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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essentials

Rhino // Unrated // August 31, 2004
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 2, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:

Someone once defined genius as the ability to see the obvious before anyone else.  If you accept that definition, then Mystery Science Theater 3000 (henceforth refered to as MST3K) creator Joel Hodgson is a genius.  The concept for the show is brilliant in its simplicity: three people (okay, one guy and two robots) watch a bad movie and make fun of it.  Who hasn't spent an enjoyable evening laughing at an old B sci-fi movie?  Well Joel and the gang at Best Brains Inc., who produced the show, took the annoying habit of talking during a movie and turned into an art form.  Now Rhino has released two of the very best episodes of MST3K as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials.  This two disc set contains both the wonderfully horrible Manos: The Hands of Fate, (which was previously released as a stand alone episode,) and the mind bogglingly odd Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:

At last, one of the best episodes of MST comes to DVD.  This decidedly strange movie has Santa Claus being an action hero of all things.  It seems that the leader of Mars has noticed that Martian children and lethargic and depressed.  All they want to do is watch Earth TV.  A wise man informs the leader that they only thing that will get them out of their funk is...Santa Claus!  So the a team of crack Martian agents, lead by the villainous Voldor,  is sent to earth to snag the jolly old elf.  Along the way they end up kidnaping a couple of irritating kids who rat Santa out and lead the Martians right to the North Pole.  The whole crew arrives back on Mars after some hijinks and adventures where Santa start to work making toys for the Martian girls and boys.  There are some attempts on Santa life by Voldor (who really doesn't like Santa,) and one of the most irritating comic relief characters in the history of film, a Martian named Dropo, appears along the way.   The film ends with a choir of children singing that old Christmas classic, "Horray for Santy Claus."

Joel and the 'bots start riffing on this and they really don't let up.  From questioning what Santa is smoking in his pipe to pointing out how stupid the Martians look.  They even have a little fun withthe fact that Pia Zidora appears in the film.  (Of course when I think of her, I always recall that Pia was the person who bought Mary Pickford's legendary Beverly Hills estate, Pickfair, in 1988 and had it demolished.)  There are some great lines in this episode, the guys were in top form.
This episode also contains one of the best host sequences they every filmed, "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas" a Christmas carol Crow wrote based on one of his favorite movies; Roadhouse.

Oh, let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year!
Or we'll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!

Joel:  Hold it, hold it....Crow, I don't know if I think this is an appropriate sentiment anymore for Christmas.
Crow:  Hey, what?  Like a good action sequence don't belong in Christmas?
Joel:  Well... no.  It's just that I've never heard of an action sequence in a Christmas carol before.
Crow:  Well then, grab on to your socks and read on Joel Robinson.

It's my way or the highway, this Christmas at my ba-ha-haar.
I'll have to smash your kneecaps if you bastards touch my car!
I got the word that Santa has been stealing from the till.
I think that that right jolly old elf better make out his will!

Great stuff!  This is certainly one of the most bizarre movies ever filmed, the MST version is wildly humorous.

Manos: The Hands of Fate:

From oddly bizarre to just down right horrible, Manos has got to be one of the most incomprehensibly bad movies ever filmed.  This glacially slow paced movie would be an endurance test for anyone to sit through straight, but with Joel and the 'bots make fun of it, the movie is actually quite enjoyable.

A family of three; Mom, Dad, and daughter Debbie, along with their dog Pepe, get lost on a family vacation and are looking for a place to spend the night when the stumble across a lodge run by Torgo, a slow moving man with incredibly large thighs who is supposed to be scary, apparently.  As luck would have it, the car breaks down trapping the family with Torgo.  Are you scared yet?  I hope so 'cause it doesn't get any scarier.  Torgo starts rambling on and on about "The Master" and his wives.  The family spends a good amount of time staring at a picture of "The Master" with his hellhound.  Well, Pepe gets out of the house and killed, and then Debbie sneaks out too.  When her parents go searching for her they find her with...The Master's hell hound!!! Well, it might have been startling except the dog is quite friendly and not at all vicious looking.  Anyway, "The Master" and his wives eventually awaken and try to decide what to do with the family.  The wives start fighting in a cat fight that seems to last forever.  When the end finally comes, you find yourself not really caring who lives and who dies, just so the movie ENDS.

This feature has the look of a badly filmed home movie.  Director Hal Warren makes Ed Wood look like a cinematic genius.  But Joel and the crew of the SOL are able to turn this unspeakably bad movie into one of their best episodes.  They don't only point out the many flaws of the film, they make fun of how mind bogglingly wretched it is.  At different times during the show, both Frank and Dr. Forester actually apologize to Joel for the quality of the film.

The riffing during the movie is great.  From Crow's impersonation of the evil hell hound ("Could you hold that one card up? What's it say? Oh, yeah -- 'Arf!'") to Tom's understated analysis of the movie ("You know, there are certain flaws in this film.") this is one great episode.  A true classic.

There is a short (Hired, part 2) shown before the feature, where a young man is shown how to sell cars.  It is pretty good, but Manos is just so wonderfully horribly bad, that Hired pales in comparison.

The DVD:

This two DVD set comes packed in a double Amaray case.  From what I can tell, Manos is identical to the previously released DVD.

The audio is very clean, with the riffs coming through loud and clear.  They actually do a very good job mixing the audio from the movie in with the actor's comments, 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 as easy to discern, but that is fairly rare.  Unfortunately there aren't any subtitles.


After watching this show for years on the S-VHS copies that I taped off of Comedy Central when it was first broadcast, I was astonished at how clear it was.  My S-VHS tapes are good but this is much better.  The host segments are clear and bright, while the silhouettes during the movie are solid black.  The quality of the movies themselves leave something to be desired, but they look just as faded and scratchy as when they were first shown on MST3K, which is how it should be.


The Manos disc comes with the MST Poopie Reel, and 30 minute gag reel of outtakes and flubbed lines which was previously available on VHS, and on the original release of Manos.  This featurette is pretty funny.   It shows both Joel and Mike messing up their lines, Tom's head falling off, and the cast just cutting up.  A great extra.

Final Thoughts:

If I were to be stranded on a desert island with just one MST DVD set (and the means to watch it of course) I'd pick this one, no question.  Manos just gets better and better the more you watch it.  Two of the best MST episodes ever, and they truly do deserve the name 'essential.'  This set is Highly Recommended!

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Highly Recommended

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