Each issue Lorihajitura takes a look at one of the so bad they’re good films featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – the Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel cult show from the late 80s and through the 1990s. This issue we focus on episode 820: 1988’s Space Mutiny, which broadcast on November 8th, 1997.
(Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – MST3K to the fans – ran from November 24th, 1988 to August 8th, 1999, and starred Michael J. Nelson, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon, Patrick Brantseg, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl. Each week the evil Dr Forrester (and later his mother, Pearl) held hapless space prisoner Mike hostage on his craft the Satellite of Love and forced him and his robot friends Tom Servo and Crow to watch the worst movies ever made, as part of a mad scientist experiment.
Each week the experiment failed to drive Mike insane, as he and the robots found endless ways to poke fun of the movies and keep their sanity intact. This week’s episode featured Tom Servo building an ever more intricate and deadly series of railings around the Satellite of Love – inspired by the ridiculous amount of deaths over railings featured in Space Mutiny.)
Space Mutiny suffers from some serious abandonment issues.
Set on board the spaceship Southern Star the rebel crew led by Commander Kalgan (John Philip Law) want to start a mutiny and leave the ship to go back to Earth. After a career in terrible movies like Billy Jack and sequels like Porky’s II and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington this served as Cisse Cameron’s (Dr Lea Jansen) last film. And former stage actor Cameron Mitchell (neither the British theatre impresario nor Hedwig co-creator John Cameron Mitchell) left a stage career to churn out an ever-diminishing series of B-movies and TV appearances as he spiralled into alcoholism and ennui.
Even the original director David Winters left the film due to a family crisis and delegated all duties to co-director Neal Sundstrom, asking for an Alan Smithee credit that was refused him.
It is, quite simply, The Little Movie That Couldn’t.
You have a real-life couple in Cisse Cameron and Reb Brown (the former athlete turned actor who plays Dave Ryder, he of the numerous MST3K nicknames) who generate the least amount of on-screen chemistry in cinematic history. Most of the time, Burton and Taylor notwithstanding, off-screen couples act like they’ve never even met each other let shared any kissing and passion time, but in Space Mutiny Dr Lea and Engineer Ryder come across more as bickering siblings than mutually attracted adults.
None of the perceived age differences adds up either.
The father/daughter relationship between Cameron and Mitchell seems to have an age difference of about a year, while Cameron’s love interest in Brown appears to be a good decade younger than her if not more. Some of the crew are about 12, while others seem closer to 70. It’s all very bewildering.
Bewildering still is the sub-plot centred on the Bellarians – a group of Stevie Nicks-style alien women who gyrate around a Van Der Graaf generator, pause every now and then to pout in a Playboy manner and communicate only by telepathy and hip-thrusting.
We never find out why they’re on board the ship or what their actual mission, if any, happens to be, and their only contribution to fighting the good fight against the rebels is to occasionally have mind sex with them.
And if that’s not enough, there’s even an added sub SUBplot where Lieutenant Lemont is offed by the rebels, on camera no less, only to return quite happily in the very next scene looking hail and hearty and tapping away at her computer keyboard. And no one except Mike and the robots has the temerity to comment on this, so perhaps we should file that under mind-altering chemicals and be done with it.
And then there’s dear old John Philip Law as Commander Kalgon – which sounds confusingly like Calgon on the soundtrack and conjures up all kinds of one-liners about cleaning and bleach and what have you.
He was no stranger and no slouch in the acting department with iconic credits like Barbarella and Danger Diabolik under his belt.
But something about Space Mutiny, or maybe the 80s, in general, left him in some strange state of high camp frenzy and mugging disorder. He issues every line as a shout or a shriek. He punctuates every piece of action and nuance with a glare and a stare both so hard that they cause numerous veins to pop out all over his head. He just can’t seem to relax.
Maybe he should have succumbed to some mind sex with the Stevie Nicks crew and given up the ghost.
But my favourite part of the whole movie has to be the not very dramatic and not very fast chase through the pipe-ridden cellars of the spaceship. You know those Zamboni machines, the ones they use to smooth over the ice during the intervals at hockey games and skating events? That’s what the vehicles resemble, with all the two miles an hour speed and tension that implies. I haven’t seen a chase that bad since 1970’s Incense for the Damned when Patrick Macnee gave chase against Imogen Hassall on donkeys up a mountain. Thrills indeed.
Just because you liked Battlestar Galactica, Silent Running, and Star Wars doesn’t mean you should get a group of Grade B actors and put them in tin foil. And just because you can make a movie doesn’t mean you should.