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Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection
Shout Factory // Unrated // November 25, 2014
List Price: $64.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
One of the traditions at my house is that every Thanksgiving we watch a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. It's been going on for years, ever since the first MST Turkey Day Marathon back in 1991. They were showing some episodes that I had missed and my birthday happened to coincide with Thanksgiving that year so it was easy to talk my wife into it. They rest is history.
The original Turkey Day Marathon was a fun event. From 1991 until the last one in 1995 Comedy Central would play over 24 hours of back-to-back episodes of MST3K (the final event in 1995 wasn't quite 24 hours worth). In between episodes there were new host segments created especially for the event that aired. Last year, in celebration of MST's 25th anniversary, Shout! Factory restarted the tradition but with a 21st Century spin: they streamed six episodes picked and hosted by MST creator Joel Hodgson. Not ones to let a good thing end prematurely, Shout! is streaming another on a Turkey Day Marathon this year (you can watch it on Thanksgiving here ) as well as releasing a Turkey Day collection. This minimarathon-in-a-box has four never released on DVD episodes along with some newly created Turkey Day bumpers (that are optional) as well as a massive collection of the original Turkey Day promos and spots from Comedy Central. It's a fun collection that will be great to break out on Thanksgiving.
The episodes in this set are:
Jungle Goddess with the serial The Phantom Creeps Pt.1 (episode 203) - Joel (while a snake is on screen): Hi, I'm Satan. Enjoy the film.
This show from early in the second year is pretty good, though it opens on a low note. Riffing a serial chapter every week is a great idea, and one they'd come back to, but they didn't do a great job with this one. The cliffhanger stars Bela Lugosi and Joel and company spend way too much time riffing in (horrible) Lugosi impersonations rather than their own voices. It wasn't that funny the first time, and by the end of the chapter it became annoying.
The movie was much better... in fact it was simply great. It had an artless plot, two aviators search the jungle for a missing heiress, but it has a notable cast and some plot points that made it rife for riffing. It stared George Reeves who would later become famous when he played Superman on TV, and Ralph Byrd best known for his Dick Tracy wok on TV and at Republic. Seeing the two actors together on screen was great, even if the movie is really dull. They made a couple of jokes about Reeves more notable role, but they did it well with a little bit of subtlety. At one point Reeves identifies a rare mineral and Joel says "It saps all your powers if you're a visitor from foreign planet." It takes a second to make the connection, which makes the joke all the more funny.
In thing that really elevates the quality of this is a plot point in the movie. One of the characters kills a native that startles him, and that starts a great running gag about white men coming to Africa to kill everything they don't understand. They mercilessly send up the film's white imperialist sentiments and it's incredibly funny.
There's an endless debate among MST fans as to which host is better, Joel or Mike. I've always contended that the riffing of the movies is better with Mike, but the host segments with Joel are superior, in general, to what would come later. This episode is a good example of some of the great Joel segments. The show starts off with everyone on the Satellite of Love playing hide-and-seek with "the elusive and inexplicable forces which control the universe." Then, during the invention exchange the Mads come up remove Dr. Forester's head and turn it into a saxophone... and call it Dr. Sax. (It's a semi-obscure reference to a Jack Kerouac novel which hilariously came out of left field.)
The best host segment was where Joel demonstrates the use of mattes on camera lenses (or GOBOs [which stands for "GOes Before Optics"]). Joel shows how you can use them to create 'looking through binoculars' and other effects. They start off normal, but then become really creative and bizarre. Funny stuff.
Painted Hills with the short Body Care and Grooming (episode 510) - Crow: Now, is this the real Old West, or the Roy Rogers Old West where they had electricity and cars?
This episode starts out with an educational short about keeping yourself clean. It starts out strong when Servo reads the title: "Body Care. And Grooming. They're cops." It doesn't let up from there.
The feature is a Lassie film, as Joel says in his intro to this episode, it's really a collie named Pal, playing a dog named Lassie, who is playing a dog named Shep. It was the last Lassie feature that MGM made, and it's easy to see why. The film is pretty standard western fare at best, and Lassie doesn't really add anything to the picture. The plot revolves around an old prospector (and his dog Shep) who is just about ready to make a claim, but has to take on a new partner who is less than honorable.
I really enjoyed the riffing on this one. There are a lot of great lines ("You've killed again, haven't you?") and they poke fun at the whole movie ("You can't flash back to something that never happened! That's not fair!"). The MST comments make a standard, if dull, animal film fun and enjoyable.
Like the previous episode in this collection, the host segments in this one are great. It has one of my favorites too, where the MST gang write reports about their favorite person from history who looks like the grizzled old prospector in the movie. Crow did his on President Rutherford B. Hayes, and it is absolutely hilarious. Here's an excerpt: "Here are a few highlights from the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Thomas Edison invented the pornograph, beginning the age of pornography. President Hayes then passed the Hayes, act started the Hayes Office, won fame as an American lyric tenor and was named Archbishop of New York in 1919. After he retired, he founded the original ZZ Top with James Garfield and Chester Allen Arthur." A real classic.
Screaming Skull with the short Robot Rumpus (episode 912) - Mike: I think the title was supposed to be "Screaming, semicolon, Skull".
This was the only time that Gumby, the long-running Claymation character, made an appearance on MST. That's too bad because this short is a lot of fun both as a cartoon and being riffed by Mike and the 'bots. The plot revolves around Gumby getting some robots to do his chores, but they soon run amok and havoc ensues. The comments flung at the screen make fun of the whole concept from clay people ("The nice thing about Gumby is that you can also use him as window caulk.") to the destruction of the robots, that really upset Tom and Crow.
The feature itself is a plodding affair, but the riffs really make the slow-paced film a lot of fun. When a man, Eric, brings his new wife, Jenni, to the estate that was left to him when Marion, his first wife, died under mysterious circumstances, everything seems fine. But soon Jenni, who was recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital, start to worry about the portrait of Marion that hangs in one of the rooms. She also starts to hear an odd screaming. Eric says that it is just birds, but when a skull appears in a closet Jenni is sure that the dead Marion is trying to drive her away.
This was a decent episode with some good lines. They did a good job of filling in the long, drawn out scenes where nothing happens with running gags and some pretty clever jabs. The host segments to this experiment, something that's pretty hit-and-miss in the Mike years, were really good. I especially enjoyed the Claymation story that Tom and Crow make after the Gumby episode. It was inspired. The segment where Crow made himself look like a skull to scare Mike had me laughing all the way through it too. Good stuff.
Squirm with the short A Case of Spring Fever (episode 1012) - Crow: Save the girl or go antiquing? Hmmm... Antiques, here I come!
The penultimate episode of Mystery Science Theater, but Mike and the rest show no signs of slowing down. They start off with a great educational short about the many uses of springs. When a man tires of tying down the springs on his couch, he wishes that there were no springs. A magical, animated sprite, Coily, appears and grants him his wish. This low-rent version of It's a Wonderful Life is just so odd and takes itself so seriously that it make for some great riffing. It worked so well that Mike and the guys at Rifftrax skewered it a second time for a live event.
The feature is a low-budget cult horror movie, Squirm. The staple of late-night cable for years, it's a bad movie, but not one that's hard to sit through. When a storm knocks down the power lines in a small town in Georgia, the live wires charge the ground making the worms powerful and hungry for human flesh. Isolated from the rest of civilization, only a goofy guy from New York and his local girlfriend realize the danger, but no one will listen to them.
While the short was better, the feature is really good too. The whole concept of a killer-worm horror flick is goofy and Mike and the bots are able to have a lot of fun with it. (It should be noted that the film has been edited. The more graphic horror scenes have been cut out so it could air on basic cable.) The movie also makes Georgia look so unappealing (it was filmed on location) that are one point Tom pleads with the south to secede again. "We won't stop you this time" he promises. (Mike quickly apologizes to everyone south of the Mason-Dixie.) A lot of shows run out of steam a long time before they're cancelled, but this experiment shows that MST still had a lot left.
Each of the four episodes comes in its own slimcase, and all of the discs are housed in an attractive, embossed, metal case.
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. Some of the prints that were used for the show are horrible (Screaming Skull... I'm looking at you) but there's not anything that can really be done about that.
Shout! Factory has been creating new content for the bonus material on their recent MST releases, and this one is no exception. This Turkey Day collection features new intros and sketches with Joel, Tom, and Crow. These were okay, there was at least one funny gag in each one, but they're marred by the fact that each one includes a string of clips from the upcoming episode. This gives away the jokes without the proper set up and lessens the impact. I recommend watching them after the show... that's what I started doing half way through.
There's also a new featurette looking at the Turkey Day Marathons, and an impressive collection of Turkey Day promos and bumpers that runs nearly an hour in length. (The video quality on these is very bad... apparently the originals no longer exist so these were taken from VHS copies.) In addition there is a new interview with Squirm star Don Scardino, a featurette on the making of The Screaming Skull, and a look at Gumby creator Art Clokey.
Even after dozens of collections, this set proves that there are still some great episodes of MST to be released. These shows are all pretty good, and some are great. The riffs are funny and the host segments are generally great. It's a fantastic collection with some high quality extras all wrapped up in a cool metal box. Highly Recommended.