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Deep Ape Review: Cinematic Titanic, “The Oozing Skull”

So, this is it. The second coming of The Hodgson. How are you feeling about it, folks? Was it worth the wait? General consensus seems to be, “Yes.” Prior to its release, I had hopes for this project but, as always, I was cautious in my optimism. After all, I’ve had my criticisms of Rifftrax and The Film Crew. They both have failed to capture the magic of MST as I remember it. Would a different combination of Brains do the trick? Would five be better than three?

I’m honestly not prepared, nor entirely willing, to start making “Joel vs. Mike” comparisons, nor “Trace vs. Bill” or “Josh vs. Kevin.” And as much as we’d all like to see a Mary Jo vs. Bridget kickboxing match, I think it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. For most, it will probably be more a question of which riffing style you prefer. I’m a Mike/Kevin/Trace man, myself. Oddly enough, though, I found that this preference had little bearing on my own personal enjoyment (or lack thereof — who knows?) of Cinematic Titanic.

So anyway, nevermind the bollocks. Here’s the Oozing Skull review (after the cut).

This is kind of an odd film choice for this venture. The presence of Joel, Trace, and Josh evokes MST3K’s first four seasons, and yet this film would seem more at-home in season nine or ten. It’s a bleak, lifeless, early-’70s swipe at horror, with lo-fi gore and a gratuitous scene featuring a woman in her underwear. So, pretty standard for its genre, but certainly more at-home with the Moon Beast or the Melting Man, than with the (the) Eye Creatures and the Giant Gila Monster.

The film is the story of Abdul Amir, ruler of Kalid, who dies in the film’s opening minutes. His corpse is shipped to America and his brain is then removed and kept alive in a pan, until his people can find a suitable host body. They don’t, and end up settling for a giant, deformed hick (naturally). From there, the fun begins, with conspiracies and double-crosses and twist endings and midgets. At least, I think that was fun. I could be mistaken.

Actually, I didn’t really have much of a problem with this movie. I didn’t like it, of course, but I’ve seen far worse from its kind. It was tolerable. I actually cared about the oddly-placed heroine’s survival, and the twist ending was, in concept, pretty decent. Unfortunately, it was also poorly carried out, but then that’s why it’s here being torn apart by the riffing elite. Speaking of which…

Straight out of the gate, the crew makes it apparent that they’re still up to their old riffing bewitchery. The riffs fly fairly frequently and with enough confidence to sell them. The humor is right out of season four of MST3K — not astoundingly biting, but charming and kind of corny. This isn’t a bad thing. I’ve never been a huge fan of season four, but it works here. It’s almost like a small window into the past, with Joel, Trace, and Josh picking up where they left off (though Josh obviously left off a bit further back). Frank and Mary Jo also match them quite well.

My primary complaint is a negligible one. Essentially, they seem a bit rusty, in places. Some riffs are drawn out too long (Joel’s Slinky song), some are handled poorly, and their short in-theater skits aren’t nearly as funny they ought to be. (Al Hirt has a weak tummy? Wha?) The reason this is negligible, though, is that these are all things that, theoretically, could and should be worked out over time. Presumably, they just need a few more episodes to work the kinks out.

Apart from those complaints, I have to say that I was delightfully surprised by this outing. Trace — of whom I am quite the fanboy — is in top form, as I’d hoped. He easily slips back into a sort of Forrester/Crow mish-mash of funniness. Joel is still Joel. If you liked him on MST3K, you’ll like him here. Josh is better than ever, and he’s clearly become a much better performer since his time with MST. Mary Jo is as great as I’ve come to expect, and Frank is… well, he’s Frank. Which isn’t bad, but I did think he fell flat more than the others did.

The first thing you notice about this is the opening anti-piracy notice. Big, bold, and brassy, it explicitly states that the cast of CT does not want you uploading this episode to torrent sites and sharing it illegally. If that doesn’t spell it out for you, then you’re beyond help. Be kind. Don’t be a douche.

Trace’s line, “Christina’s World! … Look it up!” is one of my favorite lines in MST3K-related history. To understand the joke, look here (where the line is spoken) and then here (Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World). See, I’m a firm believer in Joel’s “the right people will get it” philosophy. I don’t like watering down humor so more people will understand it, and Trace’s line exemplifies this so awesomely. “Don’t get it? Figure it out yourself.” I had to look it up, and I was glad I did.

I went fairly easy on the movie, up there, but there’s one thing I must bring up: What the hell were they thinking, in regards to the monster’s skullcap? I’ve seen better makeup effects in films made ten or twenty years prior. I’m sure they intended to have some hair sticking out the back, but the presentation is just pitiful.

The callbacks. Yeah, they’re still reusing a few of the old riffs from MST3K. This time, however, the nostalgia factor serves as their free pass. One of Trace’s, however, is simply brilliant: “Pepperidge Farm dismembers.” Now, that’s how you keep something fresh. Well done, sir. Well done.

I have a bit more to say about both the movie and the riffers, but I’m trying not to let these reviews become too ungodly in their length. Seeing as though this is a special episode, I may make a follow-up post, later.

This is the closest we may ever come to legitimately exclaiming, “Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back!” Still, it falls short of the mark set by their previous works — but that’s okay. MST3K set the bar high, and we may never get anything better. However, Cinematic Titanic comes close enough, giving us something new to enjoy and helping to keep the fire burning. Godspeed, lady and gentlemen. Keep riffing.

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4 Responses

  1. In the interest of disclosure, regarding the statement:

    “After all, I’ve had my criticisms of Rifftrax and The Film Crew. They both have failed to capture the magic of MST as I remember it”,

    Which RiffTrax have you seen?

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Why you always ragging on Frank? What’ve you got against him? What’d he ever do to you?

  3. @augiedoggie
    So, critiquing one of his performances suddenly means that I’m “always ragging” on him? LOL. If you paid more attention to this blog, you’d know that I’ve been very supportive of his Cartoon Dump project in the past, and TV’s Frank happens to be one of my favorite TV characters of all time. Why so sensitive, augie? I didn’t laugh at Frank’s riffs much. That’s all. I didn’t laugh at him much during Last of the Wild Horses, either.

    @Conor
    Due to having a tight budget and my lacking a fully-functional DVD player in my computer, I’ve only see two Rifftrax in their entirety: Fifth Element and Daredevil. I’m actually working on a Daredevil review. Despite my comments in this article, you’ll probably be pleased with that particular review. Don’t worry, man, I still love you guys. :)

    (And I’ve finally remembered to thank you for those Rifftrax you gifted me with a long time ago. Thanks!)

  4. Excellent review Hugh.

    I’m going to back you up on Frank. The man’s clearly a very funny writer but sometimes his performances are a little flat. It’s a style that worked great for the TVs Frank character but on CT I think I’d like to see him with a little more “pep”.

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