla costume. Down in a women’s public restroom near her old neighborhood, Pearl explains that, due to a local ordinance against throwing garbage out the window, she’s put the castle onto a flatbed truck so she can haul it back to its original location. Bobo arrives with a handful of individually wrapped balloons he bought from a vending machine in the men’s room. Brain Guy confiscates them while Pearl takes Bobo to one side for “The Talk.”

Stinger:

The plane plummets while the girls scream from a sound stage many miles away.

Thoughts:

Screams from another dimension.The movie does include a were-spider, but I hesitate to call it a were-spider movie. At various times Horrors of Spider Island also includes a pair of dark glasses, a flaming airplane, and several bottles of liquor, but I would also hesitate to call it a “dark glasses movie,” a “flaming airplane movie,” or a “several bottles of liquor movie” (except in the sense that it is probably meant to be viewed while drunk). In fact, given the sparse and hamfisted script, the awful sound and cinematography, and the general lack of anything even remotely resembling tension, I hesitate to call it a “movie” at all.

What manner of abomination is it then, you ask? Or rather, you would ask if you hadn’t already seen it and/or read the words “exotic dancers” in my summary above. It’s not hard to tell; watching it, you can almost feel the flimsy strands of B-movie plot being thrown aside like cheap curtains to let in the harsh neon glare of porn. Well, not quite porn. The movie shows almost nothing that doesn’t involve languid, wriggling partial nudity, but there’s no explicit sexual activity or exposed genitalia. It’s actually just a mild and rather pornish horror flick. Judging by the twelve-minute difference in running times, however, I’m guessing the original Yugoslavian version was more of a mild and rather horrorish porn flick.

The auditions highlight the host segments; Mike and the ‘Bots movie personas work well, but the Pearl and her henchmen’s excited participation is hilarious. Testing the ‘Bots’ plane crash hypothesis is brief but perfectly executed. The rest of the host segments are funny enough.

The Satellite crew does their best with the film segments, dividing their comments more or less evenly between the horrible filmmaking and the vast acres of exposed flesh. Crow makes fun of the girls’ audition routines by calling one of them the “drunk aunt at the wedding dance.” Mike comments on one of the girls’ rather muscular physique by saying, “Babs played fullback for the Lions.” Somewhere around the middle, Tom declares the whole thing “a sexy, spider-filled version of The Tempest.” It’s not an episode I’ll go out of my way to watch again, as the movie it showcases consists almost solely of badly dubbed and photographed young women wrestling in their undergarments. Regardless of any mockery heaped upon it, I’d rather have a story any day.

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1010 It Lives By Night

(1974, Horror, color)

Bats are without sin.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A vacationing research pathologist turns into a murderous were-bat.

Summary:

Bob Wet-Face.Dr. John Beck goes on a ski vacation/research expedition/honeymoon with his newly acquired folk singer wife, Kathy. For some reason they decide to mix the “research expedition” and “honeymoon” aspects of their trip by hopping the railing during a cavern tour to make the cave beast with two backs. Fortunately, the stalagmite chosen as cover hides a twenty-foot drop into a maggot-filled crevasse. They both fall in, sparing us the ordeal of having to watch an ill-advised round of spontaneous newlywed coitus. An errant bat gets caught in Kathy’s upturned seventies hairdo. John removes it with his high, shiny forehead and comes away with a minor bat bite.

Presumably rescued a short time later, John and Kathy resume their marital bliss with an afternoon on the ski slopes, intermittently punctuated by John’s violent mood swings and eye-rolling spaz attacks. An attack causes him to crush a tumbler in his hand, so Kathy takes him to the heavily mustached Dr. Groovy...er, Kipling. Dr. Kipling starts a series of rabies shots, which cause even more grunting and eye-rolling. John is admitted to the hospital where he turns into a man-bat and murders a nurse. Naturally, he wakes up with only vague recollections of his nocturnal battiness. Kathy checks him out of the hospital the next day. One romantic evening later, John sneaks out on his beloved to battify once more and murder a tiny blonde trailer park dweller.

Thereafter, Police Sergeant Ward follows John around to ask leading questions, shoplift lingerie, and ogle Kathy. John realizes that his dreams aren’t just dreams and hijacks an enormous ambulance, which he rolls after an extended car chase in the desert. He murders a hobo and a cave tourist, and then sends a taped message about the wonders of man-battitude to the folks back home.

Kathy refuses to believe it, even as John appears in her motel room to say goodbye. She’s finally convinced when he embattens during intercourse. Sergeant Ward has been snooping; he follows John back to the caves and gets his rear end soundly kicked. For some reason Kathy is waiting for Ward back at the sheriff’s office, and for some reason he offers to drive her back to her motel. Apparently, making love to a hideous man-beast has partially batticated her. She calls up a swarm of kamikaze bats to kill Ward, and then goes to join her husband in the caves where, I assume, they will live out the rest of their unnatural lives as man-bat and wife-bat.

Introduction:

They turn the world on with their friggin' smiles.It’s painting day, and the Satellite of Love sure could use a fresh coat. “Especially the Can,” says Tom. Mike tests several colors on his robotic cohorts, including a calming green, which makes Tom pine for Jimmy Carter, and an ebullient orange, which makes Tom angry and bitter. (Both of the above make Crow want to date Lisa Stansfield.) Tom thinks the maddening blackish red would be perfect for the Can, but Mike has already decided to paint it a soft, off-white eggshell color. Mike shows them a sample, the mere sight of which sends both robots into gibbering breakdowns.

Host Segment One:

For some reason the color sample marked, “Invest heavily in steam-powered weaving machines,” makes the ‘Bots want to invest heavily in steam-powered weaving machines. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl asks the Satellite crew how they feel about tactical misdirection. Bobo flies over and sprays them with poisonous mutagens while Mike and the ‘Bots ponder the meaning of this question. They figure it out when Crow grows several extra pairs of arms, Tom’s hands swell to humungous size, and a Tom Servo-shaped growth appears on Mike’s back. They complain loudly until Pearl agrees to dust them with the antidote.

Host Segment Two:

Crow has dressed as Mary Tyler Moore, and declares himself to be more like Moore than the very Moore-ish Kathy. To illustrate this point, he has Mike and Crow dress as Ted Baxter and Lou Grant, respectively. They perform a vignette from Ms. Moore’s eponymous show, but though Mike and Tom call each other “Ted” and “Lou,” they refuse to call Crow “Mary.” “Come on!” Crow cries. “I can turn the world on with my freakin’ smile!”

Host Segment Three:

The ‘Bots find Mike passed out with his face covered in foam. Naturally, they assume the worst; Mike wakes up to find a dozen hypodermic needles protruding from his midsection. He protests that he merely fell asleep while eating a creampuff, but the ‘Bots are so disappointed that he lets them finish their series of rabies injections anyway.

Host Segment Four:

Mike dons a white turtleneck and bushy blond mustache, a la Dr. Groovy Kipling. He calls up Pearl, who remains ambivalent towards his new look. Crow arrives sporting a similar outfit, with an enormous blond mustache that dwarfs Mike’s pitiful attempt at facial hair. Pearl flushes and stammers an invitation to go hot tubbing. Mike stalks off in disgust while Tom shows up with the blond mustache to end all blond mustaches. He only gets through half a line before he collapses under the weight.

Host Segment Five:

Inspired by the murdered hobo’s rumpled hat, Tom becomes a new franchisee of the Buddy Ebsen Hat Distressing Corporation. His kit includes a sheet of appropriate customer greetings and a plastic baggie filled with dirt. In the meantime, Crow has joined the Red Skelton Hat Distressing Corporation, whose franchise package is much more complete. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl forces Bobo and Brain Guy to watch slides of her several dozen honeymoons, all of which ended in the groom’s untimely death. She threatens Brain Guy with marriage when he tries to sneak away.

Stinger:

John has an eye-rolling spaz attack.

Thoughts:

Mary Tyler Less.And here we are again, with another tragic tale of were-beasthood. For our unfortunate hero, the moist but handsome John, only wants to help humanity by studying and improving the treatment regimen for rabies. Ironic, that he should succumb to this dread disease himself, forcing him to wear the man-sized shape of the creature that infected him. (Rabies is another word for were-beastism, isn’t it?) Every day he must live with the terrible knowledge of what he becomes: a hideous murderous creature that hunts the night for victims, feeding on their living blood...

Except that once he figures it out, he just shrugs his batterated shoulders and rolls with it, declaring himself “above the petty concerns of humanity...” (i.e.: “I can kill people with impunity because I’m a were-bat and that’s what we do, dammit!”) So I guess he’s not the hero. This means the movie’s sympathetic character must be that bold defender of the innocent, Police Sergeant Ward. Indeed, as we watch him growl his lines through a cigarette holder while leering at Kathy and stuffing a stolen pair of lacy sheer panties into his pocket, we cannot help but feel a surge of civic pride...

Or revulsion, as the case may be. Which means the character with whom we should most identify is poor, worried Kathy, who reacts to her new husband’s erratic were-battiness by becoming increasingly shrill and suggestive, as if his condition could be cured with termagancy and sex. Indeed, though very little actual sex is shown (mercifully, it’s not that kind of film) she hints at it so much that the whole movie feels like an extended road trip with a newly attached couple—I spent the most of the running time wishing I could leave them behind at a roadside motel.

Which, as far as sympathetic characters go, leaves us with Dr. Groovy Kipling. And he had...what? Ten minutes of screen time?

My favorite host segment moment is the two seconds in which we see Tom’s humongous mustache before he collapses. The rest of that segment is pretty funny too. Mike’s paint color samples come in a far second. The Mary Tyler Moore and Buddy Ebsen sketches don’t really do anything for me because, even though I know who those people are, I’m probably too young to be all that invested in them. The creampuff rabies sketch and the tactical misdirection sketch seem bland as well.

During the film segments, the Satellite crew gives the main characters all nicknames, referring to the constantly sweaty John as “Bob Wet-Face” (Tom), the creepy Ward as “Sheriff Menacing W. Pervert” (Crow), and the spooky and thin Kathy as “Mary Tyler Less” (Mike). Crow takes most of the good lines himself: When he calls the dreamy soundtrack, “Music for the heavily sedated.” When he interrupts the terrifying bat attack visions to say, “It’d be a better movie if he’d been bitten by a cow.” When he responds to John’s assertion that he has ascended above humanity by saying, “Bats are without sin.” The commentary is consistently funny, mostly making up for the bland host segments, the lack of sympathetic characters, and the constant innuendo. It’s not something I’ll go out of my way to watch again, though.

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1009 Hamlet

(1961, Drama, b&w)

Is there a word in the English language he hasn’t said?

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

An indecisive prince of Denmark gets everyone killed.

Summary:

So that's who wrote Prinz von Danemark.I probably don’t have to summarize the most famous play ever written, but I will anyway.

Danish prince Hamlet has been feeling a little down and more than a little suspicious about the death of his father, the nearly instant remarriage of his mother Gertrude to his uncle Claudius, and his uncle’s subsequent ascent to the throne of Denmark. Even so, when the ghost of his father appears to provide the gory regicidal details, Hamlet remains somewhat reluctant to act.

He decides to test his uncle by altering a play to match the circumstances the ghost described. Claudius confirms his own guilt with a rather obvious reaction. Afterwards, Claudius goes to a chapel to pray for forgiveness of his crimes. Hamlet sneaks up behind him, but decides that stabbing his uncle in a church will send the villain to heaven and thus ruin his revenge.

Gertrude summons Hamlet to her chambers to scold him for his recent erratic behavior. He tries to confront her with Claudius’ crimes, but his girlfriend’s father Polonius misinterprets part of their argument and calls for help. Hamlet assumes the eavesdropper to be Claudius, and stabs him through the curtain. This results in Hamlet’s exile to England, the madness and eventual suicide of his girlfriend Ophelia, and vows of vengeance from her brother Laertes.

As luck would have it, Hamlet’s ship is attacked by pirates, upon whom he prevails to return him to Denmark. Back in the Danish court, Laertes and Claudius weave an elaborate plot to kill him. Laertes will goad Hamlet into a fencing match, during which he will use a poisonous foil. If he hits his opponent, Hamlet will die. If Hamlet hits him, Claudius will give his stepson a celebratory cup of poisonous wine. During the actual fight, Hamlet foils them both by being too skilled to get hit and too dedicated to imbibe during a match. Gertrude complicates the situation further by drinking Hamlet’s celebratory toast for him. Laertes gets a lucky hit; Hamlet sees the sharpened foil and switches swords with him. Another hit, and they are both poisoned. Gertrude swoons and dies. Laertes confesses the plot and begs forgiveness. Hamlet stabs Claudius and forces him to drink the poison. Claudius dies. Laertes dies. Hamlet dies.

Introduction:

Fortinbras gets the shaft again.Tom Servo interrupts Mike’s introductions to make an announcement. From now on he will be known as Htom Sirveaux (pronounced Ha-Tom Servo). Crow tells Ha-Tom to ha-lick him.

Host Segment One:

Crow has changed his name to Cröe, which is unpronounceable unless you have a bowling-pin beak to purse. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has developed a virulent killer virus with which she will rule the... Mike distracts her with a game of three-card monte. They make a wager: If Pearl finds the queen, Mike and the ‘Bots will watch two movies. If she can’t find it, they get to pick their own movie. Pearl ignores Bobo’s self-contradictory advice and Brain Guy’s warning that it’s a scam; she chooses the middle card. She’s wrong of course, and Mike asks her for Hamlet. Pearl consults with Brain Guy to serve up a badly dubbed, made-for-TV German version.

Host Segment Two:

Crow and Tom drape themselves in a sheet and haunt Mike. They tell him they are the spirit of his murdered father, but that can’t be; Mike’s father is alive and well. So are their second, third, and fourth choices—his Uncle Les, his Cousin Al, and his brother-in-law’s ex-wife Wanda. Quoth Crow, “Don’t your relatives ever die?”

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow rehearse for their new modern abstract version of Hamlet. Quoth Crow, “It’s a timeless classic; everyone should take a shot at it.” They’ve gone through a number of ideas—including a version with buckets on the actors’ heads and a version with an all-furniture cast—but have finally settled on a percussion version. In the scene they’re currently rehearsing, Crow plays the bongos to represent Ophelia while Tom vehemently replies with the Hamlet maracas.

Host Segment Four:

Welcome to the Elizabethan game show “Alas Poor Who?” in which contestants must guess a deceased minor celebrity’s identity from a piece of their skeletal structure. Tom correctly identifies Biz Marquis’ femur but mistakes the ilium of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens for that of Roland Gibb. Crow recognizes Nancy Allen’s clavicle but not the metatarsals of Ralph Wait.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow have made a little black-clad Hamlet doll. If you pull the string on his back, he’ll even say his most famous catch phrase. Mike pulls, and pulls, and pulls, and pulls... Down in Castle Forrester, Norwegian Prince Fortinbras has come to complain about the removal of his scene from the play. He demands soldiers, canon, and a body so that he can perform it properly. Pearl talks him into pouring her killer virus in his ear. Up in the Satellite of Love, Mike has finally reached the end of the string. He lets go, and the Hamlet doll recites the entire “To be, or not to be” soliloquy over the end credits.

Stinger:

Claudius does a double take.

Thoughts:

Claudius' come hither look.Is Hamlet the greatest play ever written? Maybe. There are plays I like better, most of which don’t end by killing their characters off en masse. There is also a very good argument to be made against the use of words like “best” and “greatest” in connection with subjectively judged art forms, but even if it’s not the best, it’s pretty high up the list. It’s certainly the most famous. If you think of every clichéd quotation you’ve ever heard and take everything from the Bible off that list, at least eighty percent of what remains is from Hamlet.

The problem with actually trying to watch it (and everything else Shakespeare for that matter) is that it’s written in a dialect so old it’s practically a foreign language. It takes an exceptional actor with a great deal of practice and training to make it intelligible to the modern ear. Unfortunately, this means the only comprehensible productions you’re likely to find are at professional theaters with classically trained actors, though this doesn’t seem to stop community theaters everywhere from casting mush-mouthed locals. As a former mush-mouthed local, I’m pretty sure that the only people who understood anything I said...er, soliloquized...were the Junior College students in the front row, reading along with their little flashlights.

Which brings us to the dull, dreary German television version of 1961—filmed in English, dubbed into German, and then dubbed back into English by different actors with a variety of foreign accents. Hamlet has my favorite accent; he sounds like a light tenor Schwarzenegger. My second and third favorites are Claudius and Polonius, who sound like they’ve been voiced by Richard Montalban and John Banner respectively*. When considering all the possible people you could hear attempting Shakespeare, this is almost the worst-case scenario.

My favorite host segment is also the goofiest—the ‘Bots trying to convince Mike of their familial spookiness. Mike and Pearl’s game of wits works well too, and is perfect to explain the choice of movie. The Hamlet doll is a neat idea, and Fortinbras reminds me of several people I met in my theater days. Tom and Crow’s percussion version of the play brings to mind any number of arty college efforts I’ve seen. I haven’t heard of any of the celebrities identified by the ‘Bots during the game show in host segment three, so I’ve almost certainly misspelled some of their names. Funny segment, though.

I laughed at the Satellite crew’s jokes in several places during the film segments: When Crow says, “Gertrude’s hair by Bozo!” When Mike sings the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth after Hamlet’s most famous line. When Tom notes Ophelia’s badly faked madness by saying, “She’s trying to Section 8 herself out of the movie.” My favorite is when Laertes gleefully exclaims that he will “cut [Hamlet’s] throat in a church!” and Mike replies, “That’s a little over-the-top.” But then, I’m probably not qualified to tell you whether or not the episode is any fun. Several dozen consecutive performances of this particular play (in a variety of minor roles) have made me intimately familiar with it; to me the bad dubbing and impenetrable accents were more a source of amusement than consternation. If you’re a scholar of Elizabethan literature, a classically trained actor, or a Shakespeare enthusiast, I can recommend it as occasionally funny. If you’re not already fluent in fifteenth century English, then you’d better have an annotated script and a tiny flashlight, because this episode won’t lift a finger help you.

*IMDb.com goes so far as to credit these two actors with their voices. I have my doubts.

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1008 Final Justice

(1985, Crime Drama/Western-ish, color)

You think you can take me? Go ahead on. It’s your move.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

A violent Texan kills an Italian Mafioso and a lot of Maltese citizens.

Summary:

Our hero guns down more random Maltese citizens.You can tell what kind of movie this will be when the expository opening banter between a pair of deputy sheriffs paints one of them as a maverick gunslinger (i.e. our hero) and the other as a gentle family man (i.e. the possessor of a severely truncated life expectancy).

Sure enough, a migrant worker’s vehicle breaks down less than a mile away, accidentally running a pair of Italian hit men off the road. The older hit man, Palermo, shoots the innocent Mexican for no apparent reason, only to discover that his getaway car won’t start. You’d think even the most arrogant of Italian Mafiosos would know better than to try and jack a car right out of the county sheriffs’ parking lot, but no. He makes the attempt; the ensuing gunfight kills a deputy (guess which one); and his surviving partner chases the fugitive pair across the nearby Mexican border. At this point, Deputy Geronimo (Joe Don Baker) holsters his gun, and says, “You think you can take me? Go ahead on. It’s your move.” Palermo’s little brother tries to draw his pistol, and is gunned down. Geronimo holsters again and tries to goad Palermo into drawing his weapon. Palermo spits curses but does not rise to the bait.

Later, Police Chief Wilson puts Geronimo in charge of escorting Palermo to the authorities in Italy. Palermo’s accomplices scuttle the plane en route, forcing it to land on the island of Malta, and then help him escape from a highly explosive taxicab. What follows is an almost endless sequence in which Geronimo is arrested by the local authorities, scolded long distance by Chief Wilson, scolded from across the room by the Maltese police superintendent, given a fragile young policewoman as a guide, sees someone he recognizes from the escape, shoots a lot of Maltese people, gets arrested again by the local authorities, gets scolded long distance again by Chief Wilson, etc., etc. I lost count of how many times the movie takes us through this loop. Sufficeth to say that Geronimo gets arrested a lot, spends an inordinate amount of time chasing a man dressed like a priest, and amasses a body count of Schwarzenaggerian proportions.

Eventually, Palermo captures Geronimo and takes him to a dungeon in the basement of a Maltese villa. Fortunately, Geronimo crudely threatened a stripper in a previous scene; she takes an inexplicable shine to him and lets him out in exchange for a promise of protection. Of course she gets her throat cut at the beginning of the very next action sequence. Joe Don Baker leaps out a window for the second lengthy boat chase of the film. He falls overboard during an explosion and is presumed dead by all.

Except us, because we can see the video timer and can, by the application of simple plot mathematics, extrapolate the content of the remaining twenty-five minutes. Sure enough, after five minutes wasted on the shaking of minor characters’ heads, we discover that Geronimo did not drown after all. He washed ashore on a nearby island, and was nursed back to health by friendly natives. He returns to Malta for one more half-hearted trip through the scolding/shooting/incarceration loop. His fragile policewoman sidekick frees him at gunpoint so they can storm the villains’ stronghold together. Several shootings, captures, escapes, and gratuitous attempted rape scenes later, we discover it was the traitorous Chief Wilson who set the whole thing up in the first place. The fragile policewoman helps Geronimo shoot all the remaining characters, and our hero says something profoundly irrelevant right before the end credits roll.

Introduction:

Goosio: friend to all children.Tom Servo recalls YES!’s declaration that “The owner of a lonely heart / Is much better than / The owner of a broken heart.” He takes this postulation further by wondering how “The owner of a lonely heart” stacks up against such persons as “The owner of a broken gas fireplace,” “The owner of a pencil,” and “The owner of a parcel of land in Montana.”

Host Segment One:

Servo’s musings have somehow realigned the cosmos so that every time someone on the Satellite says “Owner of a broken heart,” the universe immediately follows up with a YES! orchestra hit. Pearl interrupts from Castle Forrester to tell them about the positive effects of humor in the workplace. She tries to elaborate, but Mike and the ‘Bots won’t stop telling her how funny they are.

Host Segment Two:

Tom and Crow draw Pearl’s attention to a bit of bad editing, where the same shot of the dying family man deputy is shown twice in quick succession. Mike trips in the background repeatedly, frustrating Pearl’s numerous attempts to respond. Pearl finally gives in and promises to never, ever send them another bad Joe Don Baker movie in which a small, dark-haired deputy sheriff slides down a wall twice. The ‘Bots celebrate the concession while Mike trips in the background one more time.

Host Segment Three:

The ‘Bots meet Goosio, the lovable papier-mâché waterfowl seen momentarily in a Maltese parade scene. Assuming him to be a creation of Mike’s, the ‘Bots rip the brightly colored goose-like creature to shreds.

Host Segment Four:

Crow gives a short but informative oral report on Malta, and then proceeds to cast aspersions on the masculinity of its inhabitants. (He calls them “womany flaccid ninnies...famous for breath so bad it could melt steel,” among other things.) Mike tries to solve this anti-Maltese behavior by swapping out one of Crow’s processing chips. It doesn’t work.

Host Segment Five:

In a reprise of the final host segment from the last Joe Don Baker movie, Mike presents the ‘Bots with an inspirational plaque and goes looking for an escape pod. The ‘Bots gently talk him out of his escape delusion. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl is back on the subject of humor in the workplace. She’s dressed in goofy mismatched clothes to lighten the office mood, while Bobo has dressed in a stupid fringed Wild West outfit, a la Joe Don Baker. Brain Guy shows up with a large mustache and studded leather biker outfit, but he hasn’t heard about goofy dress-up day. He’s just on his way out for a date.

Stinger:

“You think you can take me? Go ahead on. It’s your move.”

Thoughts:

Ben Gazzara vs. Julia Louise-Dreyfus.Comparisons with the previous Joe Don Baker film are unavoidable, so I might as well give in and make them.

Ahem.

Final Justice, though inarguably, excruciatingly bad, is a much better film than Mitchell. For our purposes, this is not a good thing. Mitchell (the movie) was a big, sloppy mess that wallowed in its own incongruities, painful and laughably goofy in equal measure. Final Justice knows its genre—Revenge Thriller with Western elements—and sticks to that template like gospel. Even when it botches an element (e.g. the badly edited family man’s death, the interminable priest-chasing sequence, and the strange, blurry strippers) it always gets back on track by moving to the next item on the checklist. Thus it is painful, but not in any way laughable or goofy.

Likewise, the boozy, disgusting Mitchell (the character) was pathetic enough for his slovenly antics to warrant the occasional condescending chuckle. In Final Justice, we’re actually supposed to root for Geronimo despite his clearly stated guiding philosophy. To wit: uphold the law by breaking the law. In practice, this handy little non sequitur amounts to wandering outside his jurisdiction to shoot people more or less at random. I vastly prefer the Maltese Superintendent of Police, who recognizes Geronimo for what he is—a brutal, murderous vigilante—and acts accordingly. In his place, I would have locked the interloping Texan in a cramped Maltese prison and thrown away the key.

My favorite host segment also makes comparisons to Mitchell; Mike assumes that, since Joel escaped the Satellite after a Joe Don Baker movie, he will too. (I also like the little dig at that episode’s “touching” farewell. Where Joel’s farewell plaque quoted the insipid Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Mike’s quotes the even more insipid Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.) You can’t help but feel sorry for him when the ‘Bots have to point out that what he is sitting in is not an escape pod, but is, in fact, a water heater. Mike’s repeated pratfalls in host segment two are executed well, and are thus much funnier than they deserve to be. The remaining segments are competent enough.

Wall-to-wall shootings are difficult to make fun of, but Mike and the ‘Bots do their best in the film segments. When Palermo dons a hooded priest outfit, Mike calls him a “Felonius monk.” When Geronimo’s boat sinks, Crow says, “His heart will go ahead on.” Much of the mockery focuses on insulting Joe Don Baker, such as Tom’s “Halt or I’ll fart,” and Crow’s “I’m scared of heights—where there’s no food!” The problem with this is, while Mitchell was an angry, slovenly drunk, Geronimo is merely angry and slightly overweight. It’s a competent episode, but you really need to see their prior foray into Joe Don Baker territory to understand why they hate him so much.

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2/2/07

1007 Track of the Moon Beast

(1976, Horror, color)

Moon rock? Oh, wow!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

A stray meteor turns a shirtless mineralogist into a murderous were-lizard.

Summary:

No, 'Native American longbow demonstration' is not a metaphor for sex.Half-dressed mineralogist Paul rides his dirt bike into the New Mexican wastelands to dig for ancient knick-knacks. Piercing screams and a shiny mask interrupt his work; he looks up to see his Native American anthropologist friend Johnny Longbow striding out of the desert. Johnny explains the practical joke and then introduces a pair of his students, who cling to each other while they explain it more. A leggy, half-dressed photographer named Kathy appears to elucidate it even further. Somehow this leads to an expository meteorological television broadcast, an Indian legend about opposable thumbs, and a recipe for stew.

Paul invites Kathy to come with him to the top of a local mountain to “get some night shots.” They observe the various New Mexican cities, make out, and watch a meteor shower. (Moon rocks? Oh, wow!) One of the tinier meteors hits Paul in the head. Kathy fusses over the cut on his temple; he uses her plea for antiseptic to invite her back to his place. She overlooks his pet lizard and the fact that he lives with his mother (who remains conveniently in Europe for the entire film) to spend the night.

Next day, Paul accompanies Kathy to a museum photo shoot of the recovered meteorites. Getting too close makes him feel faint. Later, he accompanies Kathy and Johnny to a folk-rock concert, where he feels faint again. The band warbles, “California laaaaaaaaadyyyyyyy,” over his journey home and the thrilling “putting on his pajamas” scene. Later, Paul turns into a lizard man murders a drunken bowler.

Next day after that, the chunky local sheriff summons Johnny to look at some really freaky hand and footprints he found by the bowler’s mangled corpse. Johnny takes the evidence to a paleontologist, who opines that it was a miniature T-Rex. For some reason, the sheriff does not think this theory plausible enough to share with his superiors, nor with the public at large.

Johnny leaves to give a longbow demonstration to Kathy and Paul. Paul feels faint (again), and they take him home (again). Kathy sleeps over (again), this time to fuss over him like an underdressed mother hen. While she’s asleep, he turns into a lizard man and slaughters a tent full of elderly campers.

One of the campers survives long enough to describe the lizard monster to the chunky sheriff, who summons Johnny (again). This time, Johnny has prepared a slideshow of pictures copied—apparently by a third grader with a severely limited supply of crayons—from deerskin drawings of ancient Indian legend, which goes like this: Once, there was a man who was hit in the head by a meteor. He turned into a lizard and killed people. Then he caught on fire and died. The end. A trip to the moon rocks in the museum somehow confirms it—Paul is their killer.

Paul is already at the hospital with Kathy, looking at X-rays of meteorite fragments in his head. The news of his were-lizardhood causes understandable consternation, but he agrees to be locked in the hospital brig for the night. The moon rises, he transforms, and presumably remains incarcerated until he changes back the next morning. Moon monster experts are flown in that very day, but by the time they arrive, the meteor fragments have spread throughout his brain, preventing surgical removal.

The sweaty, shirtless, and overwrought Paul decides to escape and do away with himself. Kathy follows him out to the nearby mountain where she predictably falls down and gets stuck. Her cries for help prevent Paul from leaping to his death. The moon rises and turns him into the giant lizard man before he can help her. Fortunately, the cops fire their guns to drive him off. The subsequent battle leaves two cops dead and Kathy in hysterics. Johnny shoots him with moon rock-tipped arrow, and Paul explodes.

Introduction:

Drugs, alcohol, womanizing, and so forth.The ‘Bots have purchased an onion blossomer, which they use to blossom a shoe, a bowling ball, a caulking gun, a plunger, and Mike’s wallet.

Host Segment One:

Crow has blossomed, batter-dipped and deep-fried Tom’s head. Tom vehemently objects. Quoth Mike, “Lighten up, you didn’t even miss it.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has taken the top off Bobo’s skull and soldered electrodes to his brain. Now anyone with a universal remote can use his involuntary muscular reflexes to make him do their bidding. Pearl makes him perform a stupid soft shoe while cattle-prodding himself and singing songs from West Side Story. Mike finds a remote and makes Bobo smooch Pearl, then cattle-prod both her and Brain Guy. He’s almost succeeded in making Bobo call the Satellite of Love out of orbit when he accidentally hits the “sleep” button. Bobo nods off; Pearl and Brain Guy recover. They send a movie in retaliation.

Host Segment Two:

Crow plays a stupid practical joke with offscreen howls and an Indian mask, which Mike ignores. Crow then explains the practical joke at length. Mike steadfastly eats his pea pods. Crow explains even more, apologizing endlessly until he finally breaks down. “I hate myself!” he cries.

Host Segment Three:

Mike uses his deepest voice to narrate a "Legends of Rock" episode about The Band That Played California Lady. He starts with their first hit, “California Lady,” and then moves on to the off-stage troubles of their members—the Fish-Lipped Guy, the Eskimo, and the Friendly Back-Up Singer—which include drugs, alcohol, womanizing, rehab, drugs, an alcoholic coma, a drug-addled second album, drugs, alcohol, and womanizing.

Host Segment Four:

Determined to see Mike’s pajamas for themselves, Crow and Tom tape a video camera to the top of a remote control truck and spy on him before bed. All they can discover, however, is that Mike wears a prudish, full-length robe, and has a nighttime ritual that involves role-playing with his stuffed animals. He discovers the remote control intruder and confronts the ‘Bots. “Take off your robe!” Tom cries.

Host Segment Five:

Tom accidentally shoots a baby satellite while playing with his toy bow and arrow. Mike puts it in a cardboard box in a bed of rags…until its giant satellite mommy comes looking for it. Mike gives it back very quickly. Down in Castle Forrester, Brain Guy gives Bobo tips on how to care for his newly exposed brain. Through the creative use of electrodes, Pearl forces them to exchange insults instead.

Stinger:

Quoth Kathy, “Moon rock! Oh, wow!”

Thoughts:

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.Of note, this is the third film in the run of the show where the monster’s name is Paul. (The prior two are The Projected Man and Werewolf.) I’m so proud.

You know what this movie needs? Organ stings. Consider this only slightly paraphrased exchange:

Johnny Longbow (in a deep, portentous tone): “A lizard that walks like a man.”

Sheriff (in shock and disbelief): “A lizard that walks like a man?”

Johnny Longbow (in an even deeper and more portentous tone): “A lizard...” (Significant pause) “...that walks like a man.”

It’s not just the ridiculously serious dialogue; the actors actually pause between every deliciously overwrought line reading, as if they expected it to be punched up like a sixties soap opera. It’s so blatant that my mind began to add imaginary organ noises to the soundtrack, as in Paul’s sly proposition of Kathy:

Paul (shyly): “I have some antiseptic at my place.” [A tremulous minor chord.]

Kathy (uncertain): “Your place?” [A higher and even more tremulous chord, held over the first one.]

Paul (reassuring): “My place.” [A whole sequence of minor chords, rising in pitch as they modulate to a major key.]

My involuntary organist reflexes never stopped, as even the most trivial bits of conversation came out slathered in pause-drenched meaning. Such as Johnny’s recipe for Indian stew:

Perky Student (perkily): “What’s in it?” [Quick, playful arpeggio.]

Johnny Longbow (with an air of self-important consternation): “Chicken,” [Brief unresolved chord] “corn,” [Bland major chord] “green peppers,” [Three random notes in quick succession] “chili,” [a small, complicated fugue to underscore his deep, exasperated sigh] “onions...” [Low, throbbing bass notes.]

But these little tête-à-têtes are nothing compared to the high melodrama of the final sequences. Consider this thrilling (and my personal favorite) bit of conversation from the film’s climax:

Johnny Longbow (in an anguished but authoritative wail): “Paul is not Paul anymore!” [Two organists use all their hands and feet to hold down eight simultaneous chords.]

Kathy (like a cougar falling into a threshing machine): “Nooooooooooooooooooo!” [Nine more organists arrive to help the previous two lean on every key at once.]

Too bad I never learned to play the organ.

The baby satellite sketch in host segment five is bland and underdeveloped, but at least it’s brief. Thankfully, all the other host segments work wonderfully. Mike telling Tom to lighten up about his blossomed and deep fried head; Bobo’s exposed brain; Crow’s devolution from ineffective jocularity to self-loathing—every one of them made me laugh quite hard. Mike does an excellent Legends of Rock voice, and his repetitive description of the band’s troubles sounds quite realistic. The quest for Mike’s pajamas is inexplicable but well-executed, and takes several detours into his bizarre bedtime routines. For host segments alone, this is one of the best and most consistently funny episodes they’ve done.

In the film segments, the frequent pauses and overwrought tone lend themselves well to the Satellite crew’s brand of mockery. A still-screen picture of the moon leads to Crow’s comment, “Nice place; no atmosphere.” After a lengthy crayon presentation of an Indian legend, Johnny says, “I know what you’re thinking,” to which Tom replies, “I’m boring, and my slideshow eats.” When a very serious and taciturn doctor reluctantly shares his findings with Paul, Mike says, “We’ll let you in on your illness—this time.” Throughout, frequent references are made to Paul and Kathy’s deep and abiding love affair, as in “I’m trapped in a loveless one-day relationship,” (Tom) “It’s our 24-hour anniversary,” (Crow) and “I’ve known him for eight hours; I think I deserve to see him,” (Tom again). Whenever Johnny leaves a conversation dangling (which happens fairly often) Crow fills the silence by reciting the ingredients for Indian stew. There’s a quotable quip at least every five minutes, so the commentary never slows down. Combined these with the excellent host segments, and you have an episode well worth repeated viewings.

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1006 Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues…

(1985, Adventure-esque, color)

I saw the little creature!

Rating: Zero Stars

In a nutshell:

A self-righteous naturalist relates numerous irrelevant flashbacks about Bigfoot.

Summary:

Professor Douchebag in action.We spend fully a third of Boggy Creek II—the beginning, the end, and several longish sections in the middle—staring at narrated shots of the river. Think of the most boring nature show you’ve ever seen, then remove ninety percent of the wildlife footage. Now fill the resulting emptiness with irrelevant pontification. A headless deer rounds out this portion of the film.

Interspersed among all the other irrelevant elements, another third of the film consists of a series of four irrelevant, soft-focus flashbacks. (If the focus was any softer, it would be opaque.) Our execrable hero, Dr. Lockhart, narrates about that one time when a Bigfoot-like creature let a farmer’s cattle out of a barn. Later, he narrates about that other time when the creature pushed a backwoods cracker into his own outhouse; his wife had to pull him out and hose away the fecal matter. Then there was this other time when the creature crept up on a mountain man and attacked him while he was changing a tire. The man didn’t survive, so no one ever found out about it. Finally, the local sheriff went fishing on his day off, but Bigfoot and baby Bigfoot stole his catch. Doh!

What little time remains relates an irrelevant plot, of sorts. University professor and Boggy Creek Creature specialist Dr. Lockhart gets a call from the aforementioned deputy sheriff regarding the stolen catch. He gathers his students: pouty, braless Tanya and serially shirtless Tim, as well as Tanya’s prissy whiner friend Leslie. They drive out into the boonies, exchange barbs with the locals, and settle into a campsite where they watch little green dots blip on a screen for a long, long time. The girls whine and get muddy, Lockhart darts a man in an unconvincing ape suit, and then they take a boat down the river. Soon, they happen upon the abode of an unwashed mountain man named Crenshaw, who wears overalls without a shirt and a broccoli rubber band around his head. Turns out he’s kidnapped baby Bigfoot for some reason, and must set fires outside his house every night to keep its mother away. Lockhart takes him prisoner in his own home and gives the baby back to his Bigfoot mama.

Introduction:

Making things out of macaroni is its own reward.Crow and Mike are cub scouts. They’ve carved their pinewood derbies and copied a Van Gogh masterpiece with macaroni, and now it’s time to sing a song about trees. Tom shows up dressed as a brownie, because skirts suit him better than pants.

Host Segment One:

Tom has changed into a Flemish glassblower outfit and flies into a rage when Crow asks what he’s supposed to be. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl’s new plan to rule the world involves hoarding potatoes and then shutting off the electricity to the all the earth’s major cities. She will then fashion crude potato batteries and use their power to rule the world! Brain Guy shuts down the power, but Bobo has forgotten to gather potatoes. Mike offers his, but it’s gone soft and moldy.

Host Segment Two:

Mike breaks up a fight between Tom and Crow. When asked, they can’t remember the reason for their fight, nor can Mike remember why he came to the desk. Crow helps by flashing back to when he and Tom were fighting, and then Mike came to break it up. This is not helpful at all, so Tom flashes back to the same sequence of events, only blurrier and more elaborately described. “Two Olympian Gods engaged in gymnastic sport…” Mike still can’t remember, so he flashes back to a pair of two vaguely robot-shaped objects who were forced apart by a big bluish blob…and remembers he came to get his contact lenses, which he had left by the desk.

Host Segment Three:

Pearl tells a harrowing tale of a hairy, foul-smelling beast that lives in Castle Forrester, whom Mike and the ‘Bots immediately identify as Bobo. Brain Guy plays up the mystery even more with a folksy, three-minute introduction to a fifteen-second folk song. “Clearly there’s some kind of creature,” says Pearl. “We haven’t worked out all the details yet.”

Host Segment Four:

Tom starts whittling, then starts a whittling factory, then starts a chain of whittling factories under a ruthless, multinational corporation called WHITL-Tech. His product: a short stick, slightly narrower at one end. He turns a fire hose on the workers when they try to unionize.

Host Segment Five:

Crow and Tom douse the bridge in gasoline during a game of Big Smelly Mountain Man and Captive Baby Boggy Creek Creature. They get bored of the game and wander off, leaving Mike to deal with the rising flames. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl and Brain Guy try to sell Legend of Castle Forrester merchandise to a little kid. Bobo interrupts the sales pitch; he’s bored of staying in his room. With the legend revealed as a fraud, the kid kicks Pearl and runs away. Bobo muses on this while Pearl aims her clown hammer at his shins.

Stinger:

“I saw the little creature!” “No!”

Thoughts:

How on earth did he get that line out with a straight face?The line referenced in the stinger is the third most unintentionally filthy line delivered in an MST3K film. (See Episodes 1013 and 905 for the first and second, respectively.)

Movie, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

5) Charles “Chuck” Pierce, Jr., a.k.a. Tim Thornton.

If you ignore the issue of nepotism, Chuck Junior isn’t really all that bad. He’s soft-spoken and blank-faced. Sometimes he answers a phone, hauls a deer carcass, or feeds a straight line to his father, but most of the time he just stays out of the way. In fact, wouldn’t be offensive at all if he would just wear a shirt. Come on, kid—you’re thin as a rail and paler than a cave-grown mushroom. No one is going to mistake you for a body builder, or believe that you take your shirt off outdoors on a regular basis. I admit I’m at every bit as pale and thin as you are (though, technically, I suppose my copious chest hair makes me slightly manlier) but at least I have the decency to cover myself in public.

4) Flashback #3: Death of a Mountain Man.

You say you know a detailed anecdote about a man you don’t know, who was killed in the dead of night by a mythical creature that no one saw? Huh.

3) Cindy Butler, a.k.a. Leslie Ann Walker.

She hates beans, mud, water, mythical creatures, rural Arkansas, camping, and Doc Lockhart (though I guess I can sympathize with that one), and she whines unceasingly about all of the above while dousing herself in makeup and hair care products. Who invited her? Why did she want to come? Why did they let her come?

2) Flashback #2: Outhouse Humor.

Yuck. All that talk about catalogs, those boxer shorts, that gray-brown sludge clinging to his leg*... It’s just... Yuck. Is this what passes for comedy in rural Arkansas?

1) Charles B. Pierce, a.k.a. Professor Brian C. “Doc” Lockhart.

The auteur of Boggy Creek II—our writer, producer, director, and star—is a man who combines the toxic smarm of John Allen Nelson’s Deathstalker with the long-winded pompousness of John Agar’s Dr. Roger Bentley; if there was a fourth prize in the “Most Unappealing Protagonists Featured on MST3K” contest, he would be a shoo-in. What keeps Mr. Pierce off that list is his screen charisma, or lack thereof. Both the actors mentioned above play their roles to the hilt; their performances seize you by the metaphorical lapels, forcing you to hate them. Mr. Pierce’s performance, if it is a performance at all, seems directed wholly towards himself, as if filmmaking was simply a means to entertain himself; like a substitute for bowling on Saturday night; or an excuse to go camping with young women in their underwear; or a way to scam home-cooked meals from backwoods yokels eager to share their local folklore. This self-absorbed tone pervades the rest of the film as well. Its purpose, if it has one, seems like it must have been accomplished somewhere in the process of its creation. It certainly doesn’t look like it was ever meant to be viewed.

The best host segment deals with Mike and the ‘Bots’ multiple flashbacks to the same events, highlighted by Tom’s eloquent description of his version. Crow’s promise of a car chase in the next version is a nice touch as well. Brain Guy’s folksy introduction to the Legend of Castle Forrester song makes me laugh, but the rest of the host segments are merely decent, and perhaps a little bland.

The film segments are difficult viewing; they’re just a big mass of Boggy Creek stuff, with no rhyme or reason to them. If you strip away all the irrelevant voiceover, boring flashbacks, and unexplained plot twists, you’re essentially left with nothing, and "nothing" is awfully difficult to make fun of. When the campers pass a statue in the center of a small Arkansas town, Tom calls it, “The Tomb of the Unknown Cracker.” When Lockhart sends the bare-chested Tim to the door of yet another unidentified house, Crow says, “Can I borrow a cup of shirt?” After an extended scene in the swamp, Mike declares, “This is one of the dampest movies we’ve ever done.” Ultimately, there’s very little movie to mock, leaving the Satellite crew and their comments high and dry. It’s not an episode I can recommend.

*We got off easy. According to Bill Corbett’s entry in the online MST3K episode guide, the uncut version of the outhouse flashback contains many more “humorous” elements. That probably means groans, grunts, flatulent whines...perhaps even a butt cheek or two.

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