Another day, another DVD of everyone's favorite movie-heckling-with-puppets cult TV show "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Shout! Factory has been pumping titles out since taking over for Rhino Video, both in the form of new four-movie sets, and now with exclusive Shout! Selects DVDs, which are exclusively available through their website. The Atomic Brain (Episode 518), like The Touch of Satan, is another re-issue of an out-of-print Rhino disc (contained in the "Volume 3" set), and, of the four of these discs I've reviewed to date, the best episode.
The Atomic Brain contains two elements of riffing gold: a memorably crazy character, and memorably silly science. The film concerns a sniveling, petulant old crone (Marjorie Eaton) who uses her bountiful riches to fund a scientist (Frank Gerstle) and his brain-swapping experiments, which usually require killing a few people. She's just lured three young women (Erika Peters, Judy Bamber, and Lisa Lang) with a housekeeping wanted ad, with the true intention of having her brain popped into one of their beautiful bodies.
Primary targets for Mike and the 'bots include the movie's terrible score (to which several hilarious songs of exposition are improvised), the movie's old villain ("Well, this is gonna be some chase scene."), and several of the film's curious creatures, including a brainless zombie woman, one character who gets their brain replaced with a cat's, and a wolf-man hybrid ("Gotta go walkies for crying out loud! Walkies!"). There is also a wonderful short before the main feature, called What About Juvenile Delinquency?", which may be even funnier than the feature ("Norm! Norm! Norm! Norm! Norm!").
Host segments for the episode are pretty strong: Mike dressing the bots up as Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank and the villains returning the favor is just the right kind of goofiness the show excels at, as is a segment with Magic Voice (Mary Jo Pehl) chatting with the scientist's voice-over narration from the film itself. Overall, The Atomic Brain may not reach the heights of an all-time favorite episode, but it's a strong episode of the show, delivering solid laughs in all areas.
Like the other episodes in the Shout! Selects series, The Atomic Brain fits into a standard design template: starfield, MST3K globe, the original movie poster, a red-and-white blown up version of the title logo, and the silhouettes at the bottom, with the same starfield and silhouettes showing through the clear plastic case on the inside. No inserts are included.
The Video and Audio
Picture-wise, this 1.33:1 full screen transfer is par for the course among MST3K episodes: a little more dirty and worn than one might expect, and plagued by heavy aliasing, but otherwise, about what you'd expect a cheaply-made TV show from the '90s to look like. On this particular episode, however, I found the sound to be a little problematic: the lines seem a little fuzzier or muddier than usual, and the movie seems just a smidgenl louder than in other episodes. I can't pinpoint either factor as a fault of the disc itself, but I can say that this is the only MST3K-on-DVD episode I've watched thus far where I really wished the disc was equipped with English subtitles or captioning.
None. The Rhino disc appears to have included alternate takes of the host segments, making this a slight downgrade.
The Atomic Brain is a pretty solid episode of MST3K. Although the disc doesn't offer anything except the feature presentation, it's a strong enough episode that it deserves a better rating than I awarded the other entries in the series, especially given the fact that Shout! has lowered the price on these releases since the first two I reviewed. Recommended.