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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 7, The

Rhino // Unrated // April 19, 2005
List Price: $59.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 17, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- robots, mad scientists, schlocky movies, Video Toaster-fueled silhouettes, pop-culture-peppered riffing. If you have no idea what I'm rambling on about, you probably shouldn't be reading a review of something with "volume 7" in the title. Read one of the other reviews if you want a better idea of what the show's about. As for established MST3K fans, you already know you're buying this, so I'll rattle off a list of the movies and make you feel warm and fuzzy about your pre-order. This, the nineteenth MST3K release to date on DVD, is another set of four discs with four movies. Three of 'em are from the fourth season on Comedy Central with original host/creator Joel Hodgson in tow, and the other features head writer Mike Nelson from the show's run on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Hercules Unchained (1959): Ah, mighty Hercules! Starring Steve Reeves in his second stint as the muscle-bound demigod, Hercules Unchained picks up where the last one left off, I guess. Anyway, Hercules is on his way to the kingdom of Thebes as an ambassador, hoping to quell tensions between Oedipus' power-hungry sons. On the way, he drinks from the Fountain of Forgetfulness (I'm guessing it's a proper noun, anyway), which is aptly-named and causes Hercules to lose his memory. The mindwiped Herc is duped by Queen Omphale into becoming her perpetually feasting off-screen love slave, derailing his mission of peace. It's up to Ulysses, the goblet-smacking son of Laertes, to restore Hercules' memory and set him back on his path to picking things up and throwing them at people.

Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964): Steve Reeves' former Herculean body double Alan Steele steps into the lead role in Hercules Against the Moon Men, an ill-advised blend of swords, sandals, and science-fiction. These Moon Men that Hercules is pitted against have been demanding sacrifices, aided by yet another power-mad despot, Queen Samara of Samar. Claudius asks his pal Hercules to help depose the queen, but the old man is murdered, and Herc finds himself immersed in a watery grave. You can't really kill a title character half an hour in, so he escapes, and the usual love! betrayal! rebellion! heavily-oiled muscles! ten minute sandstorm! naturally follow.

Prince of Space (1959): This Japanese import chronicles the arrival of The Phantom, the maniacal ruler of Krankor, an otherworldly kingdom whose inhabitants have bird-like beaks and jumpsuits that overemphasize their genitals. Thankfully, Earth has a champion to defend them -- The Prince of Space! The Prince has amazing abilities like...leaping and not being affected by Krankor weaponry, something the Krankorians are continually reminded of to no great effect. Anyway, since it's a Japanese sci-fi/action/adventure, naturally there are a couple of eight year olds who have unfettered access into the deepest machinations of the Japanese military. I like it very much!

The Killer Shrews (1959): The Once and Future Rosco P. Coltrane stars in this cautionary tale of not tampering in God's lo mein or something. A hurricane strands our heroic captain, a Swedish scientist, his equally Swedish love interest of a daughter, a sailor who wields the ability to play Dixieland jazz, and...three other fairly unlikeable people on an island teeming with genetically engineered killer shrews. Or dogs with stuff taped to 'em. Something like that. As the shrews mount their assault, everyone stands around and drinks for half the movie. Preceded by the short "Junior Rodeo Daredevils".

I only have one negative thing to say, so I'll get it out of the way first: I kinda wish Rhino had held off on Hercules Against the Moon Men.
Having two sword-'n-sandals-'n-Spaghetti flicks back to back is pretty repetitive, especially with so many of the same jokes rehashed over and over. Joel and the Bots whip out a lot of the same quips from Hercules Unchained -- sometimes used the exact same way -- and by the twenty-third reference to Little Caesar's commercials or The Princess Bride ...y'know, yeah, I get it already. If a movie's just incomprehensible and-slash-or inept, MST3K can usually salvage it, but if it's excruciatingly dull, even the riffed version is going to wind up almost unwatchable. Hercules Against the Moon Men is a mind-bogglingly boring movie, padded out by an interminable sandstorm sequence. Deep, deep hurting. The host sequences halfway redeem it, but Hercules Against the Moon Men is a pretty lackluster episode, and I would've liked to have had another foreign fantasy flick like The Day the Earth Froze in its place.

Other than that, it's nothing but paragraphs of overenthusiastic praise! This is one of Rhino's stronger MST3K collections from the past couple of years. Hercules Against the Moon Men aside, the other three episodes are all well above-average MSTings, and since I'm a pretty rabid fan of the show in the first place, "above average" is a very good thing. It's a diverse assortment of episodes, spanning several different genres and even several different continents.

Hercules Unchained isn't an entirely coherent movie, and one of the highlights comes early on when Hercules struggles against the giant Antaeus, who continually tumbles to the ground only to quickly stand up and start cackling again. That lengthy brawl is a surprisingly big chunk of the action in the movie, unless you count Ulysses continually knocking over Herc's goblets of memory-sapping spring water. Irrepressibly goofy, poorly dubbed, and ineptly written, Hercules Unchained is tailor-made for Mystery Science Theater 3000, resulting in a hysterical episode.

I could use a bunch of those same adjectives -- heck, even the cackling villain who doesn't know when to stay down -- to describe Prince of Space, an overearnest Saturday morning serial-style adventure. Like a lot of vintage superhero flicks, the movie seems like it could've been twenty minutes long, with the hero having numerous opportunities to vanquish the villains and the villains having numerous opportunities to vanquish the hero, but nothing ever comes of it. It's kind of a proto-Underdog, featuring a caped superhero masquerading as a humble, loveable shoeshine boy and a villain with half-thought-out schemes and a Simon Bar Sinister cackle. I apologize for my overuse of "cackle" in this review, by the way. Take a shot everytime a character says "Prince of Space" or whenever the hero declares that "your weapons have no effect on me!" I love the dubbing, especially for the kids who seem like they're going to be integral to the plot but really aren't. Even if the host segments mostly fall flat (which I could say about pretty much any episode from season eight on) and the riffing comes at a fairly relaxed pace, this is one of my favorites from the Sci-Fi era, and it's great to have it on DVD.

I'd put The Killer Shrews a notch or two down on the Highly Subjective Scale of Greatness, but it's still a very strong episode. The whole concept of a scientist going too far, resulting in murderous creations gradually killing off the supporting cast (with bonus points if the creation's an animal), is familiar territory for the show, and the writers had tackled enough of these sorts of movies to have learned how to make even the epic-length talking-'n-drinking sequences tolerable. This is the sort of schlock MST3K is best known for, and The Killer Shrews is a consistently funny case in point.

This seventh Mystery Science Theater 3000 set serves up three solid episodes, a fourth that's not so much, and a bonus collection of shorts that I'll delve into in a minute. Even though I've seen all these episodes before (and pitifully, I actually bought the regular version of Hercules Against the Moon Men on VHS fifteen years ago), they hold up well to repeat viewing, but if you've made it this far in the review, you're probably an ardent MST3K fan and don't need convincing. So, I'll stop and move on.

Video: These four episodes (full-frame, natch) look pretty much like every other episode released so far. Mystery Science Theater 3000 wasn't shot with bleeding-edge video equipment, so the image isn't immaculately detailed or anything, and the movies are culled from low-resolution video sources transferred from battered prints. You don't really turn to MST3K for the ideal presentations of a movie, though, especially in a set like this where three of the movies are severely cropped. The fact that everything relevant is out of frame, vertically elongated, or, in the case of Hercules Against the Moon Men, dingy and indistinguishably grainy to the point where it looks like the Mads grabbed a Ken Films 8mm reel off the rack at K-Mart is all part of the charm. Not a dramatic difference over the way these episodes looked on TV, but I can't really ever imagine 'em looking much better than this.

Audio: Again, by this point, you should know the drill. The riffing comes through really well, but the rest depends on the movie. There's a pervasive hiss throughout most of 'em, along with a resounding low-frequency hum in The Killer Shrews as the climax approaches. The Killer Shrews has the worst audio of the bunch, probably because it's the only one that wasn't dubbed, and the dialogue is scratchy, hollow, and frequently indiscernable. Of course, that's part of the fun and inspires a bunch of the quips in the episode. If you have any of the other MST3K DVDs, you know what to expect. Anyway, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is it -- no alternate soundtracks, no subtitles, no closed captions.

Supplements: Fans who've been online long enough to have lurked around rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc in the mid-'90s probably remember the saga of the aborted Voyager CD-ROM, which was slated to include a new short titled "Assignment: Venezuela". The short never made it to air, and it went largely unseen unless you hit one of the MST3K conventions or grabbed the Best Brains-issued VHS copy. What I'm slowly lurching towards is that "Assignment: Venezuela" is packed onto this set. Mike and the 'bots riff on a corporate film about a Creole Petroleum employee making the move down to South America, learning of the wonders a quasi-futuristic metropolis like Caracas has to offer. It's an okay short, only particularly remarkable because it's so rare. So rare, I guess, that a decent source couldn't be unearthed; the copy here is smudgy and still timecoded.

"Assignment: Venezuela" makes up around half of the 45 minutes of shorts here. Also included are two Sci-Fi era shorts, "Century 21 Calling..." (from The Space Children) and "A Case of Spring Fever" (from Squirm). The reverb-drenched "Century 21 Calling..." is about advances in communication technology like call-waiting and punch card-powered rotary phones, not real estate brokers. Like "Assignment: Venezuela", it's okay but really isn't all that memorable. "A Case of Spring Fever" is one of my all-time favorites. A dumpy retiree wishes there weren't any springs, and the animated hellspawn Coily grants him his wish. Rotary phones, cars, mattresses...useless! No springs! After learning how unbearable a springless world would be, our hero becomes a spring evangelist, boring the living hell out of his friends during a round of golf while extolling the endless virtues of springs.

Each disc sports a set of lightly-animated 4x3 menus, and the provided insert rattles off each episode's twenty chapter stops. The packaging's pretty similar to the last six volumes in the collection, this time with an embossed cover and a remote control theme.

Conclusion: Since Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn't exactly a continuity-heavy show, uninitiated viewers can leap in at any time, and this collection is about as good a place as any to start. Longtime fans already know how great both the show and these individual episodes are, so...y'know. Highly Recommended.

Related Reviews: DVD Savant has written a review of the untainted version of Hercules Against the Moon Men. Incidentally, all of the movies in this set are available on DVD, and not surprisingly, most of 'em have been issued by Something Weird Video. (Prince of Space is on the first Starman volume under the title Attack from Space, if you're curious.)
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C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

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