In the dark days before Mystery Science Theater, you had to look long and hard for a good piece of meta-snarking. The occasional TV host would do it, notably Elvira and her predecessor Vampira, who added corny jokes to the beat of cheesy old horror flicks. But for the most part, we had to do it ourselves… something that would invariably get us tossed out of the theater. That’s why the folks behind It Came from Hollywood decided to do it for us. It’s a compilation film, assembling clips from some of the worst schlock ever made and sending five of the funniest people on Earth to rip them apart.
Never heard of it, you say? That’s because issues over rights prevent it from seeing a DVD or Blu-ray edition. It also suffers from a comparatively leisurely pace sometimes. While MST machine-guns the jokes at its hapless targets, It Came from Hollywood limits itself to the occasional riff or observation. Even so, it retains the same affection for those dreadful low-budget flicks and its hosts know too much about making us laugh to miss an opportunity.
And as I said, they’re not lightweights: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Gilda Radner, and Cheech and Chong, each of them primed and ready to give the material a pasting. Directors Malcolm Leo and Andrew Solt divide their clips into sections – alien invaders, brains, troubled teenagers, and gorillas among others. One of the hosts (or two in the case of Cheech and Chong) sets up the section with a sketch, then comments off-screen as the clips run before us.
They’ve put some thought into matching each presentation with the clips, though they also bring well-established comic personas to the table as well. Aykroyd adopts a variety of appropriately oddball characters, Candy does his nice-guy hustler routine, Cheech and Chong play a pair of stoners at a run-down movie palace, and so on. It works for the same reason MST does: the hosts feel like our smart-aleck buddies, sitting alongside us while we watch it and creating a de facto party atmosphere in the bargain.
And fans will readily recognize the movies they highlight. A few legitimate classics pepper the clips, including The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Day the Earth Stood Still and the original version of The Fly. More often, however, they dip into truly awful fare, including the likes of The White Gorilla, Attack of the Puppet People and High School Hellcats. Many of those films later received a more thorough roughing up from the Satellite of Love (Robot Monster, anyone?), and Candy hosts a segment dedicated entirely to the works of Ed Wood… predating Tim Burton by a good decade. They also stray into lesser-seen areas of bad filmmaking (notably musicals, which stink here worse than any zombie flick ever made).
Laughs are always the name of the game, and It Came from Hollywood believes that most of these movies make their own gravy in that regard. Comments come very rarely, leaving the clips to hoist themselves on their own petard. The opening skits help set the tone, and the film’s biggest jokes take place there. (Radner’s gorilla sketch stands as one of the funniest things she’s ever done.) It’s a shame the film remains hidden in legal limbo; there’s a big audience for this particular brand of tomfoolery, and most of them would love to see what it has to offer. The MST boys owe it a real debt, as does anyone with the right combination of affection and derision for all those 50s monster movies. It Came from Hollywood makes a first-rate maestro for such guilty pleasures… as much eager participant as jaded commentator.