Everybody's favorite pop culture satirizing, puppet show mocking TV show has just released VOLUME 26, filled with insightful dainties deconstructing the people behind the films, and behind MST3K as well. Even tho the captives on the Satelite of Love's riffing over these cheesey masterpieces is the primary rationale behind buying these box sets, I personally love that SHOUT! takes the time and trouble, to create these mini-documentaries about the films, and the MST3K cast. Now that the show's creation lies over two decades in the past, and the pop culture comments up to 50 years in the past, with films at times 80 years in the past, it does take cultural historians to keep these films in perspective. (Especially for those who are discovering these films for perhaps the first time, instead of finding them on saturday afternoon TV back in 1968, or late night cable TV in 1978, etc.) So, I'll comment briefly on each film, and then tell you wants great about those Extras, that often make up for MST3K episodes which are less than classic, or films which are at times better left forgotten.
Episode 802 THE MOLE PEOPLE
They're finally releasing an early Season 8 episode, from when "Big Mama" Pearl Forester, Brain Guy, and Bobo take over. Not since the beginning of season 2 has the cast changed so much. Instead of Deep 13, the show shifts to Pearl chasing the Satilite of Love, thru space and time, with a weekly serialized storyline, which became confusing over time. The second SCIFI episode is still setting up how Professor Bobo and Brain Guy joined Pearl, after the previous week discovery of why Crow's voice changed. (Not being able to follow this plot, does little to add or detract from the show's enjoyment. But--best to follow it anyway.) The film this week--A JOHN AGAR FILM!(Shades of Francis Coleman). The MOLE PEOPLE is basically "Lost Horizon", but with mole people, and very bleached out ancient Sumerians. SCIFI repeated this episode so often, I know it forward and backward. I always thought it was fun, tho. The 20 minute long documentary on THE MOLE PEOPLE that SHOUT! produced, does much to explain how UNIVERSAL STUDIOS could crank out so many films like this one, LEECH WOMAN, and THE THING THAT COULDNT DIE, on as little as $330,000, using stock fotage, and "Moviestars" on salery to the studio. It's always amazing to me, that these films have their true believers in LA, who know everything worth knowing, about the costumes, the sets, and the guys that could create one-take films, without cringing. For students wishing to study the evolution of the USA's entertainment industry, these mini-documentaries provide CRITERION COLLECTION insights into these lowbrow cinematic achievements.
EPISODE 516 ALIEN FROM LA
Even tho the film's from 1986, its a complete disaster. VIDEOHOUND movie guide doesnt even give it one star. But the best MST3K shows often fell on the worst films. Its not that this film lacked for budget, just talent. Casting a fashion model with a voice 5 octaves above soprano, gives the movie a "nails-on-chalkboard" irritation that never lets up. (Altho supplies the cast with plenty of riffing material.) A woman's archeologist father falls into a subterranian world, not unlike the MOLE PEOPLE, but in color, and with New Wave Hair. The skits around the film, written by BEST BRAINS still sailing high just weeks after JOEL left the show, keep the episode fun to watch. The extra for this DVD is a LONG extended interview with the mastermind director behind ALIEN FROM LA. Apparently he doesnt realize what a turkey the movie is, and made comments like "If we could have filmed this today with modern CGI effects, it'd be a hit" or "If people could only see the 35mm print of the film, they could appreciate the cinematic composistion of the shots." REALLY?!?! What was interesting, was hearing how the film was shot in Africa, in an Ex-Nazi community, with production money so diry it was not allowed to leave the country. In other words, someone wanted to do some money launderies, and used this hideous excuse of a film to do it. At the interview's end, the director said he had no intention of ever watching MST3K's treatment of this masterpiece. His loss. One of the most bizarre interviews I've seen on any of these MST3K DVDs, definately.
EPISODE 620 DANGER! DEATH RAY
Altho I'm sure I've seen every episode of MST3K, if only on U-toob, I have no recollection of the film. Even in the MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, they only devoted a paragraph to this film. However, having such an obscure episode has its own value, ie, it'll be just like watching the show for the first time. Basically the movie's about a scientist who invents a death ray, and while demonstating it, is kidnapped along with the Death Ray, by "The bad guys". Unlike the Italian spy films MST3K tackled before, SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON, and OPERATION DOUBLE 007, this one has little entertainment value. It's not even CHEESY in a cool way. But the extra here is great: MICHAEL NELSON giving us an overview of his entire career, including his work at CGI FRIDAYs. He talks about how the cast wanted to stay together, like the Rolling Stones I guess, so they became involved in various computer comedy projects when MST3K finally was canceled. For example, there was the short lived LORD OF THE RINGS parody on SCIFI's website. Mike Nelson, like Kevin Murphy, wrote some books reviewing various films. Then later, there's THE FILM CREW, and RIFFTRAX. Mike doesnt give as much behind the scenes insider gossip as Elvis Weinstein and Joel gave in their respective interviews, but he does refer to his effort at attempting to "Work together" with the others. (As head writer, he obviously was stepping on toes, and is the main reason Joel left the show.) However, for MST3K fans, its the best of this Boxset's EXTRAS.
EPISODE 411 THE MAGIC SWORD
AHA! The cinematic HIGHLIGHT of this boxset, and Burt I. Gordon's masterpiece, THE MAGIC SWORD is a film which actually has a modicum of quality to it. In fact, this is one of my favorite films they ever riffed on. The MAGIC SWORD is filmed in LSD HORRORVISION, with each frame saturated with bizarre set lighting, creepy humanoid creatures, fractured fairy tale plot logic, and Burt I Gordon's signiture "special effects". (Humans 4 inches tall, dragon monster, skeletons, two headed men, and endless process shots.) The plot is simple. A witch (Estelle Winwood) raises a foster son, who when he reaches 20, falls in love with the fair maiden, who's been kidnapped by Baisel Rathbone the evil wizard, to feed to his dragon. But the witch's foster son (Played by 2001 a SPACE ODDESY's Gary Lockwood), who's called GEORGE, slays the dragon, and wins the princess's hand. Sound Familar? Its the story of ST GEORGE. The movie is enough of a treat, but this is season four JOEL, which is MST3K at it's mighty best! Best skit: The INCREDIBLE song that Crow, Tom and Joel sing, after Crow reveals that his love affair with Kim Cattrel is ended, with his affections switched to ESTELLE WINWOOD! And the Extra for this film is fantastic as well. BURT I GORDON in PERSON discusses his career. As it turned out, he started out as a D.I.Y Ed Wood-type amateur with a 16mm camera, and determination. MST3K has done a LOT of Burt I Gordon's films, so it was cool discovering how his oeveur fits together. (His first film was KING DINOSAUR, from episode 210.) Unlike Ed Wood, tho, Burt I Gordon had a bit of talent, and was able to raise more and more money, until he could afford to film MAGIC SWORD in color, with some real movie stars. And what impressed me most, was the genuine love of cinema, for all types of cinema, that came across from Mr. Gordon. This is one extra you DEFINATELY will want to watch. And, like all these films, the movie trailer is included, the artwork mini posters, along with "Mystery Science Theater Hour" wraps for MAGIC SWORD.
And there you are...another fun box set of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Apparently the box set will be released in December 2013, and will have a Burt I Gordon film with a "giant Insent". (Probibly Episode 313 EARTH VS THE SPIDER). Let's hope that SHOUT! keeps releasing these boxsets, for those of us who find as much artistic revelation about the human condistion in ROBOT MONSTER, as is in Tarkovsky's STALKER. Well, ALMOST as much.