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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. 11-Collection
Rhino's tenth boxed set of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes ran into some legal problems (almost assuredly because of the inclusion of a Godzilla movie) and had to be pulled off the shelves soon after release. The company decided to play it safe with their next release, so MST3K Set 11 includes only movies that are in the public domain. These offerings, three from the Joel era and one from Mike's run, are average offerings for the show, which means that they are hilarious. This will be a great addition to any collection.
Most of you reading this are probably already familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for short.) For those who might have missed the program when it was being aired on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel (in its later years), here is the concept in a nutshell: some evil scientists have trapped Joel (later replaced by Mike) on a satellite in space. Dr. Forester (or his mother in the later shows) tortures poor Joel by forcing him to watch bad movies. Really bad movies. To keep his sanity, Joel has used parts from the ship to fashion robots, Crow and Tom Servo, who watch the movies with him. While these movies are playing, Joel, Crow and Tom are silhouetted at the bottom of the screen and crack jokes at the movie's expense. It sounds simple, but it is one of the funniest shows to ever air on television. One of the reason's for the show's success is the fact that the jokes come form all over. They will throw in references to pop culture, ancient history, current events, movies, music (classical, jazz, country or rock,) politics, famous people, (and not-so-famous people) and just about anything else you can think of. Some of the trivia they come up with is so obscure it is amazing.
Of course, the quality of the movies they pick are almost not an issue. As a general rule, the worse the movie is, the better the show will be. (As evidenced by Manos, Hands of Fate. A totally abysmal film that is arguably the best episode of MST ever. Read my review here.) In any case, I'll give a brief synopsis of the movies, as well as a review of the quality of the episode.
The episodes included on this volume are:
Episode 206: Ring of Terror w/ Phantom Creeps Chapter 3
Hey, a graveyard. They can bury the script there. - Joel
This set starts off with a horrid movie that has a lot of great fodder for Joel and the 'bots. After an incredibly long opening sequence involving a not-so-scary host looking for his cat in a graveyard, the man finally starts to tell the story of Lewis B. Moffit (George E. Mather), a medical student who looks like he's 40 (he was actually 41 when the movie was filmed if the IMDB can be believed) and is known on campus for being fearless. Not flinching during the student's first autopsy, Moffit is given an especially creepy initiation to get into the college's fraternity; an initiation that has deadly consequences.
This is a great episode because Joel and the gang come up with some great running gags and kept on hammering on them, with hilarious results. The best was the fact that all of the 'college kids' looked like they were middle aged (and they were.) The direction was abysmal. The film had several scenes of people just walking around and these otherwise dull minutes were filled with some great riffs.
"Could you get that son? Oh, I forgot, I'm a college student." - Crow
This episode was also helped out by some great host segments. The autopsy on a Hoover vacuum cleaner that had the 'bots passing out was funny, and the after the movie scene where Joel asked his robots to name one good thing about the movie (which they couldn't do) was hilarious too. The highlight was Frank singing the Chauffeur Song, wondering what it would be like if chauffeurs ruled the world. Classic stuff.
"What about the Ring of Terror? What about the plot, Joel? Am I the only one who cares? -Tom
Following the movie is another chapter from the serial The Phantom Creeps. This isn't nearly as good as the movie itself, and you could tell that the writers have run out of steam on this short. After riffing the previous two chapters they must have used up their best jokes because this one only had a few. This was the last chapter that MST would show.
Episode 409: The Indestructible Man w/ Undersea Kingdom Chapter 2
"I've got to take an indestructible whiz" - Tom Servo
This poverty row picture features Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his least memorable roles. Told from the point of view of police lieutenant Richard Chasen (Max Showalter), this cinematic atrocity tells the story of Butcher Benton (Chaney) who is being put to death for stealing a large amount of money, money that was never recovered. Before he is put to death, a crooked attorney who framed Benton tries to get the location of the stolen loot out of the condemned man with no luck.
Benton is put to death, but afterwards his body is sold to a scientist who manages to revive the brutal killer. In the process, Benton's body becomes inhumanly tough, some would say indestructible. Now all Butcher wants to do is kill those who testified against him and the police are helpless to stop him.
"So, in a way, pain is good. Otherwise, we might be hurt and not know it, and die during social studies." -Tom Servo
This is a horribly constructed film. It is supposed to be told in the first person, narrated by the police officer in charge of the case. Unfortunately the writer wasn't up to the task, and many events occur when Chasen isn't around. To get around this gigantic flaw, they added some narration of the officer stating that he learned about these events at a later date.
Chaney, a life long alcoholic, was supposedly so far gone at this stage that he couldn't recite his lines. Because of this they deleted all of his dialog save for one exchange at the beginning of the film. Cheney staggers around and glowers well, but much of his time on screen is taken up with an extreme close up that is shown again and again. In one of the host segments Joel even has Cambot zoom in so he can play at being the Indestructible Man.
"This has all the suspense of a Brian DePalma version of a Hitchcock film." - Joel
The inhabitants of the Satellite of Love have a great time riffing on this film, and while it's not one of their very best efforts, there are some solid jokes. The lines come at a pretty constant rate through the movie and this includes one of my all time favorite MST lines. When Lt. Chasen observes that "No one in their right mind would believe a man had returned from the dead." Joel quips "Only millions of Christians." The short, the second chapter of The Undersea Kingdom, has some funny lines too and is a good supplement to the feature.
Episode 414: Tormented
"Nothing like an invigorating swim with a corpse in the morning." -Tom
A classically bad movie brought to us by writer/producer/director Bert I. Gordon, the man behind such films as Earth Vs. The Spider and The Amazing Colossal Man. Jazz musician Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is about to be married to the young, attractive daughter of a rich industrialist, Meg (Lugene Sanders). The week before the wedding however, his buxom ex-girlfriend Vi (Julie Reding) shows up and meets him at the top of an abandoned lighthouse. (What a romantic spot for a rendez vous.) Vi is a jealous, possessive, maniac and states that she'll never leave Tom alone and that she'll never allow him to marry Meg. While leaning against a rickety old railing it gives way and Vi is left clutching a spar for dear life. She calls out to Tom to save her, but he just watches as she falls to her death. But, like I said, Vi is a jealous and possessive person and isn't about to let a little thing like death stoop her. She starts haunting Tom and trying to break up his wedding.
This was another decent offering. A bad movie that turned into a good episode of MST. The riffs were solid and there were some inspired moments. One standout section is where Joel and the robots mimic an old "Sessions" record compilation TV ad from the 70's. They do this a couple of times, singing a single line from several pop hits that are better forgotten. A real laugh out loud moment.
"In all the lighthouses in all the world, she had to fall off of mine." - Crow
The host segments were good too. Especially enjoyable is the lighthouse sketch where Joel asks the robots which musicians they'd like to see fall from a lighthouse tower, and then he illustrates it with a model. The next segment is a great parody of the movie and features Tom and Crow's heads haunting Joel just like Vi's head did in the movie.
"Oh, geez. Hayley Mills gets "The Parent Trap", I get stuck in this... "
Episode 1011: Horrors of Spider Island
What can one say about The Horrors of Spider Island? It's a horror film made to titillate, but without much horror or titillation. A group of six dancers are hired by a slick producer to star in a show in Singapore. They're hired in Hollywood and inexplicably fly out from New York City heading toward the orient. Over the pacific their plane runs into trouble and the well endowed dancers and up floating in the ocean with their producer in a rowboat. (The type of boat that all jetliners carry with them.) The group eventually lands on an island that's rich in uranium. When a large radioactive spider bites the producer, he not only gains the powers of a spider like Peter Parker, he turns into one. The whole man-spider story is then dropped for about half an hour when a pair of hip geologists land on the island and try to score with all of the chicks.
"Is this the titillating trump card? Dancers chasing a half-man, half-spider?" -Mike.
This episode was aired in the show's last season, and it doesn't have the zing that the other episodes in this set do. While the movie is predictably bad, the group isn't able to turn that into many laughs. When the girls all skinny dip in a grotto, the crew riff on the fact that the women don't have nipples a several times. Unfortunately these jokes come all at the same time so instead of feeling like a running gag it comes across as padding. There were some good moments in the film, like when Mike points out muscular some of the women are "[She] played fullback for the Lions", but overall it is a slightly disappointing episode.
"Maybe I've always just misunderstood what spiders are. They're large, hairy bipeds with pants." - Tom
One point that film buffs may find interesting is that Harald Maresch plays one of the geologists, Joe. (He's billed as Temple Foster.) Maresch obtained his place in Hollywood history because of his girlfriend Lupe Velez. Lupe was dating Harald when she discovered that she was pregnant. She asked him to marry her, but he refused. Velez's movie career was on the skids at this time, and she realized that she'd never be remembered for her movies. So she decided to kill herself, and try to gain immortality that way. She dressed in a silk nightgown, carefully applied her makeup, took an overdose of Seconal, and then positioned herself how she wanted to be found. She wanted to make an attractive picture for the papers the next day. Unfortunately the pills upset her stomach and she had to vomit. It was a case of too little too late however, and that was how she was found: dead with her head in the toilet.
In her suicide note Velez named Maresch as the father of her unborn child, and the public's reaction against him was strong. His career was in ruins and he had to take roles in C-grade movies like Horrors of Spider Island to make a living.
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 film=s soundtracks leave a little to be desired. 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 easy to discern, but that is fairly rare.
There are no 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 very pleased at how clear it was. My S-VHS tapes are good but these are 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, Ring of Terror was very dark in many places, but they look just as faded and scratchy as when they were first shown on MST3K, which is how it should be.
The one exception was the Horror of Spider Island episode. This show had several horizontal video glitches, defects that are on the original video tapes.
Like the previous set, Rhino has included some solid bonus material with this group of episodes. All of the movies (with the exception of Ring of Terror) have trailers included. Tormented has the introductions and concluding remarks that 'Jack Perkins' did when that episode was broadcast in two parts on the Play MST Hour. There is also a "Tormented Reunion" with director/writer/producer Bert I. Gordon, actress Susan Gordon, and actor Joe Turkel. They talk about filming the movie and their careers.
The Ring of Terror disc includes another Video Jukebox. This includes 10 songs from the series there were done by the cast. This was great, because their songs are often the highlights of the host segments. This set has the following songs:
Clown in the Sky
The Janitor Song
The Greatest Frank of All
When Loving Lovers Love
The Many Tunes of Gamera
A Patrick Swayze Christmas (one of their greatest songs!)
The Bomb Song
I was disappointed that the Sandy Frank Song wasn't included, since that's a large part of the reason that Frank won't license his movies for release. In any case this was a funny set of songs and adds a lot to the set.
This eleventh set of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes is another solid entry in the series. Ring of Terror is easily the funniest one in the bunch, but The Indestructible Man and Tormented are also very enjoyable. The only episode that really misses is Horrors of Spider Island, but even that episode has enough humor to make it worth watching. The fact that Rhino has included some quality extras is another welcome surprise and makes this set Highly Recommended. Rhino continues to provide good value too. These boxed sets are cheaper than the individual releases on a per episode basis which is a great bonus.