Monday, December 2, 2019

The Final Sacrifice (1990)

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a well-regarded tv show with a very niche concept. It's about a guy named Joel (or Mike, if you're watching Season 5 and onwards) who was imprisoned on the Satellite of Love by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Or Pearl Forrester if you're watching from Season 8 onwards), who craves world domination, which he seeks to achieve using the worst film ever made-and he uses Joel/Mike as a test subject to determine what that film is. Along with host segments, the show's episodes were comprised of a film, which was riffed by Joel/Mike and the bots, Crow and Tom Servo, who'd provide a comedic running commentary. Several films are now iconic in the bad movie world, thanks to MST3K, like Manos: The Hands of Fate, Space Mutiny, Pod People, etc. One such film is 1990's The Final Sacrifice.

Troy MacGregor is a teenager unsatisfied with his life, and wishing to know more about his deceased father. One day, he rifles/searches through some old belongings and comes across a mysterious map, telling of the Ziox. Troy isn't sure what to make of it, but sinister parties know he's seen it, and Troy is soon on the run from a masked gang. He ends up in the pickup truck of booze-swilling drifter Zap Rowsdower, and after a frosty =, the two team up to fight this cult and its evil leader Satoris, and bring a stop/an end to their diabolical plans...

Developed by a group of film students in Canada, The Final Sacrifice is clearly a labour of love, and one that pays off. It has a cheesy but honest charm to it that really shines through, and it's definitely one of the better movies to have been featured on MST3K.

The Final Sacrifice gets off to a slow-ish start,but never boring, and I feel it builds up well enough. It moves along form scene to scene pretty quickly as we get further into the plot,

The story is a simple one, but effective. It's a protoytpical adventure story. Two disparate people meet, they don't get along at first, but fight against a common enemy, uncover mysterious secrets, and win the day as friends. I'm a sucker for those kinds of tales when done right, and this certainly is.

Something I particularly like in The Final Sacrifice is the wordlbuilding, and how a lot of the history isn't spoken, but left up to the audience to infer/interpret.   

The only real issue is a couple of plot holes, and a general sense of ease regarding certain developments. Firstly, how did Satoris just know Troy found the map? If it was stored in plain site in Thomas MacGregor's house, how come it was never found before? If the cult knew about the cave, how come they couldn't figure out the location of the idol? How come they never found it if it was within walking distance of their main base? How did Mike Pipper and his partner never find it when it was within walking distance of his house? And while we're on the subject of Pipper, how come his idea of laying low of the cultists is to live in the only place in the world where they have a presence?...Did I say a couple of plot holes? Errr, well...!

Digging further into the mythology, this movie is one that could have been at severe risk of falling into a budget trap. Lots of writers create a high concept fantasy world full of magic and wonder...only to be told "No." by the producer, and so we get a dozen guys running around the outback in modern day, but magical stuff is behind the scenes, we swear! With some movies, it feels cheap when they promise a lot but all we ever see is budget-level present day surroundings. You'd think The Final Sacrifice would fall foul of this same problem, but for me it never does. Why, you ask? Buggered if I know! I'll try and explain as best I can.

The fact that we see the Ziox city in all its glory rise from the earth  at the end goes a way to alleviating this issue, making it feel like this city was there the whole time, and simply buried under the surface. Also, the mystery of what will happen when it rises builds up a good allure. You don't mind that it takes so long for this to happen, because it's the grand climax of the story.

Now let's come to the characters. While the fact that the ridiculously named Zap Rowsdower is a booze-addled trucker with his athletic days clearly behind him, you'd think he wouldn't be able to cut it as an adventurous lead compared to someone more studly and handsome, but I feel he nails the everyman look. He doesn't look like a superman, but just like a regular guy. He's also believable when push comes to shove.

While it has its flaws, the acting in The Final Sacrifice is fine. Christian Malcolm is a convincing enough lead, except whenever he has to say wow. Bruce J Mitchell is very good as Rowsdower. He nails the feel of someone acting = but knowing about a terrible secret, having seen some serious shit.

One of the weaker scenes with the two is one that perhaps wasn't their fault. It's after a chase scene, where it seems like they actually ran a half-mile before talking. Perhaps a wise choice, since fake huffing and puffing could sound really unconvincing, but it's hard for actors to maintain a conversation when they're honestly panting and wheezing.

Shane Marceau does a pretty good job as Satoris. He's physically imposing, and smarmy in a creepy way. The artificially deepened voice is often amusing and sometimes distracting, but it never felt really ill-fitting to me, and it never dampens the power in Satoris's voice. Ron Anderson as Mike Pipper isn't too bad in his more softly spoken moments, and I'm not even sure if bad is the right word for his more = lines, but he's certainly one of the wackier parts of the film.

Because of their balaclava masks and identical clothing, one could freely assume the movie cheaped out and used the same three guys again and again/over and over again, but as we see in certain shots, namely the conclusion, they really did have that many.

The direction by Tjardus Greidanus is mostly good, with some great cinematography in places. My favourite moment is when Satoris is   from afar. The use of lighting and = is great, intercut well with Rowsdower's restless sleeping.

The score is one of the best parts of the movie. While the 'action' parts may sound like they're skipping at times, they're still decent. The adventurous tunes are the best, from the subtle variation during the earlier victories, to the full rendition that plays at the end. Then there's the music that plays over the climax, which is just great. As is the moment when Satoris conducts a ritual.

The effects in The Final Sacrifice are another high point. While the movie certainly had a small budget, it uses it very well, and you rarely notice the seams. It works very well within their limits,

There are two specific effects I like most. The first is of the map magically burning. It's not just a simple matter of setting fire to it from below, because you can see that it's still on a complete table. They managed to get it to burn in the very specific pattern of the cult symbol too. I would've loved to see how the pulled it off! It seems like a little thing, but it's moments like these that make me appreciate clever special effects.

Second is the model city at the end, which looks so good  What I also applaud is the restraint involved. It must've been tough crafting this large model just for a few seconds at the end, but it was definitely worth it.

Now, this isn't to say The Final Sacrifice is perfect, because boy is it a cheesy time! None of this makes it unenjoyable. Far from it, it make it an unintentionally funny experience in places. I'd never say this was a bad movie though.

Another reason I admire The Final Sacrifice it its modest budget of $1500 dollars. It's often said that the budget to Manos: The Hands of Fate was 'only' $19,000 dollars (1960s money to boot!), to which I say, I wish I had that much money in the bank account! It makes you wonder how a movie like Manos could cost such a vast amount for normal people, and perhaps that figure being supposedly/purportedly apocryphal explains that. But then again, that's chicken feed for Hollywood, and their budgets are spiraling so grossly out of control that they could finance a whole country, or perform miracles if they put their funds to better uses. Perhaps that's why it costs so much to go to the cinemas nowadays!

In this movie, you can see where every dollar was spent, and that's a wonderful feeling. The cast and crew should be proud of themselves for accomplishing such a feat on this kind of budget.

The Final Sacrifice is a real favourite of mine, and I'm glad to recommend it. It's not perfect, and is cheesy as heck a lot of the time, but it's a really entertaining watch that'll hopefully give you plenty to enjoy...

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