Monday, May 31, 2010

S01E13 - The Black Scorpion


After an earthquake in Mexico creates a volcano practically overnight, a pair of geologists are sent in to investigate the newly formed volcanic area. Almost immediately they discover that peculiar occurrences are happening in and around the nearby towns, and it's only much later when they discover that giant prehistoric scorpions have been unleashed by the volcano.

Movie Review

This is a monster movie, in the same vein as The Slime People and The Crawling Eye. Unlike those movies, The Black Scorpion is a monster movie of the "giant animal" variety, taking a well-known creature of Earth and upgrading the size to gigantic proportions. It is also thoroughly generic, and despite some incredible special effects, the film fails at being interesting or well-written.

Let's get the most important bit out of the way first: the giant scorpions (plural, unlike what's indicated in the film title) look amazing, which is understandable considering their stop-motion effects were overseen by Wills O'Brien, who was responsible for the legendary effects in the original King Kong. Close-ups of the scorpions' faces do look a little silly with their pseudo-human eyes, but all other shots of the creatures feature stunning stop-motion animation. If there is any major flaw, it's that several shots of the scorpions only show a scorpion silhouette with no detail, thanks to the movie running of funds for the composite process.

And it seems that the small budget could explain a lot of what went wrong with this flick. The story borrows a lot of ideas from the giant monster movie Them!, which featured giant ants (Black Scorpion even reuses the high-pitched squeal of the Them! ants). Some of the other giant monsters in the movie are actually reused models from King Kong. Characters appear and disappear with no resolution or warning. It's as if the producers studied the template on how to make a giant monster flick but half-assed it along the way, ending up with pieces of the final film that don't gel together, like poorly made jigsaw pieces.

Let's look at an example of what I mean. One character introduced in the first half of the movie is a young boy called Juanito. He tries to be cute but is irritating and serves no purpose whatsoever in the film outside of being an annoyance, but he ends up in several scenes just the same because he's the monster movie kid. After he nearly kills the film's hero geologists by stowing away on their exhibition into the scorpions' nest, Juanito is never seen again. A similar occurrence happens with the film's love interest, who is present solely to be a love interest. Oh, sure, the film tries to reason with the audience that she's useful because she's a local rancher with knowledge of the land, but said knowledge is put to no use at all in the film. She also fails in the one task given to her, and that's watching Juanito. Her part is so disposable that she isn't even made a damsel in distress at any time in the film, which, while welcome, gives her practically nothing interesting to do.

Outside of woefully underdeveloped and irregularly used characters and some fault story editing, Black Scorpion is not that terrible of a film. The acting is actually decent for a film of this caliber, and as previously mentioned, the special effects are exceptional outside of some miscues due to budget cuts. Beyond that, the film's biggest pitfall is that it's criminally bland outside of any scene involving the giant scorpions, more so than other films of this type.

If anything, this film must be studied by stop-animation buffs for its incredible scorpion models. Outside of that, trying to find an interesting narrative joining the scorpion scenes together is an exercise in tedium.

MST3K Review

The first season ends not with a bang nor a whimper, but something squarely in the middle. By now Joel and the bots seem to have gotten used to the routine of riffing movies for a national audience and sounded very comfortable with their jokes (the silhouetted wienie roast over the volcano lava was brilliant). The jokes themselves were amusing, though few true gems were present in the riffing this time around, likely because the movie didn't give them much material to work with. Still, there's no reason to expect that the fine folks of MST3K won't take what they've learned in these first 13 episodes and improve upon the formula for the next season.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

S01E12 - Untamed Youth


Two young women are hitchhiking their way to California when they are picked up as vagrants by the local police. Rather than serve jail time, they choose to work on a cotton farm as cotton pickers along with other young men and women serving time. But they quickly learn that the cotton farm's owner intends to abuse his position of authority as much as he can and has darker ideas in store for his indentured labor.

Movie Review

The first movie of season one that isn't a sci-fi or fantasy flick, Untamed Youth is a camp teen exploitation flick that knows exactly what it wants to show off, and both of them belong to Mamie Van Doren. While it doesn't descend to the depths of film atrocity that previous MST3K offerings have, this film is a piece of cinematic shlock whose only thing of worth is its trainwreck factor.

The plot setup is an intriguing one, admittedly: a corrupt cotton farm owner and his partner, a complicit female judge, use the court system to send juveniles to work at the farm for mere pittances to serve out their sentences, resulting in cheap labor. The two protagonists, a couple of female traveling performers, end up getting booked for vagrancy and sent to this farm, where they have to endure all kinds of terrible circumstances from tiring cotton-picking to cramped living quarters, from being threatened with sexual assault by the owner to eating dog food. Though not the most sophisticated of setups, some decent writing could've made it an entertaining story.

But that's the problem we have here: a lack of good writing, as well as other things. A lot of the same tropes that have befallen other bad films befall this film, including: characters who are nothing more than caricatures, from the sinister cotton farm owner to the air-headed sexy female lead; cringe-worthy dialogue that screams of movie suits trying to make their film sound "hip"; plot contrivances that show a lack of quality control; and a shoe-horned love story between one of the female leads and the handsome male protagonist. It's all right if a movie doesn't wish to redefine movies as we know it, but is it asking too much to take a risk somewhere and not base the plot of others that came before it?

The big draw of this film is, of course, Mamie Van Doren, a Hollywood sex symbol whose most prized assets (both of them) are on full display in this film (or at least as much as a Hollywood film could get away with in those days). A big indication of her being the main draw has to do with the fact that she sings in several songs throughout the film, which wouldn't be so bad if the songs she sings weren't so atrocious. Though Ms. Van Doren does have a reasonable singing voice, she should fire her songwriters, as they wrote some of the most pap-laced pieces of garbage ever committed to audio. What really irks me about these songs is that they often try to sound sexual (by 1950s standards), but end up sounding juvenile. What's worse, the script calls for the actors watching Van Doren sing to cry out, as if happily "shocked" to hear such crass innuendo. It doesn't work. Oh, god, it doesn't work.

But Ms. Van Doren should be happy that of all the songs she sings in this film, she doesn't sing the worst one. No, that honor goes to Eddie Cochran, who croons the song "Cottonpicker". Unlike the other songs, which are sung at dances in the film, "Cottonpicker" is sung in the middle of a cotton field, suggesting this movie is some kind of musical when it clearly isn't. And the song itself has no chorus, just verses, but each verse repeats one line three times. It's annoying, it's lazy, and it's just awful.

Beyond these reasons, the movie also suffers from several tone shifts. Untamed Youth mostly plays itself as a lighthearted pseudo-rebellion flick interspersed with terrible music, but then it tries to get serious with scenes of near sexual assault, a pregnant woman's death, and cross-country slavery. These moments destroy much of the film's overall camp value and jars noticeably with the more light-toned segments.

In all, the only reason to watch this flick is to witness Ms. Van Doren's gorgeous self parading around the film in various states of sensual dress, although those who value atrocious musical pieces will find plenty to love here as well.

MST3K Review

Some have said that this episode is perhaps the best episode of MST3K's first season, thanks to really good riffing and a watchable film (in one sense). While I don't agree that the film is entirely watchable, I do agree that Joel and the bots' riffing in this episode is particularly strong, definitely on par at the least with some of the stronger episodes from this season. By now I've also started to become used to them talking over some of the dialogue, although they didn't do it so flagrantly in this episode. The big exception, of course, is when Joel calls Gypsy into the theater to make cotton for Tom Servo while a meaningless conversation goes on in the film. This is the kind of dialogue that deserves to be talked over, and the improved timing of the jokes suggest that Joel and the bots realize this as well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

S01E11 - Moon Zero Two


Once a revered hero who became the first man to fly to Mars, a space pilot now spends his days salvaging broken satellites around the moon. But a local millionaire sees him as a means of retrieving an asteroid made entirely out of sapphires without the legal authorities catching on. At the same time, a woman arrives on the moon looking for her brother, who is mining on the moon's far side. These two seemingly unrelated narratives will collide as a strange mystery begins to unravel.

Movie Review

This movie reminds me a little of Women of the Prehistoric Planet, in that with some better writing and a lot of polish, this film could've been salvaged as a decent flick. Instead, the movie falls under the weight of its own ambitions and dissolves into the dustbin of history. But while Prehistoric Planet had a bit of charm to it, Moon Zero Two squanders any goodwill with one of the most annoying and arrogant protagonists I can recall.

The film's main hero, Bill Kemp, is smug - there is no other word to properly describe him. Okay, maybe there are, but smug describes him best. He is cynical, sneering, sarcastic, and snide, and he apparently has a chip on his shoulder the size of the moon itself. Every sentence out of his mouth is either a supposedly witty rejoinder or filled with contempt. Even as circumstances change from ho-hum to dangerous, he keeps his angry and smug persona without much inflection. Obviously he is trying to sound brave and easy-going, but instead he comes across as completely unlikable. His smugness permeates through the rest of the film, as many of the other characters seem to try and mimic his witticisms but fail. Perhaps this is all because of the film's British origin, but even the most English of films isn't usually this pompous and easy to hate.

The rest of the characters aren't as unlikable as Kemp, but they are one-note caricatures and forgettable. Meanwhile, the plot is actually quite interesting, mixing the genres of mystery and action into an intriguing concoction. Unfortunately, the execution of said plot doesn't always reach its potential and much of the movie is boring as a result. If the script had been just a little bit more tightly written, this film could've been something unique in the filming landscape.

One area that Moon Zero Two definitely has a leg-up on Prehistoric Planet is the special effects. Unlike the latter film's horrendously cheap-looking set pieces, this film's set-pieces and effects are incredible, which should be expected considering some of the SFX people had previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey. And considering Moon Zero Two was released not too long after the first manned moon landing, the amount of realism in this movie is admirable. From the low gravity moon walks to the zero-g space walks, there is a lot of detail to be admired here.

One can't say the same for the film's opening, though. Similar to the Pink Panther films, Moon Zero Two employs a cartoon music video for the opening credits. But whereas the Pink Panther had Henry Mancini's classic score, this film uses a hideous choir-esque tune that detracts from the film's overall serious tone. And the cartoon itself is also bizarre, as it suggests the film is some kind of commentary on an international space race rather than a mystery-drama film. Also, speaking of the score, the film makers made an odd choice to use upbeat jazz tunes for the background music. Admittedly the use of music in place of sound effects (since there is no sound in space) is rather clever, but the blaring trumpets and generic beats can be grating at times.

Overall, Moon Zero Two is not a terrible film, but it is not a good one, either. Its biggest flaw, a thoroughly obnoxious protagonist, is too much for the rest of the film to overcome, and the remaining, smaller errors add up against the film's favor. Some better planning could've made this film a classic, but instead it crashed like the sapphire asteroid in the movie's climax.

MST3K Review

Compared to the previous episode, Joel and the bots were a lot more interested in this film and subsequently the riffing here was more enjoyable. Even so, it didn't reach the level of some of Season One's best episodes, though there were some standout riffs here and there. Perhaps if the riffing could've learned the same lesson the movie should've learned - better tightening of some things - this episode could've been a classic, but as it stands, it's a good but not great episode.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

S01E10 - Robot Holocaust


Short: Commando Cody...does something?

Film: The world has been plunged into an apocalyptic wasteland after a terrible war with machines poisoned the atmosphere. The remaining humans live in sheltered areas and serve the leader of the robots, the Dark One, by supplying his power lest their breathable air get cut off. But there are those who have found ways of not being affected by the poisonous atmosphere, and these brave souls will lead a small band to the Dark One's power station to destroy him once and for all.

Movie Review

As much as I would love (hah!) to review Commando Cody's latest serial episode, it seems that the creators of MST3K finally got sick Mr. Pre-Rocketeer and decided they were no longer going to show any more episodes of Rader Men from the Moon. To rub it in, this episode airs only part of serial episode nine before abruptly cutting off (which the Mad Scientists claim is due to the film breaking). And so ends the exploits of Commando Cody with an inglorious halt to his generic serial. Though admittedly there is a small part of me that would've liked to have seen the remaining episodes, this part is overwhelmed by the joy of no longer witnessing more hammy fist fights and inane dialogue.

So that leaves us with the feature film itself, an absolutely delightful artifact of the 80s entitled Robot Holocaust. This is the type of B-movie that I love to watch without Joel/Mike and the bots and drink in its terribleness, the type of movie that should be watched with friends for the proper experience. But what makes a film like this different from all the other terrible films that are shown the Satellite of Love?

It's the small things, really. It's the terrible acting that's somehow even worse than the schlock you'd see in a creature feature from the 1960s. It's the full color that "vibrantly" displays the lack of budget, as opposed to black-and-white films that can obscure things a bit more easily. It's the realization that even though film-making technology has improved leaps and bounds since their humble beginnings, there are still crackpots in the 80s that think they can make a film. It's the fact that in the 80s, there are a more films that others can (and will) rip-off. For more on this subject, see also: Gymkata, R.O.T.O.R., and Deadly Prey.

And so it is with all of these factors that we have Robot Holocaust, a blatant rip-off of countless sword-and-sorcery and post-apocalyptic flicks like Mad Max and Conan the Barbarian. The lack of originality permeates every facet of this film, from the characters to the dialogue to the plot. Then there's the lack of effort, which can be seen in the scriptwriting, the costumes, the plot holes (and forgotten plot devices) and even the locations. This film is just bad, but it's entertainingly so.

There is so much to say about this film. How about first the plot, or the strung together scenes that barely make a plot? From what the internet tells me, this film was written and directed by Tim Kincaid, who was a prolific porn director. If this is true, then the reason for why the plot is so poorly written makes complete sense. Mr. Kincaid doesn't know how to tell a story at all if Robot Holocaust is any indication. Several big examples can be throughout the film, including:

- The main hero can use telepathy, but it never comes into play outside of a worthless exposition sequence.
- The hero says he comes from a rebel society that has amassed an army to defeat the Dark One, but he heads out to defeat the Dark One with only a few new recruits; the army is never mentioned again.
- The hero also says he is looking for a friend at the Power Station, where the Dark One resides; naturally, this friend is never referenced again.
- It's made clear that only the main hero and heroine can survive in the poisonous atmosphere, and yet several ordinary humans follow them through the poisonous atmosphere without any damage.
- One of the Dark One's minions, a robot called Torque, is sent out again and again to stop the small group from reaching the Power Station. But Torque never even does anything to the group - like the shotgun that is pumped a dozen times before being shot in Masters of the Universe, Torque has to be told over and over again to stop the group before actually meets them.

This is but a small sampling of the film's continuity errors, and they are made worse through atrociously cliched dialogue spoken by some of the worst acting imaginable. The heroes deserve no quarter for their over-the-top performances, but special mention must be made of Valaria, the Dark One's human servant. Fans of season 9 of MST3K will have images of Werewolf's Natalie flash before their minds upon hearing Valaria's indecipherable accent as her actress chews the scenery over and over again with her performance. But the most "memorable" performance outside of Valaria's comes from Klyton, a blatant C3PO knockoff whose voice has an annoying echo effect and is hands down the most annoying character in the film.

And what of the special effects? Since this film obviously lacked a budget, the robot costumes are laughable. Torque, the strongest robot in service to the Dark one, looks like a human-crustacean hybrid than a machine. The other robots (all three of them, seemingly) and Klyton look like poorly pasted together pieces of cardboard. The monsters that populate the deadly wasteland, from mutants to killer worms to a giant spider, all look like puppets or bad makeup. And it's difficult to have a post-apocalyptic wasteland when the heroes are walking through what looks like Central Park with the New York City skyline in the background.

And how about the soundtrack, which is a droning synthesizer that is all too common in films of this pedigree? You can always spot an 80s piece of tripe when incomprehensible synthesizer notes blare over the action as the composer tries to emulate the classic Terminator score and only succeeds in finding a decent rhythm button on his Casio keyboard. 

I could go on and on about this hilarious piece of cinema dreck - about how characters die and no one cares, about the plot holes too numerous to list - but this is not the place for that. All that needs to be said is that Robot Holocaust is a masterpiece of 80s wretchedness and has to be watched by cinephiles who eat this garbage up, like me.

MST3K Review

This movie is so hilariously bad that Joel and the bots may not even be needed to mock it - the film basically mocks itself. But they do mock it, and I'm sad to say that the riffing is not up to par compared to previous episodes. Oh, there are definitely moments - there are always moments with this show - but Joel, Tom, and Crow sound hesitant in their jokes in this episode, as if they are unsure about what exactly to mock. Undoubtedly there is a goldmine of material to riff here, but they barely scrape the surface and leave a lot of potential material hanging. It seems that the still-noticeable laid back riffing format of the earlier seasons doesn't work as well for a movie like this, a movie that deserves the rapid-fire jokes that are found more readily in later seasons.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

S01E09 - Project Moonbase


Short: Commando Cody continues his attempts to stop the saboteurs that are softening Earth's defenses for the moon men invasion, but continues to be thwarted at every turn. Unable to capture one of the moon men's weapons on Earth, he makes the decision to steal the weapon's material from the moon itself and makes another trip with his rocket to the lunar surface.

Film: Two space pilots are about to attempt a dangerous mission to pilot a lunar craft around the dark side of the moon to take recon photos for a planned moon station on the lunar surface. However, an enemy organization plans to use this mission as an opportunity to destroy the space station that currently orbits around the Earth and remains a thorn in their side. Kidnapping a third member of the lunar mission, they plant their own spy in the hopes of destroying the space station once and for all.

Movie Review

Cody, Cody, Cody. You really are getting desperate, aren't you? And I mean really, really, really desperate. Why do I say this? Because almost everything featured in the two serial segments of Radar Men from the Moon showed in this episode are taken directly from previous serial episodes of Cody's adventures. And I mean that with no hyperbole. We have yet another fist fight, yet another cliffhanger featured a destroyed plane (with the same escape of bailing out), yet another flight to the moon, and yet another fight with a tank. Did the writers really have to become this complacent in thinking up new episode ideas? They're not even trying anymore.

There's really nothing more to say. Honestly, there isn't. Commando Cody has done everything he can to impress, and he's fallen flat. Now he's rehashing the same prat falls. Eight episodes and nothing to show for it. Pitiful.

Okay, maybe one more thing to show for it: the most ridiculous cliffhanger resolution I've ever seen. At the end of episode six, Cody is knocked unconscious by a thrown rock and falls down a cliff to his doom. At the start of episode seven, he awakens from his green screen fall just in time to turn on his jetpack and soar into the air. It would've been much more amusing had he had been pointing toward the cliff when he turned it on, I think.

And now for the movie...oh, wait. Did I say movie? I'm sorry, there is no movie in this episode. Why? Because Project Moonbase is not a movie, it's a soap opera. A soap opera in space, but that's pretty much what it is. Oh, it tries to masquerade as a thriller, but it pulls it off about as well as...well, they pull of everything else, and with this being MST3K, you know what that means.

Now when I say this is not a movie, I mean it has no plot. I'm sure I've made this charge before with other films, but this film really and truly has no meaningful plot. It's like someone chose a random moment in time, started filming, then stopped an hour and a half later. Actions happen and people do stuff, but no plot advances. Over two thirds of the film are absent of that essential ingredient in a film - conflict - and the remaining third is in very short supply itself.

Here's an example of what I mean: the film is supposedly about a saboteur trying to destroy the space station, but any "action" coming from this conflict lasts all of two minutes. After this moment, the following stuff happens: the lunar ship lands on the moon, the saboteur agrees to help but is killed by an accident, the lunar ship is established as a lunar base, a marriage occurs, the end credits roll. If there is an interesting and coherent plot in this filled with any kind of drama, you won't find it in this boring reel of celluloid.

This film also displays one of the more bizarre moments of sexism I've seen yet on MST3K, even more bizarre than Ro-Man's interest in undressing a human female in Robot Monster. The female lead of this film, Col. Briteis, outranks the male protagonist, Major Moore, because of her weight class and others believe Moore is the better pilot. This could've been used as an interesting lesson in jealousy, but instead things borderline on blatant misogyny when the General tells Briteis she's a spoiled brat, her skills are inferior compared to Moore's, and if she doesn't like it, she will be spanked. Yes, spanked. And there's nothing playful or sarcastic about the way this scene is handled; she is actually threatened with a spanking for essentially being a woman. Wow. When coupled with the revelation that the US president is a woman in this film, the flagrant display of sexism is pretty jarring.

If there is one aspect about this film that I actually liked, it's the movie's desire for realism in its depiction of space travel. Sure, several things are incorrect, such as the enormous interior space of the rocket ships, the hammocks used for chairs during engine use, and the ridiculous cranium helmets, but compared to the space travel of Commando Cody, Project Moonbase does surprisingly well. The depiction of G-force as something more than what is found on a carnival ride is especially welcome. Considering this movie was shot in 1953, almost a decade before the first human space flight, it's apparent someone did a little bit of research in depicting space flight here.

Sadly, this attention to detail didn't extend to the characters and the nonexistent plot, which could've used a lot of polish, spit shine, and waxing before being even remotely worthwhile. Everything in this movie is plodding, dull, and just plain boring. It's a snippet of a home video that just happens to involve rocketships. In short, it's just bad...

MST3K Review

...which makes it all the more surprising that this was an enjoyable episode from Joel and the bots. From beginning to end (okay, maybe near the end), the riffs came hard and fast and were ruthless and sharp in their wit. The sharpness extended to the Cody shorts as well, if only thanks to several pieces of cardboard.

Apparently, the MST3K crew are as sick of Cody as I am and are privy to his tricks, because during the fist fight in the short, Joel held up several silhouettes of "Pow" and "Blam" akin to the Adam West "Batman" series. That's it, Joel, bring Cody and his generic fisticuffs down a peg! The hilarity extends into the film itself, during a segment where one of the characters provides a painfully boring exposition piece to explain how gravity generates orbits. Joel holds up several large pieces of cardboard to simulate the movie character reading from a series of cue cards, which is pulled of brilliantly. While I'm not a fan of Joel's frequent interaction with the screen using his silhouette, these moments were perfectly executed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

S01E08 - The Slime People


Short: The saboteurs manage to obtain their necessary funds and continue their objective of softening Earth's defenses, which includes dropping a nuclear bomb into a volcano to cause a chain reaction that creates devastating floods. Cody and his friends manage to sniff out some of the saboteurs' henchmen, which again leads to a climactic gun battle.

Film: A race of mutated slime uses a machine to generate a thick dome of fog above the city of Los Angeles, trapping many people inside. The slime people plan on isolating the atmosphere and dropping the temperature so that they can survive above ground. A reporter, a marine, and a scientist and his two daughters decide to band together to stop these slime monsters from claiming the ground for themselves.

Movie Review

It's getting really difficult to find anything interesting in Commando Cody's uninteresting serial shorts. The writers seem desperate to come up with something that will maintain people's interest in the ongoing story, and so they give us this clunker in which Cody gets into not one but two battles with the moon men's hired henchmen. Outside of the hilariously ridiculous nuclear bomb-volcano plot point, much of the plot here is recycled from previous episodes, from the fist fights to the kidnapping to the gun battle. And, to top it all off, they make Cody an idiot for that desired cliffhanger (seriously, he didn't think the second henchman was hiding nearby to pounce on him or, in this case, throw a rock at him?). How much more of Cody must we endure before it is all over?

At least there's the main feature to soften Cody's bitter taste. The Slime People is a beautiful product of its time: mutated monsters vs a rag-tag band of nobodies. Throw in unrealistically developed love relationships, a brilliant deduction at figuring out the monsters' weakness, and a climactic final battle only a select few (and not an entire army) could win, and you have the perfect generic monster movie.

This movie is also particularly (in)famous for its heavy use of fog machines, a film tactic the film makers had apparently hoped to use to heighten tension in the slime people's territory. Instead, the heavy fog obscures practically everything in the scenes, from the actors to the sets. The fog gets so thick in some places that no viewer (even with a clean copy of this film) can make out just what is going on. Good luck trying to figure out who is who in the thick soup of fog - I lost track several times and even mistook one of the protagonists for a slime monster at one point.

Of course, even without the thick fog, the film itself is a mess. The characters are the same awfully acted caricatures found in dozens of creature features from this era. As an example of how much effort went into these characters' development, one of the girls calls her father a "science professor." Not a chemist, not a physicist, not a biologist, but a "science professor." Hoo-boy. The rest don't fare any better. The main heroes are a reporter and a marine...and that's it. The two girls, meanwhile, are nothing but props to act as love interests, scream on cue, and get kidnapped by the evil slime monsters.

The latter point is of particular interest to show just how shoddy the writing is. The movie establishes early on that the slime people are primitive (they kill with sharp sticks) and kill anyone they see. But then one of the slime people kidnaps one of the girls (who is an airhead) and doesn't kill her. The movie tries to explain this by suggesting the slime people hope to draw them out to save her, but nothing suggests the slime people are this intelligent. The fact that they rescue her by finding her in a field, unguarded, further emphasizes this.

The monsters themselves are actually pretty decent. Yes, it's difficult to tell what they really look like with all the fog obscuring the costumes, but the slime people actually look pretty good as costume monsters go. Given a better movie, they could've been used more appropriately; in this train wreck, however, they're nothing more than lumbering masses. Naturally, they fall prey to the "how can these slow monsters be so terrifying" trope, especially considering they (off screen) fought the army at the film's beginning. How did the military lose to these things when they have pointy sticks and the military has everything else?

Overall, it's a forgettable creature feature, and it is made more easily forgettable thanks to the fog machines obscuring half the movie.

MST3K Review

Last episode's Commando Cody riffs were stale and bored, but in this episode Joel and the bots sound a bit more interested. Perhaps the stress of trying to make two serial episodes back-to-back can be wearisome, while a single episode provides a bit more breathing room. It also helps that there were a few bits in this serial episode that were perfect for riffing.

As for the movie, this is one of the better episodes of season one so far. While it doesn't top the genius that was Robot Monster, it is still a very enjoyable joke-fest on a generic and cliche monster movie with a broken gimmick (the fog machines). Still, Joel, Tom, and Crow still have the annoying tendency to a lot of times speak their lines over dialogue in the film (it may be poorly acted and poorly written dialogue, but I still want to hear it), while leaving long spaces with nothing to say. Some people may prefer this tempered and easygoing pace to the more frantic pace of the Sci-Fi years, but to me it feels unprofessional. Despite this, The Slime People stands as a gem of the first season.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

S01E07 - Robot Monster


Short: With Commando Cody and the police privy to the moon men's plan to sabotage Earth's defenses before the full scale invasion, the sabotage team is short of funds for its mission. Desperate to get money, the saboteurs first try to kidnap Cody for ransom, and then pull of a payroll heist, but nothing seems to go according to plan for them.

Film: A menacing robot monster called Ro-Man has killed every living human on Earth, all except for eight survivors. Ro-Man, unable to kill them with his death ray, pursues the remaining humans personally to pave the way for his race's conquest of planet Earth. But the humans are not willing to go without resisting.

Movie Review

Commando Cody was a no-show in the previous episode, so he returns in this episode with two episodes of his generic serial, which is twice the torture. If anything, watching two episodes of Radar Men From The Moon show just how much the show strains to maintain its end-of-episode suspense and how much contempt the writers have for the viewers' intelligence.

For example, in the first of these two episodes, the bad guys plan on kidnapping Commando Cody to hold him for ransom, but they are unable to find him in his lab so they instead kidnap the female scientist (who proves to be useless at everything) in hopes of luring Cody to them. But when Cody comes to rescue her, what do the kidnappers do? They fire their guns at him to kill him. As another example, one of the bad guys is caught in the second episode and is being transported to a jail via an ambulance. Do the police keep an eye on him with heavy guard? Not at all, they only provide a single policeman, which allows the captured henchman to escape with blinding ease.

And let's not forget about the cliffhanger endings, which are getting ridiculous. At the first episode's end, the woman scientist is trapped in a diving plane and Commando Cody climbs inside to help her. But the controls have been destroyed, which the woman knew about. So why did she only tell him about this when Cody tried to pilot the plane? Wouldn't it have made sense for her to jump out of the plane with the parachute that was available instead of waste Cody's time? But that wouldn't have given us a cliffhanger ending, now would it?

And now for the feature film. Oh. My. God.

This movie wants to be important. It tries to be important. It really tries to be important. And yet it fails. Spectacularly and hard. The only thing that prevents this film from being one of the most wretched pieces of cinema in existence is that it genuinely earns the "so bad it's good" label. It's a terrible film, but one that must be seen to be believed.

The first pitfall of this film is its framing device, which itself is introduced incredibly vaguely. The entire film is apparently the dream of the young boy after some unseen fall, and yet it's introduced with stock footage from previous (and likely better) movies. What was the point of this except to pad out the movie's length (obviously not enough to save us from two Commando Cody episodes)? And strangely enough, the same people exist in real life and in the "dream sequence," and yet they play different roles (from random archeologist to dad to most everyone). Again, what is the point of this?

The story is the next shortcoming. The overall plot is that Ro-Man is trying to kill every human on Earth, but he is unable to slay eight (or six, not counting two off-screen characters) final humans (oh, and all of this is excluding a garrison of human soldiers in a "space platform" that Ro-Man spared for some reason...moving on...). The humans are unable to fight this robot monster and instead stand around waiting for things to happen. When they do end up doing something, they do something completely stupid, like having an impromptu marriage ceremony or having a honeymoon in an area where Ro-Man is known to roam. Honestly, how did people this stupid survive?

But the biggest plot hole has to do with Ro-Man, who falls in love with the human female Alice upon seeing her. He is a machine built without human emotions or sentimentality, and yet falls for a human woman with one look. Why does he fall in love with her? Because monster movie monsters always fall in love with human women, isn't it obvious? Ah, but this sudden love is stretched into the realm of bizarre sexism when Ro-Man, after capturing Alice, tries to remove her dress to look at her breasts. Are robot monsters pre-programmed perverts or something?

This movie also does something that would be unthinkable in a blockbuster movie today: killing children with ease. Like The Mad Monster before it, a little girl is killed off-screen by the eponymous creature in the film, but Robot Monster one-ups them by showing the young boy being strangled on-screen. Oh, happy times. Maybe standards were looser back then, or maybe audiences knew how pathetic these "death" scenes really looked.

And one cannot leave without mentioning the look of the title character, Ro-Man the robot monster himself. If Ro-Man is a robot, then this movie grossed more money than Gone with the Wind. No one in their right mind would believe that a man wearing a diving helmet with rabbit-ear antenna and a gorilla suit is a robot. Maybe a monster (a stupid monster, but a monster), but not a robot. The poor actor must've been extremely hot underneath that suit while trudging through the wilderness during filming.

So, in short: no plot, no characters, terrible monster. Watch it once and then never again. Or...

MST3K Review Joel and the bots tear this film a new one. The three are obviously getting sick and tired of Commando Cody, because the riffs for the two serial shorts were bland and not as sharp, but they had a lot more fun with the movie itself. They still have an annoying tendency to talk over the film's dialogue at inopportune moments (even for a bad movie, we'd like to know what's going on), and still need to perfect some of their timing, but overall, the jokes in this episode were fantastic during Robot Monster.

Commando Cody, not so much.

Friday, May 7, 2010

S01E06 - The Crawling Hand


An astronaut returning from a mission to the moon is seen in a bizarre, suicidal state by mission control before his space ship is blown up under the astronaut's orders. As the mission's scientists try to unravel the mystery of what's going on, a coastal California town experiences the aftermath of the ship's explosion when a remnant of the astronaut terrorizes the locals.

Movie Review

Commando Cody is a no-show in this episode, leaving us with just the film, The Crawling Hand. After watching this flick all the way through, I would've actually welcomed Cody's generic serial to spice things up, because this movie hardly qualifies as a movie at all. A movie is meant to have things like plot, characters, and motivation, and yet this movie has none of these things.

The so-called plot, first of all, is ridiculous. From what little is mentioned, it seems that a mysterious organism on the moon is using human bodies as hosts to grow and ultimately control. The astronaut, succumbing to the organism's control, destroys his ship before it reaches Earth, but this doesn't stop the astronaut's severed arm from landing on a beach, where it is found by a medical student. After this...well, a lot of stuff happens, but it feels nothing like an actual movie plot. It's like the director ordered his actors to just "do something," and they did something whether it was interesting or not.

And the eponymous crawling hand in the film is barely even in the movie, much like the eye monsters in The Crawling Eye (perhaps the sharing of an adjective in the titles is the source of this?). Instead, after attacking a throwaway character and the main character, the crawling hand defers its monster status to the protagonist, who becomes..."possessed" by the organism, it seems. I suppose this was cheaper than using the severed arm prop all the time, and also to prevent the audience from realizing how nonthreatening a severed human hand really is.

Second, the characters are nonexistent - there are no actual characters in this film, only caricatures. The protagonist is an unconvincing mix of tough guy and intellectual, and everyone else is a one-note stand-in. The most "memorable" character is the sheriff, played by Alan Hale, Jr., better known as the Skipper of Gilligan's Island. He severely overestimates the depth of the material and acts, as the bots call him, like a two-bit character actor. But Mr. Hale's acting is still better than whoever plays the protagonist, whose random outbursts are like a bad impersonation of James Dean.

And motivation...what motivation? What direction? What script? The plot holes in this film are laughable, the most offensive one being the sheriff chastising two men for allowing the protagonist to escape his house arrest out the back door when only one deputy was guarding the house (from the outside) at the front door. On the bright side, the effects for the possessed arm were fairly good (some of the time), but even the best effects could not convince moviegoers of a severed arm's deadliness.

Outside of a pair of overblown performances, there is very little to say about this film because it is utterly unmemorable. It's not completely unwatchable, but one feels nearly bored when viewing it. As soon as the "The End" title card appears, one can't help but wonder what exactly he watched, since it seemed to have drifted away into the ether of forgetfulness.

MST3K Review

Though there were some quality riffs in this film, Joel and the bots seemed to be as bored with the movie as I was, as there was a slight yet noticeable step down from the previous episode. The abundance of hand puns made up for the smaller frequency of jokes, though, despite some of them being incredibly painful.

Something I noticed that Joel did quite a bit in this episode (at least in the first half or so) was using his silhouette to play against the movie. This is something that I have rarely seen Mike do during the sci-fi years (though not entirely abandoned, as evident by one famous riff in the Girl in the Gold Boots episode), but something that Joel has done quite a bit. He did it in Planet of the Prehistoric Women (by pretending to play with a ship console) and in The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (by pretending to cover up a woman's mouth). While a nice break from the usual riffing, these kind of riffs aren't the strong point of the show's jokes and should be used sparingly, in my opinion.