The 25th collection of episodes from Mystery Science Theater 3000 arrives on DVD from Shout! Factory with two episodes fans never thought would get released (due to their major studio ownership), two “classic” episodes, and although the set feels light on bonus materials, it’s more quality than quantity.
US DVD Release Date: December 4, 2012
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 360 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
In the not too distant future, next Sunday, A.D.....
Movie: 3.5 out of 5
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson, a former prop comic and frequent guest on Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman. Basically an extension of the popular hosted movie format made famous by Vampira and Elvira, the original premise was that Joel (and later Mike Nelson), along with his robot companions Crow and Tom Servo, were sent into space, orbiting the planet and forced to watch bad movies by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu). The show first aired on local Minneapolis-St. Paul UHF station KTMA in a very crude form in 1988, but was picked up by the Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central) as one of its first series a year later. The series survived for seven seasons, then moved to Sci-Fi for three additional seasons, finally falling out of first-run orbit in 1999.
Volume 25 is the thirteenth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory. As with previous sets, they follow the tradition by offering up two Joel episodes as well as two Mike episodes long sought-after by fans of the series. One other thing fans will be pleased about - the inclusion of the Turn Down Your Lights (where applicable) title that appeared at the beginning of most Joel-era episodes, and has been missing on many of Shout! Factory’s previous releases.
I have often found that Season One episodes lack the spontaneity and creativeness that Season Three and later episodes specialized in. A notable exception is Experiment #110, Robot Holocaust, a low-budget sci-fi oddity filmed on location in Central Park and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Lone drifter, Neo, and his clumsy sidekick robot lead a team of rebels to the power station to overthrow The Dark One and his minions, including the human Valaria and robot Torque (who looks a bit like a lobster), who control this post apocalyptic world.
The movie is a complete mess, and Joel and the ‘Bots share in some good riffing, with a running gag on Angelika Jager’s (Valaria) indecipherable accent (Dar Quon?), as well as the ridiculous robot designs and obvious use of an abandoned power station. In the host segments, the invention exchange is lifted almost verbatim from Joel Hodgson’s stand-up act (he confirms this in the Introduction to the episode), a sit-com simulator breaks down (providing a laugh track to every line of dialogue), and Joel and the ‘Bots re-enact Robot Holocaust. This episode also marks the final (and cut short) Commando Cody serial.
We then jump to season five, with Experiment 508, Operation Double 007, renamed as Operation Kid Brother in labeling and packaging only for this set for obvious legal reasons. The movie not only is a James Bond rip-off, but features Sean’s younger brother Neil Connery as the title character, a plastic surgeon/hypnotist/lip-reader who is recruited to fill in for his brother after being killed while undercover, all to stop Mr. Thai-Beta and his radioactive rugs. But that’s not all - the film also features appearances by Bernard Lee (who played M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Daniela Bianchi (From Russia With Love), Anthony Dawson (Thunderball), and Adolfo Celi (Thunderball).
The riffs are wonderful, including references to Three Dog Knight’s hit Black and White, The Beatle’s I Am The Walrus, Jackson Brown’s Doctor My Eyes, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Misfits of Science, and callbacks to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and the Gamera episodes. Host segments include Joel enjoying his newly transferred home movies with Tom Servo and Crow (which inexplicably wind up getting erased), in the invention exchange the Mads have Frank’s Lederhosen-hosen while Crow introduces his Bobbin’ Buzzard, Joel pretends to be a super villain, Joel and the ‘Bots show flowcharts of the careers of both Sean and Neil Connery, and Torgo (Mike Nelson) makes a surprise appearance.
The next two episodes would very likely never have been released on DVD if it weren’t for the recent licensing deal of horror movies from Universal by Shout! Factory, resulting in the new Scream! Factory label. Experiment 615, Kitten With A Whip, from MST3K’s sixth season, is a rather bland film featuring Ann-Margret as Jody, a teenage runaway and delinquent who breaks into would-be Senator David Stratton’s (John Forsythe) home while he was away on vacation. When Stratton finds her asleep in his daughter’s bed, his first impulse is to call the police. But Jody threatens to accuse him of taking advantage of her, he backs off, she tells him about her violent home life, he takes pity on her and buys her clothes and a bus ticket, but like a lost kitten she finds herself back at Stratton’s home, trying to seduce him. The movie is in and of itself an odd choice for MST3K, but Mike and the ‘Bots make the best of it, almost constantly attacking Ann-Margret’s over-the-top performance and John Forsythe’s lack of performance, as well as the appearance of Richard Anderson (best-known for his role as Oscar Goldman on both The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman).
The riffs also reference Fatal Attraction, The Flintstones, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, David Letterman, Michael Jackson, Jerry Lewis, and Child’s Play. Host segments have Mike preparing Crow for a secret mission, Crow and Tom getting Bionic sound effects, Kevin Murphy makes a brief appearance dressed as a cat with a whip, Mike dresses as Mary Antoinette, and Mike and the ‘Bots play with a Dr. F pinata.
Experiment 801, Revenge of the Creature, marked the transition of the series from Comedy Central to Sci-Fi Channel, and it was not quite as smooth as fans had hoped. Sci-Fi mandated two things: that each episode had to have a recurring storyline during the host segments, and that the movies had to have a science fiction, fantasy, or horror element to them (as well as be in the channel’s movie library). Thus, many of the first episodes in season 8 were 1950s-era horror films from Universal (mostly starring John Agar), and the host segments were bogged down with plotting. And that is most evident in this episode, mostly due to the fact that the show had to be re-launched, and introduce a potentially new audience to the premise. When the series moved to Sci-Fi, it was the first time I was able to watch the show on any sort of regular basis, as my cable company had added both Comedy Central and Sci-Fi during the transition window, and previous exposure to the show was either at my sister’s home in San Diego (where Cox already offered Comedy Central for several years), VHS releases of episodes by Rhino, and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. That all being said, Revenge of the Creature, a follow-up to 1954’s Creature From The Black Lagoon, is not a very good movie, essentially a hybrid of the first film and King Kong, with two scientists exploring the Amazon, hoping to capture the Gill-Man and put him on display at an aquarium theme park in Florida. As soon as the Gill-Man is captured, Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) arrives at the theme park to help study (and taunt) the creature with the assistance of student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson).
Mike, Crow (now voiced by Bill Corbett), and Tom Servo do their best to pick up where they left off at the end of Season 7, and mostly succeed by riffing on John Agar’s lack of sex appeal and chemistry with co-star Lori Nelson, the Pavlovian training techniques used on the Gill-Man, the Gill-Man name itself, as well as references to celebrity tribute specials, Fawlty Towers, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Jaws. The host segments are a bit weak, especially the opening re-introduction of the show as the cast arrives back on the Satellite of Love, introducing the Planet of the Apes subplot and Bobo (Kevin Murphy), Mike meets the Nanites and asks them to repair the ship, Crow seems different and doesn’t recognize Mike, Phil the alien wants his cream pudding back from Tom Servo, Crow makes espresso, and the Law Giver is revealed.
Video: 3 out of 5
As I’ve stated in my previous reviews of these sets, judging the video quality of an episode of MST3K is difficult. The movies are usually in fairly bad shape, with sub-par transfers that the series’ producers had to contend with.
The only fair thing to do is to judge the host segments, and the quality improves as you get later into the series. Disc one has an overall softness to it, but colors are consistent. The remaining discs are excellent, with increased detail and well-defined colors. Throughout all four discs, however, there are some brief minor anomalies inherent in the broadcast masters, such as dropouts, especially in Kitten With A Whip (disc 3).
Audio: 3 out of 5
As with the video, the audio quality is best judged by the host segments and the actual riffing during the movie. All four discs include a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, encoded at 192 kbps. Dialogue is intelligible and overall the tracks have good fidelity.
Special Features: 4 out of 5
As with Shout! Factory’s other MST3K boxed sets, the menu designs on each disc are themed with the episode, with decent CG animation, and are very funny. Also included in the set are a set of original comic book style mini-posters for each episode, identical to the DVD covers. All five discs come housed in THIN-Pak keepcases within a paperboard sleeve.
Disc One (Robot Holocaust):
Introduction by Joel Hodgson (5:13): Joel discusses the host segments, his disappointment with the unfinished set design, and how this is one of his favorite episodes from the first season
Life After MST3K: J. Elvis Weinstein (18:21): The original voice of Tom Servo discusses working on the show during the brief KTMA era and the first season on Comedy Channel, and the many television shows he wrote for since then (America’s Funniest Home Videos, Later With Greg Kinnear, Freaks and Geeks).
Disc Two (Operation Kid Brother):
Introduction by Joel Hodgson (3:11): Joel discusses riffing the Bond rip-off, and the creative high the show was on during his final season.
Disc Three (Kitten With A Whip):
Introduction by Mike Nelson (4:23): Mike discusses some of the difficulties in writing the riffs for this episode and dressing in drag.
Disc Four (Revenge of the Creature):
Introduction by Mike Nelson (7:07): Mike discusses the transition to Sci-Fi, the demands the network management made on the show, the new look for the series, and riffing on the movie.
Auteuer on the Campus: Jack Arnold at Universal (19:50): Another fine documentary by Ballyhoo Pictures, this one on the career of Universal contract director Jack Arnold, who directed, in addition to Creature of the Black Lagoon and its sequel Revenge of the Creature, but also the classics It Came From outer Space, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Life After MST3K: Bill Corbett (12:10): Bill Corbett discusses his work after MST3K, which included writing plays for local theatre, a few joint ventures with Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy (including Timmy Big Hands and RiffTrax), and writing early drafts of the Eddie Murphy comedy Meet Dave.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Shout! Factory continues to put a lot of much-appreciated effort into their MST3K sets, and the show’s fanbase will yet again likely not be disappointed with this release. Fans will also be pleased that many episodes long thought to be “lost” forever in licensing hell are finally getting released.