Tag Archives: mst3000

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Final Sci-Fi Channel Broadcast (January 31, 2004)

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(Caution: this is an article by an MSTie, so beware of some “technical” jargon y’all non-MSTies might not understand.)

Well lookee what your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter dids dones did dugged up! While going through boxes of tapes, I came across the VHS recording I made of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s final Sci-Fi Channel broadcast, waaaaay back in 2004 (January 31, to be exact). The episode? 912 – The Screaming Skull (with the Gumby short Robot Rumpus). The time? Saturday morning, 9 AM. The feeling? Well, kinda downbeat, honestly. For as good as this episode was/is, it couldn’t quite overcome the feeling that something special was passing by.

By 2004, I had long captured, on good ol’ VHS, all of the remaining episodes that Sci-Fi could legally air (except for a Blood Waters Of Dr. Z re-broadcast – of course the VCR died for that one), which naturally already included episode 912. This, this broadcast, however, it didn’t really matter what the actual episode was; this was all about partaking in the last Mystery Science Theater 3000 on actual television for the foreseeable future. As it turned out, it would be back in about 10 years, but of course no one knew that at the time. There had been so many rights issues with the movies featured on the show over the years that, for all anyone knew, this was it. ‘Course, we still had the official DVD releases, and the tape trading circles, but even to this day there’s just something about actually tuning in to MST3K that feels so right. At least, that’s how I feel about it; your mileage may vary.

I explained this all a bit better in that older post I linked to, but long story short: I began watching the show when it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel 1997, and by the summer, I was a die-hard MSTie, which I obviously remain to this day. At the time, you needed a cable box to access Sci-Fi, and unfortunately, my dad decided he didn’t want to spend the extra bucks for the box anymore. Thus, that began a period of living with what I had already recorded, getting others to record episodes for me, and the official VHS releases that were trickling out.

That is, until early 2002, when I discovered Sci-Fi had been added to the basic cable line-up. Thanks to Satellite News’ helpful schedule archives, I can pinpoint when exactly I was able to finally see the show on real TV again (via a nearby relative’s house, because at that point we didn’t even have basic cable): February 23, 2002, episode 911- Devil Fish. I was elated (though it figures that the episode largely responsible for turning me into an MSTie, 811 – Parts: The Clonus Horror, had what turned out to be its last Sci-Fi airing about a month prior – just missed it!).

It was a ‘reunion’ that lasted nearly 2 years, and it all came to an end with this one last broadcast.

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Honestly, I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years since this aired. 2004 just does not seem that long ago! I was a junior in high school!

It’s important to note that this wasn’t the actual series finale of Mystery Science Theater 3000; that happened back in 1999, with episode 1013 – Diabolik (though thanks to a rights snafu, episode 1003 – Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders wound up airing first-run about a month after said series finale, giving heartbroken MSTies one last bit of shiny new freshness). Rather, this was the last episode ever broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Y’see, after the show finished with new episodes in 1999, it went into endless repeats on Sci-Fi, eventually languishing in a Saturday morning time slot where it would remain for the rest of its time on the channel. Advertising had long, long stopped being run for MST3K, so outside of the fan circles, it was just kind of ‘there,’ treated no better than Saturday morning filler. We MSTies knew better, though; unbeknownst to most, this was the way to kick off your Saturday.

So, after two whole cable channels and having run since 1989 (technically, three channels since 1988, for you lucky Minnesotans who got to watch the series start on the local independent station KTMA TV-23), it all came down to this one last broadcast on January 31, 2004. Well, until Retro TV picked the series up 10 years later, anyway.

"Robot Rump?!" - Servo

“Robot Rump?! Oh…” – Servo

Here’s the deal with episodes of this series: they can be very, very subjective. Because opinions on movies and humor can vary so greatly from person to person, there’s always going to be someone who loves a certain episode to death, while someone else will hate it with a passion. From my viewpoint, 912 is a very good episode. Maybe not a start-to-finish smash, but mostly good host segments, fantastic riffing on the short, and a solid take on the movie. There are undoubtedly people out there that will disagree with that assessment, and hey, that’s cool, too.

912 may not be the all-out, blaze-of-glory episode many would have preferred for the final Sci-Fi broadcast, but it is a solid, enjoyable from start-to-finish episode, which seems just as fitting to me. Maybe because it’s so representative of MST3K as it often was: maybe not every riff connected throughout, but the episode was overall consistently funny nevertheless. I wasn’t kidding a bit ago, by 2004 there really was no better way to start your Saturday.

The one aspect of this episode that most fans seem to agree about: the short film preceding the movie is phenomenal. The shorts were a rarity during the Sci-Fi-era, there were only three of ’em total, but man, quality over quantity. Of the three, I easily give the edge to this one, the Gumby epic Robot Rumpus. This might as well have been made for MST3K, because it fits like a glove.

"It's a fair-to-partly cottony day." - Crow

“It’s a fair-to-partly cottony day.” – Crow

Truthfully, there are some shorts in the MST3K canon that no longer have me rolling the way they did the first few times I watched them; Chicken Of Tomorrow (from 702 – The Brute Man) used to be one of my favorites, but after the last few viewings, well, it has left me a bit cold. Robot Rumpus, on the other hand, I’ve seen this one so many times that by this point I’m fairly certain I’m never going to get tired of it. It starts out hilarious and stays right there. By the time a shot of Pokey prompts Mike to quip “Close-ups reveal the weakness of the whole premise,” I was done for. This one seems to get better each time I watch it.

The plot is, well, it’s a clay-animated Gumby short with the title Robot Rumpus, so don’t expect Shakespeare, alright? In this one, Gumby, rather than do his yardwork chores himself, gets a bunch of robots to do them for him. Things start out peacefully enough, but they soon go haywire; gardens are ruined, paint is thrown about, and a house is lifted off its foundation before Gumby’s pop Gumbo shows to help put things back in order. I’m tempted to call this the weirdest thing ever, but kids programming is by nature usually pretty weird, so it would be an entirely redundant statement (plus, I’m watching a show where a guy and his two robots are trapped in space and forced to watch bad movies; I love MST3K, but I’ll never say the premise isn’t a bit out there – that’s one of the reasons it’s so great!).

Also, it’s nice to know that Gumby holds a Class F license.

"Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?!" - Servo

“Okay, who turned up the heat in the hot tub?” – Servo

A common charge against some of the episodes with particularly strong shorts before the main movie is that the feature never sustains the momentum of the short. I wouldn’t say this is true 100% of the time, but there are episodes where the short overshadows the movie somethin’ awful. So what am I even babbling about?

In the case of 912, you’ve got two forces contrasting each other as much as two forces can be, erm…contrasted? What I’m saying is you’ve got a loud, colorful, clay animated short intended for the lil’ baby childrens, and a long, black & white, slow-moving, drab horror movie for the older set (and by “older set” I don’t mean the “adult” set so much as I do “necking teenagers at the drive-in who couldn’t care less about a skull or why it happens to emitting loud decibels” set). The two don’t really pair well together, for obvious reasons.

And yet, together on Mystery Science Theater 3000, somehow it all works. True, the riffing of The Screaming Skull isn’t on the same level as Robot Rumpus, but with such a dramatic shift in tone, I don’t think you could really expect it to be. That said, I really enjoy The Screaming Skull portion of 912. Any movie that starts off with the promise of a free coffin for anyone that dies of fright during it is setting itself up for some quality riffin’, and Mike & The Bots live up to the challenge. I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout the entire feature-portion of the show (some of the riffing on the good Reverend Snow in particular is fantastic; during a conversation in which perpetually-worried-face Jenni unloads her emotional burden to him, Mike’s “You know, the Gospel speaks of losers like you…” and Crow’s semi-cheery “Oh, well it’s hell for you then!” had me roaring).

"Oh, he's playing with his beach skull!" - Mike "Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!" - Crow

“Oh, he’s playing with his beach skull!” – Mike / “Buy beach skull now and receive free beach clavicle!” – Crow

(Caution: some movie plot spoilers ahead, like anyone really cares.)

The screencap above makes this one seem more action packed than it really is. The fact of the matter is not a whole lot happens (not until the very end, anyway). This is one of those plots you can more or less figure out from the title and first 5-10 minutes of the film or so.

In it, newlyweds Jenni and Eric begin their new life together by moving into the house in which Eric and his first wife Marion lived before her untimely death. Also, she died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Also, Jenni used to be in a mental institution. Also, Jenni is rich. Where this is all going couldn’t be any more obvious if someone wrote the entire plot out on a brick and threw it at your face. I’m pretty sure children are born with the knowledge of where this is all heading.

So yeah, Eric tries to drive his new wife batty (again) and thus to suicide by convincing her the house is haunted by the ghost of his first wife, her skull in particular, which naturally only Jenni can see.

Except there’s a twist here. For the stunning (?) climax, The real ghost of Marion shows up, announcing her presence first by chasing Jenni around (which kinda irritates me, since Jenni didn’t really do anything to draw the ire of the apparition, except maybe keeping her face in an almost constantly pinched expression), and then straight up killing Eric (that’s what you’re seeing in the screencap above).

If I’m being completely honest, yes, it’s a dull film with loooong sequences of nothing in particular really happening. BUT, it’s not that bad. I mean, yes, it is bad, no question, but it’s basically inoffensive 1950s drive-in fare. There were infinitely more disgusting things ran on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In comparison to, say, The Beast Of Yucca Flats, The Screaming Skull actually looks pretty derned good (then again, what doesn’t?). And, even though it takes forever to get there, some of the climatic scenes are actually pretty effective, provided you can ignore Eric clearly holding a plastic skull to his neck, and the infamous tossing-a-stool-at-the-ghost scene (which became this episode’s stinger). The movie itself almost lends an easygoing vibe to this episode as a whole, which is weird since it concerns a guy trying to kill his wife with a plastic skull.

The proceedings aren’t overly painful, is what I’m trying to explain.

Oh, and there’s a Torgo-esque gardener named Mickey. He provides some unintended levity to the proceedings, though he’s still a distant third behind Torgo and Ortega in the “really, really weird lackey that probably needs a shower” category.

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The host segments for this episode, like I said before, they’re “mostly good.” I wasn’t super impressed with Tom Servo turning into a butterfly or Pearl, Observer & Bobo tricking Mike & The Bots into costumes for no real reason. But on the other hand, Servo attempting to scam a free coffin is good, and Bobo being shrunk via the most non-existent special effect possible at the end is funny.

But, my favorite host segment is seen above: Crow decides to scare Mike by being a “screaming skull.” Unfortunately, his (fairly wimpy) scream causes Mike to flip out and continuously scream in terror as he beats Crow over the head with a variety of objects (the best scene of the segment is Mike carefully deciding on the perfect golf club to hit Crow with, all while still screaming). The host segments of MST3K can often be a mixed bag, and this episode is no exception, but this moment in particular is a bonafide winner.


 

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I said way up above that advertising for MST3K had basically disappeared from the station following the 1999 series finale. If there were any kind of promos for the series in general following that, I’m unaware of them. I’m guessing there may have been one for Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders, and Satellite News shows a mini-marathon of episodes at the end of 1999, which I cant imagine there not being some kind of advertising for that. But following all that, MST3K finished life on Sci-Fi strictly on Saturday mornings. When I was able to watch the show in “real time” again in 2002, I certainly never saw any advertising. I want to say there was a “coming up next” deal prior to episodes starting, but even if that’s so, that’s more of a courtesy than anything.

Anyway, in regards to this January 31 broadcast, the only thing even in the ballpark of advertising is what you’re seeing above: the little ‘banner’ at the bottom of the screen, reminding you of what you’re watching. Granted, it was common to Sci-Fi programming at the time, and they also take the opportunity to tell you what’s coming up next (in this case, Fright Night 2), but still, it’s nice to see that even in that little itty bitty way, MST3K was still on Sci-Fi’s radar. Kinda.

While on the subject of advertising, thus far this has been more of an episode review. Which is fine, because after years of hoping and praying, it was finally released officially in the Volume XXXI Turkey Day DVD set. I probably wouldn’t put 912 in my top 10 favorite episodes ever list, but I do like it plenty. Top 20, maybe.

However, this article is supposed to be about the larger broadcast picture. Sure, the episode itself is the main point, but what definitively places things in a certain time and place are the commercials. Just like my other ‘broadcast recap’ posts, I like to finish up with a look at those.

The problem here is that, being from 2004, most of the commercials, well, they aren’t that great. 2004 is just too new to be all that interesting. Still, I’d be remiss in whatever it is that can be considered my duties if I didn’t give at least a quick look at them, so here now are some of the better ones (in my opinion, anyway) that were seen during Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Sci-Fi farewell broadcast on January 31, 2004:

 

Sci-Fi Channel Stargate SG-1 / Code Name: Eternity Promo

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Hey, you all remember Stargate SG-1, don’t you? Sure you do! After all, it was only on for about 47 years. It was about MacGyver and a guy with a Dodge Ram logo on his forehead going through adventures in outer space or something like that.

Easy SG-1 fans, of course I jest. It was actually a pretty good show, at least what I saw of it when it was in syndication (around here it was WJW TV-8 on weekend afternoons, if I recall correctly). This promo, obviously, spotlights the show after new episodes were moved from Showtime to Sci-Fi.

As for Code Name: Eternity, never saw it. Apparently it was a 1999 Canadian series that only ran a season and then showed up on Sci-Fi. Ain’t I helpful?

 

BarNone Auto Loans Ad

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I had almost completely wiped this series of ads from my memory. BarNone Auto Loans are still around, and at the time they had a line of commercials featuring a dog sock puppet (apparently originally a Pets.com mascot, though I really have totally forgotten all about that hoopla) pitching the company. So, yeah.

 

Office Max Highlighters Ad

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This one spotlights (see what I did there HAW HAW HAW) Office Max’s special brand of highlighters, and centers around one employee’s convoluted “too sick to work” scheme, which fails spectacularly. At least I think that’s plot of the commercial, I didn’t bother to save it to the PC and I refuse to go back and check. I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s about.

 

Geico Gecko Ad

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Geez oh man, it can be hard to realize that Geico’s Gecko has been around for basically forever at this point. I also find it troubling that I can tell his accent is slightly different in this ad from what it is nowadays, even though I’m hardly a Geico Gecko expert. In this installment in the long running series, a boy sleeps while his two robot toys prepare to duke it out. That is, until the Gecko steps forward to pontificate about Geico, much to the amazement of said toys.

 

Cabin Fever On DVD & VHS Ad

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Yes, they were still releasing commercial movies on VHS in 2004. That wouldn’t last a whole lot longer. My reasons for including this one have less to do with the movie (I have never seen Cabin Fever nor do I have any interest in seeing Cabin Fever) and the odds were good that I would have ended up skipping this one entirely (a fate that befell a Burger King ad featuring Steve Harvey trying to come up with a combination name for “sandwich” and “salad”), until I realized it starred Shawn from Boy Meets World. Though, that’s really all I have to say about it. So, thank my TGIF nostalgia for this entry, I guess.

 

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles On Nintendo Gamecube Ad

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Hey, a commercial I can almost get excited for! I say “almost” because aside from the very first installment for NES, I have never played a Final Fantasy game. And, since I generally don’t care for most RPGs, I really have no interest in even that one. In other words, I haven’t played Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and you can’t make me.

HOWEVER, the poor Nintendo Gamecube, while maintaining a cult following, was basically getting clobbered by Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox at the time. Since Final Fantasy is indeed a big name in the game world, it was nice to see it show up on Nintendo’s underrated console; from a sales-standpoint, it needed all the help it could get (that’s not a slam, either; I had a Gamecube, still do somewhere in fact, and it was definitely a lot of fun, but the system really was an object of derision among most of my PS2-owning friends, which I think was representative of teenagers in general).

At any rate, old video game ads are always a nice example of the time in which they were broadcast. So, 2004, Gamecube, there you go.

Next On Sci-Fi Promo

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Found during the final commercial break of the broadcast, this was a short promo for what was coming up next on Sci-Fi. Fright Night II (hey, it was listed as Fright Night 2 before!) and Halloween II & III would take you up through midday that Saturday. While I’ll never claim to have much interest in any of those films, does Sci-Fi even play movies like them anymore? Of course it’s “SyFy” nowadays, but at last check (and it really has been awhile), it was all homemade SyFy exclusives and whatnot. Then again, I don’t watch the station anymore, so what do I know?


And so, Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end on the Sci-Fi Channel. Never has a show-ending stinger felt so bittersweet. We had our tapes, we had our DVDs, but what we didn’t have was knowledge of when or if we’d ever see our favorite show being broadcast again.

A lot of the “specialness” of this recording has dissipated over the years, but for once, this is a good thing. We MSTies have been given what could be described as the royal treatment. MST3K has been making a comeback on actual TV, the DVDs are profuse, and most of the people involved with the show are still out there cranking out the comedy in various forms.

Still, it’s a tape that captures that moment in time when a lot (but not all) of that was still up in the air, and for that, I’m glad I still have it.

Plus, you know, it’s a good episode I like to watch every now and then. Kinda easy to forget that when I’m busy pontificating about (real or imagined?) specialness and whatnot.

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Man, that image above still brings a tear to my eye. Figuratively, I mean. After all, it’s just a show, I should just relax and all that jazz.

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VCI Home Video – The Creeping Terror (On Betamax, No Less)

 

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I love this one. Love love love it. No matter how many times I type “love,” I doubt you’re going to understand just how happy I am to have this awful, awful movie on a format that’s only slightly more obsolete than VHS. I’m jazzed, man.

Why? Because I’m a complete and total sucker for The Creeping Terror. I love this stupid terrible movie beyond what is probably considered acceptable limits of, erm, acceptability…? That kind of fell apart, but suffice it to say, I’m quite fond of the flick. It’s one of the worst movies ever made, and it’s gloriously entertaining because of that.

The Creeping Terror has it all: shoddy black & white footage, limited dialogue but plenty of awkward narration, a star that you won’t buy for a minute as a legitimate star and who doesn’t really do enough to warrant being called a star anyway (but being the director/producer/guy who made this movie happen, naturally he had first dibs on leading man-status), a scientist played by the original Marlboro Man (yes, really), a random lecture on bachelor-hood and married life, a very slow-moving monster that looks to be made of shag carpet, victims that not only lack the ability to run or even walk away from said monster but who also crawl into the damn thing, a rather rotund man and his grandson Bobby (“Bobbbby!“), and the most awkward, goes-on-for-far-too-long dance party that you’ve ever seen.

It’s one “say what?” moment after another, and thus it’s clearly one of the worst (greatest) things ever committed to film. Fittingly, it was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but the movie is so, so out there that it’s a trip by itself.

I first saw (and taped!) the film in 1998 on WAOH TV-29, years before I saw the MST3K version, and it was the recording of that broadcast that I was most familiar with for years (rarity of rarities: Unlike most of the stuff I taped, I actually wound up watching it!). My reasons for taping it were two-fold: 1) at that time, any old horror/sci-fi flicks were fair-game for my vicious recordin’ tactics (that is, I’d tape anything and everything possible that fit my preferred criteria), and more importantly, 2) thanks to my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, I knew the movie had been featured on the show, and even though it would be a few years before I became familiar with the actual episode, the mere fact that the movie was on the show was enough to make me want it.

That said, despite the extreme oddness of the film, it didn’t really do much for me then. Sure, it was an uber-amateurish, grade-z sci-fi flick, but I had plenty of those in my collection already (albeit few, if any, as inept). And while the MST3K treatment has since become one of my favorites, my first viewing of that episode several years after first seeing The Creeping Terror left me a little cold as well.

It wasn’t until almost 2 years ago, when I came across this thread at the Classic Horror Film Board, that my interest in the film rose to peaks I never thought it would. The thread started way back in 2006, and it’s still going! There’s so much interesting backstory regarding The Creeping Terror that the movie itself is almost (but not quite) overshadowed by it all. And since I stumbled across the thread after it was already well, well underway, it was simply amazing to watch as more and more info about the film was progressively revealed. The contributors to that thread are some of the most knowledgeable and downright cool people I’ve come across online, and the sheer amount of information I’ve learned from not only that thread but from that forum in general is something I’m certainly grateful for. If you don’t know how The Creeping Terror came to be (and I sure didn’t), you owe it to yourself to check the thread out. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

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Indeed, that thread is how I learned of the VCI home video release in the first place. Prior to that, The Creeping Terror is a film I had figured as incredibly public domain. That is, there was endless VHS/DVD releases of it out there, be it standalone or in compilation sets, not unlike The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I’m not sure how I got that idea in my head, because while there were a few VHS releases, as well as a few DVD compilations nowadays, it turns out The Creeping Terror is not only not in the public domain, it also never had much of a life in the home video market, either. There was apparently a Rhino VHS release in the late-1980s/early-1990s, and of course the MST3K version on both VHS and DVD, but as far as I can ascertain, the VCI release under their “Le Bad Cinema” banner from the early-to-mid-1980s (there’s no video release date anywhere on my copy) was the first. Maybe it wasn’t, but as far as I can tell it was. Either way, in short order the VCI release became one of my “most wanted” videos.

I tend to operate under a “sooner or later I’ll come across it” optimism. Not just with videos, but also with old broadcasts/commercials/etc., electronics, and so on. And time and time again, that optimism and patience has paid off. But, it’s not fool-proof. For example, even though I’ve had a copy for years (two copies, actually), I still haven’t come across the Vestron release of Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis in person; I had to resort to Ebay back in the day (luckily, it’s out on DVD now). Considering VCI’s The Creeping Terror is far, far more rare than that video ever was (Moroder’s Metropolis used to go for big bucks on Ebay because it was, at the time, the best restoration of the film, but there were always multiple copies for sale; even though it was out of print, it was really more popular than outright rare), I knew my chances of finding a copy “in the wild” were slim, though certainly not impossible.

Still, when the opportunity to pick up the Beta version of the VCI release presented itself (and I had no idea there was a Beta release beforehand, though given the rough timeframe of release, it makes sense), I jumped at it. I paid more than I really would have liked; the final total was akin to what rarer tapes were going for back in the good ol’ days (ha!) of late-1990s Ebay. I’ve spent less on (some) used blank Beta tape lots, but I had the money, so whatever. Needless to say, I was successful, as the picture above can attest.

I love the cover art. I mean, just look at it up there! It’s 1980s in all the best ways. I dig the hand drawn artwork of the era, and the cover of this particular video fits in perfectly: It’s simple, but perfect for this type of film. Though I’ll admit the absence of “The” in the title irritates me. It’s The Creeping Terror, not Creeping Terror! I got the same way with Goodtimes’ 35th anniversary release of The Blob back in the day; the cover listed it simply as Blob, which is even more awkward than Creeping Terror.

creepingterror3 creepingterror4

It appears my copy has some staining to the box, mostly visible on the back. I pray it was only someones drink and not something more sinister. It doesn’t smell like anything troubling, or anything at all really, which is always a good sign. Yeah, I smelled the thing. Could I be any weirder?

The description on the back is adequate enough, but not exactly spot-on. None of the film takes place in the Rocky Mountains; it’s set in “Angel County,” California. And while it’s true that a ’57 Ford (I guess it’s a ’57 Ford, anyway) does indeed kill one of the monsters (there are two of ’em), they are certainly not immune to grenades; immediately before the Ford takes the one monster out, the other one is killed by a hand grenade thrown by the illustrious “Colonel Caldwell.”

Still, you can’t fault them for a few mistakes. This is the kind of film where, without intense concentration, it would be easy to let your mind wander and your eyes glaze over. Besides, who would really want or need a deeper-than-necessary knowledge of the film (besides me, I mean)?

Also, the copyright date for the film is almost always listed as 1964, as demonstrated on the back of this box. It was made around that time, but another interesting thing I learned from that aforementioned thread is that it’s almost positive that this film was never actually released theatrically! It seems the public never saw the film until it was licensed for TV showings sometime in the 1970s! And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wonderfully bizarre backstory of the film.

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There were a number of movies in VCI’s “Le Bad Cinema” line. It was probably a smart move to tag them as such, because at least as far as The Creeping Terror goes, you’re almost certainly gonna irk a lot of people if you advertise it as a ‘straight’ sci-fi/horror movie. No one is going to buy this as a ‘real’ film, and if by some chance they did, those hopes and dreams would be crushed as soon as the alien craft landing on Earth is shown as (and I’m not kidding here) blurred car headlights and stock footage of a rocket blasting off ran in reverse. Rather than pretend this is something “legit,” it was a wise choice to play up the real strengths of the flick (such as they are).

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There’s the tape itself, with a fairly cheap identification label affixed to it. So now you know. Really, what more can I say about it?

Since I have several Betamax VCRs, there’s never an issue of playing Beta tapes (duh!), but I generally prefer VHS (due to convenience plus it being the format I grew up with and still predominantly use for this sorta thing). As fond as I am of the format, given the choice I probably would have went with a VHS copy over Beta. There is a major benefit to having this on Beta, however: higher quality video (yes, people still argue about this, but Betamax does look superior to my eyes). Granted, there’s only so much that can be done with The Creeping Terror; even a pristine 1st generation film print is probably going to look shoddy to an extent, because it’s just a shoddy film in general (that’s why people love it!).

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Even with the limited number of releases out there, there are worse looking versions. In fact, VCI’s version looks pretty darn good, all things considered. Sure, there’s plenty of film scratches and dust, some scenes are too dark, and some are too light, but the image itself is relatively sharp. I mean, I can actually read the copyright notice in the opening credits; a minor miracle? I really was able to pick out little details in this version that I couldn’t in others, small victory that may be.

From my very first viewing, I remember being mildly surprised that they used what appears to be the design from the opening credits of The Blob for the credits of this movie. Or maybe they technically didn’t and it just looks insanely close.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. You’ll get a better idea of this momentarily, but the superior sharpness of this particular print was evident as soon as those wondrous words that make up the name of this movie popped on-screen.

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You have no idea what a pain it was trying to get a decent screenshot of the titular character, and I still don’t think I was all that successful. I wanted an all-encompassing shot that would give those unfamiliar with the film an idea of just how goofy the monster is, but the thing is always moving around whilst surrounded by trees and shrubbery and whatnot. Plus, the screen often being on the dark side only made things more difficult for your Northeast Ohio Video Idiot Hunter. Even the back of the video box had trouble with this (scroll back up and see if y’all don’t believe me). Rest assured, it’s a giant shaggy-carpet monster with hoses of some sort protruding from its head. It looks really bad (which of course means it’s awesome). The mostly-obscured illustration on the front cover looks better than the actual in-movie monster (dull surprise, I know).

Much has been made of the “worst movie ever,” and from the screencaps of the monster alone it’s easy to see why The Creeping Terror frequently makes those lists, which I don’t disagree with. It is without a doubt one of the most inept movies ever made; I mean, even Manos: The Hands of Fate was in color and had real continuous dialogue (even if it was dubbed in later, not unlike the small bits of actual speech found in this film), and as silly as Torgo was/is, he’s infinitely more believable than the slow-moving title character of The Creeping Terror. And, hollow victory, The Creeping Terror is better than the similarly-narrated and similarly-hated The Beast Of Yucca Flats in my eyes. Kind of a wash, but whatever.

Actually, for as bad as it is, I’ve seen other movies that may technically be better but I’ve enjoyed far, far less. I’ve seen early-1970s European horror films that have actually left me depressed. The Creeping Terror, though? It’s too goofy to take even remotely seriously.

Though even I’ll admit that the goofiness can’t carry the entire movie. Despite what VCI says on the box, this movie only runs some 76 minutes, and there are long stretches where the monster eats person after person and/or stretches where there is no speech or narration, only silly music, which for all intents and purposes turns this into a silent movie. What I’m saying is the wackiness only goes so far before things become a little tiresome. Still, there’s obviously enough “huh?!” moments to save the whole thing (from a pure entertainment standpoint, at least). Otherwise, I wouldn’t love the flick as much as I do.

Just for the fun of it, here’s some comparison screenshots between my Betamax copy and the version I recorded off of WAOH TV-29 way back in 1998. Of course, since my Betamax copy is a commercially-released version recorded in the high-quality BII mode and the one I taped back in ’98 was recorded some 16 years ago in low-quality SLP off an over-the-air broadcast on a low-power independent station and on a good-but-not-great blank tape, there’s really no direct comparison between the two versions, but hey, let me do this. It brings me joy, and don’t I deserve some of that in my life?

(For all of these, Beta’s on the left, ’98 recording’s on the right. Got it? Good.)

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Remember that time I provided a screencap of the title screen? Here it is again, only twice-over. As the comparison demonstrates, the WAOH broadcast is always much grayer than the Beta. Furthermore, the sharpness of the Beta version is particularly evident here.

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This is our “hero,” the “star” Vic Savage, aka A.J. Nelson, who is responsible for the film. Vic Savage is a pseudonym, y’see? Does our leading man inspire confidence in his Creeping Terror-stopping abilities? I’ll let you be the judge.

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This is from the infamous “Bobby!” scene, in which the grandfather you’re seeing above goes searching for his grandson by stumbling about and constantly shouting “Bobby!” in the most annoying manner possible. Spoiler alert: They both get eated.

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I’m not sure which is more infamous, the aforementioned “Bobby!” or this “Community Dance Hall” scene, in which we’re shown several minutes worth of repetitive shots of people badly dancing while the same tune plays over and over and over. Spoiler alert: They all get eated.

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Man, The Creeping Terror on Betamax. I can’t quite place my finger on why, but it just seems so right. I’ll venture a guess that this was the only release of the movie on the format. Quite a leap, huh?

In lieu of the film as-is, less adventurous souls may opt to hunt down the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment on DVD, or VHS if one was so inclined. But even with Mike & The Bots, the film is pretty out there. ‘Course, if you’re feeling brave, the uncut version is also available on DVD, in a number of various multi-movie compilartions. As far as DVD goes though, your best option really is to hunt down the MST3K version, which, despite featuring the ever-annoying double-sided disc, has both their episode and the uncut movie.

As for me, I’ve got the MST3K version (on VHS and DVD), I’ve got the uncut version in a 12-movie DVD set, I’ve got my old WAOH recording, and now I’ve got this swanky VCI Betamax copy, which has immediately become a treasured part of my collection.

That’s a lotta The Creeping Terror, far more than should be allowed.

Cool recommended readins:

The Classic Horror Film Board Thread

Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension Review

The IMDb Page

Satellite News’ Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode Guide Page

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Retro TV Debut This Past Weekend (Also: The Musings Of A Lifelong MSTie On His Early Fandom.)

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*Standby for shameless gushing.*

This past weekend, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its Retro TV debut. I don’t want to say that all is now right with the world, but there’s little doubt that it’s just a little bit better place to live nevertheless.

I talked about this right after the announcement that MST3K reruns would be returning to TV via the Retro TV network, which in Northeast Ohio, is WAOH TV-29 in Akron, WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (the station formerly known as “The Cat.”) I’ve been counting the days (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) to July 5, and now that the “big event” (as I have deemed it) has occurred, well, I’m ecstatic. Lemme ‘splain a bit…

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Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show with the robots and the theater seats and the so much ripping on the bad movies. I could go into more specific details, but for the sake of whatever, let’s condense the summation to this: A guy and his two robots are stuck in outer space and forced to watch terrible movies as part of a mind-monitoring experiment, ostensibly in the hopes of ultimately ruling the world with “the worst movie ever made.”  Their only defense? Mocking (or “riffing”) the movies mercilessly.

Of all the shows I love or have loved, of all the shows I am or was an admitted fanatic of, in my own bizarre little world of personal mythologies, MST3K is and always be the “big one.” So much of what makes me, well, me started with MST3K. If I’m being honest with myself, perhaps not so much my initial fascination with movies or my need to continuously collect more of them; that had begun about a year before I discovered MST3K. But, there is little doubt that MST3K launched that fascination into the stratosphere (figuratively speaking, I mean; using the term in a literal sense would probably mean death or at least serious maiming on my part). After MST3K had the hooks in me, I was never the same.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 first started at a local TV station in Minneapolis in 1988, went national in 1989 on what would eventually become Comedy Central, and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1997, which is where I, at 10/11 years old, came in. Since I had a growing interest in old horror and sci-fi films already, it stands to reason that I was far more familiar with the Sci-Fi Channel than I was Comedy Central. When the initial promos proclaiming the series was moving to the channel began airing, I was already tuned into Sci-Fi. Indeed, prior to those advertisements, I was wholly unfamiliar with MST3K. I may have passed it while channel surfing, but that would have been the extent of my familiarity with the show.

An added bonus following my discovery of MST3K was that I began actively searching out the oddball titles, the weird, forgotten flicks, even films that evoked a certain time period I wasn’t around for (I’m looking at you, downbeat 1970’s movies! Relay my well-wishes to Keenan Wynn!) BUT, that was just a side-effect of MST3K fandom. The real benefit of becoming a fan was that it absolutely introduced me to a world of sharper, funnier comedy. It became (and remains) my first, biggest, and longest-lasting TV obsession.

Readers of this sad blog will no doubt have seen my numerous long, blabbering soliloquies of love posts regarding our Northeast Ohio movie hosts: Ghoulardi, Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John, The Ghoul, Son Of Ghoul, Superhost, and so on and so on. The fact of the matter is that my love of them initially began with MST3K, which as previously mentioned isn’t even a local product. I remember Superhost from his waning days on WUAB TV-43, I had caught Big Chuck & Lil’ John a few times before & during 1997 (and I certainly knew them as local personalities from all their local endorsements and whatnot) and I was probably vaguely aware of Ghoulardi, But MST3K was really the genesis of my whole movie-hosting fascination (even if I don’t necessarily consider MST3K quite the same thing, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why exactly I don’t.) After MST3K, there was a new appreciation for this sort of thing, which in turn lead to fandom for, respectively, Son Of Ghoul and The Ghoul, which continues to this day (and at points has reached the same fevered heights.)

Unlike some, I didn’t quite get hooked on MST3K right away; rather, it was kind of slow burn, a gradually building fandom. Initially, I was more interested in the movies, and the running commentary courtesy of the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen was an amusing bonus. But, the more I watched the show, the more I found myself digging it for more than just the featured movie of a given episode, though in all honesty the movie still did, and does, have a lot to do with how a particular episode “strikes” me (again, figuratively speaking. I’d hate to think of an episode physically punching me in the face!) The first half of the initial Sci-Fi season (in actuality the show’s 8th season on national TV, though finer points such as that were unbeknownst to me at the time) featured black & white films from the Universal library. That was the “slow burn” period of my fandom. Some of the movies I liked (The Deadly Mantis), others left me kinda cold (The Undead).

It wasn’t until the spring/summer of 1997 that things hit the fan for me (figuratively I mean, because…aw forget it, I’m tired of that gag.) It began with the May 31st airing of The Giant Spider Invasion, which I tuned into due to my burgeoning but not-quite-solidified fanaticism. After the initial shock of discovering that they were even allowed to run color movies wore off (remember, I was 11 years old, I had no real prior knowledge of the series, and in general never really knew what the hell I was talking about anyway,) things clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I finally, completely “got it.”

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The next week, MST3K was absolutely appointment television for me. The movie was Parts; The Clonus Horror, and the fire from the previous week turned into a full-out inferno. There was no turning back now. I was hooked, absolutely, and I’ve remained hooked ever since. Was it The Giant Spider Invasion episode or the Parts: The Clonus Horror episode that’s really responsible for turning me into a full-blown MSTie? It could go either way, and I tend to go back and forth. Spider was first, but Clonus had the bigger effect and is the episode that I hold more memories for and really feels more like the first. Plus, I think Parts: The Clonus Horror is a genuinely interesting, though not without faults, film. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.

All throughout the rest of summer 1997, I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 every chance I got, but alas, my ability to actually view the show was temporarily halted. At the time, the Sci-Fi Channel was a premium cable channel. I guess “premium” is the right term for it. You needed the cable box to pick the channel up, anyway. At the end of summer ’97, Dad decided he no longer wanted to pay for said cable box, and considering I was only 11 years old, had little say in the matter. So, out went the cable box, and with it, access to my favorite show. I had a few episodes recorded, I was able to get a far-away Aunt with Sci-Fi-access to tape a few more for me, and several episodes had been released on VHS by Rhino by that point, so I wasn’t completely Bot-deprived, but nevertheless, I had no *ordinary* access to my show, and this, needless to say, troubled me greatly.

Over the next several years, more and more episodes were made available on VHS and later DVD, I discovered the numerous tape-trading sites out in internet land, and even Sci-Fi joined the basic cable line-up, which allowed me to walk over to a much-nearer Aunt’s house to record episodes on Saturday mornings, something I took advantage of until January 31st 2004, when the final MST3K (The Screaming Skull) aired on Sci-Fi and thus TV in general…until now.

So, maybe now you’ve got some understanding as to why I treated the show’s Retro TV debut to something akin to the Super Bowl. I’m sure many people, fellow MSTies included, probably saw it as something neat but not necessary. Not me, though. It wasn’t for lack of MST3K, either; I’ve got a lot of episodes, and I think the majority of the series has been officially released on DVD by this point. Unlike 1997 me, I really have no shortage of the show.

No, my excitement stems from the fact that, frankly, I think a show as great as Mystery Science Theater 3000 needs to be on ‘real’ TV. Pristine DVD copies are terrific, of course, but there’s just something about knowing it’s out there, being broadcast over the airwaves. Furthermore, as mentioned waaaay at the top of this post, our Retro TV affiliate is WAOH/WAX. This is the same station that Son Of Ghoul airs on! After my ability to watch MST3K ended with the summer of ’97, I desperately searched for something like it to fill the void, which eventually lead to my discovering Son Of Ghoul. It wasn’t a “well, I guess it’s good enough” replacement either; SOG provided a somewhat different but nevertheless intensely fanatical, erm, fandom in me that continues to this day. Both shows airing on the same station is something I could have only dreamt of so many years ago, and the fact that it is now happening is, I don’t know, poetic justice? That doesn’t apply here at all, does it? It’s fitting to me, is what I’m tryin’ to say.

Plus, I haven’t been able to watch MST3K over the air in “real time” since 1-31-2004, and not in my own home since that summer of 1997. So, that’s nice.

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Following the initial announcement, my fervor was further stoked with a “coming soon” promo on Retro TV, which began airing soon after. It kept me more excited than any 10-second promo that consisted of a more-or-less static image and some sound bytes has a right to. More importantly, the fact it was airing several months in advance showed (to me, at least) that Retro TV was going to go the extra mile for the show. The commercial for Rifftrax’s live Sharknado only bolstered that feeling; if it weren’t for MST3K’s impending Retro TV arrival, I just couldn’t see that promo airing on the station otherwise.

Further proof that Retro TV was going to treat MST3K as something special was the later announcement that it would be airing twice on the weekends: Saturday at 8 PM EST, with an encore on Sundays at 5 PM EST.

This, however, presented a problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: Son Of Ghoul airs every Saturday from 7 PM to 9 PM. Usually, whatever was on Retro TV at 9 PM wouldn’t be preempted by local programming, so I figured we’d get at the very least one hour of MST3K before Off Beat Cinema at 10 PM. Prior to the 8 PM announcement, I had been presuming that MST3K wouldn’t be replacing the Saturday Off Beat Cinema, which in turn had replaced Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In (the normal Sunday Off Beat Cinema has continued before and since.)

Oddly enough, for as fanatic as I can be about this sort of thing, if the last hour of MST3K following SOG was all we Northeast Ohioans were going to get, I actually could have lived with that. I wouldn’t have preferred that situation, but some is better than none. And as it turned out, the un-preempted last hour after SOG is exactly what happened. Something about it just seemed so right for me: The show that MST3K lead me to, followed by the show that lead me to it…or something like that. It’s an entertaining three hours, is what I’m getting at.

Luckily, the Sunday 5 PM encore saved things for me, as that aired complete and uninterrupted. I was seriously concerned that infomercials would take MST3K’s place, but come Sunday, all was well.

The fact that MST3K was coming back to TV, even if only through reruns (running the gamut of the entire national run of the series, seasons 1-10,) was such a source of excitement for me that the actual episode that was premiering became sort of an afterthought…

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Retro TV kicked things off with the third episode of the first season, the 1942 PRC cheapie The Mad Monster. It’s a mega-low budget werewolf film, and needless to say, it ain’t very good (a bad movie on this show?! Go figure!) Here’s the deal with the first season: like any good show, there was a period of groove-finding. That is, it’s a hit-or-miss episode at best. I’m not a big fan of the first season anyway; I mean, sure, I generally like it, but after seeing the heights the show reached in the following seasons, it can be tough to go backwards. Add to that an installment of the Radar Men From The Moon serial they covered, which I’ve traditionally been pretty lukewarm at best on, and well, it’s a case where you’ve really got to look at the bigger picture.

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Keep in mind, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth; I understand Retro TV logically has to start at the beginning, and it’s probably better to get these weaker episodes out of the way first rather than throwing them in the middle of a run of strong episodes, and rest assured, the vast majority of the Retro TV line-up is downright killer (the list has been modified a bit since the initial announcement. You can read the current retro TV package courtesy of Satellite News here.)

It’s also easy to forget in this day and age of rampant DVD releases and/or otherwise easy access, that for years the season one episodes were scarce. At a certain point, as per request of The Brains (the affectionate MSTie name for the showrunners) the early episodes just weren’t shown on Comedy Central. Eventually some were ran again, but bottom line is that they were greatly downplayed in comparison to episodes from the rest of the series. SO, the fact that some of them (only two at the moment – The Corpse Vanishes is the next episode coming up before they head, briefly, into season two) are running at all, well, they still have that “hey these are kinda rare!” aura, even if they’re really not anymore. I wasn’t even watching the show during the Comedy Central days, and they still sort of feel that way to me.

My main concern here is that someone that has heard of MST3K and may be familiar with the Rifftrax/Cinematic Titanic projects will tune in, not be impressed, and come away thinking the show is wildly overrated. Give it a few weeks guys! Things get good with season two and great with season three on up! Don’t judge until you’ve seen Pod People!

To the episode’s credit, despite my general feelings toward the season (particularly the earlier half of the season,) I did find myself laughing or at least chuckling more than I expected to. I wouldn’t say any part of the episodes amounts to “home run” status, but if nothing else, it’s enjoyable.

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And there are a few nice bits, host segment-wise. The bit where Tom Servo hits on a food processor is particularly memorable, at least as far as the first season is concerned (it’s also a remake of a skit originally done at KTMA.) The show got much better in following seasons, but there are always moments, always the flashes of brilliance, that made MST3K so, erm, brilliant.

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From previous experience, I knew that our feed of Retro TV isn’t always the clearest. Not compared to the local broadcasting that airs on the channel, and certainly not compared to things broadcast on most other stations, and that holds true for MST3K in Northeast Ohio. It’s really my biggest and only actual complaint about being able to watch my favorite show on ‘real’ TV again. Even then, it’s a fairly minor quibble. That said, when I tuned in following SOG on Saturday night, initially I couldn’t tell if they were even playing MST3K. The quality was so dark (which wasn’t helped by the terrible print of the movie in the first place) that I wasn’t sure until I heard the riffs being thrown at the film. When things are light onscreen, it’s not so bad, but for large stretches of the episode, it was difficult, even impossible, to see the theater seats (see above.)

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Those were my observations at least, and mileage may vary in other markets or even elsewhere in Northeast Ohio. But, at the end of the day, none of that really changes the fact that it feels damn good to see images like the one above playing on my TV screen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on the air, where it should be. And for me, I can watch it on the same station as Son Of Ghoul. You have no idea how beyond cool I find that. Most of the episodes being broadcast feature movies in the public domain, so I hold no illusions of some of my all-time favorites such as Agent For H.A.R.M. or the aforementioned Parts: The Clonus Horror eventually showing up.

But that’s okay. I’ll watch this stuff endlessly no matter what they air, because I love the show just that much. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m not that far removed from my 11 year old self, watching the show all throughout that summer 17 years ago.

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Gee, that was a swell movie!” Wait, wrong show.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Returning To TV?!

(UPDATE: It happened! Read about it here!)

It looks like it’s true!

Looks like I’m a day late on this one; I was so wrapped up in my WFLD Batman post yesterday after work that this totally slipped past me. You have no idea how much I’m flipping out right now. Okay, so I’m not literally slam-dancing or anything like that, but on the inside, I’m totally going nuts. I’ve been waiting years for this to happen, along with no doubt countless other MSTies. July 5th can’t come fast enough for me!

(Don’t know what Mystery Science Theater 3000 is? Read the link! Real quick: it was a show where a guy and his two robots heckle a bad movie.)

The link doesn’t mention which/how many episodes will air on Retro TV; the mention of 11 seasons and both Joel and Mike makes it vaguely (to me) give the impression that it will be all of them, but I somehow doubt that; there are just too many rights issues involved with so many of the movies featured on the show. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be any more thrilled no matter what episodes they’ve acquired rights to, and you’d better believe I’m taping all of them, though I probably already own most of them. I’m going to take a wild guess and suppose that only the shows featuring public domain movies will be ran. And I’d be totally fine with that. That’s still plenty of good MST3K for me.

(EDIT: Satellite News has the info: 26 episodes, many but not all of the movies are in the public domain.)

Oh, I have the episodes I originally recorded myself, as well as episodes I bought/traded for, and of course I have many (but not quite all) of the DVD sets, but there’s just something about the fact that MST3K will be back on ‘real’ TV that makes the world a little bit better place. It’s been over 10 years since the series has been on broadcast television; The Sci-Fi Channel (no, it wasn’t “SyFy” yet) ran one last episode on January 31st, 2004 (experiment 912 – The Screaming Skull) before dropping it.

So, yeah, I’m stoked. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back to TV, and that, my friends, is awesome.

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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UAV’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians 1987 VHS Release

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Tis the season? For one of the worst movies ever made it certainly is. If I’m gonna get a post out of this one, baby, the time is now. It’s 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie that not only lives up to the promise of awfulness delivered in the title, but actually surpasses it. It’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and make no mistake, that ranking is justified. It’s not so much an ‘offensive’ bad though; don’t get me wrong, it’s probably capable of killing a few brain cells, but you probably won’t feel like taking a shower afterwards, like you would if this were Manos: The Hands Of Fate or something.

Back in the good old days of late-1990’s Ebay, before films like this were reissued on DVD, I remember this (and other) copies of the movie going for some good dollars. Maybe not mighty dollars, but definitely mightier dollars. It was the same deal with any number of old then-long-out-of-print videos, such as Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis, and the VHS release of the M*A*S*H series finale (and Heaven help you if you wanted a Laserdisc copy of any of those, because then you would need to spend the mighty dollars). Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get even a few bucks for VHS copies of those, but back then, you’d have to pry open the wallet a bit. I know I certainly did, particularly in the case of Moroder’s Metropolis.

When I found this particular copy at Goodwill for the low, low bargain price of $1, those days were long gone, but I still received a residual thrill when I came across it. And what makes it even better is that this copy is sealed, all new and minty fresh-like. This post won’t be the last time you see me talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians this holiday season (and I know just saying that now obligates me to a future post that at this point is still only a half-formed idea, but sometimes I need that extra incentive), so I don’t really want to open & play it to take screencaps; how many new sealed copies can still be out there nowadays? Plus, it’s out on DVD (I have a budget copy with the title Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens), and it’s public domain, so you can even download it without fear of the authorities kicking down your door and beating the hell out of you, which is always preferable. My point is, the actual movie is readily available if you want to see it, so lets just look at the finer points of this stupid tape.

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Ignoring the gaudy cover photo, which, if the title somehow didn’t tip you off, points definitively to the fact that this is an awful, awful movie, my favorite part of the cover is actually the Christmas banner at the top. As if this is a heartwarming tape you’d want to bust out every Christmas Eve and watch with the kids or something. Theoretically meant to be a treasured part of your Christmas library, suitable for placement next to Rudolph and Chuck Brown, if you will. There’s also the declaration of “Christmas Videos,” which is just awkward as all hell; is that the best they could come up with? I get it was probably a budget line of seasonal tapes or something, but geez, say “Treasury Of Christmas Classics,” or “Holiday Film Favorites,” or even a quirky “Santa’s Top Flix Pix” (I should be getting a million dollars a week for these ideas). As it stands, the horribly generic “Christmas Videos” works more as a lame descriptive device than it does as a vehicle to get you to add this tape to yer videa library (didn’t stop me from buying it, obviously).

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Of course, ragging on the front cover is really just me being a nitpicky bastard. The back of the box, though, they make it too easy. The description reeks of half-assery. “A bunch of aliens,” huh? That’s the best they could kick things off with? My high school English teacher would have punched me in the face if I turned in a paper that included a line like that. I guess you shouldn’t expect much out of a description that is five sentences long and wastes one of them on Pia Zadora. I get that her name is almost always a big selling-point for releases of this film, and it’s not so much the inclusion of it that bothers me. Rather, it’s the whole “precocious” remark that I find particularly irritating. Never mind that her character isn’t really any more precocious than any of the other kids in the movie (maybe even less so, when compared to the Earth kids), it’s just an odd comment in general. “Oh, Pia Zadora is precocious in this? Well, I had my doubts, but now I’ve gotta buy it!” Seriously, why even bother including that? On the plus side, the first part of the description sums up the film aptly, which is good, because it saves me time trying to explain this crap.

But, maybe I’m being a little harsh on a thousand year old budget tape. It was meant for the lil’ baby childrens, after all. And when you’ve got a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, you have to do what you can to make the sale. Maybe it was easier back then, before the innernets, when all you had was Leonard Maltin and his cronies to tell you about ancient movies such as this. Something tells me most parents weren’t consulting Mr. Maltin’s annual movie guide prior to heading to K-Mart where tapes such as this were inevitably found.

“A must for your Christmas video library.” Ha! Told you that’s what they were going for! The best thing about that whole “Christmas Library” ideal actually isn’t even part of this particular video. Rather, there were other VHS releases of Santa Claus Kicks Martian Ass Conquers The Martians that really took the theme to new heights. I don’t have ’em, and thus can’t post photos (I refuse to nab another person’s pics), but some of them went all-out. Ribbons & bows, Santa on his sleigh, and so on. I feel a little cheated on that front, but screw it, mine’s sealed.

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I did done told you it was sealed! Would I lie to you? Never! The fear remains that this could have been opened and re-shrinkwrapped at some point in the past, a revelation that would cause me to lose sleep for several weeks days. But, I doubt it. The box is in too nice of shape.

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That be it, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, via UAV’s 1987 VHS release. For all of my joking, the film has become a perennial holiday favorite. Not for the reasons the producers probably would have intended, mind you. This isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life Part II. Rather, it has instead become the choice of bad movie lovers the world over, having gained a cult following that’s really quite impressive, especially for a film that isn’t the original Night Of The Living Dead. Mystery Science Theater 3000 once tackled it, and for years it was the movie featured in Son of Ghoul’s annual Christmas show. Only the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus holds a similar dubious honor, conversely The Ghoul’s annual Christmas movie choice (and MST3K riffed that one, too). Of the two, I prefer …Martians, if for no other reason than I find it less freakish, but suitably oddball nevertheless. Plus, the persistent rumor that Jamie Farr is in it makes the film all the more endearing to me (no, Klinger’s not really in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, but I sure wish he was; such is my love of M*A*S*H).