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Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Volume 6 (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Volume 6 (Rhino-2004)

The 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.

Towards 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.

It was 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.

The 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.)

That 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 (1959)

Our 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.

The 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.

Gunslinger (1956)

I'm not 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 sexy.”)

Complications and catfights abound (“it’s like lady Roadhouse”) as our new lawwoman 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

These 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 salesperson.

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.”)

Hired! – 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 practical.”)

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 or 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 (1959)

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.

Unfortunately, young 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 teenybopper girlfriend?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted: October 26, 2004.

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