MYSTERY-SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XXXII
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Joel Hodgson as JOEL ROBINSON
Michael J. Nelson as MIKE NELSON
Trace Beaulieu as CROW T. ROBOT
Kevin Murphy as TOM SERVO
Trace Beaulieu as DR. CLAYTON FORRESTER
Frank Conniff as TV’s FRANK
Studio: Shout Factory
Created by: Joel Hodgson
BY KEVIN CARR
The time has come for another round of new “Mystery-Science Theater 3000” episodes to be released in a four-movie box set courtesy of Shout Factory. Like previous releases, volume XXXIII features a sampling of MST-3K throughout the years, including two Joel episodes and two Mike episodes. While there is rarely a theme to these releases, this scattershot approach across the whole of the series offers a way to see how the style of the show has changed throughout the 1990s.
There are also relatively few special features on these discs, having burned through a lot of the prime material several volumes ago. With a few exceptions, most of the bonus material includes original theatrical trailers for the films (sometimes at early YouTube quality, for obvious reasons) and some form of cinematic retrospective of the hacks that delivered the movies in the first place.
Of course, the bonus material on such releases are largely that… a bonus. They’re not the reason to pick up this volume. Instead, fans of the series (and those who have been introduced to the delivery and style with the now-popular RiffTrax downloads and releases) can enjoy these often out-of-print episodes without suffering through low-resolution VHS dubs filled with tracking lines and godawful local commercials.
Never has slapping a half-eaten apple across the room been so impactful in cinema history. “Daddy-O” is a classic of early MST-3K, featuring Joel and the Bots in their third season of the show. While many people remember MST-3K for their hilarious take on cheesy science fiction and horror films of the 1950s, one of their favorite genres was also movies about rebellious teenagers. (Well, teenagers who happen to look like they’re pushing 30.)
Like other classics including “The Beatniks” and “The Rebel Set,” these teen flicks were abundant (and often forgetful) in the 50s, falling into public domain and making them prime targets for the good folks at Best Brains. Starring Dick Contino, who had a promising singing career squashed by a checkered military service, “Daddy-O” travels familiar roads with a wise-talking rebel trying to impress a pretty blond and getting mixed up in a crime beat.
This is a fantastic Joel episode from season three, and it’s surprisingly watchable with the running commentary, and it’s mercifully short. The rest of the running time is made up with the B&W short “Alphabet Antics” to teach youngsters in the 40s and 50s their ABCs.
The bonus features for this episode includes “Beatnik Blues: Investigating Daddy-O” to give a look back at this cinematic non-classic and its overall genre. There’s also “MST Hour Wraps” from the syndicated split-episode “Mystery-Science Theater Hour” when MST was Comedy Central’s most powerful anchor program.
“Earth vs. the Spider”
Here we have another Joel episode from the third season. It dips back into the classic science fiction B-movies from the 1950s. “Earth vs. the Spider” features Ed Kemmer from “Space Patrol” as a inexplicably laid-back scientist trying to stop a giant spider from laying waste to an entire town. (Note: This episode should not be confused with the Mike episode from the Sci-Fi Channel days “The Giant Spider Invasion.”)
Like “Daddy-O,” “Earth vs. the Spider” puts the show in very familiar and healthy territory. This was the start of the glory days for MST-3K, a time that would continue for another couple years. We still see the show with a paternal influence from Joel to the Bots, and TV’s Frank and Dr. Forrester are experiencing a great stride in their host segments.
The real joy for a genre fan like myself is watching a movie like this that I would enjoy without the commentary. Sure, it’s a silly movie about a giant tarantula, but it’s still classic sci-fi. Joel and the Bots just make this one better.
The film comes with the short “Speech – Using Your Voice,” which is surprisingly dull for a movie about how to make yourself interesting. (Though with the running commentary, it is quite entertaining.)
Bonus material for this episode include the retrospective “This Movie Has Legs: Looking Back at Earth vs. the Spider.” There’s also the MST Hour Wraps as well as the movie’s original theatrical trailer.
“Teen-Age Crime Wave”
This relatively fresh Mike episode from season five dips back into the teens-in-trouble category. Spinning its story off the overhyped terror of the 50s – juvenile delinquency – this movie sees an innocent girl sent to girl’s prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When her cell-mate’s boyfriend helps them escape, she finds herself in the middle of a hostage situation in a farm house.
Replete with 50s preaching (from the “stop juvenile delinquency” message to the overt McCarthy-era influence of the Bible as the youth’s redeemer), “Teen-Age Crime Wave” is a dud of a film that is made funny by MST-3K. Much like last volume’s “Radar Secret Service” was a bore that is practically unwatchable without the riffs, “Teen-Age Crime Wave” can be painfully dull. Fortunately, the fast-paced commentary, the host segments in the commercial breaks and a hilarious “push the button” sequence at the end with TV’s Frank and Dr. Forrester.
While the movie itself is forgettable, “Teen-Age Crime Wave” spawned some classic host segment moments like the “Mystos” commercial spoof of Mentos and the infamous “Doughy Guy” song.
Bonus materials include the featurettes “Film It Again, Sam: The Katzman Chronicles” and “Tommy Cook: From Jungle Boy to Teenage Jungle” as well as the original theatrical trailer in glorious 240p YouTube compression.
“Agent for H.A.R.M.”
Back in the 1960s, everyone wanted to cash-in on the popularity of the James Bond spy flicks. Unfortunately, not everyone had the budget to do so. What resulted was a series of forgotten spy movies like “Agent for H.A.R.M.” (which was also meant to serve as a launching pad for a TV series, similar to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”)
This episode falls relatively late in the MST-3K cycle with Mike and the Bots in the first year on the Sci-Fi Channel. While those days are known for having the mandate to feature more genre pictures, this is neither science fiction nor horror, which makes it stand out a bit. We also see the stretching of the host segments as another mandate from the network was to have a continuous story that went through not just the whole episode but the whole season. This host sequence sees Mike on galactic trial for being the destroyer of worlds.
This is probably the weakest of this volume of MST-3K, mainly because in the eighth season, the show was struggling with finding its legs again. A new set of “Mads” (featuring Pearl Forrester, Professor Bobo and Brain Guy) that was still recovering from the loss of TV’s Frank a couple seasons prior, a new voice and character nuance for Crow, and the rocky short seventh season and cancellation from Comedy Central as well as the box office disappointment in “Mystery-Science Theater 3000: The Movie.” Still, this episode has plenty of charm and chuckles, even though it doesn’t have the same freshness and punch as the earlier episodes from the series’ heyday.
The only bonus feature on this disc is the featurette “Peter Mark Richman: In H.A.R.M.’s Way.”