Friday, December 31, 2010

Unseen Turkey Day, Hours 3-4: SST—Death Flight (#K13, 1989)

MST3KWhat's the most star-studded MST3K episode ever? For a show that featured low-budget movies, there's certainly some big-ass celebrities in many of the Mystery Science Theater 3000s. (also, there is Joe Don Baker). Bela Lugosi's in all of those Phantom Creeps shorts and Bride of the Monster, Basil Rathbone chews the scenery in The Magic Sword, Little Richard really turns up the heat in Catalina Caper. Tiny, tiny, Pia Zadora is a green-faced rugrat in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Michael Landon? He's a Teen-Age Werewolf. And Peter Graves? Thanks to his studies at the University of Minnesota, he's in every film ever made.

And of course, there's Gene Hackman. Hackman is good in anything (Even Marooned).

But for sheer Hollywood star power, you can't do much better than MST3K's episode K13, SST—Death Flight, a 1977 made-for-TV airplane disaster movie obviously created to capitalize on America's love of aeronautic fear as shown in 1970's Airport and its sequels Airport '75 and Airport '77. SST beats the third sequel Concorde: Airport '79 to market by two years, thus becoming the definitive faster-than-sound airplane disaster movie. And like Airport, it's jam-packed with more celebrity brilliant white smiles than Match Game '76. But while a theatrical movie like Airport features the big contemporary stars of cinema—Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes, George Kennedy, and an early appearance by Doc Emmett Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd—SST spotlights major television stars, obviously on summer hiatus from their TV shows. Robert Reed, patriarch of TV's The Brady Bunch, stars as your supersonic captain:


Here's Billy Crystal as a stewardess steward flight attendant:


Master of both the Ponderosa and the Galactica, Lorne Greene:


And future shouting talk- and game-show host Regis Philbin as a newscaster:


You got Burgess Meredith, Bert Convy, Peter Graves, Tina Louise, Doug McClure, Misty Rowe, Robert Ito...hey, that's Quincy M.E.'s Sam! As in "Sam, I don't think he died of natural causes!" "Quince, you're crazy! Asten'll have your head if you delay the autopsy!" "Don't worry, Sam, I've got an idea on how to handle Dr. Asten...a crazy idea!" Oh, sorry, please excuse me, I suddenly started writing Quincy fan fiction there.

Sci-fi fans'll recognize John DeLancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Q"), Brock Peters (the radio voice of Darth Vader), and, if you're a child of the 1970s Saturday Morning Filmation line-up, Space Academy's Ric Carrott. Holy cow, this thing is practically a Love Boat in the making! All we need is to get Charo on board.

For an overblown TV movie-of-the-week film, SST—Death Flight is compellingly watchable. Sure, it's cheese, but it's entertaining cheese, and the dramatic plot and multiple name actors give Joel and the bots good fodder for riffing. It's my favorite of the KTMA Season Zero MST3Ks, and in fact I always love when Best Brains breaks with the tradition of using a science fiction or monster film to spotlight a made-for-TV movie. (Later favorites of mine in this genre are the two Master Ninja episodes, Quinn Martin's Code Name: Diamond Head and San Francisco International.

By now, all the elements of a latter-day MST3K are in place, if not necessarily in their finished form. Mad scientists Dr. Laurence Erhardt and Dr. Clayton Forrester send Joel a bad movie (Forrester: "I ran into Bert Convy in the parking lot and he gave me the film!"). How can you tell these guys are evil scientists? Simple: like the Batman TV series, the camera's tilted whenever they're shown in their secret evil lair.


There's plenty of celebrity-reference riffing...we've even got husky-sexy-voiced Gypsy, and more than a few blue riffs from Joel. ("So that's why they call it a cockpit!") I don't quite understand that one myself, but there it is. More to the point, K13 features the first appearance of that time-honored phrase spoken by Clayton Forrester: "Push the button!"

SST—Death Flight is definitely one of the high points of Season Zero. The Brains will do this sort of movie much better later on (see San Francisco International) but it's one of the first signs that the concept need not be restricted to sci-fi clunkers only.

See you in a couple hours as the series moves into its first Comedy Channel season, and don't forget: "Put the [oxygen] masks on the important stars first!"


  1. No. No. My little stuffed friend. It was always a pot roast that Alice was cooking. The pork chops only featured in the episode where the middle son had decided to try to be more interesting by doing a very bad Bogart impression.

  2. Darn, there goes my idea for a pork-themed restaurant business partnership with Ann B. Davis.