Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I told JC last night that when I die I want to be buried with my MST3K DVDs. And I don't mean for them to be simply tossed into the hole: I want to be clutching them to my chest as they close the lid on the coffin. That's how much I love them.

Even so, occasionally a dud episode will surface, and last night's offerings, The Unearthly and The Sidehackers, unfortunately fall into that category. Unlike every other TV show ever recorded, MST3K actually got better the longer it ran, so the episodes from seasons 9 and 10 are funnier, on average, than those in earlier seasons (in this case 3 and 2 respectively).

The Unearthly was made in 1957, but looked so shoddy and cheap that it may as well have been recorded twenty years earlier. In an isolated rural mansion, evil Dr Conway and his assistant Dr Gilchrist (playing Eva Braun to his Hitler) need human guinea pigs (or, if they're unavailable, guinea pig humans) for their experiments with anti-aging glands. They use their colleague Dr Wright (another member of the Royal Society of Evil Physicians) to bring them orphans and loners who won't be missed, in the promise of treating them in their bucolic sanatorium. However, the only treatment they'll be receiving is 20ccs of PURE VILLAINY! With perhaps some intravenous UNADULTERATED TREACHERY if there are any side-effects.

Dr Wright's latest referral is the lovely Grace, who finds herself arriving at the same time as the mysterious Mark. Little does she know that Mark is an escaped convict, who has been offered sanctuary in the house by Dr Conway. In turn, little does Mark know that Dr Conway really plans to use him for his experiments.

Not being as dim-witted as the rest of the people in the house, Mark soon discovers that the patients who have been 'cured and released' have actually been 'turned into hideous freaks and locked in the basement'. He tries to warn Grace, but she's been told that he's psychotic and delusional, so she doesn't believe him. She doesn't believe him when she's in her swimsuit, and she doesn't believe him (twice!) when she's in her filmy negligee. She only starts to believe him when she's fully clothed, which may imply that sensible clothing makes you smarter.

Or maybe not. It's never wise to look at implications in movies like these.

In due course, it's revealed that Mark isn't really an escaped convict. He's really an undercover policeman, pretending to be an escaped convict in order to infiltrate this Hospice of Wickedness. This is good news for two reasons. One, he can call in some backup once things come to a head, around the time that Dr Conway gets stabbed by a zombie. Two, the fact that he's an upright upholder of the law rather than a murderous low-life finally tips the scales of Grace's affections. I mean, she liked him well enough before, but the fact that he's got a good job and a pension makes her fall into his embrace and attempt to suck out his tonsils. Gentlemen, never underestimate the appeal of a uniform.

While The Unearthly looked twenty years older than it actually was, The Sidehackers, made in 1969, was a movie ahead of its time... in that it foresaw the 70s fad for killing off the entire cast in a blaze of bullets and nihilism.

Sidehacking is a wildly successful motor sport involving motorbikes with sidecars. At least that was the theory behind the film. In reality sidehacking, if it actually existed at all, was a short-lived sporting dead end somewhat less successful than roller derby.

Hero Rommel (insert many a Desert Fox gag here) is a sidehacker by day, motorcycle repair guy by, um, alternate days, and lover by every second Thursday. He impresses the ladies with his sidehacking prowess, his buttonless shirts, his hilarious souffle-like white poorboy cap, and the fact that he can change his hair colour from henna red to bleach blonde depending on which scene he's in.

He and girlfriend Rita, who sports a foofy blonde hair-do seemingly modelled on someone's pet Pomeranian, are going to be married. They spend the days of their engagement frolicking through meadows of summer wildflowers, tripping, then rolling through meadows of summer wildflowers. And rolling. And rolling. My theory is that they're practicing to roll their way to Canada for their honeymoon.

Their future married life is a subject that Rita never fails to bring up when they're snuggling (or indeed rolling). The foolish girl is obviously unaware of one of the great movie maxims: he or she who dwells too much on forthcoming nuptials is doomed never to reach them.

The agents of her destruction are JC, a professional motorcycle daredevil and owner of innumerable satin shirts that resemble glamorous dentist's smocks, and his girlfriend Paisley. JC has just stumbled across sidehacking and is very impressed. Paisley has just stumbled across Rommel and is similarly enthralled. But Rommel rejects her advances, and in a fit of pique, Paisley tears her dress and tells JC that Rommel assaulted her.

JC is not a sober, thoughtful person; he goes through bipolar cycles the way normal people go through Tic-Tacs. Incensed by the attack on Paisley (a duty he had previously kept for himself), he takes revenge by getting his posse together and going on a good old-fashioned violent rampage, beating up Rommel and killing Rita.

Poor Rommel; he's lost the only person who ever wanted to roll to foreign lands with him. Understandably he's now up for a little vengeance himself. He enlists the help of JC's disenfranchised token black man to form a posse of his own. With their assistance, he raids JC's hideout (located in one of those abandoned quarries so beloved by film makers), and in the process... well, everybody dies. Rommel's posse dies. JC's posse dies. Paisley dies. Rommel dies. JC... is wounded, but as he's personally murdered at least three people and the police are just entering the quarry, he's going to die sooner rather than later. The leaden fate of all who dare to dream of love and freedom in a world of Cold War politics, nuclear threat, environmental degradation and tie-dyed fashion is thus confirmed.

It's amazing what a difference just twelve years can make. In the late 50s, your leading man could be assured of a pash session with a bullet-bra'd babe by the final scene. In the late 60s, he could be assured of a bloody death, possibly with a side order of bloody death for his love interest.

I know which universe I'd prefer to live in.


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