[21 March 2011]
The trouble with bad movies is that for all the fun found in flubbed lines, ridiculous acting and horrible special effects, they’re still bad movies, and that’s not always a great way to pass the time. An excellent antidote to that problem is Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show rescues bad movies not from obscurity but from calamity, creating something new and worthwhile from all that wasted celluloid.
On its own, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is a mildly entertaining bit of pre-psychedelic horror about a rebellious teenager named Jerry (writer/director Ray Dennis Steckler performing under the pseudonym Cash Flagg) who’s hypnotized to kill women in and around a carnival midway for a fortune teller named Estrella (Brett O’Hara) and her stripper-sister Carmelita (Erino Enyo). Later, in a scene echoing 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, Jerry tries to kill his girlfriend Angela (Sharon Walsh) after watching her umbrella spin around, but this film fails to lock onto any of the tension or quality of its predecessor.
Billed as “the first horror musical”, the film is filled with barely choreographed burlesque numbers with all the sensuality deleted from them. “This is a can-can’t” Mike (Mike Nelson) says. During one of the four songs performed in the song, a misheard lyric becomes “Schick out of shape”, sending the crew off into a hilarious song about ladies’ razors with lyrics like “first blade lifts/the second blade cuts/get your Schick out of shape!”
The best jokes are reserved for Jerry’s roommate, Harold (Atlas King). He’s a pompadoured-hipster with good looks and better hair, but the air of James Dean-like cool is fouled by his high-pitched voice and impenetrable accent. Every time he speaks Mike, Servo or Crow—sometimes all three—babble incoherently, virtually recreating his speech, a bit they repeat to great effect during the film’s climatic chase scene along a beach.
I happened upon this movie in a video store a few years ago and rented it immediately, unaware of its existence let alone its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I thought surely such a cumbersome, kitchen sink title—the longest ever at the time—would herald the kind of movie one would want to watch again and again, each time finding something new and ridiculous to enjoy. Sitting on the couch I watched with increasing disappointment at the prolonged absence of mixed-up zombies, and I soon realized this would not be one of those movies. Those treasures, bad as they may be, are rare, but there’s always a chance at redemption.