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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XIX

Shout Factory // Unrated // November 9, 2010
List Price: $69.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 26, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:
Shout! Factory has just released Mystery Science Theater XIX, another collection of four episodes from the classic program.  This set features two Joel and two Mike installments, and with only one exception the episodes are all hilarious, especially Robot Monster, one of the show's early successes from season one.  Add to that a nice Gypsy figure (to go along with the Tom and Crow figures previously released) and you've got another wonderful set.

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 reasons 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 107-Robot Monster and Radar Men from the Moon, Chapters 4 & 5:
"To call this film wretched would just be a insult to the word wretched! It stars no-one! Oh, man, you won't believe this!" -  Dr. Lawrence Erhardt
A wonderful turkey of a film... it is one of those so- bad-it's-good movies that's fun to watch all by itself.  Adding the MST riffs just makes it better.  A family (headed by a scientist with a German accent, naturally) is out picnicking in a quarry, when one alien invades and destroy nearly all of mankind.  The creature, Ro-Man from the race of Ro-Man, starts to hunt down the last handful of humanity still alive, the family of course, but once Ro-Man sees the hot daughter of the scientist he starts to feel love, a forbidden emotion. 

A Ro-Man, out standing in his field.

This film is famous for having one of the most outrageous, and cheap, monster costumes ever:  a man in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on his head.  Yeah, that's terrifying.  What makes this fantastic MST fodder however is Ro-Man's constant pontificating on love and science.  "I must, but I cannot!  At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet?"  Joel and the bots mercilessly riff on the abysmal dialog. 
This is an episode from MST's first season, which was a work in progress.  They were still finding their way and figuring out just how long the host segments should last and how many jokes to put into the movie section of the show.  This episode is an early success that shows what the program would soon evolve into.
Episode 423-Bride of the Monster and Hired! Part 1:
"He tampered in God's domain." - Capt. Robbins
The short that starts out this experiment is excellent.  It's a short made by Chevy about selling cars and how to train new salesmen.  Joel has a great time yelling out "Hey do you want to buy a Chevrolet?" whenever the clean cut main character would knock on a door.  He carried that riff over to the main feature, which was a nice touch.

The feature is the first Ed Wood Jr. film to get the MST treatment.  This is also one of the last films that Bela Lugosi stared in before he died (as opposed to the movie he stared in after he died, the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space).  In this film Bela plays a scientist who uses atomic radiation to create a monster, a giant octopus that lives in the lake by his house/laboratory.  When a female reporter starts snooping around investigating a string of mysterious deaths near the lake, she stumbles upon the doctor who takes a fancy to her.  Luckily the woman's fiancé is a police office who goes out looking for her when she disappears.
Poor Bela wasn't doing well at this stage in his life, his heroin addiction was taking its toll.  Someone doubled him (very obviously) in all of the action scenes and the SOL inhabitants have a great time with that, as well as pointing out some of the movie's less than convincing effects and insert shots.  Another great experiment.
Episode 818-The Devil Doll:
"I've seen Baptist who can dance better than this."  -Tom Servo
This is the only episode that doesn't really work.  The movie, about a ventriloquist and his dummy that seems to be alive (a subgenre I usually enjoy), is very slow and ponderous and Mike and the crew can't quite bring it to life, even thought they try.

After a reporter's girl friend, a rich heiress, goes up on stage and is hypnotized by The Great Vorelli, she's oddly attracted to the creepy performer.  When she abruptly breaks off the relationship and announces that she's running away with Vorelli the reporter can't understand it and starts looking into the hypnotist's past.
The problem with this episode is that the movie is just too slow.  There isn't a lot of dialog to riff off of, just a lot of long, endless close-ups of people brooding.  There's only so much you can do with that.
The one place where this episode excels is in the host segments.  While the framing sequence involving Pearl in ancient Rome was mediocre at best, the segments during the film itself were great.  Pitch, the devil from Santa Claus (episode 521), offers to sell Crow some Devil Dolls, and give him a 10% discount if he'll just sign a simple agreement.  Mike kicks Pitch off the satellite, but he returns and offers to teach Crow how to transfer souls.  Mike again shoos away the demon, but not before Tom's soul is transferred to a breakfast pastry.
Episode 911-Devil Fish:
"Does the Coast Guard have a lot of use for flamethrowers?" - Crow T. Robot
Another solid episode from late in the show's run.  When a mysterious creature starts killing boaters in the Everglades, a team of plucky biologists sets out to track it down.  They soon find that it's much more than just a new species of aquatic animal, it's a Devil Fish.

This Italian production was just ripe for having the MST people take a shot at it.  The silly plot twists and rather pedestrian acting left room for some wonderful jabs.  I especially enjoyed the way the made fun of the heroin chic lead actress' lack of heft.  It's a funny episode.
The DVD:
Each of the four episodes comes in its own slimcase.  All four are housed in a clipcase.
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 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.
I'm pleased that Shout! is including some nice bonus features with their MST releases.  This set includes a nice sized plastic (inarticulate) figure of Gypsy, as well as four mini-posters that reproduce the DVD covers.  In addition there are some extras on each disc.  There's an introduction to Robot Monster by J. Elvis Weinstein, an interview with Joel, Inventing the Invention Exchange, where he discusses his thoughts on the structure of the show (and reveals the full name of Gizmonic Institute, which I hadn't come across before).  There's an hour long panel discussion from CONvergence 2009 featuring Joel, Frank and Mary Jo Pehl.  This is a nice talk and Joel is funny and forthcoming about the origins of the show.  Pretty interesting stuff.
Other video extras include Puppet Master:  Richard Gordon on Devil Doll and Citizen Wood:  Making The Bride, Unmaking the Legend, a bit on Ed Wood.
Final Thoughts:
Three great episodes, one not-so-great installment.  The set is still a must-buy, especially for Robot Monster an early high point in the series.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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