Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 2 (published June 27th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 3 (published July 9th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 4 (published December 18th, 2003), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 5 (published April 14th, 2004), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 6 (published January 12th, 2005), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 7 (published May 11th, 2005), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 8 (published June 28th, 2006), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 9 (published June 26th, 2006), Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 10 (published October 18th, 2006), and Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 12 (published November 21st, 2007) are also available.
In the not too distant future…next Sunday, A.D.
There has only been one great show in the history of television. You can love your Lucys and argue for your Ralph Kramdens. Go ahead and champion your Bunkers and merrily mention your Tyler Moores. But television reached it zenith on Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, 1988. For ten wonderful years, boob tube tenants dialed across UHF and various cable channels to be treated to a special show of intricate and profound humor, original and exhilarating invention, and unqualified and unquestionable genius. With a simple premise, a really old and cheesy Hollywood B monster movie and the will to amuse, a once mighty standup comedian and a gaggle of his TV/comic buddies devised a mischievous mix of mockery and merriment. When KTMA aired the first installment of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on that Turkey Day eve, a legacy was born, one that spanned the ages to firmly cement its footing into the always alien soil of the planet of timeless classics. Cast changes, a Peabody award, and a loyal fan base later, MST3K and the Msties it spawned are forever honored and revered in the fertile, furtive memory banks of websites and computer screensavers worldwide. As a tribute to this important work of audio/visual excellence, Rhino Home Video has released a box set entitled The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 1, even though they have offered many other MST3K titles on DVD before. However, befitting a show of this magnitude, an archival tome treatment is completely warranted.
Facts of the Case
This box set contains four episodes of the series circa Comedy Central. Catalina Caper dates from the second season of the show (1990). The Creeping Terror, Bloodlust!, and The Skydivers all date from Season 6 (1994-5). Each disc also contains an un-MST3Ked version of the film being presented. Plot descriptions follow:
Catalina Caper (also known as Never Steal Anything Wet), 1967—As if beach movies and biker flicks were not enough to promote massive teenage makeout sessions in the drive-ins of the United States, along comes Caper, which wants to champion scuba diving as the next hip happening fad. Too bad that they brought along Tommy Kirk, Lyle Wagoner, and half the cast from the Fire Island version of The Boatniks along to queer up the seasick shenanigans. Seems a valuable scroll (like there is any other kind of ancient papyrus) is stolen by Mister Howell's miscreant brother-in-law, and it's up to the marauding bunch of beach bunnies and buddies to thwart the thieves before the incantations can be read and the dead reanimated…wait, wrong movie. You'll be lucky if the plotline parchment is retrieved before Little Richard wails another Percodan influenced ode to the aqualung.
The Creeping Terror, 1964—In which a giant, voracious interstellar carpet from Monsanto crash lands its cardboard box spaceship in and around the nomadic desert people of Lake Tahoe. The local sheriff, hot off his honeymoon and his less than understanding bride, along with a government scientist who china shop bulldozes his way through everything, tries to stop the ravenous rug from eating everyone in town (or at least they would like to prevent the cast from having to actually crawl into the Burlington beast's maw to suggest ingestion). Narrated in a flat, uninvolving tone by a disembodied voice that seems to know what people are thinking without there being any evidence of such ruminations from the actors on screen, dialogue, along with production values, are kept to a minimum as to avoid challenging the audience with too much entertainment value.
Bloodlust!, 1961—In which a pre-gay days Mike Brady plays the most dangerous game with a bunch of stagehands from RKO when his heterosexual party boat lands on what is supposed to be a deserted island. There he, along with a front and a couple of beards, find a big game hunter with the standard stuffed safari heads on his walls and that tired old cliché of the mad white hunter film: an insane homeless man babbling mindlessly in his woods. After the successful insertion of tension line propelled metal projectiles into the warm, yielding flesh of his victims, the President of the Ronald Coleman Look-alike Foundation taxiderms his trophies into a murderous Madame Tussauds within his igneous rock fashioned basement rumpus room. The rest of the movie is a cat and louse exercise in waiting to see if someone inserts something long, hard and pointed into Mr. Reed. And how much he likes it.
Plus—special bonus extra: archival short subject: Uncle Jim's Dairy Farm—those of you hoping for a Harry Novak bit of barnyard bawdiness can get your leers out of the hayloft right now. This is a wholesome look at what two citified and sissified urban brattlings can learn about a hard day's working wading through cow flops. It's lots of milk, cheese, butter, and steaks for everyone!
The Skydivers, 1963—The genius of Coleman "I never met a shot I didn't print" Francis is again apparent (and appalling) in this cinematic ode to freefalling and the coffee achievers. Harry cheats on his wife Beth because of her addiction to espresso roast and her fashion sense, which consists mainly of enormous parachute overalls that leave everything to the imagination. The town skank, Suzy, is jealous that henpecked Harry, a paratrooping entrepreneur with a recreational skydiving business, won't leave the java jonesing missus and shack up with her for some extended one-on-one base-jumping. Not that the fiduciary foundation of Harry's aviation venture is all that secure, since customers have a bad habit of plunging to their death. So sleazy Sue uses her feminine wiles, and a bottle of acid, to burn holes in their parachutes, hoping to guarantee that Harry and his business, aren't good to the last drop zone.
PLUS—special bonus extra: archival short subject: Why Study Industrial Arts?—anyone got a good answer? Apparently the about-to-be-members-of-a-chain-gang teenagers don't have a single clue, so they ask a bunch of shop teachers. They offer little insight. Go figure.
Those arriving at a review of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the first time will require schooling in the wonderment that is an episode of this paragon to untold entertainment. The story arc created for the show is prefaced in every introduction, presented in a friendly rock and roll manner as to speak directly and effectively to the ever ennuing youth of the world. Basically, Joel Robinson/Mike Nelson was a janitor/temp working for Deep 13, a suspicious science lab run by the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester and his assistant Dr. Earhart/TV's Frank. Dr. Forrester had a fiendish plan to rule the Earth. He would show incredibly bad horror and monster movies to the entire big blue marble, and once the populace's will was broken, he'd govern over them with a decidedly limp iron fist. But as the refrain remains the same, the research needed a good trial run and subject. So Joel/Mike was forced against his will and/or better judgment to be hurtled into space aboard the oddly named Satellite of Love. There, he became the control to the lame launches of ratty grade Z cinema lobbed at his frontal lobes by Dr. F.
Needing to protect himself from the slings and errors of outrageous Roger Corman, Joel devised a set of robot pals to keep him company. He created the super intelligent Gypsy to run all the ships higher functions, kind of like the computer in Star Trek except with a Tallulah Bankhead on helium gravel voice. For companions, he fashioned the debonair Tom Servo and the smart alecky Crow T. Robot (the T stands for "the"). Together, the three mirthketeers sat in the space stations movie theater and awaited Dr. Forrester's latest wayward, wicked transmissions. Then they would do what any right thinking and brainwash avoiding guinea pigs would do. They made fun of the films being shown. They would laugh at the lame special effects, crack wise at the expense of the stale scripting or pathetic dialogue, and shamelessly sass, riff, and quip on all the character flaws and defects inherent in the actors, directors, filmmakers, and action responsible (or rather irresponsible) for the movie misery they experienced. After five years in space, Joel escaped. That is how temp Mike Nelson came to take his seat in the cinematic Skinner box.
Occasionally, the gang left the confines of the caustic cinematic experience and ventured out into the satellite proper. There, they discussed interesting and impressive aspects of the film, casting additional wit and sarcasm at the themes and main features of the film. Once the experiments were over, Dr. Forrester would review his results as the tormented theatergoers reminisced about the lessons and lesions learned. Seeing that the non-stop barrage of commentary joking kept Joel and/or Mike from reverting to the fetal position, Forrester would throw his hands in the air and demand that his long suffering assistant, TV's Frank, push the button to end the session. Time and time again Clay devised and delivered hideous movies from the infested groin of Hades itself. And time and time again Joel, Mike, Servo, and Crow would tear down the terrible treat with a steady stream of insightful and frightfully funny remarks. Sometimes Dr. F would trick them, offering a fetid episode of a serial or an obtuse archival short subject to start the persecution. And often inventions were exchanged, testing Joel/Mike's mechanical knowledge against the foul fabrication skills of Deep 13. But no matter what was tossed at them, for nearly ten years the mighty merry makers of the SOL defeated bad cinema and intentions with a mere flapping of their lips.
In reality, MST3K was nothing more than a self-proclaimed cow town puppet show, featuring comics and actors manipulating articulated pieces of plastic for the sake of a good putdown, or an inspired sendup. The show was brilliantly written and performed, and the best part was that while the format and the faces stayed the same (mostly), the advent of a new movie meant a whole new series of possible humor targets to assail. And assault and pepper their performance they would. Many feared that the show would wobble when Joel left after five seasons. But just like the proverbial weeble, the show failed to fall down. Mike Nelson stepped in from behind the scenes as head writer and replaced Mr. Hodgson's twisted intellectualism with a more homespun humoresque. Even after Comedy Central cancelled the show, fans had reasons to cheer as the series found a new home (where it currently resides in reruns; original productions stopped in 1999) on the Sci-Fi channel. With a mixture of everything from the futuristic misshapen things to come to the ever popular "man in suit" monster movie menagerie, MST3K turned the lack of an internal monologue into an art form, one not for the amateur or the self-proclaimed auteur to attempt.
There are literally dozens of classic episodes of the series, and here's hoping that one day we will see each and every one preserved in digital glory. Rhino has been pretty good about releasing titles, first on VHS and now on DVD. Originally presented as individual show episodes and titles, this is the first time a box set without completely separate packaging has been offered. As with most TV shows on disc presentations, we get a cardboard case with a fold out flip cover that holds four two sided discs. The box has some decidedly pop-up book style spinners and moving parts that are clever and fun. Inside, side A of each DVD holds the MST3K version of the film (the one with the comments, sketches and television show precepts). Side B holds the uncut version (the one as originally presented in theaters). This means that you will get to see such ungodly horrors as The Skydivers and The Creeping Terror in all their unriffed glory. It is best to look at each title individually, focusing on the MST3K version, the standard version, and the DVD presentation of each one.
(1) The Movie: The Beach movie was by no means a classic of big screen cinema, but compared to the waterlogged undersea retardation of Catalina Caper, Beach Blanket Bingo starts to look a whole lot like Berlin Alexanderplatz. It may have something to do with the whole "valuable scroll" set up. The problem may lie in the puffy, alcohol bloated actors who meander through the California coast looking for another faultline to blame this travesty on. Or maybe it's the whole scuba as sexy propaganda. Sure, if you're built like Ursula Andress, a skintight wet suit will definitely scrape the barnacles from your hull. But when Tommy Kirk squeezes into a vile vinyl body stocking and submerges his urges in the Pacific surf, it's enough to make you swear off that overly orange Kraft salad dressing forever. And let's not even begin to mention the sloppy songs performed. When Little Richard is as musically moving as a fish kill, you know there's something rancid in the West Coast sun.
(2) The MST3K Version: As a very early episode from Season Two, you can see the cast and writers expanding the dynamic between Joel and the robots, as well as adding a sense of social irony. The opening prayer undermines decades of science fiction automatons and the first full skit will resonate with anyone who grew up in the late '60s/early '70s. But the obvious highlight is Tom Servo's pitch perfect recreation of a turgid '50s teen love song with the hilarious homage to his obsession, the weirdly anti-ethnic Creepy Girl. In just two short minutes, Kevin Murphy's sweet Irish tenor transports the viewer into the automated heart of a lonely robot in lust with a swarthy actress of unknown national origins. Even Frank Conniff, as the ironic Igor to Dr. Forrester's fey Frankenstein, gets a solo moment as he hosts a mole people Tupperware party. It is absolutely priceless, and as an overall example of Joel era MST3K, Catalina Caper is perfect.
(3) The DVD Basics: As a generic, overall review of all four discs, each DVD in the set presents the Mystery Science Theater 3000 show itself in a brilliant, flawless video to digital transfer. They give lifelong fans and those new to the title transients the best, most crisp version of an episode ever. The show never looked this good broadcast across coaxial wires or modulated along a dish or digital networks. The only question then becomes the extras. And here, each disc is differing in quality and quantity. Catalina Caper looks great in the MST3K version. In the uncut, flipside presentation, it is washed out, dark and filled with age defects and scratches. As an extra it's great to have it (there are minor differences between the original, and the one MST3K uses—they cut material for time constraints). But without major work, it looks like a refugee from a cinematic scrapheap. We are also treated to a trailer (which never refers to the film under its original title, Never Steal Anything Wet, which is odd) that sells this slime as a way out wild rock and roll swim party. In reality, it's a bloated floater in the morning sun.
The Creeping Terror
(1) The Movie: Try as they might, the creators of The Creeping Terror just cannot make a bathmat on the rampage seem scary. Far more unnerving is the butt ugly mug on Vic Savage. He is the most butter-toothed man in the history of horror cinema. The Creeping Terror is filled with many manic moments. There is a dance at a local gym where hundreds of middle aged teeny boppers twist and frug like Paul Revere and the Raiders are the house band, only to hurl themselves madly into the faux mouth of the monster when it lumbers, sloth-like to the dance floor. There are the occasional journeys into the belly of the spaceship, which looks like a lonely ham radio operator's Tandy designed bedroom. But none are more laugh out loud hysterical than Bobby and his grandfather fishing. Bobby is the kind of troubled youth that Larry Clark and Harmony Korine would feature drunk, naked, and cursing in one of their 20th century slices of independent kiddie porn. Grandpa is a bowling ball looking for three fingers to keep him vertical. As the monster chases this human orb, our overly plump grandpappy continuously shouts for "Bobby" in a voice that sounds like a parrot imitating Fred Allen.
(2) The MST3K Version: Stereo geeks…pretentious coffeeshop poseurs…pseudo sexy '70s television. These are just a few of the targets skewered by the Best Brains in this classic Season Six presentation. Especially satisfying is the whole bogus techno speak of Mike's CD obsession. The fact that he listens to a flat mono recording on an overdone digital behemoth is as priceless as his coloring in of the edges on his compact discs to "improve" their sound. But the skit that hits comic pay dirt so often that is contains an independent wealth of hilarity is the razor sharp barbing of that tired, dated tameass 1970s Sex and the Shitty Guest Stars excuse for lewdness known as Love, American Style. For a show that is best remembered for its Burt Bacharach meets Percy Faith bebopping theme song, Mike and robots provide a microsecond satire of the masquerading as wholesome dirty jokes, wildly uneven double entendres, and pro-chauvinist, anti-feminist summer of dumb love mentality this ABC silliness exemplified. Just to hear Crow say he wants to "dictate" to someone is worth the price of the box set alone. Mike is indeed less intellectual than Joel, making a wonderful everydumbman presence. The material is still wicked, but the presentation is now more Midwestern middle class.
(3) The DVD Basics: The Creeping Terror looks bad, no matter what. It's a shot on an ant's shoestring production so cheap they couldn't afford sound syncing or a soundtrack, so the majority of the film is presented via a narrator that fails to make the movie anything other than monotonous. The uncut image is as dirty and desperate as the MST3K version, and it's faded and almost overexposed in places. The fact that Rhino could locate the original release of this film is a miracle. Too bad they didn't stick around for a little Lazarian image enhancement at the hands of their bad film finding messiah. One thing you may notice more in the uncut version are the feet of the many schoolchildren who maneuvered under the shag space alien to locomote it in and out of camera range.
(1) The Movie: There must have been a time, perhaps when it was first conceived and hurled onto an unknowing public when the notion of man hunting man for sport, ala The Most Dangerous Game, was outlandish and shocking. One can envision a time where even the merest discussion of using human beings as safari fodder would result in moral outrage and ethical challenges. But viewed in terms of the one step away from all-out cannibalism mentality of the year 2002, Bloodlust! is a flaccid, foolish film. It is not exciting, but irritating as we watch Robert Reed, decades a way from donning a dress in public for a very special episode of Medical Center, feign rugged machismo to battle an aging member of the Commander McBragg fan club. And while it sounds dated, just substitute a midget for the big lame hunter and a bunch of skaterats for the homo sapien targets and you've got the Jackass sequel all wrapped up, semi-erotic male bonding included and inferred.
(2) The MST3K Version: The comedy here is a little hit and miss, which is rare for MST3K. The opening featuring a visit from Dr. Forrester's mother (who would later take over the mad scientist role from sonny boy) is very funny, but the far too short bit about mystery dinner theaters is just obtuse. This show also comes from a period when a weird Crow vs. Tom competition was being scripted, wherein Crow would attempt some wholesome enterprise and Tom would destroy it. Trying to develop a healthy sibling rivalry between the 'bots screams of anarchic character development, but Servo is so mean spirited that it's too one sided to be successful as humor. Still, Crow's unfathomable square dancing calls, and the overall miserable mess of a movie, provides untold classic moments and scores of in theater hilarity. And let's not forget the archival short subject. Any mini-movie featuring the circus or other animal settings is guaranteed to get the dark irony flowing in the MST3K writers, and Uncle Jim's Dairy Farm is no exception.
(3) The DVD Basics: No one should purposely want to watch this movie without the MST3K commentary. What you get, if you so dare, is a worthless print filled with scratches and defects, hiding a horrible narrative straight out of Unbelievable Plotlines 101. A raging maniac huntsman lives on a lonely island, killing and torturing those who mistakenly arrive on it, and the FBI doesn't have a single agent profiling this carnage creating crossbowman? Like a standard Grade F B- title, Bloodlust! was made on the cheap, and the awful transfer only emphasizes this. The pacing is all wrong and the characters so dull there won't be a single audience member to care if Mr. Brady bites the big one or not. Or whether he dies. Stick with the MST3K version, no matter what the included trailer tries to sell you about unspeakable acts of depravity. Robert Reed was still in the closet back then.
(1) The Movie: When is an action movie filled with death defying aerial dynamics and the massive intake of caffeinated beverages as inert as non-electrified argon? When it's directed like a series of mortuary pamphlets by the human continuity error himself, Coleman Francis. Like his other unreal cinematic experiments, The Skydivers tries for a greater sum out of its slum like parts. Here, Francis wants to awe and amaze as the camera leaps from planes and follows men and women of equal derring-do as they fake plummet to their death. While the early attempts at in-flight footage are fine (including one classic shot of some idiot's vibrating cheeks), the down to earth material is as pointless as Coleman's rounded pate. He clothes his cast in prison hand me downs and hopes that fans will find the jailhouse jumpsuits erotic. The lazy, lantern jawed Anthony Cardoza is chosen to play a horny love slave, the kind of man unable to satisfy his chock full of nuts wife. Even the local floozy Suzy looks like she smells of unshaved armpits, onions, and gin soaked halitosis. AND SHE'S SUPPOSED TO BE SEXY! Francis is the kind of cracked creative wonder whose movies are so severely damaged that they become car crash addictive to watch. The Skydivers is no exception.
(2) The MST3K Version: This is where the whole "torture Crow" subtext has, by now, gotten way out of hand. Crow suffers an embarrassing double jock lock (even though, as a robot, he does not have said jock to strap) and the total destruction of he and his muscle car as Servo bombs him to Hiroshima and back in his bi-plane. While amusing, it feels like a very big inside joke that only a few members of the show would snicker over. But we are also treated to a full-blown Swing choir competition between Deep 13 and the SOL that is so unreal and sharp in its satire that you will find yourself reversing the disc to see it over and over again. This is a skit from individuals with inside knowledge, which is either to be admired or pitied. And let's not forget that this is a Coleman Francis production, so just like Red Zone Cuba, there is enough critical fodder to keep Mike and the 'bots busy for hours. The theater material is priceless. Add to that the short subject in which students who look like they'd have trouble adding whole numbers consider an alternative career in trade school courses, and you have the explanation for numerous engineering disasters around the nation, not to mention a classic episode of MST3K.
(3) The DVD Basics: Something very odd occurs when watching the uncut version of The Skydivers. Without the humor, attacks, and skits populating the periphery, the movie moves through the space time continuum itself and freezes temporal mass on a universal scale for 80 implausible minutes. The planets will literally cease to revolve around you as Coleman unfurls his flabbergasting narrative. The enclosed trailer is a definite plus, since it's hard to imagine that anyone could sell one of Francis' filmed fiascos to America, let alone motion picture distributors. Faded and near fatal, the transfer of The Skydivers looks like it bungied into an acid bath, but unfortunately the print was not destroyed, just scratched and imperfected beyond all ability to entertain. It's really hard to tell if anything was trimmed or edited out of the MST3K version, since the film as a whole plays like a shape-shifting epoch demon, stretching and stealing precious minutes from your life.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing wrong with this DVD package is that it does not contain every episode of MST3K ever made. Sure, there could be some more extras, but when treated to the tainted original versions of these mongoloid movies, you'll be glad to get out alive. Thank someone omniscient that there are no commentary tracks or behind the scene documentaries to provide insight into the making of any of these pieces of unprecedented cinematic poo.
Bad Movies + Witty Banter = the best thing television ever produced? Especially when the majority of the moxie is spewing from the plastic mouths of spare part robot puppets? And the films are so god-awful that convicts on suicide watch are encouraged to view them to help speed up the process? You bet your brain cells it is. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that rare entity, a nearly perfect amalgamation of premise, presentation, and performance that takes its tacky components and combines them in a sublime superior bit of entertainment. So filled with obscure references that websites have dedicated whole sections to deciphering them. So just plain silly that tots respond to its slapstick and corniness with undying affection. This is a terrific show, created by talented people who just can't seem to get arrested in mainstream Hollywood today. Many have gone on to pseudo-successful careers as writers and commentators, but they are never utilized in the fresh, inventive fashion as they were on MST3K. As decades pass and more shows about überhip brats and their out of touch, overly sexed parents steam up the glass teat with untold hours of mainstream mediocrity, there will be those who continue to bear the cult torch for Mystery Science Theater 3000, and hold forth the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 1 as the first boxed offering of brilliance to an amusement starved world. Here's hoping that Rhino continues to favor us with many more volumes of this classic among classics. MST3K was a great show, and this is a stellar package.
There is NO CASE here. Charges against MST3K are dropped and any question about its place in television history is thrown out of court. Dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Uncut Versions of the Films Presented in Non-MST3K Versions
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