MST3K: The Brute Man (1996, original air date)
Starring: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu

The Plot: Mike Nelson is trapped on the Satellite of Love with his best friends in the whole world… and they just so happen to be robots. This crew of misfits are forced, by the evil Dr. Forrester, to endure many incredibly bad movies. The only thing that makes this process bearable is the fact that they riff and crack jokes during the entire ordeal. Their film for the day is The Brute Man, which is an odd “prequel” of sorts to The House of Horrors. It follows a character known as “The Creeper,” AKA: Hal Moffet (Rondo Hatton), who is a deformed monster of a man searching for vengeance. You see, The Creeper wasn’t always the lumbering monster that he now appears to be. He was once a college athlete who was caught in a love triangle between his roommate and the girl of both of their dreams. When his roommate set him up with a series of wrong answers during chemistry class, Hal was forced to stay in the lab and concoct the right theorem. While dealing heavily with a lethal combination of chemicals, Hal accidentally caused an explosion that would forever change his life. Due to his glands being effected by these chemicals, Hal’s face began to deform and he became a wholly different person. Now, with society looking down on him as a monster, Hal becomes The Creeper and is out to destroy everyone who could be seen as vaguely responsible for this horrid series of events that have ruined his life.

The Review
If you are a horror movie fan and you have been around the internet for more than a year, you may have seen “The Rondo Awards” pop up on more than a few occasions. A horror movie themed award, the Rondo has developed into one of the more widely touted and thoroughly respected titles within the horror movie community. However, if you are like me, you may have occasionally wondered precisely where the title “Rondo” came from, and just whose face is found on the statue that is given to recipients of the award. Now, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, this award is no longer the enigma that it once was. Rondo Hatton was an actor with a very distinguished face (more on this later), and his specialty in life turned out to be horror movies. Although roles were most assuredly limited for the actor, he made the best of his short career within the entertainment industry. The Brute Man is one of his few credits, and it may be one of his very best performance. That does not mean that it is a certifiably “good” movie. That is certainly not the case here, as the movie is made with a number of amateurish performances, and it lacks a great deal in its narrative focus focus. This amateurish aspect of the production of course opened the doors for it to become a part of Mystery Science Theater 3000 lore, but it still remains a slightly alluring title. As MST3K cast member Mary Jo Pehl says in her introduction for the film, it is certainly one of the most harsh and bleak movies to have ever made it on the show.

The film itself is actually surprisingly well made. Normally, if a film makes it to MST3K, people naturally assume that it is going to be one of the worst films ever made. A cursory glance at the IMDB reinforces this due to the number of illogical votes for any movie that has ever been presented on the show. However, The Brute Man really isn’t all that bad. It isn’t great, nor exceptional, but it does seem competent. In fact, it plays out like many older horror films generally do. There’s some decent suspense, a intriguing story, and the black and white photography is solid (though it can get dark during certain moments). Generally, there’s a quality use of shadow that goes along throughout the movie, and actor Rondo Hatton has a strong face just perfect for those shadows. The movie seems to be a technically apt piece of work in most regards, but some of the acting certainly leaves a lot to be imagined. Rondo was never considered much of an actor, and although he is a presence in this film, his line delivery is awful. He was never formally trained, but was instead used because of his exceptionally big nose and forehead which was a deformity caused by damage to the pituitary gland. As with any movie that might capitalize on its central character having real physical abnormalities, this title is a bit over-the-top in many regards. The acting by the rest of the cast, is adequate at best. The performances, especially during expositional scenes, lack passion or actual character depth. The film has a very strange path in that regard. It seems as if we will have scene after scene of Rondo stalking the streets, or killing some poor fool, but then we will counter these much more interesting moments with rather bland scenes of police officers prattling on about seemingly nothing.

The use of Rondo Hatton’s deformity as a plot device is certainly something done in poor taste. Taking a great deal from Rondo’s own personal life story, the film treats him like a sideshow attraction. Whether or not it is based upon reality or not, it seems fairly offensive that his looks are continually insulted throughout the duration of the movie. Rondo Hatton’s appearance was certainly different from “normal,” but his deformities weren’t so completely unconventional as to get the reactions that he does throughout this movie. I commend the MST3K crew for avoiding attacks on Rondo’s deformity, which would have been in even worse taste than the actual plot for this movie. Although there are a few zings here and there, the majority of the jokes at Rondo’s expense seem to play him up as if he were a lug-head. This isn’t far from being offensive, but it at least leaves behind simple jokes at the expense of Rondo’s nose or specific abnormalities.

As with numerous titles in MST3K history that do not meet the time length necessary for the show, the “theater” segment of the episode begins with a short film. This time out, The Chicken of Tomorrow is our short. Featuring a title that is about as dumb as any film could ever have, the short essentially follows the work that goes on inside of a chicken farm. These seemingly mundane activities turn out to be potentially shocking footage for animal lovers. The filmmakers glance over what they see as normal behavior, but the harsh handling of the chickens within this short may come across as both abusive and callous to modern viewers. These chickens are thrown around without any sort of sentiment, and the harsh reality of what goes on before these chickens are slaughtered becomes wholly apparent to the viewer. It is the sort of behavior seen in current PETA videos which showcase animals being butchered, but in the past our society wasn’t as oblivious to the reality of what it takes to get a meal on their table. Although some of the footage might seem a wee bit eye-raising for some viewers, Mike and the bots somehow use their chicken-related puns in order to dull down any impact that the short might have.

Featuring the most special features out of any disc on the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII boxset, The Brute Man has two very interesting featurettes, as well as the previously mentioned introduction by Mary Jo Pehl. The two featurettes are very solid. The first little documentary covers Rondo Hatton himself, and tells his rather sad story. A man who was transformed in a very similar way to The Creeer, the documentary goes into his entire life story and shows a very different look at this legend within the horror business. Indeed, I would recommend this box set for this one thirty minute documentary alone because it adds a considerable amount of weight to any viewing of Rondo’s work. The second featurette is a “Making of” made for Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1997. I had actually seen this little featurette before via YouTube, but to see it in higher quality was definitely a joy. Plenty of the jokes are worth sitting through multiple times, because this far from your average look behind the scenes of a television show.

The Conclusion
What a weird basis for a movie. This sort of thing would be considered too patently offensive to do in this day and age, but something like this wasn’t uncommon during the decades following Tod Browning’s Freaks. The Brute Man pushes the envelope for general weirdness in its conceptual idea, but the actual execution is very average. Still, this is a decent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Although it seems that the guys were a bit limited in what they could riff on, the jokes get plenty of laughs and overall there’s plenty of entertainment here. I give the episode a three out of five.