AUGUST 28 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : MST3K - THE UNEARTHLY
First of all, I must apologize for the lack of activity this weekend, as I pulled a LeBron and took my writing 'talents' elsewhere for a couple of days. As to where that was, I'll have an announcement about that over the next few days or weeks or months ahead. But for now, it's time to get back to whatever it is I do at the Canon Review, and today that is watching episode 320 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the sci-fi "classic" The Unearthly. The movie stars John Carradine as a mad scientist and the late, great Tor Johnson as Carradine's dumb muscle Lobo. This movie was made in 1957 and was only 70 minutes long, half of which was characters walking up and down stairs. A few notes about this episode, and yes there are spoilers.
- Because this movie is so short, there are two short films shown at the beginning of this episode. The first is a little piece of nostalgia called "Posture Pals", which teachers viewers that unless you have proper posture, you will be nothing but a loser. In this film, four kids whose names I don't care to remember set out to become the posture king, queen, prince, and princess of their class, while everyone else in the class chooses not to participate because they've got better things to do. After the kids, their parents, and a stuffed clown named Bombo help them improve their posture, the kids complete their goal, and each are awarded a crown from Burger King and a silly looking robe. I think I would rather walk hunched over all day than win a 30 cent crown and look like a fool in front of all my classmates, but to each their own.
- The next short is a 1950s piece called "Appreciating Your Parents". In this film, young Tommy spends most of the time staring blankly into space wondering how his room got cleaned. Turns out his mother did it, and Tommy realizes that both his parents do a lot of things for him. So instead of asking for a higher allowance, Tommy decides that it would be better to help around the house more. At the end, Tommy ends up with a higher allowance, so all's well that ends well. This was the least offensive part of the whole episode, to be honest, although the narrator acts a little high and mighty in this short.
- Now to The Unearthly. Here's the thing, despite its title, there is nothing 'unearthly', like aliens or comets, involved in this movie. In fact, the whole movie takes place on Dr. Conway's (Carradine) property, where he does crazy experiments in the name of science, like any other crazy scientist, I suppose. Anyway, Dr. Conway thinks that he's found the secret to the fountain of youth, and so he and his love-stricken assistant Dr. Gilchrest (Marilyn Buferd, 1946's Miss America, btw) tests his hypothesis on patients brought to them by Dr. Loren Wright (Roy Gordon) under the assumption that Conway is treating them for psychological issues. Instead, he implants a 17th gland, which looks suspiciously like a bell pepper, into their bodies to give them eternal youth, but unfortunately, Conway's success record seems to be worse than the Detroit Lions' so he must not be very good at his job.
- The main protagonist is Police Det. Mark Houston (Myron Healey), who gains access by planting an article in the local paper about an escaped convict and then posing as said convict in order to gain access to Conway's lab. As far-fetched as that plan is, it somehow works, and after Lobo brings him in, Conway arranges for Houston to stay and take part in his experiments or else he'll turn him in to the cops. Houston gets to meet the rest of the patients, including an angry young man named Danny (Arthur Batanides), who seems determined to be as hammy of an actor as possible. To call Batanides' performance overacting would be the understatement of the month. Also, there are two lovely ladies, Natalie (Sally Todd) and Grace (Alison Jones), who both take a fancy to Houston soon after meeting him. Then again, when the other choices are angry young Danny, Old Man Conway, a half-dead man named Jedrow in the basement, and Tor freakin' Johnson, it's not like the girls have much of a choice.
- As I said before, the whole movie takes place in Dr. Conway's house, and it seems as if half the movie is spent with somebody either walking around in the hallway or walking up and down stairs. To make matters worse, there's not enough lighting in the movie, so it's kind of hard to see. This is especially apparent towards the end of the movie, where Houston is chasing Conway around outside the house, and it's really hard to tell just who is who in the darkness.
- While Carradine mails in his performance, and Healey and the women aren't too terrible (although they really could have expanded on Grace's character more, since we know little about her other than that she's scared of something), the real acting highlight is Tor Johnson's performance. If there is one word I would use to describe the hulking Tor, it would be lumbering. Tor moves with all the speed of molasses, he has an expression of deep confusion on his face at all times, and he only has two lines in the whole movie and you can barely understand what he's saying. Let's just say it's a good thing that Tor's so big, because even a movie as bad as this one is too good for Tor's acting skills.
Overall, this a merely a decent episode, although if you are a fan of MST3K, I would highly recommend watching both of the shorts featured on this episode, as they are quite full of good digs from Joel and the Bots. As for the movie, there are some good bits in it, but the movie itself is so dull that it's a chore to sit through at times. I'd give the move The Unearthly a 1.8 out of 10, and the episode itself a 6.4 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future posts, than let me know about them either by leaving a comment on the blog or sending me an e-mail at email@example.com. As for me, I think it's "Time for go to bed".
AUGUST 28 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : VIOLENT SHIT
And people say there’s no truth in advertising anymore… Violent Shit was Andreas Schnaas’s first feature film, so perhaps we should chalk it up to beginner’s luck that it turned out somewhat better than his other big claim to fame, Zombie ‘90: Extreme Pestilence. While it is hardly a good movie— indeed, I found it just barely tolerable after the first half-hour or so— it is at least not quite so completely worthless as the later zombie film. For one thing, it benefits from a substantially shorter running time (albeit nowhere near short enough). For another, the near-total plotlessness of even mainstream slasher movies means that the standard by which Violent Shit will most naturally be judged is significantly laxer. Nevertheless, it takes an extremely forgiving attitude not to hit “eject” well before the hour mark, and only the most uncritical of gorehounds are likely to consider it worth a first viewing, let alone a second.
Karl Shitter (classy, Andy… real classy) is a troubled boy who doesn’t get along well with his mother. One day, he comes home late from playing in a marshy field, and Mom threatens to punish him. That’s when Karl chops her up with a meat cleaver.
20 years later, young Mr. Shitter has grown up to be a serial killer popularly known as Karl the Butcher (Schnaas himself, who can also be seen acting in Anthropophagous 2000 and Demon-Terror). A trio of men who we would never imagine to be police officers were it not for the word “Polizei” stenciled on the side of their Volkswagen Microbus are driving him through the countryside, presumably transferring him to another prison or mental hospital or whatever. In the absolute middle of fucking nowhere, the driver stops the van, for his bladder will never make it to wherever they’re going in one piece. This, inevitably, is Karl’s cue to go berserk, kill his other two escorts, and then ambush the third when he returns from his urinary interlude. For the next hour and change, Karl will wander the land clutching a patently phony cleaver (the ludicrous size of which seems hilariously to suggest that the cleaver from the prologue scene has grown up right along with its user), waylaying and dismembering anyone and everyone he comes across— hitchhikers, landscapers, college girls, middle-aged drunks— becoming steadily uglier and more deformed with each kill he makes. I’m not quite sure about the reason for that last part, although I gather it has something to do with a flashback we see in which Satan appears to Karl during his childhood and (I think— the sound quality in Violent Shit is such that I’d be hard pressed to follow most of the dialogue even if my German were much better than it is) anoints him as his special agent on Earth. Perhaps that run-in with the Devil also goes some way toward explaining why Karl eventually keels over spontaneously in a woodland clearing and hemorrhages to death, leaving behind only his giant cardboard cleaver and the big, grotesque baby-thing that claws its way free of his disintegrating torso.
I’ve mentioned on previous occasions a friend of mine who is in film school, studying to be a horror director. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to see a couple of the shorts she has turned in for her classes, and what Violent Shit reminds me of most is one of those embryonic, five-minute horror flicks, stretched out to an hour and a quarter. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it looks like this movie was shot not from a script, but from a syllabus: Lesson 1— outdoor cinematography; Lesson 2— interiors; Lesson 3— rudimentary prosthetics and stage blood. There is an experimental quality to the proceedings which somehow makes Violent Shit seem rather less obnoxious than Schnaas’s later work, a sense that much of the point here is simply to get a handle on the mechanics of moviemaking. Not only is Schnaas not really telling a story in Violent Shit, he isn’t even pretending to, and the movie benefits to some extent from its forthright admission to being nothing more than a disorderly jumble of essentially unconnected murder scenes. Indeed, a couple of the vignettes are individually pretty decent, with surprisingly atmospheric stalkings bolstered by a very effective electronic score that hearkens back to the Italian gore films of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The trouble with this approach, though, is that you can get away with not having a real story in a five- or ten-minute short, but if you’re making a feature-length film, a premise alone just isn’t going to cut it. In Violent Shit, Schnaas tries to make a single scene’s worth of story serve the needs of the entire picture, and the movie doesn’t even reach the halfway point before it simply collapses under its own weight. After we’ve seen about three killings, Schnaas has already shown us everything he’s got as a writer and a director, and all that remains is for him to show off his seemingly endless inventiveness in devising gore effects. But because his miniscule budget basically precludes him from executing any of his ideas on that front at all convincingly, not even the trisection of a human body with a hedge trimmer, a remarkably tasteless genital mutilation, or the climatic head-scratcher in which Karl comes upon Jesus crucified in the forest, slits him open, and then literally climbs inside his torso (in search of the Sacred Heart of Christ, perhaps?) is enough to keep Violent Shit from becoming interminably boring.
Thanks (I think...) to Will Laughlin for hooking me up with a copy of this film.