• Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume 1



    Released by Shout! Factory
    Released on: 9/1/2015
    Directed by: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various

    The Movie:

    Continuing in the Shout! Factory’s series of Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxed set releases is a reissue of volume 1, originally released in fall 2002 by Rhino Home Video. This entry features four episodes, one Joel and three Mike, three of which I would not call all-time classics but enjoyable none the less and one of my personal favorites. Commonly called MST3K by the series’ devoted fans, the show features a human trapped in space with a group of wisecracking robots forced by a mad scientist to watch “bad” movies. The group provides a humorous, pop culture heavy running commentary to that week’s feature. I am a longtime fan of the series, first watching it more than 20 years ago. As much as I enjoy the show and humor, I have always felt uneasy publicly mocking someone else’s work. In addition, there were plenty of times when I felt the film being show was good. Despite these misgivings, the show is very funny and the character immensely likeable.

    The earliest episode in the volume is season two’s Catalina Caper. This film is Crown International’s attempt to copy the success of AIP’s Beach Party series. Catalina Caper stars Tommy Kirk, Ulla Stromstedt and Brian Cutler, among others, as they get involved with rather tame teenage hijinks. There is also some sort of criminal plot afoot dealing with a stolen scroll. I will be honest, the film is a little impenetrable with far too many characters and plot threads to keep track of everything on screen. Almost everything about this film feels like a step-down from the AIP series. The jokes are not as funny, the girls are not as attractive, and the guys less “dreamy”. The highlight of the film is Little Richard performing Scuba Party. The Cascades also perform.

    This is a pretty fun episode with the show stepping out of their science fiction comfort zone for one of the first times. While MST3K would continue to improve throughout season 2, this early episode, the fourth of the season, marks a significant jump in quality from the first season. The episode features an incredible number of “Boy, I’m white” style jokes which I continuously find funny, but others may tire of after a while. As usual the host segments are hit-and-miss with the series’ first great song Creepy Girl being the highlight. While this is not a great episode, it is still quite enjoyable.

    Jumping all the way to season six we are given The Creeping Terror, a mid-sixties horror/science fiction film featuring one of the strangest looking alien invaders I have ever seen. As alien spacecraft has landed in a small California town and while the local authorities investigate, the alien wreaks havoc eating every citizen in sight. This is a pretty goofy film. Like previously mentioned the alien’s look is absurd, I’m not sure I can adequately describe it. The alien has tentacles on its head and the mouth looks vaginal, that is the best I can do. The Creeping Terror has very little sync-sound, most of the plot is told to the audience by a narrator. The narrator randomly comes and goes, leaving long stretches of silence. He also has strange, uncomfortable rants on things like marriage versus single life. This is a pretty horrible, amateur film and is perfect for MST3K.

    MST3K’s six season is one of their best, however The Creeping Terror would probably fall somewhere in the middle when ranking the season’s episodes. There are strong moments to be sure, but the film’s minimal sound hampers the commentary. If there isn’t anything to respond too there are no jokes. The episode’s host segments are not great, there is nothing on the level of Creepy Girl. That said, I do enjoy the absurdity of the Love, American Style and stereo segments. Neither are laugh out loud funny, but I admire the general strangeness of the segments.

    Staying in season six, the next episode is Bloodlust!, with the short Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm. This film is a late-50’s retelling of The Most Dangerous Game featuring a pre-Brady Bunch Robert Reed in one of the tightest t-shirts imaginable. Bloodlust! is very dull, but it is not horrible. This is due entirely to the greatness of the original story, however this has to be one of the weaker variants. The main problem with the film is Ralph Brooke’s creaky, unimaginative direction. Everything is so vanilla and boring. The film has no style or sleaze factor to make it interesting. The mad hunter getting killed by one of his “mutated” servants is reminiscent of Island of Lost Souls. The short deals with two city kids visiting their uncle’s dairy farm for the summer. It is typical of 1950s educational films.

    Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm is the highlight of this episode. The show always excelled with the shorts, so much so that it would not have been a bad idea to switch formats and stick exclusively to shorts when they were later looking for a new network post-season 10. I imagine it would have been easier selling a 30 minute to one hour show in 1999 rather than one taking up a two hour block. The crew aboard the Satellite of Love get a lot of “maimed by farm equipment” style jokes in, which always elicit laughs from me. The main feature is not the most memorable film showcased on MST3K but is always funnier than I remember. The film is so dull and that really hurts the episode, making it tough to sit through it in one sitting. The host segments, like the main feature, are unremarkable. None of them stand out as it seemed the writers had a difficult time connecting the segments to the feature film. This may be the weakest episode on the set, but the short is fantastic.

    The final episode in the set is another entry from season six, The Skydivers, with the short Why Study Industrial Art. The main feature is the middle entry in Coleman Francis’ trilogy of films, and like the first and last films in the series, The Skydivers is depressing, nihilistic, and overall unpleasant. The film deals with adultery and murder at a skydiving school and reminds me of Howard Hawks’ 1965 melodramatic, race car feature Red Line 7000. Francis definitely has reoccurring motifs throughout his films: planes, sad faces, coffee, inane, pessimistic dialogue, the disintegration of familial bonds, and Tony Cardoza. I am not sure why but I love Francis’ films. They are uniquely his and I would love someone to write an analytical essay on this trilogy. The short is a 1950s educational film about why someone would want to take an industrial arts course. The film’s main thesis, its fun to have ideas.

    It is possible that I have seen this episode more than any other in the show’s run. I absolutely love Francis’ work and find the crew hilarious with their commentary. While not as good as the other Francis episodes, Beast of Yucca Flats and Red Zone Cuba, this is the one I am always drawn to. The short is also very strong, with a great joke about making a table for the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan that gets me every time. This host segments in this episode are pretty bad, which is a problem with Mike-era episodes, but the feature and short are so strong it does not matter one bit.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Since Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a low-budget, cable-TV program on in the 1990s, the full frame image is not great, but it doesn’t really need to be good. The picture is passable enough to where it does not detract from the show’s quality. The episodes pretty much look exactly like how I remember them to have looked when they originally aired on Comedy Central. The sound is a mixed bag. Everything is balanced correctly but I feel it was mixed too low. I had a hard time hearing everything at normal volume. This was more of an annoyance than a problem.

    The extras consisted of animated menus for each episode, trailers for all of the films, a fun, informative featurette on Crown International, The Crown Jewels, and two features dealing with The Creep Behind the Camera, a film about the director of The Creeping Terror. The two features, a trailer and Q&A session from 2014, were pretty interesting but I had hoped for more MST3K centric extras.

    The Final Word:

    Three decent episodes and a personal favorite make this a worthwhile package. The extras are decent but not enough so to double dip if you already own Rhino’s original package. For fans of the show and anyone interested in becoming a fan this is highly recommended.