Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (Episodes 8-14)

Posted: May 31, 2017 in Movie Review
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In the cinematic justice system, poorly-made movies are considered especially heinous. On the Satellite of Love, the dedicated human and robots who suffer through these felonious films are members of an elite group called Mystery Science Theater 3000. These are their stories.

 

11.08 – The Loves of Hercules (1960)

For the eighth episode of MST3K‘s 11th season, Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow are forced to tackle 1960’s The Loves of Hercules, a sword and sandal adventure co-produced by Italy and France. Probably accounts for the English dialogue being poorly dubbed/generally out-of-sync. The film stars Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield, parents of Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay.  The movie gets its title exactly as one would expect, from the fact that Hercules (Mickey Hargitay) manages to get involved with more than one of the beautiful women in the film.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the schemes of the evil Licos, who personally sees to the destruction of Hercules’ village while he is away, and the murder of the King of Ecalia, as Licos means to claim the throne for himself. At the kingdom, Hercules meets the King’s daughter, the newly-crowned Queen Deianira (Jayne Mansfield). They seem to form a bond, until it’s revealed she’s already betrothed to another. When Licos arranges the murder of Deianira’s husband-to-be, it is made to look like Hercules did it.

The highlight of the episode comes when Hercules fights the three-headed monster Hydra, as ridiculous and cheap-looking a creature as the monsters from Reptilicus and The Beast of Hollow Mountain. The swordplay is a particular source of amusement, since it’s plainly obvious that anyone being “stabbed” (including the Hydra) is being gently tapped by the fake swords. The movie would end more quickly but for the distraction provided by Hercules’ encounter with the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, who turns men into trees after finishing with them. To attempt to lure in Hercules, Hippolyta changes her form to look like Deianira (which allows Mansfield to play a second part, this time with red hair). Ultimately, Hercules regains his senses and returns to defeat Licos and save Deianira.

As a movie, it’s fairly uninteresting. As an MST3K episode, The Loves of Hercules is also not especially memorable, though it is at least more fun than Avalanche.

 

11.09 – Yongary: Monster from the Deep (1967)

Much better! It’s clear as crystal that the boys at MST3K really dig their monster movies, regardless of quality. It shows in nearly every episode involving the genre. Yongary is no different. For that matter, in terms of movies featuring giant monsters smashing Asian cities to the ground, Yongary is also no different.

What could be considered Godzilla’s inferior Korean cousin, Yongary is a dinosaur which is found to be the cause of severe earthquakes which have greatly disturbed the citizens of Seoul, South Korea. Where Godzilla is known for his catastrophic nuclear breath, Yongary is found to require consumption of oil for sustenance. In fact, the similarities between the two monsters are a great source of amusement for the MST3K boys, who point out that the only real physical difference between Yongary and Godzilla is that the designers of this film saw fit to give Yongary a horn on its nose.

Much of the monster action is seen from the perspective of a young boy, who watches with glee as Yongary appears to dance around at one point. This is important because it’s supposed to give the audience a reason to sympathize with the monster when it is finally put down. Why shouldn’t we sympathize? It’s not like any of the human characters are given anything resembling a personality (though this may be something that was lost in translation due to the English dubbing).

Overall grade: Among the season’s best!

 

11.10 – Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985)

It is unclear exactly how a movie like Wizards of the Lost Kingdom sees the light of day. A lot of Roger Corman productions hold that distinction. What is clear is that this fantasy film is perfect fodder for MST3K.

A silly twit of a young boy is tasked with saving his kingdom from an evil wizard who has killed his father and taken over the kingdom. Luke Skywalker he ain’t. Link from The Legend of Zelda video games, he ain’t. Simon is annoying as hell, and his company isn’t much better: a Yeti-like creature who must be a Chewbacca stand-in, and a drunken swordsman named Kor. Somehow, this kid acquires the tools, skills and the manpower necessary to restore order to his kingdom. One plus for the film is the score by Christoper Young, with excerpts from James Horner’s score from Battle Beyond the Stars).

It was at this point in the season that I became tired of the gang’s constant name-dropping of celebrities when characters appear on-screen who (in point of fact) bear absolutely no resemblance at all to the person with which they are being compared. This practice, which had cooled off in recent episodes, is turned up a notch with Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, and it was clear by now that it would only grow in intensity. The episode is enjoyable enough, even with these troublesome quirks. The promise by Kinga Forrester that the next movie in line would be the sequel to this film proves quite foreboding.

 

11.11 – Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1989)

Impossible but true, the sequel to Wizards of the Lost Kingdom makes the original look good by comparison. It also makes featured actors David Carradine, Lana Clarkson and “Hell’s Bells, it’s Mel Welles!” look like they were hard up for cash. Adding to the lunacy of the proceedings is the fact that this is an incomplete film beefed up to feature length by making use of stock footage from two other Roger Corman films: Barbarian Queen (starring Lana Clarkson) and The Warrior and the Sorceress (starring David Carradine).

This time around, an even more annoying young lad with a Bran Stark haircut is your alleged hero-to-be. But how is this possible? He’s as dumb as a bag of rocks! Three kingdoms are at stake this time, with a specific item to be collected and used further along in the journey, until all are combined in the defeat of the final wizard. Once again, I’d rather be playing Legend of Zelda, but the boys help us to soldier through this mess.

 

11.12 – Carnival Magic (1981)

Carnival Magic ranks up there along with Cry Wilderness for its ability to be completely absurd and yet somehow interesting enough to hold certain folks’ attention. Especially when aided by the wisecracks of Jonah, Crow and Tom Servo. What may be the best thing about the episode is that it was enjoyable enough to make me hope that any future MST3K seasons might include similarly-themed films.

Like Cry Wilderness, this movie features an animal of an extraordinary nature, and outside forces who have nefarious plans for him/it. Instead of Bigfoot, a talking chimpanzee is the center of attention, although not at first. He’s befriended by a magician who works for a struggling traveling carnival, whose business booms after the chimpanzee is included in his act. Working against them are a lion tamer who has become jealous of the magician’s success, and a doctor who wants to “study” the chimpanzee.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, there’s a love story between one of the carnival workers and the carnival owner’s daughter, whom the father has been forcing to dress as a boy and adopt a boy’s nickname. He, of course, sees the error of his ways and all is well. As for the chimpanzee, he has his E.T. moment near the end of the film where he appears to have died, only to miraculously recover. Whatever. The big thing you’ll end up taking away from the movie is the moment where the chimp decides out of the blue to go on a joyride, all with a young blonde woman sleeping in the backseat.

This episode is pretty good, but it has one flaw that I just can’t get past. The celebrity guest star for Carnival Magic is Mark Hamill, who is portraying a carnival barker character. This affords him the opportunity to use his Joker voice/persona. That’s all well and good. The nitpick I have is this: You took the time to bring in Mark Hamill, and you didn’t see fit to use him for the Starcrash episode (i.e. the movie that’s basically a Star Wars clone)?!

 

11.13 – The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

They just HAD to save the worst for #13! The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is a pretty mundane title, and it isn’t even an accurately descriptive one. Santa Needs Money would be better suited to inform the audience. From the looks of things, the production itself ran out of money rather early on.

Santa’s down in the dumps, kids, and it turns out that he’s about to be evicted by his new landlord, Phineas T. Prune. That’s right. Santa Claus is no longer master of his own domain up in the North Pole. Not sure how that’s supposed to work exactly… Anyway, a lawyer catches wind of this and offers to help Santa out. He and Santa both go to work at a department store where they’re a hit with children. Prune outfoxes them by purchasing the store. Long story short, the reason why this guy has it out for Santa is so deep-seeded that even he’s forgotten why. Turns out that a young Phineas had sent a card to Santa telling him of his greatest desire: a toy sailboat. Finally receiving the toy after all this time, all is forgiven. How sickeningly sweet!

By far, the hardest movie to sit through this season, even with the MST3K riffs.

 

11.14 – At The Earth’s Core (1976)

At The Earth’s Core just might be the perfect movie to close out the season on. Careful examination shows it to be a mixture of what made the majority of the previous 13 films so breathtakingly bad. You need only look at the main cast to find evidence of this, as At the Earth’s Core features both Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot) and Caroline Munro (Starcrash). It is the second film based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (after the aforementioned The Land That Time Forgot) to appear, and features the same sort of cheaply-constructed prehistoric monsters we’ve been subjected to on and off all season long.

During the Victorian era, British scientist Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) prepares to test his drilling machine with the assistance of his American friend and financial backer, David Innes (McClure). Through the process of their drilling, they discover a pre-historic underground society, where humans are lorded over and held as slaves by a bunch of telepathic flying reptiles referred to as Mahars. While the pair work to free the humans, David falls in love with Princess Dia (Munro). The day is saved, but the romance is bittersweet, as Dia elects to remain behind with her people rather than journey back with David to an unfamiliar world.

The celeb guest this time is comedian Joel McHale, posing as actor Doug McClure. A subplot that’s been going on for a few episodes now is that of Kinga Forrester’s intention to marry Jonah, much to Jonah’s surprise and to the chagrin of Kinga’s lackey/secret admirer, Max. The wedding proceeds as scheduled at the episode’s end, but Max sabotages it by unleashing a Reptilicus-like monster just before Jonah can decide whether to say the words “I do.” This marks the first time that the host of the show has not found a way to escape back to the safety of Earth. Short of some half-assed resurrection, it would seem that a Season 12 would likely star someone other than Jonah Ray.

While not my favorite episode of the season, At The Earth’s Core makes for a decent season finale. It also came up with what was for me one of the season’s most memorable one-liners, when the gang refers to David Innes as “Phineas T. Mitchell,” referencing both this season’s The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t and the classic MST3K episode, Mitchell.

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