Judge Erich Asperschlager is here to eat candy canes and kick ass, and he's all out of candy canes.
Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (published November 26th, 2013), 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 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 XXV (published December 5th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI (published April 1st, 2013), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII (published July 18th, 2013) are also available.
Thank you for making us laugh about love…again.
Shout! Factory continues its impressive streak of Satellite of Love-related DVD releases with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVI. As with the last two sets, XVI splits hosting duties between series-starter Joel Robinson and clean-up man Mike Nelson. Unfortunately, also like the previous sets, one of Joel's two episodes is from the inferior first season. Lucky for Joel fans like myself, his second episode more than makes up for it. The Nelson half (or is that half Nelson?) is comprised of two seasonal entries, just in time for the holidays and perfect for gift-giving, especially if the person you're giving this set to is yourself. Just make sure you get your order in early because this set comes in limited release form with an awww-inducing miniature Tom Servo figurine.
For the fifth episode of the show's first season on Comedy Central, Joel and the bots take on a fading Bela Lugosi in The Corpse Vanishes, preceded by the third installment of the Commando Cody, Radar Men From the Moon serial. Brides all over an unnamed city are dropping dead at the altar and no one knows why, or where the bodies are disappearing to. Enter a plucky society reporter who is apparently the only person smart enough to tie the vanishing acts to a creepy doctor who happens to grow the rare orchids given to, and worn by, all of the brides.
As has been written about many times before, MST3K's first season episodes are weaker than the seasons that followed. It's no secret that the show's creators later requested that Comedy Central not show any season one episodes in rerun. Whether because they were still figuring out the formula and the characters, or because Dr. Erhardt just isn't as awesome as TV's Frank, The Corpse Vanishes suffers by comparison to the rest of the episodes in this set. Taken by itself, however, it's still funny, if a bit slow. While Shout! Factory's decision to include a first season episode in three of their four DVD sets continues to be a thorn in some MSTie's sides, those fans can take solace in knowing that they'll run out of those episodes eventually. For now, enjoy the history lesson.
Next up, Warrior of the Lost World, the first episode of season five. This sci-fi stinker is notable not only because it stars biggish names like Donald Pleasence, Star Trek: The Motion Picture's Persis Khambatta, and Robert Ginty (a.k.a. "The Paper Chase Guy"), but also because fellow Judge Dave Johnson and I actually watched this movie in college, and kind of enjoyed it. The movie's titular "warrior" is more of a mumbly loner who rides the post-apocalyptic highways on a sassy supercycle called Einstein. He's recruited by a race of powerful mystics to save what's left of the world from a heartless dictator who has enslaved humanity.
Warrior of the Lost World is a fan favorite, and rightly so. Besides top-notch riffing at the expense of a cheesy action movie, the episode also features memorable host segments including bot slot cars, a what-if scenario where the Warrior can't get his driving permit, and a phone interview with Megaweapon—by far the coolest character/heavily armored supervehicle in the movie.
The first time Mystery Science Theater 3000 tried their hand at a Christmas-themed episode, they ended up with "best episode ever" contender Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. They tried it again in season five and managed a near-repeat of that success with Santa Claus, the first Mike entry in this set. Ignore the innocuous title. This dubbed Mexican kids' movie has a brain-melting plot that pits Saint Nick against Satan in a battle for the hearts and minds of children everywhere—and by everywhere, I mean Mexico City.
I'd almost recommend buying MST3K: XVI for this episode alone. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than watching Santa spy on kids from his floating crystal palace? Mike and the bots are in fine form here, twisting this already twisted movie into a candy-colored wreath so awful all you can do is laugh. And laugh you will.
Rounding out the set, we turn to season seven—the show's last on Comedy Central—and the rubber-suited "horror" of Night of the Blood Beast, preceded by the musical short "Once Upon a Honeymoon." An astronaut on a routine mission crashes back to earth, bringing with him a fearsome creature that looks like a Muppet crossed with a parrot. Oh, and it impregnates the guy with shrimp babies.
This episode premiered during the show's last "Turkey Day" Thanksgiving marathon in 1995, and its host segments are a continuation of the day's running story about Dr. Forrester planning for a visit by his mother, Pearl, all while playing reluctant host to dinner party guests Jack Perkins, Mr. B Natural, Kitten with a Whip, and Pitch, invited by Frank before his departure at the end of season six. When the episode re-aired on Comedy Central, it was shown with different, non-Thanksgiving host segments. Both full versions of Night of the Blood Beast are available on this DVD, selectable from the menu. Think of it as a two-fer, or maybe a one-and-a-half-er. Either way, this is a darned funny episode. The movie itself deserves the heaping helping of hurt it gets, but my favorite line in the entire set comes from the short that precedes it. When the goofy guardian angel who's been tasked with helping a newlywed couple gets caught in their TV antenna, Tom quips "Now they'll get immaculate reception." Brilliant.
Getting both versions of Night of the Blood Beast is a boon to fans, and just one of many stand-out extras in this set. Also on the Blood Beast disc are the seven between-movie segments recorded for Turkey Day '95, with an introduction by Kevin Murphy. As is true for many MST3K fans, I have fond memories of the Turkey Day marathons that aired on Comedy Central in the early '90s. They made such a big impact on me, in fact, that whenever I hear the hymn "We Gather Together," I secretly sing the Turkey Day lyrics instead: "We gather together to watch cheesy movies / on Comedy Central on Thanksgiving Day / It's Mystery Science Theater 3000 / It's 30 straight hours and it's called Turkey Day!" I'm a lot of fun at church.
The bonus features on the Santa Claus disc include the original trailer and radio spot for the movie, a still photo gallery, and "Santa Claus Conquers the Devil: A 50 Year Retrospective," created especially for this set. The featurette, which runs a good 20 minutes, looks at the cinematic and cultural impact of the movie, and includes interviews with film historians and MST folks Paul Chaplin and Kevin Murphy.
Warrior of the Lost World has a brand new interview with the movie's director, David Worth. Where some filmmakers resent getting raked over the MST coals, Worth is good natured about it, and actually has some interesting things to say about this otherwise unremarkable movie. He also lends his voiceover to a collection of production stills. The Corpse Vanishes has only one extra, its original trailer.
Like the other Shout! Factory releases, the set comes with lobby cards for each of the episodes, designed by artist Steve Vance. Finally, as mentioned above, early birds will be rewarded with a limited edition Tom Servo figurine.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVI is another home run for Shout! Factory. With the exception of The Corpse Vanishes (sorry, season one fans) the included episodes are all essential entries from the show's Comedy Central years. XVI may not hit shelves until after the Thanksgiving dishes have been cleared away, but that doesn't mean you should feel bad about going back for more.
'Tis the season to bust a gut. Not guilty!
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