eighties were the decade when critics and fans celebrated
bad older movies. There were tons of books
on the subject… probably the best known of the genre were The Fifty Worst
Movies of All Time and The Golden Turkey Awards, both written by
current radio talk show host Michael Medved back when he was best known as the guy who wrote the book
Whatever Happened To the Class of ’65?
Movieline magazine had a monthly column called “Bad Movies We Love.”
A movie was released called It Came From Hollywood in which then-huge
comics like Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Cheech & Chong and John Candy mocked
classic old cheesy movies. Local late-night movie shows were suddenly
dusting off the likes of Plan Nine From Outer Space, Robot Monster
and They Saved Hitler’s Brain.
the end of the decade Comedy Central created the ultimate expression of the
cinematic scorn. Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted in 1988 and
was so popular that it lasted a shocking eleven seasons on cable (eventually
moving over to the SciFi Channel). The basic idea was wonderfully simple…
have three people (well okay, one person and two robots) watch bad movies
and heckle them. Let’s face it; most of the fun of watching a bad movie is
yelling funny things at the screen, so the show decided they’d do the hard
work for the audience.
a brilliant idea. Not quite such a good idea was that the series needed a
back story. It seemed too simple to just dump us into the theater with
three pithy friends, so they came up with a stupid frame plot about a goofy
janitor (Joel Hodgson) in the future being jettisoned into space by the evil
Gizmonic Institute. The baddies force him to watch horrible films as a
psychological test. To keep his sanity, janitor Joel creates friendly
robots as company. Yawn.
short comedy skits based around this plotline are invariably lame: running
the gamut from simply disappointing to nearly unwatchable, with unwatchable
usually winning the race. Luckily, though, these little breakdown sketches
are generally short (and easy to forward through.)
leaves us to the meat of the matter: the actual
films. As this is Volume 6 of the series, a lot of the better movies have
already been mocked. However, there is still a lot of funny stuff here.
Attack of the Giant Leeches
first movie is an approximation of what would
happen if Tennessee Williams wrote a Swamp Thing movie. (“This is
more like Night of the Iguana than Attack of the Giant Leeches.”)
In a hot, sweaty, small southern town a passionate affair is going on. The
townsfolk are hot, sweaty, passionate and spicy as well. ("They're
smart enough to enjoy eating at Chili's, but not smart enough to realize
it's a chain.”)
The young hot wife of a middle-aged fat man is screwing the
young hunky town stud. When her sugar daddy catches the two with their
pants down (so to speak…) he decides to give them a scare they’ll never
forget. He chases them through the swamp with a rifle (“Admittedly, it was
tough love, but…”) until he finally corners them at the water’s edge.
stud boy starts crying and begging for his life, blaming it all on the wifey.
Now, we understand why the hubby wants to shoot this weenie. Instead,
though, he makes them wade into the swamp (“Jeb, you’ve got a real dark
side.”). Now I’m not sure if he thought they couldn’t swim in three feet of
water, or maybe they’d be horribly humiliated by the wet clothing.
Unfortunately, fate takes the hand in the form of a long wet tarp with a
single tentacle. Oh wait, I mean in the form of a giant leech.
Turns out through
some sort of nuclear waste, the local leeches in the pond have grown to the
size of a… well, a long wet tarp with a single tentacle. A brassy female
reporter and her G.Q. model scientist boyfriend set their minds
to exposing this unnatural menace. The scientist goes diving (lots of
opportunities to show him without his shirt) with an oddly homoerotic
co-worker (also often without his shirt) looking for the giant leech and
seeing if he can save the victims who are literally being sucked to death in
a Paper-Mache cave.
sure how this series
chose the films to mock. Gunslinger is certainly not
a good movie, however it is honestly not that much worse than hundreds of
other cheesy 50s horse operas. I can only assume that they chose it because
it had a vaguely kinky storyline for the time. Perhaps the fact that
infamous B-movie tycoon Roger Corman directed the film didn’t hurt, either.
In a back-lot western town,
the sheriff (played by William Schallert. The
opportunity to see the future white-bread father on The Patty Duke Show
as a doomed lawman alone is worth the price of
admission) is gunned down by a liquored up no-good-un. After a long,
drawn-out process to find a replacement (actually, it is just a few people
saying “no way”) the town hires the dead marshal’s feisty widow (Beverly
Garland) as their she-sheriff. (“Now to slip into something sheriff-y and
Complications and catfights
abound (“it’s like lady Roadhouse”) as our new law-woman in black
pants (after all, she is in mourning) cleans up the big bad town. Quickly
she proves she can bring home the bad men and fry them up in a pan, feed the
baby, grease the horse and powder her face at the
same time. Luckily in this equal-opportunity town there is a whole bunch of
bad girls that need to be shown the meaning of the long arm of the law (“You
can trust your car to the lady with the star.”). With the help of a
gunfighter (John Ireland) of questionable intent (he’s wearing black and
he’s not even in mourning) the sheriff is able to vanquish the evil Madame
who was responsible for her husband’s death. Then, with her work complete,
she rides off into the sunset, leaving the town to
be overrun by evil women once again.
Mr. B’s Lost Shorts
are a bunch of short industrial and public service
films from the 40s and 50s stressing the importance of music, major
appliances, fairs, mattresses, marriage and automobiles. On the plus side,
there are no dumb comedy scenes in this episode.
Mr. B Naturally
– A scarily perky androgynous human musical note teaches
a dorky high school kid that he can get the girls if he buys a horn.
Instead of being horrified by this annoyingly upbeat man (or is he a woman?
He sure looks like a woman) who shows up in his bedroom, starts dancing and
creating instruments out of thin air. As any teenaged boy would do when a
strange woman (who calls herself a man but is played by a
woman with boobs and all) shows up in his bedroom, Buzz takes her and
his parents to the music store to get the hard sell from a Conn trumpet
X Marks the Spot - This is a World War II-era auto safety short where we
follow Joe Doaks, the worst driver in New Jersey (“He was worse than Corey
Feldman or Corey Haim.”) After years of flouting the Garden State traffic
laws, he is brought to the eternal court to try and save his life by
defending his ability to parallel park. And you and I, ladies and
gentlemen, are the jury. (“Oh great, I’m in outer space and I still can’t
get out of jury duty.”)
– A Chevrolet short from 1941 in which a guy is hired to be a door-to-door
truck salesman. Old fogey salespeople grumble about the new generation’s
work ethic. Closes on some serious food for thought when one old guy
suggests maybe they are working harder than we know.
Design for Dreaming
– A look into the
future world as staged by a deranged Tommy Tune wannabe in which
a singing and dancing pixie wakes up in her
soundstage bed, flies through the air in a stage set New York and finds such
futuristic wonders as the Corvette and Frigidaires and clothing by Monsanto
of New York. (“Just because it’s from the future doesn’t mean it’s
Johnny at the Fair – A family goes to the Canadian Exposition World Fair
and loses their son in the crowd. It is sort of like Home Alone
without the criminals but with special appearances by boxer Joe Louis,
figure skater Barbara Ann Scott and Olson & Johnson, the Hellzapoppin Boys.
The five-year-old enjoys the adventure. (“Johnny feels dark hands pushing
him forward. The voices in his head get meaner.”) Meanwhile his parents
look all over for him. He has a great time at the fair, which is good
because he will be so grounded when he gets home.
Are You Ready for Marriage?
– A young guy wonders if he and his prom date are ready to take the big
step. Of course this is the fifties, so that isn’t whether or not to get
laid, it’s whether on not to get hitched. (“The tepid embrace tells me
they’re ready for marriage.”) Everyone tells them they’re too young. They
see a marriage counselor who shows them that they really don’t know each
other that well by making them go through what he calls “Cupid’s
checklist.” I’d like to think they went off and had a baby out of wedlock,
but that’s just the romantic in me.
Teenagers from Outer Space
The Earth is infiltrated by a group of teenaged aliens. (“Erma Bombeck
would say all teenagers are from outer space.”) Well, okay, they all look
like they're in their 30s -- even the youngest one, our hero Derek, looks no
younger than 28. These evil beings are planning to use the Earth to breed
Gargons, ominous killing machines that look oddly like lobsters and can grow
from a foot long to the size of a mountain in a day. Derek likes the Earth
and doesn't like his bad guy planet-mates, particularly when he sees one of
them evaporate a dog, so he decides to make a break for it.
Plot twist... the aliens are about to kill Derek when they find out that
he is the illegitimate son of the Emperor. They can't kill him.
They must bring him home alive. So they
send Thor, the most ruthless alien, into Small Town USA to find him. Thor
is the ultimate alpha alien, a true believer in the
"it’s-my-way-or-the-death-ray" school of
negotiation. He leaves a trail of dead skeletons throughout town (“proof,
folks… you can be too rich and too thin.”).
In the meantime, Derek has met the most trusting family on the planet:
a cute teenybopper named Betty and her Grandpa. They invite Derek to board
with them, even though they'd never met before and Derek is wearing a vacant
stare and an odd uniform and has their dead dog's collar in his pocket.
Within five minutes the family has agreed to take Derek in, not charge him
rent until he gets on his feet, and allow him to
go to a teen party as Betty's date. Heck, in another five minutes Grandpa
may have given him pointers on mounting Betty.
alien love is interrupted by the arrival of Thor. (Grandpa is an equal
opportunity giver, since Thor has the same odd uniform as Derek, Gramps
assumes they are friends and gives the baddy any and all info he needs, and
some that he doesn't.) The race to save Earth from
insensate evil continues into town (somehow the small bucolic hamlet has
turned into downtown Hollywood).
Derek must save the world from Thor and the
giant Gorgans. However,
will he be able to do it without breaking the heart of his
Jay S. Jacobs