Merlins Shop of Mystical Wonders
Once again the bad movie we had to watch next seemed to be on our list because of its appearance on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I can’t imagine any other reason why so many people would have seen this movie, unless they simply HAVE to watch everything that Ernest Borgnine ever made. Even then I can only imagine this would be pretty low on their list to watch. Since we couldn’t find a copy of the original movie, we watched the MST3K version, which I had previously seen, so for once after a few really poor movies this was a nice reprieve.
When the power cuts out Ernest Borgnine is forced to entertain his grandson. So he tells him two tales so dull they would guarantee that even The Narrator in Fight Club would drift off to sleep. The stories are connected by the ancient wizard Merlin (George Milan), who for some reason has now opened a curiosity shop filled with deadly goods. I guess encouraging young men to pull swords from stones just wasn't paying the bills.
The first is the story of an obnoxious reviewer (I know that movies aren’t real, but even with the biggest stretch of the imagination I just can’t believe such things exist!) Jonathan Cooper (John Terrance) who threatens to give Merlin’s shop a bad review. Merlin gives him a magic book to try out to prove that Merlin is the real deal, but warns him not to read any incomplete spells. That evening in his basement the sceptical Jonathan starts to read from the book… Will Jonathan believe in magic? Will he listen to Merlin’s warning? How much will Merlin overreact when he discovers Tripadvisor?
The second story is the time old tale of a boy and his possessed monkey toy. When a particularly unambitious thief steals a cursed monkey toy (you know, like the psychotic symbol monkey in Toy Story 3) from Merlins shop, he somehow manages to find a rival store that also specializes in selling any old shit and makes enough money to presumably buy some more of whatever he was smoking that made stealing such an ugly piece of crap a good idea in the first place. Selling ugly pieces of crap is apparently a good business model in this town though as Susie (Vicki Saputo) quickly buys the monkey for her nephew (who I assume she hates). Unbelievably Michael (Struan Robertson) likes his gift, but his gift doesn’t like him and soon mysterious deaths are occurring (plants, flies and fish this monkey is very low aspirations in evil-doing at first). Will anyone make the connection between a demonic looking toy being bought and everything dying? Will Merlin track down the toy in time to save the day? When Merlin gets home will he spank the monkey?
Although this is presented as a portmanteau, it’s really two movies squeezed into one. Well I say movies, they’re more like two rejected scripts for The Twilight Zone, that were found in a Hollywood dumpster and used to line the cat litter tray. Then, after years of being used as a toilet, they were then finally dusted off when director (and writer and producer), Kenneth J. Berton, ran out of ideas to pitch and became desperate enough to finally film the cat pee soaked script.
The first segment, whilst bad, could probably have been a passable episode of one of the 80s horror anthology series like Monsters or Tales from the Darkside. It has a campy 70s horror comic feel to the thing and with better actors and a little reworking of the script would have fit nicely into either of those series, which often mixed badly written humour with light horror.
The second segment has to be one of the strangest things I’ve learned about whilst watching the movies on this list. Because it actually was a whole movie (The Devil’s Gift) by Berton that was edited down and had a few shots added to include Merlin. Seriously when you make a movie so bad that you have to put it into another movie in a second attempt try to get people to watch it, then you know you’ve failed at being a director. If you’re curious as to what the original movie was like, then somebody has put it on YouTube.
I think at this point we really should be discussing the creepy monkey in the room. When David makes the connection between the monkey bashing its symbols together and things dying why the big charade to get rid of it? If you can put it on the edge of a coffee table over a bin, and then bash into the table with a vacuum cleaner until it falls into the bin (whilst whistling innocently), so you can empty it (pretending you didn’t notice it contained a cursed toy (which I’m guessing is aware of exactly what’s happening somehow)), then you could just as easily grab it from behind, jam a sock inbetween its symbols, cover the outside of them with cotton wool and duck tape and then work at detaching its arms, before putting each part into a separate box, fill the boxes with concrete and bury each one deep under consecrated ground miles apart from each other. Whilst whistling innocently.
More to the point, who even sees one of these obviously evil toys and thinks to themselves “Wow, what an amazingly innocent looking monkey! There’s absolutely no way out of all of these wonderful toys that are available that little Michael could be permanently traumatised by this one. I mean if I was to buy him that awesome looking Lego, or those Star Wars action figures that he’s been talking about for months, he’d probably end up in therapy for half his adult life, but this monkey that looks like it was shat out fully formed from the arse of Satan himself will in no way give him even the briefest of nightmares!”
In my honest opinion whilst this movie should be on our list, Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders isn’t such a poor movie that it deserves such a high placement. It’s badly acted, badly scripted, poorly paced and has all the entertainment value of a David Blaine endurance stunt. However, for all the lack of movie magic, it does have a certain creepy charm, much like an old abandoned building or Steve Buscemi. Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders is a strangely appropriate name. The biggest wonder of this movie being is there any level of crud that Borgnine won’t stoop to make?