It's hard to believe that there have been 34 other MST3K sets from Shout Factory and Rhino, but here we are at collection XXXV and the amazing thing is that these four episodes aren't the dregs of the show. There are some good episodes included here, and there are still a few standouts that haven't made their way to home video yet. (I'm anxiously waiting for a favorite of mine, It Conquered the World. But I digress...) With a pair of Joel episodes and two from Mike along with four good featurettes and a bonus un-riffed version of one of the movies, this set is well worth picking up.
Experiment 315 - Teenage Caveman:
Joel: How about dinner, a movie, and a drag by the hair?
Before this Roger Corman film, there are not one but two shorts. The first is Aquatic Acrobats, a brief documentary on youths learning to waterski. The riff are hilarious and come flying at a furious pace. (Crow: This has got litigation written all over it. Tom: Forget about life jackets! This is the 50s.)
That's followed up by Catching Trouble, where a guy in Florida, Ross, goes out into the Everglades with an Indian guide to (violently) catch wild animals (a wildcat, two baby bear cubs, and three rattlesnakes) for the purpose of selling them to a zoo. Joel and the bots root for the animals. It's actually a bit shocking to see what they do to get the animals. When the wildcat climbs up a small tree, Ross has his Indian guide, who is referred to by the narrator as "old sourpuss" chop it down. The cat then scampers up another tree, Ross climbs after him and manages to shove him into a flour sack attached to the end of a pole. Once the cat is in the bag Ross just drops it to the ground. At the end of the short Joel says "We'd like to apologize to everyone, everywhere for this." Afterwards there is a great host segment though, Catching Ross, where Joel and the bots give a similar treatment to a Ross doll.
Then it's time for the feature: Teenage Caveman. Robert Vaughn, who was in his mid-20s at the time, plays the title role, an restless youth living in a tribe of cavemen who stay in a small, rocky area to hunt and look for food although there are rich hunting grounds right across the river. That area is forbidden by The Law, since He Who Kills with a Touch lives there, so no one ever crosses. The teen isn't so sure about all of this religious nonsense, so he decides to ford the river and find out what is over there for himself.
While it is a dry movie that moves at a slow pace, the SoL crew make it very entertaining. The jokes in this one come whizzing by at a very rapid pace. They're much more frequent than in the Mike episodes included in this set. It's obvious that they had a lot of content written for this one and most of it is good.
Experiment 404 - Being from another Planet:
Crow: So far this movie looks like a dramatization of a movie.
Originally titled Time Walker, this dog of a movie stars Ben Murphy (Jones form Alias Smith and Jones) as Dr. Douglas McCadden, an archeologist who discovers a previously overlooked sarcophagus in King Tut's tomb. He brings it back to the US for study where an inept technician gives the mummy a high concentration of radiation while X-raying the coffin. Developing the plates, the tech notices something odd... there appear to be diamonds hidden in a secret drawer. Being a bit short on cash, he steals the jewels, takes another X-ray at the high level to replace the image with the diamonds present, and accidently brings the creature in the sarcophagus back to life. (Don't you hate when that happens?) The rest of the film involves Dr. McCadden and the hot coed he's having an affair with trying to find the missing mummy while the creature kills anyone who gets in the way of his retrieving his gems.
This was a pretty good experiment. The riffs were good and came at a fast pace and the movie certainly gave Joel and the bots enough material to work with. One of my favorite running gags appears in this experiment too. When the movie wants to show what the mummy is seeing, they tint the image green to make it look eerie. The technique fails, since the scenes are mainly of an old warehouse, but it terrifies Tom and Crow. They whimper and get nervous every time the green scenes come up, and Joel has to comfort them.
There are also some good host segments in this episode too. The highlight is the Invention Exchange where the Mads present their new take on a popular, sappy, mass-produced mini-statue line: Tragic Moments Figurines. One has a boy holding a dog in his arms and is entitled Sparky's Last Romp. It portrays "what happens when a dog teases a cow way past the breaking point."
Experiment 524 - 12 to the Moon:
Tom: The moon's actually kind of a letdown.
This experiment starts off with a rather odd short: Design for Dreaming, a 1956 GM film made to promote their cars. They wanted to do it in a classy, highbrow sort of way, so they hired a pair of ballet dancers and had them dance through the story. Though some of the riffs were good ("I had a near-death experience like this.") I was more interested in looking at the cars (especially the prototypes shown near the end) than the jokes. The short itself was so bizarre that it didn't really need any riffing to be entertaining.
The same can't be said of the feature, 12 to the Moon. A slow, dreary, and often irrational 'message' SF film from 1960, even the riffing can't save this movie. An international team of 12 scientists (along with a menagerie of animals including birds, cats, monkeys and a single Cocker Spaniel) board mankind's first rocket to the moon, a feat of unprecedented international cooperation. After lots of talking where nothing really happens (aside from a meteor storm that was pretty dull in itself) they arrive on the satellite and proceed to split up, explore, and blow things up. A pair of the astronauts are captured by the inhabitants and another dies, so they decide to head back to the ship where they receive a message from the moon people in a totally alien language... that luckily the woman from China can read. It says that they're keeping the pair they captured, and they want the cats also. If they give over those two animals they'll let the rocket depart. Quicker than an auctioneer can you "SOLD!" they toss the felines out the airlock and take off for home, only to discover that the moonmen have something else in store for Earth.
This is the sort of movie that MST usually excels in riffing: it's nonsensical, done on a low budget, and has few redeeming qualities. Unfortunately it is dreadfully dull and even the jokes can't make the long scenes where nothing happens engaging. Mike and the bots do their best, and there are some good lines. I especially enjoyed the running gag where they renamed the buff commander (an American, of course) with such fitting monikers as "Cliff Beefpile" and "Sledge Fisthammer." Tom's increasingly aggravated proclamations that "there is no steam on the moon!" every time smoke was seen wafting up from a crater was also fun. Even so, the riffs couldn't quite overcome the limitations of the movie itself making this a so-so episode.
Experiment 703 - Deathstalker: Warriors from Hell:
Mike: This movie is like playing Doom when there're no monsters or opponents.
The third Deathstalker movie, this Roger Corman produced fantasy-action flick is an okay episode, even if some of the host segments are a bit off.
Deathstalker, wandering man of action, encounters a princess being chased by a group of soldiers. Just before dying, the woman entrusts the warrior with half of a crystal. When joined with its other half the gem will reveal the location of a city full of treasure. Taking the gem and having nothing better to do, Deathstalker heads off in search of the stone which, he was told, is "to the south." How hard could it be to find? During his travels he bumps into the twin of the first princess, imagine the odds, who is traveling to meet her betrothed, an effeminate and flamboyant man named Troxartas, who just happens to have the other half of the stone and is an evil magician with an army of undead warriors. Trying to gain Deathstalker's part of the gem, Troxartas sends both his undead army and his warriors with bat helmets after our hero.
As Crow observes, there's not much death stalking in this movie, but it's still a lot of fun. The gang makes fun of it all: the stilted sword fights ("The chilling sound of cardboard against cardboard"), the cheap costumes ("Ummm, Mr. Moose..." "I'm a bat! Squeek squeak!") and the general lack of attention to detail (""They missed the haircuts by about 1200 years.").
The host segments weren't great (with one exception). Mrs. Forester is ill and in bed, and spends most of her scream time yelling "Clayton!!" much to the mad scientist's annoyance. Up on the SOL, the bots put on a renaissance festival and bilk Mike out of all of his cash... twice. Neither of these really worked, as there wasn't a good punch line to any of these sketches. The one that did work was golden though. Mrs. Forester ask Crow to read to her from an erotic novel, something that Crow just doesn't get. His delivery is perfect, as is the text he's reading from. When Dr. Forester next sees his mother, she gives one of the great Pearl lines "I dreamed a gold man was reading to me from a dirty book." Overall a fun experiment.
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 were acceptable, but this is much better. The host segments are clear and bright, while the silhouettes during the movie are solid black. The video on the two Joel episodes is much softer than it is on the Mike shows, but it's not distracting. Some of the prints that were used for the show are showing their age, but there's not anything that can really be done about that.
Once again Shout! Factory has included featurettes created by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, and they're great. Each episode has a short documentary examining the film and or the people who made it. My favorite, found on the first disc, is I was a Teenage Caveman a look at the film by film historians and recollections by director Roger Corman. There's also Medieval Boogaloo: The Legend of Deathstalker III featuring an interview with actor Thom Christopher who played Troxartas, Richard Band Remembers a conversation with the composer of the music to Being from Another Planet, and You are There: Launching 12 to the Moon.
While that would be enough, Shout! Factory also includes the original version of Being from Another Planet: Time Walker.
While there was one so-so episode in this batch, the other three more than make up for it. This set comes Highly Recommended.