Judge Erich Asperschlager thinks that people come from trees.
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 XVI (published November 27th, 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 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.
"Don't dub with your mouth full."
What a difference a year makes. For as long as Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been available on home video, fans have lamented the lack of episodes featuring movies owned by American producer/Japanese movie importer Sandy Frank. Rumor had it that Frank was so offended by the way MST3K treated him and his movies that he refused to ever let them see the light of day again. It was a big deal, then, when Shout! Factory announced they had secured the rights to all five Frank-owned Gamera films—releasing them as the MST3K vs. Gamera mega set. It was a major coup, and left the door open for Sandy Frank episodes on future sets.
Shout! Factory didn't waste any time making good on that promise. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII features two more long-awaited Frank imports, along with a couple of excellent episodes from the show's final years on Comedy Central.
Like many of MST3K's Sandy Frank experiments, Time of the Apes was part of the show's original run on local Minnesota station KTMA. The show's first year was rough, as series creator Joel Hodgson and company figured out how to make movie riffing work on TV, but by Mystery Science Theater 3000's stellar third season, the show was firing on all cylinders.
The biggest problem with Time of the Apes is that it isn't a movie at all, but a 26-episode Japanese sci-fi TV series that's been edited down to 80 minutes. The series focuses on two precocious kids and their adult companion, who get trapped in cryogenic tubes and transported to a time where apes evolved from men who wanted to rip off Planet of the Apes. The episode stars Johnny, the boy who "doesn't care;" an ape girl named Pepe who "looks like a Hostess cupcake;" and a plethora of poop-throwing jokes. It's also the episode that gave us "The Sandy Frank Song"—a ditty that's supposedly one reason the producer tried to bury these episodes. It's not hard to see why, with lyrics that call Frank "the source of all our pain" and claim that "Spielberg won't return his calls." Ouch!
Author and Japanese movie expert August Ragone, whose interview was the highlight of the Gamera set, returns to provide some much needed context for Time of the Apes. He explains the history of the TV show, beginning with the first time Planet of the Apes aired on Japanese TV. The movie was seen by a whopping 75 percent of households, prompting the network to commission their own ape series. The disc's other bonus feature is the wrap segments from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Hour, with Mike Nelson as "affable host" Jack Perkins, playing with ape puppets and declaring his undying love of monkeys.
The set's other Sandy Frank hack job…er, movie…is Mighty Jack, another heavily edited Japanese TV show, this one about a team of spies with a flying sub. As a sizzle reel for that show, it's not half bad. As a coherent and satisfying movie, it's a mess. The riffers take it to task for lapses in logic ("Boy! Just think if this movie had a plot"), silly technology, and general Japan-ness. Jokes about "doublemint geishas" and foot binding aren't terribly PC—after one riff, Joel asks "Was that kid of racist?"—but it's all in good fun.
Other episode highlights include Joel's invention, earmuffs-that-look-like-real-ears; Tom and Crow's fake commercial for Might Jack dog food ("Strong enough for a Manx but made for a Laplander"); and a plot shanty singalong ("Slow the plot down / We'll scuttle the story and run her aground").
Disc two features another August Ragone intro, filled with tasty tidbits about the original TV series—a popular show that was retooled after a serious first season in favor of a goofy, kid-focused second year that he thinks would have made for a much better movie. Like the other Ragone intro, it's fun and informative. Here's hoping he becomes a semi-permanent fixture on MST3K box sets going forward. Also included, a 7-minute look at "The DVD Menus of MST3K," which has evolved from the minimal animation of the Rhino years to fully CGI shorts on the current sets.
Next up, The Violent Years, a cautionary tale about a girl gang whose crime spree spirals out of control, written by B-movie master Ed Wood ("Noooooooo! I have Angora-phobia!"). Beneath a thin veneer of social responsibility, the film is an excuse to show tight-sweatered teenage girls behaving badly. In the movie's most infamous scene, the girls accost a couple in a parked car. After tying up the woman, they take the man into the woods and, "force" themselves on him—an improbable bit of fantasy that Mike and the bots turn into a running gag ("If it's that denuding girl gang, I'd better go in alone." "I'll distract them by letting them assault me."). The episode also features the short "Young Man's Fancy," an electric appliance ad masquerading as a love story, in which a high schooler named Judy falls for her brother's college roommate, snaring him with a fancy dinner prepared using her family's modern kitchen. ("A young Mrs. Lockhorn prepares dinner." "This film is brought to you buy the Nerd Council. Support your local nerd.") Meanwhile, down on Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank attempt to soften their image, first by writing their own theme song, and then by launching a quirky radio station called "Frank"—"Turn Your Crank to Frank!"
"Young Man's Fancy" and The Violent Years show two sides of the same '50s movie fantasy. Sunny consumerism and the specter of Commie teen thugs may have faded with the end of the decade, but at least we have movies like these to remind us. As the girl gang's exploits come to a bloody end, Crow asks: "And all this started because of their electric kitchen?" In a way, it did.
The extras on this disc are Ed Wood-centric. Following up on the nifty Wood documentary included in Volume XIX, The Violent Years comes with two lengthy archival interviews—with Wood's second wife, Kathy, and with actress/former girlfriend Dolores Fuller. They cover a variety of topics, from domestic life to cross-dressing, to behind-the-scenes production information. It's all interesting stuff, even if none of it is actually about this movie.
The last episode on the set is Season Seven's The Brute Man, preceded by the agricultural short "The Chicken of Tomorrow." Even with the suspect poultry facts and sterile narration, "Chicken" is surprisingly forward thinking. It actually advocates free range farming as the future. Don't worry. It's still ridiculous. Mike and the bots take plenty of well-earned pot shots, but the best material is presented from the chickens' point of view ("Everybody! Soylent green is made from chickens!").
The Brute Man was made as a Universal horror movie before being scuttled and sold off to B-movie studio PRC. It stars Rondo Hatton, who built an acting career around the glandular disorder that distorted his face and hands. In The Brute Man—the last film Hatton made before his death—he plays The Creeper, a cold-blooded killer seeking revenge on the people who turned him into a monster. It's a dark and depressing movie, but the crew makes the best of it, giggling at each other's jokes and ripping on Hatton's appearance ("Whoa! Does he strain krill through his mouth?" "I'm going to get a big facial"). Hilarious stuff, provided you don't think about the acromegaly that left Hatton in perpetual pain and eventually killed him.
Ballyhoo Films adds to their resume of slick MST3K featurettes with the 30-minute "Trail of the Creeper: Making The Brute Man." The documentary focuses less on the movie and more on its star, covering Hatton's life beginning with his early years and the World War I gas attack that caused his acromegaly, all the way through his career as an actor. The piece is as a touching tribute to an obscure star, and counteracts some the episode's meanest jokes.
Also included in this disc's meaty bonus section is an introduction by writer/actor Mary Jo Pehl aka. Pearl Forrester. She's surprisingly down on the movie, calling it too dark and gruesome for the show, and even going so far as to say she wouldn't do it again. I disagree with Pehl's assessment, but I appreciate her candor. The final bonus feature is the 1997 made-for-TV Sci-Fi Channel special "The Making of Mystery Science Theater 3000." An odd choice, perhaps, since none of this set's episodes come from the Sci-Fi years, but when it comes to extras I say the more the merrier. The video isn't in the best shape, but it's fun to see the cast, crew, and network in the honeymoon phase of the show's final years. Some of it is just back-patting fluff, but it also goes into the writing and production process in enough detail that even the hardest core MSTie should find something of interest.
The episodes all look and sound on par with previous releases. The older they are, the worse they look, but this is about as good as it gets. There's minor, occasional tape damage, but nothing too serious. The worst is a green line running down the side of the screen during Mighty Jack's end credits, but if you're getting wound up about imperfect credits you should take a hint from a certain song and "really just relax." Audio comes in a solid 2.0 mix that delivers the funny without distraction.
The MST3K vs. Gamera set was a big deal. It brought to a close years of pent up frustration and longing, and made Shout! Factory the undisputed champion of all things MST3K. So how did they follow up such a landmark set? With one that's even better. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXII's four fantastic episodes include two Joel episodes, two Mike episodes, two hilarious shorts, and several show-defining moments. Not only are the episodes great, but so are the extras—a heaping helping of bonus features that are as interested in celebrating the movies being skewered as the those doing the skewering. It might just be my favorite collection yet. Then again, I'm partial to monkeys.
More Garth. More Reba. Winona. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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