Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies
Ray Dennis Steckler is not what one would normally consider leading-man material. With his long, narrow face, widow's peak, thin nose, beady eyes, and tiny little mouth sitting just a little too high on his chin, the Mystery Science Theater crew observes that he looks at various points like some combination of Nicolas Cage, Nosferatu and a ferret. Yes, Steckler was one strange-looking man (and, when wearing a lumpy blue hoodie, downright unpleasant), and in his own way, the perfect star of his creepy, nightmarish films. Most movies shown on the Satellite of Love are said to be "cheesy," and indeed, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Mike/Joel's mad scientist overlords might even go so far as to characterize them as "the worst that [they] could find (la-la-la)." But there are some films that so thoroughly demolish conventional notions of film grammar, creating a strange poetry all their own, that they defy such easy dismissals: Manos: The Hands of Fate, The Beast of Yucca Flats or today's experiment, Steckler's The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. In its first half, this film is incomprehensible: scenes of Steckler and his friends cavorting around a carnival for seemingly endless stretches (including a roller-coaster ride in real-time) are juxtaposed with incongruous song and dance numbers at the carnival's theatre and a strange subplot involving a fortune teller. Gargoyle-like supporting characters drift in and out seemingly at random: the oily fortune teller with her sharp voice and ludicrous fake mole; a stand-up comedian whose jokes and the audience's laughter never seem properly edited-together; and "Ortega," a truly vile-looking henchman resembling the love child of Torgo and Peter Falk. Everything seems just a little otherworldly about this amusement park, from the frightening mechanical clowns and monkeys to the dark, moody mise-en-scène (Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond assisted on cinematography) to the tinny, barely audible sound. ("This was digitally recorded, then erased, then re-recorded on a Dictaphone," speculates Mike Nelson.) Just when you think the movie is hopelessly inept, Steckler's character begins having nightmares that combine all these disparate oddities into a single candy-coloured melting pot of horror, and the film becomes downright hallucinatory in its final third, when certain incredibly strange creatures do indeed become mixed-up zombies right in the middle of one of those inexplicable dance numbers. Steckler, a pseudo-auteur of Z-grade cinema, was surely one of the least disciplined filmmakers in history (his Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo morphed from a suspense thriller into a superhero comedy at the midpoint for no reason other than that the Batman TV series became popular), and you may wonder what, exactly, this film was supposed to accomplish and why ("We hope you enjoyed 'No Moral Theater,'" says Servo at the end). But you have to hand it to him: unlike most MST3K fodder, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies sticks with you. Previously released in an MST3K box set, this single-disc release has no extras. (Shout! Factory)