Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI
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For this 26th volume of MST3K, an introduction could well be pared down to one cult TV series with two guys, two robots, four movies and 10,000 jokes. This new collection of previously unreleased episodes picks up where the last 25 left off: seating you next to the funniest peanut gallery in television history. Its a deep dive into the human instinct for survival, where our warped warriors aboard the Satellite of Love find the funny in the tragic...or at least the cheesy. In fact, its not too hyperbolic to insist that what Joel, Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot do, as they defend us against the slings and arrows of outrageously unfortunate movies, is nothing less than keep us sane. If you dont agree, you re obviously crazy. See what we did there? Titles Include: The Magic Sword, Alien From L.A. , Danger!! Death Ray & The Mole People.
Magicians, mole people, super spies, and supermodels all get their just deserts courtesy of the crew of the Satellite of Love in Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI, which offers up a quartet of episodes from the Peabody Award-winning cult comedy series. As with previous Shout Factory releases, the four experiments included here, which make their home video debuts with this set, offer a cross-section of the program's entire television run, from its fourth season on Comedy Central (The Magic Sword) to its eighth-season debut on The Sci-Fi Channel (The Mole People). Though ranking the four episodes is a moot point--like pizza and other simple delights, even the most lightweight MST3K entry offers more laughs than most current network shows--only The Magic Sword, which puts paid to Bert I. Gordon's supremely silly fantasy, can be honestly called a bona fide classic, thanks in part to inspired riffing and a memorable host segment featuring Crow T. Robot's impassioned love song to elderly star Estelle Winwood. Season five's Alien from L.A., with a helium-voiced Kathy Ireland, runs a close second due to the dizzying scope of its references, which cover everything from Devo and Ted Nugent to Ray Stevens, wrestler Nick Bockwinkel, and the drag dance corps Les Ballets Trockadero. The Eurospy thriller Danger!! Death Ray, from season six, and The Mole People are amusing if unmemorable efforts that should please completists, but it's Magic Sword and, to a lesser extent, Alien from L.A. that will remind longtime fans and show first-time viewers why Mystery Science Theater 3000 retains its status as one of television's funniest and most imaginative shows.
Shout Factory fills out the set with a handful of extras, some more substantive than others, but all with something to hold the viewer's interest. Head writer Mike Nelson, who took over for series creator Joel Hodgson in the fifth season (and stars in three of the four episodes included here), is profiled in the newest installment of Life After MST3K. Nelson discusses his transition to host as well as his books of humorous film criticism and stint in RiffTrax, which takes an MST3K riffing approach to both mainstream and B films. Both Bert I. Gordon and The Mole People receive their own featurettes, though the former offers only a thumbnail of the prolific writer-producer-director's prolific career. Of Mushrooms and Madmen: Making the Mole People is more substantive, exploring not only its production but studio demands to add a downbeat ending for its onscreen romance between human and underground dweller for fear of miscegenation charges! Alien from L.A. director Albert Pyun talks about the film's unusual budgeting and the challenges of Ireland's stratospheric voice (he also politely hedges on giving an opinion of the show's treatment of his film), while clips of Nelson showing off respectable fencing skills while in Jack Perkins drag from The MST Hour round out the set. --Paul Gaita
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They are: THE MAGIC SWORD, Episode 411. A Bert I. Gordon production (1962) with first-rate special effects, and probably the most successful movie of the four upon initial release. Technically pitched at kids though there's a fair amount of hot-cha in this story about a lovesick wannabe knight (Gary Lockwood) in search of his love despite the predations of a rival (Liam Sullivan) and an evil sorcerer (Basil Rathbone). Estelle Winwood is a hoot as the adoptive mother, whom Crow falls in love with during one of the host segments and sings a song to, about how she's "rooty-toot-toot" and "smells like Juicy Fruit." A good solid Joel-and-bots episode, though really the movie can stand on its own.
ALIEN FROM L.A., Episode 516 - I for one just can't get beyond supermodel Kathy Ireland's voice. Some people say she had a "little girl's voice" but I disagree. Marilyn Monroe used a "little girl's" voice. Ireland sounds like a cartoon mouse. Other than that, it's a decent enough mash-up of dystopian, high-tech, and Atlantis themes - all so VERY 1988! Plenty of opportunity for the SOL crew to lampoon the outrageous hair and clothing styles, Aussie accents and Ireland's squeaky earnestness. Many people consider this a favorite episode.
DANGER! DEATH RAY, Episode 620. A silly and potentially annoying Spanish-Italian James Bond ripoff from the height of that era (1967). Mike and the bots get fine lampooning out of the cardboard characters, pervasive sex scenes and hails of bullets. In fact, I'd say it's a good example of a movie redeemed by their riffing. You couldn't pay me to see it if not for them.
And finally, THE MOLE PEOPLE, Episode 803. This 1958 archaeological fantasy was hardly Universal's finest hour among monster and sci-fi flicks, but you have to admire the tenacity in sticking to its ludicrous premise. John Agar, Hugh Beaumont and others stumble onto an underground lair that has held an intact Sumerian civilization, still functioning after 3,000 years. A great riff session for things-that-look-like-things: dozens of boxes at the expedition's staging site are called "Free government cheese!" - other equipment came from "Sam's Club of Asia." Maybe it's a guilty pleasure, but I enjoyed the movie and the heckling both.
Even though most people aren't going to fall in love with all four source movies, and despite the fact none of the episodes has a short-subject included, I'll still give this one five stars -- and the current price is right.
I was personally most excited to see "Alien From L.A.," the dreadful Golan-Globus production featuring the beautiful but squeaky-voiced non-actress Kathy Ireland in the lead role. By all accounts she is nice and upstanding person, but here she incurs the rapier wit of Mike and the bots due to her somewhat lacking performance. I loved the interview with director Albert Pyun who explained that Kathy's voice was so high that finally they just went with it and added the self-referential voice jokes at the last minute. For people who recall Kathy Ireland as the ultimate glamor model, the transformation from plain to amazing is predictably sappy yet immensely fun. This episode also features one of my favorite host segments concerning Clara Peller in her underpants. Watch for it.
I also loved "Danger!! Death Ray," a cheesy would-be Italian James Bond-esque thriller featuring super spy Bart Fargo (!) as played by Gordon Scott dealing with said death ray and tons of swarthy bad guys in Italian villas. Although the death ray itself is essentially forgotten after about the first ten minutes or so, the riffing is exceptionally strong as poor Bart does his best to make a camp classic into a contender for the Italian cinema. A particular pleasure of this episode for me is the intro in which the crazy genius who built the death ray gives a mind-bending speech about how it's only for peaceful purposes. Sadly, it's the high point of the movie.
"The Mole People" is a fantastic black and white John Agar vehicle that has been featured in countless jokes on MST3K over the years, many predating running the episode itself. It is a classic of the 1950s monster movie genre, and features outstanding riffing over a silly movie that reminds me fondly of late night UHF television reruns from when I was a kid.
I am not big into fantasy or sword and sandals movies, so while many adore "The Magic Sword," I found it the most tedious in the package. It's funny seeing Basil Rathbone ham it up in this one, though, and the MST writers are sharply on point here, so if you like the loopy fantasy elements on display you will love this episode.
I can't recommend "Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI" more highly. For either experienced MST3K fans or those new to the concept, it's a great blend of surreal movies and great Midwestern humor. Shout Factory is also to be commended for the extras they included on the set. I especially liked "Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker" and "Of Mushrooms and Madmen: Making The Mole People."
Danger, Death Ray is also a very fun time! I like the 60's vibe of the film already, but it isn't a good flick by any means. So, the jokes the gang provides really makes this one a good time!
I was impressed by certain scenes in the Magic Sword, with them having some fun (but cheesy) special effects for the budget they had. The gang does a great job riffing on it as well. The picture quality isn't the best in some parts of the film, which is standard for Mystery Science Theater since they worked with the prints they could get, so it didn't hurt anything in my opinion. In fact, it sometimes adds to my enjoyment of it!
I haven't viewed the Mole People in this box set yet. However, I did watch it back when MST3K was airing on my local cable channel in the early 90s, and remember it being decent. But, as I mentioned, Alien From L.A. is why I purchased this set, and it made it worth every penny for me!
On a side-note...I love the printed lobby cards of each film that come with these sets. The artwork is always great!
The movies? Horrible - as usual. The great thing is the riffing and the skits. Many of the extras are a very welcome item, but that is not the reason people purchase these sets - it is for the antics of the members on the SOL. I have already pre-ordered XXVII
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