Sunday, January 30, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#29) Coleman Francis' THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (via MST3K)

"This movie stops at nothing, and stays there." (Tom Servo)

Ah, Coleman Francis. A filmmaker so tasteless and untalented that in an average Pepsi-Coke challenge between himself and Ed Wood, Plan 9 would come out right on top. Hey, at least that monstrosity has cheesily quotable dialog and it can even entice the main crew on Seinfeld to want to go see it at a midnight showing. The Beast at Yucca Flats, one of a few of the (thankfully) limited body of work of Mr. Francis, is so bad that you can hear the director's mother still wailing from her maggot-ridden grave. It's a movie in its conception and construction, but it doesn't resemble anything close to entertaining or enlightening or (Dog-Forbid) scary.  It's one of those so-cheap-it's-nothing movies where it was shot without sound and without common sense; instead of the usual ADR, he had actors speak their "lines" away from the camera, looking away or their hands over their mouths or in long-shots.  And the narration... oh boy.

I wish I could say there's a story to tell, but there isn't even that, except that there's a big scary 'Beast', an Russian ex-scientist played by Tor Johnson (if you can believe that) is nearby a nuclear testing site and a bomb goes off, awash in the radiation.  Now a monster (if you could not believe that) roams the countryside like Kane in Kung-fu looking for victims to Kill Kill KILL because... well, he's a bombed-out Russian ex-Scientist with a big need for choking women and frightening the children.  The rest of the movie is... just that, wandering around, kids lost, and a bad rip-off of North by Northwest's cornfield chase scene supplanted with a small plane and a gun.  That and Francis who so ever so graciously gives us narration, beat by beat, stroke by stroke as he appears to be drunk on Shakespearean accent.

What's hilarious is that Francis has three directed movies, all of which in the Bottom 100, and indeed the three works of "art" (this, The Skydivers, and Red Zone Cuba) are so terrible as to be in the bottom twenty on the list.  Not to mention all three are done-in so graciously by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000.  This was the only way to go to watch this piece of work, which is almost designed by accident to show aspiring filmmakers what NOT to do, like, say, bore the audience into oblivion or (heavy Charlie Sheen level) drink, or to, you know, do the worst ADR job in the history of the medium.  And yet Francis Comes Alive thanks to Mike Nelson and the robots, who at one point in one of their segway 'bits' in-between the movie come up with the FAPS: "The Film Anti-Preservation Society" where they ask for donations from the audience so as to transfer the movies on to very delicate and flammable silver nitrate film stock.

Tom Servo: "Yes, we get it, breasts, now move along!"
It seems that the law of averages (though not scientifically researched just my own theory really) that the worse a movie is, the better the MST3K and/or Rifftrax commentary.  This is why Francis is so ripe for their treatment, and why another Worst-Ever movie, Manos: The Hands of Fate, is perhaps their crowning achievement in snarkery.  It's a movie that so begs condescension that you will end up joining in at home.

Some of the choice ones to give you an idea of the prowess of Mike, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu as robots Tom Servo and Crow:

(on a line of narration: "Shoot first, ask questions later"): "ask Christian Slater?"

(on a guy flying a plane and aiming out a window to shoot at someone): "Is he piloting with his feet?!"

(on a particularly bad shot of a scurvy character): "This is why the close-up was invented."

(on children walking aimlessly in the fields): "Nickelodeon's Waiting for Godot."

(another close-up on an older woman): "She was in (Ingmar) Bergman's film where she played Low Self-Esteem."

(the very last shot, 'improvised' said the producer, where a bunny goes up to the *DEAD* Tor Johnson and he pets at in): "Now the bunny eats Tor and becomes Night of the Lepus."

(in general): "Well, we're in Wisconsin now, or is it Cuba or Nevada, whatever."

So, lines like that, quips, puns, witticisms, sometimes just noises, make up the milieu of the MST3K gang.  And in this 'program' it's not just Coleman Francis' film but since it's so short in length (perhaps most mercifully at 54 minutes) the rest of the time is spent on two shorts beforehand called "Money Talks" where a silhouette of Benjamin Franklin guilt trips a kid for spending too much money, all ten cents he frickin' has, and a short on Puerto Rico called "Progress Island USA" done in the 70's that is a snooze-fest travelogue with an opening and coda that has frantic montage, leaving Mike and the robots to conclude "Fine, FINE, we'll go, just stop it already!"

A metaphor for the movie's critical reception
The bits in-between are hit or miss, as usual on the other movie shows: the FAPS bit is very funny, though a bit where Crow keeps on bugging Mike about "is it 11:30?" so he can eat lunch is stretched a little too far with a weak punchline.  But if you do decide to fast-forward past these little bits you won't miss much; the main attraction is where it's at, and with Beast at Yucca Flats- a title that almost has a Yiddish tinge to it with Yucha or just 'Yuck'- it's a gold mine, if nothing else because there are long stretches without dialog, or with bumbling, awkward and terrible narration or dialog that is meager at best, allows for much more space to riff, and there's barely a moment that isn't struck and practically every line is funny.  Maybe Francis thought he was making something different and important, and does try different things than the average 50's sci-fi flick.  It just never works, not once.  A shame for the cast and crew (but hey, they're not alive now, most of em anyway, so why carp), fun for the rest of us.

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