It's a bitter sweet day for Mystery Science Theater fans... Shout! Factory has released the last (probably) collection of episodes from the original run of the show. While it's great that three new episodes (and a disc of bonus material... more on that later) are out on DVD, it's sad that there are eleven installments that have never been released, and probably never will be, because of copyright issues. Still, these three shows from the Mike years are solid, and the set, rather aptly, includes the very last episode.
The shows included in this set are:
Experiment 601 - Girls Town:
Mike (referring to Mel Torme): He's like a youthful Jabba the Hut!
This first episode from season six features the installation of the Umbilicus, a tube that runs from the Satellite of Love to Deep 13, and allows items to be sent between the Mads and the SoL. It's a nice addition to the show and it will be used for the rest of the Comedy Central run of the show for various gags.
The movie itself, which is pretty lame in and of itself, does have a pretty impressive cast. It stars Mamie Van Doren, Mel Torme, and Paul Anka, there are brief appearances by Harold Lloyd Jr and Charlie Chaplin Jr, and there's even a performance by The Platters. Unfortunately none of them can save this movie from the dull and plodding, not to mention predictable, script.
One evening Fred (Torme) takes his date to the local make-out spot when they see his friend Chip trying to rape a girl. They laugh gently to themselves... good 'ol Chip is always up to some mischief. Fred doesn't think it so funny when he discovers that Chip has died, falling off a cliff after his date pushes him away.
Having caught a glimpse of the girl, Chip falsely thinks it was Silver Morgan (Van Doren) who had defended herself. Silver, being out of jail on probation, is brought in for questioning and though she has a solid alibi, she's given the choice of going back to jail or being remanded to Girls Town, a home run by nuns for young women, mostly orphans, who are at risk. There she has run-ins with the other girls, but things get worse when she discovers that it was her kid sister who was with Chip on the fatal evening and that the law and Chip's gang are both looking for her.
This musical/drama had a bit of potential for being a great installment of MST, but it ends up being just so-so. There's not a lot that Mike and the bots can say during the several songs that pop up, and the film doesn't have that ludicrous element that makes for the best riffing. It's alright, but not better than that.
Experiment 623 - The Amazing Transparent Man with the short Days of Our Years:
Crow: So, the leading causes of accidents are joy, sex, and old age??
The short, made by Union Pacific to promote safety among their workers, shows three examples of people who were careless and caused an accident. Mike and the bots have a great time with this, pointing out the ridiculous nature of some of the setups. This was a very good short.
The feature itself was decent too, but not a classic. The story revolves around Joey Faust, an expert safecracker, who is broken out of prison by a mad villain, Paul Krenner. Krenner has a Nazi scientist working for him to perfect a ray that will make people invisible, and with that Krenner can create an invisible army that can take over the world. The only problem is that he needs nuclear materials secured in highly secured government vaults. So he strong-arms Faust to steal them for him, while invisible. The more he gets to know Krenner, the less Joey likes the man or his mad plan so he schemes to stop him.
This plot is wacky enough to give the riffers plenty of material, and they come up with some good lines. There are several that fall flat, but there are hits than misses.
Experiment 1023 - Diabolik:
Crow: Y'know, this music would be better with women in bikinis shaking it all over the place... well, I guess that's true of any music, really. . A bit of a strange choice for the last episode, Diabolik is a European crime/action flick based on an Italian comic strip. Directed by Mario Bava, the film follows the adventures of the master criminal Diabolik, who lives in an underground lair where he plots and schemes to steal money from the government and make fools of the police.
While I would have preferred a truly awful film for their final installment (I was hoping for Plan 9 from Outer Space) the crew does a really good job with this. They riffs are pretty funny throughout and there are some really hilarious scenes like when Diabolik and his girlfriend are having sex on a pile of money. "They got pretty injured when they tried this with gold bars."
Even with the solid riffing, the highlights of this show are the host segments. Knowing that this was their last episode they crafted a good set of skits to wrap up the series and complete the stories of Mike, the bots, Pearl, Bobo, and Brain Guy. These were funny, sweet, and touching. They really managed to pull off an excellent final show.
Disc Four - Satellite Dishes:
As mentioned earlier, there were some movies that Shout! Factory just couldn't get the rights to. It makes sense in some cases, like the Godzilla movies or The Space Children (which is owned by Paramount) but the copyright owners of Quest of the Delta Knights (which has only had a VHS release in the USA) wouldn't take a few bucks so the MST version could be released? Okay, whatever.
Though Best Brains doesn't own the rights to the movies, they do have control of the host segments, and Shout! has graciously put those on the final disc. Overall, it's three hours' worth of content, and a nice addition to the MST collection. The disc contains the segments the following episodes:
201 - Rocketship X-M
213 - Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster
309 - The Amazing Colossal Man
311 - It Conquered the World
416 - Fire Maidens of Outer Space
418 - Attack of the The Eye Creatures
807 - Terror from the Year 5000
809 - I Was a Teenage Werewolf
905 - The Deadly Bees
906 - The Space Children
913 - Quest of the Delta Knights
Note that the segments from Godzilla vs. Megalon (Episode 212) are not included. Though that episode is no longer available, it was released for a short time in Volume 10, but Toho's lawyers too umbrage and forced Shout! to stop publishing it.
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.
Once again Shout! Factory has added some nice featurettes to this collection. First up is Chuck Love and the Anatomy of a Theme, an interview with the man who wrote the music to the opening and closing themes for the show. It was interesting to hear his reminiscences on creating the iconic songs. There's also a look at the production of The Amazing Transparent Man in Beyond Transparency, and Showdown in Eden Prairie: Their Final Experiment is a short featurette concerning the final episode of the series.
On the Diabolik disc one will find The Last Dance: A Documentary Special That Chronicles The Final Days Shooting The Last Episode Of The Original Run Of MST3K, Diabolik. This is a look at the filming of the final episode, as filmed by Jim Mallon, and the title gives you an idea of what to expect... a long 'raw' film. It runs 77 minutes and while there's a lot of interesting things caught on tape, it's a bit hard to get through.
Finally there's Behind The Scream: Daniel Griffith on Ballyhoo. This is a talk with the man behind Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, the company who has filled these collections with wonderful extras detailing the history behind obscure B movies. It's a nice look the man and the company.
This final release of classic MST episodes is bitter sweet. While there are three decent installments of the show, it's sad that there are 11 movies that won't get a DVD release any time soon. The shows included are decent, and every real fan of MST should have a copy of Diabolik in their collection. This gets a strong recommendation.