Wow, I'm the 12th reviewer on this thing and I'm so far the first to actually post a review AFTER the products come out.
After the last volume's somewhat less than stellar set of episodes, I was really hoping this box would have some winners, and I'm happy to report that it is EXCELLENT! It even includes some interesting bonus features. Here's the show by show breakdown:
FUGITIVE ALIEN: Another Japanese TV show stapled together by Sandy Frank to make a "movie," this one involves a renegade "wolf raider" named Ken who is a fugitive from his evil planet after not killing a kid during a raid, then accidentally shooting his partner when THAT guy tries to kill the kid. He is begrudgingly accepted onto spaceship of humans, led by drunk, puffy-faced Captain Joe. That sets up the rest of the "movie" which is mostly short unrelated adventures, since this was a TV show first. The movie is goofy fun, with some of the most hilarious Cheap-Star-Wars-Rip-Off style special effects this side of StarCrash. It also includes the "They tried to kill him with a forklift" song that honestly gets funnier and funnier every time they sing it. I feel like I'm doing a terrible job explaining its appeal, so let me stop here and just say that this is a fantasic episode and one that will definitely be an easy choice for repeat viewings.
Bonus features include the always amusing MST HOUR wraps and a short introduction to the episode from August Ragone which ends in a hilarious moment of clarity for August where he admits he's kind of a dateless loser.
STAR FORCE - FUGITIVE ALIEN 2: The further adventures of Ken, Captain Joe, those other two guys, and the female crew member with the jacked up teeth! This one is just as funny as the first, with great riffing all around and plenty of reprisals of "they tried to kill him with a forklift!" There's three main plot segments to the actual movie, the first two taking up most of the runtime. The last, however, had me laughing the most, because in the last 5-10 minutes of the movie comes a hilarious Kubuki version of Darth Vader that we have NEVER seen before, who apparently tricks Ken with a fake version of his mom (???) before a quick, shoddy firefight ensues. That ends with Ken leaving in what looks kinda like an X-wing, with an obvious R2-D2 type robot behind him. All of this comes out of nowhere, all of it so obviously there just to rip-off Star Wars, all of it so very funny! Another excellent episode of MST3k.
The bonus feature here is called "You Asked For It: Sandy Frank Speaks!" and after watching it, I really doubt MST3k fans were asking for a 25 minute interview where at minute 24, Sandy Frank finally addresses MST only to immediately dismiss it as "a lark." The first 24 minutes are him relating (in exhaustive detail!) his career history of buying and selling TV properites, so if you're fresh out of chloroform and can't easily locate your copy of the Book of Mormon, just fire up "You Asked For It: Sandy Frank Speaks!" and you should be out in no time.
THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON: Another Russo-Finnish fantasy movie, and its just like all the others MST did in that its colorful, very well budgeted (how DID they do that wind demon effect anyways?), super energetic and pretty darn goofy. Also like the other Russo-Finnish flicks they did, its a fantastic episode, with strong riffing from start to finish. There's a funny host segment on this one where Gypsy imitates a woman in the movie by singing while Mike and the bots come out scampering around in ridiculous animal costumes only to have her stop mid-song, say "You guys are so weird" and leave. My wife laughed forever at that, and quotes it often. Another great episode.
This disc has two great shorts as bonus features, one called "Snow Thrills" and the other "A Date With Your Family." Both are very very funny, with "Snow Thrills" being my favorite of the two. I laughed hysterically when the narrator of "Snow Thrills" said he was told skiing is correctly pronounced "shee-ing" and Joel replied "Yeah, but those guys are full of skit."
SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN: TV's Frank gets a clever send-off in this episode when Torgo the White takes him to 2nd Banana Heaven. The movie itself is quite a trip. Samson is actually world famous Mexican Wrestler El Santo, and Mike and Co. actually refer to him as El Santo when riffing the film. The film itself is a fun little bit of trashy, B-movie goodness. A bunch of vampire women wanna capture a Mexican officials daughter so they can turn her into their new queen or something. A good chunk of the first act is all the women rising from their coffins, going through some ceremony, all of it happening pretty slow, since slow equals menacing in movies like these. About halfway through, Santo barges in and the movie gets much more interesting (and goofy). My favorite parts are the vampires themselves. First of all, they drain the life of their victims by first running up and beating them unconscious THEN sucking their blood. Second, one of the male vampires impersonates a black-masked wrestler to get an opportunity to take on El Santo. When El Santo beats him and removes his mask, he's got a WEREWOLF FACE! Except both before AND after this scene, every vampire including that one has a human face! The best part though, has to be the ending (SPOILERS, as if you really care) where Santo gets tied down to a slab in the vampires lair and is tortured by the vampires, only to be freed when they apparently lose track of time and morning sun shines in through THE WINDOW OF THE VAMPIRE'S LAIR and sends the vampires either fleeing to their coffins or bursting into flames. Why didn't the vampires cover up that window before including that room in their lair? Or at least keep a clock on the wall so they know when to get out of there? The vampires in this movie are not particularly smart. There's plenty of other weird scenes, and combined with some good riffing and the casual racism that MST3k got away with by being a show in the 90's makes this one a very memorable episode.
Bonus features for this one include TV's Frank discussing what he did after MST3k, and he's very humble about his accomplishments. For example, though he was head writer of Invader Zim he's very quick to give all the credit for that show to the visual designers and the creator of the series. He seems like a nice, humble guy.
You also get a TV spot for the movie which shows most of the film's climax, as well as a brief documentary about the fame of El Santo, Mexican horror movies of that time period, and what led to him being in such movies. Overall, very interesting and the Luchador expert interviewed for the doc is a masked man with a heavy Boston accent, the absurdity of which just cracked me up to no end.
So there you have it, four excellent and rather accessible episodes, making this volume an easy choice for fans, as well as a great set for someone new to MST3k.
Buy it today!