There is no Stairway to Heaven.
Year of Release: 1990
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 94 minutes (1:34)
Director: Michael Rissi
Vivian Schilling ... Natalie McMillan
Gregg Thomsen ... Zach Taylor
Joe Estevez ... The Man / Soultaker
David 'Shark' Fralick ... Brad Deville
Chuck Williams ... Tommy Marcetto
Jean Reiner ... Anna McMillan
David Fawcett ... Mayor Grant McMillan
Robert Z'Dar ... Angel of Death
A violent car accident wreaks havoc with forces of nature when the tremendous impact of the crash separates the souls of four "surviving" passengers from their comatose bodies.
Trapped in an unseen world, they must fight for their lives against the fatal grip of a powerful and mysterious "Angel of Death" sent to collect their souls. The battle between the will of the young couple to live and the determination of the "Soultaker" to take them into his world, rips the "spiritual balance" apart leaving a path of irreversible destruction.
With less than one hour before the doctors disconnect their life support systems, the young couple must find their bodies before the "Soultaker" completes his mission.
Soultaker, remindin' us that our reward for livin' an honest, morally sound existence is bein' ushered into the afterlife by a murderer payin' off his debt to God, who choke slams you to death for havin' the audacity to survive his botched assassination attempt. Apparently good help really is hard to find - God prolly oughta consider offerin' a more generous benefits package to attract a higher class of employee.
Cranky sonsabitches could really use a trip to the woods to get their attitudes realigned to their proper zen configurations. Seriously, I got to thinkin' about it while I was drivin' around Bearcrack Mountain on openin' day of the Spring turkey season with Billy Hilliard, an the occupant of every single rig we passed waved at us - I counted. An actually, now that I think about it it's always been this way, I just never really thought anything of it before now. Don't get me wrong, I ain't complainin', cause it's kinda nice to have a place where everyone assumes the best about ya, it just don't make a lick of sense is all. I'm not talkin' about wavin' at people ya know either, I'm talkin' complete strangers who don't know a thing about you. An boy are they ever happy to meet you, even on a corner with no guard rail, a 30' deep embankment on one side, on a road so narrow that somebody hasta back up a coupla hundred yards just to find a spot wide enough to pass without knockin' mirrors - all the while they're grinin' atcha like they just found a brand new can of snoose that rolled under their bench seat an was presumed lost since 1996. It's insane, cause in any other place, on any other day, these same two guys might otherwise be havin' a screamin' argument about religion, politics, or the best skin flick of 1984 at The Gutter Bowl, but for whatever reason the moment you pull off the paved road *everyone* you pass is just a friend you haven't met. It can be the openin' day of buck season, with extremely scarce game an every man competin' with half the county for his winter meat stockpile, an *still* you're greeted by random people like you're one of their poker buddies.
I swear to God, if Michael Moore an Rush Limbaugh ran into each other out in the boonies they'd stop to chat about where the trout're bitin'; it's more'n a little bit creepy. Heck, I've waved at Mark Skidman out on Sumac Ridge before an I can't stand the man - it's like you completely lose control of your limbs a la Idle Hands, an by the time you realize what you've done you may very well've just waved at The Zodiac Killer. I dunno if it's the air or what, but I'm pretty sure that if you could get Mahmoud Abbas an Benjamin Netanyahu on a campin' trip out to Leech Creek they'd prolly hash out all this Middle East bullstuff inside 24 hours, an if there were s'mores involved you might even get a hug out of 'em. So I ask again, why? The only thing you can be sure you have in common with anybody you meet is your mutual enjoyment of the mountains - one thing, that's it. You don't see people in adjacent booths at Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks high-fivin' each other because they both ordered the Agony of Beefeat Burger, so what's this all about? Show up on that same guy's lawn unannounced a week later an he's liable to fill your butt with birdshot, yet in the serenity of nature, he'll prolly give you his last beer if you ask nice. I spoze there're some things man ain't meant to know - like what the meanin' of life is, an whatever happened to that set of jacks you swallowed while the babysitter was rootin' around with 'er boyfriend in your parents' bed, but if anybody has an explanation write in an let me know. There're only so many unsolved mysteries a man can hold before he starts readin' Dianetics lookin' for easy answers, an we wouldn't want that, now would we?
Fortunately for my delicate psyche, week #9 of my tribute to the 10 best Mystery Science Theater 3000 flicks of all time involves an easy-to-understand movie - Soultaker, which I hafta tell ya is quite possibly the finest dead teenage romance film of 1990 to feature Joe Estavez leerin' at a nekkid girl while in the guise of her middle-aged mother, an I am not just sayin' that to keep you from tabbin' back over to Reddit to read about the lady who removed her own breast implants with a pocket knife. It's cool, I was prepared for skepticism; after all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but I can tell ya this much: after a cursory review of the facts of death, I guarantee you'll get with the program. First, whoever said "you can't take it with you" was obviously unaware of the Jack Daniels loophole, which states: "thine hooch is welcome in the eyes of God." Second, if you wail hysterically at the hospital staff long enough they'll ignore the next of kin's instructions an restore life support to the recently unplugged. An third, the female body has ways of shuttin' that whole nudity thing down - not least of which involves spontaneously regeneratin' a nightgown in moments of nekkidness.
I do have *one* beef with this flick though, an I'm sure you've noticed this as well - how come in the movies whenever a cop finds a suspicious bag of white powder his first instinct is to dab his finger in it an have 'imself a little taste test like a 6-year-old dunkin' his thumb in a bowl of brownie batter? As if there's some nagging doubt in his mind tellin' 'im it *might* just be five kilos of vacuum packed Comet that fell outta the duffel bag of a self employed housekeeper or somethin'. Have you *ever* heard of a real cop doin' this? No you haven't, an that's cause even if some wiseacre doesn't decide it'd be funny to anonymously suggest the chief drug test 'im, cops tend to have this ingrained distrust of people whose profit margins rise an fall with the costs of whatever they use to cut their drugs, an would thus prefer not to turn into The Incredible Melting Man if they find a batch that's been cooked up by the Uncle Scrooge of drug lords. Who the heck started this stupid cliche anyway, an how many pixie sticks had he snorted that mornin'? You never see anybody "confirm" the red puddle next to a claw hammer by dippin' their finger in an lickin' it to prove its authenticity for cripes sake - an while we're on the subject, isn't this like a serious breach of crime scene preservation protocol?
I can just imagine what the judge would say when the case finally came to trial: "Mr. Prosecutor, while it is my personal opinion that Mr. Scuzzball T. Fencington probably did manufacture the narcotics in question with the intent to distribute them, I must dismiss all charges on the basis that Officer Buttfumbles' fingerprints were found on approximately 88% of the drugs' packaging, and that he somehow managed to leave one remarkably clear print in the contraband itself. In the future, please instruct him to avoid doing anything this pants-on-head retarded if he's at all interested in collecting his pension." Seriously, this's worse than that deal where somebody finds somethin' gooey an disgustin' in a Science Fiction movie an just *hasta* stick their hand in it an take a whiff to make sure it smells as foul as it looks, so could we please put this trope out of its misery already? Or if that's not an option, can we at least turn the cop into a cocaine zombie or somethin' after he does it? Cause that I could get behind, as most of the folks runnin' the D.A.R.E. program probably could as well - "now, don't do drugs children, or you'll rise from the dead to eat the flesh of your classmates." If that don't scare ya straight I dunno that anything will.
The movie begins with an invisible Joe Estavez dressed up like he's goin' to a Type O Negative concert an slathered in mascara walkin' down a hospital corridor where he steps into some old codger's room an sticks this little fuel tank gasket he's got hidden in his palm to the guy's chest an causes 'im to start jitterin' around like somebody just told 'im flesh eatin' ants've crawled inside his ear an set up shop in his brain fissures, until the little rubber washer dealie starts glowin' like a rave bracelet an sends the old dude to the big diner counter in the sky. Elsewhere, this gal who wears 'er lipstick like a blind drag queen (Karen) is pickin' up 'er pixie-faced friend (Natalie), while some douche-bro with early onset Hulk Hogan hair (Brad) picks up his buddy who looks like he hangs around the mall an pretends to be John Stamos to pick up chicks (Zach). It seems everybody's goin' to the big whooptie-goddamndie-doo Summerfest concert, which, best as I can tell involves a few local bands that otherwise couldn't open for The Vapors at the Wildhorse Casino, cept once everybody pulls into the lot Joe an Robert Z'Dar show up so Rob can point out Joe's next targets cause he's not allowed to use Post-It notes like Mandy Patinkin in Dead Like Me. Then Rob goes to grab a funnel cake an ride the Wonder Wheel while everybody sways awkwardly to early '90s Pop music that's about the musical equivalent of rice cakes, until Karen ends up ridin' off into the sunset with the first guy who wins 'er a stuffed animal at the ring toss an leaves Natalie stranded like a fat-cheeked 4th grader in a rest home rec-room while Joe squints at 'er an mumbles lines from Gotye's Somebody that I Used to Know.
Fortunately, Zach an Natalie used to root around in the backseat of 'er luxury sedan at the drive-in until Nat's Dad (the mayor) decided Zach looked too much like the guys from The Outsiders an realized that kinda thing might destroy 'im with the Evangelical bloc if he ever decided to run for president on the Heartless ticket an broke 'em up like a coupla frozen burritos, so Zach volunteers Brad to give 'er a ride home to make sure she won't be seen walkin' past the houses of people who keep bathtubs in their front yards an end up in the National Enquirer. Then everybody (Brad, Brad's hoochie mama Candace, Zach, Natalie, an their friend Tommy ProudMullet) piles into Brad's Dodge Monaco an Brad goes tearin' down the highway doin' every stupid thing they told ya never to do in those 1950s social guidance films until Joe steps out in the middle of the road an diverts 'em into a head-on collision with Old Man Willow. Unfortunately for Joe, mosta the souls in the car weren't wearin' their seat belts an end up bein' thrown through the windshield, so the only one he's able to Shang Tsung is Candace an pretty quick Rob pops in like Samantha from Bewitched an tells 'im there's a glitch in the Heavenly matrix an that he's gonna hafta go track down the others before midnight or else they'll end up as recurring characters on Ghost Hunters. Findin' the kids proves pretty easy since Brad's first move is to locate the car an make sure his cocaine survived the impact, an once they get there Joe climbs outta the backseat an chokeslams Brad like a United Airlines passenger an stashes his soul in another one of them nuclear scrunchies. So the survivin' teenagers take off runnin' down the side of the highway blubberin' like abused spouses headed for the nearest battered wife shelter only to learn they're even more invisible than Joe at the annual Estavez family barbecue, an next thing you know Joe tracks 'em down an grabs Nat by that goose neck of hers an starts flashin' back to some old timey pictures they apparently had taken together in one of those carriages that people ride around Central Park in. This causes Joe's eyes to bug out like he just spotted the neighbor lady washin' 'er car in the nude an allows Nat to get loose, but Joe gets his head screwed back on pretty quick an punches Tommy's ticket for the sooooooooouuuuuuuulllllllllll train.
Meanwhile, Zach an Nat make it to her parents' house an tell 'er mama what's goin' on, but pitchin' that story's like tryin' to sell a BLT to a Muslim during Ramadan, an so Zach basically throws his hands up an heads home while Nat's mama draws 'er a bath to try scrubbin' the peasant stink off 'er. Then mama starts leerin' like Mary Kay Letourneau at a JV baseball game while Nat's gettin' nekkid before turnin' back into Joe an tryin' to convince 'er to be his queen of soul. This's relationship's never gonna work if the Grim Peeper don't learn to R-E-S-P-E-C-T her P-R-I-V-A-C-Y. Elsewhere, Zach's finally startin' to piece things together when he sees Nat's mama on TV at the hospital where his an Nat's bodies're bein' kept alive by machines an decent health insurance, an so he hasta haul butt back over to Nat's house an club Joe with a 5-iron so she can get back into 'er skivvies an go diggin' for 'er dad's gun. She finds it, but by the time she gets back downstairs Joe's permanently mashed his fingerprints into Zach's jugular, an when she refuses to become his soul ma'am he tosses Zach out the window like Charles Barkley after a bad night at the craps table. Then the kids run off to the hospital an end up in an elevator with a Bob Marley wannabe singin' along with his Walkman who turns into Joe an chucks Zach into the neonatal unit while he takes Nat up to the top secret 7th floor an the Hallway to Heaven, while Zach runs around the hospital like a lost organ porter until he finds Brad, who's since joined the ranks of the soultakers an been forced to dress like a K.G.B. agent an guilts 'im into helpin' locate Nat so they can get back into their bodies. Somehow I get the feelin' God is not gonna be happy about this, but then, if you've read the Old Testament you know He's pretty much never happy anyway, so I'd best cut off the review here an not upset 'Im anymore'n He already is by goin' an spoilin' the ending.
Alrighty, well, the IMDB score for Soultaker is definitely the biggest injustice to befall a Mystery Science Theater flick to date, cause it's actually kinda decent... in a Joe Estavez is Johnny Cash is The Grim Reaper who collects souls with the aid of a rubber washer kinda way. It's got some problems to be sure, but the idea that it's only .6/10 better than Werewolf is ridiculous, and ultimately it's just another case of a *lot* of inexperienced viewers with little frame of reference puttin' the whammy on it because Mystery Science Theater did. I get it - anybody capable of writing the brilliant commentary they dish out is undoubtedly highly intelligent, and the fact that they're ripping a movie means that it definitely has some deficiencies, but for reviewers to give a flick like this the lowest possible score on so consistent a basis to place it at the #72 position on the 100 worst movies of all time list? Those people oughta be locked in a room watching nothing but British melodramas from the 1940s for two weeks until they understand the true meaning of pain. I'm not saying it's brilliant, or even special, but it puts an interesting twist on the Slasher formula, and despite some silly dialog ("You must find them, and you must abide by the rules of time and space. Quickly!"), it has some cute plot devices - like the cops showing up at the gas station as a result of the dead kids' failed 911 attempt, only to find the attendant has stuffed his pockets fulla March of Dimes donations. I don't care who ya are, that's funny. Honestly, for somebody's first screenplay, which they wrote at the age of 22 - this script is *far* from terrible, and reveals at least *some* talent. I almost wonder if the episode selection for the 11th season wasn't chosen at least in part to avoid destroying the careers of young filmmakers, because the most recent movie to be riffed in the new season was from 1989, and you know full well that there have been a *ton* of no budget titles that've gone direct to Netflix over the last decade that they could have chosen. Granted, doing so would kinda violate the spirit of the show, as they *generally* skewered older titles, but at the time of the original series they did do a few movies that were only 2 or 3 years old, so who knows. The MST3K seal of disapproval has always been a pretty potent weapon in the war against bad cinema, but I think sometimes people fail to properly scrutinize and contrast one movie against another, and that they may defer judgement a bit too much to the superior knowledge of the MST3K staff... who themselves would likely not slap a 2/10 on at least half of these movies.
I will now pause a minute for all the kids who completely missed the point of that diatribe to get the "butthurt" comments outta their system... there. We should be good to proceed now. However, with all that said, it's still gonna take a pretty unusual set of circumstances for a movie to both make an excellent MST3K episode (which Soultaker undoubtedly is) and still receive a passing grade, so everybody smear on some hair band eyeliner and strap on your neon glow-bracelets and let's see if the stars finally align and grant the first passing grade for a Mystery Science Theater title. The plot, for the most part, is fairly original and generally coherent. My only real complaint is just how long it takes the characters to figure out what's happened despite the numerous clues they're given. Seriously, they escape the crash completely unscathed, the TV at the gas station airs a report stating that someone they were with just moments before died en route to the hospital, and nobody can see or hear them. It's not until Gregg Thomsen sees Vivian Schilling's mother on TV when moments before she was home that they finally get the picture - you might even reasonably posit that these kids are dumber than those of your average Friday the 13th cast. Beyond that, the last 20 minutes drag pretty badly and probably could have easily been trimmed down to about 10, but despite the unusually dense characters and some pacing issues, the story is interesting and fresh. The acting, while not great, is much better than one would expect for a regional, low budget Horror flick - and if you think I'm going easy on it, just remember that those are precisely the conditions that brought Troll 2 into existence. The thing I find most unusual about the acting is that everybody is performing on what seems to be an identical skill level, meaning nobody stands out as being either above or below "adequate" status. I guess you could say Robert Z'Dar gives the best performance, but he's in the movie for all of three minutes, so to summarize: the acting is so okay it's average, even though Joe spends a lot of the movie looking morally outraged for no apparent reason.
Here's who matters and why (besides Joe Estavez, who B-movie fans are prolly already familiar with): Vivian Schilling (Future Shock, Eyes of the Beholder, Terror Eyes, Star Slammer), Robert Z'Dar (Untitled Horror Comedy, A Blood Story, Easter Sunday, Monsters on Main Street, Little Creeps, Post-Mortem, Spaced Out, Drawing Blood, Super Hell 1 & 3, The Rockville Slayer, Vampire Blvd, Zombiegeddon, Scary Tales: The Return of Mr. Longfellow, Body Shop, Crimes of the Chupacabra, Future War, Run Like Hell, The Devil's Pet, Frogtown II, Beastmaster II, Dragonfight, Evil Alter, Grotesque, Maniac Cop 1 - 3, Cherry 2000, The Night Stalker, Hellhole), David 'Shark' Fralick (Ghost of Goodnight Lane, World's End, Aliens on Crack, Spiker, Revamped, Uncle Same, Future Shock), Chuck Williams (John Dies at the End, Live Evil, Fistful of Brains, Slices, Trail of the Screaming Forehead, Darkwalker, Groomlake, Bubba Ho-Tep, Horrorvision, Witchhouse II, Puppet Master V, Demon Wind), David Fawcett (Jaws of Satan), Dave Scott (The P.A.C.K.), Bob Grant (Terror Eyes), Eric Parkinson (Future Shock, Terror Eyes, The Attic), Eugene Walter (The House of the Laughing Windows, Black Belly of the Tarantula), Kimberly Keltner (Future Force).
The special effects are a bit cheesy even for 1990 and haven't aged well, but this isn't particularly damaging to the film's overall score given how few special effects it has to begin with. It's literally five brief shots of green life force bein' sucked out of people - that's it. Total effects budget was probably under $1000. As for the little rubber seals the Soultakers use for soul storage - that's pretty chintzy. I dunno who thought those were a good idea, but that aspect of the movie screams "amateurish" louder than any other. So between the general lack of gore and the pitiful props, I'm inclined to say the special effects are probably the weakest element of the flick. The shooting locations are hit and miss, but still passable based upon the fact that they were able to secure access to film in a real hospital. I'd imagine around 20% of the movie takes place in said hospital, and if you've ever seen a low budget movie crew try making one out of a school or other incongruous setting, you know just how laughable it can be, so they definitely scored some serious credibility for their movie by getting into a real facility. There aren't too many different locations in the movie, but the others include a gas station, a coupla residences (adequate, but not particularly unique or interesting), and the open field used for the Summerfest sequence. This last setting is a bit of a bust, because the name kinda implies it's a Fair or a carnival or *something* that warrants a community gathering, but all we get is a stage and a band out in the middle of nowhere. I'm not even clear on where they were getting the power for the musicians, but even so, it's a pretty pathetic "festival." The soundtrack definitely punches above its weight, both in terms of the spiffy synth composition by Jon McCallum and the late '80s/early '90s rock music. The synth score has a nice combination of keyboards and heavy bass overtones that make it catchy and provides the movie with some decent atmosphere during its more "intense" scenes, and at least one track makes good use of a piano to give it a touch of class. Admittedly, some of the poppier songs aren't that great, but Karen Lawrence's "What a Lovely Way to Go" and "Somewhere in Paradise" are both excellent, as is Diamond's "Fight Fire with Fire." Overall: winner winner chicken dinner, we've got our first Mystery Science Theater title to earn a passing grade. The interesting storyline and strong showing in the soundtrack department are enough to lift the mediocre special effects to the minimum score necessary for a pass on the technical level, and beyond that I like it pretty well. Worth a watch without the MST3K commentary, and ten with, so check it out if you've never seen it nekkid.