A tale for tomorrow’s teens, today

About two years ago, on a whim, I started watching the unriffed versions of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiments. I had been neglecting my movie collection and the project seemed a good way to get a fresh perspective on MST3K. There were enough of the experiments in my collection to make a fair start. The idea I would be able to get almost all the movies and shorts featured was a fanciful dream. The collecting of the movies, not just the viewing, was going to take years. At least I assumed it would.

I was making good progress on the viewing project; even if the writing was, to be kind, inconsistent. In 18 months I watched nearly 1/3 of the movies and a handful of shorts. Then, as the song goes, life happened while I was making other plans. I found myself getting more down and engaged in retail therapy. Tracking down and ordering the experiments provided me goals and moments of unboxing happiness. My focus went from watching the experiments to collecting them. When the dust had settled (with a great deal of help from a very understanding wife and Club-MST3K members) I acquired all but 1 movie and 8 shorts. From pilot to the final episode, I could watch almost all the movie magic and misfires Joel, Mike and the Bots riffed on. The family Forester would be proud of the movie mega-tonnage I was prepared to drop on myself.

But a funny thing happened while I was building my unriffed collection: the catch as catch can way of working through the experiments seemed misplaced. The goal of watching (nearly) every unriffed short and movie had become a plausible reality, not a nebulous goal. The way I was writing, watching and choosing the movies now seemed inadequate for what the project was becoming.

When it was a collection of 40 or so unriffed experiments randomness felt like the correct way to go. Now, with nearly all the ducks aligned, I want more structure. Structure suits me. So I will heed the advice of Maria and will (re)start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start. I’m going beyond KTMA and restarting with the Pilot, The Green Slime.

I will not miss a movie or short until Catching Trouble in experiment 315.

I also want to treat these movies as movies, not just MST3K experiments. I can’t say I will be offering completely original insights or thoughts, but I can assure you I will never say “it is so bad, it’s good.” Like Hugh Beaumont said, a lot of people worked very hard on these movies. Some succeed, more than most MSTies want to acknowledge. Some fail. Some are just there. I am going to my damnedest to figure out which column each experiment sits in, separate from its second life as SOL fodder.

I hope any MSTie stumbling across my site will take a step back and take a chance on the unriffed. The movies are just that, movies. Let us remember that whenever we’ve got movie sign.

UP FIRST: K00-The Green Slime (1968)

Advertisements

My MST3K Movie Collection

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One day a man decides to start watching the movies on MST3K unriffed.  A little over a year and a half later, he ends up with (possibly) as complete a collection as is currently available.

The hanging pictures represent the digital copies owned.Full collection

Season 00

Season 00

Season 01

Season 01

Season 02

Season 02

Season 03

Season 03

Season 04

Season 04

Season 05

Season 05

Season 06

Season 06

Season 07 and Movie

 Season 07

Season 08

Season 08

Season 09

Season 09

Season 10

Season 10

And the shorts

Shorts

The bots aren’t happy about this!

Tom and Crow

The following are the 2 movies and 10 shorts I have been unable to locate on DVD/VHS/digital

307Short: ALPHABET ANTICS  (1951, Castle Films)

311Short: The Sports Parade: SNOW THRILLS (1945, Warner Brothers, Silent 16mm version found)

315Short: CATCHING TROUBLE (1936, Grantland Rice Sportlight/Paramount Pictures)

320Short: POSTURE PALS (1952, Avis Films)

413Short: GENERAL HOSPITAL PT 1

415Short: GENERAL HOSPITAL PT 2

417Short: GENERAL HOSPITAL PT 3 (Possibly a 1963-1964 episode)

421Short: CIRCUS ON ICE (1954 Associated Screen Studios)

612-The Starfighters 1964

621Short: MONEY TALKS! (1951, American Bankers Association, Film Counselors Inc, International Movie Producers’ Service)

621Short: PROGRESS ISLAND, U.S.A. (1973, Fucci/Stone Productions Inc.)

1009-Hamlet 1960 German TV, 1962 US release (Audio only German language CD found)

A big big thank you to my wife for taking these pictures!  She is a pretty talented person, visit her photo blog and quilling blog to see her work.

Experiment 205-Rocket Attack USA

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

rocket attack usa

“May I verify your papers?”

I have been enjoying the ‘essays’ the last few movies have inspired in me. While I would like to approach every movie with the idea of getting a 500-750 piece, some movies just do not move me enough to type out a semi-coherent piece.

When I am watching movies like Rocket Attack USA with a narrator who has more dialogue than any of the on screen talent, it makes me realize how hard scriptwriting must be. There is an idea, with a beginning, middle and end. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a thought of how to let the characters and situation tell the story. The narrator tells us John (John McKay) Manston is nervous inside. Nothing shows us these nerves. The lines are delivered like any generic agent, with no spirit.

Manufacturing stock footage! It is a different kind of stock footage for us.

The Soviet meetings, why bother having the actors speak in Russian if a narrator talks over them? I get subtitles were probably not in the budget, but it seems like a waste to cover up the dialogue.

I have often heard this referred to as a ‘quickie’ but cannot find anything about the time frame it was made in. With the animation, primitive as it is, how quick could it have been made?

IMDB has two different release dates: 1958 and 1961. Could the company have been trying to cash in on both Sputnik and the Bay of Pigs? Both are high tension years of the cold war.

Tanya (Monica Davis) would later to go on to play such characters as “First Swinging Wife” in several 1960’s nearpronos.

Am I the only one who thinks the movie was originally supposed to end with Manston and Tanya’s failure? The third act, other than the general, is out of the blue. They needed another 20 minutes to even be considered a film. This is Cy Roth level padding.

Our truck driver without a tie is without a doubt the most successful actor to come out of this film. Arthur Metrano had 112 IMDB credits ahead of him. Including MST3K referenced series: Mod Squad, Mannix, Then Came Bronson, Adam-12, Laugh-In, That Girl, Love American Style, Toma (and Barretta), Kolchak and The Streets of San Francisco.

This was not Director Barry Mahon’s first ‘political’ film. In 1959, Mahon directed Errol Flynn’s final on screen performance in Cuban Rebel Girls aka Assault of the Rebel Girls. Errol wrote this pro-Castro film (Castro was still playing the am I or ain’t I a red game) made with the help and input of Fidel’s forces, it is an interesting historical piece.

Director Mahon started out as the personal pilot for Errol Flynn, before later becoming his manager.

Watchability: 1 of 5. Who do you blame?  Everyone! Writer, Director, Actor, Lighting, Music Director, Location Scout.  There were a few surprising twist: the American agent failing, the use of Russian dialogue. But there is so little working right in this movie. Another plot underdone by being under thought.

Missing the Riffs: 1 of 5. This movie deserved the riffing it received. A poorly made movie up and down was perfect for the SOL.

Short 205-The Phantom Creeps Chapter 2: Death Stalks the Highway

Tags

, , , ,

Thephantomcreeps

I rewatched Chapter 1, just to remind myself of the story so far. It is amazing all the writers crammed in the story. You have the new element, robots, invisibility, suspended animation spiders, car crashes and government planes going down. This could be the maddest mad scientist Bela ever played.

Between the credits, the recap scroll and the repeated footage, it is 3:15 before we get to new footage. Nice refresher, and at 20 minutes, there is still plenty of action to come.

So Dr. Zorka’s beard is like Clark Kent’s glasses?

The foreign agents and the language school adds another layer of confusion to the plot.

Another villain who should have killed the cop. Good thing cop 2 didn’t believe the one knocked out. These guys are bad at their job. Zorka gets by. Plucky girl reporter gets by. They should be kicked out of serial copdom.

One thing I don’t get: are the spiders real spiders or mechanical ones? From my present perspective, they look mechanical, but in 1939, who knows?

“The driver is gone or he’s hiding,” love that line.

Watchability: 3 of 5. Very entertaining, all over the place. The throw it at the wall plot demands attention.

Missing the riffs: 3 of 5. This is a great serial to riff, they just keep amping up the goofy.

Experiment 204-Catalina Caper

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Image

“Is it anything like a rattlesnake hunt?”

I find no shame in admitting my love of the AIP Beach Party series. Well, not the whole series. Like, 4 ¾ of the core seven. By the time 1967 had come around the style, less than a decade old if you count the Gidget films, was having its last gasp.

I tend to blame AIP, despite hitting the highest notes of the style with Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo and most of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, the studio really rode the genre into the ground. Going beyond the core, AIP had 12 movies that could be loosely categorized as ‘Beach Party’ formula films released between 1963 and 1967. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, only Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine rates a mention.

The weakness of the formula popped up pretty early in the AIP beach cycle. Pajama Party was 4th of the core 7, and it is abysmal. William Asher wasn’t the director, Don Weis was. Frankie Avalon wasn’t the romantic interest for Annette, it was recently released from Disney Tommy Kirk. While plot is often dismissed in the genre, Pajama Party-which was another money maker for AIP-shows plot does matter to the genre. The movie has some redeeming features: Buster Keaton and Bobbi Shaw make their first appearances, Dorothy Lamour’s Where Did I Go Wrong number is a hoot, and the Von Zipper gang is always worth a few laughs even in a lackluster outing. But the story crosses over several layers of ridiculousness to the point where Elsa Lanchester talking to the ghost of her husband seems fairly routine.

It would be easy to take a shot at Tommy Kirk and put the great deal of the blame on his shoulder, but 1963 Tommy Kirk was still a bankable actor with a future. Even if Frankie had been the lead, and not just a crappy cameo in Pajama Party, this would not be a successful movie. The cast, Tommy Kirk included, is about the only thing AIP got right with Pajama Party.

Flash to Crown International Picture’s 1967 release Catalina Caper (the 3 biker films MST3K riffed were CIP releases, as was Beast of Yucca Flats). Tommy Kirk was no longer a bankable star, just an actor battling drug addiction and getting bad advice from his agent. And still, he is nowhere near the worst thing about the movie. Catalina Caper recycles the AIP formula to the point they could have been sued for plagiarism. There are so many exact parallels between CC and the AIP movies. Tommy is the Frankie. Brian (Charlie Moss) Culter is Jody McRea. Venita (Miss Bunny) Wolf is Deborah Walley. Ulla (Creepy Girl) Stromstedt is Annette. Joe (Larry) Beggs plays the Don Rickles part. Peter (Tad Duval) Duryea is the John Ashley of the group. Heck, Robert (Fingers O’Toole) Donner replaces Buster Keaton for slapstick fun and Carol (singer ‘Book of Love’) Connors is Donna Loren’s movie twin!

But the worst decision made with the movie was the choice of director. A genre about spontaneity and youth was put in the hands of Lee Sholem, a man known for frightening efficiency. He follows the formula perfectly and his dedication to on time and under budget shows. Actors either staring off into space or having their reactions delayed an extra unnatural beat. With the AIP crew, a director could have probably gotten away with letting the old hands direct themselves. This cast, not so much.

There are so many differing levels of commitment in the actors. Joe Beggs and Del Moore go over the top. Tommy Kirk is playing more to the middle of the comedy and mystery angles. I’m not saying a better director could have made a great movie out of Catalina Caper, but someone who wanted to do more than just meet a schedule could have made a better movie out of Catalina Caper.

Odds and Ends

Cut for the SOL: A lot of scuba diving. Like two extended scuba sequences. The fight on the boat at the end for the scrolls was longer in the unriffed version.

Cinematographer Ted Mikels directed MST3K entry The Girl in the Gold Boots and CT riffed The Doll Squad.

Also in 1967, Tommy Kirk appeared in the other ‘last of the beach party films’ It’s a Bikini World. He also was in the first of his two Larry Buchanan films, Mars Needs Women, that year.

Titles considered were: Never Steal Anything Wet and Scuba Party.  Both those titles match the songs sung by Mary Wells over the credits and Little Richard hopped up on goofballs.

Watchablity: 2 of 5. I really wanted to like this movie, being a fan of the genre. But it just falls flat in so many ways. Could have been better than Pajama Party or the Ghost and the Invisible Bikini, but the energy needed for this genre isn’t there. The AIP movies always had movement, this movie had standing still. It is the kind of movie I’ll watch with something as part of a double feature, not on its own.

Missing the Riffs: 2 of 5. This was an experiment I avoided for a long time, but I dug it once I gave it a chance. I’d rather do the riffed version.

Non-MST3K Movies I Love: How to Make a Monster

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

how to make a monster

Sequels are the bastard children of movies. Even on the rare occasion the second movie equals or surpasses the first in a series, there is always that one (or more) ‘last’ cash grabs to suck every cent out of an already desiccated corpse. It usually isn’t pretty, and often the willing suspension of disbelief has been pushed beyond the point of credulity. This effect is even more glaring with Psychotronic films, were the sequels appear to be more reactions to box office rather a plan of any kind.

That is why when I find a quality sequel I tend to treasure that movie. How to Make a Monster is the best kind of sequel. Original and self-sustaining, it can be removed and enjoyed apart from the series it continues.

Following the success of I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, AIP avoided the easy paths and gives us something, in context of the series, is unexpected. True, the plot could have been lifted from an old George Zucco or Bela Lugosi film, and there are the puzzling ‘bad decisions to move the plot’ which too many movies, Psychotronic or mainstream, rely on, but overall this is not just a good 50s horror movie, it is a good movie period.

This isn’t the shallow end of the pool, it is surprisingly deep. The dialogue comments on the studio system, media influence on kids, the power plays between all those involved in movie making and the cold heart driving personnel decisions in the movie business. The actors, especially the lead Robert H Harris, actually can project nuanced and subtle emotions. Yes, all these facets could have been developed more but then it wouldn’t be the joy it is. AIP knew what the kids wanted: instead of even more depth, we get a song from Attack of the the Eye Creatures’ John Ashley.

So how do you make a monster? There are so many in this movie, made in so many different ways. There doesn’t need to be a Wolfman or Frankenstein, the real scary monsters are in the mirror.

Non-MST3K Movies I love: King Kong vs. Godzilla

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

king-kong-vs-godzilla-1

If you asked me to generalize my favorite subset of Psychotronic films, I would more than likely say “Low budget 1950s Science Fiction.” A nice label with enough wiggle room to fit Cat-Woman of the Moon, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the world of Ed Wood. (When I was kid, the sci-fi/horror films I loved were dismissed as ‘cheap trash’ by my mom, so even a big budget movie of the time, like This Island Earth, is automatically rekajiggered in my mind to low budget). If left to my own devices, I may have never wandered beyond these black and white beauties. However, in the pre-cable/pre-VHS era a viewer was at the mercy of the Local TV station’s film library. My movie show of choice was the creatively named “Early Show”, on between 3-5 pm. In many ways, The Early Show was the last locally produced show going after the kid viewer. Sure they would have plenty of dramas for Grandma, but the emphasis was on action, action, action. Westerns, War Movie and, most importantly to me, Sci-Fi and Horror. If host Ed announced on Monday we were having a theme week, well, it was appointment viewing!

A recurring “theme week” was GIANT MONSTERS. A couple times a year some variation of the theme would appear and expand my movie universe. I myself like the big bugs: grasshoppers, tarantulas, and really big ants. One of the local stations apparently had a long time deal with the American International distributor, because a week of Toho or Daiei movies were more common than my beloved bug movies. While I never really got into Gamera, Godzilla was a monster I respected. Other than the 1933 King Kong, occasionally screened at the U of I, Godzilla was my monster of choice. That’s why the end of a Toho theme week was the best of both worlds for me: King Kong vs. Godzilla!

While I liked the ‘original’ (meaning US version—9 year old kids aren’t into subtitles!) Godzilla, even I could see how the Raymond Burr bits were forced into the story. Like, if I could just block him out, it would be an even better movie. By contrast, the ‘United Nations News’ segments, while clearly not in the original, were for me, a much better way of ‘Americanizing’ the movie. The segments frame the acts, not try to actively invade the movie.

And the monsters do not disappoint. We get a nice capsule version of the Kong story (with the very discomforting image of Japanese people in blackface) and several scenes of monster battles and destruction. The giant octopus fight on the beach is a classic of the genre and the final battle of the two ‘Kings of the Monsters’ is my favorite Kaiju fight of all time.

Like so much of our love for movies like these, it isn’t just the movie than connects with us, it was a certain feeling–a sense of anticipation which always surrounded the movie. The first time I watched it unfold on the TV screen, the anticipation of the final fight kept me riveted. Every time after that, all those Toho Theme weeks, the anticipation of watching it again as Friday slowly approached, it was like knowing tomorrow was Christmas and you weren’t getting socks.

I am sure the true Kaiju fan could suggest a few ‘better’ films for me to watch. Maybe I’d like Godzilla even more watching the Japanese version. But even if there are better movies, I doubt I could love them like I do King Kong vs Godzilla. The only two Giant Monsters who truly matter get a movie and battle worthy of a clash of kings.

Experiment 212-Godzilla vs. Megalon

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

godzillavsmegalon

“We don’t have the time to invent them.”

I have often felt, if I’m going to watch giant monsters, I want Godzilla or King Kong. Everyone else is a pretender to the throne; those two are my kings of the monsters. I’ve not seen the new Godzilla, but it will be in my Netflix queue.

But even Kings go through their ‘goofy’ phases, and this is part of Godzilla getting a little silly. A few years after this we’d get the Godzilla cartoon with Godzooky, the Scrappy Doo of giant monsters. Say what you will about Godzilla 1985 and 1998, they were at least a move (at least here in America) back to a monster worthy of respect.

One of the things I have never understood about the Godzilla/Gamera/etc movies—how is there only one of everything? I get they are mutation or space creatures or mystical whatiz, but everything is a single. I know it shouldn’t matter, we are talking about giant imaginary creatures, but it does not feel well thought out. I am also not a huge Kaiju fan, this could all be explained in another movie.

Not to mention I don’t get the hold Monster Island would have on the creatures. It seems more like a place they hang out between attacks on Tokyo.

Jet Jaguar was the winning entry in a Toho ‘create a creature’ contest. The realization that Jet probably couldn’t carry a movie lead to a very rushed Godzilla tie in.

We’re 10 plus minutes in, and all we know about the three main characters (Goro, Rokuro and Hiroshi) is they are hanging out at the beach. Are they brothers, friends, more? Give me some context movie.

Close ups do save the director the trouble of staging an actual car chase. That is a fun little car Hiroshi is driving around. Hiroshi so could have been a TV Detective in the 70s. He has the hair, jacket and car.

One indication of how rushed this script must have been: how little dialogue there are in extended places. At times there are smooth transitions, for example from studying the Seatopians buttons to Goro working on Jet Jaguar, which make no sense. How can you make such a non-sequitur look so seamless?

Very upsetting shorts on that kid.

A new twist on an old cliché. The invaders know exactly how our technology works and can figure out how to work a brand new robot without trying.

The dance sequence is like Moon Zero Two goes disco.

I know most of it is the voice actor but Rokuro is one of the most annoying kids in a MST3K related film. He is Bobby of Rocky Jones level of annoying.

The second car chase reminded no one of Bullitt. Complete with Keystone Kop ending for the kiddies.

If you put Jet Jaguar in a line up with Gigantor, Ultraman, the Shogun Warriors and any other famous giant robot, I probably couldn’t tell you who was who.

Another visit to HO scale Japan.

Wow, this has more ‘silent’ sequences than Lassie. Plenty of stock footage and reused footage in this movie.

So, the two truckers throw the Seatopian thug out the window, but still almost finish his job and dump the crate? Not very well thought out.

Megalon at the dam. This is what I want in my giant monsters. Now we got ourselves a movie I want to watch!

Megalon swatting the container: Goofy!

Megalon vs the army—another extended sequence with NO dialogue. This has to be one of the thinnest scripts in movie history.

Gee super scientist, why don’t you ask the army to go and get the evil guy back in your laboratory so you can take control of Jet Jaguar?

So the Seatopians can suddenly contact the space people who control Gigan? At this point the ‘writers’ are just throwing anything they can at the wall to get this movie made. Goofy.

Robot to monster sign language? Goofy!

Take the villain out with a model airplane? Goofy!

A robot which can reprogram himself at will? Goofy! And, Mr. Super Scientist, if you build that function into him, why is it a surprise Jet Jaguar did do that?

A robot which can ‘decide’ to grow gigantic? Goofy!

And pretty much, the movie is a robot/monster battle from here on out. Not that I’m complaining. At this point even the goofy flying kick of Godzilla is too much fun to rip on.

And no one ever heard from Jet Jaguar again.

Watchability: 3 of 5. Far far from the best Godzilla movie out there. The first 30 minutes establishing the plot, such as it is, are a drag. But after Megalon hits the surface, the movie delivers on the giant monster action. Over goofy at time, but a lot of fun.

Missing the Riffs: 2 of 5. Not an episode I know very well, but have been giving an extra spin of late because of the recent Godzilla movie hype. At this point in my knowing of that episode, I’d rather watch the MST3K version. Another movie where you come away with a greater appreciation of what the SOL Crew’s talent.

Short 203-The Phantom Creeps Chapter 1: The Menacing Power

Tags

, , , , , ,

Image

1939 Universal serial. Nice to see Bela get top billing. Being a baseball history geek in my non-MST3K time, I’m interested to watch Dorothy Arnold. Dorothy was married to Joe DiMaggio from 1939 to 1944, though the last two years were generally spent apart. DiMaggio was a possessive asshole. It was not a happy marriage for Dorothy.

I intend to do the Creeps two ways: the full serial and then the condensed movie released in the 1950s. This was off the tracks in Chapter 3, I can’t imagine how crazy it truly gets.

Better robot than the one that fought the Aztec Mummy. Overbig, but it does at least have fearsome face.

Building robots, trying to kill his wife, weird suspended animation stuff, exploding spiderthings, in under 5 minutes! This man IS evil.

And the invisibility trick, that just puts it over the top. This serial has said all bets are off!

There was a lot going on in that chapter!

Watchability: 3 of 5.  Already over the top, where can it go?

Missing the Riffs: 3 of 5.  Wild enough to mostly keep me engaged.