Rhino // 2003 // 379 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 9th, 2003
Chili peppers burn my gut!
Puppets are gods. Now, they do not fight famine or pestilence, nor can they walk on water without the benefit of a hovercraft. There are no shrines built in their name, like the Jerry Mahoney Mausoleum or the Lester Liturgy Club of East Harlem. For most children, the puppet is a first fond memory; a brightly colored collection of wood and/or felt babbling like an idiot about decidedly juvenile junk that the infantile brain can easily relate and regale to. From the 1950s fixtures of Howdy Doody and Andy Devine's Froggy to the new millennial faces of those cretinous Crank Yankers, we are a nation raised on hand held humor and supermarionation. From time to time, a digital doll transcends its show to become a monument to universal merriment and stage superiority. Take Kukla for example, the bald mini-man charged with keeping the outrageous Ollie under control. Beneath his shiny pate and bulbous nose is true divinity, a noble being of omnipotent powers and perceptions. Mess with Kulka and you mess with the very essence of existence. Same goes for Garfield Goose. A regal bird by title -- he thought, nay he was/is the King of the United States -- this beak clapping Creator exacted reverence with a mere flapping of his plastic pecker and received it in droves. No one ever misjudged the gnaw from Garfield's mighty mandibles. There are others -- Cuddly Duddly, Bunny Rabbit, Punch (not the snotty Judy), Señor Wences' South of the Border banditos Pedro and Johnny -- all apostles in the service of string and hand manipulation. But at the very top of the list, at the right and left hand of that most supreme of all dummies, Gerbert, are Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, the mischievous merry makers from the Satellite of Love. Like a digital Bible recording for all times, The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 3 offers their testament, further proof of their heavenly hosting abilities.
The third volume in Rhino's new method of presenting MST3K titles, this package contains four single sided DVDs. The first three each contain an episode from the series, while disc four is another shorts compilation created by the Best Brains themselves. The movie discs present a special bonus feature of outtakes from the episode featured. These are not like the goofs and gaffes from Poopie I or II or the behind the scenes material from Scrapbook. These are actual alternative versions of skit scenes. As for the movies and episodes themselves, we have:
The Sidehackers (1969, MST Episode 202) -- Everyone remembers the sidehacking craze from a few years back, right? The tight leather outfits? The elaborate dirt tracks that rivaled NASCAR in redneck regality? Those bizarro motorcycles featuring pull trolley sidecars? If for some odd reason you don't JC, Rommel and the rest of the dust raising dunce-caps who partake in this particular paltry pastime will remind you over and over again in this racing morality tale of love, loyalty, power between the legs and sand inside the shorts. Rommel and his buddy Luke run a little mechanical shack where they fix the unfixable. An oddly motivated stunt biker named JC shows up and suddenly gets obsessed on R-Mel, his gold dust woman, that weird white felt hat and the hide sacking moto-cross caca. After failing to get Germany's most famous tank commander to split her uprights (it's all part of a plot to get Romen Mel to join JC's larcenous losers), JC's woman claims rape. This causes JC to declare shenanigans and kill Rommel's lady. It all boils down to a shoot out between pissed off peons. And just what happened to all the sidehacking?
The Unearthly (1957, MST Episode 320) -- Poor John Carradine. He's obviously taken one too many trips on the night train to Mundo Fine. He's decided that the best way to elongate mankind's life (rationale: so he can make even more movies) is to experiment on luscious ladies and rich dipsticks in hopes of discovering, creating, and implanting a new "17th gland" into the personal crank case (betcha didn't know you had 16 others). Well, wouldn't you know it, instead of everlasting youth, vitality, and virility, the human guinea hens who get the bonus sweetbread turn into ghastly mutants. So Dr. Carrot-Dean has to lock them up in the basement -- all except his hulky bulky glandular case Lobo. This bald, off-balance behemoth is a single syllable uttering imbecile who only becomes more articulate when singing his hit songs "ME, YOU, DOG, BOO" and "BABE, WANT, WANT, ME!" Everything is going along swimmingly until an undercover criminal named Frank shows up. Our on the lam lawless man decides that, availability of good-looking skirt or not, he needs to poke around. And that's when the cellar full of gaffes is discovered.
Along with "Posture Pals" -- stuck up kids with sticking out butts and concave busts are publicly ridiculed in this blend of the benefits of straight spines with bogus beauty contests. The King and Queen of Posture are, apparently, well-loved grade school entities. Guess the booger boy and pee girl have some new competition. And in "Appreciating Your Parents" -- poor little Tommy is a loved starved monster who feels he deserves more allowance for being a total miscreant mess cat child. But after eavesdropping on Mom and Dad's post bedtime "adult" discussion, he turns over a new, neat, and clean leaf. Must have been all that "should have put him up for adoption" talk.
The Atomic Brain (1963, MST Episode 518) -- A rich old bitch is trying to find a way of rejuvenating her soon to be dusty kidneys, so she gets her kept man of medicine, Dr. Frank, to find illegal aliens and fry their minds out in a human sized nuclear reactor. Somehow, turning a person's gray matter into molten guacamole, then doing a medulla oblongata switcheroo with teetering old biddie's brain, will resort in some sort of supermodel being born. So far, Frank's only been able to create a zombie and Spot, the dog faced man. But when three new recruits turn up to have their minds turned out, the doc feels a longing for a non-creased bed companion and things start to fall apart -- and we aren't talking about old lady March's upper dermis. One experimental cat woman and rejected birthmark later, and we stand at the precipice between meltdown and matrimony. It's all up to the distressed doc. Will he continue to pursue new nuclear nookie, or will he double cross the cranky old crone? Or does she have some backstabbing of her own in mind?
Along with "What About Juvenile Delinquency?" -- a beefy, doughy businessman is roughed up by some thugs for his Cross pen and pencil set. As fate and a bad screenplay would have it, turns out tubby's son is a member of the very same violence gang that did the dastardly deed. Jamie, whose name has caused him enough trouble in school, decides to quit the kindergarten Crips and help the squares take back the night. Or the day. Or something.
Short Collection Volume 2 -- Tom Servo hosts and we laugh at the following farcical short films:
Catching Trouble (Episode 315: "Teenage Caveman") -- In which we learn that the battle between man and nature has some decidedly wicked weirdoes suiting up for the human's team. Ross and his faithless Indian companion rape and pillage the Florida Everglades so that some diaper cases "up North" can witness wildlife.
What to Do On a Date (Episode 503: "Swamp Diamonds") -- In which we learn that, back in the carefree non-sexual days of the early '50s, kids too hopped up on hormones to think straight needed "stuff" to do when alone with the opposite gender. Turns out, the perfect saltpeter is a scavenger hunt...or the dreaded weenie roast!!!
Last Clear Chance (Episode 520: "Radar Secret Service") -- In which we learn, finally, why reckless driving, trains, and painful automotive accidents don't mix. The question everyone keeps asking is "Why don't they look?" The answer is simple. They're dopes!
A Day at the Fair (Episode 608: "Code Name: Diamond Head") -- In which we learn that the only repast sons of the soil enjoy on a seemingly annual basis is the combination cake walk and cattle call of the county/state fair. Between pigs in a poke and a blanket, you're average crop swap meet has enough to keep even the most inbred bullet head happy.
Keeping Neat and Clean (Episode 613: "The Sinister Urge") -- In which we learn that filthy, unclean hygiene habits reign supreme amongst the average adolescent and teenager. And we needed a movie to tell us this? Sheesh!
The Days of Our Years (Episode 623: "The Amazing Transparent Man") -- In which we learn that, pre-OSHA, the workplace was one deadly dominion of errant blowtorches and hand crushing train couplings. Guess no one ever heard of paying attention to what they are doing, huh?
Many people who are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 don't know it, but there are some MIA members of the stalwart space comedy, characters that came and went away without really registered on the map. Oh sure, Dr. Laurence Erhardt has his fans, but so does Ricky Martin, and when was the last time you heard anyone calling for a replay of his "La Vida Bored-a"? Ever since "Lar" turned up missing at the start of Season 2, there has been little or no discussion of Clayton Forrester's previous assistant, one that at times seemed more evil than the main Mad himself. Obviously, with the implementation of the human bully pulpit named TV's Frank, there was no longer a need to focus on a fallen compadre. Still, it would be nice if Dr. F would, once and a while, pour a forty ounce beaker of bio-chemical glop onto the laboratory floor, if only to honor his husky homie. Same goes for Jerry and Sylvia, the menacing, but now missing, mole people. Sure, their personalities left something to be desired. Together, they barely had enough outstanding individuality to separate themselves from props, and yet, whether it was attending Frank's Tupperware parties or merely avoiding the harsh glare of the sun, Jer and Syl were welcome denizens of Deep 13, handy henchmen and silent sidekicks. Where is Frank's Human Growth Hormone baby, last seen wearing an Alien teething nock, or Jack Perkins, whose open invitation to the lab seemed to expire around the time The Mystery Science Hour was cancelled. And let's not forget Timmy, the evil specter doppelganger of Crow T. Robot, who brought with him a new level of deviance and destruction. All these real gone goofs seem part of a past so distant, so foreign to what MST3K has become, that it's difficult to recall what the show was like with them a part of it.
Thanks to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 3, we have a chance to revisit some of the past with two nice slabs of early period Joel, plus a prime latter Mike. And pushing history hither and yon, the DVDs prove that the most consistent aspect of this show on its long and winding road toward legend is the Lennon/McCartney like genius intermingling of our pious god puppets of purity, Crow and Tom/Robot and Servo. Using their distinctive personalities to create only a Northern novelty song, these tin load pan metal alloy merriments are the concrete core of an ever-shifting series, one that changed hosts and lost ancillary entities in the bat of a creative dispute. Really, in the course of MST3K, only two things stayed the same: the Minnesota style moralizing of Mr. B. Bobot and the brash Midwestern musk of Sugar Magnolia Servo. Well, both did undergo vocal and personality changes along the way...and if you look at them from around 1988 to 1998, you'd swear you were looking at various amalgamations of animated garbage...and, well...just go with me here.
Individually, we see that each college bound burro moves beyond their shiny veneer and intricate circuitry to capture real emotion, humanizing the automaton behind the machine. In Crow, we have a wise-ass cracking creation with a hefty command of the verbal lexicon. Like a certain Liverpudlian soul mate, Mr. T does not limit his "professional" skills of his known stock in trade. Like J-Len before him, Crow likes to forage into writing, creating a personal Spaniard in the Works called "Earth vs. Soup." And no one will ever forget the In His Own Write of "Peter Graves at the University of Minnesota." Crow, like Mr. Granny Glasses, presents a being of pure spirit, of id trapped in imagination and channeled through irony to become a bittersweet talent of Titanic achievements. And just like a certain Sir song-penning partner nicknamed Macca, perfectly complementing Crow's crazy artistry is Tom Servo: balladeer, romantic, occasionally rowdy rude boy and underpants provocateur. He is a suave, succulent man's robot, a dandy in dynamo clothing given to fits of flowery double talk and wild Irish tenoring. Initially a saintly voiced pop idol, he would later challenge his goody no shoes image to try and enter a more randy, rock and roll phase. Servo takes every chance he can to pump up his ego when he simply should "let it be." He may be hearing words of wisdom, but they just don't register. True, without Tommy, there would be no classic music sides like The United Servo Academy Men's Chorus or "I Wish I Was Back in Old Canada," but Crow has delivered his fair share of timeless tunes to challenge TS's tortured temperament. But the hardest lesson this wicked wannabe may have to learn is that when you've ballpointed such standards as the weepy "Creepy Girl" and the tragic "Tibby My Tibby," you're basically just always going to be a big puss.
Continuing the three episodes/one compilation conceit with Volume 3 of the Mystery Science Theater Collection, Rhino gives us plenty of puppet loving marionette mania and singsong silliness. Each movie is presented in a video vibrant full screen image than makes broadcast copies and VHS versions look like RGB rubbish. The sound is Dolby Digital Stereo and is simplistic at best. As for extras, it was said before but bears repeating that each film has a series of sketch outtakes, which usually consist of a flubbed line, cue, or alternative version of the skit. Pretty insightful when it comes to why mistakes are made (Joel's telling "I think I do need a rehearsal on this") to the friendly by-play between the cast, make this batch of bonuses a welcome addition. Individually, each movie or collection rates as follows:
The Sidehackers: Take away the eccentric ass motor sport, the bad guy with a decided Messiah complex and the awfully dated felt sailor's cap favored by our hero, and you still have one bizarre notion of a motion picture. Sidehackers expects us to sit through minutes of muddled race footage where, frankly, nothing recognizably competitive happens, endure a mean-spirited entrapment and treachery subplot, and then wistfully and blissfully nod our heads in entertainment acceptance as every single main character dies a miserable, painful death. Now while it's true that the acting and attitude are so reprehensible that a cast mass grave is not a bad idea, we started out hoping for a little chopper cheekiness mixed with some hot action footage to produce a little slice of Harley heaven. But from the Kawasakis with training wheels, the fear of marriage issues, and the numerous rapes, it's hard to get behind a movie with this much of a misguided notion of amusement. Chili peppers may burn Rommel's sensitive tummy, but one viewing of Sidehackers will scorch your cinema sensitivity, leaving a weird wound that definitely lingers long after the love montages and the sexual assaults.
Following an early MST pattern of using music to fill the sketch time, Sidehackers offers another dose of tune terrific-ness, adding two more classic songs to the 3K canon of harmonious humor. The original "Sidehackin'" gives us a chance to watch Joel and "his bloods" as they "wail" out a hot rockabilly style faux motor sport rave-up. Favorite line: "Sidehackin' is the thing to do / where it doesn't hurt to have a low IQ." At the end of the show, we have another signature song. Here, the cast of MST takes a musical theme from the movie and adds their own twisted lyrical content. "Love Pads the Film" lifted and lunaticked directly from a montage sequence in Sidehackers features one of Joel Hodgson's best performances as a comedian and crooner ever. His plaintive coo matched perfectly by the slow dance drone of the keyboard, the combination coalescences in something so close to perfection as to be petrifying. Along with the on target take-off of potential Sidehacking lingo ("Oh my goodness, it's a lineback, a slowburn and a hop, skip and a gold flame with a Fintoozler and an Itchy Gorilla! An Itchy Gorilla!"), you have probably one of the best early shows ever by the gang. From the godawful movie to the pitch perfect riffing, Sidehackers takes its place in the upper echelon of television puppet comedy.
The Unearthly: Thanks to the lumbering presence of Tor Johnson, The Unearthly manages to move beyond its crazy people/mad scientist trappings to enter the realm of the ridiculously sublime. You can tell that Tor, even with a limited grasp of English and a heavy concept of seconds, thought this would be the kind of hulk with a heart role that could propel him into superstardom. One look at the dire concentration in his eyes and you can feel the acting burn through his bulky frame. What Johnson does here is not so much method as merely the proper propulsion of his gargantuan belly and buttocks. Tor is not a performer; he is a performance, a total entertainment package. And he makes the otherwise lame as lunch loaf Unearthly a semi-entertaining sci-fi fart. Between John Carradine's arthritic antics to the pasty-faced freaks in the basement, the movie doesn't make a lot of sense. And just when you think it will start to click, along comes an escaped con/question mark looking for a place to hole up to add undue amounts of non-sexual senselessness amongst the female cast members. Still, some of the dinner table tantrums are pretty funny, and you can't help but guffaw at the matronly assistant with a misplaced mushiness for our elderly Kung Fu daddy.
This is one of the most literary episodes of Mystery Science. It's packed with more than its fair share of well-researched and written gag material. Especially impressive is the entire Dead End Kids ending that completely outdoes Miller's Crossing in tossing out the fancy pants jargon. Combined with faultless impersonations and interpretations of the loopy lingo, the sketch just sings. But equally eloquent is Tom's tell-all taking to task of Crow, mimicking the Tommy talking-to from "Appreciating Your Parents." Here entitled "Appreciating Gypsy," we get character images and detailed descriptions ("handfuls of gooey Fiddle Faddle...") of Crow's lazy goat life that resonate with a written flawlessness that it rare in television comedy. Both sketches are brilliantly conceived and impeccably performed. By comparison, the Tor Johnson Video Toaster material is quite pedestrian and the Unearthly Board Game sequence is also a tad underwhelming. But both do show a wealth of information and intelligence, be it for the movie or Parker Brothers, but they pale in comparison to the other sketch material. While not the home run that Sidehackers is, The Unearthly is light years away from the "hard pills to swallow" that torment TV's Frank during the opening invention exchange.
Plus "Posture Pals" and "Appreciating Our Parents": There are some things to look for in both of these short films, bits of populist propaganda that emphasizes the real reasons behind the film's faux health/home helper storylines. In "Pals," we note that the good looking kids end up being the Lords of Lumbar, while the less attractive members of the class seem doomed to a life of scoliosis, all because they don't photograph well. And in Tommy's little tomb of family trauma, Mother is a slave, seemingly tied to either the kitchen (where she makes everything from scratch, including the salt) or the sewing basket (little Tommy can't tinkle without busting his zip). Both of these underhanded helpings of veiled hysteria make it very clear that the seemingly sedate '50s were really a time bomb of intolerance ready to explode.
The Atomic Brain: Now here is a movie that can't quite figure out what it wants to be. There are about seven separate story lines swirling around Dr. Frank's atomic brain blender and not one of them ends up making a lick of sense. First we have the kept man -- old rich woman May to December drivel that is about as convincing as Michael Jackson fathering children. Then there is the whole making mutants mess where our cracked physician inserts animal brains into humans and hijinks ensue. Next include the imported immigrants who make up the latest batch of experiment fodder. Their fake foreign roots are more central casting than America. Then there's the whole double cross dynamic between the nuclear nut and the wealthy wench and the in house romantic miscalculations, and pretty soon rationality runs right out the door. To be fair, this is a heavily edited entity, one that was originally entitled Monstrosity and apparently had a hell of a lot more sagacity. But in the hands of beast hungry promoters not interested in the more perverse angles, we have a chopped up slop job that is as understandable as Ozzy Osbourne at the Emmys. The Atomic Brain may be nerve-racking in its electron/neutron agreement, but it sure is dodgy in its directness.
Ever wondered what an episode of only average skits would look like from the mad capped magicians at MST? The Atomic Brain is just what the middling ordered. It's not that the material here isn't funny or clever, but the problem is that it's dull and uninspired. Sure, Mike doing a chin puppet adds a dimension of daffiness to a show that has already explored most of Goon Corners, but having our noble robots do a lame Love Letters riff or giving magic voice, in one of her few solo shots, a stupid "Mr. Jaws" style Q&A with the narrator from the film is downright dopey. There are momentary flashes of brilliance: Crow as Mr. Hank Kimball in The Fugitive, doing a spotless -- if far too short -- impression of the nervous Green Acres bureaucrat as a confused, effusive man on the lam, or the opening double take dress up, in which each side mimics the other in look and speech pricelessly. But there is no overall magic, no ephemeral power that lifts the stabs at comedy into the cleverness cosmos. Sure, the flimsy film gives the theater sequences the right amount of moxie, but the cast creations seem strangely sedate. Perhaps they still suffered some post Joel ennui, or maybe it was the remaining cast members experimenting and vying for a new path and tone. Whatever it was, it makes the commercial break material here appear less than stellar. MST3K would have a couple other episodes like this, but thankfully, they were few and far between.
Plus "What About Juvenile Delinquency?" -- A great short that peters out in the end. The entire buildup -- the gang stuff, the school ruckus, the discovery of whose daddy it was -- are all wonderful, and the flippant felons are a kick in the crass. But when it comes time for the town hall meeting, where the squares take on the drapes, the whole mini-movie simply stumbles and stops. What was once inflammatory is now preachy. The groovy seems grating. And when we are left with a cliffhanger/group discussion style ending hoping to have us meditate on the film's message for a while, what was once exploitative becomes a pop quiz.
Short Collection Volume 2: As the second in a string of shorts collections from Best Brains and MST, this is definitely a solid, no sour spot lot. If something like Catching Trouble with its animal abusing, short pant wearing pseudo Steve Irwin, doesn't make you buckle over in donkey bray bemusement, nothing will. Or what about the hyper somber Last Clear Chance or Days of Our Years, grief stricken exercises in gravitas that handle death like an inevitable offshoot of being free thinking and unpatriotic. These funny funeral marches will have you smiling all the way to the cemetery. What to Do on a Date and Keeping Neat and Clean are clear, comic indications that social acceptance/rejection is just a good rummage sale/scalp de-licing away. If there is a lull in the proceedings, it comes with A Day at the Fair, which unlike Johnny at the Fair or the telephone of the future foolishness of Century 21 Calling, leaves little lasting impact. Maybe it's all the inbred hick jokes. Maybe it's the rolled oat wholesome goodness being crammed down our skeptical craws. Or perhaps, when shadowed by hilarious hygiene and morality plays picked apart by pinpoint, polished commentary, it's hard for cow beauty pageants and pickle competitions to stand out. While this collection is still missing those absolute classic moments of mini-movie merriment (including such still lost gems as the first part of Hired! and Circus...ON ICE!), it's still a marvelous set of shorts. And Tom Servo's banter is typical in its egotistical bombast. Perhaps it's not said enough, but Kevin Murphy has one of the best comic voices in the history of the genre, right up there with Alan Dale's original Fred Flintstone and the Great One, Jackie Gleason.
Okay, we promise this will be the last time we take Rhino to task. We are simply going to ask, again, three simple sentences about the lack of substantive extras on these box sets. Now, don't get us wrong. Us Misties like the outtakes and relish the un-MSTied version of the films. But, if you could sit up for a moment and pay really close attention, we have just a couple of calm, relaxed questions to ask. Nothing confrontational or accusatory. Call them, "friendly inquiries." Okay? Good, you ready? Yes? All right, Rhino, here goes:
WHERE IN THE NAME OF GOD'S OWN UNDERPANTS IS THE @#&@^# MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER HOUR MATERIAL?!?!?!?
WHERE IN HELL'S BLOODY FURY IS ANY PROMOTIONAL OR PUBLICITY MATERIAL?!?!?!?
HOW ABOUT A LITTLE SUGAR FOR CROW???
AND WHAT ABOUT SCARECROW'S BRAIN???
There. It had to be said. So let it never be repeated again.
As a true law of the heavens, for every puppet deity there must be an equally menacing set of marionettes. Not every dummy works in the service of good. Sometimes, misguided by a thread or finger, a digital doll finds itself wandering over to the dark side of show business and falling under the spell of the reprobate members of the manipulated. Like the malicious ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson -- the poor man's Paul Winchell -- dealing death from his lethal Danny O'Day. And don't be fooled by his carefully crafted organ grinder grace or fluffy bunny batting eyelashes, Topo Gigio is one of the most befouled and bereft of benefice felt balls in the history of hand held happiness. Mistaking his "golly gee" goofy glee for anything other than an invitation to doom is an error that could cost you your levity, or your life. Similarly, that rod operated drag hag queen Madame is enough, even sans Waylon Flowers, to darken your dreams for days. Sure, there are mystified muppets, confused as to why they are constantly called entities of evil -- like the cast of Pee Wee's Playhouse or Sid and Marty Krofft's mixed-up menagerie. Unfortunately, they have been falsely labeled when all they are truly guilty of is being founded in the imagination expanding planes of existence that reek of patchouli, paisley, and a puff or two of the wacky weed. Thank armature for Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, these saints of filament and trigger animation who rule down from heavenly rafters above to puppet master the world away from the dull and derivative, steering them toward a reward where all marionettes are cheerful, all shadow puppets pleasant and the ever popular hand hero is a jolly jester. For you see, puppets are indeed gods. And we should thank them everyday for the wonder that is Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 3 is not guilty, just like all previous Mystery Science Theater offerings. The court would really hope that the District Attorney would think twice before charging these masterworks with anything other than utter brilliance.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 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
* Outtakes from Each of the Three Episodes
* MST3K Info
* Sci-Fi Channel MST3K Site
* IMDb: Mystery Science Theater 3000
* IMDb: The Sidehackers
* IMDb: The Unearthly
* IMDb: The Atomic Brain