Judge Erich Asperschlager is so sleepy he can barely keep his eyes open.
"Today is dedicated to Uranus."
I don't know if Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the "spiritual father" of social media, as the back of Volume XXIX contends, but there are definite similarities between the Satellite of Love crew and modern hordes of live-tweeting jokesters. Lest we forget our riffing foreparents, Shout! Factory is here to keep Joel, Mike, Tom, Crow, and company front and center with their unmatched run of MST3K box sets. Volume XXIX collects four more episodes: Untamed Youth, Hercules and the Captive Women, The Thing that Couldn't Die, and The Pumaman.
The release of Untamed Youth puts Shout! a mere three episodes away from a complete Season One on DVD. That may not mean much to MSTies who pooh-pooh the show's first season, but this episode should make everyone else happy. Starring blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren, Untamed Youth is a "teen exploitation" flick, although the movie's title youth are actually innocent victims of a corrupt plantation owner and his judge lover, who have manipulated local laws in a bid to arrest as many teens as possible and sentence them to backbreaking slave labor—picking cotton by day and holding raucous rock n' roll dance parties by night.
Season One gets a lot of flack for being slow with the jokes, but Untamed Youth keeps up a good pace, with one-liners aimed at drunk farmhands, boppin' teens, and the not-quite-Elvis style musical numbers; and memorable host segments like "Greg Brady: An American Legacy"—inspired by one girl who looks a little too much like dreamboat Barry Williams. (Those looking for a connection between Volume XXIX's episodes take note: this has the first of two Gypsy theater appearances).
The set's second Joel-hosted episode is Season Four's excellent Hercules and the Captive Women. In this last Hercules movie, our strong, sleepy hero rescues a sacrificed maiden and returns her to Atlantis, where her scheming mother tries to kill her again, to gain the powers of Uranus. Herc withstands the queen's lecherous advances, reunites with his son, saves the girl again, and fights off an army of squinty Atlantean clones, all before destroying the island and (I assume) killing the innocent children he was trying to save. Oops. Oh well, time for a nap.
Hercules and the Captive Women has Gypsy's first proper foray into the theater, after begging Joel to let her join in the experiment. Although she doesn't last long, she gets in at least one good joke about "steam cleaning the horses." Joel and the bots stick around through the rest of the feature, riffing on Herc's sleepiness, the goofy special effects, and the abundance of buffalo shots. The film itself, though not great, has surprisingly high production values, making it a fun watch along the lines of the Russo-Finnish Troika episodes from previous MST sets.
The last two movies in Volume XIX hail from the show's Sci-Fi Channel years. Up first, The Thing That Couldn't Die—a 1958 Universal-International horror movie about a young woman with the power of divination who stumbles on an unmarked grave containing the head of a warlock with the power to hypnotize anyone who looks at him. The goateed Medusa turns the residents of a California ranch into his murderous slaves, searching for the rest of his body so he can return to power.
In addition to being a solid later-series episode, The Thing That Couldn't Die marks the first appearance by Bill Corbett's "Brain Guy" and the Observers, who zap Mike, Tom, Crow, Pearl, and Bobo across space and time to the Observer homeworld for…um…observation. Also featured this episode, Crow's documentary "Crow T. Robot's Bram Stoker's Civil War" and Tom's controversial art show "Crow: A Thousand Years of Tyranny."
Volume XXIX saves the best for last with fan favorite The Pumaman—an Italian-made superhero movie about the descendant of Aztec alien gods who discovers a latent ability to flail wildly through the air and scratch things up real good with his bare hands. The Pumaman ("the slack-wearing superhero") is pitted against Donald Pleasence as a madman who plans to use a magic golden Puma mask to control the minds of all the world's leaders (note: mind control is another XXIX connection).
Pumaman is justifiably famous in MSTie circles for the quality of riffing and the insanity of the movie itself. While some modern comic book movies give it a run for its awful superhero money, Pumaman has a sincerity that makes it the best kind of bad film—the kind where the people involved tried to make it good. Considering the movie was directed by an Italian who spoke very little English, it's a wonder it turned out as well as it did. For all the iffy special effects and the title hero's bland costume, the thing working hardest against Pumaman is its hero's peppy synth theme song—a goofy tune that inspires some of the episode's biggest laughs as Mike and the bots (who are especially giggly this episode) make up their own jingle lyrics for local businesses, bacon dip, and fat-free yogurt.
Volume XXIX's presentation matches past Shout! Factory releases. The episodes themselves look and sound as good as the source material allows, wrapped in stylish animated menus and Steve Vance's original movie poster cover art. Volume XXIX's extras are a slight departure from previous sets. Instead of massive Ballyhoo film history docs and "Life After MST3K" profiles, the collection includes several interviews and episode introductions, plus an "un-MST'd" movie—common during the Rhino years, but a first for Shout!. Full bonus breakdown below:
• Untamed Youth "Introduction by Joel Hodgson" (1:43): In this first of two Hodgson intros, he praises the teen exploitation genre as part of the MST oeuvre.
• "Interview with Mamie Van Doren" (7:04): The 83-year-old actress reminisces about her path to stardom, from a bathing suit competition to acting contracts with RKO, and Universal—who later ousted her for having a child out of wedlock. Van Doren has very positive things to say about Untamed Youth, its songs, and her costars.
• "About Joel Hodgson's â€śRiffing Myself'" (5:40): Hodgson describes the genesis and structure of his one man show—a Mystery Science Theater "origin story" that looks back on a creative life dominated by puppets, magic, and comedy.
• Untamed Youth Theatrical Trailer (1:55)
• Hercules and the Captive Women "Introduction by Joel Hodgson" (3:09): Hodgson shares a funny anecdote about his uncle, a TV Guide, and a teaching moment. He also praises sword and sandal movies' production values and admits that Gypsy's theater appearance was partly to cover up how hard it was to riff the movie's opening narration.
• MST3K Artist in Residence: Steve Vance" (10:32): Vance is interviewed for this featurette by DVD menu animator Dave Long. He shares his sketch process, and the origin of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents" and "See!" insets he added to the cover art to play up the movie poster feel. It's a nice touch that the Hercules animated menu mimics Vance's poster art rather than the 3D models of Crow and Tom used on the other discs.
• "The Posters of MST3K" (0:35): This remote-navigable gallery includes all of Steve Vance's posters, two to a screen—a whopping 70 posters in all (72 if you count the Gorgo/Mitchell/Brain That Wouldn't Die triptych from the 25th Anniversary set).
• "The Movie that Couldn't Die" (9:12): The set's lone making-of doc tells the story of The Thing That Couldn't Die—originally called "The Water Witch"—via archival photos, narration by film historian Tom Weaver, and dramatic readings of interviews with various cast & crew.
• The Thing That Couldn't Die Theatrical Trailer (1:52)
• "Un-MST'd Pumaman" (1:36:43): The original, full length film in all its blurry full frame glory. Too bad this copy of The Pumaman isn't a better print or in widescreen, but it's still cool to watch once.
• "Interview with Star Walter G. Alton, Jr." (24:32): The Pumaman himself gives a fascinating, candid interview about his unlikely career path from medical malpractice attorney to actor in an infamous Italian superhero movie. Alton describes his involvement in the creation of the character, the costume, effects, and his experience working with director Alberto De Martino, and co-stars Miguel Fuentes, Donald Pleasence, and Sydne Rome. Alton knows it's not a great movie, but is strangely proud of The Pumaman and doesn't have anything nice to say about the MST version.
• "Much Ado About Nanites" (3:46): A profile of the tiny machine puppets that became a mainstay during the show's later seasons.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX may not be as flashy as the 25th Anniversary set, but what it lacks in heavy hitting episodes it makes up for in variety and laughs. From teensploitation and horror to Greek gods and not-so-super heroes, Volume XXIX is another solid entry from the stewards at Shout! Factory. In this case, "more of the same" is the highest compliment I can pay this collection.
Volume XXIX is the Pumaman! Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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