This was the first set of MST3k I bought from Shout Factory. Why? You'll see...
Here's the breakdown:
THE CRAWLING EYE: The first MST episode. Many fans (myself included) had never had a chance to see this earliest of episodes. Turns out we weren't missing much. The movie is about mysterious deaths happening near the top of a mountain, turns out its done by a bunch of huge crawling eyeballs. The monsters are pretty cool. As far as the actual comedy offered up by this episode... well... Joel tells you in the special features that MST3k was a show they kinda had to figure out as they went along. This being the first scripted episode, it really shows. The jokes are few and far between, with nothing being exceptionally witty. If you're a hardcore fan, you'll find the first episode to be a pretty fascinating glimpse into the early evolution of the show. That said, once you watch it, you probably won't revisit it anytime soon. Its just not very funny. They'd be much sharper even by the next couple of episodes, but this one is a total snoozer.
THE BEATNIKS: A 50's rags to riches story that features no actual beatniks. A guy sings in a diner and gets offered a record deal on the spot, can he find fame AND stay leader of his gang of nogoodnicks (including the clearly psychopathic and overacting Mooney)? Does anyone care? Its a pretty goofy movie, which makes for a solid Joel episode. BTW, Mooney killed that fat barkeep.
THE FINAL SACRIFICE: The greatest episode of MST3k of ALL TIME... Anything I can write to summarize this episode would be doing it a disservice. Its seriously that good. I showed it to a friend who very literally laughed NON-STOP from the moment Mike Pipper came onscreen til Mike and the Bots left the theater for the host segment. I thought he was gonna puke or pass out or something, he just kept going. The movie is perfect, the guys are absolutely on fire in the theater, and for once even the host segments are incredibly funny (Canada song, anyone?). If you see this episode and DON'T laugh, seek therapy immediately. This is the very peak of the MST3k experience. Nothing tops it.
BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z: I remember seeing this years ago on the Sci-Fi channel and not thinking it was anything special. Upon watching it again now that its on DVD, I realized I was very wrong, this is a spectacular episode. The movie seems to have been scripted with high hopes yet had no way of effectively pulling it off on such a small budget. Basically, a mad scientist turns himself into a half-man half-catfish (which coincidentally seems to make him swim much slower than a normal human would be able to) in order to traverse the waters of the south, using a ketchup spray bottle of some chemical called ZaaT to transform the normal inhabitants of the lakes and streams into an "army of walking catfish" (which we never actually see and are never brought up again in the last half of the film) to prove to all the scientists who claimed him mad in the past that "they THEY are the ones who are mad!" The fun part about this movie as that Dr. Z and the government ecological team chasing him both seem pretty bad at their respective jobs. The movie moves fast enough and has enough goofy weirdness to it that its fairly entertaining on its own. The riffing Mike and the Bots give it is exceptional, however, and it makes for a very very strong episode.
All in all, this is an easy buy for fans. Sure, THE CRAWLING EYE might only appeal to the hardcore Misties, but the other three episodes are all very good in their own right. Personally, I can't thank Shout Factory enough for getting me a DVD of THE FINAL SACRIFICE. It wouldn't matter what else was a part of the box set, I'd gladly buy it for that episode alone.