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Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIX
Shout! Factory continues their line of Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxed set collections with this latest twenty-ninth volume, a four disc set that once again collections a quartet of movies and loads them up with the kind of extra features that fans of the series love. Here's what we get this time around, spread across the four discs in the set…
Directed by Howard W. Koch in 1957, Untamed Youth details the exploits of two hitchhiking sisters, Penny (Mamie Van Doren) and Jane Lowe (Lori Nelson), two foxes who come to the attention of the local authorities when they stop on their way to Los Angeles for a quick skinny dip. They get busted by the cops and are sentenced to go work in the fields of a local work camp ‘sponsored' by a local business big timer, Russ Tropp (John Russell). He lets the local delinquents work off their sentence and gets free labor in return. Tropp is a jerk though. He uses his two big, scary dogs to intimidate the young women that work on his farm and he's got a bit of a lecherous vibe going on. He's also in cahoots with the local judge, Mrs. Steele (Lurene Tuttle), which more or less results in a stream of workers being handed over whenever he needs it.
When the judge's dreamy son winds up working at the camp, he starts to fall for Jane in a big way and after he sees how the workers are treated, well, it just might be time to do something about it. That is, if these wild and crazy kids can stop rockin' to the jukebox long enough to make a go of it.
This movie is so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh at it even without the riffing from Joel and the bots. Mamie Van Doren looks fantastic here, the filmmakers keep her clad in a tight fitting sweater for most of the movie that, for its time, would have been pretty racy stuff. It all seems pretty hokey and innocent by today's standards though, and the ham-fisted morality of it all makes for some good material. Or so you'd think. This one actually falls fairly flat, which is surprising because the movie is one that should have been low hanging fruit. The consistency of the jokes never quite gels and while, yeah, like every episode there are a few laugh out loud moments, the guys never seem to hit that rapid fire stride that makes their best episodes so watchable.
Hercules And The Captive Women:
1961's Hercules And The Captive Women was directed by Vittorio Cottafavi and stars beefy Reg Park as the titular hero. When he and some goons wind up in a shipwreck he washes ashore on a remote island where he quickly rushes into action to save a gorgeous young woman named Ismene (Laura Altan) from being sacrificed to a monster. But it turns out that there's an evil queen about named Antinea (Fay Spain) who has other plans for Hercules and his pal Androclo (Ettore Manni). It all has to do with Atlantis and a prophecy about how its destruction is tied to Ismene or something and honestly, the amount of captive women in this movie can't help but disappoint, because there's really only one. At least she's cute.
This one is so ripe with goofy dubbing, nonsensical characters and bad action scenes that it's an easy target for the MST3K crew and this entry does find them in fine form. There's a pretty great reference to the TV series Bonanza in here that fans of TV westerns will snicker at, a few noteworthy musical references and even a Family Ties gag involving a Michael Gross lookalike. Most of the riffing is at the expense of the wooden action and ludicrous plot but the bad effects get jabbed often as well. Judged on its own merits, this is actually a fun and entertaining adventure movie without the riffing, but let's be honest, it's pretty silly stuff and the Satellite's inhabitants have fun with it.
The Thing That Couldn't Die:
Director Will Cowan's infamous 1958 turkey The Thing That Couldn't Die tells the story of a psychic girl named Jessica Burns (Carolyn Kearney) who lives on a remote ranch with her Aunt Flavia (Peggy Converse). They work alongside two ranch hands that keep the place going and they make a living by renting out rooms to guests who want a quiet western style vacation. Jessica's life takes an interesting turn when she tries to use her psychic abilities to find water and winds up instead finding a centuries old chest. Inside this chest? The disembodied head of a sixteenth century Satanist named Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes)!
Soon, Drew's head is controlling a ranch hand and killing people off and then later Jessica gets attacked. When the ranchers all work together and eventually find the body that the head belongs to, they bring it back to the ranch in hopes that if they reunite it things will go back to normal. No dice!
The Thing That Couldn't Die is a fun Z-grade horror picture that recycles bits from This Island Earth (something that Crow picks up on) and which moves at a pretty good pace. It's central concept is ridiculous, of course, but that only adds to its entertainment value. Generally speaking this is a pretty solid episode with some funny jokes made at the expense of the ranch hands and the cowboy setting, including some obvious but well-timed references to the music of Willie and Waylon as well as a few TV westerns, and if you want to get more obscure, there's a crack about The Milagro Beanfield War and Let's Scare Jessica To Death in here too. The jokes are clever and well-paced and while the narrative segments are goofy and unremarkable, the riffing here is pretty solid and it holds up well to repeat viewings.
Saving the best for last, we get Alberto De Martino's ridiculous Italian superhero movie from 1980, The Pumaman! This fan favorite stars Walter George Alton as Professor Tony Farms, a dashing young educator who encounters a mystical South American guy named Vadinho (Miguel Ángel Fuentes) who bequeaths to him a giant medallion. This medallion gives to Tony the powers of the puma and he becomes Pumaman! Meanwhile, a guy named Kobras (Donald Pleasance) is up to no good. He uses the magical powers gained by possessing a gold Aztec mask to control peoples' minds. Tony uses his newfound super powers in an attempt to stop Kobras but his initial attempts end in failure and our champion thinks very seriously about giving up superheroics for good, but then he changes his mind and decides to once again become a Puma powered source for good.
Filled to the rafters with bad acting, horrible special effects and ridiculous stunts, Pumaman is the stuff MST3K fans' dreams are made of and the crew do not disappoint with their constant skewering of this one. Easy target? Definitely, but this episode is a blast. There's so much to go after here, from the fact that the hero is actually a really whiny, semi-irritating guy to the fact that Donald Pleasence is incapable of not hamming it up for a second in this film. The special effects that show us the hero flying are ridiculous and it's all set to a dopey soundtrack that only accentuates the silliness of it all. There are references and gags galore here, from a bit referencing This Is Spinal Tap to Dorf jokes to quips about Carl Sagan's Cosmos and a bit about Craig T. Nelson of all people. The humor here is fast, constant and clever and this is hands down the best of the four episodes in this collection.The DVD:
The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace all four films in this set won't blow you away but they're watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen so purists take note, and the transfers are taken from often times edited down old TV masters so those expecting the movies to appear here as they were originally intended will be disappointed. That said, they look as good here as they did on TV when they first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. Are the transfers great? Nope, but they don't need to be.Sound:
The commentary comes through nice and clear, there are no problems understanding the participants and they've balanced nicely against the audio from the movie itself. As far as the quality of that part is concerned, it's on par with the transfer. It's not great, in fact, there are times where it sounds quite shrill. It gets the job done, as it should, but it's nothing impressive.Extras:
The extras on the Untamed Youth disc begin with a two minute Introduction By Joel Hodgson that basically lets him talk about his love of teens gone bad style movies and their fit in the pantheons of the MST3K catalogue. We also get a seven minute Interview With Mamie Van Doren in which the film's female lead talks about her life in pictures, how she got into acting, her modelling work, and how some quirks in her personal life came back to haunt her. She also talks about her work on this specific picture and looks back quite fondly on it. We also get a six minute piece called About Joel Hodgson's Riffing Myself in which the man himself talks about how he developed his own live one man show and what he hopes he'll be able to bring to the audience with it. Menus, chapter selection and a theatrical trailer for Untamed Youth round out the supplements on this first disc.
Hodgson also provides an introduction for Hercules And The Captive Women that clocks in at just over three minutes. Here he talks about his appreciation for Italian peblum films and tells some interesting stories about how and why this episode turned out the way that it did. MST3K Artist In Residence: Steve Vance is a ten minute interview with Vance who talks about his creative process and how he comes up with some of the ideas that wind up on the covers and menus of these releases from Shout! Factory. We also get a still gallery called The Posters of MST3K that show off a bunch of Vance's illustrative work on this line that rounds out the extras on the second disc.
Disc three kicks off with a nine minute piece called The Movie That Couldn't Die which is a reasonably straight laced retrospective look back at the making of this particular feature. Tom Weaver offers up some interesting historical analysis along with a bunch of fun facts and trivia bits that fit nicely here alongside the archival stills and interviews. The third disc also includes a theatrical trailer for the feature.
The main extra on the four disc is the complete Un-MST'd Pumaman which is, as you could probably have guessed, the full length version of the movie sans the commentary and silhouettes that are in the MST3K version. It would have been nice to get it in better shape and in its original aspect ratio rather than what looks like a full frame tape sourced version but it's still cool to have it included in the set. Complimenting this rather nicely is a twenty-five minute Interview With Star Walter G. Alton, Jr.. Here the film's leading man talks quite frankly about how he wound up making the jump from working as a lawyer to becoming Pumaman in Italy! He shares some great stories here about what it was like working on this picture, what the director was like and of course, how it was working with the mighty Donald Pleasence. This is a really fun interview and Shout! are commended for tracking this guy down to include his input on this release. We also get a quick four minute segment called Much Ado About Nanites that talks about how and why the little puppets that were introduced in later episodes of the show came to be.
Each of the four discs contains a nifty animated menu and chapter selection. Inside the packaging along with the discs (packed in slimline cases) you'll find some neat mini posters.Final Thoughts:
Shout! Factory continues to give fans what they want with their Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxed set releases and this volume keeps that trend alive. It's a solid collection with The Pumaman being the highlight made all the more interesting by the inclusion of some strong supplemental material. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.