It's hard to believe that Shout! Factory is putting out the 37th collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows. While most of the best shows (that don't have rights issues) have been released, I'm pleased to say that this set has four good shows. While none of them are classic episodes, these three Mike and single Joel 'experiments' are well worth watching and adding to your collection.
The shows included in this set are:
Experiment 420 - The Human Duplicators:
Crow: This is Beverly Hills Cop, only the slow, white version.
Season four had Joel and the bots at the height of their game, but there are still some so-so installments, such as this one. The film itself features Richard Kiel as an alien who has arrived on Earth with the purpose of creating robot duplicates of humans to wreak havoc on the planet and soften it up for an invasion. He arrives at the home of a reclusive scientist who is working on robotics and quickly goes about duplicating scientists so that they can use their access to steal important materials that are needed to create more duplicates.
It's not a bad premise for a movie, but the narrative follows a bland FBI investigator who is trying to figure out why prominent scientists are stealing from their employers, rather than the alien trying to take over. The movie plods along with all of the excitement of... well, a bad 50's SF film.
Usually this type of movie is a prime candidate for MST, but the riffing on this is just mediocre. The jokes are fairly constant, but it's a case of quantity over quality. Don't get me wrong, the episode isn't bad, but it just doesn't have many memorable lines and only a few really good laughs.
Experiment 705 - Escape 2000:
Crow: Oh, I get it. This is a metaphor for something.
This experiment features an Italian movie that is trying to cash in on dystopian future films like Mad Max and Escape from New York that were popular at the time. (It's actually the sequel too, but which makes it even worse than you'd expect.) Originally entitled Escape from The Bronx, this nonsensical film features a beefy motorcycle-riding hero, Trash, who is fighting against the conglomerate who wants to level the Bronx and relocate the inhabitants to New Mexico in order to build some new luxury high-rise apartments.
This film doesn't really make much sense, starting with the title. The plot revolves around people who want to stay in the Bronx, not 'escape' it. In any case, it plays like random scenes strung together with little thought of pacing, plot, or continuity. Things just sort of happen because. While Mike and his cybernetic companions try to enliven the film, it doesn't succeed as well as it could. There are a few good riffs, but most of them are just cute rather than really funny.
The host segments in this episode are actually pretty bad. While I looked forward to those scenes when Joel was the host (and even then they were hit-or-miss) during them time (after Frank left, but Dr. Forester was still in Deep 13) they were pretty awful and this show is no exception. Dr. Forrester has put his mother, Pearl, in a 'home' because she's lost her senses, or so he says. The home is a small child's playhouse, and Pearl spends the episode telling everyone she's fine from a small window in the house. There's a fine line between 'hilariously irreverent' and 'that's really dumb' and unfortunately this falls into the latter category. As does the SOL segment (which I admit had potential) where Crow has a charity auction for "a really good cause" and he tries to sell a penny and a nickel.
Experiment 817 - The Horror of Party Beach:
Tom: I generally had a positive impression of white people before this movie.
This was my favorite experiment in this collection. While it's not great, it is a lot of fun. The movie itself is an odd mashup of a 60's beach movie with a low-budget horror flick. Think Catalina Caper meets It Conquered the Earth. A group of teens including go to the beach to have a swinging party until Hank's girlfriend, Tina, has a drink. Hank doesn't approve and they get into a fight, which causes Tina to flirt with the leader of the local motorcycle gang. A fight ensues and after the clean-living Hank trashes the thug, he goes home distraught that his girlfriend is such a floozy. Tina, meanwhile, swims out to an island where she's killed by monsters spawned when radioactive waste was dumped into the sea and came into contact with the skeletons of long-dead seamen. The monsters decide that killing people is kind of fun, and head to the mainland to wreak havoc.
There's no two ways around it, this is a bad movie. The plot is dumb, the acting is amateur, and the monsters suits are absurd. But it is a lot of fun with the riffing. Mike and the guys make fun of how cheap the film is and are pretty merciless. I love when Tom shouts "Dad's being smothered by a huge loaf of pepperoni-studded brown bread!" when a creature attacks. The jokes are pretty strong throughout and there are some memorable bits in this one.
Experiment 819 - Invasion of the Neptune Men:
Mike: I never thought I'd say this, but suddenly Independence Day seems like a deeply nuanced film.
This Japanese film stars Sonny Chiba of Street Fighter fame as the super-hero Space Chief who saves a group of young boys, as well as the Earth, from an alien invasion. The movie has an interesting history that explains why it doesn't really make a lot of sense. Originally the film was shown as two 60-minute films in Japan playing on consecutive weeks sort of like a serial. Realizing there wasn't a foreign market for such a creature, the production studio, Toei, edited the two parts into a single 78-minute feature and sold it overseas. It was purchased for US television by a man named Walter Manley, but he had a problem: to package it for TV markets it needed to be 80-minutes long, and there were three musical numbers that he thought wouldn't fly in the US. So he cut out five minutes of running time and then padded the movie with seven minutes of stock footage and repeated battle scenes. The result is something that's fairly incomprehensible.
Mike and the bots do a pretty good job with this one. They make fun of the fact that the group of children who are the main characters have access to high level meetings and that the hero, Space Chief, doesn't really show up in the film very often. Their comments on the hilarious looking aliens aren't to be missed either. The riffs are fine but not as strong as the best episodes, making this another solid but unexceptional installment.
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. 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.
Three out of the four episodes in this set are packed with some cool extras, with one show (The Human Duplicators) being a bit skimpy with only the MST Hour wraps. The other three have great bonus though. First off there are newly filmed introductions to the shows by Mary Jo Pehl. She reminisces about the writing and filming of the episode in question and provides some fun facts.
Once again Shout! Factory has included featurettes created by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, where they interview film scholars and experts about the movie that was riffed in a particular episode where the background and history of the movie is discussed. These are all quite fascinating and filled with some interesting information. These are all highly recommended viewing.
While I wouldn't recommend starting with this collection if you've never seen MST before, this set of four episodes of the classic series is good fun. All of the shows are decent, and while none of them are top-tier, none of them are bad either. Recommended.