While televised comedy remains a tired barrage of predictable laugh track sitcoms and frequently flat sketch comedy shows, there was a time when Mystery Science Theater 3000 offered a welcome antidote to the same old, same old... The premise? Here is the basic rundown- Mad scientist and his henchman (Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank) traps a guy (either the sleepy-eyed charmer Joel or the guy-next-door goofy Mike) in a satellite (dubbed The Satellite of Love by Joel), where he performs experiments seeing the effect of bad movies will have on said luckless human lab rat. Along with his robot sidekicks, Crow and Tom Servo, the regular guy endures bad movies by making fun of them in various ways ranging from the obscure reference to the most simple boneheaded insult, jokes than run the gamut from the silly to the sharp witted. Basically, the premise allows you to feel like you have three really funny friends to watch a bad movie with. In the bumper segments between commercials, they converse, do skits, have an invention exchange, address the audience, sing songs, make pop culture references. For more info, show history, episode synopsis, and news, go to Satellite News.
Catalina Caper Episode #204 : Groovy 60's beach shenanigans courtesy of Warner Bros. and starring groovy 50's/60's shenanigans regular Tommy Kirk (The Shaggy Dog, Village of the Giants, Absent- Minded Professor). Ultra-white teens beach frolicking and various dance interludes are interrupted by some wealthy thieves who are attempting to sell a valuable scroll they stole to a seedy Greek art collector, both of whom are being tailed by a mysterious pratfalling stranger (Robert Donner, aka. Exidor from Mork and Mindy).
Catalina Caper is an interesting MST episode. It was the first and only time they riffed on a straight comedy. Also, it was one of the first episodes that was pulled from the airwaves due to the rights on the film expiring, something that now plagues the bulk of their episodes. It ends up being perfect MST fodder due to the film being very cliched and unfunny (though no more so than most beach party movies). Especially of note is how Joel and the bots point out the overwhelmingly Aryan cast and their extreme whiteness- the pinnacle of which being Tommy Kirk's womanizing buddy, who looks like the poster boy for the Nazi party. The only non white face to be seen is Little Richard, who stands amazingly still and rigid in a throwaway musical number.
Oh, the hilarity... Crow observing the giggling bikini girls in one of the dance numbers, "This is the kind of padding I like to see in a film."... Joel reminisces about the 60's, when people had steak for breakfast and guests could openly smoke on the Tonight Show. In a nod to Steinbeck, the bots then prompt him, "Tell us about the rabbits Joel.", and he fondly recollects about Playboy bunnies... As the films signature very bland white band plays a song, Tom gives voice to one of the band members and says, "I'm gonna' quit this band and start a career in music."... When a rumple-suited, gangly, creepy Donner leans on the bow of a boat, Crow spouts, "Its the William Burroughs figurehead."
Creeping Terror Episode #606 : An alien spaceship lands in somewhere in the rural US and from it emerges a creature that looks like... well, imagine if your cat drank all of the water and sludge from a Rug Doctor and then hacked it up into one big furball. The creature creeps, and creeps, and creeps, while also managing to cause some terror, but not quite as much as the films monotone narrator, whose constant exposition makes the film akin to a Read-A-Long book. This is film the dream of anyone who wished they could see a creature feature missing a lot of its dialogue so it is instead largely narrated by an educational film strip voice-over guy and stars a monster that looks like a landfill of old bath mats and soiled quilts sewn together.
Witness the special unit of the Army's impressive fallen tree removing skills... When a kid and his grandpa are attacked by the alien parade float hairball, Mike adds, "Bobby's helplessly inbred synapses slowly begin to fire."... Luckily the local residents of this backwoods burg are quick to oblige the monsters peculiar eating habits, which largely rely on the people wriggling and crawling into its mouthflap... While watching a hootenanny dance party, Tom Notes, "If my deepest, darkest despair had choreography- this would be it."...
Bloodlust with short "Uncle Jim's Dairy Farm", Episode #607 : In the short, George and Betty spend the summer at the happy-go-lucky diary farm, where the only thing whiter than the milk is the families fleshtones. Bloodlust offers yet another take on Richard Connel's short story, The Most Dangerous Game, one of the most often adapted stories in cinema history. This time out we get Robert "Mr. Brady" Reed, his buddy, and their girlfriends get stuck on an isolated island where a creepy rich guy has taken up the sport of hunting human beings.
Amaze at Mike and the bots restraint from making any Brady Bunch references, but still giving Reed a hard time for vainly sucking in his gut... Tom plays psychiatrist to Crow, with a line of questioning that goes from "Tell me about your mother." to "Have you seen Cliffhanger?"... Mike quips, "On his resume, Robert Reed lists this as 'The Tempest'."... When one of the island captives notes, "The smell of death is all around us.", Tom adds, "Well, you could crack a window."... Mike and the bots give nicknames to the various henchmen, who wear outfits not unlike Long John Silver employees. The names include, "Whistlin' Pete, Eyeball, Pegleg Dick, Blind Tom", and "Salty Ron."... By the films end, the bots are convinced that Mike, since he is an isolated loner like the affluent hunter in the film, must be hunting them down too.
The Skydivers with short "Why Study Industrial Arts?, Episode #609 : In the short, oily Charles Whitmanish teen, Joe, praises the industrial arts with an almost erotic affection. The Skydivers (aka. Panic at Half Moon Bay) could be a heart breaking, insightful, and exciting look at the pioneers behind the risky hobby. Instead it is a Coleman Francis vehicle- Coleman Francis, a director who makes you realize how gifted Ed Wood was- the same man responsible for Red Zone Cuba and The Beast of Yucca Flats. According to the MST3k: Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, they considered this to be one of the truly worst films they ever riffed. Harry, played by a guy who seems to be on animal tranquilizers (and co-producer of the film- go figure), find his skydiving business in danger. First his business is suspended after one of his clients dies; things get worse when a girl he was two-timing his wife with and an ex-mechanic plot sabotage to put him out of business for good.
Be on the edge of your seat with scintillating action and plotting that revolves around getting a cup of coffee!... On that note, Mike comments that, " Seems like they forgot to have things happen in the movie."... Crow observes, "What's the point of a helmet in skydiving- in case you land on your head?" and "With my luck I'd land right in a stump grinder."... As Harry and his wife sit down for a dinner in a drab room that looks like a crawlspace, Mike quips, "They should set a place for Eraserhead."... After one of the parachutists takes the final plunge and becomes a pancake, Tom wryly adds, "They thought of scattering his remains from an airplane, but it seemed insensitive.", while Mike sticks to, "Well, better get a spatula and a garbage bag."
This set presents what I would consider to be good but very average episodes. They deliver laughs a-plenty but are not among the shows finest hours, those jam packed with great quips, skits, and memorable moments. Certainly they are fine for fans, but if I were to introduce someone to MST3k, I wouldn't consider any of these episodes as an ideal starting point to show the humor the show was capable of... The set contains no cohesiveness- not that it really matters- but, considering the vast library of MST episodes, it is something that could easily be done, like: Animals Attack! with Killer Shrews, Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Giant Gila Monster, Earth Vs. The Spider, or Teens Run Amok featuring Daddy-O, The Beatniks, The Violent Years, Girls Town, Teen-Age Crimewave, Super Spy Action with Operation 007, Radar Secret Service, Mighty Jack, Super Agent Super Dragon, a Hercules set with all of the Hercules films they did (plus Colossus and the Headhunters), Space Hijinks with Rocketship X-M, Manhunt in Space, Crash of the Moons, First Spaceship to Venus, and Primitive Madness with Cave Dwellers, Jungle Goddess, King Dinosaur, Lost Continent, Invading Aliens with Teenagers from Outer Space, Pod People, It Conquered the World, Human Duplicators, Alien from LA, or even a SAMPO Collection with Magic Voyage of Sinbad, Day the Earth Froze, Sword and the Dragon, and The Magic Sword.
The DVD: Rhino... First I must give a nod to the packaging. The discs are in a fold-out, contained within a slipcase. The slipcase has a cute 'pop-up book' feature with a wheel of wisecracks you can turn and a tab that makes a little rocket zoom over the MST logo. Its a simple, though useless, feature that lets you know they went the extra mile.
Picture: Full-screen, Standard, 1.33:1. It wasn't the highest budgeted show, so there is only so good it can look. I noticed some slight artifacts on The Skydivers and Bloodlust has, what appear to be, some defects in the actual tape master. However, most of these are minor quibbles. Considering how long it has been since so many MST episodes have appeared on tv, due to all of those rights hassles, that makes one a little more forgiving and grateful to have something other than a well worn fan bootleg.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0. The sound was sometimes an issue on MST3k, with some episodes having a good balance between the film soundtrack and the jokes. In this collection I found only the sound on Catalina Caper to be a little weak, with some muffle and the film soundtrack quite a bit quieter then the riffing track, but it was an earlier MST episode so that may account for the disparity.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Catalina Caper, Bloodlust, and The Skydivers --- Uncut, UnMistied versions of every episode.
Conclusion: As an MST fan, it is great to have such releases- the more the merrier. The transfers are all pretty good, and essentially you get 8 movies since it is a completely different experience to view the films in their uncut form. The only slight displeasure I have comes from the episodes being Mike-centric, not evenly divided between the two hosts. I mean, after all, Mike is still on tv every week. Hopefully the next release will be in favor of more Joel episodes.