Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Swayziest Christmas of Them All

Sometimes you make sacrifices for the right people.

Among those I made this weekend were sawing off the sappy base of my parents' Christmas tree until my arm went numb. Twenty eight trips up and down three flights of stairs to dig out obscure holiday decorations from the storage floor, where dust mites are outnumbered only by the minutiae of a half century of marriage.

My parents had asked me to come down yesterday and help them get ready for Christmas, yet by early evening, they were suggesting I spend the night in order to provide more assistance today.

Putting aside plans to watch the boat parade of lights, catch "Holiday Inn" at Movieland, see musicologist Christopher King deejay gospel at Steady Sounds and attend a friend's Christmas party, I stayed.

If I can't be a good daughter at the holidays, then when?

After my final effort of the weekend - making a pound cake - I made a beeline for the great outdoors, determined to enjoy a riverside walk in the 60-degree late afternoon sunshine, returning to the house lomg enough to remove the cake from the oven and kiss my parents goodbye.

Much as I love them, I was more than ready for some outside contact beyond the man who'd greeted Dad and me at the dump this morning.

I needed Movie Club.

Tonight's installment was looking to be just the holiday boost I craved: "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." You better believe I was cleaned up, dressed for the city and walking over to Strange Matter within an hour of getting home from the country.

My parents would never understand.

I walked into the venue I've been to so many times to find a row of recliners lined up in front of a screen set on the stage. Behind them were small tables and chairs for a cafe-like cinebistro setting. I was right where I needed to be..

Ordering a bowl of vegan chili with Twin Oaks "chorizo", the only answer the bartender needed from me was whether I wanted real cheese or vegan cheese. Excuse me, but if it's vegan it technically isn't cheese (just like those vile individually wrapped American cheese food product slices, which are made with vegetable oil and no actual dairy. Blech!), although some would say I'm arguing semantics here.

Drink in hand, I found myself a table and chair directly behind the recliners and waited for the movie to begin. When my chili was delivered, I found it jalapeno-spicy and chock full of beans. Considering the massive cheeseburgers Mom had made for dinner last night, I could forego meat tonight.

While "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" had been made in 1964, the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version had been made in 1991, meaning we were going to get cultural references from two entirely different periods. I was in heaven.

Host Andrew warned us that the original movie has consistently been listed as one of the 100 worst of all time and it didn't take long to see why.

For starters, they obviously didn't have budget for so much as a copy editor since the credits read "custume designer" not "costume." Yeesh. There was also a credit for "Martian furniture."  Somebody's mother must have been very proud.

And, given that it was 1964, Santa still smoked  a pipe. I guess he hadn't seen the surgeon general's warning yet. And speaking of, his elves all liked like miniature C. Everett Koops (for those who remmeber who he was).

I was glad we were seeing the MST version because all the best lines came from the exiled spaceman and his robots. "You know, elf tastes just like chicken." When a Martian asks what Christmas is, the MST robot says, "A Christian holiday ruined by commercialism." Bingo.

On the other hand, it didn't take long for me to begin wondering how many people in the room were getting the 1991 references.

Walking into the Martian spaceship control room, a cliched '60s idea of a high tech center with reel to reel tape machines lining the walls, the MST robot says, "But first a tour of Paisley Park." I laughed out loud at the Prince reference, but no one else did.

Ditto allusions to the book "Alive," the movie "Ice Station Zebra" and actor Larry Storch. References to Jimmy Durante and McGyver. Or when the robot sang in a whiny voice, "Old man, take a look at your elf, I'm a lot like you are."

I'm just saying that I seriously doubt many people in the room knew that the "whipped cream and other delights" reference was the name of an iconic Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album. Or what "The Long Goodbye" was.

Some humor is timeless, though, such as, "And now for your enjoyment, some suggestive scenes of jets refueling."

There was no forgetting that the original film was from the '60s and had a finite budget because of things like an actor in a polar bear costume, the headpiece clearly separate from the body or a robot that looked like a tin foil box with a coffee can on top.

When Santa said, "Falderal and fiddle dee dee," the robots chided him, saying, "Language, Santa, language!" Hysterical.

For those who don't know, the premise of the movie is that the Martian children are quiet, remote and very unhappy because they are fed information but never allowed to be children with freedom. Once the Martians kidnap two earth children who tell them where to find Santa, they nab him too. Then they're all taken to Mars, where the fat man makes everybody laugh because he's such a jolly fellow.

"It's the little signs of drug abuse," one of the MST robots observes about the corny laughter.

Patrick Swayze and the movie "Roadhouse" were a recurring theme throughout the commentary, probably because the movie was barely two years old at that point. Lines from it were repeatedly quoted and worked into the Martian story to hilarious results. You know, "my way or the highway" and "You're gonna be my regular Saturday night thing, baby" kind of stuff.

In Santa's Martian workshop, he had a machine instead of elves to help him make toys. When a load of baseball bats came out, the robot quipped, "Okay, those are marked for the L.A.P.D." Some black humor still resonates.

Eventually, the earth children get homesick, and the mother Martian explains to others that the kids miss their friends and family. "And Nintendo and sugar," an MST robot cracks.

By the time the movie ended with a singalong, I was pretty clear on why it had been so firmly entrenched in the worst of lists for 50 years. Which is not to say it hadn't been great fun, a real time capsule of two completely different eras. One of the robots even sang a violent Christmas carol about "Road House" to close out the MST part of the movie.

What's also notable is that Movie Club doesn't make a habit of showing perfectly awful movies. This had been a holiday selection (yet, in part chosen for its awfulness) while next month's will be something far superior, namely "Raising Arizona." I'll be there.

The funny part was that after the last of the trivia questions and prizes handed out after Santa conquered the Martians, host Andrew announced that, "Inspired by tonight, we're planning to show "Road House" in the future."

I. Can. Not. Wait.

We're talking about a film with the line, "That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that." It'll be a night of '80s splendor, I feel sure of it.

Should Mom and Dad ask me to stay over that night, I'm afraid their needs will have to be sacrificed on the altar of Patrick Swayze.

Oh, yea, Movie Club's gonna be my monthly Sunday night thing, baby.


  1. I've always felt that MST3K played better in large groups. I once had the the great pleasure of seeing them LIVE, in a movie theater (with Joel and the bots sitting in the front, silhouetted in front of the screen).

    It was almost too much fun.

    Your Movie Club seems to be the next best thing.

  2. That sounds like a blast! I'm excited about Movie Club and sharing these films with strangers, the way they were meant to be seen. I haven't seen "Raising Arizona" since it came out in '87 so I'm very much looking forward to that.