Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Elvira, Dustin “Screech” Diamond, Kelly Packard, Natalia Cigliuti, William James Jones, Megan Parlen
PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
For this edition of “From Here to Obscurity” we’re going to forsake the usual obscure B-movies for an obscure television special about B-movies. Let us travel back in time to Halloween 1995. The network was NBC. The broadcast was a two hour special called Attack of the Killer B-Movies. I’m fairly positive it has never seen the light of day since that particular All Hallow’s Eve. Considering the special was really an infomercial touting the season premieres of a bunch of NBC’s then Saturday morning teen-oriented programs disguised in the form of a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” rip-off, there’s probably good reason Attack of the Killer B-Movies was a one-shot deal.
I can attest to being one of the very few people that ever saw this special the night it aired. Judging by the feedback for the show’s IMDB listing, only one other person besides me has seen it. That almost nobody tuned in is another good reason there was never a follow-up. To paraphrase Frankenstein: “Ratings baaaaaad!”
Memories of this show popped back into my head again some time ago and much to my shock, amazement, and abject horror, I found someone selling a copy of this special presentation on ebay. I plunked down $15 hard earned dollars so that I could relive the experience of watching Attack of the Killer B-Movies and let me tell you something, time did not make this special any more special. The program’s worth more as an interesting curio for fans of Elvira and “MST3K” or just for the sheer weirdness of its existence than it is for what actual entertainment value it provides.
The concept was to take four not-so-classic b-movies from the Fifties and Sixties and chop them down to roughly 20 minutes each in order to be riffed on by the hosts. The four featured films were The Wasp Woman, Killers from Space, Monster from Green Hell, and Navy vs. The Night Monsters. NBC felt compelled to colorize the footage from the first three films because God forbid something that was originally filmed in black & white ever find its way onto network television, even if the only reason it was being aired was to be made fun of. The super condensed movie was then interrupted every 30-90 seconds by a cutaway to the riffers so that they could spout off some not-so-witty witticisms one at a time.
The mistress of ceremonies was none other than the Mistress of the Dark, Elvira. The set-up has her having tied up five NBC Saturday morning teen actors on a living room set so cheap and simplistic I suspect they borrowed it from Saturday Night Live and then decorated it with a few knick knacks purchased from the world’s most impoverished novelty store. Those teen actors were part of something called “TNBC,” a Saturday morning line-up of teen-centric sitcoms; their season premieres were all not-so-coincidentally scheduled for the following weekend. Our roster of teen star hostages: Kelly Packard and William James Jones from a show called “California Dreams”, Megan Parlen of some show I’ve never even heard of called “Hang Time”, and from “Saved by the Bell: The New Class”, Natalia Cigliuti and the living legend, Dustin “Screech” Diamond.
Elvira’s specialty is delivering really bad puns at the expense of really bad movies and she’s a pro at it. The woman knows how to deliver even the punniest of lines in a manner that at least let’s you know that even she’s aware of how bad the line is. Her teen co-stars do not have that experience and deliver their riffs in the exact same manner they’d deliver a bad punchline on any of their respective Saturday morning sitcoms. It takes some pretty bad acting when all that’s asked of you is to sit on a couch and pretend you’re heckling a cheesy movie and you can’t even make that sound believable.
Even worse is how dopey their quips are even by “MST3K” standards quips. Heck, even by “America’s Funniest Home Videos” standards these quips are lame. For example, during the famous scene in Navy vs. The Night Monsters where an unlucky sailor gets his arm torn off by one of the tree monsters, the film cuts away to a bored-sounding Kelly Packard who indifferently cracks, “They should have called this movie A Farewell to Arms” Knee-slapper, huh?
A pretty blonde reciting bad dialogue in a stiff, unconvincing manner; would it surprise any of you to know that Kelly Packard would go on to become a cast member of “Baywatch”?
Even worse, they found a way to toss in lines that were less jokes than just cheap cross-promotional plugs for other NBC programming. Case in point, a scene from Monster from Green Hell that had someone lighting their way through a cave with a torch prompted Screech to look directly into the camera and say, “This reminds me; the ’96 Olympics are right here on NBC.” That’s not even a joke. That’s just a plug – a shameless plug. Another quip with an angry character brought us the humdinger, “He’s really taking ‘Mad About You”s move to Sunday nights hard.” These are the moments that remind me why I originally copied over my tape of this one-time-only special.
Attack of the Killer B-Movies sure is a letdown in the humor department given it combined the talents of Elvira and Frank Coniff. That’s right; I said Frank Coniff, AKA TV’s Frank from Mystery Science Theater 3000. NBC hired one of the top writers and performers from “MST3K” to script a two-hour special designed to rip-off the basic concept behind his own show, only replacing a guy and two robot puppets at the bottom the screen with Elvira and a quintet of teenage automatons interrupting the movie periodically. I joked to a friend I showed this special to that so many of the jokes bombed to such a degree that I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Coniff intentionally set out to sabotage this “MST3K” knock-off from the get-go. I’d be bold enough to say that my friend & I fired off funnier riffs during the movie portions of the show than anything that came from the actual scripted material.
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t any funny moments. I’d speculate that the joke ratio was about 20-1 in favor of jokes that either completely missed the mark or might have been funny if they’d actually come out of the mouths of people who understood how to fire off a good zinger. Most of the funnier moments came when they visually interacted with the movie itself: pretending to be on the other end of a character’s phone call, superimposing Dustin Diamond’s head over a film character’s noggin, or even having Elvira appear like the center square on “Hollywood Squares” during a multi-screen sequence in one of the movies.
The ultimate punchline of the program has the teens getting revenge on Elvira by (after taking a moment to plug next weekend’s “TNBC” season premieres) tying her up and subjecting her to a non-stop marathon of “Full House” episodes. Har-dee-har-har. When you’re a cast member of “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” you really don’t have much room to be taking potshots at show like “Full House”.
The only real laugh out loud moment occurred when Elvira introduced Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Elvira mentions that it stars the guy that played “Bud” on Father Knows Best, who she described as a kid actor whose career was totally washed up by the time he was 17. There’s a clap of thunder and a lightning flash right as she says the part about being washed up by 17 and all the teen actors begin glaring at her in a most uncomfortable manner. Elvira then nervously assured them that would never happen to any of them. This was damn funny because… Well, let’s just say that Elvira lied. The most famous teen star of this bunch remains Dustin “I couldn’t even get you to buy a t-shirt to save my house, so can I at least interest you in a sex tape instead?” Diamond. Thankfully, this video does not end with Screech giving Elvira a Dirty Sanchez.
2 out of 5