Pros: Mike and the 'Bots perform heroic riffing. The short's a plus. Katherine Victor.
Cons: The final offal of perhaps the most reprehensible Z-movie maker -ever.-
The topic of "Worst Director of All Time" has long been a subject for debate among B-movie mavens. Some will throw out Arch Hall Sr., or Coleman Francis, or even try to sneak by Ed Wood. However, -my- vote for the bottom of the barrel in Z films goes to none other than Jerry Warren.
Warren's ineptitude was exceeded only by his crass plagiarism of better films. His totally mercenary attitude and completely inept filmmaking non-talents fail to give us anything resembling an interesting shoot, throwing away the efforts of such relatively decent actors as Bruno VeSota and his perennial leading lady Katherine Victor. Warren's typical MO was to buy the rights to a Mexican horror movie and chop it up into little messes, splicing in flatly lit and unblocked scenes of dull exposition with American actors that robbed these movies of what little interest and atmosphere that they already possessed. Even when he creates a mostly "original" movie, such as TEENAGE ZOMBIES (1958) or this bit of cinematic guano, it's totally derivative and lacking in any story or cinematic value. To give you an inkling of how much he's despised by the independent film-making community, Bill Warren, the author of KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES, a definitive 2-volume encyclopedic work on the science-fiction movies of the classic era (1950-62) spares no effort to remind us that he is nohow, no way, no sir, no mam related in any way, shape or form to the Jermonster.
As Episode #515 opens, Mike is teaching the 'Bots blackjack, but Crow's utter inability to understand when to "stick" ruins the effort. TV's Frank unveils the Atomic-Powered Hairdryer. He turns it on Dr. Forrester, giving him a mushroom-cloud haircut. Frank freaks out and accuses the bad Dr. of being under demonic influence [not an unreasonable supposition, truth be told]. Mike uses the opportunity to demonstrate his invention, the RazorBack, a giant saftey razor for those who suffer from grievous back hair problems. This is only the third show after the transition from Joel to Mike as host, and the invention exchange (a Joel specialty from his prop-comic days) would soon be phased out.
"A young Franz Kafka awaits his fate"
We then swing into one of the best-loved of all MST3K's shorts, CHEATING. Produced by Centron in the 50's for the Encyclopedia Britannica's "Problems in Group Living" series, it recounts the grim and sordid story of John Taylor, a budding Willy Loman. Johnny is a young prospective BMOC. He's on the football team and has been recently elected to the Student Council. Unfortunately, Johnny doesn't have the moral fortitude to put in his own elbow grease, and starts leaning on his friend Mary Matthews to give him test answers in Miss Granby's Algebra class.
Johnny's world starts to spiral down into a Bergmanesque nightmare. ("Is this Ingmar Bergman's first American film?") Jim, supposedly his best "bud," encourages his slack-bladder attitude towards schoolwork. He spends his off-hours isolated in a house filled with dark shadows and ominously ticking clocks. Miss Granby's disembodied head (a la THE HOUR OF THE WOLF) haunts him at night, while his dependency on Mary accelerates. Eventually, the inevitable happens and Granby tumbles to their little scam. Johnny is disgraced. His relationship with the darkly attractive Mary is terminated (the Johnster is a sap in more than one way, it seems) and he's voted off of the student council in shame.
"Man, they just put a bunch of movies in a blender and pressed the 'mix' button!"
OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION-THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN!
What can I say about this movie? It would defy S.J. Perelman's comic touch to make anything out of this dross.
Dennis Miller would be writhing on the floor of the MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL booth wetting himself with sheer terror at the prospect of dealing with this salmonella-infested turkey of a film. It is all the more remarkable that Mike and the 'Bots are able to rise to the occasion and give this odure in the cinematic water-pipe exactly what it deserves.
Briefly, an "atomic-powered hearing aid" being held by the Ayjax Development Corporation is a copy of another invention and is ordered destroyed by the Patent Office. The president of Ayjax has failed to meet the deadline, and now faces the threat of its theft at the hands of the "master" criminal, Rat Fink. R.F. has the unusual tendency of dressing like a Mexican wrestler, primarily because the bulk of his footage is lifted from the "Aztec Mummy" series, where he's really "the Bat" a.k.a. the "unscrupulous Dr. Krupp." Anyhoo, the Vice President of Ayjax, Jim Flanagan (Steve "Giant Spider Invasion" Brodie), goes off to plead for help from the famed superheroine, the BATWOMAN (the unsinkable Katherine Victor). Unlike her comic book "inspiration," -this- Batwoman is -not- an ex-circus performer turned heiress, but the leader of a female self-improvement cult that practices ritual vampirism (with strawberry yogurt "subbing" for blood) in between ineffectual bouts of crime-fighting. (We see two of her minions witness a murder without doing jack-flop about it. All in all, you'd get more two-fisted action from the Breck Girls). She's already rescued one of her girls from Rat Fink's lair, and appears to have the usual co-dependent "hero/villain" relationship with him, although their backstory is never explicated. Rat Fink, and his allies Tiger, Dr. Neon (inventor of the "happy pill," MST3K fandom suspects that he's Dr. Forrester's father), and the unspeakably moronic Heathcliff (Lloyd Nelson) contrive to steal the hearing aid despite the best efforts of B.W. and her "girls." Everything is resolved, however, and even Batwoman can only shrug her shoulders in disgust at the conclusion.
Meanwhile, Mike asks the 'Bots to write their own essays on whether or not Johnny's cheating was justified. Tom responds with "No," plus 30+ volumes of footnotes "charting the dialectical process." Gypsy states, "Cheating is bad, Richard Basehart is good." Crow is reluctantly forced to participate and chimes in with, "Cheating is bad, Richard Basehart is good."
"You know a movie is bad, bad, bad when it makes 'The Monkees' look good!"
Well, as is obviously apparent to anyone familiar with the mid-60's, Warren was trying to rip off the success of the BATMAN TV show. Unfortunately, he had two problems.
A) There was -already- a Bat-woman in the DC stable of characters, so he was into major copyright infringement.
B) Aside from his leading lady, Katherine Victor, he had -nothing- in comparison to the William Dozier-produced cult classic. As the IMDB reviewers point out, he -fails- at camp, i.e. he's so bad he can't even do "bad" correctly!
Warren eventually won his lawsuit with D.C. However, it drained him financially and emotionally. After passing up a 330,000 dollar settlement offer, he finally ended up getting less than a fifth of that after legal fees. He quit films for 15 years, only coming out of retirement to do the obscure FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981) before dying of cancer on Aug 21, 1988.
"She brings a quiet dignity to this movie, doesn't she?"
So, who's this Katherine Victor person, anyway?-
Born Katena Ktenavea in the Hell's Kitchen district of Manhattan, the future TV and movie actress grew up in L.A. and began her acting career on the stage and radio in the late '40s. She made her film debut in the campy sci-fi adventure "Mesa of Lost Women" in 1952; in 1957 she starred as the imperious Dr. Myra in director Jerry Warren's "Teenage Zombies", which led to a series of roles in Warren's impoverished productions. Always busy outside of acting (in modeling, real estate and in various jobs in the animated cartoon business), Victor feels that the stigma of being a regular in Warren's movies stymied her mainstream acting career.
IMDb mini-biography by
Tom Weaver* (TomWeavr@aol.com), at
Katherine Victor's struggle for acceptance has been a recurrent theme throughout her life. Born to a compulsive gambler father and a mentally-ill and psychologically abusive mother, she fought desperately to get an education in the arts, even to the point of sneaking out of the bathroom window to join a children's orchestra. She managed to find employment on the stage and radio in the late 40's, developing a wonderfully-cultured voice and poised manner which later led to a modelling career. After scoring serveral successes at the famous Artists and Models ball with her stunning Mediterranian good looks, she was approached by Ron Ormond to star in his horrid stinker MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1953). After getting her signature role as Dr. Myra, the Mad Scientist in Warren's TEENAGE ZOMBIES (1960), she worked with legendary bad director Phil "Robot Monster" Tucker in THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS (1960).
Do you see a pattern forming?
Anyhow, she made a bad marriage with a possessive husband after BATWOMAN and what little career momentum she had stalled completely. Fortunately, she was able to find work elsewhere, including cartoon voice-overs, and is still plugging away.
In BATWOMAN, Victor has both merits and flaws. On the "Flaw" side, she designed her own costume, which looks like a bad Vegas showgirl outfit crossed with road-kill. On the "Credit" side, she -does- bring a quiet dignity to the proceedings and shows the only professionalism that the movie can lay claim to. It's worth checking out just to do homage to her incredible effort, and the great job that the MST3K gang do as well.
"Stone him! Stone him!"
Meanwhile, back on the Satellite of Love, Crow's cheating is a hot topic for discussion. Thankfully, love wins out over vengeance in the end. The boys brace themselves for the next experiment, which features a far inferior actress-Kathy Ireland's ALIEN FROM L.A.
The torment continues, and you are there...
*Cult movie fans owe a great debt to the yeoman work that Tom Weaver and his colleages do. Weaver's interviews with Victor (in his SCIENCE FICTION STARS AND HORROR HEROS, pp. 386-400) and Warren (INTERVIEWS WITH B SCIENCE FICTION AND HORROR MOVIE MAKERS, pp.369-380) were important resources for this review. For those of you who want to know more about MST3K, check out their official fansite, www.mst3kinfo.com.