When Judge Erich Asperschlager makes devil's food cake, he adds just a touch of Satan.
"Nobody needs a fromicidal maniac hanging around."
Writing DVD reviews may not be the devil's work, but watching movies can be hell. Just ask Satellite of Love castaways Mike Nelson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo, who riffed their way some of the worst movies ever made, on the funniest TV show ever made, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Shout! Factory continues their impressive MST3K streak with the single-disc release of the most diabolical of "experiments," the Season Nine winner The Touch of Satan. Even in this bare bones release, it's a scary good way to pass the time until the big Mystery Science Theater box set.
This slow-moving thriller from 1971 focuses on a traveling stranger named Jodie, whose chance encounter with a young witch named Melissa leads him to her creepy family's walnut ranch, where he trades common sense (and his soul) for love, and…The Touch of Satan!
When the Sci Fi Channel picked up Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1997, the network made several demands. Most notably, they insisted that the movies be limited to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. A Touch of Satan is somewhere between the latter two—just barely. Besides a couple of bloody death scenes, the movie is a slow burn. Very slow. The mystery surrounding Melissa's murderous grandma is vaguely effective, and the twist ending works in theory. It might have been a decent half hour episode of Tales From the Crypt. As a 90-minute feature? Well, there's a reason it ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
One-off riffs are fine, but I have a soft spot for MST3K episodes that create their own running gags. The SoL crew make plenty of standalone jokes at The Touch of Satan's expense, but many of them focus on three of the movie's biggest problems—setting, slowness, and Satan.
From cars, to clothes, to hairstyles, this movie has an oppressive '70s-ness that Mike and the bots tackle head-on. They name check icons of the decade, like Welcome Back Kotter, the gas crisis, and Watergate. During the long opening credits, Mike wonders whether Anthony Zerbe is in the movie, then puts Crow on "Clu Gulager alert."
As for the movie's pacing, to call it slow would be an insult to slowness. I said earlier that it might have worked as a half-hour TV episode. I've got a feeling that if you cut out all the dialogue pauses the whole movie might only be about that long ("Well, I suppose the plot's not going to unfold itself"). It's a major point of contention with the riffers, who ask "Did all the actors drink a quart of Robitussin before shooting?"
Satan doesn't make much of an appearance in the film. Based on the movie poster's proclamation, the salacious title has more to do with the popularity of Rosemary's Baby than the plot—but that doesn't stop Mike, Tom, and Crow from having a "hell" of a lot of fun with it. I know you've had your eye on that Demonic Thesaurus, but you might want to consider buying this DVD instead, for everything from low-hanging fruit like "Prince of Darkness," "Beelzebub," and "Lucifer," to "Foul Deceiver," "Onerous Spinner of Lies," and "Man Goat."
The episode has plenty to offer outside the theater, too. Down in the Mads' castle, Pearl is away on a trip, leaving Brain Guy and Bobo with a babysitter. The dreaded "Stephanie" forces them into regimented, and insulting, activities like naptime and flea baths. Up on the Satellite, Tom and Crow try to hoodwink Mike with the fine print version of the Wassail song, then learn about walnut ranching, witch testing, and Tom's own murderous grandma.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Touch of Satan is a fantastic episode, but don't expect a deluxe DVD release. Unlike the box sets, these single discs have no bonus features or animated menus. All you get is a static screen with the option to "Play." Then again, what more do you really need? The full screen video looks fine—as a latter series entry, it fares better than some of the early episodes—while the Dolby 2.0 stereo track gets the job done.
I missed most of MST3K's Sci Fi Channel years, relying on reruns to catch up after the fact. I still remember how much I enjoyed The Touch of Satan the first time I watched it, and am happy to report it's just as funny a full decade later. Don't let the lack of bonus features deter you from adding this devilishly funny experiment to your collection.
Soul selling and witch burning aside, not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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