MST3K returns in a glorious Thanksgiving Marathon to remind us of better times and also terrible movies.
Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) has somehow survived being eaten by a robot monster at the end of the last season, but he is still stuck on-board the Satellite of Love with his robot friends Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount), Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn), Gypsy (Rebecca Hanson), and Cambot. However, he is still the captive of Kinga Forrester (Felicia “You Make My” Day) and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, Max (Patton “You Make My” Oswalt) who have prepared the most sadistic torture imaginable: Binge-watching 6 terrible films in “The Gauntlet.”
The films are: Mac and Me, Atlantic Rim, Lords of the Deep, The Day Time Ended, Killer Fish, and Ator, the Fighting Eagle. All of them are a special version of awful.
Many of you are aware that I love MST3K. At my brother’s wedding, my groomsman gift was a set of MST3K cufflinks. I’ve written papers on copyright law that referenced them on topics I picked just so I could mention Tom Servo in a legal essay. I was a backer in the kickstarter to revive the series and regret not giving more due to not having money. I considered robbing a series of consignment shops, but I believed that Joel and the Bots (or Mike) wouldn’t want me to commit crimes in order to get them back in space. I’m a fan, is the gist of this. One of my favorite things was always the Turkey Day marathons that would air either on Comedy Central or on local channels. After all, the first MST3K was aired on Thanksgiving, so nothing could be more appropriate. So, imagine how pleased I was when, on Thanksgiving, 30 days after the initial premiere, Netflix gave us an actual in-show marathon of glorious bad movies.
Look, it’s not like I can really spoil these episodes. The entire point of MST3K is listening to the comics riff on the movies. However, there are certain rules behind what film makes a great MST3K episode:
1) The movie should have some gimmick or recurring element that they can make into a running gag.
2) Some of the dialogue should sound like it was written by an English poet, Google translated into Arabic, Yahoo translated into Greek, translated by a sixth-grade student into Japanese, then translated by a drunk guy back into English.
3) The more fundamental technical flaws the movie has that it refuses to recognize, the better.
4) Logic within the movie should be thrown out the window into a pile of flaming hippos. Why hippos? Because origami octopus butternut squash.
All of these movies meet these criteria and then some. Mac and Me, in particular, has been a movie that has been requested for riffing ever since people first decided that they liked hearing three grown men make jokes about cinematic tragedies.
The key to this season is that it is meant to be binged. It’s shorter than any previous season except for the last episodes when Comedy Central ended the series and, even within the show, the Mads (Kinga and Max) are challenging Jonah and the Bots to try and sit through six bad movies in a row. Each of the episodes feeds directly into the next one, with the next film being “flushed” to the Satellite of Love at the end of the episode. If you do binge this one (and it takes like 9 hours to do that, so be prepared), it actually forms a solid narrative and has a number of surprising throwbacks to the entire history of the show and the fandom.
Take the time out of your life and watch this season. It’ll make you happy and help you forget about how horrible reality can be for most of a day.
Time to do something special. I’m watching this with three of my friends who tend to enjoy watching and mocking bad movies, and I’ll be trying to write this review as we go. If my companions say anything that I feel merits reprinting, they have chosen to be represented as “God of Dyschord (G.o.D.),”“TechnoPaladin (TP),” and “Doozer (D).” My picks were “Owns the House (Ladies),” “Doofus Rick,” and “Most Likely to have Telekinesis” but apparently, I’m nice enough to let them pick their own pseudonyms. I will regret this.
So, originally, this was going to be a review of the movie Bunraku, which is an amazing film that I have seen before and everyone should watch and is what the show Into the Badlands is based on. Due to technical issues, that didn’t happen, so instead, I’m reviewing the sequel to the movie The Gate. Did I review The Gate, you ask? Why, no, I have not. Because, honestly, The Gate is too good for this group.
SUMMARY OF THE FIRST MOVIE
There’s a house that has a gate to hell in the backyard. Two kids open it through an incantation, demons come out and harass them, some shit gets crazy, people die, they end up blowing up the house to seal it back, all the murdered people come back to life, happy ending. It’s got some neat special effects and body horror, and it’s a pretty solid B-movie. Basically none of this is relevant to the sequel.
So, it’s been 5 years since the first movie. One of the kids, Terrence (Louis Trip) from the first movie is depressed because his mom is dead and his dad’s an alcoholic and his friend has left. He breaks into the house from the last movie and tries to re-open the gate using, I shit you not, a laser pentagon and a DJ set-up with a late-80s computer. He gets interrupted by three stereotypical 90s bullies. He tells them that he’s trying to summon a demon to get a wish granted. The girl bully, Liz (Pamela “I’m Bobby Hill” Adlon), convinces the other two to help. Terrence sacrifices a gerbil (Something that has made Doozer very upset, “no one stands up for the gerbil?”) to bring the demon. A series of explosions scares the group, causing one of the bullies to draw a gun (D: “He’s armed?” TP: “It’s America.”). They go through a couple of dimensional shifts, which G.o.D. suggests is stolen from a Phantasm sequel. The kids get attacked by goo coming off of the walls (D: They’re all going to die because none of them are wearing Converse. G.o.D.: “Or Keds.”).
A small homunculus demon appears in glorious Claymation, but armed bully, John (James Villemaire), shoots it. The bullies leave, but Terrence stays to collect the dead homunculus. He then takes it home (D: “He’s keeping it in a pickle jar… or maybe one of those cheese ball things.” G.o.D.: “Gotta treat your homunculus right.”). It’s revealed that Terrence’s wish was, apparently, to get his dad sober and employed. Way to dream big, Terrence. (G.o.D.: If you do a demon wish, you gotta bring your demon wish A-game. TP: I’m a Monkey Paw expert, motherf*cker.) Your mom’s dead, man. How about some revival?
Terrence begins having trouble at school, resulting in him getting detention. He sits next to Liz, who is super excited about the whole demon experience. She says that her wish, when they were in the pentagram, was to meet her true love, despite being John’s girlfriend. It cuts to John and the other bully, Moe (Simon Reynolds), discussing their own wishes. Moe wished to meet aliens and John wished to be “king of the world.” (D: I hope John dies. J: John Dies at the End.). Terrence’s dad gets a job as a pilot. (G.o.D.: He’s gonna be played soon by Denzel Washington, to land the plane upside down. TP: That was Tom Hanks.)
The homunculus apparently regenerates and escapes from the jar. It attacks Terrence, who dresses up in hockey gear and captures it, putting it in his gerbil cage (which has a bird swing). (D: You should just knit it a little costume and make friends with it.) Terrence’s dad, now having emptied all of his alcohol bottles, leaves to fly to London. Liz comes over to see the homunculus, and Terrence explains that they tapped into the power of the “old ones.” Apparently, Terrence found his father mid-suicide-attempt and decided this was the best solution. Terrence points out that it could obviously backfire from all the “negative energy,” but they also start connecting. (D: She’s wearing leggings under a denim skirt. G.o.D.: It was the 80s. That has nothing to do with her wanting to bang him). Liz tries to get another wish granted by the homunculus, which results in her getting a car and a bunch of free stuff. (G.o.D.: Ultimate power, no responsibility, what could go wrong?).
The scene cuts to the two of them on a plane where Terrence’s dad is drunk and crashing, but this is a dream sequence. They find out that the wishes turn bad in the most literal way: The car and the stuff they got have turned into literal shit and it turns out that his dream was real, resulting in his dad being in a coma. The homunculus, amusingly, shrugs at this. (TP: Sorry, bro, what’d you expect?)
Liz runs into John and Moe, who don’t believe her about the wishes. However, she eventually convinces them, resulting in them attacking Terrence and breaking into his house to steal the homunculus. Hilariously, they call him it a Gremlin, which leads me to believe that someone thought mentioning a good movie makes a bad movie better. It breaks free and attacks them, biting them both, before they manage to recapture it. They then try to use it to get a bunch of stuff. It cuts back to the hospital, where Terrence and Liz bond and hug.
We see John and Moe at a fancy restaurant wearing garish suits and ordering expensive wine, being classless dicks. In one of the best moments in the movie, as Moe tries to pay the bill, the money turns into a pile of feces. The homunculus escapes their trunk and it appears that its bite has infected the boys. John’s body is filling with pus in a severely gross moment. Moe is trying to figure out how to dine and dash. (G.o.D.: Just say you were so dissatisfied you decided to throw shit at the restaurant and leave. J: That just happened at a Tim Hortons). John appears to explode in the toilet and Moe’s car is stolen by something, possibly the new John. (G.o.D.: They’re not getting a good Yelp! Review).
Terrence and Liz prepare a ritual to banish the homunculus by shoving it in music box from Terrence’s dead mom and throwing it back through the portal and run into Moe, who brings them to a factory where he has imprisoned John. John’s now a demon, apparently. Moe, who has a hole in his heart, appears to have a heart attack and die. At this point, it’s revealed that John is now 10 feet tall and demonic, and they have to track down the homunculus still. They finally find the little guy and open the interdimensional gate, only to find out that Moe is alive and also a very weird-looking demon. The demonic bullies interrupt the ritual, trapping everyone in a barren hellscape. The pair kidnaps Liz to sacrifice her, but then tells Terrence that he has to do it, transforming his hands into demon claws to force him. hand (G.o.D.: That’s what happens when you masturbate too much).
Liz and a now-completely demonic Terrence fight back against John and Moe, before Terrence falls to his dark urges and attacks Liz. As he’s about to kill her over a hell portal, the homunculus escapes from the music box that they had trapped it in, the song bringing Terrence back enough to grab the box and the homunculus and throw them into the portal. It explodes and sends Terrence and Liz back to Earth, but Terrence appears to be dead. It cuts to his funeral, where his father is out of the coma, but Terrence emerges from his coffin, apparently unharmed, because magic. (TP: But now in 24 hours he turns to shit. J: If you wished for a pile of feces, what would it turn into? Puppies? I bet it’s puppies.) As Terrence and Liz leave, John and Moe crawl out of Terrence’s coffin. (TP: That’s a clown car of a coffin. G.o.D.: What happens in the coffin, stays in the coffin.) They end the movie with the only good line in the film: “Demons, man. Who needs girls when you got demons?”
IN AN AMAZING POST-CREDIT SCENE, the gerbil from the beginning climbs out from hell. What glorious masterpiece have my eyes beheld?
I can only imagine the quantity of drugs that was consumed to create this film, but, since this was released in 1990, it was the remainder of the cocaine in the 1980s.
Positive points: There was actually some good creature work at a few points with the homunculus. There’s one scene where it’s swinging on the birdcage swing like a little kid, and it’s pretty adorable in a horrifying way. The monster’s attacks are pretty brutal and the makeup is solid, especially the forced perspective parts. Some of the comic relief scenes are actually kind of funny, too.
Negative points: The movie is somehow both too simple and too complicated. The fact that the music box belonged to Terry’s mom becomes a huge point but was introduced as basically a throw-away line. I have no idea how his dad is alive after crashing a plane by driving it downward, but I really don’t understand why he was still over the US after flying for 14 hours to London. Just asking. If you’re a pilot, maybe you can tell me. I’d say it was London, Ontario, but that really just raises more questions. The movie is also so profoundly boring at a lot of points that the group broke down into making puns about the movie Aladdin and nothing was missed.
This movie is a weird sequel. It’s the same kid from the first one, and it’s the same demonic gate, but this one is more “H.P. Lovecraft” than the first one, which was pretty straight Biblical. Also, the first movie had an underlying theme of family values, this one’s underlying theme is be careful what you wish for… because you only get like 50% of what you were asking for? Hell is easily escapable? Death is temporary? Honestly, I have no idea.
Overall, this isn’t the worst movie I’ve reviewed, but you can skip it. The only thing that made it tolerable was my own personal MST3K. Which I guess makes me Cambot, and I’m okay with that.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has a very simple premise, summarized in the epic opening song: Two mad scientists (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff) launch Joel Hodgson, a janitor, into space and force him to watch B-movies in order to find out if there’s a B-movie bad enough to be used for world domination. I know it sounds crazy, but even the theme reminds you to “just repeat to yourself, ‘it’s just a show, I should really just relax.’” In order to deal with the strain, he builds four robots for company: Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, Gypsy (Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Jim Mallon), and Cambot (who films silently). They proceed to sit through terrible B-movies and mock them endlessly, in a process they call “Riffing.” With some people, this would create an awkward experience. Fortunately, this was a team of professionals who turned the movies into fascinating works of satire.
This episode features 3 distinct parts. First, it contains the short “Hired,” which is basically a hilarious satire of Glengarry, Glen Ross. It is also referred to as “Hired 2: Electric Boogaloo.” The second part is watching the movie Manos, the Hands of Fate. Manos is the worst movie ever made. Cinematography, acting, directing, effects, lighting, sets, costuming… if there’s an Oscar for it, Manos did it worse than anyone else. Hell, the title barely makes sense. In fact, the movie was produced, directed, and written by a fertilizer salesman as the result of a bet he made with a screenwriter in a bar. The only upside to the film is the character of Torgo, who is pointlessly over the top in every way, including that he has cloven feet and goat legs… that are never really shown. The third segment is the appearance of Torgo’s pizza. Yes, the mad scientists order pizza from a character in the movie they’re watching. It takes 2 hours to arrive, and when it does, Torgo (played by future MST3K host Mike Nelson) forgets the soda in the car, has sat on the pizza to warm it… and tries to keep the crazy bread in his pants.
In between these parts, Joel and the robots tend to mess around during the “commercial breaks,” doing things such as the Invention Exchange, where Joel invents a machine that combines two bad Sunday comics into a good one (Like Mrs. Lockhart murdering Cathy).
The key to this episode is that the crew of the Ship of Love (the set of MST3K) have so much to work with. Never before has a movie been so gloriously bad as Manos. It is the unicorn of terrible movies. Were I to live to be 1000, I might never see its like again. It even has the Mads show up occasionally during the breaks to apologize for how bad the movie is, and they’re the ones supposedly looking for the world’s worst movie. The cast takes almost every line, scene change, lighting change, and the ever-glorious Torgo’s theme music (which replaces the closing theme of the episode) and make them into hilarious critiques of everything from film to society to family to goats.