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"Marie died, you know.",
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This review is from: Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII (DVD)
I'm officially tossing my hat in the ring for an early MST3k volume review, as I've already pre-ordered this one and have recently re-watched 3 of the 4 episodes. Why did I pre-order it? "The Deadly Mantis" was one of the very first episodes of MST3k I ever saw, watching it on the Sci-Fi channel at the tender age of 10, so this set already has me with its sentimental/nostalgic value. EDIT: Now that I actually *have* it, I'll give you my full review, complete with bonus features, etc.
Here's the episode breakdown:
THE SLIME PEOPLE: A film predating C.H.U.D. that features reptilian type creatures coming up from underground and causing trouble for the surface dwellers. A scientist, his two daughters, some reporter guy, and a marine named Cal that apparently is played by Conan O'Brien's older brother get caught in an invasion by the Slime People, some gross monsters that live underground and put out a bunch of fog that surrounds L.A., turns to stone, then creates a barrier so the fog can sustain the Slime People's life. While this idea did have some interesting possibilities, including a story structure that, in the first act at least, seemed a bit like an earlier prototype of Night of The Living Dead (a group of people trapped in a building surrounded by an unstoppable, unknowable menace) the movie eventually peters out into a bunch of dull chasing and fight scenes in some California hills with a bunch of fog overlay so no one is supposed to notice that a bunch of stuff *isn't* really happening. This is a Season 1 episode, so for those of you that don't know, this episode will seem a tad slower than later efforts, there is more emphasis on sight gags, Tom Servo's voice is not done by Kevin Murphy, you will see a dull Commando Cody serial before the movie, and the riffing is still honestly pretty funny. This episode isn't the best Season 1 effort (see Robots Monster and Holocaust for that) but its not bad, and the host segment where they deconstruct and reject the central premise of MST3k is pretty stinkin' funny. Its made all the more funny in that, while the discussion is going on, Joel is casually disassembling and reassembling Servo. These guys were always funny, even if the early years show them a bit rough around the edges. Overall, its enjoyable and worth watching, but probably not one you'll use to introduce your pals to the show.
Bonus features include the trailer (I love old exploitation trailers, its always fun to see how much of the movie they spoil, how hyperbolic they get in trying to sell the film, how inept the movie still looks even though they can cherry pick the best scenes) which actually comes off kinda boring so its pretty well representative of the film itself, and a new interview with Judy (Morton) Fraser, the younger professor's daughter. She actually looks better here than in the film (she didn't look good in the film) and her interview is enjoyable if a bit "Hollywood" in its telling (i.e. fake nice). Enjoyable tidbits include the fact that The Slime People apparently had very little direction, which only comes as a surprise to anyone who hasn't seen the film yet.
ROCKET ATTACK U.S.A.: Wow, what a crappy movie... (long rant with spoilers ahead!) A difficult to watch, super low-budget cold war thiller, this film is bad in many ways. After Russia launches Sputnik, the US sends a spy to Russia to investigate their advancing missle program. His contact is a woman sleeping with a heavy, bald, nasty Russian general ("Tor Johnson Jr." as he's called by Servo at one point) as the general apparently talks when he drinks, and he's usually drunk when he comes a callin'. Hilariously, the US spy has to hide in closet during the general's visits, resulting in some good jokes from Joel and Co. The US spy finds out the reds are planning a nuclear strike, gets some bad intel from a British spy, rushes in along with his female contact (who's fallen in love with him now I guess) to stop it, and they both get shot dead(!!!) with 20 minutes of the movie left.
What could possibly happen in the last act, now that both main characters are dead, you ask? Well, the title is "Rocket Attack U.S.A." isn't it? That's right, we get to watch a cardboard cutout of a missle slowly approach NYC while various schmaltzy moments of Americana play out and generals scuttle about to do something about the attack. Some people go to a shelter, some people ignore the warning sirens, a blind guy says "Help me" with all the enthusiasm of a guy asking a gas station clerk for a lottery ticket, and eventually the bomb hits, kills millions, and the movie ends. It takes 20 minutes, but feels like 40, probably due in part to the constant array of incredibly annoying sirens and alarms going off in any given scene.
The movie as a whole is completely ridiculous, with bad acting, terrible effects, no budget, awful pacing, boring characters and a 3rd act that just blindsides you with annoying stupidity. All of it serving a very unsavory message against human feeling. Sure, by the end of the movie we're *supposed* to be afraid of Soviet Russia, but the inept US agent is gunned down AND his mission fails only when he returns to the woman he fell in love with. So remember kids: Never fall in love, or New York will explode! Its truly bad, but in a way that makes you confused and angry.
Overall, this is one very unique episode of MST3k, though I hesitate to recommend it. Sure, the riffing is solid from beginning to end (and the Bela Lugosi serial at the start is fun), but the film itself might prove intolerable to anyone who isn't already a seasoned bad movie watcher. What I'm getting at is "Rocket Attack U.S.A." is truly a funny episode, but this is one I would absolutely NOT show to someone who's never seen the show before, they'd be driven mad by the film.
Bonus features include no trailer, but only a Life After MST3k: Trace Beaulieu (he was Dr. Forrester and Crow during the Comedy Central years, in case anyone didn't know that). I like these Life After MST3k segments. Not for the information they provide (that's easy enough to track down thanks to the INTERNET), but because we get to see the personalities of the performers as they reflect on their body of work. For instance, based on these segments I now know that: Mike Nelson is self-critical, Bill Corbet is gracious and appreciative of all his opportunities as an artist, Frank Conniff is very humble and kind, and J. Elvis Weinstein is an awful, pretentious, insufferable, delusional toolbag. In this segment, not only do we learn how to correctly pronounce Trace's last name (finally!), we also learn that the man is a true comedian, glad to make hilarious jokes through his entire interview. I've never laughed so hard at a Life After MST3k segment before, the guy is seriously funny. He also seems warmhearted happy with his life, but he's not one to take himself too seriously, which is awesome. Very enjoyable interview.
VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS: Another Bert I. Gordon film, this movie combines Mr. Gordon's trademark "enlarging" special effects (as seen on previous Gordon flicks and MST efforts like "The Amazing Colossal Man" and "Earth Vs. The Spider") with those stupid bikini beach party teen movies with the result being one crazy little movie. Basically, a young Ron Howard makes some goo with his chemistry set, his older sister's boyfriend feeds it to some ducks and discovers it makes the ducks grow really big (what else?), then a bunch of juvenile delinquents find and eat it (because they *dare* each other to, of all the stupid reasons), grow really big, and take over the town demanding all the adults stop hassling teenagers and bring them fried chicken and stuff. As with most of these beach party movies, the plot is light, there's perfunctory romances, and most of the film is a flimsy pretext to show teens dancing to crappy sixties music and women shakin' all over. Most of Gordon's films are very serious, "Village of the Giants" is definitely not, and his trademark special effects actually come off much better in a movie that's supposed to be silly and campy. I laughed out loud at the giant ducks crashing the dance to jump around and shake their *actual* tailfeathers to the 60's rock playing in the background. This is an unusual movie coming from Gordon, and while its not exactly his most interesting film, there's some great riffing in this episode, so it ends up being pretty fun overall.
Bonus features include the trailer (which focuses mostly on the teens dancing and the women shakin' it yet goes out of its way to say its based on a novel by H.G. Wells) and a brand new interview with Joy Harmon, the scary-faced, overly-tanned teen in the movie that burst out of her sweater and put guys in her bra while she was big and dancing in slow motion. As you'll recall during the episode, Mike and Co. said about Harmon, "just think, now that girl looks like leather, smells like Marlboros and Giorgio and makes her grandchildren call her by her first name..." and they seem to have been right! Unlike Judith Fraser from The Slime People, Joy Harmon has absolutely *not* aged well, and is now even more scary then when in the film (which was still pretty scary)! Her career path is not surprising, seeming that she got parts for looks more than ability, but I'm happy to report that she started a nice cooking/bakery business in Hollywood that's still family run. Her most interesting tidbit is that the tiny buckets of fried chicken that they ate for the movie were actually some kind of small bird that was slaughtered and fried, and that they ACTUALLY ATE!!!!
THE DEADLY MANTIS: This one really takes me back. As I said earlier, this is one of the first, if not THE first MST3k episode I ever saw, so its one I have fond memories of. Revisiting it recently, it remains a very solid, very funny entry, and one I'm happy to see get released on DVD. The movie itself is another Universal sci-fi flick, the titular monster being a giant praying mantis frozen in Antarctica that breaks free and takes down some planes, then causes some trouble for a military base and later a city. As usual for these types of films, the first half is taken up by a scientist and various other personel trying to figure out what's causing the disasters, then the monster reveal, the military takes it on, etc. etc. etc. You know the formula. So do the MST3k crew, they did plenty of these types of movies. This being Universal (as opposed to AIP or some other, smaller studio) the monster looks pretty good for its era, and the military action isn't bad either. On the whole, its a nice little creature flick, if a tad talky at moments. So the movie is fun enough, and the riffing is very good. My favorite segment is when the main scientist is explaining the mantis claw to someone and the old man pops up on the side, silent during the whole explanation, and Mike and the Bots just keep inserting senile, confused old man lines inbetween the pauses of the explanation. I'm describing it horribly, but trust me, its hilarious. A very fun episode.
Bonus features include the movie's theatrical trailer (which gives away most of the movie INCLUDING THE ENDING!!!), a somewhat dull and droning introduction by Mary Jo Pehl (sad, considering she brings a lot of energy to her characters in the show... not so much here) and a short (under ten minutes) yet nice doc about William Alland, who worked on the film with Jack Arnold. If you've seen the doc's Ballyhoo does for these type of movies on other MST3k volume bonus features, you know what you're getting. They're always well done and interesting.
Not a bad set, all things considered. If you're a fan, absolutely pick it up. If you're for some reason brand new to MST3k yet still reading this review, you should probably grab Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XIX first, as it has some of the best the series has to offer. But there's tons to enjoy, you really can't go wrong with any volume, it's one of the best shows ever to grace TV.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 25, 2013 6:12:38 PM PDT
T. Hamilton says:
Slime People will no disappoint you. I have seen a grainy version once, and been hoping for a DVD release ever since.
Posted on Jul 12, 2013 12:23:48 PM PDT
K. Curley says:
I too have great 'Deadly Mantis' memories. When the man picked up the record off the turntable in the ruined shack and the guys muttered "Rock and roll. I should have known..." I damn near fell out of my chair!
Posted on Aug 7, 2013 7:11:51 PM PDT
cartoon lover says:
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2013 6:15:13 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 10, 2013 5:32:21 AM PDT
Otto Correct says:
Excellent point, and well articulated too.
I suppose the only thing left for me to do now is change all my reviews to two or three bitter sentences complaining about how the item in question costs too much.
After all, lots of people seem to find that really helpful.
Posted on Jan 25, 2014 12:48:59 PM PST
I want soup!
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