• Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXI - The Turkey Day Collection



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 25th, 2014.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    A Thanksgiving tradition in DVD form? Shout! Factory releases the MST3K Turkey Day Collection just in time for your holiday needs. Who needs football when you’ve got wise cracking robots, bad skits and B-movies! Here’s what this latest four disc collection has to offer…

    Jungle Goddess:

    Before we get to our first film Joel and the bots sit through an episode of an old serial called The Phantom Creeps which stars Bela Lugosi. It’s actually a pretty cool little adventure story and Bela is a lot of fun in it but that doesn’t stop the crew from making fun of his accent. It gets old quickly.

    From there, we move on to the feature itself, made in 1948 by director Lewis D. Collins. When the movie begins, a rickety plane crash lands in a remote jungle somewhere in Africa. One of the passengers on the plane was Greta Vanderhorn (Wanda McKay), the daughter of a millionaire who puts out a reward to get his daughter back. Two pilots get word of this and decide to do what they can to get her home safely and hopefully make some fast money, but they soon learn that Greta has gone native! And not only that, she’s been made the goddess of a tribe of jungle natives.

    The pilots find her and, determined to bring her home, start to make their trek back but before they can get home they’ll have to defend themselves against not only the wild animals that live in the area, but also an evil witch doctor named Oolonga!

    The movie is sloppily written and haphazardly put together and as such, there’s a good amount of material for the riffing to tag onto and most of it is pretty well deserved at that. Even the host segments are funny here, as Joel becomes the star of a new sitcom called ‘My White Goddess.’ The jokes come at a good pace, they’re very well timed and references as varied as those made to Chinatown, James Bond, The Grateful Dead and John Coltrane help to keep the commentary fun and creative.

    The Painted Hills:

    Up next, a Lassie movie made in 1951 by director Harold F. Kress. The story follows a man named Jonathan Harvey (Paul Kelly) who finally finds some gold after working as a prospector for ages. When he comes back to town to share the good news with his partner, he finds him dead and his son Tommy (Gary Gray) now an orphan. To cheer the poor kid up, Jonathan leaves his dog Shep (Lassie) with him – kids love dogs, and Tommy is no exception.

    When Jonathan goes back to work with new partner Lin (Bruce Cowler) things seem okay until he learns that Lin doesn’t intend to share the gold, he’s going to try to kill him and keep it all for himself. That pesky dog though, that dog knows what’s up! The dog winds up being poisoned by Lin but makes it out okay and yeah… spoilers – the dog saves the day.

    We get an amusing Body Care And Grooming ‘educational’ short film before we get to The Painted Hills and the crew do a pretty solid job with both attractions. The host segments are pretty iffy this time around, but if you like Jay Leno parodies, maybe you’ll get a kick out of them. The quips and riffs help to keep an otherwise pretty hokey movie fun and entertaining. There are clever pop culture geek jokes in here that reference Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Tommy and The Warriors alongside just a general ‘poking fun at what happens on screen’ style of riffing. It works, this one is a kick.

    The Screaming Skull:

    Our third feature is Alex Nicol’s 1958 low budget horror film The Screaming Skull, a film that has appeared on my public domain releases at this point in its history than most of us would care to count. The movie follows Eric Whitlock (John Hudson) and his new bride Jenny (Peggy Webber) who head off to live their new life together as his creepy old family estate. This place has a past, however - Eric's first wife Marianne, passed away there under some mysterious circumstances. Of sure, it was officially ruled an accident but… we all know how that goes.

    Not long after her arrival, Jenny starts seeing things that may or may not be related to the dear, departed Marianne, including the titular screaming skull. As Eric and Jenny begin to try and sort all of this out, they have to wonder if the gardener, Mickey (Alex Nicol), a man who held a torch for Marianne, might not have something to do with all of this.

    The Robot Rumpus short opens this one, wherein Gumby gets robots to do all of his mundane housework for him. It’s a prime target for the riffing which hits a nice crescendo here and carries on that way throughout the duration of the feature. The movie itself has some interesting moments of atmosphere but is for the most part a pretty slow picture. The jokes make it more fun as they have a good time poking holes in the plot and the effects but also making witty references to oddities like Don Knotts movies, Davey And Goliath Christian Claymation cartoons to The Knack, Fiddler On The Roof and Welcome Back Kotter.

    Squirm:

    Written and directed by Jeff Lieberman (his feature film debut!) in 1976, Squirm takes place in a small town called Fly Creek, Georgia where, in the opening scene, a freak lighting storm sends an electrical tower crashing to the ground. This accident sends massive surges of electricity into the ground nearby, the water from the torrential downpour acting as a conduit and resulting in scores of earthworms coming up out of the ground.

    The next morning a city-slicker named Mick (Don Scardino) has arrived in town by bus from his native New York City to visit his pretty girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy). He stops at the pharmacy for an egg cream on the way but is understandably disgusted when he finds a big worm in it. Before making it to Geri he runs afoul of Sheriff Jim Reston (Peter MacLean) – the law in these parts is none too keen on strangers poking around their town. Mick and Geri borrow a truck belonging to an aging bait seller named Willie Grims (Carl Dagenhart) but return it shortly after with everything intact. When it turns out that the thousands of worms he had in stock that have since gone missing he blames his son Roger (R.A. Dow). The lovebirds feel bad that they got Roger in trouble so they take him fishing but when he falls out of the boat his face is promptly devoured by worms and he runs into the woods in a state of complete panic. When Mick and Geri find some skeletons they go straight to the law but Reston doesn’t believe them. Later that night a tree crash knocks out the power and as night starts to set in Fly Creek, those worms come out looking for a meal…

    The second to last episode of the series, Squirm is one of those movies that doesn’t need the riffing to be entertaining, it’s a lot of fun with or without the commentary. We get a weird industrial film called A Case Of Spring Fever that wows us with various uses for… springs – they have a good time tearing this one up. From there, we move on to Leiberman’s film, tying in such animated obscurities as the old Roger Ramjet cartoons to Elton John songs to The Silence Of The Lambs to Jimmy Carter! It’s a well-paced and quick witted episode that makes for a fun watch, even if the movie doesn’t really deserve to be skewered the way that it is here.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace all four films in this set won't blow you away but they're watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen so purists take note, and the transfers are taken from often times edited down old TV masters so those expecting the movies to appear here as they were originally intended will be disappointed. That said, they look as good here as they did on TV when they first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. Are the transfers great? Nope, but they don't need to be.

    The commentary comes through nice and clear, there are no problems understanding the participants and they've balanced nicely against the audio from the movie itself. As far as the quality of that part is concerned, it's on par with the transfer. It's not great, in fact, there are times where it sounds quite shrill. It gets the job done, as it should, but it's nothing impressive.

    Each of the four episodes includes a new Turkey Day introduction from Joel Hodgson – these are amusing but a bit spoilery – but hey, if you’ve seen the episodes before as most fans have that’s not such a deal-breaker.

    We also get an interesting eleven minute long featurette called Inside The Turkey Day Marathon with Joel Hodgson, Frank Coniff and Trace Beaulieu that goes into some detail as to how and why the series wound becoming a Thanksgiving hit the way that it did, at least in certain circles!

    One disc two we get some (very rough looking tape sourced) bumpers in the Bumper To Bumper: Turkey Day Through The Years compilation. This stuff isn’t so easy on the eyes but it’s nice to see it included here for posterity’s sake – and there’s about an hour’s worth of material here to go through, some of it is pretty funny.

    Disc three includes a piece called Gumby And Clokey, an interview with the son of the man who created Gumby And Pokey that runs about eight minutes and provides a really interesting little history of the characters and the man who created them. Also here is This Film May Kill You: Making The Screaming Skull is an interesting look back at what went into crafting and releasing the third film contained in this collection and it’s actually quite a cool piece narrated by Tom Weaver and featuring interviews with actress Peggy Webber, horror host Mr. Lobo, film historian Larry Blamire and film enthusiast Mark Martucci. It runs just under eleven minutes and it’s a nice mix of ‘I was there’ storytelling from Webber and analysis from the rest of the participants. A theatrical trailer for The Screaming Skull is also included.

    As to Squirm? The Interview With Squirm Star Don Scardino is, just as it sounds, an interview with the male lead who shares some stories from his time spent working on this picture and offers up some thoughts on its lasting legacy. It runs just over twelve minutes. A theatrical trailer for Squirm is also found on the disc.

    Each disc also includes those same cool animated style menus you’ve come to know and love over the years as well as chapter selection. Inside the boxed set alongside the four slim cases holding the DVDs are a quartet of four exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance. The four discs in this set are housed inside a nice collectible tin.

    The Final Word:

    Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXI - The Turkey Day Collection is a really great set for the MST3K fan in your home. Each of the four episodes find the guys firing in all cylinders and not only is the set nicely packaged in a nifty tin but it’s got a nice selection of extra features too.