Wednesday, April 7, 2010

S01E05 - The Corpse Vanishes


Short: Commando Cody and his companion manage to escape from the melting cave and return to their spaceship. Before the moon men can stop them, the rocketship takes off and heads back to Earth to warn of the Radar Men's sabotage to pave way for a galactic invasion. The moon men leader radios instructions to his underling on Earth to kill Cody before this information can be relayed, which eventually leads to a climactic gun battle and high-speed chase.

Film: Beautiful young brides are dying on the day of their weddings, and after every wedding the bride's corpse is stolen. A determined young female reporter is determined to find out why the dead brides are vanishing, and follows a mysteriously scented orchid to the home of Dr. Lorenz, a mad scientist who is using the brides to sustain the beauty and youth of his aged wife.

Movie Review

After a brief hiatus (there was no episode accompanying Women of the Prehistoric Planet), Commando Cody returns, and boy, does it start off on a stupid note. In the previous episode, Cody and his friend were trapped by a molten river of melted rock with seemingly no escape, but at the beginning of this episode, they avoid the lava by...going down a nearby tunnel. Boy, that was some stellar writing right there. And to punctuate this stupidity, Cody lobs a grenade at the tank that tried to kill them, letting the moon men know that they had survived instead of hiding themselves. Honestly...

The rest of the episode is standard fare, or as standard as bad serials can get, I guess. Cody and friends return to Earth, only to be greeted by a gun battle between two hired hands ordered to kill the ship crew. This leads to a high-speed car chase, and an exploding bridge, which seemingly destroys Cody (yeah, right). There's honestly little that can be said here, it's that bland and generic, so I won't even try.

And now for the feature film, The Corpse Vanishes, starring Bela Lugosi. Poor, poor Bela. After starring in his legendary role as Count Dracula, he was forever typecast as an evil mad scientist-type actor, as evident by the pathetic roles he ended up playing. In this laughably horrible piece of cinema, he is (yep) a mad scientist, one who has so much devotion to his wife that he kidnaps young women to sustain her youth. The plot only gets sillier from there.

What can we say about this ridiculous film? Let's start with the characters. Lugosi does his best with the material given to him playing Dr. Lorenz, but that's really not saying much. The female protagonist, Patricia Hunter, is played as a serious, determined gal who takes no prisoners, but her performance is so over the top that she's actually funnier than the terrible comic relief photographer in the film. A doctor who assists with Dr. Lorenz in his studies is introduced with no fanfare and walks through the rest of the movie as a cardboard cutout, even though he is meant to do a lot more. Seriously, his presence is so flat that when he pops the question to Patricia at film's end, it literally comes out of nowhere (more on this later).

Rounding out the rest of the case is a small collection of Addams Family wannabes. In addition to his wife, who acts like a screeching harpy that no one in their right mind would love, Dr. Lorenz keeps in his employment a family of deformed freaks: a wretched old woman and her two sons, a hunchback and a midget. They serve no purpose in the film other than to provide some kind of sympathetic reaction as they die off one by one because of their loyalty to the mad doctor, and this manipulation of emotion is too transparent to be effective.

Moving on, let's take a look at the plot, which is beyond silly. To begin with, why kidnap the young brides at their weddings, when there are hundreds of potential witnesses around, not to mention it creates a pattern that police can (and do) monitor? Even Dr. Lorenz acknowledges that it doesn't really matter if the girls are brides or not. And all throughout the film, characters are either underwritten or overwritten - the former applies to Dr. Lorenz's friend Dr. Foster, whose part is so light that it's actually a shock that he plays a bigger role near the end of the movie, while the latter applies to Lorenz's wife and the family of freaks, who just do "stuff" that means absolutely nothing in the long run. In short, the plot is a mess with no direction and a haphazard collection of scenes strung together.

And now for the worst offense in this film. I've made this point in previous reviews, but this has to be the biggest offender yet of blatant sexism. Unlike in previous films, the heroine seems very capable of taking care of herself (at least to a point). She's smart, independent, and actually takes the lead in driving the plot forward most of the time. Then, near the film's end, she plots with Dr. Foster to craft a fake wedding to lure the mad scientist into a trap, and it's here that Dr. Foster actually proposes to Patricia, a woman he has known for all of several days. And what happens at the very end of the film? She ends up marrying him...and quits her job! Talk about ripping out anything meaningful in her life so she can be a good little housewife.

In short, the movie is stupid. It's bad, but it's more stupid than horrible, burdened by laughable moments and nonexistent characterization. And on top of it all, it ends on a really offensive note.

MST3K Review

The riffs in this episode were a good continuation of the strength of the riffs found in the previous episode, namely some strong jokes and good timing. It helped that Joel and the bots seemed to enjoy mimicking Bela Lugosi's accent, and it also helped that the film's ridiculousness was ripe for mocking.

If there's one criticism I can offer at this point, it's something that seems to be more noticeable in these early episodes: the reading of the credits. When credits appear, Joel and the bots seem to resort mostly to mocking them by reading them in exaggerated voices. This was especially apparent during the Commando Cody episode when Servo read the title in a dramatic voice that wasn't particularly funny. Future episodes mocked the credits in funnier ways, like playing on a person's name.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

S01E04 - Women of the Prehistoric Planet


A spaceship exploring the unknown cosmos crash lands on an unexplored planet after the Centaurian crew members attempt a revolt. Thousands of light-years away, the captain of the fleet makes a decision to attempt to rescue any possible survivors of the crashed ship. Upon arriving at the unexplored world, one of the captain's ship's crew, a Centaurian woman named Linda, manages to leave the ship and meet Tang, the son of two of the surviving crashed ship's crew. The events that follow will determine Linda's destiny.

Movie Review

Made in 1966, Women of the Prehistoric Planet is a pretty interesting film that gets a lot wrong and yet isn't far off from getting a lot right. Perhaps with some better polish and better acting - and maybe an actual budget - this film could've been a fairly decent movie. Sadly, that's not the case, so it ends up on the dust pile of bad sci-fi films made.

The most eye-popping inconsistency one would think of after watching this film all the way through is...what women? Oh, sure, there are several women in this film, but only one who actually sets foot on the prehistoric planet, and she isn't even originally from the planet. This film was actually originally titled just The Prehistoric Planet, but the studio apparently thought renaming it to its current title would better draw in an audience. To "justify" this change, a few shots of bathing half-naked cave-women were shot, though only European audiences got to see these scenes, leaving American audiences baffled.

Outside of the title, the movie itself is still a mess. For one thing, it's incredibly boring. In between occasional (and scant) scenes of action, we get a lot of talking and a lot of redundant and unfunny dialogue. A lot of the "scenes" feel like padding, which is actually interesting, considering the time could've been better used to flesh out the love story of our male and female protagonists.

Ah, yes, Linda and Tang. Linda is a Centaurian, a human-like race looked down upon by many humans. Tang is the son of a Centaurian mother and a human father. When Linda meets Tang, it doesn't take long for the two of them to fall in love; in fact, the rushed nature of the courtship is so telegraphed that one is amazed they aren't on top of one another in the first scene.

The courtship of Linda and Tang highlights another of my favorite talking points: sexism. Linda is portrayed as one incapable of defending herself and requiring someone to look out for her - had there been better pacing, she likely would've been the damsel in distress at some point. This sexism is at its peak right in one stunning scene: when she realizes that Tang had (innocently) undressed her to remove wet clothes from her body, she slaps him, making him slap her hard enough to make her fall. But instead of fearing him, she falls in love with him and they kiss. Yay abusive relationships, I suppose.

Still, though the film botches the love story gloriously, I feel they did (partially) get one thing right: their commentary on racism. In this film, all humans are played by Caucasian actors, while all Centaruians are played by Asian characters. Yes, using whites to play the "superior" race and Asians to play the "inferior" race can be seen as subtle racism in itself, but at least the film acknowledges this by using the casting to play on racism within the film's world. The racism between humans and Centaurians does play something of a role in the plot, though admittedly a lot of the potential is lost thanks to bad writing. Even so, the attempt is an admirable one, and though it doesn't work fully, at least it doesn't become absurd.

Outside of the protagonists, there are really no interesting characters to speak of. The one attempt to make a memorable character is in the form of a comic relief who thinks he's the next Bob Hope but fails miserably. The one upside to his appearance is his flailing attempt at karate, as it is the scene that gave MST3K their famous "Haikeeba!" running joke. Aside from him, none of the characters are remotely worth discussing.

In fact, the scenery is a more interesting topic of discussion, if only because it's so laughable. The spaceships, which are meant to carry a large crew, are far too claustrophobic for such an advanced civilization. The prehistoric planet is even worse, as the jungle and mountain shots all look like movie sets. There is one scene where a hiking group has to cross a lake of acid on a fallen tree trunk, and it's treated as a dangerous crossing when the lake is small enough for them to almost leap over. And did I mention that they could've just walked around the lake instead of crossing the fallen trunk?

So where would Women of the Prehistoric Planet fall on the bad movie scale? Surprisingly, despite all of its problems, it still has a bit of charm to it, mainly because a lot of the drama is so staged it's hilarious to see the actors push it through so seriously. It's good for a decent laugh, though certainly not because of the comic relief.

MST3K Review

Now this is more like it. While in The Mad Monster Joel and the bots came close to sounding disinterested, here they sound a lot more into the riffing. Joel even gets up several times to do shadow puppet-esque motions on the film. Their timing sounds a lot more consistent and sharper, while their jokes are sounding more subtle.

For a season one episode, this one is definitely a keeper.