krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Even before it was announced that the official collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs now out would contain "The Corpse Vanishes," I suppose I had been thinking ahead to watching the fifth episode of each season one after another, and in a sense ending an era since the seventh season only had six episodes and I've already commented on "Laserblast." "Blood Waters of Dr. Z" being announced for the next collection sets an end point that I'm wondering if I can reach before the DVDs are released, but for now it's on to the second season and a slice of Cold War agit-prop. First, though, there's more Bela Lugosi...

The second chapter of "The Phantom Creeps," after an "opening crawl" (Joel asks the robots "You guys still sure that Lucas was the first guy to do this?"), opens where the first instalment left off, with a plane plummeting to destruction and a blonde girl reporter bailing out. Despite landing nose-first and breaking a (model) wing off, the protagonist somehow manages to survive unharmed. Dr. Alex Zorka's wife isn't so lucky, though, and when the doctor casually makes his way past the police with his beard now shaved off and finds her dead, he seems to take this rather badly. Things get harder yet to follow, but do include searching the doctor's house, obvious toy spiders skittering towards exploding discs, the tremendous tiki-headed robot shoving the secret entrance open, and the doctor tearing off in a car while invisible. Following in pursuit with the girl reporter, the protagonist makes a comment in a peculiar "Reagan-esque" voice that provided one half of a recurring catchphrase for the show, then gets knocked out by a chunk of wood wielded by the invisible doctor and shoved down a cliff to (apparent) destruction. We see how the protagonist escapes this particular fix following "Ring of Terror," and the full serial, being in the public domain, can be picked up on those cheap DVD collections, but I have no particular urge to see any more of it.

As for "Rocket Attack USA," the movie opens with a surprisingly amiable disclaimer that what we see would only be a real threat if people other than those then in charge of the Soviet Union got into power there. In any case, a discussion in a nondescript meeting room establishes that Earth satellites such as Sputnik 1 ("No, I think it's a supersonic metal-covered spitball!") are necessary to answer some final nagging questions about what happens to an ICBM warhead in space. What with one person giving gloomy reports about problems with the American missile program that could have been dealt with by providing more money earlier ("Well, thanks Bob; I think we all have our cyanide tablets ready."), the spy John Masten is dispatched from West Berlin to deal with the Soviet missile program. He gets flown over the border in the kind of nondescript light plane that might be found anywhere in America and travels the rest of the way to (stock footage of) Moscow, apparently walking for some chunk of the way.

There's a lengthy dancing-girl sequence in a nightclub that might be Russian if you squint; just to reassure us that wasn't the only reason for going there, a fire-eater shows up afterwards (our heroes, in the meantime, pleading for some table service for John). At last, he contacts Tanya, who doesn't seem to have any sort of an accent but is solidly on our side for all that she just happens in the last little while to have become the mistress of a Soviet official. This does, though, relieve John of the necessity of going out and doing anything; instead, he gets to hide in the closet whenever the official is visiting Tanya. Finally, another secret agent shows up, who claims to be British for all that he doesn't have much of an accent either, and John gets some dynamite and instructions to blow up what seems to be the only missile the Soviets have before they launch it.

The protagonists set off ("So, this music sure implies something exciting's going to happen."), and the British agent is captured before too long and interrogated by a Soviet officer who doesn't seem to speak with an accent either. (Maybe this is meant to imply everyone is speaking Russian, the scenes where it's just Soviets speaking in Russian with only occasional bursts of narration aside, but it catches my attention in a peculiar way all the same.) Tanya is gunned down, and John gets past one guard and an ordinary barbed-wire fence to try and plant his bomb on a slim "rocket" with no particular launch pad gear near it. He even escapes in the gun battle, but a Soviet soldier manages to wrench the bomb off the "rocket" and charge off into the distance, where there's an explosion. ("Did I forget to tell you to throw it?") Finally, John himself is gunned down.

Despite all of this, there's still a big chunk of the movie left, and the action moves to New York where we see a few people going about their business despite the war jitters. Soon enough, though, the Soviets have launched their (lone) ICBM, and despite Tanya informing John earlier that the USSR's anti-aircraft rockets are impenetrable there's stock footage of B-52s taking off and Nike missiles attempting to intercept the incredibly cheap special effects of the ICBM ("Hey, it's Clutch Cargo."), but to no avail. New York, or at least the city centre, is destroyed in stock footage of an A-bomb explosion, and the closing narration and titles inform us that we cannot let this be the end. ("Oh, yes we can!")

The "host segments" open with Joel using a belt sander to give Tom Servo "the equivalent of a robot haircut"; he's compared to "that guy from House Party" and Bart Simpson before the episode is over. The other segments all seem inspired by the movie, including the "Charlie McCarthy hearings," a "Civil Defence Quiz Bowl" (featuring a dollop of Kennedy assassination paranoia), and Mike Nelson making a "Hexfield Viewscreen" appearance (the Hexfield can now "iris open" and shut) as the Soviet cosmonaut Sorri Andropoli, complete with two basically non-functional robots of his own. (Crow says that they "look like they got shot out of cannon!") Remembering this host segment, I brought Sorri back for a MSTing I once wrote, although it may not have been as surreal an appearance (or, at least, as surreal in the same way) as this one. To finish things off, Joel and the robots offer an angry summary of the movie to the mads; Dr. Forrester responds with "You're upset. I like that." One moment near the end of the movie must have struck the "Best Brains" enough for it to have become the very first "stinger."

I suppose that when it comes to this episode, I'm always tempted to make a direct comparison between it and "Invasion USA," and further tempted to say that for me, Mike's episode features a livelier movie (or at least one that puts its stock footage to greater use) and snappier "riffing." Still, I can see how for those who began with five seasons of episodes featuring Joel, this one would be the original.

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