Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews
STAKE LAND (2010)– DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons
Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris
This film came out of nowhere and smacked me upside the head. Before watching it I had heard of it only in passing, but nothing more than that. Based on the title alone, I was sort of expecting an action-y flick with most likely lots of laughs tossed in for good measure. You know, sort of like ZOMBIELAND. However, this film could not be further from that zomedy as you can get. Now I loved ZOMBIELAND, so does that mean I hated STAKE LAND? Let’s find out.
In a world far more I AM LEGEND than that Will Smith movie of that name, we are introduced to a boy named Martin (in joke for George Romero fans?) living in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires. Thankfully these bloodsuckers aren’t moody, sexy, lovesick, brooding, misunderstood or sparkling. They are nasty, animalistic, ugly, and completely horrific. In short, they are my kind of vampires. Martin’s family meets the business end of a vamp’s fangs and he almost does the same, when a man known only as Mister saves him. So begin the adoptive father and son’s journey from the Deep South to the promised safety of New Eden in the north.
The pair goes on an epic road trip, along the way coming to isolated communities of survivors and buying their way in by showing off the fangs they’ve taken from the vamps they’ve wasted. They continually meet (and often lose) new allies on a regular basis, including a motherly nun, a pregnant young woman, and (I hate to say it) a token black guy. Come on, it’s pretty obvious, especially when at a town full of survivors the only other black person you see in the entire film seeks him out through a crowd to dance with him. Good thing too, because if we start allowing “their kind” to mix… Sorry, but I did think that was kind of creepy. That questionable bit of casting and/or writing aside, the film rarely missteps anywhere else. Well…except maybe for the stereotypical crazy Christian cult who worships the vampires and act as the films main antagonists. Yep, in a world full of killer undead monsters, Christians are worse. Just once, can’t the overly religious crazies be Jewish? Or how about Buddhists? You never hear anything about evil, crazy Buddhists, what gives? Oh and I would have included Muslims in this, but then I’m sure they just would have been the stereotypical Hollywood terrorists.
As for my feelings that this would be an action/comedy flick, I could not have been more wrong. STAKE LAND is a somber, morose, and at times almost a depressing film. Feel good movie of the year, it is not. Bad things happen and sometimes they happen to good people. Also I don’t think there was a single joke, ironic or otherwise, in this entire film. It very much reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, but with more vampires. So if that bit of sunny cinema got you down then this movie may very likely do the same. However, if you’re looking for a film that takes the idea of a world overrun by the thirsty undead seriously and does it’s best to provide plenty of dread and jumps, then this refreshingly old take on vampires may be exactly what you need. Lastly, the overall quality of this movie was a totally nice surprise. Going into STAKE LAND I was expecting cheesy direct to DVD efforts, but instead got an honest to goodness real movie, with believable acting, more than capable direction, memorable characters, good special effects, and a nicely understated apocalyptic world to explore that looked broken and dying without cribbing from THE ROAD WARRIOR or A BOY AND HIS DOG.
If you have yet to see STAKE LAND during its very limited theatrical run then rejoice, for Dark Sky Films has just brought it out on DVD. I thoroughly enjoyed this new vampire film and I honestly can’t remember when the last time I could say that was. Consider this one highly recommended.
--Brian M. Sammons
[REC] 2 (2009)- DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Cast: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra
Before I get started, let me say that in order to talk at all about this movie, I will have to spoil the amazing ending of the first [REC]. Even if you saw the so-so American remake, QUARANTINE, you still did see the ending from the original film. That is because the US remake completely wussed out and kept the threat totally definable by scientific means and thus, became just another 28 DAYS LATER rip off. On the other hand [REC], well let’s just say that they took a chance and it really paid off. So if you haven’t watched the original Spanish fright film then do so as soon as you can. When you’re done, come back here and continue reading. But until then…
Ok, in [REC] a female reporter, some firefighters, and a bunch of regular folks get quarantined in a multileveled apartment building once a nasty infection gets loose, turning everyone into blood-eyed, drooling, screaming, and sprinting rage zombies right out of the afore mentioned 28 DAYS LATER. The movie was shot in 1st person, shaky-cam style, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and (far too) many more. It was a competent horror film with plenty of blood and shocking jumps, but what really sold this movie was the ending when things took a frightening turn to the supernatural world. You see, this was no ordinary zombie virus, but one caused by a priest/scientist experimenting on a little possessed girl (yes, like Linda Blair in EXORCIST possessed) looking for a scientific answer, and hopefully an antidote, to evil. That sudden, and completely unexpected twist, was handled masterfully and what could have been silly or cheesy, was instead scary as hell.
Honestly, M. Night Shyamalan should watch that film to see how a twist should be handled, because it looks like he’s totally forgotten. Anway…
[REC] 2 picks up exactly where the first film left off, not only on the same night, but within the same couple of minutes. Once more, directors Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza show that they know how to not only make a good movie and pull off an effective twist, but tell a great horror story. While many sequels would have just had more angry infected action and little else, [REC] 2 delves further into the supernatural side of things. Sure the shrieking, biting baddies are still around, but now they can get shot multiple times without going down, walk on the ceiling if they feel so inclined, and can be held at bay by crucifixes. The critters are far more NIGHT OF THE DEMONS than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the weird doesn’t stop there, but I don’t want to give away some of the more creepy cool moments. I will give this hint; sometimes darkness can be your buddy.
Furthermore, unlike many sequels, the events, and even the cast, of the first film are not conveniently forgotten. This time a number of new people enter the same plastic wrapped apartment building. Some, like a quartet of SAWT guys, led by a mysterious expect, enter the quarantine zone in an official capacity. Others, like a firefighter, a scared husband, and some nosy teens, sneak looking for lost friends from the first film without the slightest clue of what they’re about to get into. And just as there are more people, there are more video cameras. In fact, maybe a bit too many. Yeah everyone is running around with a camera in this movie and it does get close to the point of silliness. However, as that was my only complaint I had with this movie, and a very minor one at that, that should give you a pretty good idea on how much I liked [REC] 2. In nearly every way this movie works, and sadly I don’t say that about most new movies.
Even though this movie is presented in North America only in DVD format, and not my much preferred Blu-ray, Sony did manage to squeeze in quite a few extras for the fans. There’s a tour of the quarantined apartment building and various set pieces, behind the scenes segments on three key scenes from the film, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, a mini-doc on [REC] 2 being shown at various European film festivals, and finally there’s outtakes from a press conference about the movie at one of those afore mentioned festivals. Unfortunately, like many foreign films, there’s no commentary track. You know, even if they had to use interrupters, I’d really like to hear the inside scoop from the filmmakers, but what are you going to do?
Now before you all start jumping for joy that after a good long while of crappy remakes and weak sauce horror, we finally have a damn good spooky movie made for adults, I think I should mention that the only audio track you will find on this DVD is the original Spanish. So if you don’t understand that language, you will have to rely on the subtitles. Now for many fans that isn’t a big deal, but I do know some that bristle at the idea of watching a subtitled film. I pity them, because then they’ll miss out on great foreign fright flicks like this. Anyway, I always try to point out when subtitles are the only option for English-only types so they know beforehand. As for me, the subtitles didn’t bother me a bit and I thoroughly enjoyed this great horror movie. If you can read and watch a movie at the same time, I’m sure you will to.
--Brian M. Sammons
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009)- DVD
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Rodie Sana, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano Collaciti, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings and Wayne Robson
review written by Nickolas Cook
Let me start by saying: I am a huge Ronmero fan. I can usually find something worth admiring in even his worst flicks. But I haven't been too impressed with the last two films in his ongoing (and hopefully not retired) 'dead' series. To me, they weren't up to his strong take on the zombie that his previous classic movies were. I mean, when most people think zombie movie, they're thinking of his landmark trilogy, Night, Dawn and Day of the (Living) Dead (1968-1985). I'm glad to see he's still pushing at the series, personally, but when I sat down to finally watch SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, it was with high hopes, but realistic expectations. I'd been avoiding seeing it because no one I know who had seen had anything good to say.
So for those of you who saw Romero's DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007), you'll see the tie-in to this new movie's cast of characters during the scene where the young videographers are stopped by a group of AWOL soldiers, who scavanged what they can and move on. This is all given in a clever bit of narration with the clip from the earlier movie. Which gives us the true beginning of the film: these AWOL National Guard soldiers trying to find a way where there are no zombies. Apparently they find it on a small isolated island, off the coast of Delaware, Plum Island, where there are less dead, but its home to two warring clans of Irishmen led by the O'Flynns and the Muldoons. The former family, led by Patrick O'Flynn, round up a posse and kill the undead of the island, learning that the Muldoons, led by Seamus Muldoon are keeping their undead loved ones "alive" until a cure is found. The two men have a short verbal showdown in which we learn Muldoon's strong religious beliefs won't allow him to accept the undead are truly mindless killing machines and are dangerous to keep around, while O'Flynn, despite his hatred for the job, knows they must be destroyed for the safety of the remaining survivors who call the island home.
Okay, to me, this seemed like a clever thing to do storywise. After all, Romero has pretty much mined all he can from the US vs. THEM scenario and wants to illustrate how man can always find a way to fuck up an already fucked up situation by acting greedy and divisive when it's most likely to get him killed. Maybe I'm trying too hard to find good things to say about the film, but as a storyteller I always wonder how Romero keeps finding new angles to approach what has become a fairly played out sub genre of horror, thanks to the tons of lesser talents who have used his undead world to tell their own stories.
Muldoon forces O'Flynn off the island in lieu of killing him outright.
Three weeks later we catch up with the AWOL soldiers, now led by van Sprang, whon tends to have some serious anger issues. They happen across a pack of scavangers like themselves with less firepower and no brains, who they quickly kill in sort of self-defense. With them they find a smart ass kid, who tends towards a neutrel sort of evil--not actively evil, but not a great moral person either. I hated him right away and wanted to punch his face in. Which is probably some good casting on their part since my guess is you're supposed to hate the little prick. The teenager convinces them to head for Plum Island. They come across the ousted O'Flynn and company hiding out in a dockside shack, hijacking strangers for their goods. After some shooting and shouting, some dynamite and explosions, the soldiers and O'Flynn escape on a barge and head for Plum Island.
Once they land on the island, it's not too long before the Muldoons and O'Flynn and the soldiers are going at it, each trying to gain control of the island and the undead.
I thought there were some decent gore scenes; maybe a little over the top at times, but that's what Romero dead flicks are made for, in my opinion. The CGI isn't too out of hand. His movies make you think; they make you cringe. Although it does disappoint in the fact that after all these years of making big budget films here and there, Romero still makes this feel like a low budget indie flick. And I will also admit that there are moments when the dialogue falls firmly in the immature, under thought camp. And there are times when the characters act like complete idiots, against type, and do some really stupid shit--i.e., no one seems to remember to lock doors or windows; no one seems to remember there are zombies all around them during crisis moments; trained soldiers acting like idiot civilians the guy who is willing to kill living people to protect his undead relatives is shooting them in the head before long for little things like eating his cowboy hat or grabbing his shirt or 'not showing promise'. Some of those things are to keep the story moving along, but still somewhat unforgivable when you consider this is the same man who wrote DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). The word for this is CONTRIVED.
And that last shootout...well, even I can't come up with something good to say about that.
There are moments of levity which tend to grate against my Romero fanboy love. They just don't seem to fit the enormous apocalyptic situation.
Another thing I did not like was that the zombies are now called 'Deadheads'. That got on my nerves a bit. But who knows? Maybe that's exactly what we would call zombies if the zombie apocalypse finally comes about.
Good grief...I said IF. The Great Pumpkin might have heard that. I mean WHEN, WHEN! the zombie apocalypse happens.
Okay, bottom line, and this tough for a fan to admit: this could have been a hell of a lot better. But was it as bad as everyone told me?
No. Not by a long shot.
I laughed, despite myself, and felt the suspense build up when I was supposed to. I enjoyed the gore effects; several of them were very cleverly done. Which we have the master Greg Nicotero as head special effects consultant to thank for those, no doubt.
I also enjoyed the feel of the old westerns in the film's narrative. Of course, I found out later that Romero used William Wyler's 1958 western classic, THE BIG COUNTRY, as his template for the story; another clever turn from the master, in my opinion.
But I certainly understand why most people hated this Romero undeas flick. Stacked against his other movies in the series it doesn't even come close. But stacked against most of the bad zombie flicks since his "NOTLD" this one is still better than a good number of them. I just wish it had been like the old Romero days. But perhaps those days are gone for good and all. Still, there was a lot to like about SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, if not love. But here's to hoping Romero has at least one or two more dead movies left in him before he calls it quits on the zombies.
KILLER DOUBLE FEATURE – BAD DREAMS and VISITING HOURS – DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons
BAD DREAMS (1988)
Director: Andrew Fleming
Cast: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch
VISITING HOURS (1982)
Director: Jean-Claude Lord
Cast: Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, Linda Purl
I actually love little collections like this. You see, neither of these films are what you would call great. Hell, a lot of people would say that neither of these films are what you would call good. And to some degree or another, I can see their point. BAD DREAMS is pretty much a poor man’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and VISITING HOURS is really a suspense/thriller melodrama masquerading as a slasher film. However both these movies have enough going for them, if only just enough, to warrant a watch, but both have been out of print and pretty hard to find for a good long time. And honestly, I don’t know if you would want to pay full DVD price for either one of these. But both together for a reasonable price? Sure, why the hell not get them.
What, you don’t believe me? Ok, I’ll prove it.
First let me describe something to you and see what you come up with. There’s a burnt-faced killer that stalks teens in their dreams, including a group of troubled kids in an insane asylum. Sound familiar? Could that be A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, or more specifically Part 3 of that series? Well surprise, that’s actually a little remember fright flick from 1988 called BAD DREAMS. Yeah I know, it’s weird, and perhaps a bit slimy, and things only get more muddled when the start of the DREAMS film was first in THE DREAM WARRIORS as the badass punker chick, Taryn. So if you experience a sense of déjà vu while watching this movie, don’t worry, that’s intentional.
Anyway, standing in for Freddy Kruger, you get psycho cult leader Harris, played well by perennial villain, Richard Lynch. Harris led a doomsday cult some years back who got it into their heads that dousing themselves in gasoline and flicking a Bic would be a great idea. Only one young girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) survived the inferno. Too bad for her that fried-faced Harris still wants her to burn, and he begins to haunt her dreams, and the dreams of her new friends in a teen-centric asylum. One by one the kids start to off themselves thanks to Harris’ scare tactics, until it’s just Cynthia and the bogyman remains. But things may not all be what it seems. There is a neat little twist to this tale that some people either love or hate. Me, I liked it because at least it doesn’t appear to be a total rip off of the ELM STREET movies.
BAD DREAMS is a fun little film, not great, but enjoyable. The direction is competent, the story moves along at a brisk pace, and the characters are fun. Jennifer Rubin is great as frightened little bunny Cynthia, but my favorite is Ralph, played by Dean Cameron, perhaps best known as the horror loving Chainsaw in the Mark Harmon 1987 vehicle; SUMMER SCHOOL. He plays the same kind of whacky and “crazy” guy here and in both films I really dug him. The special effects are effective and should make the gore hounds happy, and as I mentioned before, the twist at the end is pretty good, or at least better than the last four M. Night Shyamalan films combined. Oh, and it has just the right amount of cheesy 80s horror flavor that I always love, so BAD DREAMS gets a nod of approval from me.
On to VISITING HOURS, which frankly I don’t like as much. It’s not a bad film, it just drags a bit and isn’t anywhere as fun as BAD DREAMS. It’s about a woman hating psycho with anger issues attacking an opinionated female journalist. When he hears later that she survived his attack and is now resting in a hospital, the nut job goes to the hospital time and time again to finish what he started.
The highlight in his film is easily gravely-voiced, steely-eyed, professional bad guy; Michael Ironside. He growls, snarls, spits, and chews his way through the scenery whenever he’s on screen and is totally believable as an unhinged madman. What’s not as good are the other actors, including William…Shatner…who…plays…the…reporter’s…boyfriend. Other than Ironside, they all appear content to phone in their performances, or perhaps just really bored, and if that’s the case, I really can’t blame them all that much because I too was bored through much of this movie. When things happen in this film they’re usually good, if a bit weak on the gore for a slasher film (which this movie really is not, despite pretending to be) but the problem is that there are long stretches of nothing between the good stuff. Still, this one is worth watching, if just to see Michael Ironside do what he does best, and that’s be bad.
Now unlike most combo DVDs, Shout! Factory actually included a few special features on this 2-disc set, if sadly just for BAD DREAMS, which comes with a director’s commentary, interviews with four of the actors, a featurette on the special effects, an alternate ending, and trailers. VISITING HOURS just gets a trailer and that’s it. That is a bit disappointing, but hey, at least the film is back out on DVD.
If you are missing either, or most likely both, of these 80s fright flicks in your library, then you can pick them both up, in one nice package, and for a reasonable price, when they become available on September 13.
--Brian M. Sammons
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)- DVD
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracey E. Bregman, Lisa Langlois and others
review written by Nickolas Cook
This is one of my favorite slasher flicks of the 80s. In fact, it made our Top 13: Best Horror Films of 1981 in last month's 2nd anniversary issue. But it's also one that appears on a lot of other horror fans' fave lists.
This is an anomoly of the early days of slasher flicks, as it was financed in Canada by a large US studio, which meant it to make a ton of money. Attached, there was also a very well known director J. Lee Thompson (the man responsible for some classic films in cinema, including The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962), Eye of the Devil (1967) and about 30 others). It also starred some fairly big names in the late 70s and early 80s of television and cinema, who helped add a credibility in this burdgeoning new sub-genre of an up and coming genre of film, a genre which for many years prior had been overlooked and ridiculed by critics and tangential cinema fans alike.
It is the story of insanity and murder in an exclusive private high school in New England. When young Virginia is taken under the wing of an elite group of young rich people in this exclusive private high school, she becomes the center of a violent series of murders, which seem to be committed by a mysterious stranger who has it out to get the Top Ten snobby students, who all seem to come from a very well off background, one we find out later she had been previously shunned when she was a little girl, much to her mother's shame and anger.
But it seems Virginia has a secret of her own, a secret which may be the cause of all the terrible deaths taking place at Crawford Academy. By the film's end, the twists and turns will keep even the most jaded horror fan on his toes. Nothing is what it seems...
At the center of this well produced and acted little slasher is the gore. It's the first time a big studio was to let loose with the blood and guts in a slasher film, but it would not be the last...although it would certainly be one of the best attempts at lending the blood spattered genre legitimacy. It would not happen again for several years.
The money and time put into this production comes through in a professional looking flick, with some awesome, and before then, unseen death scenes, including death by shish-kabob, motorcyle wheel, barbells, fire poker and other instruments of death, something which we see time and time in the 'holiday' slasher catalogue of horror movies. You know the ones from back then, when any occasion was worth a killing or two: Christmas, Valentine's Day, April Fool's Day, Halloween, New Year's Eve and on and on.
It's not surprising that over the years this drive-in classic has sustained its ability to shock and frighten. It regularly turns up on best of lists, including the critics who back then ripped it apart.
It is still my hope that one of the studios involved will one day make an uncut version of this one available to a hungry Horrorhead fanbase, which values the hard work that went into making this one of the best slashers to come out of the 80s.
I AM NANCY (2011)– DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons
Director: Arlene Marechal
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Wes Craven
Quite some months back, the best documentary on a horror film franchise came out. It was called NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, and it was about the NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET flicks. To say that it was extensive would be a huge understatement. It was over six hours long! It covered all the NIGHTMARE films, FREDDY VS. JASON, the TV show, the video games, even the old 1980s 1-900 number where for just $1.99 a minute you could talk to Freddy himself. Also it had plenty of interviews, including many with Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the first and third ELM STREET films. It was in one such interview that she mentioned that she was working on her own documentary on the Freddy phenomena and her part in it. At the time I remember thinking why? I mean, what insights could she bring that wasn’t already covered in the six-plus hour long doc she was speaking in?
Surprisingly as it turns out, quite a lot.
I AM NANCY is that doc Heather was talking about and in it a camera follows Heather around in her life, to conventions, her friends’ homes, and even tattoo parlors, to give you a more personal look at how the famous horror movies changed and shaped her life. It does this by and large by focusing on the fans, something the humongo NEVER SLEEP AGAIN only just touched on. So you get a lot of reactions, remembrances, and good times from regular people. They tell stories about how the movies affected them, some in major ways, thankfully usually for the better, and some tales were honestly very touching. This film is far more personal than most other documentaries, and that includes Heather’s story about being known as Nancy and almost nothing more.
The other half of this documentary is how Heather Langenkamp deals with her celebrity, or possibly the lack of it. This is done with tongue firmly in cheek and always with a smile. She laments to the camera over her character always being in the burnt shadow of Freddy. After all, there are no posters of just Nancy, no T-shirts, no one tattoos her face into their flesh, and while she may have two toys of her character (and yet don’t look a think like her), Freddy collectibles could probably fill an entire TOYS R US store. This is brought into crystal clear focus when both Heather and Robert “Freddy Kruger” Englund attend the same horror convention and there is a five our wait to get Robert’s autograph and there is hardly even a line in front of Heather’s booth.
The last things of note on this documentary are the interviews with Robert Englund, Wes Craven, and even Wes’ daughter, who reportedly played a surprisingly influential role in the creation of the first ELM STREET movie. And because Heather knows both Wes and Robert first hand, the interviews she gets with them are far more personal and candid then I’ve seen before, and that includes the other doc on the Freddy films. These interviews are explored in greater length as extras on the DVD, along with a music video. Yes, really, a music video.
Now I AM NANCY is a very short documentary. At just over an hour, it is over before you know it, which is sad as I wanted more, but is also good as it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Light and breezy at times, candid and informative at others, and always fun and funny, I AM NANCY was a great different take on some of the most influential horror movies of all time. If you are a fan of the NIGHTMARE films then you can get a copy of this cool little doc straight from the source here: www.iamnancy.net and I highly recommend doing so.
--Brian M. Sammons
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 PRESENTS: MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE (1988)– DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons
Director (of original film): Harold P. Warren
Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy and others
Yes! I loves me some MST3K and this horrible stinker, MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE, is one of the worst movies ever made and therefore one of the best episodes of the much missed comedy show. Seriously, if you Google “Top 10 MST3K episodes” this will always be in the top five no matter who did the list. Considering that there are almost 200 episodes, that’s saying something. Well the fine folks over at Shout! Factory has given this horrible movie/horribly brilliant episode its due by putting out a two disc DVD and I guess by now you can tell that I loved it. So if you’re in a hurry, then you can stop reading now and go get this when it comes out Sept. 13. But hey, if you’ve got more time to kill, please by all means; keep reading.
I’m assuming you know what MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 was. If not, stop reading, give yourself a good smack for missing out on comedic greatness for all these years, and by god, start watching them. You can find a ton of episodes on DVD, if you have NetFlix then there’s a bunch available for instant streaming, and there are even some just floating around the internet, wild and free. When you’re done with that, come back and we’ll continue.
Ok, so you are now, or always have been, familiar with MST3K. Good. Then you know it was an amazing show where a guy trapped in outer space on the Satellite of Love was forced to watch horribly cheese-tastic flicks until driven mad as part of an insane experiment. Luckily for the victim (first Joel and later Mike, and in this episode’s case it’s Joel) he made some robots to help him deal with the relentless onslaught of schlock by making fun of them. And thus movie riffing was, if not born, at least brought to the masses and it was good. The show was hugely popular for a time because it was very good and it ran for 11 years.
As for MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE, it is a dreadfully made, acted, shot, and everything else piece of cinematic waste made as a bet. No really, this movie was made as a bet, and it shows. In it, a man, woman, child and poodle travel (for far, far too long) through some empty landscape before coming to a rundown house that I guess they were looking to stay in. The questions why and how are left vague. There they meet the caretaker, the wonderfully weird and over the top Torgo who steals the show every second he’s on screen. He tells the travelers that “the Master” isn’t going to be happy about this, but sure they can stay there. Then the poodle gets eaten by a devil dog, just before the daughter adopts said hell hound. Torgo tries hitting on the wife in his own hilariously awkward way and dad’s in denial about everything. By the time the Master shows up as some undead wizard type with his bevy of undying brides, you are far beyond carrying in this dreadfully dull and inept flick. That is, unless you were watching it with the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 guys. Then you would be laughing yourself silly as Joel and the bots are in top form slicing this stinker up and taking it down. Rarely was MST3K ever better than this, and as a big and longtime Mistie (as we fans of the show call ourselves) that’s high praise indeed.
Being one of MST3K’s best episodes, Shout! has done it justice with a nice 2-disc DVD set. Disk one includes the original episode of the TV show, a featurette called “Group Therapy” with many (but sadly not all) of the people involved with the episode. Yeah there seems to be a very noticeable rift in the once happy MST3K family where one half doesn’t want anything to do with the other. So here you get Joel, both of the classic “mad doctors” and Mary Jo Pehl who would later play the comedic villainess “Pearl”. Oh and there are some commercial bumpers tossed in for good measure. The second DVD has the original, un-riffed MANOS movie, although why on God’s green earth you would want to watch it that way is beyond me. There’s a half hour doc on the making of MANOS called “Hotel Torgo”, a short, weird, and funny little film called “Jam Handy to the Rescue” about a guy who did educational films that actually has its own set of special features (no, really). And in that vein the educational film “Hired!” is also found here. Why? Because, as they say on the DVD case, they could.
If you’re a fan of MST3K then you already know how good this episode is, so what are you waiting for, go get it! If you’re new to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 and want to see what all the hubbub was about, then this is a great place to start.
--Brian M. Sammons