Judge Bill Gibron diligent research revealed that four out of five bootblacks are convinced that the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume 7 is the best DVD box set ever!
Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 1 (published December 19th, 2002), 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 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.
I like it…VERY…MUCH!
Recently, on another, less enlightened website, an interesting debate took place. While the names have been changed to protect the ignorant…sorry, innocent…the argument played out a little something…like…this. While defending Clonus—better known to MSTies as Episode 814: Parts: The Clonus Horror—a certain so-called critic claimed that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the worst thing ever to happen to cinema and should be roundly dismissed as a disgrace to the filmic art form. Naturally, a few came to the defense of our favorite cowtown puppet show, but an equally surprising thing happened as well (yes, more shocking than someone truly liking Clonus). People actually sided with the humor hater. That's right, so-called educated individuals came out against MST, agreeing that the show has ruined the legacy of literally dozens of worthy titles.
Oh…really? Mystery Science Theater actually destroyed decent, hard working, classic films, all for the sake of a silly joke? Excuse this columnist for cackling, but just what planet are you living on, and how much does crack cost there? Must be cheap as chips to have you defending the likes of narrative non-entities like Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent, The Dead Talk Back, or…dare we say it, Clon-crappy-us. Are there really intelligent individuals out there willing to go to bat for I Accuse My Parents, The Quest for the Delta Knights, or Robot Holocaust? Certainly, some merit can be gleaned from multiple viewings of Ring of Terror, Red Zone Cuba, or The Screaming Skull, but only as kitsch, as camp, as cautionary example or a violation of the Geneva Convention. Come on, people, MST3K didn't dis unheralded works of misbegotten movie magic. It took on the turds, and made them slightly more aromatic along the way.
Case in point—Volume 7 of Rhino's on-going public service to Mystery Science fans around the globe. Contained on this tastefully tacky four-DVD delight is a quartet of movies so miserable that defending them will actually get you Baker Acted in 18 states. It's impossible to see how anyone could love the peplum puke of Hercules Unchained, its pseudo, sorta-cousin Hercules Against the Moon Men, the nauseatingly numbskulled Killer Shrews, or the Japan-atrocity known as Prince of Space. These four examples of entertainment excrement just can't survive on their own. They need something like MST to deliver them from the depths of dung where they usually exist.
And anyone who can't see that is in need of a sense of humor transplant.
Facts of the Case
Yesiree Bob, step right up and get a heaping helping of man ass as Rhino and MST3K unlocks the secret of the loincloth—and the bathmat, for that matter—in this seventh heavenly installment of the ongoing Collection series. Buffering our Herculean beefcake on either side of their sweaty pork butts are an effeminate sci-fi superhero who flies inside a Norelco shaver, and a bunch of mangy curs in chaps. Yep, we move from ancient civilizations to dogs with diphtheria in a Joel-heavy sampling of Mystery Science goodness. Mike Nelson makes his sole appearance while leading his robot pals through the perils of the planet Krankor and its ever-irritated Phantom leader. Otherwise, it's Hodgson aplenty as a certain sleepy-eyed father figure drags Crow and Tom through a wealth of sword and sandal…and Irish Setter shite. The offenders in this offering are as follows:
• Disc One: Hercules
Unchained (1960, MST episode 408)
• Disc Two: Hercules Against
the Moon Men (1964, MST episode 410)
• Disc Three: Prince of Space (1959, MST episode
• Disc Four: Killer Shrews (1959, MST episode
Plus—special bonus extra: archival short subject: "Junior Rodeo Daredevils": Old-timer Billy Slater decides that the clean and crew-cutted kids of his old Texas hometown are just too danged rambunctious. So he stages a Junior Rodeo to teach the young'uns a thing or two about human domination of the species—and cracked vertebrae.
Look, let's be fair to the fervent. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is not some manner of "loving" tribute to the classic films of yesteryear, nor is it trying to reintroduce a bunch of sadly underappreciated films to the great unwashed. No, at its heart, MST3K is metaphysical payback—it's retribution for every bad movie anyone has ever seen, presented by a group of educated smart alecks that just so happen to know the right things to say at the right time. True, as part of their performance, they are tearing down the efforts of idealistic individuals, more or less spitting on the spirit of everyone who ever drafted a script, directed a scene, or acted a part in pursuit of their cinematic dream. The expectorating is done in good fun, not out of overt meanness, yet still you can hear the outcry, the individuals voicing their displeasure at having the celluloid arts dampened by a guy and some puppets disparaging a movie.
Perhaps we all need to step back and think about this quasi-logically. First, let's toss up an analogy. Let's say you think you're skilled at the MST brand of berating. Let's imagine, just for a moment, that you can quip with the best of the them, pulling ever more obscure references out of your hinder when the need arises, and generally understanding the basic comedy principles of timing and delivery. And after taking all these factors into consideration, we let you loose on a film to do your backtalking thang. Your target? Citizen Kane…Oops! Wait a minute…what do you mean "no fair"? Oh, Citizen Kane is a classic, a regular masterpiece of a movie that really doesn't lend itself to MST3K treatment. Okay, how about Bridge On the River Kwai? No? Anything by Kurosawa, Truffaut, or Renoir stir your grits? You see, not every film lends itself to the MST treatment. The movies that fall within this category of comic criticism have a certain element within them, a kind of knowing nonsense that is easily picked out and played upon. These movies have flaws, they are by no means perfect, and even with some minor entertainment value, do not need to be protected like relics or ruins from the Renaissance era.
Take a film like Catalina Caper. Dismiss the fact that the version MST messes with is a later buy up and re-title of Never Steal Anything Wet. Forget that it's a mindless beach blanket bimbo movie with Tommy Kirk and a decidedly creepy girl doing their worst Frankie and Annette impression. And remove from your mind that the soundtrack features bands and performers who have long since dropped off, or never initially made it onto, the pop culture landscape. As a basic heist film, it's garbage—or as they say in the vernacular, "gabbage!" The characters are cardboard cutouts, the plotting is pathetic, and just when you think things can't get worse, some idiot stumbles into the scenes doing a silent slapstick pratfall routine that's just not funny. But to listen to the MST critics, making fun of this film is wrong. When you whiz on Catalina Caper, you're whizzing on a whole group of people who tried to make a decent piece of escapist entertainment. Well, sorry Charlie, but this tuna don't taste very good. A bad movie is a bad movie, and what Mystery Science does is nothing different that a reviewer's pan or a deadly dismissal via word of mouth.
Perhaps looking at the four films offered here will bolster the pro-MST argument. After all, how can anyone defend the myriad of mistakes, the wealth of worthlessness, or the entertainment emptiness contained in these movies? While they are, by no means, the worst titles the series has ever considered, they beg the question, and the need, for defending. Sometimes, junk is just that. We begin with:
Right out of the starting gate, we get a movie that brings with it a great deal of genre fan appreciation. There are millions of Hercules fans, individuals struck by the old world charm of a grease-slicked man pumping his pythons for the world to worship. They love the melodrama, the random insertion of actual mythology, and all the not-quite-completely-non-erotic male bonding. Of course, this doesn't make Unchained a good movie, just an appreciated one, though based on the version taken apart by MST, it's hard to understand why people adore this clunky hunk. For a guy who's supposedly chiseled from Olympus's own surplus granite, Herc-baby is sure wussed out sometimes. Indeed, throughout the first 15 minute or so of his journey back to Thebes, Hercules is more sleepy than super. He naps frequently and lets a roadside bully pick on his wife before finally jumping in to sort of save her honor. The whole Waters of Forgetfulness angle is rather silly, and having Ulysses running around incognito as a Charlie Callas-channeling deaf-mute amplifies the idiocy. But there really is no excuse for the hideous hound-dog face of Queen Omphala. Actress Sylvia Lopez may be someone's idea of a sizzling sultry sexpot, but she looks more ragged than regal, her face layered with so much makeup that laboratory test animals are jealous of her tolerance for Maybelline.
It is easy to see how fans could react with rage, not rejoicing, at MST3K's take on the well-toned Greek titan and his adventures in lazy-sitting. The entire episode focuses on Hercules's apparent inability to stay alert, as well as his constant cuddling with Omphala. Indeed, at one point, the robots press Joel for information about what Hercules and the Queen are doing once the kissing commences and the screen suddenly starts to softly pull focus. From Gypsy's terrific recreation of the amphitheater experience (complete with Joel peeling grapes and a funky-fresh Fifth Dimensions cover) to the hilarious alternatives to the waters of forgetfulness (more green bean casserole, anyone?), the insert insanity matches flawlessly with the movie. Heck, we even get Mike Nelson in a brutish beard and chunky chest padding as a burnt-out Steve Reeves who may have finally moved one toke over the line after all these years.
So as not to beat a rotting stallion twice, here is a previous take on Herc's interstellar rumble from the Something Weird Video release of this title.
While no better or worse than your standard Hercules movie, this version of the steroidal strongman, here battling so called "Moon Men," is unusual in that it contains bad guys from another galaxy in rock formation flight suits. Now, beings with the ability to travel beyond the speed of light should have better things to do than victimize ancient civilizations by sacrificing Italian actresses for the sake of some questionable jollies. Leave it to extraterrestrial foreigners to take the whole "when in Rome…" thing to an extreme. At least there are some goofy monsters and preposterous situations for our beefed-up body builder to get all huffy about. Otherwise, this is the kind of movie that will have you remembering Saturday afternoons in front of the TV, peanut butter and Fluff Nutter sandwich in hand. And recalling how incredibly bored you were back then as well. At least Hercules Against the Moon Men does have one of the best unintentional jokes ever in a sword and sandal epic. When asked why there will be so much death and destruction when the planets align and the evil Moon queen is reborn, the pail-headed leader states that it all has to do with "the evil influence of Uranus." Honestly, that explains everything.
This is one that almost all MSTies remember, and not just for the retrograde residents in boulder britches doing the monster mash. Hercules Against the Moon Men introduced the concept of "Deep Hurting" to the series, instantly creating another classic catchphrase out of a tired old Madison Avenue reference (by the way, the phrase and the floating text presentation are a take-off on the old "deep heating" ads for a certain brand of pain ointment). Linking it to the overlong sandstorm sequence in the film (it truly does try one's patience) and giving Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu a perfect opportunity to mug shamelessly for the camera, this is the magic from which much of the MST mania derived. As for the sketches, we get another dose of dumb jock names as well as one of the greatest songs ever to come out of the series: "Pants!" No one could sell a comic number like Joel (he was no singer, but he gives great goofy) and in combination with Deep 13's throbbing promise, we get out of the theater bits as clever and classic as the quips during the film.
• Prince of Space
God bless the Japanese. Their entire modern film industry is apparently a direct response to being the sole victim of nuclear holocaust since the A-bomb's invention. And judging from Prince of Space, they're royally pissed. This is one of those crazy kiddie flicks that tosses in random rhetoric about advanced weaponry and Western ennui along the way. Indeed, during the final confrontation with the planet Krankor and its minions, the Allied scientists are sniveling and subservient. They have to be shown the path to honor by the doughy Japanese doc with health issues and the elderly, yet enigmatic Japanese brainiac. Then, of course, there's the lovable bootblack who just so happens to be capable of diverting the laws of nature and physics. While he does enjoy the role of scuffed shoe polisher, our good-hearted Wally really wants to kick some alien ass, and when the Phantom arrives with his horribly chick-billed boisterousness, the Prince gets his snug-fitting panties in a nice big bunch. What we get are dozens of dull fight scenes, lots of misguided miniature effects, and the uneasy feeling that this is some manner of allegory for Japan's dormant doormat mindset.
As this is a Sci-Fi Channel era show, the focus is back on Mike Nelson, Pearl Forrester, Brain Guy, and Professor Bobo. Thankfully, we're not tossed into the middle of some serialized storyline where we have no idea what's going on. Instead, we get a bit of wormhole fu that really enlivens the show's skits. Two in particular stand out. In one, Mike is turned into a tiny humanoid robot. When barking orders at the other automatons, he gets nothing but insolence (Crow states he only listens to "Willie Tyler and Lester"). Better still, in a weird, disquieting way, is the sudden shift to an actual outdoor setting. That's right, for the next to last insert sequence, Mike and his pals find themselves amongst verdant lush greenery, and our uneasy human decides to walk the path that leads deeper into the woods. Seeing the cast outside of their cardboard and scrap piece setting and actually functioning within nature is so novel, so incredibly odd, that we're taken aback. But once we get used to it, we recognize the subtle wit at play. Prince of Space is packed with lots of marvelous movie quipping ("We like it very much!" becomes a much repeated response), but it's this park day diversion that really sets this episode apart.
• Killer Shrews
It's amazing how, when reading reviews, most critics spotlight the incredibly feeble effects in this film. You know the complaints—the shrews are just puppies in padding, collies equipped with really bad fake teeth and terrycloth bathrobes draped across their backs. But what few find equally offensive is the rest of the plot here. Of course, that may be because there isn't one! Killer Shrews is one of the few films in cinematic history to substitute the highball for narrative, the shot and a beer for characterization. When the actors aren't battling bow-wows in burlap, they're slugging more scotch and sipping more sloe gin than Foster Brooks on a bender. These people just don't sip, they imbibe, they absorb liquor like dehydrated sponges, letting the story-soothing booze flow through their veins until it seeps from their pores in the squalid stench of defeat. We're glad when the pseudo-shrews show up, since it gives us a chance to stop thinking about possible intervention plans. Of course, this leads to the single stupidest escape plan ever conceived by so-called humans—the duck-walking inside tied together upside-down dunking tanks trick. But you can almost excuse them. They were drunk when they came up with it.
Killer Shrews gives us one of the classic MST3K episodes, an installment that zings with invention and fun from beginning to end. Starting off with "Junior Rodeo Daredevils," we are knee-deep in the horse apple hoopla as kids getting injured and animals being abused provide approximately 15 minutes of non-stop, non-PC enjoyment. If watching a ticked-off ten-year-old swat his miniaturized Stetson against his leg for failing to stay on top an agitated calf isn't the height of hilarity, it's hard to imagine what is. Yet even with the elephantine mice making menace for the stewed prune cast, Killer Shrews is more than angry animal antics. Many of the best bits of buffoonery come directly from the scripted segments. The robots invent a board game based on the film, complete with catchy theme song (not surprisingly, nothing happens) and teach Joel how to blend up a perfect Killer Shrew cocktail. But when Joel "vapor locks" and starts channeling Will Rogers, or someone scarily similar, we reach a kind of kookiness zenith. MST is known for its obtuse referencing, but to put that early 20th century "social commentator" in the middle of a show about mutated field rats is really too much.
There you have it. To say "I told you so" or a Nelson Muntz type "ha-ha" would not be fair. Anyone looking at the four films here and feeling that the viability of the art form is being irreparably damaged has been sipping from those absent-mind inspiring streams that Herc loves to linger by. Killer Shrews is awful, the kind of movie that makes you wonder if someone human actually created it. Prince of Space can't decide what side of the political pendulum it wants to play, so it just swings wildly back and forth until we're hypnotized by its horribleness. And in either his Steve Reeves variant or Alan Steele specifications, Hercules is just a man slab peon who can't figure out how to use his superhuman strength to do much except excrete body grease. Taken together, the argument against MST more or less fails. Asking Joel, Mike, and the Robots to resist the urge to attack these movies and their patently obvious flaws is absurd. Instead of tearing down the series, you should be supporting their efforts. Thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, the world now knows that certain films suck outright. To paraphrase Pete Townshend, the viewing public won't—and can't—be fooled again.
Visually, the show transfers look especially good. The mastering from video to digital is sharp and extremely colorful. Occasionally, the movie will let the image down (especially in Shrews, where no-budget production values mean grain and murkiness aplenty), but as for the series itself, MST3K always makes a fine appearance on DVD. Regarding the audio, MST3K is not an aural exercise in speaker specialization, so all you'll get is a front channel heavy, crystal clear presentation. Do you need something more than that for your Dolby Digital Stereo dollar?
The most outstanding element of this release, however, is the fantastic bonus feature provided by the good folks at Rhino. Long ago, when the show was a major cult hit, the computer industry approached MST3K about releasing a CD-ROM version of the show. Some new content was needed, and so the series picked an industrial short subject—"Assignment: Venezuela"—and did its delightful dissection job. Well, as with most bitrate-based ideas, the project was soon abandoned. This legendary segment then disappeared into myth, discussed only in hushed voices at Sci-Fi conventions and online message boards. Eventually, the Best Brains decided to release the piece, along with two other fan favorite shorts. Sold on VHS, this is the first DVD appearance for this material, and it is superb.
"Assignment: Venezuela" is a feature enamored with Quonset huts, company towns, and intense, six-week courses in conversational Spanish. Our hero, a recently transferred oil company engineer, writes his white-bread spouse and their two tow-headed offspring long, detailed letters about his acclimation to a new, decidedly non-Caucasian climate, and the results are magnificent. In between the travelogue tours, the strange soft selling of a career in petroleum, and the standard ugly American mangling of a romance language, we get lots of shots of mid-'50s era men trying to meld with their new tropical surroundings. It is not a pretty sight.
Neither is "Century 21 Calling." Having nothing to do with real estate, but everything to do with modern phone technology—at least modern by the standards of the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair, mind you—we see beepers the size of small canned hams, a complicated number/code system for speed dialing your friends, and a "race" between rotary and touch-tone technology. And thanks to the two members of the Aryan race who guide us through this world of tomorrow, we are assured that the future is predominantly white as well. How prescient.
Finally, "A Case of Spring Fever" is a real noggin-scratcher. A man who doesn't want to be fixing a couch wishes all springs away—thanks in no small part to "Coilee," the spiral device imp. Seems like he should have wished away the little woman for making him repair the divan before playing golf. Anyway, various mechanical mishaps occur due to lack of proper coilage. This leads to a mandatory change of heart. Our newly converted spring spokesman then rants for 15 minutes about the advantages and uses for this helpful helix technology. What a world.
Of course, the riffing is terrific. MST3K did much of its best work when dealing with these obtuse offerings, and the three additional mini-movies here are no exception.
For clarity's sake, let's restate the positions. On one hand, there is Mystery Science Theater 3000, the greatest television show in the history of the medium, a consistently funny classic that just seems to get better with age. And on the other side, we have people who feel MST3K destroys the art of cinema. Perhaps King Solomon said it best when he mused, "Don't ask me. What do I look like, an umpire?" In all fairness, it's really not even worth wasting time on. Films like Killer Shrews, Hercules Unchained, Hercules Against the Moon Men, and Prince of Space prove conclusively that the Best Brains and their brave little series has actually celebrated more films than they've destroyed. Certainly, once an episode is over, the film and its facets can never be viewed in quite the same way, but it's probably a safe bet that they weren't being viewed at all until the show came along. While hardly preservationists, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has highlighted a lot of forgotten filmic feces, and we can thank them for their witty diligence. Or maybe you'd prefer a medium that actually believes the works of Coleman Francis are the height of cinematic accomplishment. I thought not.
All narrow-minded critics aside, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is found not guilty, and as usual, is free to go. Rhino is praised for placing the "Assignment Venezuela" VHS on this DVD, and is reminded to continue the inclusion of bonus feature fun in the future. Court adjourned.
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