Mystery Science Theater 3000: THE CRAWLING EYE
May 14, 2014 10:11 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

1958, B&W, Horror, Sci-Fi. A thick fog engulfs the side of a mountain, containing big puffy eyes with tentacles that control people's minds. The first cable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 features many of the elements that would make the show a success: lots of jokes, whimsical performances, and a movie bad enough to peel paint. But as with most of the first season, it's really not the guys at their best. For devoted fans only.

Amazon DVD (Collection 17) - IMDB
Satellite News Episode Guide - MST3K Wiki - Club MST3K - TVTropes - The Annotated MST3K

Black & White, Horror, Sci-Fi
Alternate title "The Trollenberg Terror"
Directed by Quentin Lawrence
Starring Forrest Tucker, Laurence Payne, Jennifer Jayne
IMDB, rated 4.7/10.0 stars
"A series of capitations on a Swiss mountainside appear to be connected to a mysterious radioactive cloud."
posted by JHarris (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For those new to the show, a brief synopsis of the premise:
An ordinary joe working for Gizmonic Institute is shot up into space in the Satellite Of Love. There, mad scientists force him to watch bad movies as part of an experiment. During the film, the guy and two robot friends crack wise about what they're seeing. The specifics change through the show's 198-episode run but those basics remain constant.

The version of MST3K most people love could actually be called the third take on the idea.

The first was a show produced for Minnesota local station KTMA, with noticeably more primitive production values and somewhat ad-libbed theater segments. The second was the first season of the cable show, which had better production values but still fell short. MST3K's sets have always been somewhat intentionally janky, but they're surprisingly cheap in these two attempts. The second season marked the beginning of the show that most fans know and love; in recognition of this, Best Brains took the first season out of circulation even during the original Comedy Central era, and has never aired or distributed full versions of KTMA episodes since those early days. This is an episode from the first season.

The Mad Scientists who send Joel the movies at this point are Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), who should be familiar to all fans, and Dr. Laurence Erhardt (J. Elvis Weinstein), who disappeared from the show after the first season, never to be mentioned on-air again except for brief mentions at the beginning of E02S01, and a throwaway joke during Earth vs. The Spider.

Being a first season episode, the joke density isn't as great as later. Both the Satellite of Love and Deep 13 are much more obviously fakey. Tom Servo was voiced by J. Elvis Weinstein (who then went by "Josh"). It is a different version of the character, but he has strong appeal, and some fans were upset when Kevin Murphy took over the character at the start of Season Two. (A frequent story told by Murphy is that early in the second season he received a package at Best Brains that was just a long banner-style dot matrix printout that read, in large letters, "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE.")

Here are some highlights:

No post-intro segment, coming back from commercial takes us right to Deep 13, with Dr. Forrester controlling the camera himself with a device. The characters at the beginning make it clear that their experiment doesn't have the approval of Gizmonic Institute management. Later on it's said that they have nebulous "funding," and when Joel left all mentions of Gizmonic Institute, a personal trademark of his, left with him. The first ever nickname given to Joel: "Joely-poly puddin'-n-pie." The show leaps right into things, terrible movie watching and all, without explaining a blessed thing.

Invention Exchange: Joel provides Electric Bagpipes, and he and the bots perform a bit of Led Zeppelin. Dr. Forrester responds: "I love it! Look, Larry's corneas are bleeding!" Dr. Forrester demonstrates a cure for human perspiration using secretions from a dog's pineal gland. The side-effects on Larry are, perhaps, predictable.

After that, Joel notices that they've moved, guessing they were kicked out of Gizmonic Institute for shooting them into space. Deep 13, the site of their labs now, is named in this segment, it doesn't come up again for a while after. Later, when Joel leaves the show and Gizmonic Institute's name goes with him, "Deep 13" gets dusted off and becomes the sole name of the place. When Joel tells 'em it's highly radioactive, they tell him they like it down there. "And one day...." The camera switches to Joel. We don't know why they said "And one day!" Even as a mistake in the relatively amateurish first season, it's striking. Anyway, Clayton and Larry laugh manically and play organ music, and then it's the first cable MOVIE SIGN.

For a show where the focus is on making fun of movies with puppets, MST3K had a surprisingly nuanced backstory at the start, developed in the KTMA days. Some elements of it persisted throughout the series, like the name "Satellite of Love," "Rocket No. 9," the "Hexfield Viewscreen" and everything established in the theme song. Other parts fell away, like:
  • Joel originally had to slap a weird three-colored light bank on the table to go to commercial or answer a call from Deep 13. This became inconsistent in later episodes and went away entirely in Mike's era, except for a single return during S10E01, "Soultaker," where Joel cameoed and I presume they brought it back that one time as a nod to him.
  • Of course there's the "Invention Exchange," which was originally intended to be part of the academic culture of Gizmonic Institute, something faculty, students and employees alike used to greet each other when they met in hallways. Joel was a prop comic and he invented many of the gizmos presented in these bits. When Mike took over as host they did a few more but eventually they fell away to more generalized shenanigans
  • Joel used to ask the robots to tell him a good and bad thing about the movie in exchange for RAM chips, which they ate as a snack. Other than a couple of callbacks in Season Two, this went away and never returned.
  • The "load pan bay" is a place on the satellite referred to by characters once in a while that seems to serve as a robot version of a bathroom. A "load pan" seems to be a waste ejection mechanism. We never see it. Other than this place, the bridge, the theater and the tunnel connecting them, the remainder of the satellite is pretty fluid.
  • Vacuum flowers, from what I've read, were defined as a kind of flower that can grow in space, and were the subject of a KTMA host segment. They're mentioned one or two times in Season One and never come up again.
  • In Deep 13 in the early days are the rarely-seen Mole Men, Gerry and Sylvia, who sometimes are mentioned as doing the camera work. Much later MST would actually riff the movie that inspired them, The Mole People. Mole People can also be spotted as reused footage in The Wild Wild World of Batwoman.
Host segments:
  • Pre: Invention exchange, Mads move into Deep 13.
  • 1: Joel explains to the bots how bad it is for humans to lose their heads.
  • 2: Gypsy uncoils herself. (This is her first appearance on cable.)
  • 3: Examining the premise of the aliens from the movie.
  • End: At the end, the bots tell good and bad things about the movie to eat RAM chips. (Crow's falls right out of his mouth.)
The movie itself:
The Crawling Eye is a movie about a thick fog that engulfs a mountain town, containing eyes that mind control people. Eventually they attack, and are defeated with fiery bombs.

Although the sound is bad (Joel: "What's that noise?") and it's often poorly lit, there are attempted moments of artistry in the movie. The somewhat-animated opening credits are an unnecessary touch. There's one shot that transitions from a view of a snow-capped mountain to the inside of a snow globe. And while the movie isn't really that well-made, it does have kind of a Lovecraftian thing going with the little-seen space creatures with mysterious powers.

Some notable things to watch for in this episode:
  • Joel (when someone falls off a mountain): "Going down!"
  • Joel: "I am Mount Svengali! You will do as I say!"
  • Joel: "Hey look you guys, we're being followed by a movie!"
  • The goofy performance of the scientist guy. His accent reminds me of the mad doctor in Wild World of Batwoman.
  • Everyone: "Man, what a staircase! How about this staircase?"
  • Joel: "The matte painting is calling yooou... go to the windooow...."
  • Servo (hypnotic voice): "Go to the closet! Unpack your bags! Open your suitcase! Take out a foundation garment! Cut to the next scene!"
  • A number of puns on a character by the name of Hans: "'Groping' Hans." "Hans is on the fritz." "Get your Hans off me!" Servo seems to particularly like these. We get a ton of eye puns at the end.
  • Servo: "Don't forget you programmed me." Joel: "Last time I give you free will though."
  • After bombs are dropped on the crawling eyes, Crow quips: "Where's Major Kong?"
  • This is the movie that brought us the slowly advancing eye clip that was used in the show's opening for the first two or three seasons, later replaced by Godzilla's flying kick from Godzilla vs. Megalon.

posted by JHarris at 10:14 PM on May 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Now that this is up -- is anyone up for a group viewing session of this episode? We can use the website to match up a YouTube video's progress among each viewer, and the site also provides a chatroom for discussion during the video. If anyone's interested I'm flexible, but within the next two days would be best for me.
posted by JHarris at 10:24 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always forget about Dr. Laurence Erhardt (proto-TV's Frank) in the early episodes. Servo sure is looking svelte, and Crow's neck looks weird in the silhouette. And bonus - this terrible movie has Forrest Tucker! from F-Troop!

(A frequent story told by Murphy is that early in the second season he received a package at Best Brains that was just a long banner-style dot matrix printout that read, in large letters, "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE.")

That is delightful! I want to buy a dot matrix printer solely for the purpose of sending people my mild petty complaints.

It's interesting to go back and hear the early riffs, before they really started to perfect the pacing and tone. Joel was even more dry and laconic, I love it.

"Hey look you guys, they're being followed by a movie!"

I'd like to do the watchalong thing but I'm embroiled in finals week, so I'll try for next time.
posted by dialetheia at 11:51 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've watched this one three or four times in the last couple of months since it's been on Amazon Prime. The one thing that stands out to me about it is the sort of weird Alpine climbing fetish the writer seems to have let slip through into movie. It seems like all the climbing scenes are a little too specific and technical.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:32 AM on May 15, 2014

Oh, wait until you get to Lost Continent. "Rock climbing Joel! ROCK CLIMBING."
posted by JHarris at 1:36 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm down for future watchings (really enjoyed the Turkey Day watch on chat), but I'm not sure I can take the first season knowing that TV's Frank is just a click away.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:30 AM on May 15, 2014

Wow, unexpected to see this crop up here, though I guess I don't know why it should be. We just watched this the other day. I've been thinking about working my way through the series again, so if episodes start showing up her I'll probably pop in to discuss. I almost certainly wouldn't be able to make a scheduled viewing on anything like a consistent basis, though.

This was a pretty bad movie. Hearing the scientist harp on the significance of clouds on mountains in a Hogan's Heroes style Churman Ahccent was ridiculous.
posted by Ipsifendus at 4:40 AM on May 15, 2014

I would love a group watch, the Turkey Day chat was a ton of fun.

I haven't watched any of the first season episodes in forever, I tend to reach for episodes with TVs Frank to rewatch. I just vaguely remember this one, just how awful the movie was.

Also relevant, there's a pretty funny podcast that's been making its way through the series: Gizmonic Institutes Radio
posted by hobgadling at 9:36 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

When MST3K was still on the air my wife and I had just started dating, and while I followed the show pretty slavishly, she was not a fan. She couldn't get past the movies being awful. It didn't do any good to point out that the real entertainment was in listening to the riffing.

I probably didn't help that on many of the occaisions when she around and I was watching the show, I was watching really bad quality videotaped episodes from the Turkey Day marathons, that I'd recorded on the "super-long-play" setting. A lot of these films, including this one, have pretty murky picture quality, and (as I think they comment on during the intro to this epsidoe) a fuzzy, hard-to hear soundtrack, and those qualities are excaberated by bad quality home taping. I think she was having trouble distinguishing Joel and the 'bots voices from the actual film soundtrack, and having trouble following as a result.

This past go-around, though, I was watching this episode on Amazon instant, and she was immensely amused by the "aren't you a little fat for mountain cimbing?" running gag.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love MST3K, but the first season just doesn't click with me- it's generally too slow and sporadic, and I never really cared for Dr. Erhardt. Season 1 very much reminds me of Seasons 1 and 2 of the Simpsons- the creators have this amazing thing that they're getting started making, and they're figuring out how it works, but they're not quite there yet. Once they've got a season under their belt and Frank Conniff turns up, the show goes from promising to amazing, and stays that way for years.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:02 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I generally agree, but there are exceptions, glimpses of the later greatness. Robot Monster and Robot Holocaust are standouts in the first season, for example.

As for watching the episode, to anyone interested, how about tomorrow evening, around 8PM EST? We could meet in Chat then to arrange precise timing.
posted by JHarris at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2014

MST3K:TM is the only time in my life where I actually, no kidding, peed my pants laughing. "Push the button, Frank" is one of my personal catch phrases where co-workers who have never seen nor heard of the show will guffaw at and repeat to each other ad-nauseum. Good, good!
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:08 PM on May 15, 2014

Slap*Happy, you should catch one of the in-theater Rifftrax sometime. I went to one in Savannah, GA last year (for MANOS!) thinking I'd be the only one in the theater, but it was packed, and had a terrific atmosphere. I imagine in a big city would be even better.
posted by JHarris at 7:46 PM on May 15, 2014

Here are the details for the viewing:

The viewing is at 8 PM Eastern (5 PM Pacific), but I'll open the room a bit before. Sync-video closes any room when the last person leaves, so I can't post a URL yet because if Firefox crashes or something before the time the address will change. No registration seems to be required to watch videos, other than entering a username. (You can register if you want, though.)

I tested the site out last night and it seems to work well. Your browser needs Flash to play the video. If you have Flashblock installed, know that each video in sequence loaded will have to be clicked individually for it to play, so you might want to disable it for the showing.

The site provides its own chat facility, it may be best to use that instead of bothering everyone in Chat.

Before the movie, I'm going to be offering a few clips from my personal trove of video weirdness, if you want to show up a little early.

I've gotten comments from more than one person that they think the idea sounds interesting, but are put off by the first-season nature of the episode. That is fine, I hope you'll show up for other episodes once the TV's Frank quotient of the series improves.

I can't guarantee any anyone else will show up. That's fine. If you like the idea and want to come but the timing is wrong let me know and I'll try to arrange for an alternate viewing at a different time, particularly for night owls and European viewers.
posted by JHarris at 12:00 PM on May 16, 2014

At the moment the room is:

I've started the stream early, if anyone wants to jump in and watch some PAIN for a while.
posted by JHarris at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I'm going to do is just let it loop over and over, and just restart it when 8 rolls around.
posted by JHarris at 2:33 PM on May 16, 2014

Movie is going now, at the above URL.
posted by JHarris at 5:07 PM on May 16, 2014

Thanks for joining us everyone who showed! Next week's movie is 102: THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, don't know if I'll be the one posting it though.
posted by JHarris at 7:16 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Of course, The Crawling Eye was seen in the very last scene of MST3K....
posted by Chrysostom at 9:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for setting this up, JHarris. I couldn't make this one but I'll try for the next one.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2014

I'm sorry too, JHarris. I'm an Eastern Daylight boy living a Pacific Daylight life and just flaked.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:47 PM on May 17, 2014

Alan: You have far to go?
Sarah: Geneva.
Joel: Ah, a big convention town.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:23 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can I just say that "area" is my all-time favorite euphemism.

I'm an Eastern Daylight boy living a Pacific Daylight life and just flaked.

Then you'd fit in here just fine!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:09 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Next week is going to be weird, as I'm working at the pizza mines every evening from Thursday to Sunday. Someone else could do it, or I could do it after I get off (meaning it'd get started around 7PM PT/10PM ET), or I could start it before work and leave it running while I get pepperoni lung.
posted by JHarris at 7:33 PM on May 17, 2014

Aw man, sorry I missed it. Hopefully there will be another one? I may give The Crawling Eye a rewatch tonight. I remember it having some pretty good moments. (When it comes to mad sidekicks and hosts, though, I'm admittedly a TV's Frank and Joel man through and through.)
posted by usonian at 4:04 PM on May 21, 2014

We'll see. If I leave it running while I'm gone it would be nice if we could get someone to stick around in the meantime, in case the room gets closed, and to talk with people joining.
posted by JHarris at 4:54 PM on May 21, 2014

(Also, even when I'm around I might be distracted a little, I have a project I'm gearing up to put on the Google Play store....)
posted by JHarris at 4:56 PM on May 21, 2014

Ah! I have found my copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film! I'm going to be giving movie synopsises from there in my MST posts going forward. Here's the one from The Crawling Eye:

A strange cloud is lurking around the Swiss village of Trollenberg, where mountain climbers have been found dead -- with their heads ripped off! A lady with ESP (Janet Munro) contacts aliens in the clouds, who have long, deadly tentacles attached to their singular eyeball bodies. She joins with American Forrest Tucker to save humanity from the ghastly alien invasion. This popular and scary film was adapted from a British TV serial. F Troop star Tucker also appeared in The Cosmic Monsters and The Abominable Snowman, made in England about the same time.
posted by JHarris at 9:01 PM on May 25, 2014

Thanks for all the good work here, JHarris.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:23 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Louie: Elevator part 1...   |  The Americans: Operation Chron... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments