Thursday, November 28, 2013

MST3k Month: Arbitrary Listing Time - Mike Edition

First off, a happy Thanksgiving/Turkey Day to all the readers out there who celebrate it. Hope you guys have/had a good one (depending when you read this.)

Second, as promised, we now move into the second half of the show's run. After Hodgson had to leave the series, they found themselves in need of a new host. The job, as was set up by the end of Mitchell went to Michael J. Nelson as Mike Nelson. The humor remained largely the same (though some films definitely took a bit more of a beating in the later years) with the biggest change actually going to the dynamic with the bots. Where Joel was more of a father figure to them, for both their good and bad times, Mike is on more equal footing with the bots. As a result of that, he was pretty often made the butt of their jokes - though he got to dish some out from time to time as well. The changes in formula were minor, but enough that they have helped fuel the Joel vs Mike debates that have been a regular part of the MST3k fandom.

For my vote, it's a hard sell. Both are great, but with the strengths in different areas, so the comparison really becomes a matter of more which qualities does one want more in their episodes.

But I digress. You guys came here today for Mike episodes, so let's discuss some Mike.

...OK, Palance's outfit really doesn't even need a quote here.


I found out about this episode somewhat by accident years ago. Around the time I first really became aware of how easy/active/technically legit it was for people to stream episodes of the series online (I say technically since, while the people at Best Brains are OK with it, occasionally the rights holders on the original movies will step in) I would sometimes hunt blocks of episodes on a theme. This one, I found while going through some of the show's more fantasy oriented episodes. Without knowing exactly what it was about when it started, I could tell I was already in for some insanity as soon as I realized this was based off the infamous Gor books (once I got past the shock of realizing someone DID adapt those stories to film.) The movie really was perfect as an episode for riffing fuel - cheezy dialogue, wonderfully bad acting (the actor playing Marlenas in particular is unintentionally funny even before riffing), and a setting with a high, if somewhat creepy, level of cheesecake exploitation going for it. Of course, given the source, that was to be expected (once I heard the name to connect it, there was a moment of "...welp, they have their work cut out for them on this one.") The pinnacle of their riffing on the film's setting being during one of the skits, when they give us the now famous 'Tubular Boobular,' which pretty well sums up the movie's penchant for skin to a T. All this AND they get to work on their Jack Palance imitations to boot, care of his appearance as the oddly dressed high-priest Xeno. Like Mitchell before it, this is one of those films that just keeps digging itself deeper for Mike and the bots to work with, especially right at the start with things like the irritatingly wormy Watney Smith, and our film's hero, Cabot - who the movie's writers seem to fear you will forget, as his name is repeated early and often. Really, if you haven't checked this one out yet, it's worth giving a watch. Especially now, as it debuted in part of the show's Turkey Day block years ago.
Also, again, if Shout Factory's listening, an official release on this episode WOULD be greatly appreciated.

-Favorite Riff -
Crow: "You know, you can watch the outtakes for this movie."
Mike: "Oh, you mean in one of those World's Wackiest Bloopers shows?"
Crow: "No, Faces of Death."

-Favorite Skit - Even outside of the movie, Mike and the bots get a chance to further play with their Jack Palance imitations care of the fake autobiography Palance on Palance: Believe It Or Not. The imitations alone are pretty priceless. The progressively darker entries while making Outlaw just make it THAT much better. Without giving too much away, I'll just say a particular source of laughter in this bit for me is the gleeful emphasis Mike puts into the line "Spent entire paycheck on bunch of crack!" while still in the Palance voice. It's another great example of how delivery can make a line arguably more than the line itself sometimes.

and so on, and so forth...

-Space Mutiny

Another that went on to become a fan favorite and a classic. For very good reasons too, I might add. As low budget sci-fi goes, this DOES have a lot in it to make fun of. Not even just in the slipshod production, either. Most of the cast put themselves pretty firmly in the crosshairs on many occasions. In particular, Reb Brown has earned himself a place of honor in the MST3k rolls for the laundry list of nicknames his David Ryder receives over the course of the movie, including but definitely not limited to: Big McLargehuge, Slab Bulkhead, Punt Speedchunk, and Fist Rockbone. Surprisingly, they pass up the temptation to comment on the film's rather blatant recycling of effects from Battlestar Galactica, though they make up for that by poking fun at the film's overtly 80s aesthetic and soundtrack. This element in particular leads to an enjoyably twisted end credits sequence, where a song "with music rejected by the band Survivor" serves as a springboard for Servo and Crow to belittle Mike for being part of the 80s and, subsequently, blame him for this movie. Said berating ultimately culminating in a bizarrely thought out, and quite strongly visualized sequence of the sort of loser Mike would have been back in the day, all capped off with Crow's "You and your 80s. Your precious 80s!" This is one of those it feels odd to try and sell people on, as it's such a well known and well liked episode already. Like so many of their other greats, it's one where the writers take a lot of what could have simply been easy targets and still make it a point to put in the extra effort on the payoff. The result leads to a LOT of great riffs and yes, one of the best episodes in the show's run.

-Favorite Riff -
(As Brown starts a fire that kills off James Ryan's villain with a limp)
Mike: "Our brave hero roasts the disabled man!"

-Favorite Skit - Servo and Crow decide to do the movie one better with their own dogfight...using the Satellite's only remaining escape shuttles. Suffice it to say, the shuttles don't survive.

"Could you put my hair out?"

-The Final Sacrifice

Another where it feels weird to sell this simply because it's such a well known movie. As the so-named 'worst thing to come out of Canada', this is another where the writers had a lot to work with material wise, and thankfully were neither overwhelmed or taking the easy way out. The cast in particular gave them a LOT to work with here - between the ski mask wearing cultists, the almost cartoony Pipper, and the bizarre hero combination of Troy and Rowsdower, a lot of this movie's riffs really work best at the cast's expense. In particular, once the cast learn the name Rowsdower - he becomes almost as much of a punchline by name as the many pseudonyms of David Ryder before him. On top of this, the movie just further fuels the show's penchant for cracking on Canada to boot, so there's a string of that along with it - leading to a priceless sketch along the way. It does also help that this is considered, as movies featured on MST3k go, one of their more watchable films. Yeah, it's low budget and many of its concepts are rather ridiculous, but, like I said before, it still manages to work despite them. As a result, having the show riffing it in top form just takes an already pretty fun bad movie and makes it THAT much better as a result. If you haven't seen this one yet, fix that. Now. Yes, now. Go on. This article will be here when you get back.
...oh, and be sure to vaccinate for hockey hair before you go in. Trust me. You'll thank me later.

-Favorite riff -
Pipper: "Troy McGregor? Thomas's son?"
Troy: "You knew my father?"
Crow: "Knew him? He was delicious!"

-Favorite skit - Servo's attempt to defend Canada from Mike and Crow's abuse. It backfires in a BIG way, as Servo then delivers an exceedingly violent screed against Canada, crossing the line even for Mike and Crow. Mike calls for hate in moderation, as a weeping Servo apologizes in French, which is a sight all on its own that words can't properly sell the humor on.

(Insert Kevin Murphy's groaning sound here. Cause it really is one of the other great laughs in this movie.)

-Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

As fun facts go, this was technically the last episode of the series ever shown, but not the show's finale. This is thanks to the fact that the episode itself was lost for a time (almost got stolen, actually.) By the time it was recovered, the show had ended its run proper, and this was instead aired as The Lost Episode.
I can only imagine what the writers on the show were thinking when they got this movie to work with, cause this is a genuinely bizarre feature even by the MST3k standard. This is thanks in no small part to director Kenneth J. Berton apparently deciding to take an earlier movie of his, a horror movie called The Devil's Gift, and graft a whole new piece of movie on it to sell as a family picture.
Yep, you read that right. This guy decided to repackage a horror movie as family fare. But it gets better - rather than simply have to deal with an awkward second half, Berton still leaves a fair amount of grim material in the first as well (including burning a cat alive and a man getting clawed up pretty badly, both played with a fairly straight face.) All this while framed around the idea that these two pieces of awkwardly stitched narrative are being told by grandpa Ernest Borgnine to his kid, who makes a strong bid for one of the worst child actors out there.
Suffice it to say, that premise alone inspires a fair number of choice zingers. Each new horror is accented with a Borgnine voiced grandfather, as the speaker for each is clearly relishing the joke while one of the other two accompanies as his weeping, traumatized grandson. It's a wonderfully sick running gag that perfectly encapsulates the insanity of this movie. Of course, even beyond its exceedingly dark side, they get a lot to play with in things like Merlin's odd performance and dialogue (and the fact no one seems to mind his 'wizard' look in this day and age,) a smug jackass of a reviewer in the first story that inspires a LOT of material, and the screamingly dated aesthetic of the second story, which was clearly made the better part of a decade earlier. It's an incredibly bizarre experiment of a movie with crazy that can be, and is, played for some great laughs. I'm really glad this episode wasn't lost to the ages, cause seeing this one for the first time years ago on Sci-Fi (back when it was still called that) it won me over right away with just how gleefully sick the humor on this one got.
...God, what does that say about me?

-Favorite Riff - Tom (as Merlin): "Remember to believe in magic - or I'll kill you!" - again, perfectly encapsulating this movie and everything bizarre about it.

-Favorite skit - There's a great spread on this one, but I have to give this to Mike ordering the Ernest Borgnine collection of children's books. The macabre escalation playing off the movie's dark side is another case of the show having a good sense of comic buildup. Probably one of the best parts of this is how they don't even go into the full horror of Fuzzy Bunny's New Blue Suit. Mike recoils, and the only clue we get is Crow's horrified "OH GOD! THEY'RE EATING HIS LIVER!" Only for the actual punchline of the skit to come in the wrong-footing as Mike and the bots are surprised to find out how strangely tasteful and happy
Dr. Blood's Orgy of Gore is as children's fare.
Would Borgnine's estate sign off on having his name attached if someone were to write these books now? Cause I'd buy them.

"GERONIMO--I mean, ME!"

-Final Justice

There's a right way and a wrong way to handle being riffed. Joe Don Baker will always remain the gold standard in how to do it the wrong way. His infamous beef with the show's writers over Mitchell has become the stuff of legend, to the point where Hodgson has admitted he's not entirely clear on the full details of it any more. So, when the time came in the show's final season to riff on another Joe Don Baker film, the writers at Best Brains opted to cry mockery and let slip the dogs of insolence. The result was simultaneously brutal and hilarious. This time around, Baker traded his would-be detective for a cowboy...which, admittedly, he passes for a BIT more easily, but not by much (as Crow coins it mockingly "Mom made me a real cowboy outfit!") Of course, where Mitchell was largely just inept in his detective skills, this movie's Geronimo (yes, he claims to be part Indian) is outright destructive. I'm not sure what inspired someone to keep casting Baker as renegade heroes, because he really just comes across as a jerk when does it. Which makes the admittedly somewhat mean-spirited riffing on this one feel less dickish, and more like fighting fire with fire. Incredibly hilarious fire. Even outside of the many barrages at Baker, the rest of the movie doesn't fare much better - especially thanks to its location filming in Malta. The carnival scene in particular inspires a lot of great bits (probably one of the highlights being Crow's response to an eery clown float: "SEE YOU IN YOUR NIGHTMARES!") I'm not sure if this ever escalated the Baker feud, but even if it did, it was worth it. Even among a mostly strong final season (...OK, there WAS Hamlet, but otherwise) this stands out as one of the greats.

-Favorite Riff - I have to give this to the alternate lyrics Crow and Servo give to the end credits song. Yeah, it's another long game one, but what can I say? It IS pure gold.

If I had to pick a runner-up...I think I'd have to give this to a nice bit of simplicity - Crow's reaction to seeing Baker's name in the credits:
"Oh, how I wish I was illiterate so I didn't have to read that."

-Favorite Skit - Crow's report on Malta. Well, more accurately his report that veers into a ridiculous and comic tirade against Maltese men. It's an incredibly random malfunction for a robot to have - but this IS Crow we're talking about, so it works well. Another great case of the show's writers having a good sense of comedic escalation, added to by Bill Corbett's building rage as he reads the report. The things the bots come to love and hate have always been kind of bizarre (though fun), but this is still among their finest moments in odd hangups.

Wow. Got this one done early (hey, it IS a holiday. Plus, the Turkey Day marathon is running now.)

Two days left to go, with writeups for each.
This part of the month is really a nice relaxer.

Till tomorrow!

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