Monthly Archives: November 2020

RIP Bruce J Mitchell (AKA Zap Rowsdower)

The Final Sacrifice

Psychotronic fans know Bruce J Mitchell from an excellent micro-budget film by Tjardus Greidanus, The Final Sacrifice (AKA Quest for the Lost City). The film has only been released on VHS. Most people know it because it was used in the 9th season of the decidedly mixed-blessing of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Mitchell plays Zap Rowsdower — a drifter who is running from his past. And in a film with pretty decent (often good) acting, Mitchell stands out. There is great depth to his performance. But most important, he’s just remarkably real on the screen. And I know that this doesn’t sound like much but it is incredibly hard to do.

Sadly, I have never seen the film as it should be. Greidanus has gone on to a successful career — mostly in documentary film. I suspect like most low-budget filmmakers, he’d like to forget The Final Sacrifice.

Mitchell Is Known for a Cult Classic

And I’ve gotten the impression that Mitchell might have been a little embarrassed by it. On the DVD release of the MST3K episode, there is a nine and a half minute interview. At the end of it, he gave this answer:

Everybody was pretty green when they worked on this film. It was like the old saying, “Let’s get a barn and get a dance going and we’ll raise money and everyone’s gonna be happy.”

And this is one of those films. Everybody just got together — worked together. We learnt as we were going along.

And, as an actor, you don’t turn down a role. You just don’t. Something’s offered to you, you go for it and make the best of it. Would I do it again? Most definitely. Will it ever happen again? I don’t think so — at least not for me. It was just a special project.

Reading Between the Lines

The questions are not in the interview, so I don’t know what was asked. But I suspect it was something like, “How did you feel about being in such a bad film?”

Mitchell’s response is excellent. He never has anything but nice things to say about the people who made the film with him. In fact, he described Greidanus as “smart” and “talented.” And any shame he felt was manifested in a wry smile.

But when I saw that, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him that everyone involved in that film should be extremely proud. It’s a great film — interesting from beginning to end.

Bruce J Mitchell

According to the MST3K Fandom site, it was made for less than $2,000. Think about that next time you see the chases and other high-production value shots that don’t normally end up in micro-budget films.

But the high point of it all is Bruce J Mitchell. And the fact that he was never in another film is indicative of the networked way that even the independent micro-budget world is. If others had known about him, I’m sure he would have been in demand.

“The Long Years”

Mitchell’s only other credit on IMDb is on “The Long Years” episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater. It’s a different (Better!) take on The Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.”

The main thing he gets to do is provide some exposition. But he does it shockingly well. It shows that under different circumstances, he could have been a very successful character actor in film.

A Life Well-Lived

Instead, he seems to have worked a lot in local theater. In fact, he even performed in Ireland! And he had bands when he was younger that cut some albums.

People like Mitchell are heroes. They create art for the love of it. The fact that he was incredibly talented only adds to this.

His day job through most of his life was as a licenced practical nurse, which is also cool. He was born 4 Feb 1945 and died 28 Apr 2018 at the age of 73. I’m sure he’s missed by his loved ones, but he’s also missed by film lovers like me who never knew him.


Image of Bruce J Mitchell taken from interview on MST3K “The Final Sacrifice” DVD under Fair Use. The Final Sacrifice poster image taken under Fair use

Recent Additions: October 2020

Psychotronic Review

Another month of psychotronic watching! We had a bit of a slowdown this month for reasons I can’t explain. Maybe it had something to do with the election. That sounds good. Let’s blame it on the election!

There are a lot of good films in this list. I realize that the Alien films are old but they all hold up well. And there are several from new (to me) filmmakers. So check them out!

September 2020 Films

  1. Absentia (2011)
  2. Alien (1979)
  3. Alien 3 (1992)
  4. Alien Resurrection (1997)
  5. Aliens (1986)
  6. Antrum (2018)
  7. Blood of the Vampire (1958)
  8. Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013)
  9. Destination: Outer Space (2010)
  10. Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse (2016)
  11. I Survived a Zombie Holocaust (2014)
  12. Moose: The Movie (2015)
  13. November Son (2008)
  14. October Moon (2005)
  15. Penance Lane (2020)
  16. The Pit (1981)
  17. Pontypool (2008)
  18. Room 33 (2009)
  19. The Selling (2011)
  20. Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015)
  21. Skinned Alive (1990)
  22. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  23. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  24. Stay Tuned (1992)

Absentia

I first saw this a few years ago and I was instantly in love. I didn’t know any of the people involved in it but it was just everything that a horror film should be. When I later learned that Mike Flanagan was the man behind The Haunting of Hill House, I was unsurprised. I expect great things from him although his large budgets may get in the way.

The Alien Tetralogy

I was 15 years old when I saw Alien. And I thought it was amazing. I told people the plot scene by scene — at least until they stopped me. About ten years ago, I was in a hospital, on the verge of death, and I saw it on AMC. I was thrilled to find that it was as good as I remembered.

The other three films are not as good but still excellent. Aliens turns it into an action film. Alien 3 is more of an art film. And Alien Resurrection gives it the Joss Whedon treatment. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t own them all.

Antrum

The conceit of this film is that it causes people who watch it to die. So it is presented along with documentary footage. This was clearly good from a marketing standpoint. But I really liked the film itself about an older sister leading her brother into the underworld to save his dead dog.

Blood of the Vampire

This is a solid “mad scientist” horror film from Artistes Alliance. There are no vampires, however. These British horror films with excellent acting are never my top choices but they are ones you can put on and be assured of a good time.

Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear

I’ve gotten tired of reading reviews about anthology films because it’s always the same thing: the critic claims that this or that short is brilliant and that or this short is terrible. What they should focus on is the high points in these films.

I’m kind of jaded and don’t appreciate the humor in most of these stories as much as others will. But the short Touch is worth sitting through 10 hours of dreck to see. Overall, this is a solid collection, but I absolutely love this one film!

Destination: Outer Space

This is the last of our Christopher R Mihm films. Check out our round-up of his work for more on this film.

Diani & Devine

This is one of those things that makes me despair of the modern world. Diani & Devine are a comedy team and they’ve produced two feature films. They are shockingly good and yet are still working the trenches of Hollywood.

They have made two wonderful films that you really should watch: The Selling and Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse. Comedy isn’t really our thing at Psychotronic Review. But these two are just ridiculously talented — like Nichols and May talented. Check them out!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

Oh, how meta we have become! This is about a crew that is making a zombie film when a zombie outbreak takes place. It’s very funny and the last act is quite a good zombie picture. There must be something in the New Zealand water. They make such good films!

Moose: The Movie

If someone gave me $100,000 to make a film, I fear that Moose: The Movie would be the result. It’s brilliant at time, silly throughout, and ultimately, so sweet the diabetics among us will go into shock. Clearly a film that is too much me is not going to play terribly well with me. But I think most people will enjoy this if they are open to anything called Moose: The Movie.

October Moon and November Son

In a sense, these films have aged poorly. Not more than a decade old and homosexuality in films has become much less shocking. I don’t blame the films because they have been part of that process.

Having said that, I think November Son is the better of the two and still well worth watching. Both could use cutting down for a modern audience, however.

Penance Lane

The first half of this film is unique. The second half is pretty typical. But it’s hard to fault it given that most films are entirely pretty typical. This is a solid horror film but you shouldn’t expect too much from the end.

The Pit

This is a hard one. I try not to second-guest filmmakers because I figure they know what they are doing much better than I do. And looking at the reviews, people like this film. I found it difficult. It’s very serious for the first half and then becomes something of a comedy in the middle.

I’d love to hear from people what it is I’m missing. I didn’t hate it. But I also didn’t understand what the filmmakers were going for.

Pontypool

I like this film a lot. It mostly transpires in a single location so it’s very focused. It reminds me a lot of Let Us Prey, a film I love. What’s going on is very strange but it ultimately makes sense.

Room 33

This is a strange one about a roller derby team that is forced to spend the night in an abandoned mental hospital. This is a well-made micro-budget film with excellent acting and a better than usual script.

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre

This film by the writer-director of Chopping Mall is exploitation candy despite the fact that it doesn’t include bare breasts. It’s a lot like a Mark Polonia film but with enough of a budget to complete the special effects. Mindless fun.

Skinned Alive

This is a great film even though I rarely find myself in the mood to watch it. Part of it is that it presses a lot of my buttons: torture, incest, and drinking vodka by the pint. But it’s also really funny in a very dark way.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The Wrath of Khan is still the best of the Star Trek movies. A big part of this is that Ricardo Montalb├ín is so great as Khan. But another element is that it just doesn’t feel like a Star Trek film. It treats Star Fleet as the military institution that it is.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I watched Star Trek V in the theater several times just trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Now I see that the problem was me. It’s the opposite of Star Trek II in that it doesn’t much care about drama, which is fine by me. Also: Laurence Luckinbill shows that the main cast just aren’t that charismatic. I could watch him all day!

Stay Tuned

This is a weird one about people who must win a game show or go to hell. It has an excellent cast and is probably a good one to share with the family.

New Film Page

I finally finished my Christopher R Mihm page, having watched all 14 of his films. There is a lot to like about his work and he’s surrounded himself with a lot of really talented people. Since you can watch most of his films for free, I recommend checking them out.

See you next month!