(1960s/1970s-ish, Children-Holiday/Short, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy
Is unceasing tedium a variety of Christmas spirit?
In a nutshell:
Two kids visit Santa and have boring adventures at the North Pole.
Ann has written a letter to Santa, asking if she and her brother Dick can visit the North Pole this year. Santa decides to grant their wish and sends an elf to pick them up in his magic helicopter. One short flight later (consisting of a sound effect traveling across a drawing), the children arrive in Santa’s suburban home-style throne room, and the tour begins. Shopping mall animatronics are up first, heavily implied to be Santa’s robotic work force. Then we’re off to stare at model trains until it’s time to go home. Santa ends the visit with a little speech about the true meaning of Christmas, which the sound editor inexplicably cuts off mid-word.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this short was made by someone with less resources and film experience than you. (Yes, you. All of you. Even if you’re an eleven-year-old Pakistani child with a horrible speech impediment.) The reception room scenes were filmed in someone’s living room, the traveling scenes at the local Christmas parade, the factory scenes at a mall, the train scenes in someone’s basement, and the helicopter scene in a drawing by someone’s five-year-old. The sound’s bad, but no matter; the diction is horrible anyway. Your average elementary school play has better acting, and every single parent-made video recording of it has higher production values. The short’s only redeeming feature is its twelve minute running time.
Mike, Bill, and Kevin do their usual funny thing to relieve the monotony. After a minute or two of garbled dialogue, Bill says, “I swear it’s like some Carpathian dialect.” As the narrator pops in an out of stilted verse, Kevin says, “The rhyme scheme just took a lunch break.” As the short finally stumbles to a close, Mike continues Santa’s unfinished speech with, “Have a very creepy Christmas!” and then laughs maniacally. They manage to get us through it, but the short isn’t really entertaining enough to holds up its end.
(1960s/1970s-ish, Children-Holiday/Short, color)
I have seen Transformers, and it is funny. With the Rifftrax commentary, it's even funnier; this time, intentionally so. (Review has been posted here.)
Yes, I know I skipped a Rifftrax, but they still haven't released the promised downloadable version for Missile to the Moon. I may lose my patience and give them more money so they'll send me a DVD. I downloaded the Rifftrax for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone yesterday, though, so it looks like that'll be the next review posted.
Welcome, won't you?
My reviews for the last two MST3K.com cartoons have been posted. It's not a pretty picture.
At this point, things are so bad that I'm considering abandoning my coverage of this cartoon series entirely. It's a cool site if you want their "legacy merchandise" (i.e. stuff relating to the original show) but the quality of their content is rather grim.
What do you, the viewers at home, think?
Welcome, won't you?
The Grand Canyon was a cold but beautiful place to spend Thanksgiving, and best of all, none of my kids fell in. I'm back now, so let's take a look at what happened in my absence.
1) MST3K.com released two new cartoons, one last Monday and one today, and neither is particularly funny. The one about the solitaire game was a step in the right direction, though. Look for reviews tomorrow. Also, another "legacy" clip called Turkey Bits has been released--an amalgamation of several Turkey Day special bumpers. It's about time they added previously unreleased material to the site.
2) Rifftrax released their commentary for Transformers, which is one of the funniest they've ever done. Look for a review the day after tomorrow. They also announced the next film to get Rifftrax treatment: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Looks like they're going to release it tomorrow, November 27, 2007.
3) Nothing new for Cinematic Titanic, other than their sincerest holiday wishes and a recipe for cranberry sauce.
Looks like I've got some writing to do.
RVOD001 Three Stooges in Color
RVOD002 Three Stooges Greatest Routines
RVOD003 Swing Parade
RVOD004 Reefer Madness
RVOD005 Little Shop of Horrors
RVOD006 Night of the Living Dead
RVOD007 Carnival of Souls
RVOD008 House on Haunted Hill
RVOD009 Plan 9 from Outer Space
RVOD010 Missile to the Moon
Before he was "Rifftrax Mike" and after he was "MST3K Mike" he was "Freelance Mike," a hired gun providing rogue commentaries to any DVD company willing to pay the price... Though, as far as I know, the only DVD company willing was purveyor of public domain movies (and Rifftrax parent company) Legend Films. Now Rifftrax has released a Video On Demand service combining Mike's commentaries with such films as are public domain. Simply rent or buy, download the Divx file, and enjoy! What better place to dust off those old pre-rifftrax commentaries? Go on, try three minutes worth of Drivers' Ed carnage for free.
Since the online Rifftrax catalog isn't providing me with an episode numbering system, I've invented my own. Pages for the films I've already reviewed as regular Rifftrax simply have links pointing back to the original reviews.
(1959, Horror, colorized)
Give her ten minutes, and she’ll have this room completely looked at.
In a nutshell:
An eccentric millionaire throws a murderous party in a haunted house.
A pair of floating disembodied heads opens the film. The first belongs to strange, nobbly little man named Pritchard, who declares that he has inherited a mansion where the spirits often drive the inhabitants to murder. The second belongs to eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), who says that his wife has asked for a haunted house party, and rented Pritchard’s ghost-infested manor for the purpose.
The guest list is as follows: a test pilot named Lance; a secretary named Nora; a journalist named Ruth; a psychiatrist named Dr. Trent; and finally Pritchard himself, who has not set foot in the house since the murder/suicide of the rest of his family many years ago. None of the above knows Mr. Loren personally, and none of them knows the other until they meet at the beginning of the party. They’re there because they’re all desperate for money, and Loren has promised them $10k a piece if they last the night.
Loren and his lovely young trophy wife Annabelle are in attendance too; some pre-celebration exposition alerts us to how much they loathe each other, each one wishing the other was dead. The party kicks off with a rambling tour given by the only marginally sane Pritchard, showing off the various bloodstains and acid pits. Secret passage shenanigans get Lance clubbed in the head while a spooky caretaker frightens Nora out of her wits. Nora wants to leave, money or no, but when Loren tries to give everyone their last chance to leave for the night, he discovers the caretakers have gone home and locked them in early.
Loren hands everyone a loaded gun—or “party favor” as he calls them—and tells them all to have fun. Everyone goes to hide in their rooms. Fake severed heads, secret passages, and aborted stranglings fly every which way, driving Nora right to the brink of a nervous breakdown. These events culminate in her discovery of Annabelle’s corpse hanging in the stairwell. Everyone agrees that she could never have gotten that high without assistance, and accuse Loren of murder. Loren denies this; Dr. Trent cuts down the body and lays Annabelle to rest in her room.
Later that night, Annabelle appears outside Nora’s window; the end of her hanging rope slips through the bars like a snake. Nora shrieks and runs from the room. She tries to take refuge in the parlor, but the organ starts to play itself. Further attempts to flee finally trap her in the cellar with the acid pit.
Dr. Trent sneaks into Annabelle’s room to wake her up. Turns out she’s not dead after all, but was wearing a flying harness the whole time. They kiss, and Dr. Trent hides her while he goes to wake Loren. At Dr. Trent’s urging, Loren investigates the cellar. The hysterical Nora shoots him and flees the room. Trent sneaks in afterwards and starts to drag the body towards the acid pit.
Annabelle arrives a few minutes later to find the cellar empty. While she looks on, Loren’s skeletonized remains rise from the pit and chase her around the room until she falls into the acid as well. An alive and fully fleshed Loren emerges from behind a door to retrieve his skeleton marionette and throw it into the acid after her. The others arrive; he explains that Nora’s gun is loaded with blanks, and that he killed his wife and her lover in self defense. Pritchard’s paranoid rambling takes us into the closing credits.
Assuming, hypothetically, that I wanted to kill my wife (don’t worry, honey), I might go about it this way: I know she doesn’t like frogs, so I’ll first get a giant inflatable frog to loom out of the dark at her suddenly at night. But I’d have to get her down the stairs in the middle of the night, which she does when she hears the kids cry. So I’d have to feed one of the kids something spicy so that they’d cry in the middle of the night. Then she’d see the giant inflatable frog and... Well, she hasn’t got a weak heart or anything, so I’d have to scatter toys all over the floor so that she’d trip while stumbling away in stark terror. Some of the toys will have sharp edges (not difficult to arrange), coated with some sort of non-deadly bacteria (so as not to harm the kids, whose toys they are), but virulent enough to maker her look sick and need antibiotics. Then the doctor will give her penicillin, which she is allergic to, except I’d have to time it so that her regular doctor would be on vacation, and steal her chart from the doctor’s office so that the one on call wouldn’t know she’s allergic to it, and hope that the blow to the head sustained while falling on sharp toys was severe enough that she wouldn’t remember it and tell them herself. Only, now that I think of it, her allergy isn’t deadly...
As you can see, this plan hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell, which means it’s more likely to succeed than Loren’s plot to kill Annabelle. It would have been more cost effective for him to send her on lots of long car trips, as she’d be more likely to die in an automobile accident than have a marionette scare her into a vat of acid. The movie’s also crammed chock full of loose ends. The chandelier, the dripping stains, the severed heads, the way Annabelle was able to dangle herself outside Nora’s window when the house supposedly has no accessible exits. Also, also: is the house really haunted, or isn’t it? I’m guessing it isn’t; we see lots of semi-spooky goings-on, but nothing overtly supernatural. Rather disappointing, really.
Like the previous Video On Demand titles, this particular Rifftrax/film combo originated as a commentary track on a Legend Films release. Fortunately, Mike seems to dig into the film a little more, forgoing much of the informative patter he added to Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls. When Loren explains that all guests must stay the whole night to get their money, he says, “This is kind of like the time I had to stay all night at my filthy cousin's house without gagging.” As Lance continues to work his oily charm on Nora while looking for secret passageways, he says, “I'd use a stud finder, but I'd be afraid it would only detect me.” When people rush to see Annabelle’s supposed corpse in the stairwell, Mike explains, “She was innocently hanging herself when something went horribly wrong.” It’s a worse film than many of the other Legend releases, which somehow makes the commentary better.
(1962, Horror, colorized)
Unsanitary, but delicious.
In a nutshell:
Waterlogged spooks haunt a young church organist.
The movie kicks off in Kansas with a cautious, low-speed drag race gone horribly wrong. A car full of boys accidentally nudges a car full of girls over the side of a one-lane bridge; volunteers drag the river for hours, but find nothing. Just as they’re about to give up, one of the passengers—a sodden young woman named Mary—hauls herself onto the shore.
Despite the trauma of the accident and the apparent deaths of her carmates, she remains unmoved by recent events, leaving town to accept a previously accepted job as a church organist in Utah. En route, she sees an abandoned amusement park and several visions of a waterlogged zombie (played by the director, Herk Harvey).
Mary arrives and tries to go about her life as usual, checking in with her new boss and her landlady and fending off the advances of her oily fellow boarder. She remains troubled by visions of the undead, however, and sometimes no one can see or hear her. Throughout, her clergyman boss, doctor friend, and oily fellow boarder all remark about how detached she seems, as if she has no interest sharing her life with her fellow men.
She eventually loses her grip on the real world; one day at church, she falls into a trance and plays creepy organ music while she hallucinates a tribe of watery undead dancing at the abandoned amusement park. Her boss calls the music “profane” and makes her stop. He fires her from her job and offers religious comfort in the same breath. The doctor friend and the oily fellow boarder are no help either. She tries to flee the state, but car troubles and further undead shenanigans prevent her.
That night she goes to the amusement park to confront her fears. She watches the water zombies dance; one of them with her undead self. She screams and flees, but the zombies pursue and capture her. Later, the police find her car, as well as the footprints of the chase through the sand, but the footprints vanish at a point in the middle of the beach. Even laterer, the volunteers back in Kansas finally find the car at the bottom of the river. Inside they find the remarkably well-preserved corpses of Mary and her companions.
The deserted amusement park depicted is called Saltair, found on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. As a former resident of Utah, I’ve driven past Saltair many, many times, and even though it’s burned down and been rebuilt since they filmed Carnival of Souls, it still looks every bit as creepy from a distance. Though Mike harps on it a lot as a “Mormon amusement park,” I feel I must point out that there isn’t anything specifically Mormon about it beyond its location in a predominantly Mormon state. (Not since the original park burned down in 1925, anyway). By that logic, you’d have to refer to the Catholic Church where Mary works as a Mormon Catholic Church, which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Still, it’s funnier Mike’s way, which I understand is pretty much the point.
The pay-off shot at the end made me think, “Hey, just like The Sixth Sense,” and I had to consciously remind myself that Carnival of Souls came first. It’s not that bad a film, actually. It’s creepy and effective, if rather slow, though I think the movie’s unhurried pace works in its favor. If those goofy-looking water zombies had popped up every few minutes, I’d have been rolling my eyes at them all the way through. In practice, they appear just often enough to keep it campy without ruining the mood.
The problem with pre-Rifftrax commentaries of good (well, good-ish) films is that Mike apparently feels the need to be informative as well as funny. Throughout, he goes on about the history of the filmmaker, the actors depicted, Saltair, and so on, taking up valuable time that could have been filled with relentless mockery. He gets off some good ones though, with “They like to keep their drag races under the posted speed limit,” (referring to the events leading to the accident); “All the dialog was recorded later, inside a refrigerator box,” (referring to the bad looping); and “It’s amazing how much hard work and ingenuity goes into making such a cheap, tinny sound,” (referring to the unceasing organ score). The film itself is fun to watch, and Mike definitely adds to the experience, but the commentary’s origin as a Legend Films DVD track means that comedy was probably not the sole object of its creation.
(1960, Horror/Comedy, color)
Looks like the "I didn't mean to kill them, chop them up, and feed them to my plant" defense has failed.
In a nutshell:
A flower shop worker raises a man-eating plant.
Bumbling doofus Seymour Krelboin (Corman regular Jonathan Haze) works in a flower shop on skid row, but he’s really, really bad at it. So bad, that his growly boss Mushnik tries to fire him at the beginning of the movie, over the objections his sweet-tempered and brain-damaged fellow flower worker Audrey. A random, flower-eating customer stops by to graze and offer advice; an unusual or exotic plant would really bring in the customers, he opines. Desperate to keep his job, Seymour declares that he has just such a plant at home. Mushnik lets him go home and get it.
At home we meet Seymour’s domineering hypochondriac alcoholic mother, and Seymour’s football-jawed plant. He leaves the former at home while he takes the latter to the shop. Mushnik agrees that the plant is unusual, but remains doubtful about its anemic appearance. He gives Seymour one week to get it into shape.
Seymour stays at the shop that night to avoid his mother...er, nurse the plant back to health. No matter what he tries, the plant won’t eat or perk up until he accidentally pricks his finger over the jaws. The plant slurps down blood as Seymour pricks all his fingers to keep it happy. This makes it lush and green for a while, until it suddenly wilts again the next day. Mushnik flies into a growly rage. Seymour promises to make it better.
Seymour sits up the next night as well, but he’s run out of fingers to prick. “Feed me!” the plant cries. Seymour grows despondent at the constant demands of his talking, bloodthirsty plant, and stumbles out into the night. He pauses at the rail yard to throw rocks at a bottle. A bum pokes his head up just in time to get hit with the rock and fall across the tracks. Of course a train is coming. Rather than do something sensible, like, say, call the police or just walk away, Seymour gathers the dismembered pieces of tramp into a handy sack and takes them back to the shop. The plant begins to demand food again. It only takes a couple of minutes for Seymour to realize that he has a handy sack of food with him...
Meanwhile, Mushnik and Audrey are out to dinner when Mushnik realizes he’s forgotten his wallet. He leaves Audrey at the, er, “diner” (actually someone’s house with checkered cloths thrown over a couple of tables) and returns to the shop just in time to see Seymour feeding bits of hobo to the plant. He determines to get drunk and call the police in that order, but the next morning, the plant has grown to enormous size, attracting huge crowds of admirers and flower-buyers. He obliquely asks Seymour if it’s going to need to eat anymore. Seymour doesn’t think so. Mushnik decides to leave it be.
But the plant does want to eat more. The next day, Seymour accidentally kills a sadistic dentist with his own drill during a violent tooth extraction. As he’s cleaning up the body, a masochistic patient (a young Jack Nicholson) shows up to demand a painful check-up. Seymour obliges him, and then drags the body back to the store that night to feed the plant. The next night, Mushnik himself stays up with the plant while Seymour and Audrey go on a date at hypochondriac mom’s house. A robber bursts into the shop to steal the day’s receipts. Mushnik tells him that they’re in the plant. The credulous crook climbs right in, and you know the rest...
By now, business has grown tremendously thanks to the enormous man-eating plant’s appeal to teenage groupies and skid row carnivorous plant fanciers. (Who knew there were so many?) Even the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California has noticed. They want to give Seymour a medal as soon as the blossoms open. Seymour determines that this will be tomorrow night. He stays overnight again, this time to woo the lovely Audrey, but the plant’s constant demands offend her and she leaves. He refuses to feed the plant any more people, but the plant hypnotizes him into going out to look for likely subjects anyway. In this entranced state, he happens upon Leonora, a remarkably persistent hooker determined to get his business. An unlikely set of circumstances leads Seymour to accidentally bonk her on the head with a large rock. He carries her body back to the shop.
By now, so many people have gone missing that a pair of deadpan cops has gotten involved; they happen to be present the next evening for the medal ceremony when the blossoms open. They open all right, displaying the face of everyone the plant has ever eaten. The cops close in on Seymour. He shrieks, “I didn’t mean it!” and runs into the night. After a long chase across a field of tires and a large pile of toilets, he arrives back at the shop and curses his man-eating plant. He takes a knife and climbs inside, hoping, I guess, to stab it to death as it eats him. It doesn’t work; when the cops catch up, the plant has a new blossom with his face. “I didn’t mean it!” the blossom cries.
This is the second film I’ve reviewed for Rifftrax in which a police detective pauses to thoughtfully stroke his chin with the muzzle of a loaded gun. Plan 9 from Outer Space was the first.
The film’s director, Roger Corman, wrote a book called, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.” (Actually, if you just allow the ones that he directed, there are only fifty-five.) It sounds like an impressive achievement, until you realize that every last one of them sucks, and sucks badly. This makes perfect sense if you take into account that quality was never the aim of these productions; staying under budget was. As a result, most of his films feature only a handful of characters, sparse and stilted dialog, and lots and lots of scenes that features the actors slowly moving from one place to the other. For this reason, most of his films end up so tedious, they can’t even be considered camp.
Little Shop of Horrors breaks this mold in that it is actually interesting to watch, in a train wreck sort of way, mostly because he allows the characters to be, well, characters. Broad, goofy, completely unbelievable characters, but you can’t ask too much of a movie that was shot in two days on a shoestring budget. Most of the antics depicted aren’t funny, just really, really strange and occasionally disturbing; I cringed in particular when a deadpan cop spoke nonchalantly about how his toddler burned himself to death the night before. Oh, well. At least it’s not boring.
Mike manages to punch up this bizarre freak show enough to supply things that were supposed to be jokes with actual punchlines. After Mushnik has growled his way through what must be his second or third irascible soliloquy, Mike wants to know, “Did he take acting lessons from a bear?” After another large helping of Mushnik’s bizarre pseudo-Russian syntax, as Mike muses, “He and Yoda would have interesting conversations.” Later, during Seymour and Audrey’s ill-fated date, hypochondriac mom sprinkles the tea with medicine powder, which Mike calls, “Spinach and angel dust soup.” The movie’s very odd but never tedious, and Mike adds comedy to it as well.
(1936, Teen/Crime Drama, color)
Dope-O, the fifth Marx Brother.
In a nutshell:
An innocent young man stands trial for the drug-related murder of his girlfriend.
We begin with five minutes of scrolling text—handwritten, hard-to-read text—detailing all the horrible things marijuana (sorry, marihuana) will do to you and your children. Did you know that this terrible narcotic is worse than crack cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and a Sudafed/Nyquil combo? It’ll rape your sisters, burn down your house, run over your dog, and steal your bible too!
This rant continues—if “rant” is the right word for anything spoken aloud by the blandest man alive—as Professor Alfred Carroll (not his real name) addresses a PTA meeting to further disparage the drug. Eventually this gives way to narration of an event that happened “not so far away, to children just like yours.”
Local teens Bill Harper and Mary Lane share a pure, wholesome love, filled with chaste study sessions, stilted Elizabethan dialogue, and clumsy fountain pratfalls. But alas, it is not to be, for Bill falls in with a set of well-dressed ne’er do wells at the local malt shop. Soon, they’ve taken him back to their pusher’s apartment (a fast-talking Mafioso named Jack) where they smoke richly colored herb and let their primal instincts throw them into such hedonistic activities as giggling, dancing, and Jazz.
One day Jack’s stash runs out, so he bums a ride from Mary’s brother Jimmy (also a dope addict) to pick up a new supply from the local drug kingpin. Jimmy, of course, is flying high on the devil weed and runs over and old person on the way home. The cops track the license plate to Mary’s house. She realizes what Jimmy must have done, but lies to the cops to protect him.
After a bit of sleuthing, she tracks Jimmy and Bill to Jack’s apartment. Jimmy’s not there, but Bill is; he’s fornicating in another room with another addict. Mary accepts a cigarette while she waits for him to emerge. It’s laced with drugs, and soon she’s ineffectually fighting off a party-goer’s unwelcome advances. Bill comes out and starts to pummel the would-be rapist. Jack tries to break it up with a gun. Bill fights him too, and the gun goes off and kills Mary.
Bill wakes up a short while later with the gun in his hand. Jack convinces him that he killed Mary, a story he makes sure gets repeated to the cops. Bill goes on trial for murder while Jack and the other party-goers go into hiding. By the time he’s found guilty, the fugitives finally have a drug-induced fallout that ends with Jack’s violent death. One of the addict girls spills the true story to the cops before committing suicide. A judge overturns Bill’s conviction and commits the last surviving addict to an institution for the criminally insane. Professor Carroll returns for the heavy-handed moral, and then we’re done.
Okay, I get the fact that the people who made this have never smoked marijuana. Neither have I, but I’ve seen it smoked and observed its effects. It seems to me that these filmmakers have never been in the presence of anyone under its influence. They have never even spoken with anyone who, at any time, was ever under its influence. Indeed, it doesn’t appear as if they have ever spoken to anyone who has ever been in the presence of someone who has been in the presence of someone who has ever smoked marijuana. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for people so vehemently opposed to the drug, they seem remarkably ignorant about it.
Seriously, pot smokers as deranged maniacs? The way these kids in the movie act after a puff or two, you’d think they’d just snorted half a dozen lines of coke. I guess it makes for more exciting cinema this way. This absurd melodrama is certainly more exciting than reality. (In a more realistic presentation, the movie would consist of a bunch of slovenly teenagers hanging around in a basement slowly babbling nonsense while they chomp down snacks by the basket load.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m opposed to marijuana too. Though it’s never sent anyone into a homicidal rage (that I know of) it tends to intellectually and emotionally stunt its users. But it bothers me when people demonize the opposition to make a point, especially when they take it to this extreme. When you tell lies about something, people start ignoring you, even if that thing is truthfully bad in other ways.
The commentary track was originally part of Legend Films’ colorized DVD release, and Mike says as much at the beginning. The fact that he has to start off by introducing himself and giving an abbreviated version of his resume means that he wasn’t necessarily doing it for an audience of MST3K or Rifftrax fans. He doesn’t sound quite natural at the beginning either, as if he was out of practice or had a cold or something, but he warms up about ten minutes in. While the opening text enumerates many terribly exaggerated signs of marijuana addiction, Mike disagrees; quoth he, “These are the signs that you’ve been hit by a train.” Later, when we meet a lot of middle-aged actors cast as teenagers, he says, “Most of these guys probably had sons the same age as their characters.” At the end, when Dr. Carroll warns us not to smoke dope, Mike adds, “If you must smoke it, try not to go insane, or run over old people, or sit in a chair and laugh at stuff that's not funny.” The film is absurd, and Mike is funny enough to enliven it further. The result is amusing enough for a night’s entertainment.
(1946, Comedy/Musical, color)
The scene is dragging. Hit Curly again!
In a nutshell:
A songwriter and a singer open a nightclub while they fall in love.
Pretty much every scene falls into of three categories:
1) Plot: Half the film relates the story, as follows. Newly graduated from the conservatory of music, Carol Laurence searches for a job as a singer, but finds none. Eventually evicted from her apartment for failure to pay rent, she gives up and seeks employment as a secretary with Mr. Daniel Warren Sr. Her first task is to deliver eviction papers to his wayward son. Said son is Danny Warren Jr., a songwriter in the process of opening a nightclub, two occupations of which Mr. Warren Sr. does not approve.
The provocatively named Moose guards the nightclub door, stationed there specifically to prevent deliverers of eviction notices. The logic of this appears to be: “Even though we know about the eviction, they can’t force us out if we don’t let them deliver the notice.” (This wouldn’t fly nowadays. Would it have worked in 1946? Who knows?) Carol sneaks through the back door with the help of kitchen boys Larry, Curly, and Moe. Danny Warren Jr. sees her and is instantly smitten. He gives her an audition and offers her a job as a singer. She tears up the notice in secret and accepts.
Lots of unrelated stuff happens here, but eventually another of Mr. Warren Sr.’s minions makes it through and serves the notice, referencing the last girl sent to do it. Danny Jr. thinks Carol let the man in, and hurts her feelings. Fortunately, by this time a friend of the family has bullied Mr. Warren Sr. into reconciling with his son; he withdraws the eviction. Curly admits he’s the one who let the server in, and Danny professes his undying love for Carol in song.
2) Antics: The Three Stooges have been hired as kitchen boys in the new nightclub, under the watchful eye of the thick and vengeful Moose. They spend roughly a quarter of the film comically injuring themselves and each other as dishwashers, plumbers, and waiters.
3) Song and Dance: Another quarter or so of the film consists of the nightclub’s various acts, which include: a Jazz musician who urges us not to worry about our mules and later poses the musical question, “Why is your big head so hard?”; a lady singer in regalia so large as to render her completely immobile while she sings the slowest, most depressing songs of the set; and various dance pieces involving thin men in tuxedos twirling around underdressed women.
Larry, Moe, and Curly make up the best part of this movie. Their expertly timed and choreographed routines add life to what would otherwise be a painfully dull and stupid film. The piano bed bit works well, and I liked the scene when they tried to fish a watch out of a drain, but my favorite routine comes near then end, when Moe tries to force roast beef on a customer who would rather eat turkey. The weakest element, by far, is the plot, which is contrived and poorly acted. The revue sections are competent enough, but not all that interesting to me. Cut both these sections out, and you’d be left with a hilarious Stooges short.
In my review of The Three Stooges in Color, I speculated that actual riffing wouldn’t mesh well with a Three Stooges film. I stand by that statement, as far as it goes, but Mike does riff the film proper in this one, and it does work reasonably well, mostly because the Stooges only appear briefly and at odd intervals. During the opening titles, Mike wonders, what exactly is a swing parade? “Is it when playground equipment manufacturers have conventions? Is it when wife-swappers drive a float down Main Street?” When the Stooges appear, peeking around a door with their faces in a row, Mike calls them, “A Mount Rushmore of stupid.” Later, when Moose views the damage they’ve caused and asks, “What are we going to do?” Mike responds, “Hire people who aren’t retarded maniacs.” The Stooges are a treat to watch, and Mike props up the rest of it as best he can. It’s worth a night’s entertainment.
(2007, Comedy, color)
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy
In a nutshell:
The Brothers Howard afflict each other with humorous violence.
Not sure what to say about this one, so I’ll talk about the Muppets instead. I like the Muppets a lot, especially the original Muppet Show. I’ve seen all those episodes, and all the movies, and some of them were better than others, but overall, the Muppets have provided me with cracking good time. Would I like them this much if my only exposure to them was a jumbled collection of very short clips from one of their lesser shows, presented out of context? Probably not.
You might interpret the above as a way of saying that this collection of Stoogish antics really sucks, but… Well, okay, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. It’s badly organized—some of the nautical clips are grouped together, some of the kitchen clips are grouped together, etc., but none of these are connected by any kind of story. The Stooges just do their thing, over and over again. Antics in context are funny, but without knowing the how or why, it’s merely tedious and repetitive.
And it’s badly presented. The sound and film stock are of rather poor quality. Host Segment-wise, it doesn’t look as if Mike and Kevin were given much time to prepare. They appear at arbitrary intervals with only a minute to say something more or less irrelevant about the clips that follow. You know how your local station morning show hosts blab unfunny quips about the latest D-List celebrity to pass through town? That’s pretty much the quality level I’m talking about. It’s hard to believe that these are the same guys who gave the Stooges such loving, elaborate introductions in the previous Video on Demand release.
In fact, the only reason this release has any positive rating at all is that the Stooges, masters of physical comedy that they are, have occasional moments of brilliance. If I were you, I wouldn’t bother with this one. Whether you already love the Stooges, or have never seen them before, you’ll be much better served by the very funny Three Stooges in Color.
(2005, Comedy, colorized)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett
In a nutshell:
The Brothers Howard afflict each other with humorous violence.
The lack of a quote above is intentional. The Stooges don’t say a lot that is funny. The things they do, however, are hilarious. In fact, the whole format needs to be different for this review, as this is a different sort of Rifftrax. It’s kind of a stretch to consider this a Rifftrax at all, since no one talks during the various short films. No one needs to, as the Stooges are funny enough without embellishment, and probably no one should, as the pure physical humor probably wouldn’t mix well with the Film Crew’s more articulate brand of comedy.
What we have instead is a series of host segments to introduce and expound upon the showcased short films. Mike, Kevin, and Bill are enthusiastic while they share one of their favorite comedy troupes. So we get to see the Stooges do what they do best (i.e. hurt each other in amusing ways) and the Film Crew do what they do best (i.e. talk about movies). It’s the best of both worlds.
Host Segment One:
The Film Crew gathers in the basement to watch movies. Kevin has a whole stack of chick flicks. Mike throws them away. Mike has the Legend Films version of Reefer Madness. Kevin disdainfully notes that it has “some guy talking over it,” and throws it away. Bill suggests the Three Stooges. After some discussion, they agree that Curly’s head looks like “one cheek of a shaved ass.” This appears to be as good a reason as any to watch them.
First Short: Disorder in the Court
Larry, Moe, and Curly are called as witnesses at a murder trial. Testimony involves an impromptu burlesque act, the shooting death of a toupee, and Moe crushing Curly’s head in a letter press. Eventually, everyone realizes that the parrot has the key to solving the crime. Curly knocks out half the jury with a mallet and then hoses down the courtroom in the process of catching it.
Host Segment Two:
Bill admiringly notes that Curly has “the robust mirth of Falstaff, the voice of Cyndi Lauper, and the iron crotch of Johnny Knoxville.” Kevin notes that next short features Shemp instead, prompting dismay from his fellow crewmen. Kevin gradually draws them back in with a chart that confirms Shemp Howard as the ugliest entity ever to exist in the universe. The others somehow accept this as a reason to watch him. Bill admits that he’s now even excited to watch the “vomitous, oil-soaked little troll.”
Second Short: Sing a Song of Six Pants
If Larry, Moe, and Shemp don’t come up with three hundred dollars by tomorrow, they’ll lose their dry-cleaning/tailoring business to the bank. As luck would have it, a wanted bank robber with a price on his head comes to hide in their very shop. There are some close calls and mistaken identities, but eventually the gangsters confront the tailors in a fight of eye-gouging, crotch-kicking, head-in-the-steam-press-pressing mayhem. They catch the robber, but the cop who arrives to arrest him takes the reward for himself. Fortunately, Shemp pocketed some of the robber’s ill-gotten gains just before the arrest.
Host Segment Three:
The Film Crew provides a public service announcement to promote awareness of the dangers of living with Moe. After a handy checklist to determine whether or not you are, in fact, living with Moe (and not a similar-looking person such as Emo Phillips or Ken Burns), they go over what you should do if summoned by Moe. Don’t go. There is no safe way to approach Moe. Mike demonstrates this by poking Bill in the eyes many, many times.
Third Short: Malice in the Palace
Vaguely Middle-Eastern men (sort of a stagy Arab/Indian/Scottish mix, actually) meet at a restaurant to go over their plans to steal a legendary jewel. The conspiracy gets interrupted many, many times by their bumbling waiters Larry, Moe, and Shemp. The showcase bit is when circumstances cause Moe and Shemp to believe that Larry has killed a dog and a cat to make their food. The dog and cat in question then sit under the table during dinner, making their various noises whenever someone tries to take a bite. Eventually the conspirators leave in shame, and the Stooges all dress like Santa Claus to recover the jewel from a wealthy sheik-ish short of person.
Host Segment Four:
In order to dispel the myth that the Stooges only appeal to men, Kevin dresses up as a woman to declare that he likes them too. When pressed to prove that he really is a woman in increasingly humiliating ways, he says, “Bite my ovaries, chief,” and starts a game of pool.
Fourth Short: The Brideless Groom
Music Teacher Shemp takes a break from teaching his shrillest, most annoying student to hear the latest news from Moe—an uncle has died, and his will states that Shemp will inherit half a million dollars if he gets married before the end of the day. After the Stooges injure themselves and each other making him presentable, Shemp proposes to every girl he knows, but the only one who’ll accept is his shrillest, most annoying music student. A Justice of the Peace tries to solemnize the union, but news of the $500k has leaked; the ceremony is mobbed with women, each demanding that Shemp marry her instead. Shemp finally agrees to marry the one who crushes his head in a letter press, but it’s not to be. The fight finally ends when he marries the music student after all.
Host Segment Five:
Bill and Kevin try to bid us adieu, but Mike wants to dedicate a segment to Larry. Bill notes that Larry is the blandest stooge, and could just as easily have been played by “a potted plant in a fright wig.” Mike insists, and shows the folks at home how to make a Larry doll out of a Popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner, a grape, and some dryer lint. Kevin and Bill throw away his dolls and doll making materials, and say goodbye.
This is actually the first time I’ve seen an entire Three Stooges short, let alone four. (For the record, I’ve never watched the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy either…aside from the occasional appearances on Scooby Doo, which probably don’t count. My education, as it pertains to early and mid twentieth century comedians, is sadly lacking.) My own tastes run toward more articulate humor, but I still enjoy them in the way that I’ll enjoy almost anything if it’s well done, and these guys are very, very good at what they do. Also, I know a woman who likes the Three Stooges. She is my wife, who had never seen them before either, but laughed very hard when Shemp’s hot dog appeared to bark at him. That Shemp is no Curly, though.
So yeah, only three stars, but that’s more a matter of personal taste than any specific flaw.
(1972, Horror, color)
You are the wind beneath my scabs.
In a nutshell:
A mad doctor transplants a dictator’s brain as part of his maniacal plan to rule the world!
Abdul Amir, benevolent dictator of the Middle Eastern nation of Khalid, lies dying of an unspecified illness while his closest advisors huddle around him to make plans for the future. If Amir dies, their country will be thrown into turmoil and chaos. There is only one solution: hire a mad scientist to transplant Amir’s brain into a younger, healthier body, and then perform plastic surgery on the new body to make it look like his old one. Amir agrees with the plan, says “farewell for now” to his Middle Eastern friends Mohammed and Robert, asks his hot blond Middle Eastern personal assistant Tracey to marry him after his resurrection, and expires.
As Amir’s personal physician, Robert gives the deceased ruler an injection and wraps him in aluminum foil for shipping. Fifteen hours later, they arrive in the United States to unwrap the corpse on the operating table of one Dr. Trenton, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire. Red tempura paint squirts every which way as Trenton and his jauntily-chapeaued dwarfish assistant Dorro perform gruesome surgery on the deceased’s cranium, finally storing the brain in a giant pop-o-matic with electrodes.
Dorro descends to the dungeon to extract the blood the brain will need from a helpless young woman named Katherine, while Trenton tells Robert and Mohammed to leave him be until he’s done. Robert and friends pile into a station wagon and depart, but while driving the windy road away from Trenton’s mountain hideout, another huge seventies car begins to chase them. It eventually forces them over a cliff. Robert leaps to safety at the last moment, but the other, um, people from Khalid (Khalidites? Khalidians?) plummet to their deaths.
Meanwhile, Trenton’s other freakish assistant, the hulking, disfigured Gor, stalks the night for likely bodies to complete the operation. He chases a cat burglar into the apartment of an underdressed young woman, but mangles the corpse beyond repair in the process of bringing it back. Faced with a dying brain and no other available bodies, Trenton straps down Gor for the operation. As he succumbs to the anesthetic, Gor’s last thoughts are a flashback of the violent drunken rednecks that assaulted him with battery acid.
Tracey arrives in the U.S. to check on Trenton’s progress; Robert picks her up at the airport to explain that everyone who helped him transport Amir is dead, and he fears Trenton is in danger too. Meanwhile, the man who ran Robert and company off the road gets a call from Trenton, who, it turns out, hired him to kill everyone else involved. He tells the assassin to go back to the car, where he will be “paid.” The tree stump-dense assassin apparently doesn’t think this suspicious at all; on his way back to his car, Robert and Tracey drive past. Robert recognizes him and pulls over to give chase on foot. The case goes over rooftops and down alleys, finally ending with the assassin’s escape and inevitable car bomb-induced demise.
Robert and Tracey make it back to Trenton’s office to inform him of the sinister goings-on. Trenton feigns surprise, and at their insistence shows them what has become of Amir. They’re horrified at their beloved ruler’s freakish new visage. Trenton tries to calm them down, assuring them it’s only temporary until he can find a better body, but Amir wakes up and is horrified as well. He knocks out Robert and half-strangles Trenton before finally escaping with Tracey. They attempt to flee by car, but Dorro has sabotaged it, so they lumber off into the woods.
Trenton wakes up first, and has Dorro escort Robert to the dungeon. Given their rather large difference in size, Dorro does this with a great deal of difficulty; when he finally arrives, he is astonished to find that blood-donor girl Katherine has found the keys he left in easy reach and escaped her chains. She stabs him to the heart with a syringe. Robert wakes up and treats her injuries, sucking the rat venom from her leg (???) so that they can escape. He recovers a gun from the sabotaged car and gives chase to Tracey, Amir, and Trenton.
The chase scene takes far too long, and most of the events that take place in it make no sense, but the results are as follows: Amir somehow confuses his memories with Gor’s and chases a kid for no apparent reason. Robert rescues the kid and makes out with Katherine before sending them both to safety. Tracey figures out that Trenton has installed a mind-control chip of some kind in Amir’s head, which gives him headaches every time he tries to disobey. When the four remaining characters finally gather, Trenton orders Amir to capture Robert; he does so, chasing Tracey over a cliff in the process.
They take Robert back to the lab, where Trenton transplants Amir’s brain into Robert’s body and then surgically alters Robert’s face to look like Amir. In the final scene, Amir resumes his place at the head of his country, naming Trenton as his head of medical research department, and granting him a huge budget. Jarring flashbacks from Robert’s point of view interrupt his speech.
Is this supposed to be an exploitation film? I guess I have more stringent requirements for my exploitation than the makers of this turd. Film hacks of the world take note; my requirements for exploitation are as follows: Your movie must be laden with heaping helpings of a) gore, b) female skin, and c) melodrama. Let’s check the movie against this list, shall we?
a) Well, I guess it’s got gore, but only in the first surgical scene. We see a splash of red paint, a mangled bald cap, and a rubber spider or two in the rest of the film, but nothing else particularly shocking.
b) We glimpse a woman in her bra, and a young woman chained to a wall, but only briefly and not in the same scene. Sex-wise, this is tamer than pretty much any generic spy flick of the era.
c) Sure, the plot lends itself to overwrought histrionics, but the acting and script do not support this. Come on, movie. I demand unrelenting screams, passionate expressions of hopeless love, and peals of maniacal laughter. This movie conveys its ludicrous plot with the clumsy dialogue of a seventies adventure show, delivered in the husky whispers of a Shyamalan film.
Ultimately, my main problem with the movie is that it includes bits of token exploitation, but doesn’t quite have the nerve to go all the way with them. Yes, it’s bad, but in a competent sort of way, wobbling the film away from the happy delirium it could have achieved. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re going to make a good film, make it good, and if you’re going to make a bad film, make it bad. This halfway crap just isn’t all that entertaining.
Fortunately, the Cinematic Titanic treatment of it features not one, not three, but five riffers, and they’ve all got entertainment flying out their collective wazoo. MST3K creator Joel Hodson finally returns to the ring of riffing, bringing with him a plethora of writer/performers from that show, including J. Elvis “Josh” Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Mary Jo Pehl. When paint spurts everywhere during the operation, Frank wants to know, “Who are they operating on, Sherwin Williams?” As the bra girl happens upon both the cat burglar and the disfigured Gor, Mary Jo, says, “She’s got two stalkers? That tramp!” During the rooftop chase, Trace calls the film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Douchebag.” When Amir wakes up in a horrific body wanting to know if this is a joke, Joel says, “If you could see the look on what’s left of your face.” As Trenton’s control device continuously buzzes in Amir’s brain, Josh says, “It’s like there’s a game show in my head, and I’m always wrong!”
Yes, we knew there would be riffing, and that the riffing would be funny, but what sets this apart from every other post-MST3K project is the silhouettes. Their unobtrusive arrangement is such that it will be difficult to tell who’s talking if you aren’t familiar with the people involved, but if you pay attention you’ll see that the gesturing silhouette is pretty much always the one speaking. Also, there’s no introduction, nor host segments of any kind; instead, they occasionally freeze a frame to get up and discuss, or do a prop comedy routine. Guest silhouettes such as Stephen Hawking and Al Hirt are introduced, the latter to interrupt his trumpet solo with continuous vomiting during the brain transplant scene. Silhouette chandeliers are dropped; people lean in from each side on cherry pickers in an attempt to alter images; at one point, J. Elvis smashes a guitar. They make better use of silhouettes than the original show.
The DVD is expensive, and this probably due to the quality of the silhouette routines, but considering that at their current rate we’ll only get one every two to three months or so, the price isn’t that bad. The folks at Cinematic Titanic have delivered what is, without question, a superior riffing system, and I can’t wait to see them try again with a film that isn’t so dull and dreary.
Howdy folks. I'll be dropping off the grid until November 26th. The comments here are moderated, so if you make any while I'm gone, you'll have to wait a week or so to see them. In the meantime, here's some preemptive news to tide you over:
1) MST3K.com has been posting a cartoon on Monday for the last two weeks, so I'm guessing there'll be a new one on November 19th--but then, both their extant works got pretty much universally negative reviews, so who knows? I'd recommend checking just in case.
2) Rifftrax will release their Transformers commentary on Tuesday, November 20. Pick it up and then return the following afternoon to see if they've announced the next one.
3) I know of no planned Cinematic Titanic updates, but Joel has been regaling us weekly since he announced the project, so you probably ought to check there as well.
Have fun, Happy Thanksgiving (for those of you in the U.S.), and play nice until I get back.
Welcome, won't you?
Joel has posted again. Twice.
First off, he still loves us. Well, we still love him too.
More substantially, he confirms the release date of the first Cinematic Titanic release as December 10, 2007, and goes on to list a plethora of formats in which this release will be available. These include streaming, ipod, and various downloadable DVD formats. Also, anyone on their email list will be given a chance to download a free holiday-themed short film shortly after the first release. Sounds like a good deal, so if you haven't already, head down to their site and sign up.
The second post is an interview with Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein, with some carefully worded insight into the early days of MST3K.
In non-Cinematic Titanic news: the MST3K.com store now includes "Legacy Merchandise", i.e. merchandise that pertains to the original show. Is Mr. Mallon finally figuring out what the fans really want? Let's hope so.
"It Wasn't Funny to Begin With, And It Certainly Hasn't Gotten Any Funnier as You've Continued Speaking"
Welcome, won't you?
The second 'Bots cartoon has been posted over at MST3K.com. It's better than the first one, but this is not necessarily high praise. Once again, the remains of the once-mighty Best Brains empire thought we'd be impressed by our favorite characters rambling on about nothing in particular. I've added my review to the MST3K.com Guide.
Welcome, won't you?
This was probably the only way to get me to watch a Michael Bay film. The next Rifftrax will mock the very long, very loud, very mockable Transformers, and will feature the Rifftrax triumvirate of Mike, Bill and Kevin. Look for it at Rifftrax on November 20, 2007. The subsequent Rifftrax will probably be announced the next day.
I'll be on vacation from the 16th through the 26th, and may or may not have internet access during that time, so you'll probably have to go ahead and enjoy it without me.
Welcome, won't you?
The final (for now) Film Crew DVD review has been posted. Please enjoy the blatantly homoerotic Steeve Reeves classic, Giant of Marathon. You know, if you want to.
Will there ever be another Film Crew release? Who knows?
Welcome, won't you?
The Cinematic Titanic page has been updated again, now featuring a long, rambling essay by Joel Hodson about how much he loves us. Well, we love him too.
More substantially, he dropped the release date for the first Cinematic Titanic film: December 10, 2007.
I'm looking forward to it.
Welcome, won't you?
First: Yesterday I reported that the MST3K.com store was not yet in place. Further investigation of the site reveals that this is not the case; a somewhat underwhelming but perfectly functional store launched along with the rest of the site as promised. (The MST3K.com Guide has been appropriately updated.) Turns out that the link to the store is in the bottom left corner of the main page, which centers on a 1024 x 768 graphic that cannot be scrolled. If your browser window is smaller than that, you won't see it. Can you say "major design flaw?"
Second: The Rifftrax site is once again armed and fully operational. Also, the title of the next film to receive Rifftrax treatment will be announced on Friday, November 9, 2007. Hooray!
Third: My copy of the final (for now) Film Crew DVD Giant of Marathon has finally arrived. Expect a review within the next week or so.
Fourth: The sidebars, links, and format problems have all been tidied up, so the site now looks more or less like it's supposed to. Update 11/7/07: I figured the sidebar thing out. Thanks Flooble!
Welcome, won't you?
The Missile to the Moon Rifftrax has been released. Still no word on the ETA for a downloadable movie/rifftrax combination, but the Powers That Be have stated that it won't be long. I won't be reviewing it until I can see it online, so I'm still waiting...
Welcome, won't you?
Space: The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Satellite of Love. Its continuing mission—to watch bad cinema while making snarky comments at the screen...in space. To boldly expose me to movies I never would have even considered watching otherwise.
During the nineties, did you ever flip past something on basic cable where silhouettes of robots wouldn’t shut up during an old movie? That was this show. Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran from 1988 to 1999, first on Minnesota local access channel KTMA, then on the various iterations of Comedy Central, and finally on the SciFi Channel. There were some intrigues, skits, and a few half-hearted attempts at plot among the show’s hosts/robots/characters, but these are pretty much window dressing for the above-described premise—to make fun of the awful cinema of the past.
You still want to know about the show’s characters? Check out my handy cast list.
And now, the Episode Guide:
The KTMA Episodes
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, featuring This Island Earth
Assignment: Venezuela, riffed for the never-released MST3K: The Home Game