The Doll Squad and The Astral Factor – Cinematic Titanic Trip Report
I attended the show along with Sheldrake from Pre-Code.com and Hellburger (his writing can be found on Can’t Stop the Movies) and his wife (the latter two were also at the Monster Squad screening earlier in the day.) We had a grand time hanging in the Castro between shows, as San Francisco was having an uncharacteristically nice day (which soon turned to a windy fest as we waited in line!) Despite a small ticket snafu that seemed to affect everyone who ordered online, soon we were seated with killer seats.
Before the show there was the usual Castro organ playing, a signature event before every Castro screening. As we readied for The Doll Squad, the crew did their warmup acts. Gruber did a dance interpretation to a pop song. Frank did a monologue of jokes about where he was in life (he’s currently writing/performing for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on FXX) Trace and Mary Jo performed an old Dutch play while Gruber did “riffs” badly – which was the humor. Then the show was to begin and Joel the introductions.
If you have not seen The Doll Squad, know that it skews towards the better of Ted V. Mikels’ work. Which is to say that it is ridiculously awful. Someone is sabotaging rocket launches as blackmail against a Senator, so a gigantic 1970s computer spits out that “The Doll Squad” is the perfect group to find out what is going on. Some of the initial girls that their leader Sabrina (Francine York) recruits end up dead – graphically, as Mikels gained fame for gorey films. Eventually Sabrina recruits women faster than they can get killed off, and the team sets out to solve the mystery of who is blackmailing and why. This involves a lot of running around, sneaking around, and bumbling around. Things end up in a protracted gun battle for the finale that takes place in almost complete darkness. It’s not surprising at all to learn the entire sequence was filmed over one night. There is a lot of repetitive machine gun firing as scores of guards are mowed down. Sabrina manages to change her outfit in every scene, every single one is a crime against fashion, even for crazy 1970s fashion. Noted Star Trek villain Michael Ansara plays the heavy, a rogue CIA agent bent on unleashing a mutant strain of the bubonic plague upon the world because he’ll get rich or something.
Favorite riffs include swipes at almost every ridiculous outfit Sabrina shows up in, as well as Joel yelling “SLEEP!” every time the disco-ball scene transition device is used – and it is used a lot. The Doll Squad is an amazing bit of cheese, but those not familiar with that type of film quality run the danger of becoming bored or sleepy. But with an energetic Cinematic Titanic crew firing off jokes, things turned into a laugh riot. The only real complaint I have is the sound levels weren’t balanced well in the beginning, making it hard to hear the riffers over the sound of the movie. That seemed to be corrected as the film continued.
The second feature was the 1970s astral projection police mystery The Astral Factor, which is as exciting as that description indicates. If anything, The Astral Factor is a far inferior film to The Doll Squad, but those qualities also make it ripe for riffing, and it provided a huge target. I would rate The Astral Factor show as better, because the film is asking for it.
Before the show we got the preshow entertainment of a short film by Trace, which was a song and dance number where Frank is rebuilt into a Frankenstein monster. It featured cameos from the entire cast and even Bill Corbett (who is even selling brains in his first scene – making him a literal brain guy!) and was a fun little video. I have no idea if it is available anywhere. Gruber did another dance number (to Britney Spears’ Lucky), and Frank did some reviews of summer movie blockbusters – which he explained he had to think they all sucked because his job depends on everything sucking! Joel came out for introductions, at which point his mike was not working, so he did a mini Q&A while things got fixed. People kept asking obscure questions about specific MST3K jokes that Joel had no idea of the answer to, explaining how the fans watched the show way more than the performers because to them it was work, and you don’t relax from work by watching videos of work. It’s an explanation that is honest, but he also showed that he still has watched episodes recently as he picked episodes from both his and Mike’s tenure for favorites (episodes he picked for a recent screening.)
Things got working again and away we went. The Astral Factor is pure 1970s boring pacing, complete with new age stuff like mind powers. A criminal has supernatural powers, allowing him to become invisible and has telekinesis. He escapes, and goes on a killing spree against the women that helped convict him after he killed his mother and other women.
We follow Lt. Charles Barrett as he tries to solve the case, deal with his girlfriend Candy (who never seems to be wearing pants!) and his annoying partner Holt, who is constantly clicking a pen. Constantly. The entire movie. One scene, Barrett grabs his pen and replaces it with a pencil, and the crowd goes crazy. Elke Sommer is also present as a bitter drunken woman and one of the killer’s targets. Things plod along until the killer is electrocuted, which somehow causes him to be sucked away to another dimension. Which basically means no evidence to explain to anyone just what the crap was going on.
Favorite riffs include the captain who looks like Blackenstein – causing monster growls whenever he appeared onscreen. There was an amazing piece as the hero slowly drove on the freeway to one of the women in danger, as well as a boat chase where the hero just falls off of the boat while trying to disembark. The Astral Factor is one of those films that looks like it belongs on television, probably filmed on tape to save money.
Both films probably will never make it to dvd in Cinematic Titanic form, so unless someone gets a bright idea (like recording a commentary that can be downloaded from a website!) this might be the only time I’ll get to see these films riffed by Cinematic Titanic. So it was a special and bittersweet show.
After the show there was a free signing by the cast, but as it was around 1 am and everyone was tired, it wasn’t the most energetic atmosphere. Still, everyone was friendly and sincerely grateful at the support shown. I got more signatures for my Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and got to shake everyone’s hand. So all in all, a great night. So a final salute to Cinematic Titanic, long may she live on DVD and streaming video.
And occasional reunion shows, please????