Judge Erich Asperschlager is a cat trapped in a man's body.
"Hey! No shoes, no brain, no service."
Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans have come to terms with the reality that their home video collection will never include complete season box sets. Licensing costs associated with the movies used on the show, combined with 90-minute run times, means the best we can hope for is that some day every episode will be available for purchase.
Rhino Entertainment began releasing episodes in the mid-'90s, moving from VHS tapes to DVD, and from individual episodes to box sets. They put out 12 four-episode "volumes" in all before the rights to the show were passed on to Shout! Factory in 2008. Since then, the trickle of releases has grown to a deluge, first of box sets—nine in the past three years, with a tenth on the way—and now single-disc releases of episodes from sets that have since gone out of print.
Shout! has put most of its muscle behind their excellent box sets, but these single-disc releases help keep the complete series dream alive. That's why I'm glad Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Atomic Brain is available for purchase again, even if it isn't a top-tier episode.
The Atomic Brain (also known under its original title, the vague but more apt Monstrosity) is a 1964 movie about a brain transplanting mad scientist who is bankrolled by a crazy rich lady in hopes he will be able to put her withered old brain into a young sexy body. Until now, his attempts have been a failure, resulting in zombies and animal-human hybrids. He decides that his best chance is to trade corpses for living hosts: a trio of foreign lovelies his elderly benefactor has hired to work as housemaids, none of whom suspect that they are auditioning to fill a very special position indeed.
Even though the riffs come as fast and furious as possible considering the movie's glacial pace, this episode never quite comes together. The biggest laughs come at the expense of a man-dog hybrid who bears an eerie resemblance to rocker Stephen Stills ("Boss, was I really a mistake like the man said?" "No, you were a little miracle"), The Atomic Brain's aggressively goofy score, a not-so-British blonde bombshell ("When you get close to an accent, let us know"), and a narrator who asks questions like, "Is man now doomed to produce a race of ever-living monstrosities, worse than the vampires of legend?" Mostly, though, the riffs get sucked into the black hole of boredom created by a truly terrible B-movie.
Even the short that precedes the feature—a slice of '50s hysteria called "What About Juvenile Delinquency?"—isn't nearly as much fun as most. A gang of high school punks beat up a man who turns out to be a member's father. When he finds out about the attack, the conflicted-yet-bland boy doesn't know what to do. Neither does the short. After a high-speed car chase to a special session of the city council (a movie first, as far as I know) the film wusses out with a giant onscreen question mark, asking the audience what they would do. Mike and the bots take jabs at the premise, the clean-cut "hoodlums," and the director's love of extreme close-ups, but there's not much for them to work with.
The Atomic Brain episode fares a little better in the solid host segments, which include a dress rehearsal for "Love Letters" starring Tom and Crow; a reverse role play invention exchange with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank; a meteor shower report from Weather Tom Nine; Magic Voice meeting the movie's creepy narrator; and Mike's failed attempt to impress the bots with a chin puppet.
Being from the series' Comedy Central years, the video quality is good but not great, with Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio to match. As with the rest of these single-disc releases, there are no bonus features.
It's not easy reviewing what it essentially one episode of a TV series. I can't imagine doing it for any other show, but Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn't just any show. I may not be crazy about The Atomic Brain, but I'm sure a lot of MSTies are. Why else would it have been released on DVD twice? Like all of the weakest entries, it suffers more from a crummy movie than lame jokes. The bare bones release doesn't help much, but I applaud Shout! Factory for making more MST3K episodes available.
Not the best brain, but at least it's human. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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