Pod People would not even be remembered today had it not received the MST 3K treatment.
You may think of short films as just something used to pad out the running time of a skimpy feature or to occupy students for part of a class period while the teacher takes a break. But I’ve learned that short films can be surprisingly informative, and I’d like to share a few of my insights with you, courtesy of the re-release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume Two, which has an entire disc devoted to shorts:
- Nice girls who study Home Economics can look forward to working as a Tea Room Mangers (stop sniggering!) (“The Home Economics Story,” 1951).
- Cheating on an algebra exam transforms your home into a film noir set (“Cheating,” 1952).
- Brainy girls have no sex appeal (“Body Care and Grooming,” 1947).
- The female members of a family are obligated not only to cook and serve dinner, but also to change from their school/work clothes for the benefit of the male members of the family, while the male members of the family can spend their pre-dinner time doing homework or just relaxing (“A Date with Your Family,” 1950).
- Little girls in gingham dresses should not treat baby chicks as toys (“Chicken of Tomorrow,” 1948).
- Tying a tin can to a horse’s tail is not a good idea (“Junior Rodeo Daredevils,” 1949).
- The director of Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey) also made an industrial short starring a kid who is just a little too fond of sawdust and wood chips (“Why Study Industrial Arts?,” 1956).
Moving on to feature-length films in this re-release of the second Mystery Science Theatre 3000 collection, Cave Dwellers (1984) was clearly made to capitalize on the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan movies. Directed by Joe D’Amato, the most prolific (but certainly not the best) Italian filmmaker of all time, this cinematic wonder is set in a indeterminate fantasy-land of caves and fur costumes and hang-gliding. On the side of good you have the wise Akronas (Charles Borromel) and his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster, who went on to have an distinguished career as an animator), while team evil is headed by Zor (David Brandon). Akronas has discovered an energy source/weapon, Zor wants it, and Ator (Miles O’Keeffe, a former football player best known for playing Tarzan opposite Bo Derek in the 1981 film of the same name) is called on to put his well-developed muscles to work for the good guys. O’Keefe is no Schwarzenegger, but then did Schwarzenegger ever star in a film where a hubcap was used as a breastplate?
Imitation of better films is a theme in this collection, and the 1983 Spanish-French coproduction Pod People, directed by Juan Piquer Simon and written by Simon and Joaquin Grau (“Jack Gray” in the credits), is an obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Stephen Spielberg has nothing to worry about: Pod People would not even be remembered today had it not received the MST 3K treatment. The story begins when some space aliens arrive on earth on a dark and stormy night (rather oddly, there’s lots of lightning and thunder, but no rain) and deposit a large number of eggs in a cave. A poacher comes across the eggs and destroys most of them, but one is left intact. A cute kid named Tommy (Oscar Martin) finds the remaining egg and brings it home, where it hatches into a creature he nicknames “Trumpy.” Tommy is kind of a lonely kid, you see, and Trumpy soon becomes his best pal. He also has some interesting powers, such as making objects fly around Tommy’s room, an effect underlined by Tommy’s on-the-nose line “Trumpy, you can do magic things!” Thanks, kid, we hadn’t noticed. Trumpy also has a Mom who is, as most Moms are, quite protective of her offspring.
Pod People is full of rednecks with rifles, super-cheap effects (Trumpy and his Mom seem to be wearing Halloween masks from the five and dime), and lots of running around in the foggy woods. To keep things confusing, this film also includes recording sessions for a rock band (parodied by the Joel and the bots in one of the breaks), presumably included in an effort to capture the teenage market. Also worth noting: the opening and closing credits incorporate footage from an unrelated movie (Galaxy Invader).
Continuing with the theme of bad imitations, we have Angel’s Revenge (1979), an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the TV series Charlie’s Angels. Director/co-writer Greydon Clark, a schlock specialist whose other films include Satan’s Cheerleaders, Black Shampoo, and The Forbidden Dance (remember the Lambada?) recruited some decent actors, including Jack Palance, Peter Lawford, Alan Hale, Jr., and Jim Backus, but for the female roles he clearly made his selections based on criteria other than acting talent.
Michelle (former Playmate of the Month Susan Kiger), a Las Vegas performer, embarks on a crusade against drug dealers, enlisting six hot friends to the cause (trust me, you’ve never heard of any of the actresses). Their work uniform is white jumpsuits and high-heeled boots that are as eminently practical for the purpose of crime-fighting as the long, loose hairstyles they favor. To show how literary they are, Clark and co-writer Alvin L. Fast begin the story in media res (don’t you feel smarter already?), leaving you to wonder what is going on for about 10 minutes before they get around to supplying some backstory. Special bonus: Kiger wears a truly bizarre costume during her stage performances, and if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, it reflects D’Amato’s experience with shooting soft porn. | Sarah Boslaugh
Mystery Science Theatre 3000: Volume Two is distributed on DVD by Shout! Factory with a street date of May 24. The only extras included with this for-disc set are the hour wraps for Cave Dwellers and Pod People. That’s disappointing and also a poor business decision, because the inclusion of original short documentaries in some other releases constitute a nice little bonus that could tip the balance in favor of buying the discs.