[17 September 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
For the formerly famous or once noted, the decision on how best to promote a comeback is complicated at best. Do you rely solely on your previous efforts, or do you try and expand or even modify them for a new generation of fans. In the case of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, the one time TV icons in charge of the unquestionably brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000, it has been fan inflexibility, not a lack of inspiration, that’s guided their post-cancellation endeavors. While providing audio only comic commentary tracks for popular blockbuster efforts (via the Rifftrax online brand), they also decided to reconfigure the old MST model. Sponsored by cult cravers Shout! Factory, the new enterprise, entitled The Film Crew, has used DVD’s wealth of public domain dung to bring in-theater quipping back from the dead. And it’s been a remarkable rebirth, to say the least.
Clearly functioning under the “not broken, no fixing” formula, The Film Crew set-up has Mike, Kevin, and Bill playing employees of the entertainment eccentric Bob Honcho. He’s a motion picture maverick who believes that every DVD, no matter how nominal, deserves a commentary track. He makes regular phone calls to his cinematic stooges, announcing their assignments and, in general, flaunting his high powered CEO lifestyle. Unlike Mystery Science, which relied on skits every 22 minutes to break up the bad movie monotony, The Film Crew offers a one time midpoint ‘Lunch Break’. There, between bites of sandwich and slurps of diet shake, the men mock contrivances within the film – be it the decision to use exaggerated body parts to suggest that said killers are actually from space, or learning how to locate Wongo on a map.
As lifelong fans of such external monologue mannerisms will tell you, it’s the movie that makes the mockery, not the other way around. When you have something as lifeless and leaden as Killers from Space, it can try even the wittiest rejoinder’s resolve. But when overwhelmed by atrocious acting, half-baked production design, and various untenable body types draped in fur covered diapers, The Wild Women of Wongo creates a never-ending Arch Hall Jr. foundation of funny business. Both releases offer a ridiculous amount of fun, but Wongo eventually wins out, if only by a horndog hair. Whereas, in the past, the potential comedy was hindered by cable standards and family-oriented programming, The Film Crew can now let their lecherous freak flag fly.
It starts right at the beginning of the otherwise atrocious tale. Kevin Murphy decides that every action taken by the title babes mandates a seedy, suggestive, double entendre. When a battle breaks out between two of the tempting tribeswomen, it’s the sign for a series of catcalls. An embrace between the Princess of Wongo and the Prince of Goona earns a series of sexually suggestive statements, and the beefy chuck steak nature of the bodybuilder cast mandates its own level of man musk bemusement. However, the most mileage is gained out of a Dragon Temple sequence where the matronly priestess screeches that everyone must “DANCE!!!” Thanks to the open format of the digital domain (meaning nothing need necessarily be ‘rated’ by the MPAA), our satiric triptych can let their shorthairs down, so to speak. Of course, their comedy is not really that crude to begin with, but to hear them skirt around the scandalous is really a treat.
As for The Wild Women of Wongo itself, it’s like exploitation without the free flowing flesh peddling extremes. The scantily clad cast is obviously not trying for some manner of archeologically adept realism, and the storyline is Romeo and Juliet with added jungle juice. In fact, the driving force inside the nutty narrative is the notion that male chauvinism is (apparently) part of our primordial DNA. The male members of the tribe sit around and imitate a monosyllabic Homer Simpson as they berate and barter over the ladies like ranchers at a carnal cattle auction. The guys from Goona aren’t much better. They may have overdeveloped lats and too sweet pecs, but they’re backwards as well in the way of the woman. It’s the goofy XY equilibrium between know it all honeys and do nothing hunks that makes this a classic cornball comedy companion piece.
Killers from Space, on the other hand, makes Red Zone Cuba seem like The Missiles of October. The Crew does come out swinging, taking on the military industrial complex, and its apparent appreciate of smoking, for all its non-filtered farce. It’s great to hear the guys giggle as General after Major pull out a pack and light up. When a driven Peter Graves is put under Sodium Amatol, the lack of convincing unconsciousness also provides the perfect platform for laughs. But the choicest chuckling comes when our hero, trapped in an underground cavern, tries to escape. For nearly 20 minutes, he is confronted by rear projection pictures of oversized “monsters”. In reality, they are nothing more than lizards, tarantulas, and iguanas given some silly schlock resizing. As they did on the Satellite of Love, the gang gets a kick out of giving such lame F/X the ridicule rub.
As a movie, however, Killers from Space maintains its mindnumbing mediocrity throughout. This is a terribly talky film, a narrative that substitutes words for vistas unaffordable or unobtainable. There are significant scenes of cars driving aimlessly, and when we finally meet the title terrors, they’re nothing more than unitard wearing insurance salesmen with painted ping pong balls for eyes. Perhaps an audience still in awe of all the A-bombing going on would cotton to such crudity. But decades of sophistication has rendered such radioactive retardation more stupefying than Larry the Cable Guy. Alongside the Captain Video level of extraterrestrial originality and the elephantine critters, you’ve got a literal compendium of sloppy suburban sci-fi, the kind of speculative fiction that would give Harlan Ellison agida for decades.
And here’s hoping that it does. In an arena that takes itself far too serious, which wants to award any and all product made by the hack Hollywood studio system some manner of long deserved classical status, we need entities like The Film Crew. They’re the lampoon equivalent of an uppercut to the chin, a clear comeuppance for a cinematic statement that really does nothing more than stink on ice. Cinephiles can argue over the worthwhile qualities inherent in a dumb as dirt skin epic, or a dialogue driven diatribe against nuclear weaponry, but when all is said and done, The Wild Women of Wongo and Killers from Space are nothing more than misguided motion pictures. They are poorly executed, laughable examples of celluloid as septic tank. Luckily, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett are still around to accessorize the aroma. Indeed, The Film Crew continues to make the most noxious non-entertainment utterly enjoyable.