|“|| You, the ice cream manufacturer. |
Up against the wall! Spread 'em!
|603 - The Dead Talk Back|
|Air Date||July 30, 1994|
|Movie Director||Merle S. Gould|
|Short||The Selling Wizard|
|Preceded by||602 - Invasion USA|
|Followed by||604 - Zombie Nightmare|
The Selling Wizard
A promotional film for grocery-store freezer cases, brought to you by Anheuser-Busch.
This short was included on Shorts Vol 3, released by Rhino Entertainment on VHS in January 2001, and on DVD in August 2004 as an limited time exclusive bonus for ordering MST3K: The Essentials from a specially created Rhino site.
"Dragnet" meets "The X-files" in this 1957-shot, 1993-released murder puzzler.
The Hook: Los Angeles. Night. An unidentified couple neck in a car, then bid each other goodbye. Someone tries to start an automobile that has a bad muffler, then a pair of disembodied arms fires a crossbow at a target off-screen.
A narrator intones that what ensues is based on a "true event from a psychic research file" (a contradiction in terms). We meet "Doctor" Henry Krasker (Aldo Farnese), a twenty-something amateur inventor and criminologist with a singular hair style and a fascination for the occult. At the outset, Krasker limns the premise of the movie and demonstrates and/or describes devices he has cobbled together in his risible lower-than-low-tech basement lab. They include an "I'm not dead yet" alarm that can be activated from inside a casket and a preposterous-looking "radio" that may or may not be able to communicate with the dead. They will turn out to be critical to plot advancement.
Renee Caldwell is a bored, not-so-young "Fleet Farm underwear" model who resides at the boarding house where Krasker lives ("it's close to my lab", he explains). Sure. After the voiceover (identified as one of the investigating detectives) announces that she will perish within thirty minutes, we witness her riveting final Earthly activities - talking to her girlfriend, smoking, lounging on her bed, chatting on the telephone. Ah, the banality of evil. In an attempt to gin up some suspense, the narrator periodically quanitifies her diminishing minutes of existence. When she is, at last, murdered on schedule on the front porch, pierced by a curtain rod fired from a crossbow, the police launch an investigation to determine the identity of the assailant. Henry Krasker has helped solve eight cases for the police before, so once more he becomes involved in police affairs. (Plus, one of the cops knows Krasker's dad.)
Two par-boiled detectives, "good cop" Lieutenant Lewis and Lurchian "bad cop" Harry cross-examine the diverse occupants of the boarding house. Among them are Christopher Mattling, an emotionally labile, jobless, judgmental Scripture-quoting unsuccessful Presidential candidate; Raymond Millbrun, a suspicious-acting Riddler impersonator and radio DJ with wealthy parents (he is so "not from San Francisco"); Fritz "I don't kill nobody!" Krueger, a shifty-eyed German immigrant who served three years for "bothering a girl"; Younger, a twice-divorced music shop clerk whose marriages lasted less than three weeks and who may or may not consort with bongo players; and the comestibles-obsessed proprietor of the boarding house, her daughter and two incorrigible grandsons (the Greek chorus).
We observe several listless interrogations and behind-the-scenes slices of "gritty" police life that without a doubt increase the length of the film. At a sandwich counter, one of the cops wearily bemoans how the police are hamstrung by Constitutional restrictions on the assumption of guilt based on the disposal of footwear. Sigh. The excitement mounts to near-flatline levels as the authorities track down Tony Patini, a nebbish photographer and source of a shoe heel that was left at the scene. When they accost him at his place of business, he flees the interview. Yah, he flees the interview! (I hope you weren't expecting a car chase). Could he be the killer?
Under the aegis of the police, Krasker calls a meeting. FIrst he dazzles the credulous dimbulb residents of the boarding house (I think one of them is named "Oprah" and another "Deepak") with some pathetic pseudo-scientific woo (just imagine the money he could make today!), then they all retreat to his lab for a melodramatic "seance" utilizing his "radio" in which he pleads with the spirit of the dead girl, whose body is lying in an aquarium in the lab, to name her murderer.
Will the murderer be apprehended? And - will the dead... "talk back"?
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that although the case is allegedly from a psychic research file, and the meeting at the end is framed as a seance, no psychics are involved (only petites) and Krasker postulates that there is a form of electromagnetic radiation ("foxglow") which will serve as the basis for contacting the other world. So, the movie tries to have it both ways - both science and paranormal.
Features a broad-daylight police foot chase across downtown LA, swimsuit models, cameos by a Liberace-lookalike (Renee's friend since boyhood) and Frances the talking mule, and just the right amount of bongo playing.
Prologue: Gypsy’s fire drill makes clear the fact that, in space, there’s nowhere to go when there’s a fire.
Segment Two: The Bots put on a radio talk show, "The Dead Talk Back". They communicate with the dead ("Abe from Illinois" and Winston Churchill). Much to Mike’s chagrin, the dead guys only want to chat about football.
Segment Three: Based on a loose association with the title of the film, Mike and the Bots are "The Dead"; Crow starts an hour-long guitar solo a la Jerry Garcia, and doesn't even pay attention to the interruption of Movie Sign until Mike grabs him to haul his skinny butt into the theater.
Segment Five: Crow is still playing the guitar. Gypsy starts another fire drill. Mike reads a letter midst the noise and chaos, ultimately screaming "Simon, Theodore, Allllllllviiiin!" Dr. F practices his archery skills - on Frank, of course.
Stinger: A woman screams after seeing Renee's dead body.
- Unusual credits: Crow's guitar solo continues instead of "Mighty Science Theater" starting up.
- The concept of fire drills and emergencies aboard the SOL would be revisited in one of the promos the Brains did for the American Red Cross during season six.
- Winston Churchill turned out to be correct - the Buffalo Bills never returned to the Super Bowl after 1993, much less won one, and Jim Kelly never earned a championship ring.
Mike and the Bots imitate the haunting choir surrounding 'The Monolith' from '2001: A Space Odyssey.' The silhouette of the ice cream cabinet resembles it.
- "And don't forget Ed McMahon's Budweiser-flavored Ice Cream. Hayoooh! (hiccup)"
- "...and then my wife came downstairs, and her face was split!"
An excerpt from Bill Cosby, Himself.
- "Arnold Stang, fugitive!"
Arnold Stang (1918-2009) was an American character actor.
- "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Dweeb!"
Allusion to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
- "Invisible army?! I don't see anything."
A reference to John F. MacArthur's book God's Invisible Army.
- "Excuse me, do you know what evil lurks in the heart of men?"
- "Esther Hoffman Howard!"
- "Ignatz and Krazy Kat are calling!"
A reference to the early 20th-century comic strip Krazy Kat.
- "The selling revolution will not be televised!"
Mike is paraphrasing the Black Power-era poet Gil Scott-Heron.
- "Turn on your flood lights!"
- "You, Manute Bol!"
Manute Bol was a Sudanese-born basketball player known for his height of 7'7".
- "Not since 'Moonraker' has there been such an exciting opening sequence!"
Moonraker was a James Bond movie released in 1979.
- "Oh, he's got a Heathkit!"
Heathkit was the brand name for a line of amateur radio equipment sold in disassembled kit form.
- "...to be in the Cramps."
The Cramps are a psychobilly band with a mad posh for cross-dressing.
- "Oh look...'My Father the Hero' is out on video now!"
- "Aw damn, I'm gonna miss 'The Commish'!"
The Commish was a TV series from the early 1990s.
- "The Eyes of Kenneth Mars!"
- "Shoot that poison arrow through my hea-ea-eart!"
A quote from the 1980s pop song "Poison Arrow" by ABC.
- "It's the Mary Jo Kopechne Memorial Bridge!"
In 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne died in a car accident involving Senator Ted Kennedy.
- "Thom McAn!"
Thom McAn is a now-defunct chain of shoe stores, which were often found in shopping malls.
- "The heater never works in this thing..."
Due to a combination of spartan design and basic physics, Volkswagen Beetles had notoriously bad heaters.
- "The film seems to have taken a decidedly Jarmuschian turn!"
A reference to independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
- "Used to be Ray MOR."
"MOR" is an abbreviation used in the radio industry for "middle of the road" music.
- "Wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean?"
A reference to a Monty Python sketch called Nudge Nudge .
- "Hey, Helmut Kohl's working the counter!"
Helmut Kohl was the chancellor of Germany (originally West Germany) from 1982 to 1998.
- "Try to understand."/"I'm a magic man!"
A reference to the Heart song "Magic Man".
- "I'm an octoroon, you know."
"Octoroon" is an outdated term for people with partly black ancestry.
- "Ah, Swisher Sweets!"
Swisher Sweets is a brand of cigars.
- "I'd like to thank Edmund Scientific for their generous support for this project."
The Edmund Scientific Corporation sold laboratory supplies through mail-order catalogs.
- "He caught her in a tryst with Aleister Crowley!"
Aleister Crowley was a famed British occultist of the early 20th century.
- "Oh, so *there's* Bunny Lake!"
A reference to the 1965 thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing.
- "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret!"
- "Yes, another great Saul Bass title sequence!"
Graphic designer Saul Bass was famous for designing movie title sequences and posters, which often incorporated highly stylized or abstract animation.
- "Don't rot away, Renee!"
A paraphrase of the song "Walk Away, Renee" by The Left Banke which made it to number five in 1966.
- "Leni Riefenstahl's most powerful film."