MSTing Links: Cinematic Titanic episode 2, ‘Doomsday Machine’

After the December 2007 release of the first Cinematic Titanic episode, riffing fans had a six-month wait before the next release, “Doomsday Machine.” There are a few changes immediately noticeable, like something of an opening segment with the silhouetted Titans walking into the theater while two unknown figures drop some vague hints about the purpose of the riffing.

During the riffing Joel is now standing at a podium, a change from his partially-obscured seated position in “The Oozing Skull.”

“Doomsday Machine” (it’s listed online as “The Doomsday Machine” but the title card has no “The,” so I’ll count that as the official title) is set in the then not-too-distant-future of 1975 and tells the story of a trip to Venus that sees half its crew replaced by women at the last minute. It turns out this is because China is about to destroy the Earth, and the US Government is looking to preserve the human race by sending intergalactic Adams and Eves to another planet. 

Other than the overall rapey-ness of several scenes, “Doomsday Machine” would be a standard MST3K bad sci fi movie. What sets it apart is the fact that production halted in 1967, then the film was completed in 1972 with none of the original actors or sets. It’s an off-putting change, and one that gives the film a much less hopeful feel than what I expect was the planned “We’ve got to continue humanity by boning on a new world” ending.

“Doomsday Machine”

Release date: June 19, 2008

In the introduction with the Cinematic Titanic crew, we find out that a “rift in the electronic scaffolding” means all digital media could be lost for future generations. We also find out what Joel does at the end of each episode, which is “inserting the nanotated disc into the Time Tube.” This is why figuring out what Gypsy is bringing into the theater in each episode of the new MST3K season doesn’t bother me; the answer isn’t likely to really clear anything up.

The two “hosts” (for lack of a better term) ask about “the robots,” to which Trace replies “We don’t do that anymore,” with one of the hosts asking “So it’s not a copyright thing? Because we can get other robots,” at which point we see silhouettes of a Dalek, R2D2 and Robot B-9 from Lost in Space.”

The episode lists four non-Titan actors: Michael Rayner, John Lovick, Sean Spillane and Montgomery Buckles. The only other people to appear on screen are two figures on cherry-pickers, cleaning the screen as the Titans enter. Rayner and Lovick are comedians/magicians, but I’m not finding much info about Spillane and Buckles. I reached out to Rayner, and he confirmed he was one of the two hosts, but couldn’t remember much more about the experience.

The credits listSharp-Ford as the director of this episode. That’s Tim Ford and Stoney Sharp. Oddly, Sharp’s IMDB page lists him as playing Al Hirt in the previous episode, “The Oozing Skull,” while the IMDB page for that episode lists Steve Bannos as playing the part. It seems we have a mystery on our hands.

During the walk to the theater, a host points out that Grant Williams also had a part in The Oozing Skull.” Josh replies “He’s one of the four actors of the Apocalypse.” Now I’m curious who the other three are.

It’s worth noting that Casey Kasem had a small part in the early parts of this film. This leads to several good “Casey’s Top 40”-style riffs. “Welcome to America’s Space Countdown, can you hear me, Major Tom?”

Josh’s MC Hammer dance during the credits isn’t bad. It’s the kind of visual riff that would be tough to pull off with a row of theater seats.

There’s a rather creative (and stupid) murder early on, strangulation by pigtails. “You are having a bad hair day!”

We’ve Got Movie Break: Seventeen minutes in, Trace pauses the film because he wants to take a moment say something. Joel breaks out a megaphone to countdown resuming the film, continually cutting Trace off. Josh: “Do you really think you pull this bit off for another 20 second?”

After the female crew members are introduced, Frank gets in a good “Commence Operation Va-Va Voom.” During takeoff, Josh says “I’m not saying they’re there to breed, but the chairs have stirrups.”

Officer Creepy: “Without your glasses, you’re a very pretty woman.” Trace: “Without my glasses, you’re a big, blurry horndog.”

We’ve got Movie Break: About an hour in, Mary Jo pauses the movie to ask about how the Titans will deal with who will live and who will die if an apocalyptic situation occurs. Joel has a Thunderdome lowered down, which was installed to help settle issues like this. There was a big missed riff opportunity here to pull out the classic “Can’t we just get beyond Thunderdome?” Maybe it was too easy a riff.

Mary Jo lands a pitch-perfect Muppets reference “A Male Chauvinist Pig in Space!”

When an airlock is opened, we get the closest thing to special effects in the film, with two actors dangling from wires while blood streams out their eyes. Josh’s riff: “It’s exactly like the audience looking in a mirror.”

Bonus feature: There were no special features on the disc, but if you bought the physical DVD from the Titans, it included an autographed silhouette of Trace. It seems to be a real autograph, not a reproduction, so that’s a pretty sweet bonus.

Trace CT Autograph

MST3K references: Early on Josh says of a piece of equipment “A gumball machine on a robot? I’m sorry, that is lame.” Frank, on the film’s end: “It’s like watching someone else watch Manos: The Hands of Fate.” In the plea to not pirate Cinematic Titanic episodes before the film, there’s a “Think about it, won’t you?”

Favorite riff: After one of the astronauts mentions “homemade water,” the collective group lets out an “Ewwwwww.”

Behind the scenes: Fans of the new season of MST3K will recognize Grant Baciocco listed in the credits as associate producer. He went on to puppeteer Crow and M. Waverly.

The group shot this, The Wasp Woman and Legacy of Blood in one go. It seems this was because studio space was at a premium following projects returning to production following the 2007-2008 writers’ strike.

Other riffing connections

As mentioned in the opening, Actor Grant Williams was in the previous Cinematic Titanic assignment, “The Oozing Skull,” as well as the MST3K-riffed film “The Leech Woman” and was riffed by The Mads in “The Monolith Monsters.”

Lee Sholem, who directed the end segment of the film, directed the MST3K experiment “Catalina Caper.”

Actor Casey Kasem was in the Rifftrax-riffed “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant.”

Special visual effects creator David L. Hewitt was credited as effects creator and writer on “The Time Travellers.”

Director of visual effects lighting Mike Nussman was Best Boy on the later Cinematic Titanic assignment “The Doll Squad.”

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