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Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XIV (Mad Monster / Manhunt in Space / Soultaker / Final Justice)
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Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XIV (Mad Monster / Manhunt in Space / Soultaker / Final Justice)
Aside from reminding audiences just how unique and hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 was, the comedy series' 20th anniversary in 2008 also kicked off a new round of DVD releases, the latest of which is compiled in Volume XIV. Longtime fans of the Peabody Award-winning show should be pleased to see that the set's four episodes are split evenly between original host and creator Joel Hodgson and his replacement, head writer Mike Nelson. Joel rides herd on one of the earliest MST3K episodes, Season 1's B&W chiller The Mad Monster, which also features writer J. Elvis Weinstein as both the voice of Tom Servo and Dr. Lawrence Erlich, assistant to Trace Beaulieu's Dr. Forrester. It's an enjoyable episode for hardcore fans and collectors, but nowhere near as polished as the work done by the original core lineup--Hodgson, Beaulieu as Crow and Kevin Murphy as Servo--in Season 4's Manhunt in Space, a grisly mash-up of episodes from the '50s TV sci-fi series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. It's by no means a classic from the Hodgson era, but definitely contains its shares of laughs and even some quirky host segments (the movie prompts an amusing debate on the use of the word "space" as a modifier). The Mike Nelson episodes, produced after the show shifted over to The Sci-Fi Channel, are equally solid efforts. Soultaker undergoes a punishing barrage of riffs from Mike and the 'bots, and even features brief cameos from Hodgson and Frank Coniff as the much-loved TV's Frank. Final Justice puts Joe Don Baker--star of the MST3K favorite Mitchell--in the line of fire again for a mostly funny show that focuses largely on the star's beefy physique. Though none of the shows are high water marks for the series, you're likely to find more laughs and creativity here than on most of the sitcoms plaguing the airwaves, and as such, are worthwhile investments for veteran MiSTies and first time viewers alike. The four-DVD set includes all four complete episodes, as well as several extras--a slightly smaller batch than the 20th Anniversary Edition set, and less historically important, but entertaining all the same. Soultaker star Joe Estevez and Final Justice director Greydon Clark (Black Shampoo) show what good sports they are about being drubbed by the show in brief interviews, while Mike and the 'bots reunite for an all-too-brief session of zingers on a 2005 excerpt from ESPN's Cheap Seats Without Ron Parker. A trailer for Mad Monster rounds out the set. --Paul Gaita
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103- Mad Monster (with short: Commando Cody And Radar Men From The Moon - Part 2)
This season one gem features George Zucco and Glenn Strange in a 1942 film about a mad scientist that turns humans into monsters by injecting them with the blood of wolves. Even in 1942 this was silly, rehashed horror fodder from better movies. George Zucco's usual decent acting helps make this at least amusing. Glenn Strange often played monsters in films of the time. The short is perhaps the funniest part of this episode. Joel and the 'bots always struck comedy gold when making fun of Radar Men From The Moon in several season one episodes. This episode also features the hilarious sketch where Tom Servo (Josh Weinstein) makes a pass at a blender!
413- Manhunt in Space (with short: "General Hospital" - Segment 1)
This 1954 TV space adventure will have you in stitches. The effects are less than state-of-the-art even for the day, although they were so expensive they contributed to the show being canceled! Rocky Jones is a square-jawed fisticuffs wielding spaceship pilot with REALLY goofy sidekicks, including Winky, a young man who acts like a kid, and Bobby, a little kid that acts all grown-up. Then there's short-skirted Vena, his bright female crewmate that gets treated like, well, like women were mostly treated in the US in 1950's TV. Finally, there's elderly and brilliant Professor Newton, who in spite of being a genius, makes just enough miscalculations to get them into real trouble. Joel and the 'bots offer endless riffs about anything and everything during this one, it's terrific fun. Host segment highlights include the "space modifiers" sketch and the 'bots playing soap opera after the General Hospital short. Somehow, MST3K manages to make the dull-as-dishwater paced General Hospital short really funny as well. Personally, I love this episode. Rocky Jones and other similar rocketship space adventures always worked well on the show. They are lighthearted fun and the writers wrote hundreds of great jokes for all of them.
This 1990 hokum about souls trying to get back to their bodies while evading the angel of death, who is also an angel of mediocre acting, is entertaining only because MST3K is making fun of it. Wait till you see the wooden acting of Joe Estevez and the huge-headed Robert Zdar. Calling their performances funny is an understatement; you have to see this to believe it. This episode of MST3K features guest appearances by creator and former host Joel Hodgson and former writer and performer Frank Conniff.
1008- Final Justice
This Joe Don Baker film from 1985 is a decent episode from MST3K's final season. Once again, Joe Don plays a cop who "doesn't play by the rules", another bad Dirty Harry rip-off anti-hero character. It's basically Mitchell with location shooting in Malta. There are some pretty girls, dumb action sequences, lots of violence, continuity errors, and a somewhat predictable ending. As usual, the MST3K writers have a fairly easy time making fun of the film's action "star". Note that the film's writer and director, Greydon Clark, was also responsible for the film Angel's Revenge shown in episode 622 of MST3K.
Extra features on the DVDs include:
* A new interview with "Soultaker" star Joe Estevez.
* Mike, Tom and Crow's appearance on ESPN Classic's "Cheap Seats Without Ron Parker."
* An interview with "Final Justice" writer and director Greydon Clark.
103 - Mad Monster
413 - Manhunt in Space
1001 - Soultaker
1008 - Final Justice
Interview with "Soultaker" star Joe Estevez.
Mike, Tom and Crow's appearance on ESPN Classic's "Cheap Seats Without Ron Parker."
Interview with "Final Justice" writer and director Greydon Clark.
*Next Volume Mystery Science Theater 3000 - XV
(Released Date: July 7, 2009)
102 - The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy
509 - The Girl in Lover's Lane
604 - Zombie Nightmare
616 - Racket Girls
This set contains 2 Joel and 2 Mike episodes. They are as follows
MAD MONSTER - Episode # 103 This is a campy (of course) B movie with George Zucco making an ape like monster out of Glenn Strange (Frankenstein's monster in House of Frankenstein and Dracula) - This is a Season 1 show, you can see the earliest work by Joel,Trace,and Josh - this is show # 103 in the series - so it is very early - the earliest episode on DVD. It has different shades of silhouettes too. It shifts from gray to black depending on the movie. The quality of this DVD there is a little bit of minor blips here and there, and the transfer for Mad Monster isn't that good, but the movie is a public domain title that Alpha DVD has released, but the host segment scenes' quality is fine. This one has the segment where Tom is romancing a blender and Joel drinks from it. Tom says "youre drinking from my girl" A great Josh line as the first Tom Servo. This is a fun early episode, great from a historical standpoint, and a chance to see a Season 1. Best Brains said these werent their best shows, and maybe they weren't but these are still interesting and fun to watch at the very least. I feel the MST3K Crew have nothing to be embarrassed about. Season 1 is part of the evolution of MST & I urge Shout Factory to release more from the first Season. How else can we see Josh as Tom Servo or Dr Erhardt ??
MANHUNT IN SPACE Show # 413 - This is a Rocky Jones scifi cheese that kids used to watch on the weekends. Basically it is a low budget that hampers its efforts. The show also has a General Hospital Short.Not considered a mega popular episode,but certainly a good one/a solid episode, with a minor low budget science fiction episode. The first of 2 Rocky Jones movies. This one has some great dialog in the movie like the "gay nightlife" and Winky says "Ride the Rocket". The skits were ok-good, Joel looking stoned in this one. Mike Nelson, who went on to be Mike Nelson after Joel left, was Winky in the hexfield view screen in a segement.
SOULTAKER - Episode # 1001 Mike on SciFi - This one has Joel returning to the SOL and meets Mike - this is considered a very key episode. Joel returns to save the ship because Dr. F had planned for the SOL to be destroyed after 10 yrs. It was really cool having Joel and Mike 'meet'. Joel goes back to Earth leaving Mike on the SOL to be a man. You have to sit through a tedious movie about Joe Estivez trying to collect souls to get to the segments. TV's Frank also guest stars as a Soultaker and gets along with Bobo (they play ring toss with Bobos soul). This has the Joe Estivez interview about Soultaker and MST3K. It is pretty decent & insightful about the making of Soultaker (he felt it was a good movie and thought it was scary,hmm)
FINAL JUSTICE - Episode # 1008 is another Mike on the SciFi Channel- It's a Joe Don Baker movie, nuff said,here. Joe Don was a huge target for Best Brains. Popular episode because of this. Joe Don is a sheriff who has to chase down a man in Malta. Honestly, it is not all that bad of a movie. I personally found it more entertaining action wise than Mitchell. I loved the segment at the end where Mike thinks he is going back to Earth like Joel did after watching a Joe Don Baker film. This has a couple of bonus features including an interview with Greydon Clark.
Overall the set is a nice blend of titles, and basically reminds me of any of the last couple of Rhino sets with the features. it is nice to have these all in nice clear transfers (even though the movies themselves haven't been remastered, the segments look great)
Shout Factory is closing on on getting all the Season 10 titles on DVD that they can get it seems (I doubt they can get Squirm, Diabolik or It lives by Night anytime soon). I am thankful as are many MST3K fans that Shout Factory is releasing these, whether you like an episode or not, at least they are still coming out on DVD.
103- Mad Monster (with Commando Cody/Radar Part 2) Definitely a curiosity, AFAIK this episode hasn't been seen on TV in maybe 15 years or so. There was somewhat of a moratorium on Season 1 during the early- to mid-90s period, only lifted for a very brief period in 1995. A lot of this episode is nascent MST3K, and not very polished, but it does offer a view of the evolution of the series. Quite bluntly, there is a lot of dead space and it's not funny in places, but still a worthwhile investment of 90 minutes.
413- Manhunt In Space - this is the reason to spend your hard-earned cash on this set. A hilarious episode from MST3K's Joel-era Comedy Central heyday, and little-seen for over a decade without trafficking in gray-market bootleg video copies. Has a "General Hospital" short (actually a 15-minute vintage episode from the 1950s), and the main feature is a typical 1950s television space opera. There is a typically insane invention exchange (beanbag pants)
1001- Soultaker Where 103 "Mad Monster" is rough, this is MST3K in its most polished form. There's a ridiculous sci-fi/horror movie at its core involving grim reapers and one of Martin Sheen's relatives. However, the reason this episode is great is the temporary return of two former MST3K performers and writers, TV's Frank and Joel. The host segment subplot involves malfunctions on the Satellite of Love, and a mysterious visitor trying to make contact and fix the problem. Frank shows up as a Soultaker, much in the same fashion that goofy characters from the movie would show up at the end of the episode in the Comedy Central era. Recommended, and it's great that we have this on DVD.
1008- Final Justice Maybe a bit of a disappointment, only because this episode aired very frequently towards the end of the series. Still, the Joe Don Baker jokes inexplicably never wear thin. An incomprehensive and inconsequential plot involving a Texas lawman's manhunt from the southwest to Malta are a perfect backdrop to vicious riffing...the host segments are only ok, I could do without hearing "Goosio" again for the rest of my life.
In summary, can't speak for the Shout Factory packaging and extras, but the episodes themselves are worthwhile and great to have archived in DVD.
This set includes 4 episodes I had never seen: "Soultaker", "Final Justice", "Manhunt in Space", and "Mad Monster". There are also interviews with Greydon Clark and Joe Estevez, and the episode of "Cheap Seats" that featured Mike and the 'Bots. The quality of the episodes is good, although "Final Justice" had a lot of momentary flickers where a few white blocks would flash on screen, I presume as an artifact from the digital transfer. As we get 4 long episodes (about 1 hr 35 mins without commercials) I don't mind the price tag so much, and I like that the DVDs are packaged individually.
However, the packaging on these new Shout Factory volumes is just plain bad. The conceit of having Crow and Tom in 50s-era movie posters is a cute one, but wore out its welcome quickly. The posters you get with the set are just prints of the covers of the individual DVD packages, and they are poorly executed and cheap looking. The disk menus are also pretty bad, with some weird digital renderings of Crow and Tom moving their heads randomly while they sit in one spot. I would much rather see an unanimated screen shot than this freaky stuff.
It's easy to compare these designs unfavorably to the old Rhino sets, but I'm certain that even if I didn't have better Rhino sets to compare it to, I'd still find the design lacking.
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