3/29/08

RVOD021 If Mirrors Could Speak

(1976, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Le pain... le despair... le mort...

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

A magic mirror belittles bad behavior with hellish visions of clown makeup.

Summary:

Apparently, this mirror gazes into the very depths of hell.Unbeknownst to anyone, three youngsters have arrived at school in a state of fully painted clownishness. It’s unbeknownst even to themselves, until a magic mirror propped up near the school’s entrance calls out to them as they pass. The clown makeup is a reflection of their inner selves, you see. An outward signal of how others see them.

The Asian kid, for instance, carries the visage of a sad clown with him everywhere he goes, as he remains shy, withdrawn, and clinically depressed. Having this shown to him in such graphic, clownish detail perks him up instantly. He sheds his white-faced fa├žade and goes on about his day as normal with all the other happy, well-adjusted kids. A girl has a sly clown face, reflective of her vindictive, dishonest nature. Seeing this spelled out for her immediately cures her of all desire to steal, cheat, and backbite. A chunky boy has a boisterous clown face, and you know what? He doesn’t care, even after all the mirror’s efforts to make him see the error of his ways. Oh, well. You can’t win them all, I guess.

Thoughts:

Card-carrying member of the Junior Satan Squad.Compulsive disorders? Nah. Troubles at home? Couldn’t be. Emotional problems? To quote words of wisdom I attributed to a previous short, “Buck up, you pansies.” I found If Mirrors Could Speak to be more disturbing than funny, actually. Many of the Rifftrax shorts (especially the older ones) can get rather wrong-headed, but this one takes the cake.

Didn’t anyone notice that the Asian kid suffers from severe depression? Doesn’t anyone want to know why? The answers to these questions are “Yes” and “No”—the magic mirror knows perfectly well how sad the kid feels, but doesn’t care. Don’t you know you’re dragging down the rest of the school with your problems? Perk up or get lost, you little drip.

What about the little girl’s kleptomania? Telling someone to stop stealing isn’t going to cure a compulsive disorder. Of the three, the chunky kid had the most appropriate response. Sure, he looks like he has emotional problems, but he was the only one to recognize the magic mirror as full of crap.

Of the three kids, the short spends the most time on the depressed Asian kid, and so Mike, Bill, and Kevin have time to add lots of existential ennui in a variety of French accents. “Blind obedience is the only cure for clown-induced depression,” says Kevin, while Mike sums up the kid’s epiphany with, “My pain is unfair to others.” As the short closes out its round of unhelpful advice, Bill adds, “This is the haunted mirror reminding everyone that the nail that stands up will be pounded down.” The Rifftrax version of If Mirrors Could Speak turns out intermittently funny, but the message still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

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3/28/08

So, Is "Safety" the Name of a Serial Killer Played by a Professional Wrestler or What?

Bill wasn't careless; he's still suffering the wrath of Bacon.Welcome, won't you?

Rifftrax On Demand Shorts resume after a brief and apparently Geat-induced hiatus with Safety - Harm Hides at Home. I predict that it will end with a train engineer shaking his head and saying "Why don't they look?" Find out what hideous dangers lurk in every corner of your domicile today at Rifftrax.

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3/27/08

CT004 Legacy of Blood

(1961, Horror, color-ish)

Rating: ***

The house that plot forgot.

In a nutshell:

A family of psychos must spend a week together to inherit their father’s fortune.

Summary:

Talk about your novelty glasses.“Dead!” a lawyer announces after an eccentric millionaire’s funeral. He then outlines the terms of the will—in order to inherit an equal share of his money, his four adult children must spend the next week cloistered together in his estate. As night falls, Relatively Normal Oldest Brother (RNOB) searches for his dog, which has sensed something wrong and run outside to investigate. The dog unsurprisingly becomes compost shortly thereafter.

A cadaverous sheriff in hilariously low-budget squad car arrives to assess the situation. A great deal of painfully boring exposition later, he leaves again, having discovered absolutely nothing of value. He stops just outside the gate to investigate an abandoned car. Someone offscreen caves his head in with an axe.

A little while later, Vaguely Sleazy Second-Oldest Sister (VSSOS) trades innuendo with her little sister’s Handsome Doctor Husband (HDH) while they forage in the refrigerator for some ham. Imagine their surprise when they lift the tinfoil to find, not ham, but the sheriff’s bloody head. Panic ensues, and they discover that the phones are dead and the cars have been sabotaged. They decide to go to bed and send someone for help in the morning.

At this point, RNOB wraps his arm tenderly around his wife and leans over to turn off the lamp, which has been rigged to electrocute both of them to death. The survivors run madly about, accusing one another. Well, except for Dangerously Unstable Penultimate Brother (DUPB) and Incredibly Nutty Littlest Sister (INLS), who used to have an incestuous relationship. They pine for one another and almost consummate, but DUPB breaks it off when he runs screaming down the hallway and into the basement. An offscreen figure drowns him in a fish tank.

Ah, but how do you know that the time-sink, carpal tunnel-inducing qualities of the K.I.S.S. pinball machine isn't just a slower, more painful death?INLS wanders after him in a valium-induced haze, sees her brother’s skeletonized remains (decorative gouramis can apparently strip the flesh from your bones in mere minutes) and runs distraught into the night. Moments later, someone puts a bullet between her eyes with the sheriff’s gun. HDH finds her shortly thereafter, and stupidly picks up the gun lying nearby.

This is the position Bloodthirsty Veteran Chauffeur (BVC) finds him in moments later. Convinced they’ve found their killer, the others tie HDH to a chair and lock him in a bare closet. While VSSOS and BVC comfort one another, an unseen figure unlocks the closet and throws in an open jar of killer bees. VSSOS and BVC follow the screams back to HDH’s swollen corpse, and then hurry to follow the retreating shadow. They corner it in the wine cellar and—surprise!—it’s Eccentric Millionaire Dad (an elderly John Carradine) who declares that he faked his own death to rid himself of his despised progeny. Then a heavy shelf of wine barrels tips over, crushing all three of them to death.

The two remaining servants, Muscle-Bound Mel Brooks Impersonator (MBMBI) and Pinch-Faced Schoolmarm (PFS), emerge from behind the shelf. MBMBI declares himself the new master of the house and demands that PFS bring him milk and cookies. PFS poisons his cookie, and plays MBMBI a soothing tune on the piano while he chokes and dies. PFS closes the film with a wink to the camera while goofy clown music plays through the ending credits.

Thoughts:

Theirs was a forbidden and rather icky love.Unbearably paced, poorly recorded and photographed, nonsensically written and hilariously overacted—and these are the film’s good points. The omnipresent loathing and the nauseating incest—these are what make Legacy of Blood a film no right-minded person would touch without a surgical mask, antiseptic gloves, and a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole. And then at the end we discover it was really a screwball farce! Excuse me while I vomit on my keyboard.

Huuaaauuuurrrrrrggggghhhh!

Now I’m typing through a foul-smelling slurry of half-digested black beans, an unpleasant scenario that is still vastly preferable to watching Legacy of Blood. And yet you’ll notice that I still gave this episode of Cinematic Titanic three stars. That’s because it features the best riffing of any other episode thus far. There are so many good lines that I filled up three pages with quotes. A representative sample: After the reading of the will, “Dad was watching too much Scooby Doo before he died” (Mary Jo); “I think hate is finally going to bring this family together” (Joel); regarding the Incredibly Nutty Littlest Sister, “I’m even sure she’d be that attractive if she were sane,” (Frank); after Carradine puts a bullet between INLS’s eyes, “You can actually hear the air escaping from her head,” (Trace); and after the horrifyingly upbeat ending, “That wink just sent a chill down my spin in a way that this movie never achieved,” (J. Elvis).

Also notable are the two relatively brief times they stop the film. First, when commandos break in to take Frank’s gum. (J. Elvis to the commandos: “We’re against the gum policy, but we still support you guys”.) Second, when Trace stops the action after the lamp-induced deaths to host a game show called “Which Thing Won’t Kill You?” Contestant J. Elvis eschews the badly wired lamp and the animate suit of armor to correctly choose the K.I.S.S. pinball machine.

More than any of their previous releases, this episode makes me wish for better film selection on the part of the Cinematic Titanic crew. There are rewards—desperately funny rewards, in fact—for watching their take on Legacy of Blood. To get to them, you unfortunately have to wade through buckets of soul-staining filth. Guys, I know there’s a lot of overlap between bad movies and icky movies, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. I’ve seen lots of bad movies that were relatively fun, and even a few icky movies that were well-made. I really wish you’d choose more of the former.

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CT003 The Wasp Woman

(1959, Horror, b&w)

Rating: **1/2

The title is synopsis enough.

In a nutshell:

A wasp-based elixir of youth turns its user into a murderous insect/human hybrid.

Summary:

I guess bees are kind of wasp-like.The avuncular and vaguely Eastern European Dr. Zinthrop collects wasps for study, hoping to use wasp queen jelly to reverse the aging process. The honey company that bankrolls his research feels that he really ought to have been studying bees instead, so they let him go.

Fortunately for him, aging cosmetics magnate Janice Starlin has been searching for ways make her lined face smooth again, and summons him to demonstrate his discovery. (Apparently she never thought of, oh, wiping off her poorly painted forehead lines and crow’s feet.) Using massive injections of distilled waspiness, Zinthrop shows her how he can turn cats into smaller cats and guinea pigs into rats. The excited Starlin promises to fund all his future research if he will use her as his first human test subject.

We break here for a lengthy, irrelevant and profoundly boring subplot in which several of Starlin’s employees suspect Zinthrop of running a scam and snoop for clues to that effect. They don’t find any, the end (of the subplot). There’s at least thirty minutes killed, with another ten if you count the lengthy apologies after Starlin gets her first few doses and turns up at work without glasses, with shorter hair and with more flattering makeup.

Trace keeps his lips in tip-top butt-kissing shape.Shortly thereafter, one of Zinthrop’s test subjects goes insane and attacks him. Zinthrop kills it and incinerates the body before he wanders, despondent, from the building. He’s too busy shaking his head and muttering to himself to look both ways before he crosses the street, and predictably becomes someone’s hood ornament.

Starlin becomes frantic when she can’t find him. She’s been juicing herself with every clear liquid she can find in Zinthrop’s laboratory fridge, and finds the prospect of getting cut off from her source quite alarming. Break again for another lengthy etc. subplot cut from an entirely different film. (The riffers note that the footage looks like it’s from a Driver’s Ed short, and it does, but I can’t find anything online that says for sure.) I think this unrelated footage is supposed to be a searching sequence, and indeed it ends about ten minutes later with someone back in the main film answering a phone and saying “They’ve found him.”

Zinthrop awakes after several days of coma, and he knows he has to warn someone about something or other, but he can’t remember what. By this time, Starlin has transmogrified into a wasp/human hybrid several times to kill and devour her chief scientist, a doughy night watchman and a nurse. The last one happens in front of Zinthrop’s hospital bed, jogging his memory enough to warn the rest of the staff. There’s a showdown in his old lab, ending when Zinthrop throws acid in her transmogrified face while another employee pushes her out a window. Zinthrop dies of a heart attack immediately afterwards. Then the survivors look over at a close-up of Starlin’s partially dissolved wasp face lying nearby, so I guess she fell back in the window while we weren’t looking.

Thoughts:

Buddy Rich, on the other hand, exercises his mouth by hurling profanity at his hosts.Roger Corman films are kind like balloons in that they look the same size as other movies, but they’re mostly made of air. According to this simile, they should also float away as soon as I let go of their strings, but I just can’t seem to make that happen. No analogy is perfect, I guess.

Anyway, Wasp Woman is about as Corman as a film can get. Single digit cast? Check. Sparse and stilted script? Check. Endless scenes of the characters getting from one place from another? Oh yeah. Roger Corman doesn’t even bother to film his own transportation scenes this time, as the driving sequences have all been lifted from other sources. Even this does not appear to have filled out the running time adequately, as Corman supplements with endless board room and injection sequences as well. Their one tiny special effect—furry gloves and a wasp mask made from papier-mache and pipe cleaners—appears to have been too expensive to overuse. It’s a seventy-nine minute movie, and the eponymous wasp woman doesn’t even show up until halfway through minute fifty-nine.

The Cinematic Titanic crew only stops the movie twice this time: First, when Mary Jo calls a pointless board meeting to berate her fellow riffers. All except Trace, who brownnoses shamelessly. Second, when Frank reprises his dead jazz musician performance series with an appearance by Buddy Rich. Having arrived, Mr. Rich refuses to play, heaping verbal abuse on everyone involved until they release a cloud of killer wasps to drive him off the stage. Both vignettes depend on insult humor and both are decently funny.

The riffing goes decently as well, though even with five riffers, a film as empty as this one requires them to go on the occasional tangent when the mockable material runs out. As the film starts off, J. Elvis notes, “Directed by Corman, so you know this was three days well spent.” While Starlin sneaks around the office in the dead of night, Trace says, “She’s treading awfully lightly for someone who owns the building.” As the borrowed driving footage drags on, Mary Jo asks, “Why build suspense when you can build hostility?” After at least a dozen injection scenes (accompanied by at least twice that many drug jokes from the riffers) Joel says, “She’s shooting up again, and I’m all out of heroin references.” When the thing finally ends with Starlin’s acid-soaked corpse, Frank says, “‘Twas beauty killed the bees.” As a whole, Wasp Woman is fun but not special, like an average episode of MST3K.

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3/26/08

Regarding Foolish Dreams We Hope Will Someday Become Reality

The first three rendered spacecraft with captioned narration are pretty cool, but the Darkstar website has more than three hundred of these.  Just give me the damn game already!Welcome, won't you?

Wherefore art thou Rifftrax? There's only been one major release this month. What gives? I'm going to have to lower my monthly Rifftrax budget.

Speaking of waiting, the next Cinematic Titanic release was speculated to be out around the end of March. We're pretty close to that now, and they haven't even started filming it yet, so we can pretty much assume that this tentative deadline is blown. We know they're working on it though, and we know they've booked a hall for another live show in October. Maybe we'll have another episode by then.

But, bad as the Cinematic Titanic people are about deadlines, they're nothing compared to Parallax Studios. Darkstar has been in production since at least 2003, and there's still nothing that even hints at imminent release. Just in case, I've added an entry for it to the Miscellaneous section.

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RVOD020 Troll 2

Previously reviewed as Rifftrax 023.

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3/25/08

RVOD019 Are You Popular?

(1947, Educational/Short, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

She seems as interested in girls as in boys.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Enclosed: one fool-proof plan for high school popularity.

Summary:

Thumbs out, everyone.  Ready? 'Eeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyy.'A narrator describes the steps one must take in order to ensure one’s popularity at school while the clean-cut teens of 1947 act them out for us. The five steps for surefire popularity are as follows:

1) Be a girl.
2) Be a pretty girl.
3) Be “as interested in girls as in boys”. (Direct quote from the narrator).
4) Go out with as many of both as possible.
5) Do not, under any circumstances, put out to any of them.

Some niceties are involved here. A grim, sober mode of dress is required at all times. Also, it is important to notify your potential partner at least twenty-four hours before the date is scheduled to begin. The ability to discern the difference between scarves and mittens is helpful as well.

Well, that’s all there is to it, I guess. Now get out there and be popular, people!

Thoughts:

The strangest thing about this short is the narrator’s admonition that the seeker of popularity should be “as interested in girls as in boys.” It’s a bit jarring to hear in the middle of an otherwise staid presentation. Of course the phrase has a much different connotation these days, but in the second it took to realize this, it seemed as if educators of the forties were actually encouraging teenage girls to be chastely bisexual.

Giving the phrase back its intended meaning (that it Simply Won’t Do for a young lady to be perceived as man-crazy) reveals that the short’s real message is every bit as laughable. To wit: The key to school popularity lies in behaving exactly the way your parents and educators want you to. I’m not saying this is an inadvisable course of action. In fact, I dearly hope that my kids behave themselves in high school when they get that far. They are not, however, likely to be popular if they do.

Mike, Bill, and Kevin have a lot to say on the subject of popularity as well. When the title pops up at the beginning, for instance, Bill says, “The answer, if you’re watching this film, is ‘no’.” Later, as the unbelievably peppy popular crowd gathers to discuss such hot teen topics as The Big Game and The School Play, Kevin notes, “Life was dull before self-loathing was invented.” As the narrator goes over all the things a girl can do to get ready for a date, Mike replies in the girl’s voice, “Alter my appearance in ways men won’t notice. Got it.” It’s a mostly dull short on a mostly dull subject, but the Rifftrax crew spices it up appropriately, harping in particular on the bisexual exhortation and a quest for a scarf that inexplicably becomes a pair of mittens. It’s worth watching for those two moments alone, and the rest of it is funny too.

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3/21/08

Personality Quiz-Time

This is a screenshot from the tie-in video game.  Please note that aside from the health bar in the corner, there is very little difference.Welcome, won't you?

Do you never speak in conversation, but only growl? Do you scream your name at random passers-by? Do you kill monsters every morning, and then sleep with their mothers every afternoon?

If you answered all of the above questions in the affirmative, then you, my friend, are Beowulf. Feel free to take a moment and shout this revelation to anyone who happens to be in earshot. Go ahead and add, "And I'm here to kill your monster," if it seems appropriate.

Done yet? Good.

For those of you who, like me, are not Beowulf, I have posted a handy review, relating to the most recent full-length Rifftrax release.

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3/18/08

Digital Butts: The Director's Cut

They! Are! Beowulf!Welcome, won't you?

It's time to guzzle and get naked with the Geatish epic, Beowulf, released today at Rifftrax.com. Expect a review by the end of the week.

Please Note: This commentary track is only compatible with the unrated director's cut. We don't hold with theatrical cut pansies here, even when the two edits seem to be 99% identical.

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3/17/08

Featuring Crispin Glover's Older, Weirder Brother

Did everyone want to be Peter, Paul and Mary in the sixties?Welcome, won't you?

Ahem. (Cue bongos.)

Coffee House Rendezvous
Is where all the happenings happen
And overboiled coffee
Loosens the tongues of
Sixties hipsters and folksters
Who must let us know what they think of the world
And their plan to save organized religion
From itself

I blame Society for this Rifftrax On Demand review.

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3/16/08

RVOD018 Saftey: Harm Hides at Home

(1970s-ish, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

I guess the Lollipop Guild is a member of the Federation.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Aliens grant a crossing guard the power to deliver boring safety lectures.

Summary:

Alert!  Aware!  Alive!Meet Miss Kingsley, freelance architect and part-time crossing guard. One night as she drives home from visiting her favorite Aunt Margaret (quoth Bill, “The other nine Aunt Margarets leave her cold”), a wobbly flying saucer swoops out of a completely different movie to shrill their message at her in a monotone chipmunk voice. I’m not sure what that message is (something about safety, probably), but it ends with a large plastic novelty ring that turns into a garbage can lid. Thus, Miss Kingsley becomes Guardiana: mylar-clad deliverer of intrusive safety lectures. With the help of her magic trailer hitch, she invades the homes of the children in her neighborhood, warning them about the dangers of fire, ladders, guns, refrigerators, toys, and so on, and so forth…

Thoughts:

Imagine Erik Estrada crossed with Lynda Carter, dial the budget back to single digits, and you’ll get a rough approximation of Guardiana. She does have a lot of good things to say about safety, especially where kids are concerned. Don’t let the floor stay slippery, don’t climb ladders right up to the top, don’t play with guns, don’t put paper on the stove… This is all good advice, though the last one contains a curious omission when you consider that the paper-on-the-stove kid has just pressed raw ground beef into a burger with his bare hands, and then proceeded to touch everything in the kitchen (including the bun and cheese he will shortly eat) without washing up. Also, she tends to put rather a lot of responsibility onto kids. How is a nine-year-old supposed to install additional lighting in the stairwells? And why is it that eleven-year-old’s job to make sure the old refrigerator gets disposed of properly?

Of course, any short that features a silver-jumpsuited woman with aviators is fodder for mockery. As the film slides into a blurry brown monochrome (to symbolize alien power, I guess) Bill says, “I just feel kind of unfocused these days.” As Guardiana continues to detail all the horrific possible fates for the careless, Kevin tells the kids at home to protect themselves; “Keep a gun under your pillow,” he advises. When particular mention is given to the danger of a ball left on the stars, Mike says, “A single play ball can take out an entire city block.” It’s a good solid short, worthy of your time.

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3/14/08

Ah, the Heady Smell of Coffee-House Pretentiousness

Did they even make Mike's favorite brand of cat poop coffee in the sixties?Welcome, won't you?

What, we get a new public domain short every Friday now? Dare I hope for such a thing?

Rifftrax On Demand dips its toes back into the waters of unencrypted content with their newest short, Coffee House Rendezvous. I desperately hope it will feature even more hapless authority figures shaking their heads uncomprehendingly at the youth culture of yesteryear. Enjoy it now for only $0.99. Review to come.

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Introducing My Good Friend Misc.

Not a city in Russia.Welcome, won't you?

We (meaning I) strive for inclusiveness here at War of the Colossal Fan Guide. That's why we've made an effort to review each and every episode of MST3K and it's progeny. Some of it's progeny are unstoppable juggernauts of funny, some are not, and some are inbetween. Still others are very, very small--too small to garner much attention even when they were released.

Is this any reason to leave them out? Of course not. Is it any reason to lump them together in a big pile we'll call by the unimaginative title, "Miscellaneous"? Yes. Yes, it is.

Thus far the Miscellaneous section consists only of MST3K.com (now demoted for its recent refusal to update and general all-around crappiness) and the short-lived but brilliant internet series Edward The Less. Other mini/miscellaneous guides will follow as I get around to them.

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3/11/08

I Am Rifftrax!

Why is Bill a Pict?Welcome, won't you?

The long drought between feature-length Rifftrax is finally drawing to a close with the announcement of a commentary track for the director's cut of Beowulf, featuring Mike, Bill, and Kevin. Get your swords, pecs, and screaming voices ready, because it's scheduled for release on Tuesday March 18, 2008.

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3/10/08

Darkstar: The Interactive Movie

(2010, SciFi/Videogame, color)

Rating ***

In a Nutshell:


An amnesiac astronaut must reactivate his starship and finish his mission to save Earth.

Summary:

Meet the crew.Captain John O’Neill (Clive Robertson) wakes up from cryo-hibernation on a starship with no memory of his identity or mission. Through various clues and crew logs, he discovers that the Earth has been destroyed during a war with the newly independent Martian prison colony. O’Neill’s mission is to seek out the Darkstar, a hole in space that transports everything to pass through it back to a fixed point in time. If the information on his ship reaches Earth of the past, they can quell the Martian rebellion before it begins.

In order to complete his mission, O’Neill sets about gradually reactivating and repairing his ship, sabotaged some years previously by a Martian spy. Was it the missing Perryman (Trace Beaulieu) or the murdered Burk (Frank Conniff)? When the ship is finally spaceworthy, O’Neill takes a shuttle down to the surface of an alien planet in search of water to use as coolant. He finds both water and the surviving saboteur, who tries to leave him stranded. After looking through the remains of a Martian ship and its murdered crew (captained by Joel Hodson as Kane Cooper), O’Neill pursues the traitor back to the ship. Using his now-encyclopedic knowledge of the ship’s various secret doors and tubes, he surprises the traitor in the ion chamber, sealing him inside. The ship’s final repair sequence burns the traitor to a crisp.

O’Neill’s pilot and former lover Palmer (Beez McKeever) wakes up from hibernation to join him on the bridge. She’s got amnesia too, but not enough to prevent her from evading Darkstar’s automated Martian defenses. She delivers them safely to Earth’s distant past.

Thoughts:

You'll be seeing a lot of those hands.Technically the subtitle “The Interactive Movie” applies—there’s a lot of live action video in it and it’s interactive—but it seems a bit misleading. When describing an interactive visual narrative meant to be experienced on a computer, aren’t you just talking about a videogame? I understand there are already a Darkstar: The Videogame out there (also published by Strategy First), but you couldn’t do better than “The Interactive Movie?” It’s not really any more of a movie than most videogames.

With this established, we can proceed using the proper terms. Darkstar: The Interactive Movie is a slow-paced adventure game mixed with live action cinematics in the style of Phantasmagoria, The 7th Guest and so on. Surprisingly (given its long and troubled development history) it’s pretty good, so if you like adventure games, you’re in for a treat.

Before you stop reading and buy it, however, let me get the bad news out of the way. Production values are low. I mean really, really low. The resolution is fixed at 1024x768, which artifacts unpleasantly when scaled up. The live action and CGI elements are spliced together in a manner which I shall charitably call “far from seamless.” When an active scene—talking to a crewmember, watching a puzzle twist, moving from one part of the ship to another, etc.—shifts to a static scene—i.e.: one you can interact with—the brightness changes significantly. A couple of times I wondered if there was a crewmember in another part of the ship playing with the lightswitches. The ancient, wheezing software that powers the whole affair crashes at least once an hour. The user interface is ugly, sluggish, unintuitive and in all other ways horrible. The icon for moving forward is the same as the one for interacting with objects, which makes the pixel-hunting required by the genre more difficult than it needs to be.

Our nonchalant hero.These are issues you can either live with or you can’t, and looking at the abysmal User Review scores this thing is accumulating, most people can’t. If you’re a twitch gamer, looking for the next new thrill, don’t waste your money. If you demand exquisitely rendered eye candy rendered in high definition with digitally mastered sound, don’t waste your money. If you want a customizable interface with scalable graphics and a context-sensitive hint system, don’t waste your money. If you’re a fan of classic adventure games and don’t mind playing something that looks fifteen years old, please proceed to the next section of the review, because bad news time is over. It’s good news time:

Art design is gorgeous, well-detailed and full of objects you can interact with. I sometimes found myself wondering why a starship would need marble columns, original works of art with display lighting, sumptuous chaise lounges, wooden chests with puzzle locks, twisting secret passages with an entirely superfluous rapid transit system and so forth, but hey, it makes for a fascinating exploration experience. In an adventure game that’s more important than realism.

Puzzles are always logical and usually have more than one solution. (Example: use of a scanner showed me which buttons on the crew quarters security keypad had opened it previously, but to get through it I had to trial-and-error my way through various combinations of them before I stumbled on the right code by accident. Some time later I went downstairs and did another random puzzle, receiving a list of crew quarter door codes as a reward.) The ship’s interfaces aren’t needlessly elaborate. Once you figure out which button does what, programming the systems to do what you want them to is fairly straightforward. I like the fact that once you’ve found a switch (not always an easy task) often all you have to do is flip it.

The story hook is trite (the main character has amnesia; we've never seen that before) but once you get into it, it’s absorbingly told. Clive Robertson performs player avatar O’Neill like someone who’s been asleep for years and can’t quite wake up all the way. He’s not an electrifying screen presence, but you don’t really want one of those for the player character anyway. All of the MST3K alumni are at least good, and in some cases great. Trace Beaulieu’s erratic performance as your missing first officer will keep you guessing about his intentions, for the first part of the game at least. Joel Hodson is very funny as the jovial Martian co-conspirator. Frank Conniff does okay as possible traitor Burk, but the role he really shines in is SIMON, an insane robot who tends to show up and help you with puzzles after you’ve already solved them. Peter Graves pipes up occasionally as a narrator, delivering exposition with his usual gravitas. Performance quality from the many, many smaller parts varies widely, leading me to wonder if Darkstar’s producers ran out of actors and had to fill out their cast of thousands with family and friends. The only one I know about for sure would be the producer’s young daughter Margaret Noel as MAGS (another insane robot), who sparkles with personality and comic timing, providing the game with my second favorite character.

Yes, my favorite characters are the insane robots. You did see that this is an MST3K fan site, didn’t you?

Bottom line: It’s a beautiful, well-designed, old-school adventure game buried under obsolete technology and a bad user interface, with great performances from the supporting cast.

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Adding Cathy to My List of Inscrutable Mysteries

Non sequitur shorts: it's what's for dinner.Welcome, won't you?

This weekend's shorts took a little longer to digest... Get it? Because they're food related? Get it? If I promise to stop will you promise not to throw things at me?

Yes, I know the above was not funny, for which I am deeply sorry. Please accept this review by way of reparation, pertaining to the strangest shorts Mike and company have ever riffed.

Also: Certain previous MST3K reviews lacked screenshots of the film where none were available. These have now been refurbished with shiny new screenshots taken over the course of the last several weeks by none other than myself. You're welcome.

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3/7/08

Local Poultry For Breakfast

It looks like it's gonna be a food-themed weekend.Welcome, won't you?

It's two for one day at Rifftrax with two public domain shorts for the low, low price of $0.99 cents. Why Doesn't Cathy Eat Breakfast? and Petaluma Chicken. I'm especially looking forward to seeing a bit of local history in the second one, as Petaluma is only a fifteen minute drive away from my house. Expect the review in a few days.

Oh, and here's a special note for the person who pirated the last release, dragging Rifftrax On Demand back into DRM: You're a jackass.

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3/5/08

Concerning Certain Potential Items That Could Possibly Be Considered Merchandise At Some Point In The Future

Trace's Bait and Time Tube shop.Welcome, won't you?

Two very small news items on the docket today.

First: Trace Beaulieu over at Cinematic Titanic has posted the following:


You have asked for merchandise and I am proud to announce that we are having some. We have some.

There will be some.

Now I’m not going to make any promises, (a feller could get in a pickle you know) but we will be offering a limited amount of stuff, from this website in the near future.
In the future.
The not too distant future.
Sometime between now, and a later date that has yet to be determined.
Definitely in the soonish area I would think, but not when you might expect it.
The rest of his post is only slightly more informative, hinting at such items as cast photos and T-shirts. Still, good to know.

Second: The previously described alteration of the Digital Archive Project's affairs is now official, with many of the initial difficulties ironed out. If you're looking for unreleased episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, do yourselves a favor. Ignore the bootleggers and get them here for free.

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3/4/08

I'm Bored

I did a google image search for 'alt text' and this came up.  Weird, huh.I've just been given a new database program to work with, and it allows maybe one keystroke every five minutes. That makes for days of apocalyptic boredom.

So I figured out how to add alt text to images. Nearly all the images in all the reviews now have alt text in them. The few that don't are images that I don't like, and am in the process of replacing. Yes, I really am that bored.

Oh, and also, Welcome, won't you?

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RVOD017 Coffee House Rendezvous

(1969, Educational-ish/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

I think I’ve overdosed on “groovy.”

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Amateur folk musicians and hot caffeinated beverages: a winning combination.

Summary:

This picture cannot adequately convey the horror of Bill and Kevin's slightly off-tune close harmony duet.The makers of this short want you to know that the youth of today (1969) are banding together in basements, churches, and colleges to harmonize, drink coffee, and argue about irrelevant pseudo-philosophy. They hope that you will tolerate and even endorse this practice, in the understanding that at least they’re not out setting fire to things, or [shudder] listening to rock and roll.

Thoughts:

Far from being yet another short film where elderly, plank-shaped authority figures shake their heads uncomprehendingly at youth culture, Coffee House Rendezvous is actually from youth culture’s point of view. You can sense it speaking slowly and deliberately, using small words so that that the old and square can understand. “Look,” it says. “We’re just hanging around, soaking in the beat poetry and folk rock. We’re, like, in churches and universities, even. Quit buggin’ us about it, man.” To drive this point home, they show the adults exactly what they’re out doing every night so they can see how harmless it is. In doing so, they also (unintentionally) show us how amateurish, pretentious, and self-absorbed it is.

This is the sort of ridiculous exuberance on which Mike, Bill, and Kevin thrive. When someone opens the short by banging on an out-of-tune piano while belting out an ode to coffee houses in general, Bill says, “I keep throwing that piano away, and someone keeps hauling it back from the dump.” When a particularly insightful young man notes that one of the main things people associate coffee houses with is coffee, Mike notes, “There’s a certain logic to it, when you think about it.” As an oddly shaped man rambles incomprehensibly about the coffee house at his university, Kevin supplies him with a more lucid line: “My head is a large thumb dotted with chunky features.” Even untreated, the short is so simultaneously stupid and sincere that you can’t help but laugh at it, and the Rifftrax crew pushes just hard enough to get it over the edge of complete ludicrousness. This is the most enjoyable short subject they’ve done thus far.

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3/3/08

What, We Haven't Already Elected One of These Clowns?

Regret 2009 to 2012.Welcome, won't you?

Politics is apparently a matter of some concern down at Rifftrax Headquarters, U.S.A., as crack riffing teams continue their efforts to keep us abreast of the real issues. Once again, my current computer's aversion to Youtube keeps me woefully ignorant. I shall endeavor to correct this upon returning home this evening.

(Update: I've seen them now, and they are quite funny, including a few with Bridget Nelson as Hilary Clinton, and one with a rather disturbing love song to John McCain by Kevin Murphy.)

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3/2/08

Miscellaneous

The most descriptive graphic I could find.Here we have the odds and ends of fandom. Projects by the MST3K cast, dead, obscure, and otherwise.

MST3K.com, for instance, used to have it's own place in the Table of Contents in the Quixotic hope that it would dazzle us with continuous content. In reality, original content was underwhelming and petered out after only four entries. "Legacy" content used to update every week or so but seems to have fizzled out as well. The site has since been replaced with something both 100% better and original content-free.

Edward The Less, on the other hand, was low budget high fantasy brilliance. It eventually ran its course and died of neglect. Seeing it nowadays requires access to youtube, or a bittorrent client and some patience.

One-Offs: A special section for single-part projects. It currently contains my reviews of Max the Hero, Meet Dave and Darkstar: the Interactive Movie.

Event Reports: Now that Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic have started to either travel to or broadcast to locations near me on a semi-regular basis, I've started going to see them. And every time I see them, I post my impressions. This is where you find said impressions of said events.

If there's anything else out there you feel needs to be included, please feel free to drop me a line.

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3/1/08

Just Say No To Cold War Paranoia

Mike is quite sorry, Bill is quite high, and Kevin just can't believe he's associated with the other two.Welcome, won't you?

Turns out The Terrible Truth is all about drugs. Pot and H mainly, which, according to the short, is "jive talk" for marijuana and heroin. (Interestingly, the people responsible for the supposed "jive talk" are all whiter than a Lapland winter.) It's the damned Russkies' fault, that's what it is...

Anyway, the review has been posted here.

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