Synopsis: ATTACK FROM MARS tells the terrifying story of a handful of people that fight off a fearsome vampire creature from the planet Mars when it invades the local movie theater in Burbank, California.
This atomic age masterpiece set in 1956 stars science fiction film legends Robert Clarke of HIDEOUS SUN DEMON and MAN FROM PLANET X fame and gorgeous Ann Robinson who fought off Martian invaders in the George Pal classic WAR OF THE WORLDS and a host of screen newcomers like female impersonator Charity Case and the Sweaty Girl from Mars herself.
If you like gorgeous girls, hot dudes, spacemen, villains, nerds, heroes & heroines, cadavers, vampires, drag queens, cowboys, teenage boppers and rock ‘n’ roll, this one’s for you.
eyelights: its brilliant core conceit. its surprising production quality.
eyesores: its unfunny gags. its plotlessness. its pace. its crummy performances.
Where does one begin? There are so many movies and TV shows out there that it’s nigh impossible to pick that one title to watch that will be guaranteed winner. That’s why knowledgeable video store clerks were indispensable: a good clerk would not only know movies, but would be able to read customers and suggest something that they’d like.
As a movie junkie, I find myself perpetually digging to find something that I’ll like. The fact is, the more movies you watch, the pickier you become; most plots have been done to death, so you need a fresh new take on the material. This can mean the work of a visionary filmmaker, a nutty mash-up of genres, or even some weirdo b-movie.
But that means wading through endless dreck, in the hope of finding that one gem, that one picture with a new perspective or gimmick. An excellent example of a good gamble and unique find was ‘Forbidden Zone‘, a WTF movie that is equally weird as it is entertaining. Unfortunately, for every ‘Forbidden Zone’ there are a dozen pieces of crap.
Hence the existence of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000‘.
‘Midnight Movie Massacre’ is a movie that makes a valiant attempt at giving its audience something unusual but fun. An homage to ’50s sci-fi b-movies, it takes its audience to the Granada Theater in 1956, where patrons have come to see ‘Space Patrol’, a low budget sci-fi adventure. Unbeknownst to them, Martians have landed behind the theater.
And they’re out for blood.
Also released as ‘Attack from Mars’, the 1988 motion picture (which was actually produced four years prior) is a strange concoction, showing us the goofy patrons watching the movie while a creature roams the cinema and slays some of the staff. So we’re basically watching people watching a movie and seeing bits of the movie-within-a-movie.
There’s very little plot, and what there is can be found in ‘Space Patrol’, the picture that they’re watching. And, given ’50s sci-fi standards, it’s nothing stellar. Most of the picture hinges on its gags, which litter the picture like stale popcorn on a cinema floor – it’s all about the “funny” characters, who are more grating than anything.
If one expects wit of the type found in ‘Si vous n’aimez pas ça, n’en dégoûtez pas les autres‘, then one should look elsewhere. As for the kind of riffing found in ‘MST3K’, ‘Cinematic Titanic’ or ‘RiffTrax’, then one would be disappointed – though ‘Midnight Movies Massacre’ is reminiscent of ‘MST3K’ because it cuts to and from the movie.
It provides a merciful break.
Having said that, though the humour is weak, the comic performances suck, and there’s little plot, I found the concept super fun – there’s just something about a b movie-within-a-b movie that appeals to me. I especially liked how the filmmakers tried their best to emulate the setting, look and atmosphere of ’50s cinemas and motion pictures.
It’s not just in the costuming and set design, either: it’s in the little touches, like scratching up parts of the film, as though it were old footage, or even cutting out frames so that the picture jumps in parts. They basically recreated the experience of watching an old, $#!tty movie in a crappy local cinema. I thought that was very funny.
They even started the presentation with a crummy b&w warning to vandals, and trailers to old period movies, like ‘Cat-Women on the Moon’, before eventually showing the Republick Pictures (sic) serial ‘Space Patrol’. And even the serial was designed like a proper serial, with characters cards and a narrated introduction before jumping right in.
Admittedly, the picture is more enjoyable in its early stages, with the setting up of the concept and caricatured characters. Once they’re all settled in to watch ‘Space Patrol’, it can get a bit tedious, what with the crummy and repetitive gags (ex: the girl who won’t stop sneezing rubbery streams) and the mundanity of the serial itself.
One thing that was interesting towards the end was that the characters in “Space Patrol’ were on Earth, and happened to converge on a cinema with an army of robots. For a moment, I thought that the movie would blur the lines between “fiction” and “reality” and propel the ‘Space Patrol’ crew into the Granada Theater to mingle with the audience.
Alas, no such weird-o fun.
Frankly, I’m not sure that ‘Midnight Movie Massacre’ warranted a feature-length presentation: it doesn’t even follow-through on its own plot, killing off a few characters, but never creating any tension – or glee-inducing silliness. It overstays its welcome: it could have been made in 2/3 the time and maintained its integrity, so to speak.
Still I love the concept and some of the execution so much that I can’t help but respect the film despite its plodding rhythm, unfunny gags, repetitiveness and pointlessness. I’m not sure how often I’m going to watch this movie, but I”m going to tell some of my b movie-loving friends about it. It may not be a cult classic, but it’s memorable.
Sometimes, that’s plenty.
Date of viewing: April 14, 2017