All posts by Richard Francis

SERIES OVERVIEW: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return

This review might seem a bit out of nowhere for a horror site, but Mystery Science Theater 3000 is something near and dear to the hearts of many hardcore horror fans simply because we've all had to suffer through bad movies with our friends.
We've all been there, particularly if you lived through the video rental era. You'd wander the aisles for upwards of an hour, reading the backs of boxes, looking for the perfect movie to watch. You would grab a pizza and a few refreshing cold beverages, get home, pop in the movie and immediately be disappointed with your carefully selected choice of films. It happens, but you'd suffer through it anyway, because money was spent and you weren't about to let that crappy movie win.
I'm a bit shocked that some of the people I watched movies with back then are still my friends considering how many bad movies I made them watch. At this point I would like to formally apologize to my friend John for making him suffer through all those dreadful movies. Notice I said that I would LIKE to apologize; I'm not actually going to because those memories are some of the best of my formative years.
Which brings me to my point. Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn't just a movie watching experience; it's more like a bonding experience. You feel a kinship, not just with the host and his companions, but with everyone who has ever suffered through a bad movie.
I'll admit that when I first heard that Joel Hodgson was trying to reboot Mystery Science Theater 3000, I was skeptical. As much as I loved the show, I really didn't think it was still relevant in today's society of 140-character Twitter humor, Fail Army videos, and tasteless memes. That, and the fact that it's closing on 20 years since the show appeared on television.
Surprisingly, the new incarnation is every bit as good as the older version. Mind you, it's not the same show. It's the next step in the progression of the show. An evolution. Everything about it is new. It's much more polished with better visuals in some areas, and the old school, homemade feel in others.
Kinga Forrester and Max aka TV's Son of TV's Frank / Fair use doctrine.The story plays out the same way as the old one. Evil mad scientists Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), and her assistant, TV's Son of TV's Frank, aka Max (Patton Oswalt), trap some poor, likable dope — Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) — on the far side of the moon and force him to watch bad movies with his robot pals.
Even though Day and Oswalt do a great job as the new "Mads", I don't think their characters are fully developed at this point. They seem almost TOO competent compared to Clayton and Pearl Forrester. And while both are colorful and entertaining, they seem a bit generic. As a big fan of both, I'm hoping that both can embrace their respective roles and make them unique and interesting characters in future seasons.
Jonah and the bots / Fair use doctrine.Jonah Ray does a superb job filling the shoes of the hosts before him. No small feat. (Get it? Shoes, Feet. HaHaHaHa!) considering that Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson had two distinctly different styles. He's not just filling the shoes in though, he's doing a great job of making the role his own. And although the voices of Crow and Tom Servo have changed slightly, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn pick up almost seamlessly from Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy regarding the character and delivery of their respective robots.
The riffing in the theater segments is fast and concise right out of the gate, with lots of references to current events as well as throwbacks to some of the classic episodes. Just like the old show, the diverse range of topics give the new shows a great amount of re-watchability.
The host segments are lively and fun, although it's easy to tell that Ray, Yount, and Vaughn haven't quite mastered their on-screen chemistry. That sort of thing will come together over time, though.
Also, the addition of some big-name celebrities and a few familiar old faces dropping by on occasion gives the viewers an added treat. I'd tell you a few right now, but it's more fun to be surprised by it.
Overall, it's a faithful continuation of the series if you're an old fan of the show, and it's a great introduction if you're a newbie.

MOVIE REVIEW: Observance (2015)

Picking random low-budget movies is risky. For every hidden gem that you find, you have to wade through dozens of awful movies. I've grown accustomed to wading through the dreck, though, as I can usually find some merit in even the worst of films. Even if it's just for the laugh factor. With that being said, I wasn't expecting much from Observance. All I knew about it was that it was extremely low budget and that it was filmed in Australia. Other than that, it was new to me.
Observance is an Australian horror/thriller directed by Joseph Sims-Dennett and released in 2015. The story follows a private investigator (Lindsay Farris) returning to work after the loss of his young son. He is tasked by an enigmatic client to observe a woman (Stephanie King) from an empty apartment across the street. He is never told why he is watching her, or what to watch for. Only to watch, and report back. He soon begins to have dreams and visions concerning this woman and his deceased son. As things progress it becomes apparent that his task is not what it seems.
The story moves along at the exact pace you'd expect from a movie where you're watching a guy sit in an empty apartment watching a woman. Suffice to say, very slow. Not boring though. His various actions and interactions with the appliances, windows, and a corded phone (seriously, do those things even still exist?) are enough to keep you wondering what is and isn't real. Also, the director's use of a handheld camera make it feel as though you're seeing real life events unfold as opposed to watching a movie.
The storytelling is tight and concise with limited dialogue and sparse music, which adds to the tedious nature of the investigator's job. The whole story has a very subtle, Lovecraftian feel to it. Not in the crazy monsters from the depths of your worst nightmare sense, but in the very real sense that there is a flipside to everyday normalcy that is so close to the surface that we can almost catch glimpses of it. Unfortunately, that also means that it has an ending that fits this type of narrative.
My only real issue with Observance is that it is a very green movie. Not green in the sense of environmentally friendly, but green in the sense that the director went a bit overboard with color correction software. I'm not opposed to a director using colors to establish mood and atmosphere, but it gets a bit tedious at times.
If you like glossy terror with lots of monsters and jump scares, you might want to pass on this one, but if you enjoy a slow burn with a conclusion that is a bit open ended you will probably enjoy Observance.
Observance poster / Fair use doctrine.