Cinematic Titanic – “Rattlers”

Cinematic Titanic are five comedians who used to be the stars of my favourite TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. If you’re unaware, it was about a man trapped in space with only his two robots for company, who was subjected to awful films by a mad scientist and his assistant. The show had plenty of cast changes down the years, and of these five people, they never all appeared in the same episode together (the other three main cast members now do the similar-but-I-don’t-like-it-quite-as-much Rifftrax), but almost 25 years after the show started and 13 since it ended, they’re back doing the same sort of thing.

The first few Cinematic Titanic releases were in-studio affairs, high-concept stuff about a time capsule where they’d put these bad old movies with a special new commentary on, but as they were getting offers to do live shows, they realised that they actually enjoyed doing them much more than they enjoyed the studio stuff, and it allowed them to try jokes out on live audiences, refine their stuff, so all their DVD releases for the past few years have been recordings of live shows. So you’ll get the five performers on the far left and right of the screen, largely immobile but occasionally gesturing to get a joke across, and the film in the middle. If you’re not sure about your tolerance for having a bunch of comedians crack wise over the top of an old film, I’d suggest dipping your toe in the pool with some of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 clips on Youtube.

Their latest release is “Rattlers”. Now, I’ve seen a lot of films, and thanks to my university habit of reading a few pages of a film review book every night to help me fall asleep, I’ve read about a lot of damn films. But I’ve never heard of this one, and from the look of it it’s an early-mid 70s release. How do they keep finding these? Have they got a hookup at an old abandoned drive in cinema who kept copies of all these Z features? Anyway…whole bunches of rattlesnakes are messing people up, and a few cops, a herpetologist and a war photographer are on the case to bring them down.

I don’t I even really need to mention the commentary from the CT guys all that much, other than to say they really nail it with this one. There’s lots of dead air for them to fill with jokes, and there’s also quite a bit of stuff on screen that’s so stupid that the audience just laughs without any prompting from the people on stage. For instance, there’s a cage containing a snake in a lab where the lock falls off thanks to someone slamming a door into it. Now, I’m no genius, but if I’m designing a lab, I’m probably going to make sure that the poisonous snakes are a bit safer than that.

I like dreaming up behind-the-scenes stories for very bad films (well, it helps pass the time), and this film gave me rich pickings. The war photographer is a woman, and her first line, pretty much, is a passionate and angry defence of the rights of women, of equality, of the sexism inherent in society, and so on. I reckon the director had a particularly liberated girlfriend at the time, who was influencing him – perhaps a little too much, I mean, it’s pretty strident stuff. Anyway, she’d clearly dumped him by the half-hour point of the film, because the rest of it’s just appalling – they go to visit a guy in hospital and he’s just sat there reading porn; one of the guys on the military base just acts like the sleaziest dude imaginable, then offers to look after the woman while the man goes off to do man stuff, and she’s a simpering little girly-girl; and the inevitable transformation of the strong, independent war photographer into a pathetic “I can’t run any further, please help me” wreck is complete by about the hour mark.

So, we’ve got snakes (who, when real ones are shown, seem much more interested in getting away from the humans than they do biting them), a military base with a dark secret…which gets accidentally given away by a dumb helicopter pilot, and a bunch of mutated snakes (spoiler!) The film doesn’t so much end as they just got bored of filming stuff and drove away. And they left it open for a sequel…I hear the rights are still available, producers!

This guy is seriously trying to hypnotise a snake

I enjoy watching films in the company of Joel Hodgson, J Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu. They’ve been doing this forever so know what to do – not talk over the important parts of dialogue, and if someone on screen asks a question and there’s a pause, you know one of them will jump in with something good. I was thinking of something critical to write here, so you know I’m not just a gushing fan, but screw it. This was a great DVD, and I reckon you’d enjoy it. Some of the films they pick are so leaden that you can’t really do anything with them, and there is the occasional duff CT episode, but this is them really working well.

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