|Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 10|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 29 August 2006|
There is no mystery in the Mystery Science Theater formula: bad movies and good jokes meld to form gleefully sardonic entertainment, every time. It is like the analogy of making lemonade out of lemons, and similar to houses built out of pop bottles or Howard Finster’s folk art—one man’s garbage is another man’s art supplies. B-movie directors may have daydreamed about winning regal golden statuettes named Oscar, but these four MST-d films are closer to another altogether different Oscar. They are, whether intentionally or not, the smelly knickknacks in Oscar the Grouch’s trashcan home.
This film quartet begins with that boyhood favorite, Godzilla. Admit it: when you were in grade school, nothing was cooler than watching a giant lizard rescue Japan. Of course, the monster was a man in an ugly Godzilla suit, but what did we care? Besides, these battles were just as real as professional wrestling (meaning not real at all), and had better special effects to boot. Sociologists have studied the Godzilla phenomenon (don’t ask me why), and analyzed how it mirrors post WWII Japan. But to ten-year-olds like we were, at a time when “Jurassic Park” had not yet been imagined, Godzilla was sci-fi at its best, the same way The Three Stooges represented polished comedy. Ah, but what did we know? Ignorance was such bliss.
Plots are but a distraction for MST 3000. In case you are wondering, however, “Godzilla Vs. Megalon” (1973) is the story of undersea nation, Seatopia, which sends the huge Megalon to destroy the land world. Robot Jet Jaguar and our buddy Godzilla are called upon to banish Megalon. But discussing Godzilla plots is a waste of time; everything is foreplay until the monsters start to mash.
The Mystery Science Theater guys (Tom Servo, Crow, et all) share our childhood recollections and likely loved old ‘Zilla as much as we did. But even the best memories cannot save bad filmmaking. The finest scene in this film, meaning the funniest, occurs during a Jet Jaguar fight. He swings his foe around, only to get dizzy and fall. The MST commentators are appalled. How can a robot get dizzy? Aren’t they, like, mechanical and stuff?
“Swamp Diamonds” (1955), a Roger Corman film originally titled “Swamp Women”, is up next. This movie is for those who love watching bad chicks behave badly. An undercover policewoman participates in a prison breakout, along with three female convicts, so they can lead her to stolen diamonds stashed in a swamp. Apparently, the writers never considered the stupidity of hiding diamonds in a swamp. Logic never got in their way.
During this prison-to-swamp journey, these girls smoke, fight, argue and act tough—as usual with escaped felons. Isn’t that more than enough to keep you watching? Well, it shouldn’t be, unless you are some kind of a degenerate. Plot has little to do with this film’s primary selling point—hot chicks fighting. Corman knows men are attracted to cat fights, and if it is bad girls fighting each other, all the better.
Dud number three, “Teen-Age Strangler” (1968), is a dumb slasher flick without the sex, nudity and gore of modern horror. No villains are named Jason, and nobody sports a hockey mask. Instead, the killer turns out to be—of all things—a frustrated janitor. And what’s its message, you ask? If you are a student, you better clean up after yourself because janitorial revenge is brutal. Or something stupid like that.
The minds behind Mystery Science Theater hate stereotypes about as much as they despise bad filmmaking. “Teen-Age Strangler” was released in a prime period of American cultural upheaval. That year, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Edgy films, like “The Graduate,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “Rosemary’s Baby” were also top grossing movies that year. But you would never have a clue about the state of the nation after watching “Teen-Age Strangler.” It looks more like a set piece from a ‘50s-inspired “Happy Days” episode.
The last awful movie in the set is “The Giant Spider Invasion” (1975). It features big, hairy spiders. Best of all, it includes Alan Hale of “Gilligan’s Island” fame as a police officer. Once, when his character uses the bathroom, the MST crew imagines him saying, “I’ve gotta drain Little Buddy.” This is hilarious, even if you hated that S.S. Minnow series.
Volume 10’s extras are almost better than its four-movie main course. Mystery Science hosts write little songs inspired by the movies, and a few of these tunes are bundled into a segment titled “MST3K Video Jukebox.” So good are they, in fact, you don’t even need to see the original films to enjoy them.
One tune, called “Merry Christmas If That’s O.K.,” is a politically correct holiday number, intended to please all people of all faiths, and inspired by the movie “Santa Claus.” Another one, called “Doughy Guys,” is flabby fun. Taken from “Teenage Crime Wave,” it is dedicated to chubby men once so prevalent in film; an era MST terms “the golden age of the doughy guy,” which lasted from 1931 to 1959. “Their weight and moistness was felt everywhere they went” we’re told, with J. Edgar Hoover singled out as the ultimate doughy guy of that age.
After laughing through countless Mystery Science Theater sets, it is still amazing these films were made in the first place. Granted, Godzilla is a franchise and filmmakers merely brought back a fan favorite time after time. But “Teen-Age Strangler” isn’t even scary. It is a mild precursor to “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th,” at best. Granted, in 1968 you couldn’t put too much blood, guts, and sex into films. Nevertheless, “Psycho” was released a full eight years prior, yet gives nightmares to this day.
This latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set is well worth your time—even if you don’t like or get the MST jokes. Everybody should watch a Roger Corman film at least once, and as bad as it is, this Godzilla flick will bring back great childhood memories for most. Oh, and let’s not forget Alan Hale. His work in “The Giant Spider Invasion” proves his bad acting on “Gilligan’s Island” was no fluke. He was consistently bad, whether in captain’s gear or a police uniform.
There may be few mysteries and even less science, but the great comedic theater of Mystery Science Theater Volume 10 is undeniable.