Monday, August 4, 2008

MST3K Takes On Miles O'Keeffe: "Cave Dwellers"

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran a movie from one of Charles’ Mystery Science Theatre 3000 downloads, Cave Dwellers, a truly bizarre production that seems to have taken various script elements and thrown them into a blender. It was actually a sequel to an action-adventure movie called Ator the Invincible starring Miles O’Keeffe, an actor whose entire talent seems to have lodged in his pectorals (a lot of women stars have made it big on their breasts but O’Keeffe is one of the few males who’s pulled that off), though from the title Charles and I were expecting a One Million, B.C.-style caveman epic (or non-epic). Instead, after a few establishing shots of the titular cave dwellers having at pieces of raw meat and generally looking like they need someone to hurry up and invent the razor, pronto, the scene suddenly shifts to what looks like a Middle Ages alchemical lab where Akronas (Charles Borromel) has invented nuclear energy in the form of a crystal that looks oddly like a People’s Choice Award.

Barbarians — not the cave dwellers but a different set, led by Zor (David Brandon) in a makeup that oddly anticipates Johnny Depp’s appearance in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies — come to take Akronas prisoner and get the secret of the nuclear crystal; they get him but he manages to give the crystal to his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster) so she can flee with it to the Ends of the Earth, where she will find Ator (Miles O’Keeffe) and his Asian sidekick Thong (no, I’m not making that name up!) (Kiro Wehara, billed as Chen Wong), who will help her defeat the barbarians and get her father back — of course her dad sacrifices his life for her eventually, but Ator wins partly because of his marvelous screenwriter-decreed knack for winning fights even when he’s outnumbered googol-to-one (or at least that’s what it looks like) and partly because just in the knick of time he invents the hang glider and stages an aerial assault on Zor’s castle with explosive bombs (apparently also his invention). There’s also an ineptly done scene — too ineptly done to be either gross or genuinely frightening — in which one of the baddies slices out the heart of their latest human sacrifice victim, and gives it to another baddie who then eats it.

By any normal standards this is a perfectly awful movie, yet the MST3K crew actually had a great deal of fun with it, satirizing everything from the anachronisms in the movie (the extra wearing sunglasses in one of the big battle scenes, the modern town Ator flies over in his hang glider at the end, the four-wheel tracks on one of the locations) to Charles Borromel’s early-talkie style delivery of his lines, very s-l-o-w-l-y, as if by speaking them portentously and at a pace a snail would complain about as too slow he can make them sound far more profound than writer/director Joe D’Amato (billed as “David Hills”) was able to create them. According to, this film was shot in two weeks to fulfill D’Amato’s contract with his distributor for a certain number of films in which O’Keeffe would star, and most of it was improvised — also it was a sequel (the original Italian title was "Ator the Invincible 2"), which explains not only why it seems to be concocted of three different films (including Where Eagles Dare, some of whose airborne footage was used as stock during Miles O’Keeffe’s hang-glide) but why at the beginning Borromel delivers so tangled a thicket of exposition that one of the MST3K robots joked, “Tolkien couldn’t make sense of this plot!”