Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

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.

In August of 1999, millions of voices cried out in terror… and were suddenly silenced. What cataclysmic event could have possibly elicited such a response? It was the result of the cancellation of the long-running TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beloved by all who followed it through the years (and those who became fans following the show’s demise), the mission of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a simple, yet relatable one: Track down the worst movies you can find, and make them a bit more bearable by suffering through them with a group of friends. Do that, sit back, and let the hilarity ensue.

From its humble beginnings on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1988, to its run on Comedy Central (1989-’96, including a theatrical movie), to the final years on the Sci-Fi Channel, the brainchild of Joel Hodgson (show host from 1988-’93) has never ceased to be relevant. As long as bad movies keep being vomited into existence, there will always be a need for someone to poke fun at their flaws. This is why, in MST3K‘s absence, the spirit of the show had been kept alive, making the series more popular posthumously than it ever was in its original run.

This resulted in the creation of several similarly-themed TV series, the rise of countless YouTube stars, and quasi-spinoffs Cinematic Titanic (created by Hodgson) and RiffTrax (featuring former MST3K members Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett). Not everything that MST3K riffed on was entirely horrible, and it’s actually a good thing that many of those films were unearthed. An important lesson brought up by MST3K is that all cinema is of value in one way or another, and none of it should ever be forgotten… no matter how terrible it might be.

For these reasons and others, MST3K has never been forgotten either, and that’s exactly why an online petition to resurrect the show. With a little luck and a lot of support, the idea became a reality when Netflix picked up the series, re-launching it in April 2017 for a belated 11th season as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. Immediately, one can see that the formula is familiar, and the movies are still terrible, yet there are still some new things added just to spice things up a bit.

The only returning original cast member is Joel Hodgson (appearing only as supporting/tertiary characters). Robots Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy all have new voices and can do things that the old, much more limited budget prevented them from doing. Jonah Ray joins them as Gizmonic Institute employee Jonah Heston. Tormenting our lovable crew with bad movies are Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester and granddaughter of Pearl Forrester) and Patton Oswalt as Max. Season 11 (or Season 1, depending on your perspective) consists of 14 episodes. In the interest of brevity… and a desire to be thorough without going overboard, I’ve broken up my review of these episodes into two parts. So, without further delay, here are Episodes 1 through 7!

 

11.01 – Reptilicus (1961)

It makes sense that the new MST3K would kick things off with a lame-ass monster movie, since the original series also riffed on several bad movies of the same genre early in its run. The premise, the opening theme, and the set all seem comforting in their familiarity, but right away you’ll notice some things have changed in the last 18 years. For instance, Tom Servo and Crow can now both get up out of their seats and move about the theater when the joke calls for it. Gypsy also pokes her head in on occasion, something she never did (or was never capable of doing) before. This first episode also presents a sign of things to come as there are celebrity cameos, this time from Wil Wheaton and Erin Gray.

The movie itself is, as one would expect, run-of-the-mill at best. The tail section to an ancient creature is discovered by Danish miners. The historical find is transported to the Copenhagen Aquarium for further study. That is, of course, until one of the badly dubbed, dumbass scientists falls asleep on the job, allowing for the specimen to thaw. Instead of decaying, to everyone’s amazement, it regenerates! This results in a very large, very pissed off monster tearing through Copenhagen, puking up a corrosive green substance all over everything and everyone. The monster is eventually subdued, but not without a chunk of it surviving in the ocean, leaving room for the sequel that never happened.

For a show like MST3KReptilicus is easy cannon fodder. You need something like this to both reassure longtime fans and to help draw in first-time viewers. The introductions of all the new characters are handled effectively. It’s the new voices for the robots that take getting used to. It will not go down as one of the show’s all-time best episodes, but even an average episode like Reptilicus is enough to give everyone hope that Joel Hodgson’s baby still has plenty of life left in it.

 

11.02 – Cry Wilderness (1987)

MST3K: The Return gets over its growing pains pretty quick in this, its second episode. Featuring amusing guest appearances from Sci-Fi Channel era villains Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Observer (Bill Corbett) and Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy), the main focus of this episode is a Bigfoot movie released in 1987. If it were Harry and the Hendersons, it wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting episode since that’s actually a decent family film. No, the object of our disdain this time is Cry Wilderness, and boy is it a doozy!

So, Bigfoot (i.e. a big guy in a really cheap Sasquatch costume) warns a young schoolboy named Kevin that his father is in danger. Kevin does what any kid would do when presented with such cryptic information would do, go to the nearest adult and tell them what he’s heard and who/what he heard it from. Probably should have left out the last part, since most everyone beyond a certain age believes Bigfoot to be a myth. Still, somehow Kevin manages to weasel his way into accompanying his father, a park ranger, on a hunt for a runaway tiger. Danger lurks in the form of a poacher who… now, get this… actually believes in Bigfoot (not unlike the David Souchet character from Harry and the Hendersons).

Things get even weirder when it turns out that, not only does Kevin know for a fact that Bigfoot exists, he’s even been protecting the big guy and kept him fed for a year (including an entire truck’s worth of Coca-Colas). The movie teases you with the idea that Kevin might wind up unsuccessful in protecting his father from danger on several occasions, but never actually pulls the trigger. Oh, also the poacher never has that moment where he has a change of heart. He does eat like a pig, though. Really bad movie, really funny episode. Some of the season’s funniest one-liners can be found here. If Cry Wilderness isn’t the best of the first half of Season 11, it’s very close.

 

11.03 – The Time Travelers (1964)

Ib Melchior strikes again! The same man responsible for writing the screenplay for Reptilicus also wrote AND directed this putrescent project. I would hate to think that the creators of the original Planet of the Apes film series might have mined this particular pile of dookie when crafting the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes… But after seeing this episode, I have to wonder.

A group of scientist have developed a device that is quite literally a window through time. The idiot power plant technician among them notices that it’s more than just a window, and decides to step through. Because of the device’s instability, it’s very likely that the guy is going to get lost on the other side if he doesn’t wander back soon. So, of course the others decide to go in after him. The woman among them isn’t pleased about being left behind… even though she’s supposed to monitor things until they return. She goes in after them, and the portal closes. They’re screwed. Stuck in a post-apocalyptic future, they elude the primitives by hiding underground.

There, the scientists discover a somewhat more sophisticated group who are building a rocket on which they plan to leave this lousy planet and all its cheap film sets behind. Our stranded scientists plead their case, but that doesn’t buy them a ticket on board the rocket. You’re probably asking why they don’t just rebuild their time portal. In fact, that’s what they are encouraged to do. But then the question comes to why the others would rather time travel than face a long, dangerous space journey. Time travel doesn’t interest them until the moment when the primitives destroy the rocket, leaving them no other alternative.

They arrive at the precise moment they originally left, but they are experiencing time at a faster rate and must do something or they’ll die quickly from old age. They jump through the portal, which had been set to 100,000 years in the future, but with the screen blank there’s no way to tell what they’re getting themselves into. Once they get there, everything looks okay, but we’ll never know for sure because that’s how we leave things… open-ended. I understand the regular cut of the movie includes some time-loop stuff at the end, but the MST3K version skips over all that.

As with ReptilicusThe Time Travelers is a chore to slog through. Only a superficial resemblance to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which is a far more nihilistic movie than this, but enough similarities that it’s possible some influence exists. Not as complete of an episode as Cry Wilderness, and not as amusing as Reptilicus. The boys have fun with it though, and that does make this one worth the watch.

 

11.04 – Avalanche (1978)

There’s a good reason why disaster movie marathons NEVER include this one. Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, and an assorted cast of characters sit around and talk for about an hour before anything interesting actually happens. This would be the point where Avalanche finally lives up to the promise of its title, where loads of snow finally break off the mountain, covering everything in its path and smothering its victims to death.

The problem is that this one interesting part of the movie is doomed before it even starts. You’ll probably be fast asleep when it does. You wouldn’t even miss much if you managed to stay awake.  None of the characters are built up enough for us to care whether they’ll survive or not. Even the movie’s headliners, Hudson and Farrow, are extremely vanilla. There’s really not much more that can be said beyond all that.

One of the episode’s features (beyond the staggeringly stupid movie) is the guest appearance of Neil Patrick Harris. The filler segments of the original show were something I generally used to fast forward past, as all I was really interested in was the riffing on the bad movie. I lke NPH, but his segment is no exception, particularly because it drags on far longer than it should. Everything about this episode is slow-moving. Overall, Avalanche is the least of the first seven episodes.

 

11.05 – The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

I came dangerously close to labeling this episode as the least so far, before realizing the brilliance of it. As with AvalancheThe Beast of Hollow Mountain moves at a snail’s pace. So much so that it will test the patience of most Netflix viewers. In fact, it takes so long to get to the point that you start wondering where either the Beast or the Hollow Mountain are!

Set in Mexico in the 1900’s, we’re treated to a boring, uninspired love triangle. The main selling point of the flick doesn’t even show up until the last half-hour. The “Hollow Mountain” makes a brief on-screen appearance about ten minutes later. Until then, it’s all about the lovers’ quarrel. There’s a chubby comic relief character whom the MST3K boys seem to get a kick out of. Naturally, when the Beast arrives, Fat Boy is the first to go.

The stop-motion creature effects are done by the legendary Willis O’Brien (who also co-wrote the story). Nowhere close to his best work in either regard… The T-Rex from King Kong (1933) comes to mind when considering his best stop-motion work. Still, a movie that almost forgets what it sets out to be about is sheer brilliance, and the episode riffing on it makes sure to drive that point home.

 

11.06 – Starcrash (1978)

Among the things which one can count on from Italian cinema are classic Westerns, bewildering indie films, gory horror movies, and Z-grade imitations of immensely popular American films. Starcrash, owing its entire existence to Star Wars, occupies the latter category. The above image ought to give you a good idea as to this movie’s true selling point. It was the only one of the fourteen films included in this season which I had previously seen, so naturally it’s also the episode I looked forward to the most. It does not disappoint.

Stella Star (played by a scantily-clad Caroline Munro) is a space smuggler who, after a brief prison term, is tasked with saving the galaxy. But, you know, no pressure. Along for the ride are her partner Akton (a wise, excitable young man whose powers are meant to mimic the Force and who uses a weapon which is clearly a lightsaber), and former captors Thor (who is not related to the Greek God/Marvel Comics superhero) and Elle (a robot who sounds like a southern preacher). Their mission, assigned by the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) is to thwart the plans of Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) by finding the Count’s ultimate weapon… and if at all possible, saving the life of the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff).

An accompaniment to all the cheesy goodness of Starcrash is the score composed by John Barry, which consists of tracks similar to stuff he came up with for Moonraker and The Black Hole. Can’t go wrong with John Barry. You can’t go wrong with Caroline Munro either, even when she’s forced to overact with amusing facial expressions and her voice has been unnecessarily dubbed. It’s pretty clear that director Luigi Cozzi had no real plan going into making this movie, and was betrayed by the limits of his special effects budget (note the Christmas tree lights which stand in for stars). That’s a shame too, because it meant that his planned sequels were never going to happen. This is one bad movie which is so much fun that it deserved to spawn more bad movies. The best! The absolute best! The only real downgrade is another drawn-out celebrity cameo, this one from Jerry Seinfeld.

 

11.07 – The Land That Time Forgot (1975)

You might suppose that a movie based on a cherished Edgar Rice Burroughs novel would automatically give the film an advantage. But then you’d remember all the bad Tarzan movies mixed in with the good ones. The Land Before Time shows the signs of a good story fighting to rip its way out of the plottings of a terrible film. A bigger budget and more polished actors might have saved it. Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Set during World War I, the surviving passengers of a British merchant vessel are taken prisoner aboard a German U-boat. Eventually, the captives turn the tide and take over the ship, but not before being knocked off-course. So much so that they come across Caprona, a land heard of but fabled to exist. This is because the inhabitant human and animal life is so primitive that it is said to be stuck in time.

Speaking of time, budget limitations dictate that the film take its precious time in actually getting us to the island. Once there, the action is rushed, and we’ve barely enough time to learn that evolution on Caprona is based on migration, not natural selection before the movie ends on a rather bleak note. As an episode, the gags are good, and the little dance number performed by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt is as cute as it is funny. A bit of a letdown after the last two brilliant episodes, but otherwise pretty good.

What will Episodes 8 through 14 have in store (beside hilariously awful movies)? Stay tuned for Part 2…

29. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Director: Deborah Brock

Starring: Crystal Bernard, Patrick Lowe, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Atanis Ilitch

Usually, I have to look overseas to find a horror movie as ridiculous as this! Since “The Slumber Party Massacre” was released five years earlier, the slasher genre had been altered forever by the introduction (and subsequent popularity of) the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. I mention this, because the existence of that franchise is the only satisfactory explanation I can come up with to rationalize the complete left turn into absurdity that is made by “Slumber Party Massacre II.” I only wish it had sustained the madness throughout its scant 75 minute runtime.

Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard), the youngest survivor from the first film, is now a young adult who is plagued by nightmares of her earlier traumatic experience. She’s in an all-girl rock band, whose music you would only pretend to enjoy if you were her boyfriend or were looking to date her. The band, which includes Sheila (Juliette Cummins), Sally (Heidi Kozak) and Amy (Kimberly McArthur), go to a condo owned by Sheila’s parents where they intend to have a slumber party for the weekend. Matt (Patrick Lowe) is invited to come watch the band play and get to know Courtney, while Sheila’s boyfriend T.J. (Joel Hoffmann) and his buddy Jeff (Scott Westmoreland) crash the party.

All the while, Courtney’s disturbing nightmares persist. The dreams include the sight of her sister, Valerie, in a mental institution, as well as a man dressed in black and wielding a guitar with a large drill bit attached to the neck. These dark visions start to spill over into the waking world, confusing Courtney, worrying her friends and annoying local police. Finally, the Driller Killer emerges into the real world by killing Matt right in front of Courtney. With song and dance, he kills each of Courtney’s friends one by one until just the two of them are left. Courtney wins the battle, fulfilling the Driller Killer’s wish for her to “Light My Fire” by setting him ablaze. That’s when the movie, which has already been weird enough, takes a turn for the utterly mystifying with an ending that appears to show that the whole movie has been one big fakeout dream. Courtney first wakes up in her condo bed with Matt (which would only have nullified part of the movie) before he transforms into the Driller Killer. She screams, only to find that it is she, not her sister, who is in a mental institution. I give up.

The only real reason to watch this movie is for Atanas Illitch, who plays the Driller Killer. Atanas Illitch, the son of Mike Illitch (owner of the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and owner/founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza), puts everything he’s got into the role, and what comes out is a terrifically hammy, 100% entertaining performance. Crystal Bernard is the only cast member to go on to anything of any real significance, starring on the hit 1990s TV sitcom “Wings,” but you probably wouldn’t have gauged that future success based on this movie. The sad thing about the Driller Killer is that the mayhem (and the awesomeness) doesn’t get underway until the film’s final 25 minutes. You’re left to either fast forward to that point, or suffer the first 50 minutes, which are excruciating apart from some female nudity. If you’re not into that, then yeah… it’s gonna be a chore to sit through, and all for a payoff that’s sorta/kinda worth it.

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Director: Arthur Hiller

Starring: George C. Scott, Diana Rigg

You take a risk every time you enter a hospital, be it from the germs you might catch from any one of the dozens upon dozens of patients who are shuffled in and out, or from doctors/nurses whose lackadaisical approach towards their profession gives you a new appreciation for the term ‘medical practice.’ You also take a risk, albeit a non-life threatening one, each time you decide to watch a movie you know little about. Occasionally I find one so toxic that I wonder if there’s any way to somehow magically restore the hours of my life that were wasted in the process. Most of the time, I find ways to be entertained. Every so often, a movie like 1971’s “The Hospital” comes to my attention that is not only great but also reminds me of how rarely we still find actors and screenwriters with this much collective talent.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in Manhattan. Bock loves this hospital above all else. That helps explain why the former family man is now living alone. His wife left him, and he and his children are no longer on speaking terms… especially his ‘pinko commie hippie’ son, whose challenge against his father’s manhood has left Dr. Bock feeling impotent. That the hospital is also going to the dogs doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Dr. Bock. The method by which it is happening, however, does. Members of the hospital staff are dying, their expiration apparently the result of mistaken identity and incorrect diagnoses. Outside, the situation is just as chaotic. The hospital’s annexation of a nearby, rundown apartment complex has drawn the ire of its residents… and they are not about to have their voices go unheard.

Dr. Bock is on the verge of suicide when, in the middle of all of this madness, he meets Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg), the daughter of a coma patient and an ex-nurse who these days is a free-spirited woman living with her father on an Indian ranch. I’m left a little uncertain as to whether Barbara was supposed to be American or British, as Rigg’s accent appears to fluctuate until late in the movie where she just seems to declare, “Screw it, I’m British. Deal with it!” The two have a long talk, after which a thoroughly drunk Dr. Bock tears off Barbara’s clothes and has sex with her… three times. Looks like that pesky impotence is cured! Moreover, the good doctor finds that he loves Barbara, and even considers the possibility of leaving the hospital with her.

Eventually it is revealed that, unbeknownst to Barbara, her father is not only not comatose but is in fact the person responsible for the dead doctors and nurses. Showing himself to be quite mad, Mr. Drummond (Barnard Hughes) essentially uses the “God told me to” defense, claiming that he’s been instructed to pass judgment against the corruption and indifference of modern medical practice. As the protesters make their way inside the hospital, Dr. Bock conspires to help Barbara get her father out of the building with the intention of high-tailing it for Mexico. At the last moment, as he takes a look at the growing hysteria, Dr. Bock realizes he can’t leave his beloved hospital behind, and instructs Barbara to go on without him.

As seems to have been common with screenplays written by Paddy Chayefsky, “The Hospital” is darkly humorous and disturbing all at once. One example of this is the scene where the super-annoying nurse is seen badgering a man, only to declare him dead. When asked how she has come to such a conclusion, she observes that he must be dead “because he wouldn’t give me his Blue Cross number.”  The man renowned also for films such as “Marty” and “Network” could have had even more brilliance to offer the world if he hadn’t died at the young age of 58. Ironically, given the subject matter of “The Hospital,” the cancer that killed Chayefsky in 1981 might have been curable if only he hadn’t refused treatment.

Bringing life to Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script are two equally important cogs in this machine, actors George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. The best scene in the movie is the one in Dr. Bock’s office where he and Barbara trade their origin stories. If the whole movie consisted of just these two alone in a room talking to one another, believe me, I’d watch. Their caliber of actor is an endangered species among the current generation, and it’s even more rare to find two such talents paired up in the same movie.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Director: Jeff Kanew

Starring: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Timothy Busfield, Curtis Armstrong, Ted McGinley, Julie Montgomery, Brian Tochi, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, Donald Gibb, Bernie Casey

One of the enduring legacies of 1980’s teen comedies is not gross-out humor (which was present but generally not as dominant as it is now), but relatable characters placed in adversarial situations with idyllic outcomes. The protagonists earn their hero worship in part by standing up and declaring unapologetically, “This is who I am!” They upstage whomever is trying to hold them down, learn something about themselves and, in the process, allow the viewer to do the same. They also get the hot girl/guy in the end… if they aren’t with them already. Can’t leave that out. Also interesting about how the main character in a teen comedy arrives at their desired goal are the decidedly anti-heroic methods they use to get their way. Indeed, if real-world logic were applied, most of these crazy kids would wind up in jail or juvenile hall for all that they do to break the rules. That’s what you call wish fulfillment. One of the few great 1980’s comedies to be neither directed nor written by John Hughes which lives and breathes this philosophy is “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Away from home for the first time, best friends Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) are ready to begin their freshman year at Adams College. Although the school has many fine courses suited for young geniuses like Lewis and Gilbert, it’s also dominated by a highly successful athletics program. The Adams football team in particular rules the roost, with Coach Harris (John Goodman) standing as a more powerful authority figure than the wimpy dean. The football players, members of the Alpha Beta fraternity, basically always get their way. When they accidentally burn down their frat house (to the tune of a familiar song by the Talking Heads), the Alpha Betas take over the freshman dorms, marooning the nerds and other outcasts (a collective group of nearly every racial and social stereotype that there is) in the gymnasium.

Although the dean is too spineless to stop this or even involve the police, it’s up to the nerds to find a place to live. None of the fraternities they apply to will have them, but they do find and renovate an old abandoned house on campus. Every step of the way, the Alphas pull childish pranks in the hopes of breaking their spirit. The Greek Council is no help, since it’s stacked with Alpha Betas and members of their sister sorority, Pi Delta Pi (a.k.a. the Adams College cheerleader squad). In order to even have the chance to bring their grievances to a vote, the nerds must first join a national fraternity.

The only fraternity which accepts them (due to it being the only one not sent a group photo of the nerds) is the all-African American chapter, Lambda Lambda Lambda. The Tri-Lambs and their president U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey) are at first reluctant to accept the nerds into their family, until Arnold Poindexter (Timothy Busfield) points out that the bylaws specify that they are obligated to take them in on a 60-day probationary basis. The nerds plan a party to sway Jefferson to their cause. Foolishly, Lewis thinks he’s managed to secure dates with the members of Pi Delta Pi, having discussed it with head cheerleader Betty Childs (Julie Montgomery). Of course he knows full well that Betty is dating quarterback Stan Gable (Ted McGinley), the nerds’ #1 nemesis, but it was the heat of the moment and Lewis was thinking with the wrong brain. When the Pis no-show, Gilbert invited the Omega Mu sorority. The Mus are more like their male counterparts than the Pis: they may be less physically appealing, but make up for it with their intelligence. They’re also just as hesitant to dance, a problem which Booger (Curtis Armstrong) solves by supplying certain herbal refreshments.

The party is just livening up when the Alphas and the Pis crash it with a herd of pigs. The nerds seek revenge this time, first organizing a panty raid against the Pis… but it’s just a smoke screen to hide their true motives. While the shenanigans are going on, a few of the nerds set up cameras inside the Pi house, which the nerds use for their own entertainment later. Is it sick and perverse? Yes. Can it be seen as a sexual violation? Yeah, if you’re looking to slap real-world morality onto the situation. But let’s not forget that this is a movie, and the Pis haven’t exactly been portrayed as innocent up to this point. Eventually the nerds tire of watching the Pis parade around in the buff (except for Lewis, who still has a thing for Betty) and the focus is shifted to the Alphas, whose jocks are made to itch and burn to an excruciating degree. The nerds are congratulated by U.N. Jefferson for their willingness to stand up for themselves and are accepted as members of the Tri-Lamb fraternity.

Of course, all of their efforts are moot, since Stan Gable is president of the Greek Council. The only way for the nerds to ever have their voices heard is by winning the Greek Games at the homecoming carnival. Again, since the football team basically runs the show, most of the events are based in athletics. Teaming with the Mus, the nerds have luck in some areas, such as Booger winning the belching contest, but they don’t fare are well in arm wrestling, tug-of-war, and other such events. To say that the nerds resort to cheating at times is a bit strong… Let’s just say that they use their brains to devise clever rule-bending strategies. Hence, the “limp-wristed” Lamar (Larry B. Scott) wins the javelin toss with a more aerodynamic spear, Takashi wins the drunken tricycle race by first ingesting something to counteract the effects of the alcohol, and nude pictures of Betty are used to outsell the Alphas at the pie stand. Trading 1st and 2nd positions throughout the contest, the Tri-Lambs ultimately defeat the Alphas during the musical finale, during which they put on a Devo-inspired performance. Sore losers, the Alphas trash the Tri-Lambs’ house, prompting Gilbert to take an inspirational stand that unites the school’s nerd population and forces even the dean to grow a pair, all to the tune of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

Now to address the one thing that so many who discuss the movie seem to want to talk about. In-between the costume/food contest and the battle of the bands, Betty tries and fails to coax Stan into a sexual rendezvous. In fact, his response is typically insulting. Dejected, Betty heads off to the funhouse alone. Lewis, who has witnessed the entire thing, grabs Stan’s discarded costume and follows Betty into the funhouse. There, the two fool around (though exactly how far they go is left to our imagination), with Betty believing that Stan has changed his mind. It is only afterwards that Lewis reveals himself. Many who watch this sequence lose respect for Lewis and look at the situation as one of rape. Certainly, if this were real life, Lewis would be facing hard time for his actions. Betty is no worse for wear, as she has fallen in love with Lewis based on how sexually proficient she finds him to be. That says as much about Betty as taking advantage of her says about Lewis… and, yet again, this comedy never asked us to think too hard about these things. I never really did until I started reading online commentary on the matter. At most, I find her sudden turn a little jarring considering how awful she’d treated Lewis and the other nerds.

Perhaps one could focus more on the politically incorrect parts of “Revenge of the Nerds” if it weren’t for the terrific casting. Putting on particularly iconic performances are the two leads, Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine (the latter of whose nerdish laugh MUST be heard to be fully appreciated). I also really like Timothy Busfield as Arnold Poindexter, even though his is not nearly as big of a part. He does get one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in the film, with his out-of-nowhere “WTF?” reaction to his arousal while watching the live video feed from the Pi house. Like any successful comedy, the nerds returned in ill-conceived sequels… three of them, actually… each one progressively worse than the last. A remake was even threatened a few years back, but was just as swiftly cancelled. Must’ve had as much to do with today’s climate as it did the chance that it was going to be horrible. Nerds are more highly thought of in what today is a much more technologically-dependent society. In some way, the ending to “Revenge of the Nerds” is reflective of this: Bullies will always exist, but it is nerds who inherit the Earth in the end.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Starring: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin

I’ve seen post-apocalyptic movies where killer robots from the future are hellbent on wiping out mankind. I’ve seen movies where people were hunted for sport. I’ve seen movies where an oppressive government controls everything and there’s just no stopping it. Hell, I’ve seen movies with endings so bleak that I feel as though I’ve been somehow altered by the experience. But a world where tomatoes have been outlawed, which then changes the don’t-screw-with-it recipe for pizza forever, and everyone seems okay with it? This, ladies and gentlemen, is madness! It’s also the first of many good jokes to be found in “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

We finally have an answer as to the true cause of the Great Tomato War from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” and no it’s not a bad acid trip. That would be Professor Gangreen (John Astin), who is still smarting from his defeat ten years later. The professor has decided that music, which was his downfall last time, shall be the source of his triumph this time around. After dipping regular tomatoes into a chemical formula, Professor Gangreen places the tomatoes into a transformation chamber. Depending on what kind of music he puts on next, the tomatoes can be changed into any kind of human that the professor so chooses. Most often, he uses rock music to create a group of soldiers. Music of a more seductive variety will result in tomatoes changing into beautiful women. To that end, the professor has created an assistant named Tina (Karen Mistal), who remains loyal until the professor casts out an improperly mutated tomato which Tina dubs Fuzzy Tomato, or “F.T.” for short.

Tina looks for shelter with Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke), nephew of Great Tomato War hero Wilbur Finletter. Chad works as a delivery boy for his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, which is how Tina has become familiar with him. While Chad is decidedly much smarter than his uncle, is still completely oblivious to the fact that there’s something odd about Tina. To be fair, Chad’s not the only one. Chad’s roommate Matt (George Clooney), who prides himself on being a ladies’ man, has no more of a clue that Tina’s affinity for cooking, cleaning and extensive knowledge of sexual positions aren’t merely the characteristics of what Matt considers the “perfect woman.” Tina does have her hangups, such as a complete dislike of all forms of music… and, oh yes, there’s also the fact that she bathes in fertilizer. That’s bound to cause a misunderstanding or two between Chad and Tina, which it does.

When Tina goes and gets herself captured by Professor Gangreen and his henchman Igor (Steve Lundquist), it’s up to Chad and Matt to help save her. Well, actually, it’s up to them to get caught themselves and require the assistance of F.T., Wilbur and others. From there,  they rescue Tina and foil the plans of Professor Gangreen. Another adventure is teased, this time in France, although that’s not exactly how things ended up. The next entry in the franchise is “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back,” which is only then followed by “Killer Tomatoes Eat France.” I’ve never seen either one, and I’m not sure I want to. I do fondly remember the short-lived “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” cartoon, whose characters and situations were based on the events of “Return,” though it’s all-together possible that nostalgia could be getting the best of me there.

“Return of the Killer Tomatoes” succeeds in areas where “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” failed, such as casting. John Astin makes for a great villain, and may be the only thing that makes the latter sequels worth a look if I ever get around to it. It also helps when you have a talent like George Clooney on hand, even if he’s not the lead. Though he frequently blasts the movie nowadays, it’s better than he’d have you believe. Execution is a big factor there. When the original film ran out of plot, it filled those holes with obvious humor and mind-numbing musical numbers. I won’t say that “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” doesn’t include its fair share of forced laughs. But at least the musical numbers are absent. Also, once the movie reaches its halfway point (give or take a few minutes), I can’t help but be impressed when suddenly the movie literally stops. The money for the picture has been used up! What to do? Product placement, Clooney suggests! Aided by Clooney’s ability to mug for the camera, this sequence where the characters shill for various food, beverage and dental hygiene products is easily my favorite part of the movie. It pokes fun at the ridiculous degree to which product placement intruded into movies in the 1980’s, and this commentary is even more relevant nearly thirty years later. Unless you become a die-hard fan, one Killer Tomato is probably more than enough for anyone. That being the case, if you only see one “Killer Tomatoes” movie, make sure it’s “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Director: John DeBello

Starring: David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Jack Riley

In watching a couple of Troma movies last month, I was reminded of a tamer but still bizarre low-budget comedy called “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” which I’d seen twice before but has since been gathering dust on my DVD shelf. Both begin with the most absurd premises imaginable. Both aim for humor that is decidedly juvenile. However, the comparison pretty much dies right there. The differences begin with the definition of the word “juvenile.” Films under the Troma banner are notorious for their reliance on over-the-top violence, sexual innuendo (minus the innuendo) and bathroom-related jokes. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” having no relation at all with Troma or the creative minds therein, goes for the complete opposite extreme. This movie mostly contains humor that might have worked best when I was a child.

The best thing about “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” by far is its main title theme. This approximately two-minute song is genuinely hilarious. It also immediately follows a well done prologue scene where a tomato makes its way up through a garbage disposal and kills an unsuspecting young woman. So far so good. Later, it’s discovered that there’s been a rash of reports citing sentient tomatoes attacking and killing humans. One such incident occurs when a bunch of tomatoes take to the water to pursue a group of swimmers. In this case, I don’t mind the obvious “Jaws” parody, complete with the “Jaws” theme. For some reason, “Jaws” parodies never seem to get old.

To combat the tomato problem, the President assembles a team of specialists so thoroughly unremarkable that he’ll probably lose a few percentage points in his approval rating. The team leader is Mason Dixon (David Miller), who can best be described as what you’d get if John Belushi dialed down his insanity volume to zero. Joining him in the fight are parachutist Wilbur Finletter (Stephen Peace), “expert” disguise artist Sam Smith (Gary Smith), Olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton) and deep sea diver Greg Colburn (a character so thoroughly unimportant I had to look up his name to remember it). Eventually, Gretta is attacked and eaten by tomatoes, not that she’d been much help either. In fact, it’s hard to say that any of Dixon’s assistants really contribute much other than demonstrating sheer incompetence. Sam Smith’s biggest accomplishment is infiltrating the tomatoes’ camp only to reveal himself by asking for some ketchup.

As if Dixon hasn’t got enough problems, he’s also got an assassin tracking him down. This later turns out to be U.S. Press Secretary Jim Richardson (George Wilson), who plans to take over what remains of the world. He is not necessarily behind the creation of the mutated tomatoes, but he claims to be able to exert some sort of control over them. There’s also a subplot with a reporter named Lois Fairchild, on a mission to get a story that should make her career. It’s made blatantly clear that the character is meant to be a spoof of Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest. In fact, it almost seems to be a spoof of the Margot Kidder version of the character. I don’t know how that’s even possible, though, as 1978’s “Superman” was released two months AFTER this movie.

The tomatoes should be able to win this battle rather easily. Even our armed forces aren’t enough to beat them back. The one thing no one could have anticipated (but you’ll be able to predict if you’ve seen “Mars Attacks!”) is that the tomatoes’ one weakness is bad pop music… specifically a song called “Puberty Love.” Think Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” sung a capella, and you’ve got the basic idea. Providing the shrill vocals for “Puberty Love” is a then-teenaged Matt Cameron, who is more well-known in the music world as the drummer for both Soundgarden and (since 1998) Pearl Jam.

The main flaw of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” …and it’s pretty much a fatal one… is that it’s not half as funny as it wants to be. Its best moments come when it relies not on the ‘one-joke premise’ of the tomato invasion, but when its low budget allows for some unintended laughs. There’s the giant tomato which is clearly moving thanks to a wooden board on wheels. There’s the tiny conference room where everyone is constantly crawling over one another just to get to their seat. It’s the funniest meeting place in a movie since the War Room from “Dr. Strangelove.” Best of all is the helicopter crash. It’s the real deal, captured in all its accidental glory. Thankfully no one was either seriously hurt or killed in the process. Otherwise, you have a thoroughly unremarkable cast of characters tied to a plot so slowly paced that the musical numbers (yes, plural) seem there to distract from the fact that they’ve run out of jokes.

All three times I’ve seen this movie, I’ve fallen asleep at about the midway point. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is a bad B-movie spoof of even worse B-movies from the 1950’s. Yet, it is popular enough that there are three sequels, and there even existed a short-lived cartoon series (which served as my introduction to the franchise). From here, the only direction the “Killer Tomatoes” series could possibly have gone was up, but it would be ten years before anyone knew for sure. If you were going just by what is presented here, you’d find yourself wondering why they would even bother.