Tag Archives: mst3k

Mill Creek’s 3-Disc The Best of the Worst 12-Movie DVD Set

 

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Look what I got! A 12-movie, 3-disc budget DVD set of what are, ostensibly, the best of the worst movies ever made! Cool winnins! I was stoked to get this! And it was cheap, too! In general, this set tends to run, from what I’ve heard, between $5 to $10, a price that is completely acceptable even for someone that’s as perpetually broke as I am (mine was $5). And if awful, awful movies are what you’re after, the first disc alone warrants that price (we’ll get to all that in a bit).

Even though this came out in 2013, I just found out about it recently. Guess I’ve been off my budget DVD game. It’s put out by Mill Creek, who have, over the last several years, proven themselves to be purveyors of fine, fine DVD releases. I’m not just saying that because I dream of them sending me a bunch of free crap, either; any company that releases the complete series of Hunter is automatically my friend.

The fine folks at Mill Creek are no strangers to releases such as this, either; there are several budget DVD sets of cheapie horror/sci-fi flicks put out by them. They follow a similar format, except this set is the only one to come right out and tell you that the movies contained within are gonna blow. Since the ‘genre’ of bad movies is particularly popular right now, it’s a pretty smart move on Mill Creek’s part. Hey, got me to buy it, and isn’t that the really important factor here?

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(Click on the pic for a, how do you say, super-sized view.)

I can’t help but feel this is a set geared towards fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which as has been proven time and time again, is exactly what I am). And It’s not only because of the whole “these are bad movies you can laugh at” concept, either; a full half of the selections on here were featured on MST3K. There were a lot of bad movies on the show, yes, but considering one of the films featured here is known solely because of MST3K, well, I don’t think it’s coincidental marketing (or whatever you’d want to call it).

Though as a longtime MSTie, I tend to see allusions to the show where they weren’t intended to be, so take that for what you will.

Like so many budget DVD sets, the titles found here are limited to the realm of the public domain, which I don’t mind a bit. Sure, some of these movies have been making the rounds for decades, going back to the VHS days (I’m looking at you specifically, The Terror), but when they’re put together under the banner of “entertainingly bad films,” it all clicks in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Why pretend these are something they aren’t? It’s a move I absolutely respect, though in all fairness I does loves me a good bad movie (plus that whole MSTie thing); your mileage may vary, however.

However, If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really agree that these are all the best of the worst. There’s a few titles that, while undoubtedly ‘bad’ movies, feel more like filler than anything. Like I said before, Mill Creek has put out other similar sets, and it just seems to me that they used up many of their “heavy hitters” already across those. Example: there’s just no reason The Creeping Terror, one of the most infamous bad movies ever, shouldn’t be on here. Keep in mind that Mill Creek did indeed get the rights to release it (contrary to popular belief, it’s not public domain), on their 12 Creature Features set, so the absence of shag carpet monsters and insane narration on The Best of the Worst is a little head scratching. I guess I can see them not wanting to repeat titles across their various sets, which I applaud, but for the films that are here and what this set purports to be overall, it still feels like a particularly glaring omission to me.

Don’t get me wrong though. While I think there could have been just a bit more refinement in the selections, I am overwhelmingly happy with the set. And besides, despite the title, this probably isn’t really intended to be the end-all be-all release of the best bad movies ever. It’s a $5-$10 bargain DVD set, after all; there’s plenty here to justify that small amount, at any rate.

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The set consists of three, single-sided discs with four movies on each one. Since many of these are pretty short, it’s not an unreasonable amount. All three discs fit in a regular-sized DVD case, on one single spindle. That means if you want to watch a disc that isn’t directly on top, you’ll have to physically remove one or two discs first, but it’s a small price to pay for such a fantastic load of crappy, crappy movies.

And with that said, lets take a brief look at the actual contents of the set, because hey, that’s what the people want, right?

(I might as well say right now that some of the movies on this set I’m more familiar with than others. Most of them I’ve seen, but some I saw looong ago; I’m not claiming to have sat down and watched every one of these exhaustively while taking notes for this. I’m just giving the straight dope on the set, you make up your own minds from there, paisanos.)

Disc One

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The menu for each disc is super simple. What you’re seeing above is basically it. The two film reels in the corners continuously spin, but that’s as close as things get to a “wow!” factor. Not that it really matters, because c’mon, when you’re getting this much bang for your buck, there comes a point when demanding even more turns you from wanting the most for your money into a nitpicky whiner. Cut that stuff out, man. (Says the guy who just complained that The Creeping Terror isn’t here.)

In terms of badness, this first disc is absolutely the roughest of the three. For anyone trying to make it through the whole thing in order, the rest will almost (almost) come as a relief after making it through this one. Disc one includes a bad movie, a really bad movie, and two legitimate contenders for worst film ever. In other words, the entire price of the set is justified in the first disc alone.

Also, all four of these movies appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I’ll say up front that it’s often strange to realize there won’t be any riffs; you’re watching these as-is. The more well-known the respective episode is, the odder it feels, and there are points where you (or at least I) will instinctively think of the appropriate riffs.

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Can you say “starting things off with a bang?” Manos: The Hands Of Fate, a film that would have been completely and utterly forgotten after its disastrous 1966 El Paso premiere had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrecting it and turning it into one of the most loved bad movies ever. Despite being movie one, disc one, this is really the centerpiece of The Best of the Worst, as far as I’m concerned. Mill Creek must have realized that, as the portrait of “The Master” under the credits on the back of the DVD make clear. Forget the other 11 movies on the set, Manos alone is worth the price of admission.

The beauty (ha!) of the film is that it’s just such a mess. The camera used could only film 30+ seconds at a time, making for really weird continuity. Furthermore, it was filmed silent, so all of the voices were dubbed in later (at least they didn’t go the hackneyed narration route). The capper? It was very literally made on a bet by an inexperienced El Paso, Texas fertilizer salesman (director-producer-writer-star Harold P. Warren). The plot is all over the place, and the music ranges from awkward to downright unacceptable. Basically, every aspect of the film that can be wrong, is.

But, except for a really screwed up scene during the conclusion, it’s really not a movie you can full-on hate, because it is just so utterly out there. Manos tells the tale of a family stranded at remote lodge that is in actuality the base of operations for a polygamous cult that worships “manos.” There’s “The Master” (who rarely, if ever, approves), his constantly bickering bevy of wives, a necking couple in a car that serves no purpose, and some cops that are even more useless. But the character most everyone loves is big-knee’d, shuffling, twitchy-faced, jerky-voiced Torgo (That’s him above), the caretaker of the lodge. Torgo gets his own goofy theme music and, despite technically being a bad guy, winds up becoming something of an anti-hero, even after he makes the worst pass at a woman outside of me. I have a hard time believing the movie would be so loved if it weren’t for Torgo.

I won’t even try to explain further the wonderfully bizarre circumstances surrounding this film, so let Wikipedia tell you all about it. If you like bad movies but haven’t seen Manos yet, well, it’s pretty hard to top. Like I said before, worth the price of admission alone.

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Being on a budget DVD set isn’t necessarily an indicator of public domain status, but word on the street is that this film has indeed lapsed. Which is fine by me, because this is one of the bigger surprises (for me, anyway) on the set. It’s also the newest selection on it, if you can consider 1976 “new.” The subject of one of my very favorite MST3K episodes, this is really bad (and thus, really good) 1970s sci-fi, complete with the dreary color scheme that must have colored the entire decade. It’s just ‘horrific’ enough to satisfy the masses, but just goofy enough to keep things from becoming overly depressing. Featured during the final season, it was and is perfect MST3K fodder for the Sci-Fi Channel era of the show.

Did you know that being hit in the head by a piece of meteorite (“Moon rocks? Oh wow!“) can turn you into killer lizard monster that somehow ties into Native American folklore? Well it can, and to a hapless anthropologist, it does. Also included: Johnny Longbow’s killer stew recipe, a shop that sells both coins and guns, and a tent full of old guys. Oh, and a live performance of the smash hit, “California Lady.” Is it wrong that I’m considering making an MP3 of the song for iTunes?

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Now is as good a time as any to mention that the quality of the films on the set vary from feature to feature, but the condition of the prints is overall better that many “cheapie” movie sets out there. Thus far, Track of The Moon Beast looks okay, and Manos is, well, Manos, but the print used for The Beast Of Yucca Flats is absolutely terrific. There are the occasional scratches and dust, but it’s mostly very clean, crisp and clear. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie look better.

Which is a hollow victory, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the worst film in the entire set. The product of Coleman Francis’ fevered mind, and just like everything else Francis set his hand to, it’s a slimy, unpleasant film. Unlike Manos, which is also grimy but also, against all odds, somehow endearing, Beast is just an ugly, ugly movie. Even star Tor Johnson, who I normally find quite entertaining, can’t save it. Say what you want about Ed Wood, Coleman Francis was an infinitely worse filmmaker. I can’t decide if this is better or worse than Francis’ other cinematic abominations, The Skydivers and Red Zone Cuba (both also featured on MST3K), but in the end, if it has Francis’ name on it, there is no genuine “better,” just different levels of “awful.”.

The plot is some tripe about a defecting Soviet scientist (I hope can you buy Tor Johnson as a scientist, because that is exactly what the film posits) that gets caught in a nuclear blast and is turned into a mindless killer. Even the narrator’s deathless non-sequitur of “Flag on the moon; how did it get there?” can’t provide enough comedic momentum to sustain viewers through the 50+ minute (yes, really) running time.

Oh, the narrator? Yeah, this movie has no real dialogue; it’s almost entirely narrated (by Coleman himself), and what in-movie speech there is isn’t actually synchronized with the film; it’s spoken when mouths aren’t clearly visible or even on-screen at all. The Creeping Terror pulled that crap too, but there it wound up funny. Here though, it just makes you resent life and the fact that something like this could not only be made but also released to an unsuspecting public.

I hate this movie and can’t say enough bad things about it, which of course means it’s a perfect addition to the proceedings, simply because of how sickeningly, jaw-droppingly bad it is.
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After the soul-crushing saga that is The Beast Of Yucca Flats, Eegah almost comes as a respite, and rest assured, that’s not a statement I make lightly, because there aren’t many instances where Eegah can ever be seen as a respite.

Long story short: a caveman still exists in a California desert, he develops an attraction to a teenage girl, kidnaps her father, kidnaps her, they both get saved by the girl’s guitar-wielding boyfriend (though he doesn’t save them with the guitar; that would be just too much!), the caveman follows the whole lot to a pool party, and gets shotted dead. The end.

Eegah is frequently listed as one of the worst films of all-time, a rating that I find just a little overrated. Oh, it’s really bad alright, and there’s an icky shaving scene, an even ickier implication that there was some off-screen romancin’ afoot between the teenage girl and the guy who plays her dad, and an even ickier moment when the girl’s dad basically tells her to put up with Eegah’s affections. There’s even some superfluous songs by the boyfriend (played by Arch Hall Jr., who y’all will recall I met; Arch is a very cool guy and a lot of fun to talk to)!

But, even with all that, I never saw Eegah rising to the levels of near-unwatchability such as, well, the previous movie on this set did. For the most part, it’s 1960’s drive-in schlock, and while it’s certainly terrible, it’s not that terrible. I have a hard time hating anything like this from the decade where, at least on the surface, it’s all meant to be relatively innocent. I guess.

Watch out for snakes!

Disc Two

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Disc two is probably the least painful in the set. Only one movie on it (The Atomic Brain) is gut-wrenchingly terrible. Unfortunately, as far as that whole “movies so bad they’re good” vibe goes, it’s also where the set loses some steam, and from here on out, things are a bit hit-or-miss. The fun-factor never goes away completely, but after that powerhouse (ha!) of a first disc, well, it’s a hard act to follow.

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The Ape Man! Starring Bela Lugosi! Bela is always a plus, and it allows Mill Creek to draw on his name on the back cover. I think Scared To Death may have been a better choice as far as “bad-good” goes (and it’s a color movie, to boot), but I was actually kinda pleased to see The Ape Man here. Though in all honesty, I just kinda skimmed this one here and I don’t recall seeing it in the past, so maybe that’s an unfounded viewpoint.

The plot is formula stuff. Lugosi is a mad scientist whose experiments cause him to turn into the titular character. It’s a poverty row Lugosi flick, though I’m the first to admit that I have a soft spot for those.

And really, that points to my main area of interest with this one: after Dracula succeeded in stereotyping him somethin’ fierce, by the 1940s Lugosi was forced to take on mega-cheap horror/sci-fi flicks not unlike this one. It’s a good example of his film work at the time, to see a legitimate movie legend reduced to movies of this caliber. But, it’s usually fun to see him in anything, and even when it’s a by-the-numbers affair like this, his magnetism can drive the film further than a different actor may have. Plus, the low-budget affairs of the 1930s and 1940s, while obviously not comparable to Universal’s output, can often be pretty entertaining time wasters.

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The Amazing Transparent Man, another flick that popped up on MST3K. I first saw it on The Ghoul, waaay back in 1999 or 2000 (I still have my recording of the episode somewhere). Truth be told, it’s another feature that I think really isn’t that bad. I don’t think anyone will claim it to be good, but it’s relatively painless.

The title makes it sound more spectacular than it really is. It’s actually just a low-budget twist on the classic “invisible fella” formula, only this time with a mad scientist trying to create a slew of invisible baddies as part of a world domination scheme. He enlists a criminal to act as a guinea pig and steal the needed ingredients to complete the scheme.

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The last MST’d movie on the set, and whoo-boy is it a baddie. This is the low-point of disc two, and it absolutely deserves a place of honor in this collection.

The Atomic Brain is some hokum about a decrepit old woman that wants to switch brains with a younger dame. Eternal youth or some crap like that. Eventually, someone’s brain ends up in the head of a cat somehow. I don’t know, this one causes my eyes to glaze over pretty bad, even on MST3K.

The real eyebrow raiser here is just how sexist the movie is towards women, especially since it is woman as the catalyst for all of these shenanigans.

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First off, it was a pain trying to find a good ‘action’ screencap for this one; I was never satisfied with the choices, and even now I’m really not all that happy with my pick. It’s an axe crashing through a wall is what is.

The plot is one of those “fake crime turning into a real one” deals, as a woman trying to scheme her way into a family’s will leads to some very real axe murders.

The really interesting thing about Dementia 13 isn’t so much what it is (though it’s a fairly violent movie for the early-1960s) but rather who was behind it: none other than Francis Ford Coppola! You know, The Godfather guy. Mr. Apocalypse Now himself! And believe it or not, this was his very first ‘legit’ movie! I wouldn’t say it gives much indication of the esteem that would later befall Coppola, though it’s really not all that bad, but it’s most definitely cool to see one of his super early efforts.

Disc Three

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Do you mind if I power through this last disc? For as much as I like The Best of the Worst, my enthusiasm for this post is waning fast. Maybe it’s for the best, as in my opinion the last disc is the least interesting of the three. Still, there is entertainment to be had here, though in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t ever seen the last two movies on this disc in their entirety, because frankly, I just don’t care. Does that cause me to lose my reviewer credentials? I don’t care about that, either.

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I first saw Unknown World on Son of Ghoul, and it’s less of a “really bad” movie and more of a “painfully dull” movie.

Having been made in the 1950s, nuclear war and whatnot was a particularly major concern, and here, some scientists have devised a tunneling device to burrow deep into the earth to escape said calamity, should it occur. They do just that, and then…nothing much happens. Well, things happen, but none of them are all that interesting. I mean, burrowing into the earth should provide just as much fodder as an outer space plot could, and yet, the movie completely misses the mark.

No, I don’t enjoy this one, not one bit.

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The Terror, a movie that I have tried multiple times to like. No kidding, I want to enjoy this one so much, and it just never, never happens. The saturated colors, Gothic scenery, and stars Boris Karloff AND Jack Nicholson (he’s probably pretty proud of this movie) seem like an absolute recipe for a good time, and yet, it just never does it for me. Furthermore, it’s a film I just can’t get away from. I have it so many times over on various budget movie DVDs/tapes/sets, and even recordings on both The Ghoul and Son of Ghoul, and still it only leaves me chilly frosty cold.

Set in the 1800s, Nicholson is a Napoleonic soldier (the role he was born to play!) that winds up at Karloff’s castle and right into a ghostly scenario. Karloff is being haunted by the ghost of a woman he killed, which in turn is under the control of a witch, and then some stuff happens and it ends.

Really, aside from a couple scenes of rotting corpses and a relatively graphic falcon (?) attack, there’s not a whole lot memorable about this one, and truth be told, I have a hard time following the plot. Rumor has it that this was made in only a couple of days, and, well, it shows.

Man I want to like this movie!

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Don’t get too excited, the title seems more lurid than the actual movie, though you’ll be pleased to know it stars Uncle Fester. Some crap about a scientist in Mexico creating animals from humans or humans from animals or I don’t even know. The movie is public domain, I don’t have to worry about providing a satisfactory summary. Here, go to Wikipedia and learn all about it!

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And finally, no bad movie collection would be complete without a contribution from Jerry Warren, and here it is. The quality looks like it comes from a VHS tape and some of the dialogue is unintelligible. It sounds like it’s a suckier version of Unknown World, though I refuse to take a closer look at the actual movie to back those claims up. Here, Wikipedia is yo’ frien’ again.

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I love this set. I really do. The mere sight of it fills me with joy. Yeah, it kinda runs out of steam for me by the end, but the concept alone is just so cool that I don’t really mind. It’s absolutely worth the couple of bucks it fetches wherever you may find it, so yeah, if it crosses your path, I’d say give it a go.

Hey, Mill Creek, how about a Volume 2? You’ve already got a guaranteed sale in me, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

(Here is Mill Creek’s official website and here is the product page for this set.)

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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.

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.

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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.

TGG Direct’s 3-Disc Gamera DVD Set (Review)

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Remember this picture from the end of this post? Of course you don’t! Well, this is Wal-Mart’s current (well, current when I started writing this post approximately 112 years ago) display in support of the 2014 Godzilla remake. In that previous post, I made a mention of the $5 Gamera set that I bought from said display. Look at the bottom row, near the center – thas da one. As you may very well surmise (because I just told you), this is that very set! What are the odds?! Well, technically, the subject of this post is a second set I bought from the very same display. Why? Because I’m a complete and total weirdo, THAT’S WHY.

Released by TGG Direct (ostensibly in 2013, though the first time I saw it was in the aforementioned Wal-Mart display capitalizing on the 2014 Godzilla), this looks like it could quite conceivably be the end-all be-all budget Gamera set. Officially titled Japanese Monster Movies, that’s erm, exactly what it consists of.

For those lacking in such important knowledge, Gamera was a giant flying, fire breathing turtle, more or less Daiei’s answer to Toho’s Godzilla. I’ll get to this more as I look at the actual contents of the set, but real quick: The first film was released to U.S. theater’s in 1966 as Gammera The Invincible, and several of the sequels went straight to U.S. television via American International Pictures. In the 1980’s, Sandy Frank, purveyor of such imported fare, re-released five of the films in the original series with new titles and dubs to U.S. video and television. Frank’s versions were the ones seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and for the most part (Gamera Vs. Monster X being the exception), they were the versions I was most familiar with growing up.

Nowadays though, I prefer the original U.S. theatrical version of the first film and the AIP versions of the sequels. Sure, I know there are super-deluxe versions of the original films now out on BluRay, but my preferred Gamera’s are the old school U.S. versions (as usually seen in these budget releases, because they lapsed into the public domain years ago.) Yes, the picture is often faded/blurry/grainy/scratchy, and yes, there was some editing for television, but I can’t help it, these are the ones I want to watch. I don’t know, I guess I just find them more charming. Mega-fans will want the subtitled uncut Japanese prints, sure, and some may argue that the Sandy Frank dubs of the 1980’s are better just because they aren’t (as?) edited, but as much as I like Gamera, these older U.S. versions are the ones I dig the most.

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Anyway, I grabbed this second set for strict reviewin’ purposes, after which it will be relegated to downstairs TV-viewing status (that is, it’s something that will play in the background while I screw around on my sad little blog.) That way, should some calamity befall it, at least I wouldn’t be messing up my ‘good’ copy. Besides, at $5 a pop, I couldn’t afford not to buy a second copy (whatever that means.) When I went back for this one, it was the very last one in the display. Will they get more in, or did I get the last one ever? I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll go back to Wal-Mart for awhile, just so I can maintain this almost certainly unwarranted feeling of pointlessly smug superiority.

Besides, look at it up there. Look at it. It’s a slick lookin’ beast. Yeah, it’s definitely a budget release, but I’ve seen waaaay more amateurish looking things in the bargain bins than this. It’s a fairly simple cover, I guess, but *I* certainly find it aesthetically appealing. Relatively so, at least.

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And just look at that movie line-up listed on the back cover! Pretty darn impressive! Now, I don’t want to say that’s every classic-era Gamera flick, because I know the second I do I’ll actually be forgetting one and someone will call me on it. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of Gamera (plus one non-Gamera) for the money.

To be completely honest, I’m a total sucker for cheapo DVD sets like this: $5 for 3-discs of (supposedly) public domain Gamera goodness? I never can resist. Previously, I had stuck with a few other sets for my cheap Gamera fix, but based on the first impressions generated by the cover art of TGG Direct’s product, this could be the “ultimate.”

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I also really, really like the fact that these come in a normal-sized DVD case, as opposed to a double-wide case or something. Just looks nicer and more neat on a shelf to me. There is one caveat to this format, however…

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Rather than use separate spindles, the discs come on one hub, stacked on top of each other. I haven’t any problems (yet,) but it seems like this way to store the discs makes it too easy to inadvertently scratch them. Plus, it’s just more of a pain getting the disc you want out. I know, I know, it’s only $5, why complain.


DISC 1

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The menus are, save for the respective movies, the same on each disc, featuring a variation of that cover art that I’m so, so fond of. The menu screen isn’t exactly flashy, and certainly not interactive, but hey, it don’t take much to keep me happy.

This disc menu also points to something I didn’t bring up when looking at the back cover: these flicks aren’t in chronological order. It’s a mild irritant, sure, but for first-time viewers (and those are the people I’m guessing this set is really aimed at; those that like ‘Zilla and are cravin’ more big giant monster action), the disjointed nature of the film selection may be a bit confusing.

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Case in point: the set kicks off with the second film in the series, which makes references to the first film, which doesn’t come until the second disc. War Of The Monsters, later known as Gamera Vs. Barugon, is the most serious in the series. The thing with the old Gamera flicks is that by and large they’re aimed at kids; that’s to say, most of ’em are pretty juvenile in nature. There was an annoying kid in the first film, but the initial two movies are more serious affairs. The sequel, though, has no annoying children and a relatively dark plot. It’s probably the most “Toho-ish” of the original Gamera series.

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The first time I saw it (under the Sandy Frank Gamera Vs. Barugon title) I wasn’t real big on it, but the more I see it the more I dig it. The particular print used in this DVD is one of the rougher ones. It definitely has that old-school “ran on TV 8000 times back in the day” look to it. I mean, you can see the edge of the film’s frame, for cryin’ out loud! It looks similar to an early-1980’s recorded-off-local-TV Beta copy of the film I have.

But, that old-style look of this and (most of) the other prints used in this set is precisely what I find so endearing about this whole thing. Hardcore fans will of course want pristine prints, and in that case TGG’s product will irritate them mightily. But me? I love the images of Saturday afternoon monster movie matinees that the whole thing evokes.

Lest the uninitiated be confused to the point of a crying jag, that’s Barugon up above.

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Not to be confused with Destroy All Monsters, which is a ‘Zilla romp. Also known as Gamera Vs. Viras, this is Gamera #4, chronologically speaking. I’ve had this one for years on a dollar-DVD, but aside from “playing on the TV in the background” status, I never paid much attention to it. This is one of those juvenile-oriented entries; I mean, there’s a scout troop in this one! Naturally, two of those “precocious” kids figure prominently in the plot. I don’t need mah monster films to be strictly “all bidness,” but overtly childish is something I don’t always find entertaining.

Then again, I like Gamera films, and most of them are childish, and I knew that going in, so I’m probably just full of it. Plus, to be completely honest, not too long ago I watched this film again (or for the very first time, depending on your viewpoint) on Off Beat Cinema, and I really didn’t mind it. Silly, sure, but surprisingly not bad, in my worthless humble opinion.

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Just to spite me, at one point Gams gets stabbed in the gut. What could be more endearing to the lil’ baby childs than that? Of course, Gamera ends up no worse for wear by the end.


DISC 2

Disc two kicks off with the first film in the series, follows up with perhaps the most whacked out film in the series, and ends up with something pretty interesting. Are you thinking they spelled “Gaos” wrong? They got it right on the back cover, after all. I’ll get to that in a bit, homeslice.

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The first Gamera was initially released in the U.S. as Gammera The Invincible in 1966. Sandy Frank’s version from the 1980’s was titled simply Gamera and didn’t have a whole lot changed in it aside from new English dubbing. The original ’66 U.S. version, however, took a route similar to the 1956 U.S. release of the first Godzilla film, by inserting newly shot footage of American actors. Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy appeared in this new footage, as well as Dick O’Neill, who was in a lot of things but I know him best as the former-shop teacher that yelled at Tim Allen in that one Home Improvement.

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I don’t care how much it was tampered with, I much prefer this original 1966 release to the less-tampered with later-dub. I just find it more entertaining. I even like the stupid double-M thing they did with Gamera’s name, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Uniqueness, I guess? Plus, it has a swingin’ 60’s rock song in which “Gammera” is repeated endlessly. It’s performed several times throughout the film, including a memorable moment where the military tries to get the band playing it to evacuate a soon-to-be-attacked building. The band/crowd refuses, preferring to instead to continue rocking out to Gammera’s unofficial theme song. The consequence of said refusal is seen in the screencap above. Whoops!

I really dig this one, and since it’s public domain, you’ll trip over stray copies while waltzing down the street! Cool winnins!

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Attack Of The Monsters is the original AIP TV version of what was later released as Gamera Vs. Guiron, the fifth film in the series. As previously stated, it’s one of the more whacked out entries in the Gamera series. I’m actually kind of on the fence as to which is the better version, this one or Frank’s dub. Both are nutty, but Frank’s features flat-out awful dubbing, which either adds to the craziness or detracts from the watchability. The decision is up to you.

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Like Destroy All Planets, this one features two ostensibly lovable kids being kidnapped by aliens. The best part is Gamera’s high-wire Olympic act, which is a total “say what?” moment.

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Here’s where things get a bit interesting. In stark contrast to the worn, obviously-television-used prints we’ve seen up to this point, Gamera Vs. Gaes aka Gamera Vs. Gaos aka Gamera Vs. Gyaos aka Return Of The Giant Monsters features a terrific widescreen print. I’m so accustomed to seeing Gamera flicks looking like, well, the way they do in the rest of the films in this set, that it’s easy to forget just how good they can look.

After an intro, the title card seen above pops up. Besides the misspelling of “Gaos” as “Gaes” (well, I guess officially it’s supposed to be “Gyaos,” but nevertheless, I’ve never heard of a “Gaes” variation), the fact that things go full-frame for the title and the fact that the title consists of computer-animated water drips over wood paneling (the hell?) that progressively reveals the title points clearly to the fact that this is a modern innovation. Needless to say, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

For a mere fraction of a second, after the title card ends but before heading back into the movie proper, a part of the original Japanese titles remains:

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No joke, it’s only onscreen for a split-second. It took me several tries to even get this screencap. I’m still kinda surprised I even manged to get it. Could they not have left the new “Gaes” title on-screen for a millisecond longer? is this some bizarre form of subliminal advertising? “Buy more Gamera?”

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Odd title-screen aside, it really is a gorgeous copy of the film. Look at that screencap; it’s a beautiful picture of the Japanese skyline (provided you ignore Gaos in the sky.) This brings up a burning question, however: where did this print come from, and how were they allowed to release it? The films seen in the set up to this point are all long in the public domain, but aside from the AIP U.S. version called Return of The Giant Monsters (which I *assume* is public domain as well), I don’t know of any PD copies of Gaos. That said, there are budget releases of the Sandy Frank dub (no kidding, there’s a $1 DVD featuring that particular version of the film lying on the floor mere feet from me, where I have thus far neglected to pick it up) which I can only assume are less than legit, since as far as I know Frank’s version hasn’t lapsed into the murk that often makes up the public domain library. In fact, when I first came upon this DVD set, seeing the title and how it’s spelled on the back cover, I figured that’s the version that was on here. Obviously, not so. I’m assuming neither AIP’s nor Frank’s dubs were used for it, either. So what would it be? Some kind of international version?

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Gaos/Gyaos/Gaes ends with this strange, Star Wars-inspired scroll. Again: the hell?


DISC 3

Third and final disc. it includes a movie I love, a movie I don’t, a movie that bores me, and some bonus features that define “superflous.”

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Gamera Vs. Monster X (aka Gamera Vs. Jiger) is the barometer by which I measure all Gamera DVD sets. If a set doesn’t have it, it’s “decent” at best, “woefully incomplete” at worst. If it does have it, though? Automatic passing grade, man. I love Gamera Vs. Monster X. It’s probably my favorite of the series. Not because it’s good; oh dear my, no, it’s certainly not. It’s pretty awful, and based solely on fun-factor, there are others probably considered more wacky. I don’t care, I will forever digs it.

Why? Because it was my first Gamera, that’s why. Also, because at one point it was pretty tough to find. Back in the VHS days, the Sandy Frank dubbed Gameras were easily found on tape, but Frank never touched Monster X. I quickly became obsessed with obtaining the movie following a mention of it in The Ghoul’s (S)crapbook, and eventually I had to resort to obtaining a bootlegged version that was (naturally) sourced from an ancient TV broadcast. I think it’s in the public domain, but even if it’s not, I now own approximately 8000 legit copies to make up for it. Perhaps fittingly, the version found on TGG’s set appears to be sourced from a VHS. Go figure.

And tell me that title screen isn’t completely awesome. I think it’s the font used for the “Monster X.” Plus, Gamera Vs. Monster X is just a cool title to me, up there with Godzilla Vs. The Thing as far as “neat soundin’ titles” go (that’s just me though; your mileage may vary.)

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Gams looks dangerously close to my pet turtle in this screencap. My turtle doesn’t have the ability of jet-power or to carry enemies skyward, as Gamera is clearly shown performing above. But my turtle does splash furiously whenever he wants food, and that’s pretty darn special too, isn’t it?

(The preceding paragraph is what we like to call “filler,” because I can’t think of really anything else to say about the screencap. It’s Gamera carrying Jiger, okay?)

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I was on an emotional rollercoaster ride with this one (figuratively speaking.) Prior to playing it, I figured this was the usually-seen Sandy Frank version, since I knew Frank’s dubs could show up on these types of sets. But after seeing Gaos and then reading how Zigra‘s title was listed on the back cover, I figured this would be another widescreen print of perhaps shady origin. But then, it turns out this IS the same Sandy Frank dub that’s been floating around for some three decades now, which was exactly what I was expecting with Gamera Vs. Gaos. Wrap your mind around all that, because I sure can’t.

Released in 1971, Gamera Vs. Zigra was the last Gamera until Gamera: Super Monster in 1980. From how I understand it, Daiei went bankrupt and had to be bought out, hence the nine year absence. Even though that 1980 film is considered the last of the original Gamera series, I’ve really always thought of Zigra as the real last one. Super Monster just seems too different. Most of the Gamera footage is taken straight from the old films, it wasn’t made by the same Daiei that made all the other Gameras, and truth be told, I really, really don’t like the ending. Super Monster just doesn’t feel right to me.

So, yeah, I consider Zigra the last of the original Gamera series, and Super Monster a bizarre offshoot. Maybe that’s not the purists viewpoint (or maybe it is, I don’t know,) but it’s certainly my viewpoint. And as we all know, my viewpoint doesn’t amount to a hill of beans is of tantamount importance.

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That’s not to say that I really like Gamera Vs. Zigra, though. In fact, it’s always been one of my least favorites. I should love it, with the vague ecological theme (kinda sorta shades of Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster!) and overwhelming cheapness (I mean, just look at Zigra up above!) But, for whatever reason, it’s always left me cold. That said, it has been awhile since I’ve seen it, so maybe it’s time to revisit. Something tells me it won’t destroy my unwarranted and incomprehensible love for Gamera Vs. Monster X, though.

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Okay, the name of TGG Direct’s set isn’t “The Gamera Collection” or anything like that. It’s called Japanese Monster Movies. Since it’s a budget set, it stands to reason that it is going to consist mainly of Gamera flicks, as most of those are (supposedly) in the public domain. That is to say, despite whatever knowledge I gathered via cheapo VHS companies whilst growing up, Godzilla Vs. Megalon is NOT public domain. What I’m getting at is that TGG presumably only had so many movies to work with without having to shell out the mighty dollars. Keep in mind, I’m not saying they didn’t license some of the flicks found in this set, but conventional wisdom says that these kind of releases don’t have more money poured into them than necessary.

That said, the overwhelming theme of the set is obviously “Gamera.” Look at the cover, look at the menu screens, look at the selected movies. And if that’s not enough, go back up and read the descriptive blurb on the back cover; there are eight movies in the set, and it clearly says they’re all “Gamera Movies.”

Gappa The Triphibian Monsters is NOT a Gamera flick. I knew that going in; I’ve had a recorded-off-TV copy for years, under the title Monster From A Prehistoric Planet. That’s the public domain version, and it appears that that is the version used here, just with a replaced title and end card. Kinda like Gamera Vs. Gaos, but kinda not. Like that one, the newly-created titles stick out like a sore thumb, Unlike that one, we don’t benefit from a crystal clear widescreen print. It almost makes you wonder why they bothered. Maybe the change was made by whoever TGG got this print from, I don’t know.

At any rate, it’s very obviously not a Gamera film, which makes me wonder if they weren’t paying attention, or just trying to sucker the unsuspecting buyer. Though I suppose they couldn’t really say “Here’s seven Gamera flicks, plus one filler” on the back, either.

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I do not like this movie. I never have. Even back in the day when I first taped it, it left me cold, and at that time, I was all about the big ol’ Japanese monsters. Gappa is sort of like a Japanese Gorgo, which in turn was a British Godzilla. Bottom line: a baby “Gappa” is captured and put on display in Japan, and the parents (one of which is what you is did done seein’ above) are none to pleased, so they come to retrieve said baby Gappa. If nothing else, I like this film more than Gorgo, but then, I’ve never liked Gorgo. And yet, I love Gamera Vs. Monster X. Hey, what can I say, I’m complex.

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Disc 3 and (thus the set) ends with two bonus sections: a gallery of scenes that is little more than screencaps from the movies; candid backstage photos they are not. After that there are Gamera trivia facts, which are less fun factoids and more general statements about the films, capped off with generic Asian-y sounding music. If you had watched all of these films in order as placed in this set, you’d know all of this stuff already, which makes them putting the trivia section at the end of the third disc a bit of a head-scratcher. You’ll never watch any of these bonus features again, but if nothing else, they do add a quirky charm to the whole thing.


 

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And there you have it, TGG Direct’s 3-disc Japanese Monster Movie Collection. It’s a cool little set. No one will ever mistake it for something from The Criterion Collection, and there are restored/cleaned up/etc. BluRay releases out there, but for $5, I’d say this one is worth the purchase. There’s some vintage Saturday Afternoon-worthy fare here, and with the few extra ‘odd’ bits, well, I think that just makes this all the more endearing.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem this is available at Amazon.com at the present time. Did it go out of print that quickly? I couldn’t say, but if you come across it, I think it’s worth picking up.

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I’m totally gonna have that “Gammera!” song stuck in my head for awhile now…

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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