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MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI

Shout Factory // Unrated // August 2, 2011
List Price: $64.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted July 30, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:
It's a great day for MST fans.  I honestly never thought I'd see the five Gamera episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 releases on DVD, yet here they are.  The hold up, according to rumor, was due to Sandy Frank.  Apparently the crew of the Satellite of Love were a bit too cutting when they riffed Frank and the producer refused to re-license any of his properties to them after their original agreement expired.  (In Frank's defense they were a little harsh on the guy who was only trying to make a buck.)  In any case, the US rights to the Gamera films are now owned by Joyplex, Inc. who were happy to take money from Shout! Factory and Best Brains in order to get these gems released.  Run out and buy your copy ASAP before someone changes their minds.

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 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.

MST took on Gamera in their third season.  They ended up riffing five of the seven films in the original Showa Series (Gamera vs. Viras and Gamera vs. Jiger were the two not skewered) and those episodes are a highlight of Mystery Science Theater.  The movies themselves are fun even without the riffing, but add Joel and the bots making fun of the whole thing and it's a riot.  These episodes are some of the best TV ever.
The episodes included on this volume are:
Episode 302 - Gamera: 
"Those kids at school -- they tease you, Kenny. Because they've never tasted hell. Today, we turn the tables!" - Crow (speaking as Gamera)

Here's where it all began, in glorious black and white.  When a Russian jet is shot down in the Arctic after invading US air space its nuclear payload explodes, unleashing Gamera from the frozen depths.
The giant flying turtle wastes no time in attacking a power plant (because he thrives on fire and heat) and nothing the army does can stop him.  The monster rescues a young child, Kenny, who was looking for his lost pet turtle and starts a trend in the movies that provides fodder for some of the best riffs - Gamera is a friend to children.  Especially gullible children.  Even when Gamera runs amok and destroys a city, Kenny believes that the monster is fundamentally good and even convinces the military of that.
    Kenny: Don't shoot Gamera! Don't shoot Gamera! He's good, he's good!
    Joel:  Let's listen to what Kenny has to say!
    Dr. Murase: Yes. It might be a mistake. Maybe we shouldn't use those missiles.
    General: Why not? It's the only way to kill that monster.
    Servo: Because Kenny said so!
A good movie with some great, great, riffing, this is a wonderful indicator of things to come.
Episode 304 - Gamera Vs. Barugon: 
Joel: "Aw, I saw a wire. That wrecks everything."
Tom: "You mean this is fake?"

This second Gamera film is the low point in the series.  After the first movie was so successful the studio gave the sequel to one of its more prominent directors who really didn't know how to make a monster movie.
During WWII, a man discovered a huge gemstone hidden in a cave on an island in the Pacific.  Now, years later, he sends his brother and some cronies to retrieve the valuable object.  Once they do, and bring it back to Japan, it's discovered that the stone isn't a gem, but an egg and out pops the half-dog, half-lizard monster Barugon.  With a tongue that can be used as a battering ram, ice breath, and a destruction ray it seems that mankind has no hope.  Even Gamera gets knocked out by the freeze breath and spends most of the picture laying on his back.  But when he thaws, watch out doggy, Gamera is pissed.
The problem with this movie is that Gamera is pretty much a supporting character, so much so that at one point Joel wonders my Gamera got top billing.  The riffs are funny however and the battle at the end is fun.

This episode also has one of the very best host segments in the history of the show.  They come up with a great commercial for a new kids toy, the "Gamera 5000-piece Fightin' Men and Monster Set!"  A fast-talking Tom Servo does a great voice-over to sell the set that includes Gamera "he breathes real fire and causes real pain."  It's a classic.
Episode 308 - Gamera Vs. Gaos:
"You know, wild horses couldn't drag this plot any further." - Tom

One of my all time favorite MST episodes, and a great Gamera movie to boot.
When a company starts to build a road through some mountains they accidently wake up Gaos, a bat-like monster that can fly, regenerate limbs, and shoot a cutting laser out of his mouth.  He also likes the taste of human blood, but when he tries to eat a little butterball named Itchy Gaos gets Gamera pissed.  The turtle comes to fight and brings a can of whoop ass.
The Gamera movies start to get wonderfully goofy with this installment.  A lot of the dialog an situations are hilarious even without Joel and the gang riffing.  For example, when a scientist is giving a press conference about Gaos his is asked:  "Dr. Aoki, as a zoologist what would you say the beast is? Would you say it's a bird, or is it a reptile?"  To which the noted scientist replies"  "I would like to say there isn't any recorded history of it...let's just call it a monster."  The plan they have to destroy Gaos is just as hilarious.  When the scientists realize that sunlight is deadly to the monster, and that he loves blood, they create a giant rotating fountain that spews artificial blood.  The idea is that he'll drink the blood until dawn, but then be too dizzy to fly off in time.  As Joel comments after the plan fails "Rotating tower of blood?  What was I thinking??"
Episode 312 - Gamera Vs Guiron: 
"Gamera is really neat... Gamera is filled with meat... we've been eating Gamera!"  -the whole gang

This, the most bizarre entry in the series, is notable for the introduction of the Gamera song which is sung time and time again through the rest of the Gamera movies (and the MST lyrics are funny every time.)  In this new adventure a pair of kids spot a spaceship landing in a nearby forest one night (something the rest of the world seems to have missed.)  The next morning the kids sneak past the comic relief policeman (whose name sounds something like "Officer Cornjob" so Joel and the bots go with that) and discover a spaceship.  Climbing aboard they're taken off into space where the see Gamera.  He tries to get the kids to turn around, but since they're not flying the ship they continue on course to the planet Terra.  It's an earth-like planet on the opposite side of the sun from Earth but with one big difference:  it's filled with monsters who have killed off all the inhabitants expect for a pair of hot space-babes who plan on eating the children's brains and then invading Earth.  They didn't count on Gamera though, who flies to the rescue and battle with the Terran monster Guiron, who looks like a giant knife.
This is a wonderfully wacky film.  From the colorful sets that look like they were designed by someone who was stoned to the bizarre monster the whole film is a lot of fun.  One of the aliens speaks with a fake southern drawl which just adds to the whole surreal feeling of the movie.  Add in Joel and the bots comments, and you've got a classic. 
Episode 316 - Gamera Vs Zigra:

"Ya know its weird but even the monster is badly dubbed." - Joel
The final Gamera film in the original series is a solid giant monster flick.  When a spaceship that looks like a giant bowl of skittles destroys Earth's base on the moon, no one seems to care.  So the ship kidnaps two scientists and their two kids and informs them that Zigra has arrived and that he is going to take over the Earth.  A sea-dwelling monster, Zigra plans to keep the humans alive, and use them as a source of food.  His tragic mistake is involving the kids because, as we all know by now, Gamera is a friend to children.  He arrives to kick some alien butt, but runs into a problem when the spaceship turns into a giant space-shark with razor-sharp fins.
This episode starts off with a party, Joel and the bots are celebrating the fact that this is their last Gamera movie, but it's a bit of a sad event because the crew of the SOL really did a great job with all of these films and this last one is no exception.  They reference everything from Monty Python to the Talking Heads and cult-leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet.  It's a wild 'experiment' filled with laughs throughout.
The DVD:

Each of the five episodes comes in its own slimcase, and all five are housed in a slipcase.  That, in turn, comes in a nice tin case with five Gamera/MST postcards.
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. There is a bit of cross colorization on crow's silhouette in the first film, but it's minor.  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 an attractive metal case to house the discs and a set of MST/Gamera postcards.  There are some cool video extras too.  So Happy Together:  A Look Back at MST3K & Gamera interviews Joel, Josh, Trace and others (though head writer Mike Nelson is noticeably absent) about Gamera and how MST started riffing on the giant turtle back in the KTMA days.  It's an interesting featurette and I wish it was longer.  Gamera Vs. the Chiodo Brothers was a poorly executed bonus item on the second disc.  The main problem is that they didn't explain who the Chiodo Brothers were at the beginning.  Instead a couple of guys start reminiscing about watching Gamera on TV way back when, and how much they love monster movies.  Okay.. great.  Eventually it's revealed that they are a special effects team that did the work on Killer Clowns from Outerspace and Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and they like Gamera.  Much better was Gamera Obscura:  A History by August Ragone, where the author of a book on Japanese Monsters talks about how Gamera came to be, the inspiration for the movies, behind the scenes anecdotes and some fun trivia.  Definitely worth watching.
There are also Japanese trailers for the movies and The MST Hour Wraps for Gamera.
Final Thoughts:
I have all of the MST3K commercial releases and this is easily the best volume.  Five wonderfully irreverent episodes without a dud in the lot and hours worth of great entertainment.  Run out and grab this set before it goes out of print.   DVDTalk Collector Series.
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