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"It's called Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders - and it's a delightful Bambi romp through a flowery fairyland of happy, harmless, frou-frou family fun for the whole family of all ages. OR IS IT!?!"—Pearl Forrester, from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation
Born of quite possibly one of the most moronic cases of Executive Meddling ever, Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders started as a horror anthology directed by Kenneth J. Berton. Unfortunately, the movie studios didn't want any more horror as family films were all the rage then. As a result, a flimsy Framing Device about a child and his deeply unhinged grandfather (a poorly veiled Author Avatar played by a disturbingly big Ernest Borgnine) who tells his grandson stories during a power cut was attached (the program the grandson was watching before the power went out reminded Grandpa Borgnine "of a story [he] once wrote for TV"), a scene involving a séance turned into the Show Within a Show Cold Open, and umm... not a lot else changed.
The first story is about an uptight critic with an infertile wife who won't shut up about it who tries to criticize Merlin (who has apparently downgraded from serving the great King Arthur to running a joke shop in a strip mall in a bland Northern Californian town) for not being magical. So, Merlin gives him a spell book, to teach him a lesson. Naturally, this goes badly, and the man summons a demon, sets fire to the cat, almost impales himself and almost crushes himself. In the end, while trying to make himself younger, he conveniently turns into a baby, and his wife (now his mother) enters into possibly the most Squicky relationship ever to appear in a "family" film.
Then, Merlin's beloved wind-up monkey (AKA "rock and roll Martian") gets stolen (this was seen on TV earlier, and is what inspired Grandpa Borgnine to tell this story), eventually making its way into the hands of a cute family at least a dozen years in the past, and shot on film rather than videotape. Being a smart guy, Merlin had thought to put a terrible curse on the wind-up monkey that will kill all who touch it.
Best known now as the last episode (though technically it was episode three of season ten) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 broadcast during the series original run (it didn't air until after the finale due to rights issues).
- Adaptation-Induced Plothole: The character of Susan (whom most viewers assume from this version is the mother, but is in fact David's girlfriend) vanishes halfway through the second part of the film. This is because in The Devil's Gift, David accidentally killed her when he threw her out of his home after he came home and saw her trying to drown Michael. Apparently even this film had its limits.
- Artifact of Death: The monkey with the Cymbals.
- As You Know: The critic's wife/mother is clearly incapable of going five minutes without mentioning her infertility.
- Be Careful What You Wish For
- Big No: David when he sees the monkey about to kill his son.
- Canon Foreigner: Zurella. They could've at least named her Nimue or something...
- Cast From Lifespan: Mr. Cooper finds out the hard way that this is what happens when you cast spells willy nilly. Only a rejuvenation spell can make you young again. (Presumably Merlin and Zurella are immortal so they don't have this problem, even if they choose to look old for some reason.)
- Cats Are Mean: Yeah, but only if you cast spells on them without knowing what you're doing. Otherwise, they're quite pleasant.
- Cymbal-Banging Monkey: the villain of the second part of the film.
- Demonic Dummy: the monkey.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Johnathan threatens to write a bad review about Merlin's store. Merlin retaliates by having him turned into a baby to be raised by his former wife. Well, okay, she's still kind of his wife, but still.
- You almost get the feeling (at least based on this cut) that the monkey tries to kill the kid because David tried to get rid of it by putting it in the trash.
- Framing Device: The grandfather telling his kid horrifying stories, thus showing the action of the film. Even sillier when you consider the long scenes of nothing happening in The Devil's Gift.
- Hand Wave: On top of another Hand Wave. Ernest Borgnine tries to get around the fact that Merlin's book from the first story was still with the family at the end of the story by saying it had a "homing spell" that causes it to return to Merlin. When the monkey gets stolen in the second story, however, Merlin apparently can't just summon it back the same way because Zurella says he "forgot" to put the homing spell on it.
- Happily Ever After: The last scene was originally a Downer Ending, but was changed so Merlin saved the family. The film even added clumsy sounds of the family getting out of the house (offscreen, of course). The monkey shown in the Merlin footage is clearly not the same toy.
- In a twisted way, the first story ends on this note. Sure, it's creepy that she's raising her husband, but she finally has the baby she could never give birth to.
- Hope Spot: Despite the very forces of nature fighting him, David buries the monkey, and everyone's happy... but someone digs it up and sells it to his mother, who decides it would make a good present for her grandson. Well, time to die! Err... I mean, barely escape with your lives, again, when Merlin saves you!
- Jerkass: The critic in the first segment
- Law of Inverse Fertility: The critic and his wife in the first segment.
- Leg Cling: Though why they thought Merlin's wife was a good choice for this...
- Lysistrata Gambit: Inverted in the oddest way imaginable: Merlin's wife actually appears to threaten to have sex with him! She's probably intended to be threatening him with violence, but it's quite poorly written.
Merlin: Don't I get a kiss?
Zurella: You'll get a lot more than that if you don't get out there and find that thing! Now, go!
- One look at the two of them and the audience is certainly threatened
- Mood Whiplash: Thanks again to that Executive Meddling: the creators' attempt to neuter the more steadily (cough) macabre second half was to add intentionally comical scenes of Merlin, in full regalia, wandering around town looking for a cymbal-banging monkey. The effect is something like randomly cutting together The Twilight Zone and Pee-wee's Playhouse.
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Grandpa Borgnine and, metafictionally, the executives. Seriously, who the HELL thinks Kill'Em All horror is an appropriate genre for the bedtime stories of a seven year old!?
- No Accounting for Taste: One really wonders why the hell the critic's wife stuck with him so long, to the point of wanting to have his child.
- Offscreen Teleportation: The monkey falls into an earthquake fault. We're free right? WRONG!
- Parenting the Husband: The end of the first story. Literally.
- Posters Always Lie: Hee, hee, check out elderly Zurella in the poster.
- The Public Domain Channel: "I'm the ol' PIN-CUSHION MAN! Terror of Balloony-land!" David's son watches the old Ub Iwerks cartoon Balloon Land (a.k.a. The Pincushion Man) in one scene.
- There's also the show the kid is watching near the beginning, which is less public domain and more footage from The Devil's Gift.
- Raise Him Right This Time: A somewhat disturbing example.
- Science Is Bad: Well, Merlin thinks so.
- Show Within a Show: Borgnine and son are watching the seance scene of The Devil's Gift, which rather oddly was the film that much of the footage was taken from.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Has anyone ever taken a local store critic as seriously as Mr. Cooper seems to think they do?
"My reviews have destroyed whole cities!"
- Straw Critic: "I chew up places like this and spit them into the toilet!"
- The Eighties: Most of the scenes were filmed in this era, and the obvious '80s feel jars with the Borgnine bits, which were filmed much later.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: Merlin's book of spells, most of which summon Beelzebub and/or cause death in imaginative ways.
- Vertigo Effect
- What Happened To The Mom?: The girlfriend of the family in the second half disappears about halfway through that story. That's because in The Devil's Gift, the monkey possessed her to make her try to drown the boy. She then broke her head on the front door after being stopped.