Friday, March 1, 2013

Movies Made Funny


Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) is one of my all-time favorite television shows, and yet I still struggle when trying to explain it to people. I can, I suppose, start with the premise: a man, trapped by an evil scientist on a space station (the Satellite of Love), is forced to watch an array of terrible movies, in an experiment to see how long it'll take him to crack. In an effort to stay sane, our hero -- with the help of his robot buddies -- makes jokes about the terrible plotting, wretched special effects, and horrible dialogue that fill the B-movie dreck he's forced to sit through.

That's the set-up, anyway. What's really going on is that MST3K came up with an excuse to make a TV show featuring three comedians making fun of (or "riffing") bad movies. The silhouettes of the main actor and two robot-puppets remain visible at the bottom of the screen while the movie they're riffing plays out across your television screen -- and their commentary turns bad movies into hilarious entertainment.

Crow, Gypsy, Mike Nelson, and Tom Servo


Created by Joel Hodgson, the show started life in 1988 on the Minnesota channel  KTMA, being picked up by Comedy Central and, later, the Sci-Fi Channel. It ultimately ran for ten seasons, changing cast members and style but never losing its core principle of making movies funny. After the show went off air, many of the writers/cast members went on to find new ways to continue riffing movies, with the creation of Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax. (RiffTrax, in particular, has started to make waves with their KickStarter campaign to do a live riffing of the movie Twilight: read more about that here.)

MST3K remains a cult classic to this day, beloved by fans even fifteen years after the final episode aired. (Many, like me, are people who didn't discover the show until after it had already ended.) Read on to discover my top MST3K recommendations:





"I want the soul of that stuffed bunny in the window." Despite being the opening episode of the final season, this was actually my very first episode of MST3K -- and, as such, it retains a very special place in my heart. This teen horror "thriller" (your thrills may vary) centers around five teens who find themselves on the Grim Reaper's daily to-do list. Our two ultimately-ghostly heroes, Natalie and Zack, must evade the relentless Soultaker (which shouldn't be hard; he moves at the speed of a sedately deliberate stroll) and find their way back to their bodies before midnight.

Vivian Schilling, who stars as Natalie, was also the scriptwriter for the film, with results about what you'd expect them to be. The movie also features two-time MST3K offender Joe Estevez -- the younger brother of Martin Sheen, and Charlie Sheen's uncle -- as the Soultaker himself. (You can also catch Joe Estevez in Werewolf, another MST3K classic.)





"I like it very much!"  This black-and-white Japanese sci-fi offering tells the story of three orphans (well, really two; the girl isn't given much to do) who have been adopted by the genial Wally. They don't think too much of Wally -- at least, not until the invasion of a group of rooster-nosed aliens from the planet Krankor arrive to take over the Earth. When a mysterious masked hero, calling himself Prince of Space, arrives to save the Earth -- and the boys -- from the invaders, it seems that there may be more to the kids' adoptive father than they first realized.

Dubbed over, not terribly well, by English-speaking actors, Prince of Space is a classic in the vein of all not-too-good 50s sci-fi B movies. But of even more delight is the skits between movie segments, which feature the Satellite of Love getting sucked into a wormhole, resulting in some hilarious confusion to the time/space-continuum.





"A crop-dusting genius!" Not since Jeff Goldblum saved the world with the power of his trustworthy MacBook has groundbreaking sci-fi technology appeared so simple. Here we have hero Nick Miller, a psychics teacher who not only invents time travel, but who can fit the computer program for such technological innovation on eight 5¼" floppy disks. 

But no matter. Nick's also a pilot, which comes in handy since his time machine turns out to be a three-seater plane. Hoping to revolutionize the world with his discovery, Nick entices a reporter and a big business executive to accompany him on a trip to the future. The executive's impressed, which leads to the company GenCorp striking a licensing deal with Nick. Unfortunately, when Nick travels again into the future, he discovers that, whatever GenCorp is planning, it leads to a catastrophic, worldwide apocalypse. Hey, it happens.

With reporter (and former flame) Lisa at his side, Nick must restore the future by changing the present -- and the past, because why not?  It goes without saying that a Civil War reenactment obviously gets involved.





"So, 'Rowsdower' -- is that a stupid name?"  If you want to find out quickly if someone's a fan of MST3K, just say the words, "Zap Rowsdower." If they start cracking up, you'll know you've found a MiSTie.

Filmed in Canada, The Final Sacrifice tells of the adventures of Troy MacGregor (and his infamous red sweater), a teen on a quest to discover what happened to his father. Along the way, he encounters a bloodthirsty cult ("bloodthirsty" here having the meaning of "confusing, and kind of lame"), a Yosemite Sam impersonator who has a connection to Troy's father, an evil guy with a goiter bent on revenge -- and a mysterious drifter by the name of ... Zap Rowsdower. 

With bicycle chase scenes, improbable coincidences to mask plot holes, an odd assortment of weatherbeaten pick-up trucks, and ancient artifacts of a powerful civilization masquerading as cheap props, this is not a MST3K to be missed.





"Put your seat belts on, we'll be reaching speeds of 3!"  No matter how many MST3K episodes I watch, Space Mutiny remains my steadfast favorite. Thousands of passengers and crew are traveling aboard the starship Southern Sun, on their way to a new planet to colonize. But a rebellion is being instigated by the evil Kalgan (not to be confused with Calgon, apparently). Kalgan is determined that he will not spend his remaining years living aboard a starship, and is gathering followers to mutiny against the captain.

Exactly how Kalgan plans on carrying out his ultimate plans are never really discussed. (If the starship is traveling to a new planet to be colonized, and the ship hasn't gotten there yet, where exactly are the mutineers supposed to go if they get off the ship right now?)  But this doesn't slow down the MiSTified action, as we watch our heroes -- a Santa-Claus-esque captain, his aerobics-instructor-styled daughter, and the dubiously heroic David Ryder -- crusade to save the day. We get golf-cart-styled chase sequences, the oldest prisoner-escape-routine in the books, and the biggest continuity error you've ever seen. An absolute classic.



-- Post by Ms. B

2 comments:

  1. Timechasers was MY first MST3K movie. Hubby made me watch it while we were still dating. And for some reason I still married him. :)

    Where is "Mitchell" on this list? Or "Manos: The Hands of Fate"? Two all time classics of MST3k. :)

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    1. Classic choices! :) I'm a relative newcomer to the wonder that is "Manos" -- I've only seen the MST3K version of that Riff one time. (But it was a good time.) I'll have to save that one for my second list ...

      "Mitchell," however, isn't on the list because I ... I regretfully say ... I was never able to make it all the way through that one! ;-)

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