Shout! Factory // 1988 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // July 3rd, 2009
"Push the button, Frank"
With its third MST3K set in less than a year, Shout! Factory gives fans a reason to cheer the release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV, a solid and surprisingly well-balanced collection of episodes from the cult classic show.
This set has two Joel episodes, two Mike episodes, two Tom Servos, two shorts, and two mad scientist sidekicks. Best of all for old-timers like me, the episodes on MST3K: XV are all from the Comedy Central years. With the exception of the set's lone first season entry (before the gang found their gag-spewing rhythm), this might be the series' funniest collection yet.
Four episodes on four discs, each in a slimline case with Steve Vance movie poster cover art:
Episode 102: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy
One of the earliest Comedy Central (then Comedy Channel) episodes, Aztec Mummy tells the convoluted story of a Mexican doctor who hypnotizes his wife and discovers that she was an Aztec princess in a past life. Her recollections lead them to a secret burial chamber containing a valuable gold breastplate and bracelet. The doctor removes the treasure, awakening the mummy of an Aztec warrior charged with protecting it. The titular robot shows up at the end of the movie, created by an evil scientist/mobster who wants the treasure for himself. The feature is preceded by part one of the ridiculous sci-fi serial Commando Cody and the Moon Men, and the host segments follow the crew's attempts to remove a pack of demon dogs from the Satellite of Love's hull.
Episode 509: The Girl In Lovers Lane
Joel and the 'bots tackle this moody teen drama about a drifter-in-training named Danny who falls in with a handsome rail rider named Bix Dugan (aka. "Big Stupid"). The pair roll into a small town where Dugan falls for a waitress named Carrie. But will his troubled childhood keep Bix from letting himself get too close? A lame movie with an ending so bad the crew uses the last host segment to come up with a better one.
Episode 604: Zombie Nightmare
This '80s horror stinker co-stars Adam West as a sleazy police chief and Tia Carrere as one of a group of no-good teens being hunted by a local beefcake-turned-zombie they ran over with a car. The zombie is played by the awesomely named Jon Mikl Thor, who composed much of the film's music with his band "Thorkestra." A true classic from the show's penultimate season on Comedy Central.
Episode 616: Racket Girls
This movie was first released under the title "Blonde Pickup," referring to the empty-headed, large-chested Peaches Page, a woman wrestler who tries to further her career by going to work for a two-bit promoter/bookie named Scally. After a lengthy mid-movie interlude featuring an unedited wrestling match between real-life wrestlers Clare Mortensen and Rita Martinez, the scummy Scally and his stereotypical Italian sidekick run afoul of a local mobster. The movie's real crime, though, is making scantily clad women rolling around on the floor together completely unsexy.
Buying Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes on DVD has always been a crap shoot. Considering the complicated, often expensive, rights issues involved with clearing episodes for release, fans have had to pretty much take what they could get. So much so at times, that it feels like what makes it onto DVD is determined more by availability than quality.
So far, Shout! Factory has done a nice job clearing good episodes for their MST3K sets. Sure, there's a list a mile long of fan favorites yet to be released -- some of which may never be released (darn Sandy Frank!) -- but MST3K: XV is a solid indication that Shout! Factory is committed to doing as much as they can with the movies they're able to get.
Of the four episodes on XV, The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy is by far the weakest. Not only is Aztec Mummy one of the earliest non-KTMA episodes, it's also supposedly the only one the MST3K gang asked Comedy Central to let them stop working on. The network refused and they finished the episode, but the trauma of this dubbed Mexican stinkbomb lingered for years to come. Compared to later episodes, the first season seems timid. The jokes aren't as funny and they don't fly as fast. Also, as much as I like what J. Elvis Weinstein is doing on Cinematic Titanic these days, his take on Tom Servo doesn't hold a candle to the plucky blowhard he became under Kevin Murphy; nor is his Dr. Ehrhardt as memorable a Deep 13 sidekick as TV's Frank. Still, as a slice of the show's history, Aztec Mummy is worth watching.
I know a lot of fans are excited about Zombie Nightmare (more on that in a minute), but the real joy of this set for me is The Girl In Lovers Lane. I used to record new MST3K episodes so I could rewatch them later, and this one made it into heavy rotation on my VCR. From the renaming of the movie's sullen star as "Big Stupid," to the recurring joke of adding "she's so very" every time waitress Carrie is mentioned, this is a killer episode and a great showcase for original host Joel Robinson (who left the show three episodes later).
Zombie Nightmare debuted as the final episode of Comedy Central's annual MST3K Turkey Day marathon, in 1994. It was good enough to cap off 30 straight hours of bad movie comedy then, and it's almost reason alone to buy this set now. Heavy metal soundtrack! Bland hoodlums! An unintelligible voodoo priestess! Adam West as a jerky police chief! The juxtaposition of horror movie and mid-'80s Canada! A guy named Jon Mikl Thor! This is a true classic from the early Mike years. It's also closer in feel to the SciFi Channel years, which should satisfy the 10 or so people who are upset by XV's lack of latter season episodes.
Wrapping up the set is the women's wrestling movie Racket Girls. There's a loose story about a bookie who gets in over his head with a local mobster, but much of Racket Girls is dedicated to extended sequences of women wrestling. There's a seemingly unedited match between real-life wrestlers Mortensen and Martinez, whose only contributions to the plot are two short scenes where each woman refuses to throw the match. It's a painful movie to watch, but Mike and the 'bots do the best they can with it. While not quite up there with Lovers Lane or Zombie Nightmare, the episode has plenty of great one-liners, and begins with the fan-favorite short Are You Ready for Marriage? -- which inspires a running bit in the host segments about Crow and Tom wanting to get married.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV has three real extras and one promo trailer, one each on the discs. If you thought The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy was a blast from the past, wait 'til you see "Glimpses of KTMA: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps I," a 15-minute montage of host segments from the show's inaugural season on the Minnesota UHF station. There's no footage from the actual movies, but extras like this show how serious Shout! Factory is about pleasing fans. The second disc features "Behind the Scenes: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps II," an 8-minute collection of leftover footage from the 1992 documentary "This is MST3K." The snippets show the group writing and filming the classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians episode. Fun stuff, if a little short. The last real extra is called "Zombie Nightmare = MST3K Dream," a collection of modern-day interviews with Nightmare actors Frank Dietz and Jon Mikl Thor about what it was like to watch their movie get skewered by the show, and their experiences since achieving MST3K infamy. To both of their credits, Dietz and Thor (which would be an awesome band name, by the way) have a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and use their time wisely to slip in plugs for current projects. The final "extra" is a preview of the independent film Hamlet A.D.D., a cool-looking reimagining of the classic. The included scene features the voice talents of Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy as animated robots in the short film Hamlet shows to "catch the conscience" of his uncle. Besides featuring Beaulieu and Murphy, it has nothing to do with MST3K. Like the past couple of sets, this one also comes with four mini-posters of the Steve Vance cover art.
Audio-video presentation on this set is consistent with past releases. The TV stuff looks and sounds like it did when it aired, and the movies range from awful to terrible. Minor bit of good news for those who own the previous Shout! Factory releases: XV is the first one to add much-requested chapter stops (at host segments and commercial breaks). The studio has also promised them for all new volumes going forward.
I can think of only two possible fan complaints about this set: Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy could have been replaced with a funnier later-season entry; and there are no SciFi channel episodes. If either of those things bother you, don't expect much sympathy from me. I think 3 out of 4 solid episodes is a good ratio for these collections, and I've always preferred the Comedy Central years.
Shout! Factory has done plenty in the past year to assure fans that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is in the right hands, and Volume XV is no exception. Three great (and one decent) episodes, two shorts, and equal time for both Joel and Mike make this a set every longtime fan should want.
Not Guilty! Bring on sweet sixteen!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: MST3K
* IMDb: Robot vs. Aztec Mummy
* IMDb: Girl in Lovers Lane
* IMDb: Zombie Nightmare
* IMDb: Racket Girls