Shout! Factory // 1991 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // August 18th, 2011
Not the children!
In case you didn't know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the greatest show to ever grace television screens. This is not hyperbole. A postmodern deconstruction of all forms of pop culture, as well as a playful lampoon of the old Saturday night monster B-movie shows that were a staple of local access broadcasting all across America throughout the 1960s and '70s, it is equal parts silliness and surprisingly sharp wit. The show concerns the misadventures of one Joel Robinson (series creator Joel Hodgson), a one-time janitor at the evil conglomerate Gizmonic Institute who has been launched into outer space by mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his lackey, TV's Frank (Frank Conniff). Each week, Forrester uses Joel and his two hand puppet robots, Crow (Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), as guinea pigs in "experiments" in which they are subjected to the worst in science fiction and horror B-movies. Joel and the 'bots maintain their sanity with blistering but good-natured joking about the onscreen atrocities. We, as the audience, experience the joy of watching their rapid riffing vastly improve the entertainment value of the frequently unwatchable morsels of celluloid craptitude on which they turn their rapier wits. It's insanely fun and addictive stuff.
Experiment number 320 is a prime piece of Mystery Science Theater 3000 goodness, containing most of the distinctive hallmarks of the show in one tight 97-minute package. The episode originally landed on television screens during the series' third season on Comedy Central in 1991, when it was at the height of its popularity. In it, Joel and the 'bots are subjected to 1957's The Unearthly, an incomprehensible science fiction/horror flick about a mad scientist played by John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath), whose quest for immortality leads him to create "the 17th gland." Unfortunately, the mystery gland has the unintended side-effect of transforming his unwilling human test subjects into zombies. The black-and-white stinker also includes Swedish professional wrestler turned B-movie "actor" Tor Johnson as Carradine's dim, hulking lackey, Lobo. As in Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, Johnson mostly carries around fainted actresses and spews the occasional line of dialogue with a maximum of woodenness. It's awesome.
In addition to the main feature, the episode also offers up two 1950s-era educational shorts for skewering:
"Posture Pals" (1952)
Influenced by their obsessive teacher, four elementary school kids set up an accountability group to help each other win the titles of the King, Queen, Prince, and Princess of Good Posture.
"Appreciating Our Parents" (1950)
Tyke Tommy comes to the startling conclusion that everything good in his life comes not from elves who visit in the dead of night, but from his parents, who've abandoned their hopes and dreams in order to raise him. He decides to toe the line and start helping out around the house.
Many of the most hilarious moments of Mystery Science Theater 3000's entire run came at the expense of the uptight social engineering on display in Eisenhower-era short films. "Posture Pals" and "Appreciating Our Parents" don't disappoint.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Unearthly received stand-alone VHS and DVD releases, as well as inclusion in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume Three box set, back when Rhino Entertainment owned the home video distribution rights to the series. Those offerings are out of print, but now we have this new release from Shout! Factory to fill the void. The full frame transfer (in keeping with the show's original broadcast ratio) is acceptable, as is the Dolby stereo audio. There isn't a marked improvement in the technical presentation compared to the Rhino DVD release, but if you don't own that disc this one is worth grabbing on the strength of the episode it contains.
The disc contains no extras.
Time for go to bed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: MST3K
* IMDb: The Unearthly
* IMDb: Posture Pals
* IMDb: Appreciating Our Parents