It's the Final Sacrifice! *Crunchy Guitars*
Mystery Science Theater 3000, Season 9, Episode 10: "The Final Sacrifice"
Hooo, okay. Now we're getting into one of the most popular films in the Mystery Science Theater 3000First aired on the independent TV network KTMA, Mystery Science Theater 3000 grew in popularity when it moved to Comedy Central. Spoofing bad movies, the gang on the show watch the flicks and make jokes about them, entertaining its audience with the same kind of shtick many movies watchers provided on their own (just usually not as funny as the MST3K guys could provide). It became an indelible part of the entertainment landscape from there, and lives on today on Netflix. repertoire, but I also personally think it's one of the worst. I can't even begin to discuss this film without mentioning, right up front, that this is one of the worst films I've ever seen, right up there with Manos: The Hands of Fate for the distinction of "Worst Movie Ever". It's such a hilariously bad movie that it goes out the other side of the "badness scale" and becomes unfunny again. The Final Sacrifice is, in a word, terrible.
And yet, at the same time I don't feel like I can judge this movie on the same level as other films we've reviewed for this column. Those movies were made by people with financial backing, released by studios to the (indifferent) public. There were people involved that expected the films (naively, of course) to be successful. They were wrong, and then films went down in history as real dogs, the lot of them. Even Manos, a film released on a dare, still had some expectation of making money, and that movie is so bad it could be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention.
The Final Sacrifice is different, though. While it might have eventually be released to the world (on home video, at least), it originally designed as just a student film, something for a few people to produce on a lark so they could learn to be film makers. It wasn't meant to be a professional film, not something to go out into wide release theaters. It was a $1,500 buck student film from the mid-1990s and, considering that as the baseline for the movie, i think it's actually pretty good. Make no mistake, it's still hot garbage, but it's endearingly earnest hot garbage from a couple of students, just like every first film should be.
In the film we're introduced to Troy McGreggor (Christian Malcolm), a teenager with too much time on his hands and very little adult guidance. His father died years earlier, apparently on some mission to find a lost, magical, Aztec city (out in the wilderness of Canada, mind you), and Troy, without anything better to do with his life (instead of video games, or chess club, or not talking to girl) Troy decides to study his father's old notes and maybe solve the mystery of why his father died. However, there are bad guys, led by the nasty Satoris (Shane Marceau), who want to find and capture Troy. Troy has a map for the last city and the evil goons need it because they want to use the magic of the lost city for... reasons.
Troy, fearing for his life, flees home (in a rather lackluster chase sequence). On the run, he winds up teaming with a random hobo, the gloriously named Zap Rowsdower (Bruce J. Mitchell), so, as we learn later, has his own secret connection to Satoris and the band of evil goons. It'll take the combined might of Zap and Troy to find the lost city and stop Satoris once and for all. And in the process they might just get a bit of justice for Troy's father.
There is no way to review this movie, really, without ripping it apart, so despite acknowledging that we can't rate this film on the same scale as other, professionally made films, we do have to give it a right tearing apart. And that process begins right from the get-go with Troy himself. Troy is a waste as the hero of the film, a nerdy kid without anything to really contribute to the proceedings. In a better film Troy would be our audience surrogate, a random kid sucked into a mysterious adventure that features evil goons, hidden cities, and a lot of running around. Troy is like all the Goonies wrapped up in one, that is if all the Goonies were lame, boring, took way too long to do anything, and then had to be saved by an adult because they were completely useless on their own. Troy sucks.
The problem is that the movie spends way too long on Troy, devoting a good twenty minutes right at the start of the film as we watch Troy slowly figure out the mystery his father was on, determine that he has a map, call around to try and figure out some clues, and generally just fail at creating any momentum in the film. The movie only picks up (by degrees) when the bad guys show up, and it really only gets going once Zap Rowsdower shows up. Until that point The Final Sacrifice is as enjoyable as watching paint dry.
Once Zap comes on the scene, though, the film gets so much better. Not great, mind you, but the movie at least becomes watchable. Part of that is because "Zap Rowsdower" is such an intensely silly name you can't help by laugh at it every time it's said (which the MST3K crew does regularly in this episode, eliciting some of their best laughs just with a snicker). But Zap is played competently by Mitchell, and for a film this bad "competent" is a high water mark. The rest of the actors in the film are universally bad but Mitchell shows actual acting talent, crafting his stupidly-named character into someone actually worth rooting for.
It is unfortunate that Rowsdower is wasted on this film. Part of me wishes that the film makers could have gone on to make a series of silly films starring Zap as he travels the countryside in his crappy truck, righting wrongs with his fists all around Canada. Zap Nation: The Adventures of Rowsdower could have been its name and it would have fit nicely into the "wandering hero genre" right alongside Kung Fu. Certainly could have been an enjoyably bad watch. Much better, certainly, than this story of two goobers going out into the woods, stumbling (by sheer coincidence) onto the cave of the lost temple (which is little more than a hole dug into the ground), and then awkwardly besting the villain in (pathetic) combat. I can't really argue this film had potential, but Zap Rowsdower certainly did.
The Final Sacrifice is a well-meaning effort that never really manages to rise above the level of "terrible student film". But then, most student films from first-time directors are terrible. It takes time to get good, to learn how to make a real movie, to be a good director. The director, Tjardus Greidanus, would go on to be a successful documentary film maker, so clearly he learned from this movie (not the least being that he shouldn't direct fiction). The Final Sacrifice is a film, made on $1,500 sure but a film all the same. It's a student effort, the first step for a director's career. Of course it's bad; you aren't supposed to watch the first film from a new director because all those films are, with few exceptions, bad. This movie is terrible, but that's the point; it was a learning experience that, for some reason, was then released on video.
I don't think anyone can ever consider this film good, not even with the MST3K crew heckling alongside it. It's not enjoyable, it's not even delightfully bad. It's endearing in its effort, but once you've seen what it has to offer you can set it aside, never to be seen again. The Final Sacrifice did it's job, now lets all forget about it.