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

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