MST3K Recap: 1106, STARCRASH

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1106

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

Our older readers who were around in ’77 will remember the way Star Wars washed over the culture of the day. You think it’s popular now, folks? Back then, it was everywhere. Toys, clothes, disco music (it was the seventies, after all), everything was Star Wars. And if it wasn’t, it was as close an imitation as they could get (this reviewer has in her collection a promo recording from a radio jingle company for a package called “The Music Force”, complete with R2-like bloops & whistles). And sure as sunrise follows sunset, there came the imitations. Slavish, cargo-cult space operas that panted after the original while simultaneously learning nothing from it. Starcrash is just one such movie.

This week’s cold open has the SOL crew making like college kids and playing spin-the-bottle. A rare appearance of Crow in drag here, as it’s usually Tom that does the honors in that direction. After the show open, the Mads introduce the “band-eat-o”, a food & condiment-covered bandolier based on the salsa-filled sombrero, which is apparently a thing somewhere. Not Mexico, I’m guessing. The SOL crew with BB-Servo, namely Tom’s head on top of you-know-who’s body. Alas, Lucasfilm’s legal team work very quickly, and Tom’s dreams of licensed merchandise are dashed in a matter of seconds.

The movie is, as noted, one of the flock of me-too movies that came after Star Wars, an Italian quickie turned out by someone who hadn’t seen Star Wars but had a copy of the book (true). It involves galactic smuggler Stella Star (yes, really) and her friend Akton who get hired by the Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher Plummer!) to find out what’s happening with a secret weapon developed by the evil Count Zarth Arn. Also, David Hasselhoff shows up as the emperor’s son.

RELATED ~ BOMB SHELTER Drill #3: Jay and Kevin Get Caught in a STARCRASH

This is cargo-cult film making at its finest: kit-bashed spaceships, corny robots, all the accouterments with nothing to back them up. It’s actually amazing how much this movie resembles an updated version of a standard ’50’s space saga in the Flash Gordon/Rocky Jones mold. The “lived-in” universe of Lucas & McQuarrie is nowhere to be seen. The robots look like they were assembled with erector sets. There is no grounding realism, no universe building to speak of. It faded as quickly as it came, forgotten with a host of others.

A word about the guy who plays Akton, aka the-guy-who-isn’t-William-Kat: you might not be familiar with Marjoe Gortner, but he’s got a fascinating history quite apart from this film. Raised on the faith healing & revival circuit, he became famous as “The world’s youngest preacher” as his family trucked him around all over the place, using him as the principal draw for their “ministry”. He continued in this world until adulthood, when he left in the most spectacular way possible: filming a “stealth” documentary showing him at work and behind the scenes, exposing the faith healing circus for what it was (and, alas, still is). The movie is called Marjoe, and definitely worth a look. He had a bit of a movie career afterwards, but has settled into the background since.

Anyhow. First host segment. Crow has whipped up yet another screenplay to capitalize on ersatz sci-fi quickies, World War Space. It combines equal parts Candyland, space bureaucracy, merchandising, and gibberish. As these things go, it’s no Earth vs Soup, but could probably get legs in modern Hollywood, more’s the pity.

The second host segment has Jonah dressed up as Akton and generally acting like a typical self-absorbed celebrity until it turns out he has no control over his vaunted so-called powers. He immediately falls to pieces and runs off, sobbing, leaving the disappointed ‘bots in his wake.

In the third segment, genius investor Freak Masterstroke (Jerry Seinfeld) comes by Moon 13 to hear the Mads’ pitch for a fly-in drive-in, a lunar theme park, and various other items that get shot down hard. He tells them to turn Jonah & the ‘bots into Apps but flies off before they can secure funding. Hey, maybe they should try Kickstarter. I hear that sometimes works.

After the movie, Jonah gads about as the Count while Crow & Tom relentlessly attack with torpedoes and cheesy catchphrases, leaving the Mads to wonder if they have finally been driven mad. Quoth Kinga: “I don’t even know anymore.”

In  her Planet ComicCon appearance, Felicia Day stated that she considered either Avalanche or The Beast of Hollow Mountain as the worst show of the season, but for my money this one lays over both of them easily. The cheap sets, the Hayden Christensen-level acting, the excruciating writing all combine to form an absolute mess that only serves to remind you of other, better movies you could be watching. No lie folks, this is a toughie to get through. We’re talking Castle of Fu-Manchu tough. But the gang pull us through, bless them. The host segments are a bit uneven this time around, but the riffs keep us going through what could have been an unbearable slog.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck never realized how important perms & leather bikinis were to saving the universe. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.




MST3K Recap: 1105, The Beast of Hollow Mountain

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1105

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

There seems to be an unspoken rule with some monster movies to go as long as possible before actually showing the creature. Whether in the name of building suspense, or (more likely) saving money on the effects budget, more often than not you’re lucky if, when sitting down to a 50’s – 60’s-era monster film, you get a proper look at the thing before the third act. Much as we make fun of the Japanese rubber-suit kaiju movies, at least they delivered the goods. Conversely, this week’s experiment, The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), is basically a western-themed Lifetime movie interrupted by a claymation dinosaur.

The episode opens with painting day on the Satellite of Love. Tom is accidentally a cubist, and Crow manages to recreate “Tippy” and the pirate from the old Art Instruction Schools advertisements. The invention exchange consists of an instant disco cannon that will look awfully familiar to My Little Pony fans, and a demonstration of how the Titanic could have been saved with a giant hot water hose. (Also, as an unrelated aside, Kinga looks really good in a captain’s hat)

Basically, the movie revolves around a Mexican village where the cattle have been disappearing. Fortunately for them, there’s a clean-shaven handsome white guy in town to make it all better. The town’s most eligible bachelorette is in love with him, but engaged to be married to his bitterest rival. No fair guessing how that turns out. There’s also father-and-son team who are there for the heartstring-tugging duty. When the dad gets offed nobody bothers to tell the kid which, you know, makes total sense. Meanwhile, the cattle (and less vital cast members) continue to disappear in a flurry of giant muddy footprints. Finally, at just over an hour in, the monster itself deigns to show up. Eventually, Our Hero lures him into some quicksand, and that’s that. As cowboy-dinosaur films go, this one’s pretty much the bottom of the heap. And that’s saying something.

In the first host segment, the gang get to talking about their own dream monster movies. Tom, being Tom, wants to go for an arty sort of thing, a gloomy character piece about a wandering monster just looking for someone, anyone, to terrorize. Crow, on the other hand, comes up with a brain-free summer crowd-pleaser about growing up when you’re already 200 feet tall. Money quote: “Bro-Zilla will be the hit of the summer, creating synergy with and between all of our corporate subsidiaries!” How quickly they learn.

In the second segment, Tom presents is new fall line inspired by the movie.  Crow is wearing a fetching ensemble that creams “50’s Mexican stereotype”, while Gypsy demonstrates that an outfit can never go out of style if it’s never been in style in the first place. The Mads approve, though they don’t care Jonah’s one-button shirt. Fair warning: there is a wardrobe malfunction, so try not to look directly at the pasty white skin without some sort of eye protection.

The third segment is…well, see, just before it in the movie, we get treated (treated?) to one of those scenes that comes from out of nowhere, adds nothing to the story but bewilderment and confusion, then bugs off just as abruptly. It seems to be some sort of traditional festival or other–no explanation is given. Just a parade of people dudded up to beat the band. Jonah & the bots speculate on how in some movies this would be a cue for a major set piece, or a plot point, or at least something. So in the host segment, the ‘bots gad about in the weird festival costumes while the humans (Jonah & the Mads both) are slowly driven mad, trying to figure out what it all means. It’s pretty funny, actually, with Max getting the best lines in this viewer’s opinion.

Post-movie, the SOL gang discuss other movies that would have been improved by having the characters be eaten by dinosaurs (I’m totally with them on Mrs Doubtfire, btw). They then proceed to turn My Dinner with Andre into a dino-fueled action spectacular.

So, a low-budget monster-lite movie from the golden age of the drive-in. Right up the show’s alley, in fact. Lots of good riffs here, and the tone was consistently funny throughout. Westerns don’t pop up on the SOL that often, but when they do they tend to be memorable (Gunslinger, anyone?). The dinosaur is just the frosting on top: i.e., a thin layer plopped on at the very end full of empty calories and making your teeth ache. This one looks to be a fun one to go back and rewatch, as they really dig in to the movie’s problems and let rip.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck is only amazed the cute kid didn’t wind up befriending the dinosaur. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.




MST3K Recap: 1104, Avalanche

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1104

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

There’s just something about some movies that just screams “Made For TV”. Maybe it’s the roll-call of special guest–er, featured players. Or the way an expensive production still manages to look cheap as hell. Remarkably, this week’s experiment Avalanche was actually made for theatrical release: were it not for some gratuitious-bordering-on-desperate-nudity one would never guess.

We open as usual on The SOL, where the bots are busy workshopping their version of Mad Men. Quisp gets name checked; someone check and see if Tarantino has been ghostwriting for the series. Afterwards, we find out a bit more about Kingachrome, Forrester’s liquid video format. Jonah demonstrates the Mouth Vacuum, which works exactly how you think it does. Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with the filters… The Mads, meanwhile, have created a computer that takes any phrase and turns it into a movie title with appropriate font and everything. Turns out “A Lighthearted Neil Simon Project” is the perfect title for a balls-to-the-wall action movie. Who knew?

Avalanche (1978) was written & directed by Corey Allen (no relation to Irwen, surprisingly), and spends two thirds of the movie introducing this week’s gues–sorry, there I go again. Introducing the characters and banging them against each other in various overly dramatic ways. David Shelby (a very tired Rock Hudson) is building a fabulous ski resort in…I don’t know, the Rockies somewhere. Among the guests are his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow) and Nick (Robert Forster), the requisite doomsayer who wants them to close the beach–er, shut down the resort. Also in attendance are Shelby’s mother (Jeanette Nolan doing her Berthe-from-Pippin bit), various reporters, alleged celebrity athletes and so on and so on. When the avalanche does finally get around to happening, things do noticeably pick up, even if a majority of characters seem to suffer from Spontaneous Common Sense Failure. In the end, the place is a wreck, and Mia takes the big yellow taxi out of Rock’s life for good, off to hook up with Woody Allen and star in some decent films for a change.

In the first host segment, the ‘bots have got Rock Hudson Fever, Jonah patiently explains to them why 70’s style, what-kind-of-man-reads-Playboy types are not romantic role models. Especially when they’re wearing yellow plaids. “He [Hudson] doesn’t know what women want, and he doesn’t care,” proclaims Tom. Ah, dear, sweet, innocent Tom. Righter than you know.

In the second one, the SOL crew is playing Marco Polo while Kinga frets over her imminent visit from Neville LaRoy (Neil Patrick Harris), a “celebrity space magician” with whom she’s been having a long distance relationship for some time. His spaceship arrives, and they sing a funny-sad paean to online-only relationships. The song’s pretty good, very 80’s ballad, and even Max gets a look in for a verse. It’s interesting to note that this is the second time a Kinga-focused segment has dipped into pathos. It seems to be developing into a thing, if it’s not too early to say so. Also, turns out Felicia Day can sing. So that’s cool.

In the third segment, Jonah & the bots have a Very Serious Talk with us about the dangers of bad-on-purpose “hybrid” B-movies (Sharktopus, Piranhaconda, Sharknado and so on). They’re on it, though: they’ve decided to come up with as many bad B-movie titles as they can and lay claim to them, ensuring they never fall into the wrong hands (looking at you, The Asylum). So if you were wanting to create a monster opus named Lemonado, Pugslide, or Three-Toed Blitzsloth, you might as well forget it.

After the movie, Gypsy comes out and entertains the SOL crew with a lounge act, and also a slightly disturbing body hanging down from her neck hose. Still, she’s got a pretty good act. Personally, I think she’s ready for the Admiral Lounge at the Akron Holiday Inn. And the Mads agree.

Overall a good one. More time seems to be getting invested in giving the Moon 13 folks character depth and backstories. It’s a bit different than what we’re used to, but not in a bad way. This viewer is looking forward to seeing where they take us, actually. Another good song, even if it is a bit of a downer towards the end. One funny note: when watching the weekly batch of thank-you credits scroll by, this viewer noted not one but two Drforester’s in the list. Also a goodly number of real, actual doctors. Not a surprise, really: this has always been a show that appealed to smart folks.

Avalanche is an opus of high-budget corn from Roger Corman, who as always manages to make the most expensive production look cheap. In an earlier review yours truly read while gathering material, someone lamented the fact that it had never got the MST3K treatment. Well, all I can say is, they sure called that one.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck went skiing once; it wasn’t nearly this interesting. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

 

 




MST3K Recap: 1103, Time Travelers

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1103

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

The world of Riffing has always had a close relationship with the sci-fi genre. Even before the original MST3K moved to the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was known back then), a sizable proportion of its targets fitted comfortably within that genre. There just seems to be so much in the way of raw material to work with when cinematic flights of fancy go awry. This week’s episode is a fine example from the “Deep Message” subgenre, which follows the rules of time travel fiction lock-step and with zero surprises.

The show opens with Jonah and the gang playing a game of “Never Have I Ever”, with the ‘bots cheerfully taking it into a whole weird area, like they do. One show open later, the SOL crew introduces Crow’s invention for the week: edible silicone packets, which unfortunately need to be packed with a single non-edible one to keep them fresh. You can pretty much see where this is going. The Mads return with “Afterlife Alert”, for dead people who require post-mortem assistance. Fans who watched last week’s episode may find Max’s alert necklace rather on the familiar side. A cute one, but quick. And then it’s movie sign.

This go-round is The Time Travelers (1964), in which a group of scientists (and the electrician sent to shut down their excess power) discover they “window to the future” they created is actually a door. Naturally, they all wind up wandering through and getting lost, and naturally the door closes behind them. It’s your usual post-apocalyptic hellscape with a race of elites constantly fighting off mutants and so on. This bunch are getting ready to blast off for a new world, taking their robots (who look like Trumpy from Pod People got lucky while on Earth) with them. Naturally there’s intrigue, dirty secrets, the race against time to get back to their own time and so on. The ending screams “we ran out of ideas” and doesn’t even try to justify itself. One feature of note is the use of stage magic techniques as F/X work. This appears not to have been done not out of necessity, as elaborate tricks are used to create effects that could easily have been reproduced with a simple edit. Nevertheless, it does make the movie stand out, inasmuch as it stands out at all.

In the first host segment, the SOL crew has a time portal drill. Gypsy lectures them on the basics of portal encounters, including the important (if confusing) “Enter the portal, not”. It is also firmly established that meddling with the future always results in a nuclear wasteland. It just appears to be one of those things.

In the second segment, Jonah introduces a new series of ‘bots to the SOL, only to have each in turn be violently destroyed by Crow & Tom. This goes on for a while, until the sudden (but inevitable) reveal that the new ‘bots are phonies, made to be destroyed in the first place. Just a quick bit of slapstick, but it does remind this viewer that this series is meant to introduce us to a new ‘bot by the name of Waverly, which we have yet to see. One wonders how he’ll get along with the others, and when we’ll get to find out.

Lastly, the SOL gets a visit from Dr. Varno from the movie and his friend “Larry” (Joel Hodgson himself, making his first unmasked on-camera appearance this series). They’ve given up science in favor of the 24-hour party lifestyle. Jonah, believe it or not, turns down their invitation to join them, and they belt off to Betelgeuse to hit a rave. Sadly, “Larry” doesn’t speak a word during the whole bit, but it’s nice to at least see him.

After the movie, the gang returns to the crew cabin to find they have somehow reproduced the ending to the movie. It gets weird fast. Kinga proclaims this to be the 200th episode of MST3K, which Max helpfully points out is only if you count the episodes they personally had nothing to do with. It’s a bit silly, but this reviewer must admit she has a fondness for meta humor.

So that’s three down, 11 to go. The episodes seem to be gaining popularity, and passing muster with old & new fans alike. When Felicia Day was at Planet Comicon this last weekend (hence the delay in this recap, sorry), this reviewer noted many fans bringing paraphernalia related to the show (t-shirts and so on). No word yet on numbers, but at this early date, the “feel” is positive. This reviewer is optimistic that a second season is not an unreasonable wish at all.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck is constructing a time portal so she can go back to the past and tell herself not to bother with trombone lessons. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.




MST3K Recap: 1102, Cry Wilderness

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1102

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

The second episode in a series is kind of a special one. Where the first establishes characters and sets up the story, the second is generally a “normal” episode, the first sign of what we can expect to get on a regular basis. There’s a little more establishment going on here and there, but overall we’re in our groove and rolling along.

Episode 2 of the reboot introduces a couple of ideas and fleshes out the world we’ve been given. It also brings back a few old friends, so that’s a pleasant extra. First up, we have Gypsy working on the ship, with a little slapstick involving falling tools. Then, Jonah gets sucked into a pneumatic tube and deposited in his old ship, there to re-create the show open. This is explained by saying Kinga’s technology doesn’t work for recording. This makes less sense the more you think about it. I know, I know, it’s just a show and et cetera et cetera, but really would it have killed them to just do the intro without having to work up an explanation for it?

The invention exchange is odd enough: a turkey with a theremin embedded in it. This invention really feels like someone pulled a couple of words out of a hat, but what the heck it’s only the second episode. The Mads take the premise that the Carvel “Santa Claus” ice cream cake is really just their “Fudgie the Whale” cake turned sideways and redecorated, and use it to create an even dozen themed cakes, all with the same basic shape. It’s pretty amusing, and fortunately they keep it moving fast enough that it doesn’t get old.

The experiment is Cry Wilderness, a really rather bad “Bigfoot” movie. It’s about a boy who goes to visit his father in the woods, because Bigfoot came to him and warned him that he (that is, the father) was in great danger. Somehow he manages to hitch his way all the way up to the woods and almost immediately stumble on his dad and his Faithful Indian Companion(tm). There follows a lot of wandering around, arguing with authority figures, oddly inappropriate laughter, half-baked pseudo-native mysticism that Disney would find insensitive, and important lessons learned about love, friendship, and all the usual things you get in these kinds of movies. Oh, and there’s a tiger that escaped from a circus. In the end, everyone is all right, mystical things happen, and Bigfoot books it for the mountains to avoid the possibility of a sequel.

The first host segment has Crow & Tom as a couple of adorably vicious raccoons who systematically trash the SOL after the manner of the ones who do the same to the father’s cabin in the movie. It’s a surprisingly long scene in the movie, and this reviewer would not have wanted to be on the cleanup crew afterwards. Naturally, the ‘bots take it just that little extra bit further, all while Jonah fake-laughs himself silly.

In the second host segment, Jonah uses a laser-cut model to try to break down the movie for the ‘bots. Specifically, why this mess got made in the first place. This reviewer cannot vouch for Jonah’s explanation, but it’s certainly as plausible as anything. Incidentally, it seems that laser-cut wood props are going to be making a regular appearance in the new series. They are very nicely done, this reviewer will admit, but perhaps don’t have quite the charm of the hand-drawn flash cards from the old days.

The third segment takes us to Moon 13, where the Mads are stressing out over Jonah’s persistent sanity. Suddenly a ship comes into range, and–surprise! It’s Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl), with Bobo & Brain Guy (Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, respectively) in tow. This was a welcome sight, even if everyone looks a little…off-ish. Kevin Murphy’s Bobo in particular seems to have actually gone backwards a bit as far as the prosthetics are concerned. Of course he always looked a little cheesy, but this is some full-on Time of the Apes stuff, right here. Things get a bit awkward in the family relations department, and the henchbeings exchange some knowing comments about the Forrester way of doing things. We also meet Synthia, Pearl’s clone she left behind to keep Kinga company (Rebecca Hanson, who also does the voice of Gypsy). Those of us who were wondering who the Pearl lookalike in the first episode was now have our answer. There’s also a bit where Kinga complains about the difficulty of keeping continuity with the old season, and how she should have just “rebooted” everything. This is funny, but it’s also intriguing: just how much control does she have over the world of the show? Maybe this will be explored in greater detail later.

After the movie, Crow makes like the mystical Indian spirit guide in an attempt to get Max to hand over control of Jonah’s ship. Naturally, Kinga shows up and shuts down that action toot suite. Max pushes the button, and another episode is in the can.

So, a pretty good second episode, all things considered. Some things I’m not terribly over the moon about (the opening sequence explanation, for one), but it’s nice to see some of the old crew come by, even if it’s only a once-in-a-while kind of thing. It will be interesting to see what they do with the Synthia character. Last week she was just a background figure, so perhaps this signals bringing her to the forefront more. I guess we’ll find out.

As the credits roll, we find ourselves wondering where the character development is going to go as the season progresses. Will we see more of the new characters? How often do the old gang stop by? Is Max really right about shows not hitting their stride until around-about the fifth episode? Only time will tell.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck once had Bigfoot show up at her school to warn her that her father was in danger, but it turned out to be a 419 scam. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.




MST3K Returns: The Not-Too-Distant-Future is Here

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1101

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
From the not-too-distant past:
There was a cow-town puppet show
That nobody thought would last (lalala)…

It’s been almost 30 years since the first MST3K experiment (“Invaders from the Deep”) flashed on Minnesota TV screens as a way to kill a couple of hours on local channel KTMA. From November 1988 to August of 1999, Mystery Science Theater 3000 bounced from local UHF to basic cable, from comedy to sci-fi. It introduced “riffing” to the popular lexicon and as a pastime of choice for media-weary viewers tired of a landscape saturated by mediocrity. Nearly everyone involved with the show has carried on riffing duty in one form or another, but no one ever really expected the show that started it all would come back.

But come back it did, and hard. On the back of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever, fourteen new episodes were filmed and subsequently snapped up by Netflix, who knew a good thing when they saw it. So now, a new generation gets to strap in and enjoy bad movies turned into genuine entertainment.

If you are reading this, the entire season of MST3K, Season 11, has been released en masse by Netflix. However, your faithful reviewer remembers a time when Saturday was MST3K night, gathering with the other oddball students in the senior dorm to catch the new episode. For that reason, we’ll be watching–and recapping–one episode per week. As somebody once said, it’s too nice a job to rush.

So let’s get started: Gizmonics employee Jonah Heston (comedian Jonah Ray following the tradition of keeping his first name) is hauling some meteors back to earth when he gets a distress call from the dark side of the moon. It quickly turns out the call was a trap: he is captured and promptly bundled into a tube which deposits him unceremoniously on the Satellite of Love, still amazingly intact. This is all done to a new, rather jazzy rendition of the classic theme, giving us our first look at the new villains and the rather elaborate sets that have been put together.

The same old ‘bots are still on board: Crow (Hampton Yount), Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn), and Gypsy (Rebecca Hanson). The latter has had the biggest change: apart from anything else she’s now voiced by an actual female, and is much more lucid. Also, she lives in the ceiling, so that’s cool.

The villains this time around are eerily familiar: Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) is apparently the daughter of original “mad” Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), determined to restart her father’s (and grandmother’s) experiment in search of selling the brand to Disney for scads of money. At her side is Max, aka “TV’s Son of TV’s Frank” (Patton Oswalt), who looks just too much like Frank Conniff to be believed.

One surprise this viewer was not expecting was the resurrection of the invention exchange. In fact, the first one out of the gate is something that’s not only quite doable, but looks to be really neat. This reviewer expects to see 3-D printer/CNC plans for it on Thingiverse and elsewhere in very short order, in fact. Since the inventions were always Joel Hodgson’s “thing”, we’re likely in for more of the same.

The first movie out of the gate is Reptilicus (1961), a Danish-American production in the Giant-Monster-Tromps-All-Over-Everything-While-Scientists-Flail-Around-Helplessly genre, an old favorite. After going through a door sequence that is extremely impressive (they really have upped their model game), we come out into the theater for the movie, and the riffing begins.

The title monster is discovered when an oil drilling team accidentally pulls up a section of the beast’s tail. When typically careless movie scientists allow the specimen to thaw, they find to their shock it regenerates itself entirely. They waste a lot of time shambling around stumbling into failure after failure before determining their best bet is to kill it with poison. Unfortuantely, there is one loose bit left behind that begins to regenerate, because of course there is.

The riffing is about par for the course, with the riffs being more or less interchangeable between the characters. One feels they will find their comic voices as the season progresses. There seems to be a lot more in the way of music-based riffs, short bursts of lyrics and so forth. This is by no means a bad thing, just one of the few things that struck this viewer as distinct from the previous iterations.

Despite the online, commercial-free venue of the new season, Hodgson put in “bumpers” where the commercial breaks would normally go. These feature the “Skeleton Crew”, the live-ish band that are seen at the opening of the show as well. Hodgson has explained that he has a certain affection for those moments, and feels they help retain the feel of the original shows.

Also true to the original series, there are three “host segments” interspersed throughout the movie. In the first one, Jonah explains (by means of a rather catchy rap number) how the idea of giant and/or scary monsters can be found all over the world. Some very clever lyrics here, and it fits very well with the tradition of creative and funny songs in the history of the show.

In the second segment, Crow takes one of Tom’s arms and regenerates a bunch more Toms (all one-armed themselves, natch). It’s a bit of a running gag across the series that Tom keeps duplicating himself, so this would appear to be a nod to that. It’s short, but amusing, though a couple more of the “mutant” versions would have been nice.

The third segment has the crew reading viewer letters. This is interesting, as that was generally saved for after the movie up til now. Only a couple of notes this time around, understandably, but no doubt there will be more to follow.

Post-movie, Gypsy goes Kaiju on a model Copenhagen while Kinga & Max plot the future.

So, off to an interesting start. It feels very much like coming home for this longtime viewer, though there are some serious questions about continuity. First of all, we have the Satellite of Love, bots included, but the last we heard the SOL had crashed and the robots had settled on Earth. Also, if Kinga and Max are both descended from the original villains Dr. Clay & Frank, then that raises all kinds of questions, particularly since Frank ascended to Second Banana Heaven before taking a job as a Soultaker (it’s a long story). Hodgson & co are being extremely coy about how they intend to resolve the various continuity questions, or whether they intend to address them at all. We’ll just have to see.

There are some nice surprises among the cast and crew. Trek fans will be delighted at the beginning by a familiar face among the Gizmonics personnel. Longtime Best Brains wardrobe mistress Beez McKeever is back on the crew, doing what she does best. Series veterans Paul Chaplin & Mary Jo Pehl are also involved, with rumors of other MST3K alumni to follow. And then there’s that “Movie in the hole!” guy…doesn’t his voice sound familiar?

Altogether, it’s a pretty strong start to a new generation of the show. As I mentioned in my previous writeup, MST3K has always been a show that adapted over time, and because of this managed to stay enjoyable and entertaining for a very long time indeed. There’s a lot new here (Tom’s voice particularly is rather different to this old fan’s ears), but it is in the main familiar enough that it should take longtime fans back with relative ease, as well as introducing a whole generation of new ones.

Kelly Luck is old enough to remember when “Keep Circulating the Tapes” was still a thing. As indeed were tapes. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

What do you think, sirs?




MST3K Returns: First Impressions (NO SPOILERS)

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: Experiment 1101

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

First things first: this is not a review per se. Due to the fact that the new MST3K season is under embargo until its April 14th premiere on Netflix, I will not be discussing any specific details (plot, movie, etc). This is merely a list of impressions and final thoughts from someone who grew up with the show as to how the new season looks to be shaping up.

  • First of all, it’s nice to see some familiar sights updated with nice model work. This looks to be a recurring theme throughout the show.
  • Hello, unexpected celebrity cameo!
  • I know it’s the first episode and all, but the opening scene does seem to run on a bit long.
  • TV’s Patton looks WAYYY too good as Son-of-Frank, and Felicia Day’s Kinga Forrester is nicely villainous, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
  • On a related note, I still can’t get over the fact that this apparently means that both Dr. Clayton & TV’s Frank went off and had kids at some point (separately, one assumes). The mind boggles.
  • Love the new door sequence. So many hidden details in each “room”. Seriously, get your freeze-frame trigger finger ready.
  • New Tom’s (Baron Vaughn) voice is going to take some getting used to for me. Fortunately, Crow (Hampton Yount) sounds sufficiently Crow-y that I don’t notice his voice most of the time.
  • Whoa, Gypsy’s voice and puppet have had some changes made. A different direction, but I like it.
  • Love the Mads’ outfits. There is going to be so much cosplay inspired by this show. Calling it now.
  • TV’s Son of TV’s Franks’ actual name revealed!
  • The return of a certain beloved staple of the show? Yes, please.
  • Hey, Gypsy popping in for a riff or two. I wonder if this will be a semi-regular thing?
  • Looks like the house band is gonna be a thing. Nice.
  • Speaking of music, the gang likes to burst into song during riffing.
  • Lots of music in general, really. Just like the old days.
  • Another thing that hasn’t changed? Movie comic relief is still pretty painful.
  • They have little spoken”outros” where the commercial breaks would go. These are accompanied by music from the house band.
  • They have created a new arrangement of the “Mighty Science Theatre” closing theme, this time with a full orchestra by the sound of it. Very nice.
  • Pleasant surprise to see some familiar names in the credits.

Overall? Pretty good, really. I got a kick out of it, and once things got settled down and the story established, it was like we were right back in the old groove. MST3K fans are lucky in this respect, in that it has always been an evolving creature. A new voice here, a new character there. We’ve learned to take it in stride. The core of the show–its heart, if you will–has always been the same. It still has the same wit intact, and with Joel Hodgson at the helm, this will most likely continue to be the case.

In short, don’t panic. If the rest of the season holds up to the first episode, it should be great fun. It’s nice to have the old-new gang back again.

Thank you, Joel Hodgson, for making us laugh at crappy movies. Again.

Kelly Luck first started watching MST3K when it was still on The Comedy Channel, before it merged with Ha! to become Comedy Central. This means she has now followed the show across four separate networks. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

 




Carrie Fisher, 1956-2016

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It seems 2016 is not through with us. Reports are coming in that Carrie Fisher, who was hospitalized after a heart attack on Friday, has passed away. She was 60.

Ms. Fisher, of course, is best remembered in the genre world for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars films (and records and TV specials and so on). Ironically, this role is only a very minor slice of a long and varied show business career, and there are many who will remember not the princess, but the smart, funny and extremely gifted writer.

Born of a showbiz family to Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, she got her first TV role at age 14 on her mother’s The Sound of Children special. Her first real breakout role was as Lorna in the 1977 Warren Beatty vehicle Shampoo. It was two years later when, at age 21, she took the role that was to define her in the eyes of fans everywhere.

Sadly, it was this role, and the fame that it brought her, that began her cycle of substance abuse and exacerbated her mental health issues (she later stated that, had she known the role of Leia would have brought her the fame that made her parents’ lives so stressful, she would have turned it down). She spent the late seventies and early eighties self-medicating in an attempt to temper her bipolar disorder. It was an overdose in 1985 that landed her in hospital which inspired her to write her first novel, Postcards from the Edge. Detailing her harrowing time in rehab, it was later made into a movie by the same name. When asked why she did not play the protagonist in the movie version, she replied that she already had.

There followed three more novels: Surrender the Pink (1990), Delusions of Grandma (1993), and The Best Awful There Is (2004), inspired by the time her former partner Bryan Lourd left her for another man. She also wrote multiple memoirs including Wishful Drinking (2008, also a play) and The Princess Diarist from this year.

Her most prolific work, however, seems to be behind the scenes: from the early nineties, Ms Fisher established herself as a “script doctor”, applying her wit and ear for dialogue to various television and movie scripts. Among the more notable productions that benefited from her pen are Hook (1991), The Last Action Hero (1993), The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992), and all 3 of the Star Wars prequels.

She is survived by her ex-husband Paul Simon, and her daughter Billie Lourd.

 

(Kelly Luck always liked her as the vengeful ex-fiancee in The Blues Brothers. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.)

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RIFFTRAX LIVE: The Boys Do One Night Holiday Double Feature

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The Rifftrax team (Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy) presented a one-night-only “double feature” on Thursday night, featuring encore performances of two of their holiday-themed live events.

The first, a live riffing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) from 2013, is an odd little movie from the “drop-the-kids-off-at-the-theatre-so-Mom-and-Dad-can-do-the-Christmas-shopping” genre of films, one which appears to be yet another casualty of the digital age, for better or worse. If you’ve somehow missed it, the leaders of Mars realize that their children are depressed and listless because they never have any fun. They decide to remedy this by heading to Earth and kidnapping Santa Claus. This they do, along with a couple of Earth kids, Billy & Betty. Naturally, wacky hi-jinks ensue, as how could they not? It’s probably best remembered for a young Pia Zadora, who plays one of the Martian children.

Next was the Christmas Shorts-stravaganza, a selection of eight short films interspersed with some vintage toy commercials. Most of the shorts, understandably, were holiday-themed, though there were a couple of odd ones out (including a swimming event in Beverly Hills and a paean to New England pork). This is an interesting event for Rifftrax fans because A) it was only their second live event, and B) “Weird Al” Yankovic was a special guest during the pork segment. It was originally presented during the 2009 holiday season.

The evening wasn’t entirely devoid of new materials: there were some brief “bookend” segments featuring the team sharing old holiday photos and engaging in slapstick. Not enough to justify the price of admission by themselves, but at least a nice bonus for longtime fans who had seen the other events before.

Overall, it was a good evening: the double feature did compensate for the dearth of new material, as seeing the show with friends is a social event in itself. For those who missed the evening, the two features are both available from Rifftrax in either digital or physical formats.

 

(Kelly Luck totally wants one of those Martian outfits for the next time she goes scuba diving. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.)

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IN MEMORIUM: Alice Drummond, 1928 – 2016

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Alice Drummond, the veteran character actor who portrayed the frightened librarian in the original Ghostbusters (1984), has passed away.

Ms. Drummond was born in 1928 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. She went to Pembroke College (Brown University), where she graduated in 1950.

She began appearing as a character actor in 1959, performing on stage in a production of Lysistrata. 1967 saw her take the role of Nurse Jackson in the cult favorite Dark Shadows. In 1970, she was nominated for a Tony for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for The Chinese and Dr. Fish, a one-act play by Murray Schisgal.

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She continued to go back and forth between the stage and screen until about 1984, the same year she appeared in Ghostbusters. In the meantime, she made appearances on various TV movies, soap operas, and theatrical releases.

Her work seems to have been mostly comedy and drama, the only other genre roles of note being a part in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, the not-quite-science-fiction Synechdoche, New York, and the thriller After.Life.

She died Wednesday due to complication from a fall at her home in the Bronx. She was 88.

 

(Kelly Luck’s uncle thought he was Saint Malo. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.)

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MST3K Lost Episodes Recovered

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News just broke that two of the first three Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, long given up on by fans as ever seeing the light of day, have been recovered and made available.

The Peabody award-winning television show got its start on KTMA, a local channel in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Though decidedly rough around the edges, the 21 episodes produced were enough to sell the show to The Comedy Channel. It’s more or less the same premise as the cable version, but there are differences here and there: a few changes in the theme song, Joel’s hair is longer, Gypsy is very different, and Tom Servo is silver and just called “Servo”.

Most of the episodes have been in circulation for quite a long time, but the first three episodes have not been seen since the show premiered on Thanksgiving weekend 1988. It has been generally assumed that the master tapes were around but the cast & crew were “squatting” on them due to their low quality. However, to the surprise of fans worldwide, Joel Hodgeson (currently in post-production for the new reboot) announced on November 25th that the first two episodes had been “found” and promptly put them available to backers of the new series.

This now only leaves the unaired pilot and episode 3, “Star Force: Fugitive Alien II” on the missing list. Interestingly, they did actually revisit this movie in a later episode (series 3, episode 18). However, this will be the first time Misties will be able to see the first episodes, Invaders from the Deep and Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars getting the riffing treatment.

The episodes are available to download for Bring Back MST3K kickstarter backers who pledged at any level with the “Classic MST3K Bonus Episodes” reward.

 

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RIP Don Marshall, Longtime Genre TV Performer

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Don Marshall, an actor-turned-producer who starred in many genre productions in the 60s and 70s, passed away Sunday at the age of 80.

A former engineering student, Marshall started his acting career on the stage before moving onto television. A stint on Gene Roddenberry’s early venture The Lieutenant (1963) led eventually to his 1967 role in the Star Trek episode “The Galileo Seven”, where he played the astrophysicist Boma. Interestingly, he and Nichelle “Lt. Uhura” Nichols had previously worked together on The Lieutenant.

The other chief genre project for which he is remembered is Land of the Giants, an Irwen Allen series about an Earth spaceship that crash lands on a world exactly like ours, only everything’s twelve times as large. Don played Dan Erickson, co-pilot of the spaceship. There were only two seasons produced between 1968 and 1970, but the series is well-remembered in sci-fi circles, and over the years has gained a cult following.

He also did a lot of one-off performances in other genre television including The Bionic Woman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and The Incredible Hulk, where he appeared three times. He also appeared as Dr. Fred Williams in The Thing With Two Heads (1972), an exploitation film about a racist doctor who winds up with his head grafted to a black man.

Around about the eighties, he moved behind the camera to concentrate on his own production company. He specialized in commercials and documentaries.

He is survived by his son and daughter, and his twin brother Doug.

 

(Kelly Luck thinks his crowning moment was his role on “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island”, but she’s weird that way. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.)

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BATMAN: THE MOVIE Director Leslie H. Martinson, Dead at 101

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Leslie H. Martinson, who directed the very first feature-length Batman movie, died today at his home in Los Angeles. He was 101.

A former columnist for The Boston Evening Transcript, a trip to California inspired him to get into the movie business. After a few years working his way from MGM’s mail room to their script department, he decided that he wanted to try his hand at directing. A move to television was in order, and by 1953 he was directing episodes of Cowboy G-Men and City Detective.

His first brush with genre media is arguably Topper, the story of a man who was haunted by a couple of cheerful ghosts. There then followed a slew of work on various detective shows, dramas, and a sizeable chunk of the seemingly endless parade of westerns that filled the late 50s-early 60s.

After directing the Batman two-parter “The Penguin Goes Straight” (followed by the inevitable “Not Yet, He Ain’t”), he and writer Lorenzo Sample, Jr were picked to create Batman: The Movie (1966), which was shot between the first and second seasons of the series. He then moved on to direct episodes of The Green Hornet and Wonder Woman, both the late-70s Lynda Carter series and an earlier one-shot comedy pilot meant to capitalize on the then-popularity of Batman. Bionic superheroes The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman also came under his directorial hand.

Other Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows he worked on included Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Powers of Matthew Star, Manimal, Fantasy Island, and the robot-based sitcom Small Wonder.

Mr. Martinson is survived by his wife, Connie.

 

(Kelly Luck still thinks it’s the best Batman movie. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.)

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Gene Wilder, Dead at 83

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It seems this has been the year for losing beloved media icons, and it seems those particularly beloved of SF/F fans have been particularly hit. We started off with the loss of David Bowie (Labyrinth, The Man Who Fell To Earth), then came Alan Rickman (the Harry Potter films),  Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), and most recently Kenny Baker (R2-D2 in the Star Wars films). And now, word comes that Gene Wilder, whose turn as the eponymous doctor in Young Frankenstein is probably the most popular take on the Mary Shelly classic, has passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s.

Born Jerome Silberman, Gene got his start on the stage, playing off and eventually on Broadway. While doing Mother Courage and Her Children with Anne Bancroft, she noticed his natural comic abilities, and introduced him to her future husband, Mel Brooks. What came from that was some of the most memorable comic cinema ever made.

Playing the straight-laced accountant Leo Bloom against Zero Mostel’s Max Bialystock in The Producers (1967), he quickly established his knack for playing even the most outrageous characters “straight”. In 1971 his turn in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory became an instant classic, and one that is still a favorite.

1974 was a watershed year for Wilder; in rapid succession he was seen teaming up with Zero again in the underrated film version of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, then Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, taking time in between to play the Fox in The Little Prince, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

The rest of the seventies and eighties were, perhaps, not so kind: he did some films of varying memorability, including three with Richard Pryor. It was also around this time when he took a crack at the superhero world by becoming the (uncredited) voice of Letterman on public television’s The Electric Company (where he once again collaborated with Mostel, who played arch-villain The Spellbinder).

In 1989, Wilder lost his wife Gilda Radner to ovarian cancer. In tribute to her, he helped found Gilda’s Club, an organization providing support and community to people living with cancer and their families and friends. Now known as Cancer Support Community, it has 170 locations around the world.

He is survived by his wife Karen Boyer, and a child from a previous marriage.

 

Kelly Luck doesn’t know about you, but she’s going to be binge-watching some Gene Wilder movies tonight. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

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Worldcon 74: Alien Building

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Four experienced creators of alien cultures (Ctein, G. David Nordley, Sheila Finch, and Larry Niven) joined moderator Caroline M. Yoachim in a discussion of the factors that go into creating alien life forms for fiction.

When creating an alien society, where do you start? There are essentially two approaches: top-down and bottom-up. Several of the panelists are members of Contact: Cultures of the Imagination, otherwise known as COTI. The favored COTI approach is to start with the star system, then planets, then biospheres, then imagine evolutionary history that eventually produces intelligent life and go from there. The top-down approach, conversely, starts with a “really cool” idea and works backwards from that. Of course, sometimes the backstory changes the final result. Larry Niven uses a variation on this approach: ask yourself, what is the weirdest thing about them? And work back from that. He developed this approach in reaction to a trend at the time where “believable” too-often wound up meaning “human-like”.

In fact, in the process of writing, it often happens that creators go up and down the ladder as the ideas fill out and influence each other. If the psychology and culture of your aliens are more interesting, then you sculpt the environment in which they evolved to that point. This in turn will affect their physical characteristics, and so on. Even something like eye placement could change the way we think of things. Physiology dictates how we think, which dictates culture.

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Still from THE X-FILES. Photo courtesy Fox

One thing to bear in mind when creating new life is there is a risk that if aliens are “too” alien, they may, well, alienate the readers. It’s best to remember that life forms still tend to be products of evolution, and thus are driven by the same needs and instincts. Don’t be afraid to question things we take for granted as part of intelligence but which serve no practical purpose. Will aliens have religion? A strong acquisitive sense? What is truly universal?

We seem to be the only intelligent species on the planet, but look at the animals which have demonstrated self-awareness and problem-solving skills: octopi, corvids, dolphins … intelligence comes in all forms. We do not recognize them as intelligent as such because they do not make tools, write things down, cook their food, etc. But does that really disqualify them?

“The problem with aliens is they’re aliens,” someone once said.

As the conversation turned to pitfalls when designing aliens, one thing that came up quickly was characteristics that would be evolutionary unlikely. Also, one must not discard the possibility of non-animal. Consider plants, siliceous lifeforms, non-carbon based life. We mustn’t overlook anything. Also, when we do world building, it’s either backdrop or a character in itself. Quite often people create aliens with interesting characteristics which would obviously affect the story, but don’t actually put those characteristics to work. Or they think exactly like a human being. Or act like people the writers know.

Also there’s the danger of using “exotic” foreign cultures to model aliens upon, which enforces western culture as”normal” and “human” (not naming any avatars or phantom menaces, but …). Along that line, there is also the danger of having everyone in your new alien world be the same. They all have one culture, one religion, one set of personality characteristics, etc. It’s called monoculture, but the good people at TV Tropes just call it the “Planet of Hats“. Now, monoculture tends to show up pretty often in TV due to practical budgetary reasons, but we can break free of that in written fiction.

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We’ll just leave this here.

Working out the scientific variables in a situation where we don’t know the rules can be tricky. It becomes hard to work out even just the basic biophysics of , say, a sentient plasma: how do you get it to sentience? There are variants in the carbon-chain model, but if you try to stay in a stronger scientific basis using known science, it does become very difficult.

Now, all that being said, if you are going with deliberately engineered species, all sorts of possibilities open up. Going with an overriding intelligence doing the heavy lifting of creation makes it a lot easier to bring in features you want and leave out ones you don’t.

Once you have your new life form, how do you individualize? There are a few interesting approaches. One panelist uses a mental tool called the slider bar: imagine you’ve got a control bar, with sliders for characteristics: height / weight / aggression / gender / pretty much anything. Now slide the settings up and down, modifying each individual until you have a distinct one. You can introduce real-world factors. Flip a coin. Take a random characteristic from the next person to walk by. Roll dice, even.

Does diversity introducing into aliens make them more human? It’s something every storyteller has to face: how alien can one get before it gets incoherent and your reader gets fed up? There’s a lot of room to play, but there are still limits. You have to still keep survival and other factors in mind.

As the panel broke up for the next session, Larry Niven offered one last bit of advice: ignore the stereotypes.

For more coverage on Worldcon, check out this link for articles and interviews.

 

Kelly Luck comes from a proud warrior race of passive-aggressives. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

 

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