krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Having at last watched everything in the latest official Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD collection (including an entertaining convention panel from last year in which Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett meet for a "Crow versus Crow" discussion), I'm starting once more to pick and choose what episodes to watch and comment on. At this point, I've managed to comment on more than half the episodes in the series, and in realising that started to wonder about "saving some episodes for the end." That, though, does seem to mean taking on an episode or two now that might seem to be a "problem one"...

"The Castle of Fu Manchu" ("where you eat square hamburgers with chopsticks!") does feature Christopher Lee in the title role, making him part of a small group of actors also including James Earl Jones and Donald Pleasence (and Ron Howard) who have featured in both George Lucas films and the Mystery Science Theater canon. The evil Chinese genius played by a British actor is trying to take over the world using some kind of water-freezing device, and manages to sink an ocean liner in the tropics in what just might be stock footage. ("And now back to our Channel 9 movie, The Poseidon Adventure!") The British agent Nayland Smith is dispatched to stop this diabolical plan, and Fu Manchu's ninja-like troops storming a Turkish castle gives him the lead he needs. However, Fu Manchu's agents also kidnap a surgeon and a younger woman I first thought was his daughter and then realised she definitely wasn't to perform a heart transplant on a scientist who needs to be kept alive for some reason connected to the evil plan. Nayland Smith eventually makes his way to the castle and rescues the scientist; the doctor and his assistant have made their own getaway with a surprising amount of skill. Fu Manchu's diabolical machine blows up on him ("You know, if he's going to express an emotion, this would be the moment."), but this doesn't seem to finish him...

It's just conceivable this film is an example of how not every "bad movie" quite works with the Mystery Science Theater treatment; the plot is indeed confusing and the colour balance can change from scene to scene ("Oh--uh, thanks. The new light helps."), and yet it can be tempting to wonder if this is indeed an "entertaining" sort of "badness," or just the sort that people complain about for not being "as good as it should have been"; the somewhat lavish production values may have something to do with that. Perhaps, too, at this point in the series the "riffing" isn't quite as capable of building on what it's stuck with as it might have been later, even if that later effort might have seemed "nastier." Particularly in the "host segments," and pointed out by following an exuberant opening marching song, first Crow and Tom Servo and then Joel himself start breaking down as Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank gloat... and yet, Joel manages to turn it all around at the end, saying that the "Robinsons (roughly)" won by surviving, "and that's what Robinsons do." He then challenges the mad scientists to take on the movie themselves, and they try to "riff" on a random clip without a great deal of success ("Look at her shoes."), so perhaps things don't turn out that bad in the end.

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