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Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection (published December 3rd, 2014), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV (published February 18th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX (published November 9th, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV (published July 3rd, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVI (published November 27th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII (published February 22nd, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII (published July 1st, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX (published March 3rd, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXI, MST3K vs. Gamera (published July 25th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII (published November 24th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII (published March 16th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV (published July 17th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX (published March 14th, 2014), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV (published December 5th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI (published April 1st, 2013), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII (published July 18th, 2013), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXX (published July 29th, 2014) are also available.
"Are you okay? How many fingers of scotch am I holding up?"
The Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD set marks more than one milestone. As hard as it is to believe it was 25 years ago that Joel Hodgson taught the bots to riff, it's even hard to believe it's only been 5 years since Shout! Factory took over MST3K home video duties. They began with a 20th Anniversary collection that raised the bar for extras and episodes and have been topping themselves ever since, putting out a whopping sixteen sets, with various collectible figurines and a surprise all-Gamera set along the way. The 25th Anniversary Edition is a new high for the series, celebrating a quarter century of cult comedy with a snazzy collector's tin, hours of new bonus features, and a record high six episodes—four of which are making their DVD debut.
The first episode is Season One's Moon Zero Two, a trippy sci-fi flick made by Hammer Films—the British studio best known for horror movies and busty beauties. Their first foray into science fiction isn't overly raunchy, but it sure us cheesy. From the '60s Go-Go theme song that's been stuck in my head all week to the goofy moon mining storyline ("Great club, no atmosphere"), this so-called "Moon Western" is ideal for riffing. Joel and the bots take shots at pervasive Moon puns (see future board game "Moonopoly") and the lunar Laugh-In costumes. The movie is fun and the jokes are sharp, making this one of the better entries from the show's oft-maligned first season.
Next up is fan favorite The Day the Earth Froze. This Season Four classic—the first in the show's infamous "Russo-Finnish troika"—is the badly dubbed legend about the woodsman Lemminkainen, fair maiden Annikki, and an evil witch who will do anything to get her hands on the mystical "Sampo." Whatever the heck that is; the film never makes it clear. Perhaps the story makes more sense in its original, unedited Russian form. Some Eastern European government clearly threw a lot of money at "The Adventures of Fjord Fairlane," as evidenced by the ambitious scope and special effects. That doesn't stop the MST crew from having their way with the "cleaning power of Lemminkainen" and his bearded companions. The film is preceded by the short "Here Comes the Circus"—a rollicking celebration of sadness and greasepaint-choked dreams ("Make way for the Ku Klux Klowns!").
From here, the set leaps to the show's eighth season with Universal International's The Leech Woman—an ugly movie about despicable people motivated by greed, lust, and vanity. The story focuses on a scientist ("He's the master of not acting") who uses his alcoholic wife ("Our drink special tonight is, you stand next to me and I breathe") as a guinea pig in his search for an age reversal formula to make him rich. They end up in a remote village in Africa ("The matte paintings of Africa are beautiful"), where a withered old woman shares her tribe's secret anti-aging recipe. The magic ingredient: pineal gland juice harvested via human sacrifice. Once the scientist's wife gets a taste for newfound beauty, she goes on a murderous pineal rampage. It would be shocking if her victims weren't so unsympathetic.
The set's requisite monster movie is the British Godzilla rip-off Gorgo, introduced to Mike and the bots by Leonard Maltin in a surprising cameo. Despite the film's lack of originality, it's a cool creature feature. While the special effects are dated now, they were ambitious for the time, combining suits, massive props, and split screen techniques to put the prehistoric menace in the middle of London. The story cribs from King Kong partway through, as a crew of unscrupulous sailors captures and sells the monster to a London carnival. There's a big twist near the end, when it's revealed that the massive Gorgo is just a baby and his mother is on the way. Most of the riffs take aim at the country of origin, claiming the creature has the "best teeth in England" and poking fun at Brits' maddening refusal to put "the" in front of "hospital." Outside the theater, the gang uses the fact that one of the actors kind of looks like Samuel Beckett as an excuse to stage the one-act "Waiting for Gorgo."
If those were the only episodes in the Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition, it would still be a standout set. Shout! Factory takes it to the next level by including a bonus disc containing two more episodes: Mitchell and The Brain that Wouldn't Die. MSTies know the importance of these episodes, which mark the last appearance by series creator Joel Hodgson and hosting debut of Mike Nelson. Although these episodes have been on home video before they are long out-of-print, making this an exciting bonus for fans who missed buying them the first time around. Mitchell remains my favorite of the two, although that has as much to do with the goofy movie as my allegiance to Joel. Brain is a solid beginning for Mike (I may have felt differently in 1993), establishing his own character and relationship with the bots apart from Joel. The two episodes aren't just unprecedented MST extras, they're one heck of a double feature.
Shout! has put as much effort into their bonus features as they have securing episode rights, focusing not only on the show and the cast but on the movies themselves. The 25th Anniversary surpasses their previous entries with nearly two and a half hours of extras, not counting the bonus episodes.
The centerpiece of the set is the three-part documentary "Return to Eden Prairie: 25 Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000." The hour-and-a-quarter long retrospective, spread across the first three discs, is divided into "The Crew," "The Locations," and "The Characters," allowing various cast and crew members to talk about their experiences working on the show. The doc covers everything from the show's early days, set and bot design, props, extras, and writing. It's a fitting tribute to the DIY spirit that made MST3K so special.
The set also includes the following episode-specific extras:
• Introduction to Moon Zero Two by Hammer Films Historian Constantine Nasr (9:37): Nasr puts the "moon western" in context, talking about the effect of the space race on the film industry, and the debt the movie's special effects owe to Stanley Kubrick.
• Moon Zero Two Theatrical Trailer (2:24)
• MST Hour Wraps for The Day the Earth Froze (5:13): In which Jack Perkins (Mike Nelson) praises Abba and pretends to be kidnapped by a black cape.
• The Day the Earth Froze Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
• "Life After MST3K: Mary Jo Pehl" (7:43): The writer-actress chats about her adventures in the years since she was a TV Guide crossword puzzle answer, including world travel, commentating for NPR, writing books, and being part of Cinematic Titanic.
• The Leech Woman Theatrical Trailer (1:51)
• "The Ninth Wonder of the World: The Making of Gorgo (MST3K Edition)" (31:11): Directed by Daniel Griffith and narrated by Randall Turnbull, this thorough documentary is a fascinating look at a forgotten monster movie with a surprisingly solid pedigree. Why "MST3K Edition"? To distinguish it from the version of the documentary that was included on VCI's Gorgo Blu-ray earlier this year, although both seem versions appear to have the same runtime.
• "Leonard Maltin Explains Something" (0:34): The film critic tells viewers the "truth" about his MST3K appearance.
• Gorgo Theatrical Trailer (2:30)
• "Last Flight of Joel Robinson: Making the Mitchell Episode" (10:37): Every MSTie remembers where they were when Joel took flight from a box of hamdingers. In this featurette, Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and Kevin Murphy look back on this perfect storm of classic movie and touching send-off. Joel talks about his original "sex ray" departure idea, the decision to bring Mike on as his replacement, and how the quote he chose from Circus of Dr. Lao captured his feelings about leaving the show.
• "Interview with Actress Marilyn (Hanold) Neilson" (4:16): Neilson talks about her career, which includes appearances on Batman and Bewitched as well as her role as Peggy Howard in The Brain that Wouldn't Die—a movie she admits to never having seen prior to doing this interview, and which she calls "a little kooky to say the least."
• Steve Vance mini-posters for the four main episodes including (as far as I can tell) the first horizontally oriented poster, for Gorgo—a concession to the fact that the fourth DVD case cover is split up to include art for the last proper and two bonus episodes. Sadly, there are no mini-posters for Mitchell and The Brain that Wouldn't Die.
No TV show meant as much to me during my formative years as Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's great fun to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and gratifying to see that it means just as much to other people. That includes the dedicated crew at Shout! Factory. With six stellar episodes and extras so impressive that even the bonus features have bonus features, this 25th Anniversary Edition box set is the perfect way to honor the creative men and women who turned a local TV station's backlog of terrible movies into enduring cult comedy.
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