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Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII
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There may be no finer (and certainly no funnier) meditation on monsters than this collection of episodes from the cult comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000. As food for thought, we are served subterranean slime people, a giant praying mantis, Soviet spies and, perhaps the most terrifying of all, enormous teenagers from the disturbing menu of Americas twisted psyche. Battling these Goliaths for us with their slingshots of sass and silliness are Joel, Mike and their robot henchmen Tom Servo and Crow. The monsters are gruesome and the movies even more so, but the riffs are risible and retaliatory, proving definitively that revenge is actually a dish best served funny.
The Slime People
Rocket Attack U.S.A.
Village Of The Giants
The Deadly Mantis
Consider this 27th voyage with the Satellite of Love as a tour down Mystery Science Theater 3000's memory lane, as it features some of the earliest episodes from the Peabody Award-winning satire series, as well as entries from its later incarnation on the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel, all of which make their DVD debut with this four-disc set. The poverty-struck creature feature The Slime People (1963) is culled from the show's debut season (1989-1990) on The Comedy Channel (prior to its merger with Ha!, which resulted in the formation of Comedy Central), and if the riffing and interstitial skits lack the rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness quality on which MST3K made its name, those elements have clearly jelled by the time series creator/original host Joel Hodgson and the talented writers/cast members tackled the deeply paranoid Cold War thriller Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961) in its second season. Season five's take on Village of the Giants (1965), director Bert I. Gordon's rock-and-roll version of H.G. Wells's The Food of the Gods, is a standout experiment thanks to a terrific string of host segments in which mad scientist Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) decides to replace his affable henchman, TV's Frank (Frank Conniff), with the hideous goatherd Torgo (played by head writer turned host Michael J. Nelson) from the infamous Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966). And the inept big-bug goof The Deadly Mantis (1958), from the show's eighth season and first on The Sci-Fi Channel, shows the durability of its formula in the face of numerous cast and format changes, including the departure of Beaulieu and arrival of Bill Corbett as the new voice of Crow T. Robot and Mary Jo Pehl's Pearl Forrester assuming the main villain role. The scope of the "experiments" makes Volume XXVII a worthy addition to any MST3K devotee's collection, while the supplemental features extend the deluxe treatment afforded to the show by Shout Factory's releases.
Chief among the extras is another installment of Life After MST3K, which focuses on Trace Beaulieu's multi-hyphenate experiences as actor (Freaks and Geeks), children's book author, comic book creator, and TV writer (America's Funniest Home Videos), as well as his reunion with fellow MST3K vets in Cinematic Titanic. The genre documentarians at Ballyhoo Motion Pictures do typically excellent work with Chasing Rosebud: The Cinematic Life of William Alland, which traces the Deadly Mantis producer's trajectory from membership in Orson Welles's Mercury Theater (he played the reporter in Citizen Kane) to overseeing It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Tarantula (1955), and many other '50s science fiction favorites for Universal. Short interviews with Slime People star Judith Morton and Village of the Giants' Joy Harmon (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) underscore their good-natured dismay at being remembered for such absurd pictures, while trailers for Mantis, Slime People, and Giants round out the set. --Paul Gaita
• Chasing Rosebud: The Cinematic Life Of William Alland
• Life After MST3K: Trace Beaulieu
• Introduction By Mary Jo Pehl
• Original Trailers
• 4 Exclusive Mini-Posters By Artist Steve Vance
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ROCKET ATTACK USA, Episode 205. “I never thought the end of the world would be so boring" says Tom Servo, and he has a point. This bottom of the bottom-of-the barrel 1958 movie succeeds neither as entertainment nor as propaganda, and comes across as preachy and tiresome. Even the acting is sub-par, except for career actor Art Metrano in a brief role as a truck driver. Except for some mockery of the Commies (per Joel, their head of government phones up the local tobacconist to see if they have Prince Albert in a can), this overly serious bit of exploitation almost entirely free of comic relief often lacks for parody material; on the other hand, Joel and the bots do well drawing on the discrepancy between then and the Nineties. (Crow’s advice on how Manhattanites should have prepared for a sneak Soviet attack: “Move to the suburbs.”) Some fun exists in a parody game show about atomic topics, and the beginning short features Bela Lugosi, whose accent alone is riffable.
VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, Episode 523. This colorful and well-funded 1964 movie is a study in how to aim for multiple audiences and not quite reach any of them. Producer Bert I. Gordon (whose initials form the highly appropriate acronym B.I.G.) tried to hitch his 1950s movie themes of big creatures terrifying helpless humans (such as THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, and WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, all sent up at MST3K) to the hedonistic go-go spirit of the middle Sixties. All this is set in a Disneyesque small town (actually the Columbia back lot) when a ten-year-old genius (nicknamed “Genius” and played by a young Ron Howard) cooks up an experimental “goo” that expands local animals to super size. The plot really kicks in when a gang of malevolent teenagers from another town (headed by a teenage Beau Bridges) steals the goo, expands appropriately, holes up in the local movie house -- and then Beau takes the sheriff's little daughter hostage in the name of Youthquake. Listen hard, and you can practically hear the a crack widening into a full-fledged Generation Gap as horror, teen, and Disneyesque kid themes all struggle for supremacy. Happily, S-O-L riffing is perfectly tuned to the many challenges posed by this slumgullion, though there were a few too many “Opie” references for my taste. An interview with Beau’s sexy “girlfriend” Joy Harmon, filmed at the time this compilation was made, adds interest. I can honestly say I liked my second viewing more than my first.
THE DEADLY MANTIS, Episode 804. This 1957 Universal creature-feature stars Craig Stevens, William (“Paul Drake”) Hopper and Alice (“Alix”) Taunton and is typical of what the studio tossed out with such apparent ease that year. In the far north of Canada, above the DEW (“Distant Early Warning” Line, a real thing), a gigantic praying mantis is set free who goes looking for humans in lieu of other insects for sustenance. If you don’t know that the U.S. military is heavily involved in things, that a scientist will explain just why an enormous mantis is so fearsome, and that the creature will eventually attack the population centers of the Continental U.S.A., you haven’t seen many of these. By this time Mike and the bots could take on a film like this with several eyes closed, but they come through as usual. In an interview included with this disc, Mary Jo Pehl astutely points out that one of the chief flaws of this kind of movie -- perhaps more apparent in this film than similar ones out of Universal -- comes in not getting the monster’s scale consistent. Is the mantis somewhat more than human-size, or half as big as the Pentagon? At present, THE DEADLY MANTIS is the only episode of the four not available for streaming from Amazon.
Although only one of these movies lands on my close-to-favorite list, the new lower price and the fun of watching the host segments and riffing grow in sophistication and confidence make this Volume 27 well worth having, in my opinion.
On this one it's "The Deadly Mantis". Actually a good 1950's Sci-Fi, and the gang is again at their best.
"Village of the Giants" is a typical teenage drive-in movie, and I probably won't watch that one again.
"Rocket Attack U.S.A." is fairly good just because of the state of mind people were in at that period in our history.
"The Slime People" was a REALLY low budget film of the early 60's, and pretty bad, but the guys get in a lot of good jabs, so that's one I'll watch again also.
In all, I have six MST3K sets. They still entertain even after many viewings.
This is not the best IMHO (I really like "The Lost Continent" with Cesar Romero-I have the MST3K set and the original 1951 movie), but it's good.
My favorite film in this volume is "Village Of The Giants" (1965), directed by Mr. BIG himself, Bert I. Gordon. When asked what he wants for breakfast, big man about town Fred (Beau Bridges) good-naturedly replies "Sheriff, on toast." What a kidder! If you think Beau is a good actor, just wait until you see him dance. My only complaint is that, because of time constraints, they cut out Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon's performance of the song "Little Bitty Corrine." The final film is "The Deadly Mantis" (1957), another giant insect film from the fabulous fifties. Those type of movies really bug me, especially with lines like the following. "In all the kingdom of the living, there is no more deadly or voracious creature than the Preying Mantis." I wonder if Ed Wood was an uncredited script writer on that movie. I hope Shout Factory has enough movies left to keep releasing more Mystery Science Theater 3000 volumes as good as this one.
P.S. - On November 3, 2013, I saw Cinematic Titanic's presentation of "The Doll Squad" at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. The show exceeded my wildest expectations, and was hilarious from start to finish. At the meet and greet after the show, I asked Joel Hodgson how many more MST3K movies were left to release at this point in time. "Sixty movies" was his answer. I asked above the crowd noise, "You did say sixty 6-0, not sixteen, 1-6." Joel replied, "Yes, there are still sixty MST3K movies that haven't been released yet." The line of people had to keep moving, so I couldn't get any more details about getting the movie rights to release all of the films, how frequently they would be released, etc. But, I must say, that was very encouraging news to me!