Samson vs. the Vampire Women on MST3K – review

Samson vs Vampire Women Main TitleSAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (the 1963 American dub of the 1962 Mexican film SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO) is perfect fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. It’s goofy, but it’s fun to watch. The absurdity of a masked wrestler (with no superpowers) facing off with the undead is inherently funny – all the more so because the film takes the collision of masked wrestler and vampire genres for granted, portraying its male vampires exactly like wrestler-stuntmen. Except for two lengthy wrestling scenes (the first of which is deleted from the MST3K version), the film moves along quickly if not logically, and there is a decent amount of atmosphere to keep the eye entertained while the ear enjoys the sarcastic comments the crew of the Satellite of Love. The result is one of the best episodes from the Mike Nelson era of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.
As in the show’s best episodes, the jokes attack not only poor production values but also dubious attitudes. SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN features a kindly old professor, who lies to his daughter Diana about the danger to her life, in order to “comfort” her, presumably because women just can’t handle the truth. Later, the police use Diana as bait in a poorly thought-out plan that seems to consist entirely of going to a nightclub where previous victims have been attacked, and then waiting around to see what happens. Our hero Samson (Santo in the original Spanish) is not around to help, because he has a wrestling match scheduled that night.

Samson (a.k.a. Santo) and Dr. Orloff (pronounced "Roloff" in the English dub).
Samson (a.k.a. Santo) and Dr. Orloff (pronounced "Roloff" in the English dub).

With a film like this, the jokes almost write themselves. The comments fly fast and furious, too many to enumerate, but here are some of the best:

  • “I visited Manderlay last night.” A reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA, which also began with a miniature of an old mansion. The joke becomes even funnier a few seconds later, when you see a portrait inside the manor, titled “Rebeca” (one “c” only).
  • “I dedicate thsi song to Thorazine.” During a somnabulistic performance by leading lady Diana, of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
  • “Some butlers stay inside.” Said as the butler closes the door for a departing guest by following him outside (presumably because the director wanted to get him out of the scene).
  • “So the Devil’s Minions are cheap thugs!” and “It’s a vampire wilding!” Said in reference to the Vampire Women’s male henchmen, who punch their victims instead of biting them.
  • “This is what Southern Baptists think Catholic Mass is like.” During the vampires’ blood-draining ritual.
  • “It’s a Robert Mapplethorpe photo sessions.” As a topless male vampire strangles a masked but topless male wrestler.
  • “The Ultimate Battle Between Good and Evil is goofy!” In reference to Santo wrestling with his male vampire opponent.
  • “I’ll just mark it in my book as a kill.” Attributed to Santo after one of the vampires conveniently dies in the shadow of the cross, without Santo actually doing anything.
  • “What good is being the Ruler of the Underworld when you have to live in a dump like this?” In reference to the dusty basement-dungeon, where the Vampire Women reside.

Torgo the White (Mike Nelson) leads TV's Frank (Frank Coniff) to Second Banana Heaven
Torgo the White (Mike Nelson) leads TV's Frank (Frank Coniff) to Second Banana Heaven

Most of the interstitial bits are not particularly memorable (e.g., Tom talks continuously through a “moment of silence”), but the episode is historically important for MIST-ies because it features the departure of beloved bumbler TV’s Frank (Frank Coniff), one half the diabolical duo that has been forcing Mike and robot friends Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo to watch bad movies aboard their orbiting space ship. Having received a fortune cookie hinting at his impending death, TV’s Frank is visited by Torgo the White (Mike Nelson, doing double duty), an angelic form of henchman from the abysmal MANOS: HANDS OF FATE, transformed a la Gandalf in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS. Torgo takes Frank away to Second Banana Heaven, a magical land for for henchmen and sidekicks, leaving a distraught Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) without an assistant to kick around.
Frank’s farewell is amusingly handled. The ‘bots read some inappropriate goodbye letters, except for Gypsy, who is the only one with something nice to say. An ethereal version of Frank appears to taunt Forrester beyond the grave. Forrester responds to the loss by singing “Who Will I Kill?” Unfortunately, the intended show-stopper falls flat: Beaulieu is not as adept with a song as Nelson and Kevin Murphy, and the lyrics miss the mark (Forrester never wanted to kill Frank, only to slap him around when he screwed up).
Samson Vs the Vampire Women on MST3K: The Vampire Priestess awakens Samson vs Vampire Women: unfortunate skin Samson Vs the Vampire Women on MST3K: The Vampire Queen in her coffin Samson Vs the Vampire Women on MST3K: grabbing a quick bite

TRIVIA

SAMSON AND THE VAMPIRE WOMEN was chosen as a farewell gift to Frank Coniff, who is a fan of Mexican wrestler movies.

Click to purchase in the CFQ Online Store
Click to purchase in the CFQ Online Store

The show aired on March 25, 1995. It can be found on YouTube, and is commercially available as a stand-alone title on instant view and as part of the four-disc set MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 – XXIV, which also includes THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON, FUGITIVE ALIEN, and STAR FORCE: FUGITIVE ALIEN II.
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Toy Story 1 & 2 Blu-ray review

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click to purchase

It might seem odd that the first two Toy Story films are so often mentioned in the same breath as the Godfather epic; though the films share little in common, there is a unifying bond – in both cases, a masterpiece was actually improved upon in a sequel.  The rarity of this occurrence is well documented among cineastes, putting these 2 disparate sets of films in the same exclusive club.  Disney is certainly hoping not to have Godfather III luck this summer, when the heavily anticipated Toy Story 3-D arrives in theaters; in the meantime, they’ve given fans a treat to hold them over – Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu-Ray.  Now, we won’t waste time with a plot synopsis – if the story of Woody, Buzz and the rest of young Andy’s toys isn’t already familiar, than willful ignorance can be the only culprit.  Instead we’re going to concentrate on the contents of the new discs and see how they stack-up against the previous releases, including the extremely comprehensive (as far as supplemental go) Ultimate Toy Box release.
Back in 1995, the release of Toy Story was a not-so-minor milestone in the process of modern animation.  Not only was it the first Pixar feature film (made on a relatively modest budget with a staff of just over 100 people); it was also the first film to be entirely created using digital animation.  1995 might not seem that long ago, but in terms of technology it could well be a lifetime; its initial home video release was on VHS and Laserdisc, and it would take the 2000 home video release of its sequel, Toy Story 2, before the films received DVD treatment.  It would be another decade, however, before the films received a home video release that replicates the images the original animators created more than 15 years ago.  Both previous DVD sets were considered to be high quality releases of the moment, so our expectations were caught unawares by the near-ethereal image quality present on the Blu-Ray discs.  Looking beyond the bright, bold colors, we were absolutely gob-smacked by the sumptuous textures.  Details that were always present but had been hidden away by 480p transfers (the grain of the wood in Andy’s headboard, the stitching on Jessie and Woody’s vests, or the scales on Rex) now leapt off the screen as if rendered in 3-D (and, in spite of the recent 3D re-release, neither film was shot in that format).  In fact, the image quality is so pristine that some might not even notice the new DTS lossless audio track, adding yet another layer of dimensionality to the show.   
When we first saw Toy Story, the seemingly dull rendering of Andy (the only human that we see enough to concentrate on) made us dubious of the capabilities of digital animation; sure, you can animate inanimate objects, but are actual human beings that far beyond their range?  With the BD release you can finally see not only additional detail in Andy himself but clear evidence that the animators goal was to imbue the plastic toys with as much – or even more – personality than the humans of the world.  Since their release, the art and science of digital animation has grown at a geometric rate; Pixar’s continuing success eventually forced Disney to re-think their own approach to animation, and saw other studios like Fox and DreamWorks opening their own lucrative animation studios, though none would enjoy Pixar’s level of critical and box office success. 
Now, obviously, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 belong on a very short list of DVDs that you can find in virtually every household – regardless of the presence of children.  And we certainly feel that Disney’s new Blu-Ray discs operate at a reference standard that no serious videophile should be without, but the completist will want to take note that not all previously released bonus features made the jump to Blu-Ray.  On the plus side, there are quite a few new features present on the discs – all of which are in HD:
Toy Story bonus features:

  • The Story: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off
  • Paths to Pixar: Artists – a series of shorts in which Pixar’s artists discuss how they arrived at the company
  • Studio Stories – a series of ‘life at Pixar’ shorts that will make you hate your own job that much more
  • Buzz Takes Manhattan – the debut of the Buzz balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade
  • Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw – an early edit of the film that nearly strangled digital animation in the cradle 

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Toy Story 2 bonus features:

  • Characters: An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Toy Story 3
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station
  • Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists – same as above, but the techies
  • Studio Stories – more stories to remind you that you don’t work at Pixar
  • Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft – a nicely heartfelt tribute to a noted animation story editor

In addition to the new material, an enormous amount of the previously released bonus material has been included as well, but there is also a decent-sized chunk of material (mostly from the now out-of-print Ultimate Toy Box set) that didn’t make it.  We can’t pretend that we’ll miss the effects-only audio track, but we are a bit surprised to see that the Tin Toy short was omitted (you can view the entire list of missing material over at the Digital Bits).  As with most of Disney’s high profile BD releases, each set also includes a standard-def DVD with the film and bonus materials.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Anime Film Review

Existential angst in the form of cyberpunk anime from Japan. A form of artificial intelligence has become self aware, and now it`s seeking a way to escape from cyberspace into the real world. Ironically, the special forces tracking it down are formerly human beings whose bodies and brains have been so enhanced with modern technology that it`s hard to say how much of their humanity is left. The film explores weighty issues like: What is identity? Can artificial intelligence have a soul? Consequently, it often feels closer in spirit to an art house film than to a typical science fiction thriller, despite the great action scenes. Unfortunately, the story occasionally sags under the weight of its philosophical speculation. Nevertheless, this is an exciting effort, with an interesting premise, a strong plot, and involving characters. It ranks among the best animated features ever from Japan, easily on par with the best that live-action science fiction has to offer. Read More

Batman Forever – Film Review

Click to purchase BATMAN FOREVER“Sugar” and “Spice” are not opposites. So why are they the names of Two-Face’s girlfriends (Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar), when everything about him is supposed to be split into opposing dichotomies? Apparently, “Leather” and “Lace,” the monikers used in the script, were deemed to suggestive for the family audience Warner Brothers was trying to placate after the horrifically demented BATMAN RETURNS (1992), so safer names were substituted at the expense of logic. It’s only one small detail, but it reveals the problem underlying the whole of BATMAN FOREVER: this is a film not designed to be the best piece of pop art it can possibly be, but calculated to draw the widest possible demographics in order to please WB’s merchandising partners, whether or not the result satisfies the actual audience.
Actually, if this film had come directly after BATMAN, it would have been an appreciable improvement. On a superficial level, Joel Schumacher is a better director of mindless action movies than Tim Burton is, and Schumacher also knows better how to negotiate his way through a production behemoth, serving up the requisite elements without much personal style or conviction to get in the way of the Hollywood hype. Read More