I first watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early '90s when I was home from work with the flu. At that stage of its broadcast career it appeared on the Comedy Channel about four times a day, so I got a crash course in the show. I then instantly called all my friends and told them about the hilarious satire show that I had just discovered, little knowing that the cognoscenti were already deeply versed in the show's lingo, tricks, procedures, and history. I did make some converts, but among older viewers as out of it as I was.
But it wasn't as if I had never heard of the program. I had frequently flipped past it, and though the screen looked cute with the silhouettes on the bottom of the screen, but I had a reaction that I have found in many others since then: Why not just show the bad movie, who needs the commentary track? I said this of course without actually hearing it yet. When I did on a flu-Saturday, I discovered just how brilliantly written it was. MST3K is arguably the funniest program ever aired on TV, and I was later gratified that one of my favorite writers, Ron Rosenbaum of the New York Observer, validated my views when he went to war in his column to prevent the show from being cancelled.
One of the glories of DVD is that all the shows are slowly finding their way onto disc via the auspices of Rhino Home Video, or at least all the Comedy Channel's seven seasons. The disc at hand is MST3K's take on The Hellcats. This biker movie with a mundane "undercover cop seeking vengeance" plot was released by Crown International in 1967 at the height of the biker genre phase. Directed by Robert F. Slatzer, who has also given himself a small part in the film, Hellcats concerns Monte Chapman (MST3K "regular" Ross Hagen), who infiltrates the drug-running gang who killed his cop brother. He bucks up against the new leader of the gang, and the criminal underworld mastermind who seems to direct their actions.
The Hellcats came near the end of national broadcast season two. Numbered episode number 209, and first broadcast in December of 1990 as the fifth-to-last of 13 episodes, this is the one that starts out with Joel and the 'Bots with colds (a reference to a flu virus sweeping the nation?). Joel's invention is a sign language translator, and there are running jokes about everyone on the Satellite of Love keeping a diary.
The Hellcats is perfect fodder for the boys, as it is a cheaply photographed, sluggish drive-in movie with very bad sound. Among the jokes that fly at the screen are, out of context, "I thought you might need help padding out the last 10 minutes of the film." "Force her to watch CopRock." "Only Kookie's hair dresser knows for sure." One of the best things that the MST3K team do is provide lyrics for wordless theme songs and they do that here, too. And the comic interludes between film segments are especially funny , with examples of new "scope" vision and comedy flash cards.
VIDEO: If Rhino had done nothing but remove the commercials it would have done an incredible job with this series. However, it did more than that. The shows look good, and on the B side is the whole original film, in full frame, with a only slightly scratchy print of the Eastmancolor movie. One of the virtues of having the whole movie on the disc is that you can see just how much and just what the writers of MST3K leave out of the movies they victimize.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is audible for Joel and the 'Bots, but little can help the source film.
MENUS: After an amusing, vandalized FBI warning, animated, musical menus offer 20 chapter scene selection for the MST3K version, and 12 chapters for the original on the other side.
PACKAGING: The keep case cover broadcasts the MST3K template, with the three viewers in silhouette (though it is Mike instead of Joel) looking up at the screen, with some eye-patched biker girls on view. The back cover provides a lot of info about the episode, and shows Joel with the 'Bots. An insert has chapter guides for both the MST3K and the original version. It's a dual-sided disc, so there is no label.
EXTRAS: Supplements are minimal and consist of the original film on the B side, and the theatrical trailer for the uncut movie.