Shout! Factory // 1989 // 480 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // December 5th, 2012
"I want this problem called Maria dealt with...PERMANENTLY!"
Is it the not-too-distant future already? It's time for the latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set from Shout! Factory, just in time for holiday giving to others, or yourself. Unlike the past few sets, Volume XXV doesn't have an obvious theme. No Gamera, Master Ninja, or Fugitive Alien collections here. What it does have are four more excellent entries, two of which represent nimble negotiations with one of Hollywood's biggest studios.
To mark its 100th anniversary, Universal Studios re-released a slew of their most successful movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including a massive box set of 25 high-profile motion pictures. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV adds to that number with two Universal flicks that didn't make the centenary cut. If it seems odd that MST3K ripped on movies made by such a prestigious studio, it's worth noting that Universal's early slate was packed with B-movies and genre pictures. While the best of these films includes groundbreaking monster movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man, there were plenty more that weren't up to snuff. Volume XXV features two of Universal's lesser movies: the Ann-Margret-as-juvenile-delinquent melodrama Kitten with a Whip, and Revenge of the Creature -- a lazy follow-up to Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Kitten with a Whip hails from the show's sixth season on Comedy Central, and tells the story of a psychotic teen runaway, played by Ann-Margret, who blackmails a senatorial candidate, played by John Forsythe, into helping her hide out from the cops. Margret's performance is as wildly unpredictable as Forsythe's is deadly dull, from the moment she breaks into his house to the deadly Tijuana car chase that brings the film to a merciful end. Mike and the bots masterfully handle long scenes of people talking to each other. They spend a lot of time skewering the actors, especially Forsythe's inability to keep up with the sexy Margret ("There isn't a shower cold enough for this man"). As a bonus, Kevin Murphy goes full Furry in a cat suit! So humiliating. So hilarious.
Revenge of the Creature is the set's standout episode -- for the quality of the riffing, the (relative) caliber of the movie, and because this was the show's first episode after moving to the SciFi Channel. When we left Mike, Crow, and Tom at the end of the Comedy Central closer Laserblast, they had been transformed into spectral balls of light at the end of the universe. As this episode begins, the Satellite crew has recorporealized in the year 2525, in orbit around an Earth that is populated by sentient apes. They meet Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy buried under a mound of prosthetics), who speaks highly of a mysterious figure called "The Law-Giver" -- spoilers, it's Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl). In accordance with ape law, and because it wouldn't be much of a show otherwise, Bobo sends them Revenge of the Creature. In this 1955 rehash of the Universal monster classic, the Creature ("He kinda looks like Martin van Buren") is captured in a tributary of the Amazon ("With Tom Wopat...Starship...Geraldine Ferraro...and Carrot Top!") and moved to a Marine park in Florida ("Open Creature swim until 5 p.m."), where he falls for a pretty science student, breaks his chains, and wreaks havoc...in 3-D! Keep an eye out for a young Clint Eastwood. Back on the ship, meanwhile, Mike is convinced there's something different about Crow -- the joke, of course, is that he's got a new voice (Bill Corbett).
It's a big deal that Shout! Factory got the rights to include these Universal films. As with the Sandy Frank coup of 2011, it shows just how much they care about the series and its fans and how hard they are willing to work to get the best, most sought-after episodes into MSTie hands. Episodes like the other two in this set, Operation Kid Brother and Robot Holocaust.
If longtime fans don't recognize the fifth season episode Operation Kid Brother, that's because it originally aired under the name Operation Double 007. For legal reasons, that title has been scrubbed from all packaging and disc art -- traded for a stupider name that doesn't threaten brand confusion during James Bond's 50th anniversary. (Don't worry, though, the real title is used throughout the actual episode.) Whatever you call it, 1967's Kid Brother is a fever dream of a movie. It stars Sean Connery's brother, Neil, as a plastic surgeon/hypnotist/lip-reader who is recruited by the British secret service because he resembles his super spy brother (wink wink). Neil Connery -- who goes by his real name in the movie just in case you missed the connection -- is tasked with stopping a madman (played by Adolfo Celi, who was in Thunderball) and his blonde associate (played by Daniela Bianchi, who was in From Russia With Love). He is helped by a fetching British spy named Miss Maxwell (played by Lois Maxwell, famous for being Miss Moneypenny in every Bond movie from Dr. No through A View to a Kill). Operation Kid Brother is a bizarre, incestuous Bond-lite thriller that's only slightly worse than the Roger Moore 007 movies. The MST3K episode itself is great, sitting pretty in the final run up to Joel Hodgson's departure from the show. The jokes hit hard, and the host segments are sharp -- especially the "Neil and Sean Show" breakdown of the Connery brothers' career trajectories. There's even an appearance by Torgo. What more do you want?
Volume XXV's final episode hails from the show's first season. Wait! Don't skip ahead to the next paragraph. I know previous Season One entries have been rough, but 1986's Robot Holocaust is a good one. The terribleness of this terrible movie would become a running gag in later episodes; now you can see how it all began. The episode itself is lighter on jokes than later season entries, and the production more low-fi, but Robot Holocaust is a classic because of the movie. This cheesy post-apocalyptic flick is a nightmare populated by bizarre humanoid robots, human "air slaves," an outland tribe of man-hating warrior women, "free bots," "guard bots," and Angelika Jager playing the robot collaborator Valaria -- a sultry vixen with an impenetrable accent and an improbable outfit ("Is she wearing a kitchen mat?"). Her acting choices, both riveting and revolting, are worth the price of admission alone. The episode also includes the final entry in the Commando Cody serial, which is mercifully cut short after a few minutes when the film "breaks." Even if Season One wasn't the show's sweet spot, I love this episode's casual charm -- marked by little things like hearing the riffers clear their throats, or their random small talk over the end credits. For a show that's so wonderfully scripted, those few minutes of chatter remind us that Joel, Tom, and Crow are essentially office drones, making the best of a job they hate. Who knew that the heart of the series was buried at the end of an episode in the middle of its least popular season? Bottom line, don't skip this episode.
Volume XXV's bonus features begin with an introduction for each episode -- two from Joel and two from Mike. They range from 3 minutes (for Operation Kid Brother) to 7 minutes (Revenge of the Creature), and are the perfect companion piece, mixing movie history with personal behind-the-scenes stories. The best of the bunch are Joel's lengthy dissection of Robot Holocaust's invention exchange -- pulled straight out of his stand-up act -- and Mike's look back at the show's transition to the SciFi Channel.
The set also comes with two more "Life After MST3K" featurettes, with J.Elvis Weinstein and Bill Corbett. These oft-overlooked cast members have lots to say about their post-MST careers. Bill's talks for 12 minutes about his time in the theater, writing and directing plays, and his various web projects with Mike and Kevin Murphy. Josh's interview, meanwhile, clocks in at a whopping 18 minutes. If that sounds overlong, remember that Weinstein left the show after the first season. What followed has been a long TV career on shows like Talk Soup, America's Funniest Videos, and even Freaks and Geeks.
The final featurette, on the Revenge of the Creature disc, is Ballyhoo Motion Pictures' latest: "Auteur on Campus: Jack Arnold at Universal!" This 19 minute documentary focuses on the Universal contract director responsible for genre pictures including both Creature movies, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Shout! Factory has tried hard to fill their MST3K box sets with bonus features. While Volume XXV's extras might seem disappointing at first glance, I'd argue they establish the ideal template for bonus features going forward: intros for each episode, a couple "Life After MST3K" entries, a Ballyhoo documentary, and the standard mini-posters. There have been MST sets with more bonus features, but I prefer this streamlined approach.
The audio-visual presentation is predictably fine. These episodes look and sound as the best they're ever going to look, and there are no issues to report. The packaging design is as great as ever, and the animated menus get better every time.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV is an easy recommendation, with four great episodes, several of which were once considered long shots for home video, along with a tight grouping of bonus features. The year 2012 marks major anniversaries for Universal Studios and the James Bond franchise. I can't think of a better way to celebrate.
They call me the Verdict-Giver. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 480 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Lobby Cards
* IMDb: MST3K
* IMDb: Robot Holocaust
* IMDb: Operation Kid Brother
* IMDb: Kitten with a Whip
* IMDb: Revenge of the Creature
* MST3K Fan Site