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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents

#912: THE SCREAMING SKULL

SHORT: Robot Rumpus stars Gumby, of "dammit" (Saturday Night Live) fame. Gumby is a strange, disturbingly high-crotched, nude green clay figure. He has elephantine legs tapering up to a thin, flat body, on top of which is perched a head which resembles a moss-covered Chippendale chair as designed by Salvador Dali, in that one side appears to be melting. In this adventure, Gumby and his equestrian friend Pokey - who at least in some sense looks like a true horse - making us wonder what Gumby is technically supposed to be, dammit: a reanimated blob of spearmint gum? Sentient mucus? - well anyway, he and Pokey enslave some robots to do yardwork. Gumby's mother, who wears clothes, is very pleased with her son's ingenuity, as long as it's working. But the robots run horribly amuck. They start tearing down the whole world, dammit! Mom summons Dad, who is named Gumbo, though I fail to see his resemblance to the tasty shrimp, okra and sausage soup I had in New Orleans. (Gumbo also runs around naked, in this universe with no rules.) But Gumbo gets trounced by the robots until finally Gumby finds a way to kill them. The delightful movie climaxes with the maiming and dismemberment of many robots, and the white-hot rage of Gumby's parents, who by story's end have taught their son that their love is always highly conditional on his success in finding innovations in yardwork. And that his failure in yardwork endeavors will be met by blistering punishment and the witholding of their love, replaced by the purest of hate. I'm glad I grew up watching this stuff.

Robot Rumpus
(click twice to play video)


The Movie: The Screaming Skull... Or (my preferred title), I Swear Before All That Is Good And Holy I Will Never Watch Another Movie Starring The Twisted Worry-Faced Mother From The Space Children (Episode 906) Ever, Ever Again, With God As My Witness. The story: a shifty creep and his pathological worrywart of a new bride move into a Southern mansion owned by his late wife, and now bequeathed to him. His deceased wife died recently from a bashed-in head, under mysterious circumstances. This brand-new groom's new wife is loaded with family money too, and is more than a little unstable. That is to say: HE'S GUILTY! HE'S REALLY, REALLY GUILTY! HEY EVERYONE, HE'S GUILTY! ...This is clear in the first ten minutes or so of the movie, but they go on spending an hour of our valuable time pretending there's some real mystery at hand. Mr. Creepyhusband tries to drive his wife batty by putting skulls in odd places. Mrs. Looneywife repeatedly contorts her face in horrible twisty fear (this is the scariest effect in the movie, by far) and bores us to tears walking around looking for things in a nightgown (making me think as I watched it: no, movie, yeah I know you're from the fifties and all so we have to cut you some slack, but I will never accept this fear-furrowed woman in her twelve-layer pegnoir as sexy. Damn you for even suggesting it!) Anyways, some pie-faced minister and his mannish wife hang around a lot listening intently and absorbing little. And a slow-witted, Snagglepuss-sounding, Torgo-Lite gardener named Mickey is tossed into the mix as a highly unsuccessful red herring.

Prologue: Servo turns into a butterfly. Apparently all along the Servo we knew had been a mere larva of what he was destined to be eventually.
Segment One: Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl, Observer, and Bobo run around in penguin suits, pathetically trying to pull a practical joke on Mike and the bots, convincing them that they'd agreed to meet them there, also with penguin costumes on. Mike and the 'bots throw together some makeshift animal costumes of their own, and everyone looks pretty dumb in the end. (An editorial: As an MST performer, what I find most refreshing about acting on this show is the inherent dignity of the work: where else would one find the challenge to one's "craft" of playing a fey omniscient albino alien who then dresses up in a goofy penguin suit? Go to hell, Shakespeare! ...This is the real stuff.)

Segment Two: The bots work through the trauma of having to watch Gumby mutilate robots by having their own clay figure show.

Segment Three: Servo tries to scam a free coffin, as guaranteed at the beginning of Screaming Skull for people who die of fright (not boredom) while watching this movie.

Segment Four: Now Crow tries to pull a joke, becoming a Screaming Skull and frightening Mike. Mike freaks out and bashes both the bots with a variety of sporting goods, screaming himself the whole time.

Segment Five: Servo's coffin arrives. He has to pay the full delivery cost of returning it. But no harm is done, as he uses Mike's credit card for this.
Down in Castle Forrester, Bobo dresses like a ape, trying to fool them that he is an ape - that is, an ape other than Bobo. At Pearl's request, Brain Guy makes him tiny. Why? See below.

I dearly love my job and my colleagues here, but permit me to whine a bit, as I am very skilled and practiced at it. To wit: sometimes I wonder if we here at Best Brains aren't the butt of our own joke. While producing a show about a man and his robots who are tortured by watching bad movies, we have become the real-life victims of our own smarty-pants premise. Why do I say this? Answer: The Screaming Skull. Making someone watch this even once is specifically outlawed by the Geneva Convention. But many, many times, as is our practice? That is the custom-fitted hell that we've brought upon ourselves, worthy of a wry introduction by Rod Serling (picture if your will...).

I found this movie to be the Deepest of Hurting: like watching bacteria grow in extra-slow motion. This situation, I would contend, is true irony, Classic Greek in nature -- unlike the Alanis Morrisette version, which applies the word to slight inconveniences and minor gross-outs. (By this Morrisettian standard, then, it is "ironic" when one of her songs come on my favorite FM station.) Thank you, my whining is over and I am happy again.

The Gumby short, on the other hand, was a complete party to do. Good clean fun, though disappointingly short at six minutes. I always loved the shorts as a fan of the show, and hope we can get more.

Other things: we all loved doing Segment Four -- the Crow-as-Screaming-Skull -- though I ruined a few takes by cracking up at Mike as he carefully chose a golf club while yelling in stark terror. The Segment Five bit of Brain Guy shrinking Bobo down into his fist was completely off the slight story we had, but we got excited at it as a sort of tribute to the many MST3K movies that have used this cheap forced-perspective effect. I think we were no more successful than they were - I kept trying to see it as something other than Bobo standing on the other side of the room, but could not. But it was fun to try, and fun is the most important meal of the day. Lastly, a stunning acting debut by Barb Tebben, as the officious free-coffin representative for AIP. Barb literally phoned in her performance, which made us not want to cross her. Those of you who have dealt with Barb on the phone or taken the Best Brains tour know that she is the nicest person in the world, but: there's obviously some demon inside her that I wouldn't wanna tangle with. Don't hit me, Barb!
- Bill Corbett

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