Welcome to the first installment of a new feature here, We’ve Got Movie Sign! These articles will review episodes of my all time favorite t.v. show: Mystery Science Theater 3000! Starting off is one that I find to be pretty accessible (figuratively, and literally as it is currently available on Netflix).
The Sidehackers -Episode 202
Era: Comedy Channel/Comedy Central
Host: Joel Robinson
Bots: Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, Gypsy, Cambot
Special Guest Villains: Dr. Clayton Forrester, T.V.’s Frank
Summary: Baby-hatted protagonist Rommel takes us on a wild ride through the new “sport” of sidehacking and his tumultuous life as a mechanic with a poor choice in acquaintances. After befriending vagabond gang leader, J.C., Rommel spurns J.C.’s girlfriend’s advances. This leads her to convincing J.C. that Rommel has attacked her and J.C. retaliates by attacking and killing Rommel’s girl, Rita.
In his grief, Rommel raises a gang of mercenaries to help him seek revenge against J.C. The movie concludes with J.C., now on the ropes, shooting Rommel in the back, leaving him to presumably die in a puddle of mud. The only resolution for J.C. is at the audience’s inference as police are shown hurrying to the scene.
Host Highlights: Joel parenting the bots. Joel’s invention of Gretchen the Slinky is surely a prop from his stand up comedy career. Accusing them of stealing his ideas, the Mads remind Joel that “In space no one can hear you sue.” Mike Nelson in a pre-hosting cameo as J.C. from the movie. Joel and the Bots teach us that “only love pads the film.”
Best Riff: “Hey, they’re filming a Kotex ad!” – Crow. This line is as funny now as it was when I was 11.
Overall, this is a good episode for the riffing in general. After the public access KTMA run and a season on Comedy Central, (yeah, I know it was the Comedy Channel back then, trying to simplify here), they seem to really have hit their stride here.
There is also a phenomenon I have noticed as far as quality of MST3K episodes. Whenever there was a “milestone” episode, such as the start or end of a season, etc., they seemed to be knocking it out of the park. Presumably, the pressure of the moment resulted in better quality. This being the second episode of the second season, after Rocketship X-M, some of that seems to have carried into this episode.
Memorable Movie Quotes: “He hit Big Jake!” – Big Jake. This would be a call back in later episodes of the series. “Now, Cooch, Cooch, tell me. Did I love him? Hmm? Did I love him? MY OWN FLESH I DON’T LOVE BETTER!” – J.C. This scene pretty sums up the character of J.C. This line is recreated by Mike and Frank in the host segment where J.C. and Gooch visit the Satellite of Love via hexfield.
MST Musings: This is an episode I have seen quite a lot due to it being one that Rhino released on video cassette years ago. Watching it now though, I feel like I’ve known people like Rommel in real life. For the most part, he leads a normal life in his day-to-day as a mechanic and is interested only in sidehacking and his fiancée, Rita. Then, he makes friends with the wrong people. Presumably, Rommel assumed that J.C. and his gang were only passing through on their way to their next destination. Unbeknownst to him, this association would lead to his demise.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has featured some darker movies over it’s run, but The Sidehackers definitely is one of the darkest. On the surface, it wouldn’t appear that way, but with the movie’s ending, there isn’t really any other way of looking at it. Rommel, the hero, wronged by the villain and shot down by him at the end. As the movie ends, J.C. is still alive. It is up to the audience to determine if he is arrested or shot down by the police at the end or makes his escape. The way the movie is now, it is possible that J.C. gets away with all his cowardly and nefarious deeds. Even in other episodes where the protagonist meets an untimely demise, it is usually at the behest of a moral lesson. With Rommel’s death, there is no lesson. At least the movie doesn’t make an overt one. The only message here is that life isn’t fair and that while maybe evil doesn’t win, neither does good. It could be inferred that Rommel’s relationship with J.C.’s gang or his pursuit of revenge was his undoing, but neither of these are laid out by the movie’s makers.
Later in life I would recognize J.C., actor Michael Pataki, in a small part in the far superior film, Easy Rider. Films like Easy Rider are probably how Sidehackers got made in the first place. However, Pataki isn’t the only one who would be recognizable to MSTies. Rommel himself, Ross Hagen would appear again in just 7 episodes in 209, The Hellcats. Maybe intentionally, Hellcats would make a great double feature with Sidehackers, originally titled Five the Hard Way. Big Jake, Bob Tessier, wouldn’t reappear on MST3K until the newest season, 11. Tessier, as Chief Thor, starred in Star Crash, featured in episode 1106.
Sidehackers also has a unique place in the history of MST3K. As recounted by Mary Jo Pehl in The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, none of the crew realized that there was a rape scene in the movie until they were working on it. Apparently, procedure was to watch some of the movie until they got a feel for it, and then decide whether or not to riff it. Frank Conniff, T.V.’s Frank, then screened all future movies in their entirety before they were considered for the show. Conniff admitted on a recent episode of his podcast with Dr. Forrester, Trace Beaulieu, Movie Sign with the Mads, that occasionally, he would find a good film and watch it over an afternoon, knowing that it would never be on the show.
While editing movies featured on the show was commonplace, the story of Sidehackers really suffers from the omission. An average episode of MST3K runs around 90 minutes without commercials. Therefore, any movie going over that runtime, is edited down. It has always seemed that the crew is judicious in their trimming of the movies in that for the most part, the audience can still follow the plot. If there was one to begin with anyway.
In the case of Sidehackers though, the attack on Rita is a major plot point. It’s understandable why the creators decided to remove this scene. In one telling of the incident it was divulged that they tried to riff over the scene, but couldn’t. (And no, I can’t remember where I heard that specifically. I listen to a lot of MST related podcasts so I’m guessing one of those, but let me know if you know where that’s from.) Rommel’s entire arc is fueled by this incident though for the remainder of the story. First time viewers are sure to be confused by what is going on in the movie at this point. The crew was obviously aware that this would be an issue, and at the appropriate time in the movie, Crow states that Rita is dead.
Early on in the series, Joel used to have Crow and Tom Servo tell him one good thing and one bad thing about the movies they watched. In keeping with this, and to keep these reviews from getting too negative, they are bad movies after all, I will be doing the same.
Good Thing: Rommel and his mechanic friend’s good-natured ribbing in their shop. My father is a car enthusiast and being around him and his friends in their garages growing up, this is a scene that I can relate to. Breaking friends’ balls is a tradition I carry on to this day.
Bad Thing: The nihilist message of the movie. Yeah, we know that the good guy doesn’t always win, but there are so many films that express it so much more competently. Even at the time with the desire to eschew the “Hollywood happy ending”, this is a poor example.
3 out of 5 Tom Servos
You’ve Got Movie Sign: If you are interested in viewing this episode Rhino released this on the third volume of the MST3K dvd box sets back in 2003. Previously, they had also issued the episode on VHS.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it is available on the new home of MST, Netflix, as of this writing.
It is available for purchase on vhx.tv. If you supported the MST Kickstarter and received digital rewards, you will be familiar with this site.
Even though most of the episodes are available to watch on YouTube, with varying degrees of legitimacy, Sidehackers does not appear to be. Interesting note: I did find an Un-MSTed version of Sidehackers on there. It claims to be an “uncut” version of the movie. As such, it has the scenes that MST had cut out, intact. I’m not sure if this is the case though, as the attack on Rita is not really portrayed. The viewer is only shown the aftermath with Rommel awakening and finding Rita’s body. While this may be too much for some, it is not the grisly scene I had envisioned for all these years.
Caution, this scene might be too intense for viewers, and it is definitely not in keeping with the all ages tone of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, it is not as graphic as I had been lead to believe. This is why I am unsure if this is a complete version of the film. It is possible that it had already been edited down when it was renamed Sidehackers. The original version may only be complete in Five the Hard Way. Alternately, I may have had this story built up too much for me over the years and imagined something way worse than reality.
Stinger: Sadly, no stinger is attached to this installment. Only a Best Brains Productions title card.