krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
It's been a little while since I commented on a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. As the number of episodes left to rewatch dwindled, I began to indulge in grand schemes of just how to view them, "saving some for last" but watching the others in production order for one last small-scale trip through the series. However, one of those episodes to be "watched in order" just happened to be part of the upcoming offical DVD collection, and so I decided to wait until that set was almost out. While I didn't mind having a bit of time to put towards other things, it is somehow familiar to get back to trying to set some thoughts down, in this case about a movie featuring giant scorpions in Mexico...

As a volcanic eruption devastates a part of the countryside ("And then tragedy struck. We ran out of stock footage!"), the blond American Henry "Hank" Scott and the Mexican university professor Arturo Ramos investigate. They find a live baby and a dead cop ("I told him not to eat the worm.") in a wrecked village, and then when a horse conveniently throws its rider Hank strikes things up with the ranch owner Teresa. As Dr. Ramos breaks a squeaking scorpion out from a chunk of ancient obsidian on top of Teresa's pool table, work on nearby telephone lines is interrupted by a much larger growling scorpion... ("Roughly translated, he's saying this would not have happened had we installed fibre optics.")

The giant black scorpion terrorises the countryside, and Hank and Dr. Ramos ride a crane bucket into volcanic caverns, with the kid who lives at Teresa's place stowing away. ("All right. You're bait. Come on.") They find a whole slew of scorpions of varying large sizes and a few other giant beasts ("What does it smell like in here to you guys?"), and after beating a hasty retreat the official decision is made to seal off the caverns with dynamite. Shrugging off his initial protests about that, Hank goes to Mexico City to take in the south-of-the-border nightlife and romance Teresa ("Your breath is like mummy meat!") However, the giant scorpions have poured back up to the surface to derail a passenger train... ("Now if you look out the left side of your train, you'll see the right side of the train...")

Most of the scorpions are apparently devoured by the biggest one, which closes in on Mexico City itself. However, by this time our heroes know the giant scorpions just happen to have a weak spot under their "chins," and concentrate military forces in a stadium to provide cover for an electric harpoon. As tanks blaze away and helicopters are brought crashing out of the sky the first harpoon shot doesn't quite hit the right spot, and the soldier firing it happens to forget the harpoon is still electrified while reeling it in, leaving Hank and Dr. Ramos to finish the beast off.

In some ways this movie doesn't seem quite as condescending towards Mexicans as certain other works in the Mystery Science Theater canon set "south of the border" might, even if an American happens to play an important role among the Mexican professors and military men. The scorpions themselves are done using stop-motion animation (although close-up shots appear to use a model able to drool just about every time it shows up), a step up from the shoddy effects of certain other movies. In the opening "host segment," Josh Weinstein's Dr. Larry Erhardt, made up with somewhat crude but still striking "mutant" makeup (Dr. Forrester has been "mutated" into a talking skeleton) bills the effects to Ray Harryhausen. Then, after the opening credits, Joel uses another segment to explain the effects were in fact by Willis O'Brien, who did the stop-motion animation for King Kong itself and mentored a young Harryhausen. Whether this was an actual mistake that couldn't be corrected while Weinstein still had the makeup on or just a subtle attempt to get the audience's attention has been the subject of just a little debate. At the same time, aware of what a fetish seems to be made at times of stop-motion animation these days, I started wondering if the easy-going late-first season "riffing" gave a sense of "treating the movie gently."

April 2019

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