Judge Bill Gibron wants you to know that this collection includes a flick named The Touch of Satan. Throw the goat and read along.
Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 1 (published December 19th, 2002), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 2 (published June 27th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 3 (published July 9th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 4 (published December 18th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 6 (published January 12th, 2005), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 7 (published May 11th, 2005), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 8 (published June 28th, 2006), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 9 (published June 26th, 2006), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 10 (published October 18th, 2006), and Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 12 (published November 21st, 2007) are also available.
That's a man's kind-a woman, cousin.
Let's address the repulsive once and for all, shall we? Let's dive into the reviled and swim in the warm waters of the sickening just for once. It's all well and good to celebrate the beautiful and serene, or swoon from a viewing of the ornate and aesthetically pleasing. But to really sink your teeth into stink, or actually plan your day around the disgusting, takes a rare gift of gullible control. You've got to appreciate the vile to relish it. You have to understand the nasty to truly be grateful for it. Everyone loves little fluffy bunnies, but don't they become far more interesting when viewed vivisected from the inside out, entrails rampant with maggots and rotting flesh? Aren't the hideously ugly people wandering your local Wal-Mart, faces filled with desiccated snack food crumbs and slick with acrid perspiration, more fascinating than a vacuous supermodel (as long as they're not your Friday night dinner date, that is)? And what about films? Are the really awful ones, the stained cinematic dress shields filled with meaty body-odor moments of miscreant moviemaking, any better or worse than overly flamboyant Merchant/Ivory idiocy?
Thankfully, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is around to help you gain an appreciation for the atrocious. Where else but on Volume Five of Rhino's collection of this certified comic genius would you find a mullet-headed case of achondroplasia, a human sugar wart dressed up for a madrigal dinner, the only piece of tanned leather ever to commit mass murder, and the first male hillbilly centerfold for Prison Prag International magazine? So if you want to grow in your devotion to all things devoid of delicacy, if your sensibilities lean to those things that secrete, if when you see a hearse go by, you're glad to know that you're next to die—then load Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 5 into your DVD player and be prepared to be Clementized (you'll understand why in a minute).
Facts of the Case
This box set contains four episodes, all coming from the show's Sci-Fi Channel days: one from Season Eight, one from Season Nine, and two from Season Ten. This go-around, we witness classic legends of the South explored (while certain stereotypes are cemented), a time-travel adventure that makes Millennium look like 2001, a bit of Wicca wisdom, and the most horrible horror of all: a splayed Ernest Borgnine! We begin with:
• Boggy Creek II…And the Legend Continues (Episode
• Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders (Episode 1003)
• Time Chasers (Episode 821)
• The Touch of Satan
There are basically three types of movies made fun of by the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first is categorized as classic crap, the golden-oldie moldy movies made before concepts like special effects, competent acting, and professional directing were invented. These usually-helmed-by-Roger Corman boulders of BM hoped to provide enough product content to keep the passion pit owners happy for another heavy petting session or two. The second style is merely an update of this old-fashioned fart formula. Call it Modern Mung or Contemporary Cold Sore, but these terrible tantrums of cinematic stupidity have all the same trappings as their mid-'50s brethren. And in the case of their own made-for-market merchandising, the focus was home video: that newly unearthed vomitorium that desperately needed inventory. Then, there are those flicks in the middle, the kind of "greater than the sum of their atrocious parts" artifacts of stunted imaginations that still manage to rise above the ridicule to cling, if only momentarily, to something inspirational. Usually, it's a factor of camp or kooky novelty. Other times it is something so ridiculous that it's impossible to imagine how it ever got included in the 24-frames-per-second vision. Whether separately or in combination, these sections of stupefaction are what make bad films so sickeningly sweet to film fans everywhere. And, almost instinctively, it's these elements of fetid flickering, the dreadful drams of dumbness and rainbow meat flavorfulness, that infuse merriment into even the foulest film. And God, do we love it!
Mystery Science Theater 3000 also craved to savor all manner of motion picture pus. It couldn't wait to apply its enjoyment unguent and talent tinctures all over the festering boils of bad motion pictures. Even when the films threatened the viewer with irreversible brain damage, lumbago, and a severe case of aesthetically chapped hips, Mike Nelson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo could guarantee their entertainment antibodies would seek out the source of the contagion and wipe out the ill-conceived cancers immediately. There is no better cure for what ails an awful movie than a good old dose of MST3K panacea penicillin. Now, the therapy is not always successful. In some ways, it's hard to imagine a triumphant treatment for Torgo, the big-kneed bumbler from Manos: The Hands of Fate. And Coleman Francis is an abscess so puffy and pronounced that you could bathe him in ointment for hours on end and the spores from such seeping sores as Red Zone Cuba or The Beast of Yucca Flats would still spread his special brand of deep hurting. But more often than not, the surgical strike force of the Best Brains knew how to scrape out a staph-filled skeleton, purge an intestine filled with ennui, and reconstruct your DNA to get all those pesky genomes back in FBI order.
The four films represented on Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 5 contain several scenes of mindless meandering, a plotline or two that leads down a very reliable road to nowhere, and a temporarily tainted take on most motion picture conventions. But each one also has their highpoints of hysterical heinousness, a reason to celebrate groovy grotesqueries. In The Touch of Satan, it is Lucinda Strickland and her kiln-cracked face. Time Chasers has Nick Miller and his literal blockhead. Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders balances the bloated belly of Ernest Borgnine with the overall immensity of the magician's own human spouse mountain, Zurella. But nothing can compare to the Bear Band brawn and swamp weed wonders of Jimmy Clem as Old Man (who, frankly, looks in his early 40s) Crenshaw. Looking at each film separately, we can clearly see the cuts that need daubing, the fissures that require fixing and, frankly, the gangrenous greatness of certain stagnant sections, to wit:
• Boggy Creek II…And the Legend Continues
It cannot be stressed enough in this review, so if you don't like it or agree, perhaps you need to read on, McDuff. But the truth needs to be told, no matter how insane it seems. Jimmy Clem is a GOD! If there is one reason to spend seventy soiled minutes with Charles B. Pierce and his obsession with a hairy bog creature, it's to see the most hirsute and odiferous entity of them all. Single-handedly inventing inferred Smell-a-vision when he appears on screen, Clem is electric with the kind of eccentricity that usually saves even the most wretched of movies. Up until his tobacco-chewing tact and burlap butt trumpeting, we have had to suffer through endless shots of Pierce's prissy son in shirtless, tanless wonder, the endless whining of the appropriately named Tanya Yazzie, and the almost attractiveness of the queen of eyeliner, Leslie Ann Walker. Old Chuck himself struts around in shorts so skimpy and snug that they make Europeans jealous, and recalls faux-interesting stories about how his kudzu Bigfoot likes to stir things up among the insolvent sons of the soil. But aside from the scene where a man steps directly into his outhouse "commode" and gets a leg full of orange offal (baby diarrhea is more appetizing—ick!), Clem must step up, stench out, and save this film from bare-ass belly-flopping.
And he pulls it off. Maybe it's his kicky mid-'80s headband, caked with filth and decades of dried sweat. Maybe it's his laconic drawl, mixing moonshine with menace to sound concurrently friendly and deep fat fried. But one thing's for sure; when Clem wanders into his shack, decorated in early Ed Gein, and offers to show everyone his "little critter," all bets are off. If you have to fall instantly in love with one Junior Samples wannabe who makes wearing a grimy pair of overalls with nuttin' underneath seem noble, Crenshaw Clem is your magic man.
A brilliant choice on the part of the MST3K gang, Boggy Creek II…And the Legend Continues is so ripe with ridicule possibilities that the potential moments of quipping seem to careen off the screen and directly into the cast's lap. Starting with Charles Pierce's decision to treat the narrative like an excuse to reminisce, plus the non-talented cast of awful actors, Mike and the Robots are rife with riffing targets. Pearl Forrester is holed up in her castle, and the "Mad Scientist Certification" sketches are a little weak. Only when she comes up with the idea of using ape-man Bobo as her own "legendary" creature does the tempo and talent pick up. Bill Corbett has a nice little musical number where he deconstructs those good ol' boy story songs that seem to be all setup and very little follow-through. The merchandising finale is also fine. Making fun of Pierce's proclivity for flashbacks pays off nicely, but the Whittling company bit is a tad forced. Still, it's the movie that makes this one of the best MST episodes ever. Just the site of that stupid bumpkin running out of his outdoor toilet with feces festooning his pant leg, or Pierce modeling the latest in unpleasant batch-enhancing shorts, will make your gag reflex work in both of its gears. And the minute that the magnificent, multifaceted Crenshaw arrives to putrefy all around him, the scene is set for classic comedy. And Mystery Science Theater 3000 delivers in dirty overalls delirium.
• Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders
What's worse than a made-for-cable craptacular where the pointless meandering of varying tonal vignettes adds up to one fat goose egg of non-fun? When it's actually a cobbled-together-from-different-films made-for-cable craptacular where the pointless meandering of varying tonal vignettes adds up to one fat goose egg of non-fun. If one looks at it really carefully, at the proper hour of the day and with the right amount of direct sunlight, one can almost begin to see the start of the basics of an attempted anthology horror film. But the inclusion of no less than six different ideas means that this movie manages the double hat trick of turdiness by wallowing in a sextet of failures. The introductory séance is one Ouija away from believable. Ernest Borgnine, playing a variation of his Oscar-winning fat man character (just call him Farty) delivers his lines with all the emotion of a sitz bath. His mumbling grandson makes Mushmouth from Fat Albert seem eloquent. Merlin looks more like a refugee from a drag show than from a Renaissance Faire. But it's the dueling dullness of the main stories—the spell-casting spastic who turns himself into a tot, and the brain-dead boy who gets an enchanted piece of chimp chattel—that raises so many unanswered and unentertaining questions: Did Merlin and his humongous hausfrau honey have to design their retail outlet after the movie Troll? If Jonathan Cooper is such a big-shot reporter, why is his home office located in what appears to be a dilapidated shed? And if the rhythmic monkey toy is so all-knowing and all-powerful that it can tell when you're thinking of destroying it, why isn't it in charge of a small country? Or at least the leader of its own religion? The hanging plot point participles of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders have one advantage to them. They sure keep the gallows booked up, preventing you from committing cinematic suicide.
In a lot of ways, this episode harkens back to what many would consider "classic" or old-fashioned MST. Both the opening (the referencing of 1920s college pranks) and the Pearl-driven diversion (Servo as a despotic ruler) offer glimpses of the Comedy Channel era's desire to experiment with the format and the formula. The skits all seem to come directly out of the film for once (unlike other, later episodes that either stretch the premise connection to the breaking point, or merely substitute a bit of mindless fun). Crow and Tom as battling critics is a well-written bit of wit and the Ernest Borgnine books also offer excellent comical convolutions. It's always fun to see Mike Nelson in various ridiculous garbs, but his unholy diapered baby routine is just way too disturbing. Even the ending manages to turn Bobo into an oversized novelty toy simian and uses the movie's menace-removal techniques to deal with the gigantic gorilla.
Yet, it's the erroneous Merlin that gives us the most misguided amusement. It's the perfect film for Mystery Science since it offers so many potential marks. There is the opening story with the drunken psychic channeling home demolition experts with her Parker Brothers spirit board. There is Ernest "I thought Tova's skincare line was doing better than that" Borgnine wrestling with a paycheck and a stomach the size of a sun baked sea frog. How about his mealy-mouthed grandson, who seems like he is swallowing his words in asthmatic whelps? Merlin's morbidly obese wife? The gnome in hiding? The broasted cat? Jonathan's bald cap? The Rock and Roll Martian? The list goes on and on, as do the laughs in this excellent installment.
• Time Chasers
There are bad movies that don't try. Then there are bad movies that divide the efforts, perhaps between acting and gore effects, or direction and atmosphere. But every once in a while, a bad movie comes along that wants to really put forth an attempt to try and sell you on its imaginative plotting, low-budget rule bending and visionary lensing. It stands up like Arnold Horshack in Mr. Kotter's class and yells, "Pay attention to me, dammit! I ain't that stupid!"
Sadly, Time Chasers, AKA Tangents, AKA A New England Chin Butt in Revolutionary America, is that dumb. Made for about $25 and a couple of natural trail tokens from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, this futuristic action-adventure naturally suffers from the age-old adage; if you don't have enough money to keep packaged cold cuts from fermenting on the craft service table, you have no business dabbling in time travel. The reason audiences are attracted to zooming back to the future and visa versa is to see something cool or crazy, technologically advanced or historically accurate. Time Chasers cannot achieve any of this. Heck, it can't even achieve realistic New England atmosphere and the darn thing was made in Vermont. But like ultra-sugary maple syrup, a little of this miserable movie goes a long way. Time travel is all about imaginative speculation, but aside from some video vibrating and bad computer graphics, we see nothing remotely brave-new-worldish. When the most otherworldly aspect of the film is actor George Woodard's accent, a Yankee-meets-Yukon ersatz Canadian cadence that sounds like the Gorton's fisherman strangling a squirrel, there isn't much hope. But drat if this movie doesn't keep trying. You can almost hear it huffing and puffing under the weight of its own objectives. That it's finally crushed by them is no surprise.
It's odd that the gang at Best Brains waited this long to figure out a way to time travel back into the past of one of their own characters. It's also interesting that it also took this long to create an "evil twin" (or in this case, an evil brother) for Mike. Sure, there was the episode back on Comedy Central (611—Last of the Wild Horses) where the whole Star Trek/"Mirror Mirror" scenario was played out (Dr. F and TV's Frank even got to riff on the film for a segment). But Eddie, Mike's bad boy bro, is pure comic gold, representing everything that Mike is not. As an actor, Nelson pulls off the role brilliantly. Smoking, sarcastic, and with a penchant for random violence, his segments on the Satellite of Love are laced with dark humor and just a morsel of danger. Tom Servo's Dead End Kids companionship (his excellent toadying, complete with his whining "Right Eddie" every few moments) is also fantastic. The scenes with a pre-Deep 13 Mike in a dirty, stinking cheese factory are fun. There is a real sense of the era captured in both Nelson's wardrobe (he's a Journey fan, so a concert T-shirt is a must) and the props (his buddy's TV looks old enough). The opening and closing gambit are nicely executed (though Bill Corbett is no Jonathan Harris—indeed!) but why classic kitsch television is a lampoon target here is anyone's guess. Surprisingly, the in-theater material is good, but not great. Too many jokes are repeated (Nick's overactive chin, J.K.'s odd accent) and the middling success of the film's flimsy sci-fi elements, let alone a leap into the middle of a revolutionary war reenactment society, means the meat for quips and jabs is frequently missing.
• The Touch of Satan
Of all the weapons in an actor's arsenal of atmosphere enhancers, the dramatic pause has got to be the trickiest. Cut it too short and you sound like a chipmunk trying to out-recite a hummingbird. But give the lapse too long a leisurely pace, and speculative real estate agents start drawing up deeds to the dead air. The Touch of Satan is one of those films that misconstrues silence as foreboding suspense, when all it really resembles is a naptime indicator.
Not much happens in the 90 near-inert minutes that pass for plot. Lucinda, the lunatic fright mask with the mottled Styrofoam features, only offs two people in the course of this crawling crock. Events just take too long to play out and then when they do, they still take their own sweet time. Conversations seem to last eons. A simple meal is a study in stasis. We even get a flashback in which one of the characters constantly admonishes people to pipe down and stop yakking so he can repeat the same passage in The Bible a couple of dozen times.
Time is indeed the enemy of The Touch of Satan. Had Billy Jack's Tom Laughlin (covering his ass tracks by using the nom de plume Don Henderson) merely tightened up the tempo and given unglued Lu a chance at a couple of more cadavers, we could have had something here. This is a movie that should focus on its Satanic—not static—nature. It should relish the rotten applehead's antisocial antics, not lock her away for endless scenes of stagnation. In the end, The Touch of Satan wants to be a psychological thriller, the kind of post-modern meditation on good and evil that has its characters canvassing the dark recesses of their own mortal coil. Too bad that the movie has to freeze every few seconds like a non-defragmented hard drive. It could have been sick and twisted. It ends up being stock and wasted.
It's always nice to see someone new stretch their thespianism for the sake of a snicker, and Beez McKeever, prop diva, makes a guest appearance as a stern babysitter named Steffi who can't quite fathom that Brain Guy/Observer is not a baby named Brian and that Bobo is not a undomesticated dog. Her subtle scenes with the villainous members of the cast are very good. And again, the skits all come directly from the movie, except this time the results are mostly hit or miss. Crow being convinced that he is a witch might have worked as an idea had the execution not been some flat, ironic take on old-fashioned Wicca detection (in this case, a mound of stones). Tom Servo's deranged grandmother is a stroke of genius, especially when she mutters in the same incomprehensible way the movie "monster" does. But not much is done with it beyond some slapstick attacks. Mike's drenched-in-human-gravy walnut farmer is hilarious, especially when Mr. Nelson comments on his own foul odor. And the closing bit with Crow selling his soul to Stan, not Satan, is funny for a couple of seconds. Again, it's the theatrical task-taking that really shines. The jokes about the pauses never cease to be hilarious and whenever the warped Witchiepoo shows up to burble and butcher, the laugh factory is in full production. More could have been made of the whole devil / demonic possession / witchcraft angle, and the gang lets The Giant Spider Invasion's Robert Easton go by with nary a mention. But with its nutty premise and even more miserable execution, The Touch of Satan makes The Reincarnation of Peter Proud look like 18 Again.
Overall, this is one of the greatest collections of MST3K episodes ever compiled. All four episodes highlight what is best and brightest about the show. The amount of imagination involved to take on bad time travel, monkeylike Bigfoot monsters, evil possessed prunes, and the legendary magician of King Arthur shows that, as an act, the Best Brains and the gang at MST were no dummies, either in commentary or comedy. Each one of the films here is imminently watchable (unlike other installments where some filmmakers test your level of gray matter liquefaction) if only to witness, firsthand, their craven car-crash attempts to pull a rabbit, instead of a bunch of bunny butt nuggets, out of their talentless top hats. It is safe to say that this is MST3K, version 3.0 at its best. Mike, Tom, and Crow have a chemistry that almost surpasses that of Joel and the originals, and newcomer Bill Corbett has imbued both Crow and his role as Brain Guy with a wicked, satirical anger that make him one funny flash point. Gone is the gentle humor of past incarnations of the show. The cast has transformed into mighty riffing power rangers, meeting their misery head-on in wonderful streams of uproariousness. If you've never seen them before, these episodes will leave impressions in your frontal lobes that no amount of Freudian slippage can cure. Nick's overextended lower jaw, shooting the entire world a mandible moon. Lucinda's white ape awfulness, crumpled face looking like a borderline racist's Asian make-up job. Merlin's hunk of human suet sweetheart. And the one and only Jimmy "Crenshaw" Clem, the human algae industrial unit. Yes, your night terrors will be ripe for disinfecting after witnessing Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 5.
Visually, the show transfers look especially good. The mastering from video to digital is sharp and extremely colorful. Occasionally, the movie will let the image down (especially in Merlin and Boggy, where no-budget production values mean grain and murkiness aplenty) but as for the series itself, MST3K always makes a fine appearance on DVD. On the audio side, MST3K is not a aural exercise in speaker specialization, so all you'll get is a front-channel-heavy, crystal clear presentation. Do you need something more than that for your Dolby Digital Stereo dollar?
Perhaps the best bit on this four-disc presentation (and it's hard to believe it's true) is the 30-minute interview clip (found on Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, FYI) with Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy. A virtual walk through the entire show, from KTMA until the final days at Sci-Fi, it is such a fantastic bit of bonus content that it causes two immediate reactions: it makes you long for future installments with other cast and crew members, and also has you wondering why Rhino didn't think of this volumes ago. Just like MPI and their handling of the Dark Shadows series, there are enough talented, interesting individuals associated with the show that one could envision a differing pairing (Joel and Trace, Frank and Paul, Mary Jo and Bridget, and so on) on upcoming installments. Longtime fans will feel right at home (and hear a couple of new nuggets) in this great extra. The trailer for The Touch of Satan is also a nice, atmospheric flimflam, selling the film's terror while, surprisingly, avoiding all its tedium.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Thank you for answering our bonus content prayers, Rhino. The half-hour interview is stellar. Now remember, keep it up or we'll visit you in the wee hours and stick a bat up your nightshirt. Thank you.
It's been just three months (it's April 2004 at the writing of this review) since Mystery Science Theater 3000 went out of reruns and off the air for what appears to be the last time. And strangely, the world has started to get even more sordid and sickening. Janet Jackson proves to the mainstream demographic that the whole "Nasty" thing from a few years back may have all been part of an elaborate scheme to champion an obscure line of post-piercing products. Mel Gibson makes a movie that celebrates the life of one of the planet's most influential religious figures by juxtaposing his personality of peace against a violent bunch of gore set pieces. And it's a big hit! Even music is all mucked up: Jessica Simpson couldn't think her way out of a sopping wet paper bag with an automatic flimsy pulp-dividing device, and yet she manages to place her baby doll drivel right up near the top of the charts. Must be all those hilarious answers to such heady questions as "What is two plus two?" and "Are you breathing?" Indeed, it seems that since the restorative power of Mike, Joel, and the rest have at last vanished from the airwaves, the worst of pop culture has had a Dawn of the Dead-style remake resurgence. Disgust and defilement are everywhere, and nothing's left to keep it under control.
So all that one can do is sit back and drink in the distaste. Celebrate the revulsion. Wallow in the ruination. Build a shrine to Jimmy Clem. There is no use fighting it. Just give in to the delicious dysentery of the Milky Way's last dance. But remember, you always have a home video remedy, a digital diagnosis for any recurrent ailment. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 5 will show you that there is life after loathing and fun to be found in fear. Just don't get too involved in the unnatural universe. Liza Minnelli is always looking to make a comeback.
Not guilty. Any Mystery Science Theater on DVD is welcomed. Rhino's efforts at bonuses are noted by the Court and added to their current record as time off for attempted good behavior.
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