Ah, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, how I miss thee.
In case you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what “MST3K” is, the Peabody Award winning series ran from 1988 to 1999, debuting on Comedy Central before moving to the Sci-Fi Channel. The premise had a mild mannered guy (Originally series creator Joel Hodgson and later head writer Mike Nelson) being kidnapped and shot up to a space station called the Satellite of Love by a pair of mad scientists that torment him by forcing him to sit through some of the worst movies ever made, usually of the science fiction variety. Accompanied by two robot puppets (Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot), the trio appeared at the bottom of the screen in silhouette where they would make wisecracks directed at the bad movie they were being forced to endure.
Rhino Video has been releasing certain episodes of “MST3K” onto VHS and DVD for the past couple of years. Unlike so many other TV shows, releasing episodes of “MST3K” is a little trickier since there are often copyright issues involved. One of the most famous incidents came with the VHS release of MST’s The Amazing Colossal Man episode. Turned out after the video came out that there were rights issues that hadn’t been resolved and the video was immediately pulled. You’ll find that one going for big bucks on ebay. Many episodes of the series will probably never get official releases because of this fact and that’s why bootleg tapes of the series have been widely popular and will continue to be so.
Fortunately, Rhino has been good enough to give us some of the episodes, including the latest DVD box set, which like previous box sets consists of four episodes. The newest, Volume 6, only has three movies, but comes with a special disc containing several short subjects the gang riffed on.
Many episodes of the series featured movies that were too short for the program’s two hour running time so they would include a short subject before the film, usually one of those educational short films that were meant to be earnest at the time but come across as positively goofy today. Some of the short subjects they quipped on generated more laughs than the feature length movie that followed it. This newest box set features the DVD premiere of the most famous of the short subjects and quite possibly the highlight of the show’s entire run.
But first, the movies featured in Volume 6 and I have to be honest, this set is one of the weakest they’ve released. It’s just that some of the previous sets they’ve released featured some of the show’s funniest episodes.
Attack of the Giant Leeches – Honestly, I just don’t care for this episode. Attack of the Giant Leeches is one of those infamous bad monster movies from the 1950’s but it’s mostly bad in a boring way. It’s not an easy movie to make fun of because most of the movie features people just standing around a swamp babbling about nothing of interest. The giant leeches rank amongst the most pitiful looking b-movie monsters ever – they literally look like people in garbage bags – Joel & the Bots fire off a load of zingers whenever they appear but the monsters don’t have a whole lot of screen time in this one. Much of the plays out like some Southern white trash version of Peyton’s Place set in a swamp occasionally interrupted by giant leech attacks. It’s just a painfully dull movie leaving the MST guys without much to work with.
Due to the film’s short running time, the movie is preceded by a short subject. Instead of the usual educational short, we get an episode of an old sci-fi movie serial called Undersea Kingdom. A lot more laughs are generated by this installment of 1940’s muscle heads and their underwater rocket submarine adventure than in the movie itself.
Gunslinger – This was the only episode of the series in this set that I had never seen before and I now realize I didn’t miss too much. The movie is a Roger Corman-directed western and watching it you come to realize why Corman didn’t do too many westerns. In one of the very first scenes in the movie, he makes the mistake of getting two guys on horses standing around waiting for their cue in the frame, which looks especially ridiculous when they finally get their cue and have to pretend like they are walking into the shot for the very first time. That’s the kind of stuff “MST3K” has a field day with.
The film stars Corman regular Beverly Garland as a butt kicking female sheriff targeting the typical Wild West bad guys. They send an outlaw to kill her but the two end up falling in love. Unfortunately, the movie grows increasingly dull the longer it goes on and so does the episode. Again, when there isn’t much to work with it isn’t easy to poke fun at it. It’s an okay episode, certainly good for some laughs especially early on, but overall, nothing special.
Teenagers From Outer Space – Now this is more like it, easily the best episode in the set. This is one of those prototypical cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950’s, the kind that inspire parodies like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, that is fun to watch even without the running commentary. You got humanoid aliens in stupid costumes that are supposed to be teenagers but look to be pushing thirty, disintegration ray guns, 50’s style teen angst, and a sinister plan for world conquest involving alien beasts that are clearly nothing more than lobsters shot in silhouette and superimposed into the shot to make them seem giant sized. The stuff they come up with about the shadow lobsters alone is funny enough to warrant a viewing of the episode.
“Mr. B’s Lost Shorts” – This is the disc of previously unreleased short subjects MST did before some of their movies including the great “Mr. B Natural”, an old mini infomercial for a company that made band instruments trying to entice school kids into joining the school band and buying their instruments. Unfortunately, they tried to do this with by introducing us to a musically challenged boy that gets paid a visit by the spirit of music named Mr. B Natural – a woman masquerading as a man in a blue Peter Pan costume adorned with musical notes – who teaches him to unleash his inner Satchmo before going into hard cell mode. If you’ve never seen MST’s riffing of Mr. B Natural than it alone makes this box set an absolute must. Mr. B Natural is Mystery Science Theater’s finest hour even if is only about 15 minutes. Hell, it may be the funniest 15 minutes in the history of television. I’ve shown this one to friends before and had to stop the tape in the first two minutes alone because they were nearly hyperventilating from laughing so hard. One gut busting comment comes one after another in rapid-fire succession.
The other shorts are also quite funny but nowhere even close to the real star of the show. You can’t go wrong with stuff like “Are You Ready For Marriage”.
The only problem with taking these short subjects and distributing separately from the episodes they originally aired in is that you don’t get to see some of the skits tied into the shorts that they did during the episode’s host segments. Mr. B Natural was originally followed up with a side-splittingly hilarious skit in which Crow and Servo had a vigorous debate over what the actual sex of Mr. B and his/her possibly negative influence on children.
The biggest complaint I have with this set is that it comes devoid of any extras. Previous DVD sets included little extras like individual Mike Nelson introducing the episode or the original theatrical trailers. At one point, Rhino was even releasing the “MST3K” episode of the episode and the movie in its original form on the same disc. Perhaps there are copyright issues involved preventing that but it would have been a nice addition.
One of the things that made “MST3K” a wildly popular series was the humor’s level of sophistication. At any given moment you could get a double entendre followed by a pop culture quip followed by a reference so arcane it could even leave Dennis Miller stumped. The jokes had something for everyone ranging from the highbrow to the ones that went go completely over your head. Even though some of the episodes in this particular set aren’t as consistently laugh out loud funny as some in the previous releases you’ll still find no shortage of what made this show so great.
How I miss this program.
3 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood
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