This day has always been special to me. Growing up, it seemed that among all the major holidays, it was only Thanksgiving that always managed to fill me with horror and despair, invariably offering up a watery, lukewarm buffet of angst, resentment, parental abandonment, drunken confessions, and an aunt and uncle who announced their divorce through gritted teeth while struggling over a bowl of cottage cheese suspended in Lime Jell-O.
All that changed, however, when a kind soul sent me a stack of tapes from the first Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon. I not only discovered a TV show that made life worth living, I discovered a festive, heart-warming holiday tradition that made Currier & Ives look like Hieronymus Bosch. But most importantly, as a result of MST3K I was lucky enough to meet a few smart, sympatico folks for whom bad movies were also a touchstone. And not just the ones from Touchstone.
And so in honor of my favorite day of the year, here’s a traditional , from me to you:
Okay, enough with the roseate glow of nostalgia. Pour yourself a rocks glass full of Welch’s Grape Sake and join us for Chapter Five of The Batman: The Living Corpse! (The Dick Cheney Story).
Last week, The Batman was in the cab of a speeding armored car, violently attempting to get to second base with the driver as the car plunged off a treacherous mountain road. When last seen, the runaway vehicle was falling hundreds of feet to the valley floor, delivering all inside to a certain doom. How could our hero have possibly escaped this time?
The answer: He couldn’t. And he didn’t. He perished in a fiery crash, and you’re all witnesses.
But this week, The Batman was rescued by the dedicated archivists at the Eastman Kodak House, who apparently discovered a previously unknown director’s cut in the basement of a Slovakian tannery. This time, as the same sequence unspools, you will note that the Eastman technicians restored a brief, but crucial shot of The Batman leaping from the armored vehicle just before it crashes through the guardrail. I think the lesson here is pretty clear: if you’re the kind of person who falls to his death from great altitudes on a weekly basis, don’t ever piss off a film preservationist.
So anyway, our hero jumps off the truck just before it turns into a collectible miniature and falls off a paper-mache mountain. He lies facedown in the dirt for awhile, allowing us to observe that the seams in Batman’s cape are as thick as French braids. Probably all the real cape-making material was needed at the front, so The Batman’s was sewn together out of recycled superhero costumes collected in a Cape Drive by patriotic newsies.
Robin pulls up in the Cadillac and helps our hero to his feet, inquiring solicitously, “Are you alright, Bruce?” Oh great. Thanks. I go to all the trouble of putting on this asinine get-up to protect my identity and you just go and blow it! Why don’t you just take out a personal ad in the Village Voice? “Saw you fighting gangsters. I was bare-legged, with short-shorts and opera gloves. You were dressed as a bat. Call me.”
Back at Daka’s lair, the evil spymaster is holding a staff meeting with the League of Doughy White Guys Who Never Seem to Get Any Lines, and attempting to raise morale by cataloguing all of their most spectacular recent failures: Retrieved the radium gun? No. Stole the radium shipment? No. Killed The Batman? Sorry. Disciplined the minions we sent to do all that stuff? No, because they fell off a mountain and died before we could issue them a written warning. It’s kind of like a Dilbert cartoon, except with fewer donut jokes and more fake Japanese guys with mustaches so thin they can slice a tomato.
Daka gets a call from a Japanese submarine that has just returned from a secret mission to Staples, where they bought lots of impractical office furniture for the conning tower. The captain reports that he has also brought Daka “a package from Japan,” but they can’t deliver it to him directly, because it mostly contains used schoolgirl panties and tentacle rape hentai videos, and he’s kind of embarrassed. Instead, they plan, with a deviousness typical of the Oriental mind, to smuggle it into the country by dropping it off at “Smuggler’s Cove,” which is the last place the authorities would ever think to look.
Meanwhile, the government sends Bruce a letter typed with invisible ink (it’s got to really be a pain to change that ribbon), telling him to protect a prototype airplane engine from spies by getting a job at the “Lockwood Aeronautics Company.”
Back at the lair, Daka’s Occidental lackeys carry in a large, heavy, black lacquered coffin trimmed with silver, which the submarine had left lying on the beach at Smuggler’s Cove, figuring that would never arouse suspicion. Inside, along with copies of Upskirt! Magazine and the complete Overfiend collection is a dead Japanese soldier. Daka appears to revive the corpse by accessorizing it with a pair of high voltage Hercules Power Wristbands, but it’s hard to tell, since the whole resurrection sequence was shot out of focus. The no longer dead guy tells Daka that the Emperor would like him to steal a plane with a super-secret new engine from Lockwood, then gives him a roll of film and re-dies. Daka takes this cryptic encounter as a signal to make everybody watch his vacation slides. (“Here’s me and Hirohito and Tojo at Mount Fuji. Shoot, I blinked in this one…Here we are doing cannonballs in the reflecting pool of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. We were so high…”)
How can they possibly evade the tight wartime security and break into the Lockwood Aeronautical plant? It seems impossible! But Daka has a plan, which involves two mechanics from Lockwood happening by sheer random chance to come by the Japanese Cave of Horrors and hang around outside until a carnie offers them free tickets so they can take the ride and get kidnapped. So yeah, it was impossible.
Look closely, and you’ll see that one of the mechanics is played by future Ed Wood regular Kenne Duncan. But don’t look too closely, because his nickname amongst the Wood stock company was “horsecock,” and you just might poke your eye out!
Hey, I just realized, except for the instant replay from last week’s cliffhanger, we haven’t even seen Batman this episode. And we didn’t actually see much of him in the last one, either. Is he pregnant? Is it like when Gillian Anderson got knocked up during the second season of the X-Files, and we’re going to start seeing Batman wearing big overcoats all the time and carrying things to hide the bump?
Anyway, the mechanics’ car gets stuck in the middle of the Japanese Cave of Horrors. “Good thing we got in free,” the first one remarks. “This thing is strictly from hunger,” agrees Kenne. Then Daka appears in a kimono, and they’re instantly charmed. They follow him into the lair, where they are overpowered by a couple of middle-aged zombies. Cut to the lab, where Daka has placed the captured men under his mind-control hair dryers, and is giving their brains a permanent wave.
The next day, Bruce and Dick, disguised as war workers, infiltrate the Lockwood plant. Meanwhile, Daka sends the zombified mechanics to steal the experimental plane, which Bruce is hiding in for reasons which are apparent to nobody. Dick follows the zombies into a shed near the airstrip, arriving just in time to see them knock out the genuine flight crew. Instantly, Dick changes into an older, chubbier stunt double and attacks the zombies, who promptly beat him up.
The mechanics instantly hop to it and change clothes with the flight crew, moving swiftly and efficiently, their eyes keen and alert as they constantly scan their surroundings. Then they remember they’re zombies, and shamble slowly out of the room.
The plane takes off, with Bruce hiding in the rear compartment. Since a test was scheduled, he has no reason to assume that anything is amiss, but succumbs to an irresistible urge to put on his Batman costume anyway. So now the nature of our hero’s motivations becomes a bit more clear. It’s not a thirst to avenge the murder of his parents that drives him, but more the sort of compulsion that drives a crossdresser to wear boy shorts under his coveralls at Aamco.
Suddenly, Dick radios Bruce that the two men flying the plane are imposters. The Batman replies, “Call it into headquarters!” and says that he’s going to remain hidden for the duration of the flight so he can discover where their base is located. Cut to Daka’s lair, where he’s watching the two men pilot the plane via an invisible dash-mounted TV camera. Then the doctor switches to Camera 2, and sees the Batman emerge from the rear compartment. Um…What happened to that whole “I’ll hide here so I can secretly infiltrate their base” thing?
Well, according to Glen or Glenda?, most crossdressers have a secret urge to be discovered, and Bruce simply couldn’t overcome his desire to put on baggy tights and be gawked at by zombies.
The two mind-controlled minions forget about flying the plane and go into the rear of the fuselage so they can wrestle with their guest. Meanwhile, an Army officer orders the plane shot down, and immediately, stock footage of heavy artillery from World War I snaps into action. Bursts of flak set the stolen ship on fire, and it plummets to earth and crashes onto some unlucky bastard’s workbench in the Special Effects Department at Columbia Studios. Great. This always happens at 4:30 on a Friday.
So. Again. The Batman ends a chapter by falling – this time in a crippled aircraft. Any guesses how he cheated death (and the audience) this time? Tune in next week for Chapter 6: The Poison Peril!
And Happy Thanksgiving everyone.