krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
I've made it to the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (just in advance of the next official set coming out), and to the last new episode to be aired due to what I recall hearing were some difficulties getting the rights worked out. It's a good thing to me that "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders" didn't wind up "the lost episode": beyond being amusing in Mystery Science Theater form, the movie has an intriguing, complex structure. Of course, that doesn't distract from the strangeness of it all.

After opening "host segments" involving our heroes trying to bring back 1920s college pranks (which reminds me of a moment I've just seen in "The Mole People") and Pearl experimenting on them, things begin with a middle-aged woman ("She looks like an overstuffed turtle.") conducting a private parlour-room seance. ("She's stepped into the mystical world of Parker Brothers.") Things quite soon get out of hand, though, and as her "HO scale" house goes up in flames, all of a sudden it's a movie a boy is watching on TV, overseen by a grandfatherly and rotund Ernest Borgnine. ("Does he have a sea turtle under his sweater vest?") Then, the power goes out ("We'd better eat all the ice cream!"), and Ernest Borgnine takes the opportunity to remember how the cymbal-clashing toy monkey in the movie reminded him of a film he'd once written for TV, about how Merlin showed up in the modern world to sell mystical wonders and reawaken belief in magic.

In this new story, two women meet outside Merlin's shop and discuss how one of them can't conceive. Even so, there's something a little odd to me about how the son of the other looks as he wanders into the shop, followed by the first, frustrated woman's husband, who happens to be a store reviewer for a newspaper and is rather taken with his ability to crush stores that displease him. ("Look, my reviews have destroyed whole cities!") After narrating smug notes into his tape recorder and sparring with Merlin and his plush wife ("I'm a pillow with features."), he's given a book of magic spells and a vague warning.

The reviewer returns to his basement office and sorts out that the spells really do work around the time that the side effect of one of them makes him breathe fire. ("He's channelling the spirit of a circus freak!") After a quick note of clarification from Ernest Borgnine that using magic makes you age at great speed, the reviewer then tries to turn his cat into a familiar, but it doesn't work and the cat horrifically attacks him until he manages to set it on fire with his previous spell. ("Ah, I got old and roasted the cat alive with my breath, but I'm fine.") As the old age makeup gets thicker and more disturbing ("It's Possessy, the clown!" "You're a walking liver spot!"), he decides to collect his wife's blood for a rejuvenation potion. The potion works quite well indeed as he turns into a baby, and his wife has the child she's been wishing for. ("Based on a story by Sigmund Freud.")

Reminded that the toy monkey hasn't shown up yet, Ernest Borgnine starts up things again with a thief stealing the toy from Merlin's shop. It just so happens that a retrieval spell mentioned briefly before didn't get cast on the monkey, and then all of a sudden things look different: it's the early 1980s, or at least scenes pulled from a different movie from then, and the "riffing" makes a great many references to that time (although every so often a more recent reference crops up) without ever needing to spell things out. A toy monkey that at looks like the one stolen is given as a birthday present, and the boy who gets it seems quite taken even as his friends roughhouse with the Star Wars toy Imperial Walker and the "troop transport" thing that wasn't actually in the movies. (I can imagine this horrifying some collectors who don't have those toys yet, but also envision those who do just perhaps being in a mellower mood about it.) However, every so often the toy monkey clashes its cymbals by itself...

First the plants die, then a housefly, then the goldfish, and when the dog succumbs to an oil fire in the garage ("My AMC Pacer's in there!" "Aw, it melted my leisure suit!") the dad seems to start twigging to things even as we notice that the kid has both an E.T. poster and an E.T. T-shirt. A convenient psychic friend tells him to get the toy monkey out of the house without letting it know that; she can't actually go in to help him, but she does manage to snap at him about it. The dad sets the monkey on the coffee table and then runs the vacuum cleaner (old even then) into the table until the toy topples into a paper bag, but when the dad puts the bag in the trash the boy happens to knock over the trash can over and brings the monkey back in. ("Thanks, kid; you're now part of the dark army.") Finally, when the boy almost gets hit by a car the dad abandons all pretensions and speeds away to try and bury the monkey. ("You do this and I will call a legion of Beanie Babies down on you!") A torrential thunderstorm and the earth splitting open interfere, but he manages to make it home again with his arm in a sling.

However, when the grandmother comes home (just before, the dad tells the boy to change out of his dirty Return of the Jedi shirt and the boy says he likes it), she has a present that just happens to be the toy monkey, and the earth shakes and the door jams shut... and then Merlin, who had tracked the monkey through various hands in a series of inserted scenes ("I keep a full dossier on evil monkey buyers."), stops it from clashing its cymbals and gently chides it. ("Yes, it's my mission to release evil and gradually recover it, following the deaths of many innocent victims.") Just how things turned out in the Merlin-less original movie remains a vague worry for me. Still, the episode itself remains funny enough.

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