Rhino // 2003 // 379 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 27th, 2003
What, exactly, is a dickweed? Now, it seems fairly obvious that it is meant as some manner of derogatory put down. After all, it's hard to imagine some wannabe romantic Romeo snuggling up to his special "lady" and saying "French me like a dickweed, you saucy wench." It's also unthinkable that a happy mom and dad would refer to their newborn bundle of joy as "God's little dickweed sent from Heaven." A science teacher would never conceive of using it as part of their educational curriculum, offering students a chance at doing an extra credit report on the biological components of the dickweed. And when was the last time you heard a newscaster discussing the Prime Minister of Uganda as "a diplomat of dickweed proportions." It could perhaps be some manner of street slang putdown of a seemingly ragged homeboy. One can hear the ebonical exchange between rope dopers as going "a little som som" like "yo homes, you talkin' to a straight up G. Best step off dickweed, less I put a apcizzle in your sa-izzle." Maybe the ancient Roman used it to taunt a rival, shouting "Hail and be forewarned, dickus weedus." Maybe it will always remain a mystery, a private joke between members of a secret society who hold the meaning of this solemn word as close to their vest as their tax-exempt status. Whatever it means, you will hear no better example of its use, both in jest and in anger, than during an average episode of the excellent comedy classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Thanks to Rhino, and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 2, we have DVD offerings of the glorious show to provide untold hours of dickweed sampling.
This box set contains three episodes of the series circa the Comedy Central days, as well as a short subject compilation. This mini-movie compilation was manufactured by the principals at Best Brains to give fans a chance to see some of the shorts without having to deal with the rights issues associated with releasing the films they were companioned with. Pod People dates from the third season of the show (1991) as does The Cave Dwellers, which was the opening episode of that series. Angel's Revenge came toward the end of the show's run on the chuckle channel, Season 6 (1994-5). The shorts are listed below (along with the episode they are matched to). Unlike previous DVD collections, there are no un-MST-ed version of these films offered.
Pod People (1983, MST3K Episode 303)
Otherwise known as "Evil ET Makes a Transatlantic House Call." This Franco-Hispanic farce is about as close in spirit to Spielberg's interstellar fairytale as Triumph of the Will is to the Special Olympics. A band of rare egg poachers stumble across an alien alcove covered in rare extraterrestrial ovum. They crack one open and out pops Snorky from the Banana Splits, pissed off and looking for a little payback. At the same time, David Hasselhoff's Eurotrash backup band cuts a record of their own and whoever smelt it dealt it, since our prissy prima Donald lead singer drives everyone out into the Black Forest for a little creative concubine rejuvenation. Unluckily, they run into Tommy, his racially unbalanced shotgun hugging Grandpappy/Uncle, and the now fully-grown Trumpy (as the tuneless Tom has named him) who looks surprisingly like an oven-fried Bugaloo. Everyone gets antsy when they discover that the bloated koala-phant likes to murder innocent people and lay illuminated jellybeans on their heads. And when a second interstellar Snuffleupagus shows up to claim a corpse or two, it's up to Tommy to save the day by luring his extraterrestrial pets into the woods to meet Mr. Bobcat and the rest of its hungry feline family.
The Cave Dwellers (1984, MST3K Episode 301)
It's slightly deformed male models to the rescue as a wizard's invention of the Middle Ages' first nuclear device gets bad guy Zor all worked up into an absolute lanoline lather. Hoping to protect her misguided magician daddy from torture trouble and to get the medieval hook-up for herself, daughter Mila hires Ator, a hunky heathen with pronounced pecs to protect the pater familias. But won't you know it, the dull defender brings along his "companion," the appropriately named Thong to keep the "fish" (in all its forms) at bay. But it will take more than a well-tanned torso to keep Zor from his atomic destiny. He kidnaps the aged alchemist and challenges Ator to drop the soap and boot scoot on over. Well, after the longest, dullest cross country trek in foreign action film history (even worse than Conan the Destroyer) and the fighting off of several snakes while failing to find even the most basic of ladders, Ator, his Mandarin manlove, and that third wheel skank use the latest Renaissance technology -- the hang glider and precision carpet bombing -- to defeat the duck helmeted hashhole once and for all.
Angel's Revenge (1979, MST3K Episode 622)
The '70s are responsible for a lot of things: Jimmy Carter, the Pet Rock, disco, and Christopher Cross. But one thing it is not given enough credit for is the insane idea that hot chicks with ample cleavage, decked out in body-hugging unitards and go-go boots, can defeat any mob syndicate with just a flip of their Farrah Fawcett hair. Thus we get Charlie's Ang...oops, sorry...the Fox Force Fi...ARGH!!!...pardon, the Avenging Angels. This glamour violence gang decides that for their first order of business, what with being a new crime fighting entity on the mean streets of L.A. and all, they will take on local drug thug Peter "Is it Scotch yet?" Lawford. However, the Angels need an arsenal to take on a man as hairy of chest as swarthy Pete, so they bust into Frank Stark's secret white power militia headquarters and go on a combination shopping/killing spree. Once properly outfitted (they take a trip over to Combat Chess King as well), our gals set their sites on the controlled substance chateau of the Kennedy family's dirty drunken secret. But instead of instantaneous success, they get hot combed by Jack Palance and his awkward gait. A couple of karate chops and a few Rockette style high kicks later and, once again, evil has been defeated by good bone structure and an ample supply of Body on Tap.
Short Collection Volume 1
In a compilation hosted by the egomaniacal little fireplug himself, Tom Servo, we get seven examples of Micro-MST3K, educational and corporate films given the razzing and tweaking treatment by our resident robot and space boy contingent. For the record, the shorts offered are:
"The Home Economics Story" (from 317: Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent) -- In which young ladies learn that the only way they will ever have a career outside the home is to learn skills like cooking, cleaning, sewing, and child care. Go figure.
"Junior Rodeo Daredevils" (from 407: The Killer Shrews) -- In which young children learn that, the minute you figure out how to overpower nature and her four footed friends, you've mastered the planet, Texas style.
"Body Care & Grooming" (from 510: The Painted Hills) -- In which young college students learn all about the sebaceous gland and its pre-marital sex inducing/prevention power.
"Cheating" (from 515: The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman) -- In which a young rogue learns that relying on women for anything and everything will get you blamed, ostracized, and shunned. Basically, the story of homosexuality's conception.
"A Date With Your Family" (from 602: Invasion U.S.A.) -- In which a typical '50s family has a typical '50s dinner that's all about conformity, repression, and delicious double butter topped steaks!
"Why Study Industrial Arts?" (From 609: The Skydivers) -- In which young men who have no discernable mental skills learn the trade school shop techniques that will come in handy in their future careers as serial killers.
"Chicken of Tomorrow" (from 702: The Brute Man) -- In which we learn that selective breeding, a carefully controlled, chemically balanced diet, and technologically complex housing system will produce a great tasting, massive egg laying natural super chicken. Makes me want an omelet!
One of the most profound debates ever to rage across this nation did not involve some geo-political stance or controversial social issue. It had nothing to do with reproductive rights or the difference between butter and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. No, when the classic altercations of the universe are written in stone tablets to be hurled from the top of that weird face-mountain thing on Mars, the following confronts will be listed: Moses vs. Pharaoh, Lincoln vs. Douglas, Riggs vs. King, Hannity vs. Colmes, and...Hodgson vs. Nelson. That's right. Ever since Joel Robinson hit the outback for a return trip to the social salad bar and poor temp Mike Nelson took his place in the MST Theater of Threats, fans and the frenzied have quarreled over who was/is funnier, friendlier, sexier, smarter, dumber, gayer, oilier, muskier, more likely to join the New Christie Minstrels, able to pop their clutch and tell the viewing public to eat their dust than the other. The great jumpsuit gerrymander has long been waged amongst those of opposing, yet equally impassioned viewpoints. And thanks to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. 2 DVD collection, there is enough research and retort material available to hopefully decide, once and for all, whose shtick reigns supreme, whose an Irony chef and whose a standing member of the Awful Faction.
From the start of things, pro-Joel gets a couple of fairly convincing votes. Two of the episodes offered here are out and out classics from the shows zenith, the third through fourth seasons. Pod People and The Cave Dwellers represent everything that burrowed its way, like a wonderful weevil, into the hearts of the members of the Mistie Nation. By this point, TV's Frank was an established fey foil to Dr. Forrester's hissy fits and the robots had found the right balance of sarcasm and silliness. Joel, always poised as the sardonic sounding board for all around, seemed more comfortable in his role of leader and very often took point to guide a skit or sequence. This is especially so in Pod People, were he puts his considerable musical chops to the test and offers us two stellar songs from the huge catalog of Mystery Science melodious merriment. With "Burning Rubber Tires" and "A Clown in the Sky," we see how Joel's laconic personality really sells the essence of pure musical comedy. The Cave Dwellers also gives Hodgson a chance to shine in his mostly forgotten prop comic mode, as he explains the art of Foley to his confused, transistor-ed friends. With all this legend-in-the-making mortar around, Mike really has no chance to prove himself, given that the episode featuring his lovable loser is one of the series' least host heavy or reliant.
Mike's work in Angel's Revenge is not bad. Not at all. But by the end of season six, the show thought it was doomed for cancellation and you can sense an undercurrent of cruise control running through some of the skits. Especially pointless is the entire "turning the cast into Renegade" opening that seems so out of left field that it loses even a ridiculous shock factor to end up just being confusing. Crow's blaxploitation script and Aaron Spelling's house doing a fly-by find Mike barely involved. And the one time he is given the chance to take center stage, he simply imitates Fonzie's "ehhhh" and stares at his puppet pals blankly. It's interesting to note that as the show went on to Sci-Fi, Mike really found his comic persona. As a matter of fact, it is easy to see why those who only know the show from its last three seasons and VHS/DVD incarnations find Mike so much "better" than Joel. It took several shows and a season or two for Hodgson to find his space legs. When MST3K met SCI-FI, it found a direct link to geek culture and it started to swing again. It even seemed like a brand new idea. Mike's virtual reinvention of a show that seemed permanently perfect gives him untold brownie nose points, pulling him about even with Joel in the contest. But in the end, it's really all a matter of personal preference. There are those who love Coke and those who love vomit. There are meat eaters and the insane. When it comes to Nelson vs. Hodgson, only a dickweed would want to pick one over the other. Or force a fan to do so.
As for the individual episodes offered here, we get no extras and the same audio/visual near ideal full screen image Rhino is famous for. To dwell on the dearth of bonus material any further would be like rubbing poison oak into a paper cut. And since the transfers and prints can't be beat and the sound is so choice, the decision to "bare bones it" seems, well, let's just say there should have been some extras and leave it at that, shall we? For an individualized take on each movie and episode, we start with
It's odd the reaction that some people had to the movie ET upon its initial release. Neil Diamond and The Chipmunks decided that the sweet story of a displaced alien wasn't saccharine enough and released songs ("Heartlight" and "ET and Me," respectively) that really increased the threat of insulin shock. Michael Jackson used his pre-Thriller dollar billers to do a fairy tale story album take on the little critter to really creep out the kiddies (complete with gatefold sleeve portrait of the twin aliens). But nothing was more outlandishly misguided and all around bad (and yes, both Mac and Me and Meatballs II were taken into consideration here) as Los Nuevos Extraterrestres (translation: total pile of crap), a French Spanish international incident that introduced the world to a race of interstellar anteaters with bellies like Ethiopian babies. Rechristened Pod People and thrust upon the world, no one paid much attention. And why would they? The only thing these Pod sods had in common with Elliot's entity was the penis breath. After all, does a mix of rock and roll, egg yolks, bird poaching, and random space prairie dog slaughter sound like a grand old time at the cineplex? Not even a Mary Poppins meets misery time lapse sequence where Trumpy, our interplanetary PuffN'Stuff, does "magic" for his child charge can make this movie anything but a jumbled joke.
In the top ten of Mystery Science episodes of all time, Pod People is the kind of film that brings out the best in the show's cast and writers. It just reeks of the sad intentions the filmmakers had -- be they honest or (as probably is the case here) merely mercenary -- and functions as a litmus test for the humor adeptness and wit ability within MST3K. Pod gives us excessive fog, misplaced strobe lights, bad music, stock footage of Africa, a cast of local renaissance fair rejects, and unattractive Belgians running around speaking (and singing) in various dubbed American accents. From the moment we witness the five-minute amalgamation of Falco's entire recording career to the final sad moments where Trumpy is left to starve to death in the forest, Joel and his awesome automatons deliver a non-stop lunatic laugh-a-thon that mandates you play this disc over and over again. As will the sketches and songs, the best of course being "A Clown in the Sky," a schmaltzy overkill ballad that bewails the end of another madcap episode of the show. Though not a naturally gifted vocalist, Joel really sells this aria of angst, and there's not a dry eye, seat, or season in the house when he's though crooning. Anyone who wants to know what made MST3K the die-hard fan fanatic phenomenon that it became need look no further than Trumpy and his putrid fellow Pod People.
The Cave Dwellers
The sword and sandal epic was more or less dead when Gladiator came along and drove its decidedly stylish sword into the very heart of the whole faux-homo muscle Greek party film. Steve Reeves set the bodybuilder benchmark for guys in short loin leggings and it seems the farther in time these tales of Titans in t-backs moved along within the acceptable pop culture social order, the less Mt. Olympus and more Club Med they became. But at least Steve-zee and his Greco-Roman rapscallions had the decency to name-check the recognizable mythological gods and monsters to make their blue boy buffalo shot cinema an acceptable form of fourth grade classics class. If you try and follow the folklore of ancient Mongloidia as presented in The Cave Dwellers, you'll find yourself knee deep in faux Eastern Zen dullness, ersatz numerology, sub-par Merlin-esque wizardry, and effeminate beefcake. Most of the blame for the mixed sexual message comes from Bo Derek's tainted Tarzan, Miles O'Keefe. Giving acting stupor-models a bad name, his main emotional attributes are a pair of pectoral muscles that resemble unglazed cinnamon buns. Add a weird Japo-Sino-Ono sidekick who loves to beat his "perch" by the side of the stream and an awkward Amazonian who finds Ator (O'Keefe) and his Asian "partner" Thong a tad too "buddy-buddy," and you have a warrior epic draped in gold lamé, not animal print. Oh yeah, and let's not forget the equally effete enemy in the guise of Zor, evil wearer of the Helmet of Hideousness.
The Cave Dwellers kicked off Season 3 for MST3K on Comedy Central, and for some unknown reason there is a very relaxed air about the introduction. Yes, during the film itself the in-theater riffing is brilliant and rapid fire (there are a lot of male chest jokes -- rightfully so), but the sketches connected to the movie seem soft. A reenactment of those awful Screen Gems credit sequences (lift images from other movies, posterize the colors, and place Commodore 64 fonts across the bottom) is either funny or just a cute experiment. As is the sound effects act Joel does toward the end. While initially witty, about the time of the introduction of hamsters in milk (?), the sketch kind of fizzles. Still, the strength of the movie material (nothing is better than a period piece that forgets what time frame its in and adds modern technologies and obvious television antennae on location roofs) and the ever increasingly great work from Frank Conniff as TV's Frank makes Cave Dwellers a good episode. When viewed in retrospect to other titles in Season 3 (The Gamera films, Daddy-O, Time of the Apes to name a few), it's one of the less significant offerings. Apparently there's only so much you can do with gladiators from GLAAD battling a deranged beautician.
If you mixed Charlie's Angels with the callback sheet from The Love Boat and threw in after-school special drug droning for added action adventure and suspense, you still wouldn't have Angel's Revenge because that would give this movie far too much continuity and depth. What we have here is one sister's desire to avenge her brother's obvious inability to deal with substance abuse dressed up in skintight spandex and forced to undulate. Certainly one can appreciate her decision to take a decidedly anti-passive, Just Say Whoa! stance, but since when is it acceptable for schoolteachers to wage the war on drugs all by themselves? And who invited all the has-been character actors to join in? Do we really need to see Mr. Haney, AKA Pat Butram, ogling women who were fetuses when he was selling Mr. Douglas a kerosene powered nerf herder? Or better yet, should one have to be tormented by the sight of both Alan "Skipper" Hale (about to visit Davy Jone's Locker for the last time) and Arthur "I'm who again?" Godfreid (sans ukulele -- and career) fighting for the affections of an atonal blond bimbo whose big hit revolves around the concept of "unsullied adoration"? But worst of all is the kooky kabuki white supremacist essayed by none other than Jim Backus, here doing a variation of Robert Smith as a cross dressing David Duke. Even the tricked out mega-weapon van filled with bazookas and machine guns and the incredibly low cut cup exposing outfits on our vigilante vixens can't keep this film from degenerating into a game of "I wonder how much they had to pay 'X' to play 'Y.'" It's just all so dreamlike.
A movie that houses more ex-stars than Forrest Lawn and has as its heroines a gaggle of gals more ditzy than dangerous is perfect farce fodder for MST3K. And add to that the substantial lack of acting talent on our battling beauties behalf and the Las Vegas nightclub show complete with the 12" remix of that seminal '70s anthem to atrocity "Shine Your Love" (which means what, exactly?) and you set up the creative staff perfectly. When Tom and Crow drop their innocent façade and jeer it up like a couple of construction workers, it's always a trip, and the council of cleavage offered here gives them plenty of "buoyancy" jokes. But the sketches...oh, the sketches. There is a definite aura of being on last legs here and at least two of the skits are obviously one-note. Most effective and satirically sharp is Crow's blaxploitation script that comes dangerously close to plagiarizing actual craptacular black films from the era, along with the Mads' final dress-up as Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. These bits capture the absurdity of the time, both in reality and as exemplified by the film, perfectly. Angel's Revenge is a film so chock-full of possible comic targets that wonderful humor pieces could be written about it. So stay around for the final fiascos in the careers of some of your television favorites. But don't hold the half-hearted sketch segments against it.
Short Collection Volume 1
Whenever the cast of Mystery Science take on a short film, some of their best comedy material emerges. Partly because the films themselves are so overripe with outdated images and messages, but also, the shorter time frame means less unfocused freedom. No need to follow the plot or get involved with the characters -- let's just zip along with the zingers. Something like Junior Rodeo Daredevils with kids falling from wildly bucking barnyard animals, cows and horses tormented with lassoes and spurs, and let's not forget "old timer" Billy Slater looking more and more like his nickname as each frame of film unfolds, is just perfect farce fodder for the show. Many of the show's best shorts material comes from the "event" oriented movie (rodeo, the circus, the ice show!) but this does not discount the pain and pleasure to be located in the family dramarama dynamic called for in these chants to conformity. A Date with Your Family, like Appreciating Your Parents or any of the other adult/child dissections, works because they begin with a premise so absolutely ludicrous (getting along with your relatives) that it simply sings for commentary. Then add the usually obsolete ideas of meals completely free of green vegetables and large chunks of beef suet adorning everything, and you've got classic comic mini-masterworks. It's true that a couple of the other shorts here (Body Care and Grooming and The Chicken of Tomorrow) are better sounding than they play. And such classics as Mr. B Natural and Alphabet Antics are nowhere to be seen. But when confronted with the living dead zombie theater of Cheating or the future flashers in training of Why Study Industrial Arts? (short answer -- it's a big part of prison life), this disc offers more superb silliness than 99% of what passes for television comedy these days.
Overall, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 2 is a spectacular addition to the MST3K on DVD catalog. With Pod People and Cave Dwellers alone, you have episodes that cemented the show's reputation as a cutting edge experiment in mixing social satire with Midwestern homespun humor. Angel's Revenge is also a good, late period offering from the show. It's really too bad that licensing and rights issues prevent the release of MST3K titles in serialized packages. One can always dream of a day when Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Complete Fourth Season comes out on the digital format. But there are other ways Rhino can serve the cheesy film fanatic. A Gamera box would be excellent. Or a Burt I. Gordon collection could really cleanse the mental palate. Still, the offering here -- even with some repeat shorts (Cheating is on the Batwoman DVD, Industrial Arts from Skydivers in the MST3K Collection Vol. 1) -- is uniformly excellent and makes a great addition, or introduction, into the whole world of the Satellite of Love and its ridiculing residents. These superb full screen funfests are a must-own even for a novice to the Mystery Science Theater canon.
One of the most depressing aspects of any Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD release is the criminal lack of extras (sorry, had to bring it up again). Now, it may be asking too much to have the cast and crew reassemble to shoot new bits, or indulge in a commentary (after all, can one really comment on a show that is already about making comments?). But there is a wealth of unavailable MST3K material out there that would and could make for wonderful bonus bravado. What about the CoventioCon material, a simultaneous celebration and deconstruction of the whole Sci-Fi Marriott ballroom nerd herding? Even an Easter egg snippet of some of this stuff would be great. Or maybe give us some of the numerous off-title appearances (MTV, VH-1, Talk Soup, The Daily Show) Mike, Joel, and the 'bots made while in a mad attempt at hawking their show? But the most obvious sin of omission is the lack of material generated for the short-lived syndicated Mystery Science Theater Hour. Two of the episodes here, Pod People and Cave Dwellers, were featured as part of this one hour reformatting of the show. Why not give fans the Jack Perkins style intros. Or better yet, a seamless branching version of the DVD that allows one to watch the regular MST3K episode or both parts of the Hour version, complete with the new material. In the past we've had complete un-MST'ed versions of the films and in Volume 3 we get some episode specific outtakes. It's as if Rhino couldn't be bothered.
Maybe dickweedian insight can be found within the pages of literature or the wondrous works of cinematic fiction. Wasn't it William Shakespeare, Esq. who said, and this is paraphrasing here, "a dickweed by any other name would still smell as sweet." Perhaps it was the similarly moniker-ed Dickens who said it best when, at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities he conceded: "It was the worst of dickweeds, it was the best of dickweeds." Travis Bickle, Manhattan paid transportation fun boy, may have been onto something when he opined, "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this dickweed off the streets." And it's long been legend that Charles Foster Kane's last words, right after Rosebud were...you guessed it...a breathy, burp of "diiiiickweeeed." Well, there's one thing for sure: someone, somewhere had to have said at one time or another that a dickweed is a terrible thing to waste. No one is out defending the dorkwads and the dillwangs. A quick look in the Yellow Pages indicates no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dungwarts. Thankfully, the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000 understand the value of the original dickweed implicitly and never let a potential DW moment go by without applying the puzzling bon mot with expert style and skill. So what if we never find out what its true origin or meaning is (after all, specifics or not, it's a pretty descriptive name to call someone), we know we can rely on Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo to offer up piles of smiles and carafes of laughs while trying to decipher the linguistics. And the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 2 is an excellent example of this mounding of merriment. So go out and buy it today. Don't be a dickweed.
Not guilty! Not guilty! Not guilty! Rhino is remanded to the State Hospital for Companies Who Fail to Offer DVD Extras, for a little short-term shock treatment.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 379 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: MST3K
* IMDb: The Pod People
* IMDb: Cave Dwellers
* IMDb: Angels Revenge
* The Official MST3K Info Club Web Site
* Sci-Fi Channel: MST3K