Some of the best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have been ones poking fun at badly dubbed Japanese movies brought over to the States by producer Sandy Frank. Frank didn't like the way the show made fun of him, so he refused to let the people at MST3K renew the rights once their original agreement had expired. Apparently he no longer controls the original films as Shout! Factory was able to license a pair of these little scene shows and present them in Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection XXII. That's great news for fans, as Mighty Jack is a classic episode and Time of the Apes, while it's lacking in parts, is still great fun. The collection is rounded out by a pair of above average installments of the show making this a great set.
Time of the Apes (episode 306): "Off to meet my doom, Mom! See you after school!" -Joel
When the movie Planet of the Apes was aired on Japanese TV for the first time, the ratings were huge. Naturally a producer figured he could cash in, and the TV series Saru no Gundan (Army of Apes) was born. It ran for 26 half-hour episodes, but then Sandy Frank got his hands on the show and chopped the 13-hour story down to 97 minutes, releasing it in the
A brother and sister, along with their caretaker, Catherine, are accidently cryogenically frozen during an earthquake (don't you hate when that happens?). When they awake they find themselves in the far future, where apes rule. Escaping their captors, the trio heads for
This was an okay episode, but with a movie so horrifically bad I was hoping for a bit more. The writers seem to have run out of material, which doesn't happen that often, and so a lot of jokes are repeated with only slight variation. It was hilarious when a group of ape soldiers are marching in formation and Crow shouts orders like a drill sergeant "About face! Crap in hands! Fling crap!" but by the fourth or fifth time they did a variation on the 'monkeys throw their feces' joke, it had become stale.
That's not to say this experiment is bad, it's not. It's actually enjoyable to watch, just not as even at it could be. The movie itself is so bad that it's good, and Joel and the 'bots comments make it that much better. The thing that really makes this show is the final host segment where they sing the Sandy Frank Song including such memorable lyrics as "Sandy Frank, Sandy Frank, he's the source of all our pain... Sandy Frank, Sandy Frank, thinks that people come from trees." It's reported that the song got the Mr. Frank so angry that he refused to license any more of his movies to MST after the original rights expired. That's the reason several of the better, early MST3K episodes haven't been available until now.
Mighty Jack (episode 314): [Referring to the submarine model] "Looks like it's getting kinda low on baking soda" - Joel
This is another Japanese TV series that was chopped down into a feature film by Sandy Frank, and it ranks up there with the best MST episodes. The plot of the movie makes little to no sense (especially the second half) but it involves a group of fighting men and woman who crew the submarine/plane Mighty Jack. They're fighting the villainous organization Q, whose only aim seems to be the capture or destruction of Might Jack. First the crew has to rescue Harold Hatari who has been abducted by Q, then they face off against the organization that is planning to rule the world with weapons made out of "hot ice," water that doesn't melt at room temperature. Solid water?? Why don't they just use wood, or copper, or maybe (if they're really technologically advanced) bronze?
This movie was so bad and so nonsensical that it would have been a hoot watching it without the MST commentary, but with Joel and his two robotic companions it's hilarious. I really enjoyed their disgust when a couple of thugs beat up a woman, and the smoking scene is a classic sequence that I could watch again and again.
The host segments are also inspired. They start off with an ad for Mighty Jack dog food ("New, from the makers of Mighty Dog and Hungry Jack, come a taste combination that can't be beat.") and ends with the song "Slow the Plot Down":
So slow the plot down, ladies
Slow the plot down
Way hey - Slow the plot down
Just scuttle the story and run her aground
We'll try so hard to slow the plot down
The Violent Years (episode 610): "She died like she lived... failing algebra." - Mike
A great short and a hilariously riffed movie make this a good episode despite some horrible host segments. This Mike-hosted episode starts off with a wonderful little short from 1952, A Young Man's Fancy. Made to promote the consumption of electrical appliances, the plot involves a girl, Judy, who falls for the guy her brother brings home from college. He doesn't notice her, so she gets his attention by using their electric kitchen!
Mike and the 'bots have a field day with this one, which is easy to do since the set up is so preposterous. It's especially hilarious when Judy tells her girlfriend that seeing the new boy makes her feel "squishy," and the crew starts jabbing with that. "I'm squishy and I need to move on it!"
It's followed by The Violent Years, a film penned by Ed Wood. An 18 year old girl, Paula, has parents that give her everything, except their time. She acts out by getting a girl gang together and robbing gas stations. Soon their fence turns them on to even bigger thrill: destroying U.S. schools for a foreign government!
The movie rails against teen age delinquency and takes itself way, way too seriously, which gives Mike, Tom, and Crow a lot of room for riffs. The best scene is where Paul and her gang come across a couple making out (without much enthusiasm) on Lover's Lane. ("Oh, your smoldering averageness.") The girls rob the couple, taking the guys' wallet and the girl's sweater. Then Paula orders that girl tied up... and to rip her skirt into strips to bind her. They then take the man off into the forest and rape him (off camera of course.) The whole time Tom and Crow are ecstatic. "Dr. Forester has sent us a truly great movie!" and "Wow! What a great movie."
Unfortunately, the host segments run the gamut from average to lousy. On the bad side there is Tom's parody of A Star is Born where he gets in front of a microphone and cried for 2 minutes (really, that's all he does). The best was the bit the Mads did in the middle of the show where they launched a new radio station, "Frank" with the slogan "Turn your crank to Frank." The slogan was funny, but they hammered it into ground by repeating it over and over. Luckily the movie itself makes up for the lacking host sections.
The Brute Man (episode 702): "Ahh, now his creeping has just turned into wandering" - Mike
The episode starts off with a short, The Chicken of Tomorrow. Made in the 50's, the film talks about how advances in raising chickens on large farms will make poultry and eggs cheaper and more plentiful in the future. They gloss over the horrible conditions that the birds have to live in. MST shines best when they're riffing shorts, and this one is no exception.
The feature in this week's experiment, The Brute Man, is actor Rondo Hatton's last film (you might not recognize the name but you'll recognize the face). This movie is so bad that after it was finished, Universal sold it to poverty row studio PRC and let them release it.
Rando plays a serial killer dubbed The Creeper (not, as you would expect from the title, The Brute). He's tracking down the people who knew in college whom he blames for his deformities. Well... and anyone else he happens to feel like killing. While running from the police he hides in the apartment of a blind piano teacher and starts to fall for her. Is her affection enough to stop him from killing? No, not really.
This is another great episode. The feature is an odd duck... part revenge flick part misunderstood deformed guy movie. The only problem is that just when you're feeling sorry for The Creeper he kills someone who was totally innocent, like the pawn broker whose only offense is to ask The Creeper to pay for the item he wants. The jokes are constant and the level is pretty high throughout, and they pick up on the dichotomy of the script. There are some great lines that had me laughing pretty hard, such as when The Creeper gives his girl a present and Crow quips "It's a View Master." Solid jokes throughout make this a great episode.
Each of the four episodes comes in its own slimcase, and all five are housed in a slipcase.
The audio on the host segments is very clean, and the riffs coming through loud and clear. The audio during the movies are pretty good, though the films soundtracks leave a little to be desired. There's some light distortion in a couple of cases but nothing major. They actually do a very good job mixing the audio from the movie in with the actor's comments however, adjusting the levels so that both the riffs and the movie can be heard. Of course there are a couple of times when one or the other isn't easy to discern, but that is fairly rare. There are no subtitles.
After watching this show for years on the copies that I taped off of Comedy Central when it was first broadcast, I was very pleased at how clear it was. My S-VHS tapes are good but this is much better. The host segments are clear and bright, while the silhouettes during the movie are solid black. There were a few videotape defects in one of the episodes (The Brute Man) but the rest looked fine.
I'm pleased that Shout! is including some nice bonus features with their MST releases. This set has some cook extras. First there are introductions by August Ragone to both Time of the Apes and Mighty Jack who explains about the origins of the two series and the films. There's also the MST Hour wraps for the former show.
The Violent Years includes interviews with Ed Wood's wife Kathy Wood and his girlfriend/actress Delores Fuller that are interesting if you're a Wood fan. They run for 18 and 24 minutes respectively, and I'm really glad that Shout! included them. Finally, The Brute Man has some great stuff: an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl who discusses the writing of the episode, a 30- minute documentary on Rondo Hatton and specifically his final movie, Trial of the Creeper: The Making of The Brute Man and another docu on MST, The Making of MST3K from 1997. That's all great stuff, especially the Hatton biography.
With only one weak installment, this is a fantastic set. I never thought I'd see Mighty Jack on DVD, and the other episodes are icing on the cake. With some excellent bonus items, this is a no-brainer. Highly Recommended.