TV on DVD: “Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXX”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

Popdose’s resident MSTies Dan Wiencek and Tony Redman team up to review “Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXX”!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 continues its post-cancellation afterlife with another new set of four episodes, released on July 29 — the 30th such set since the show began appearing on DVD back in 2000. For this landmark release, Popdose’s resident die-hard MSTies Tony Redman and Dan Wiencek collaborated on a joint review; see what they liked, and what they didn’t quite like, in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXX.

The Black Scorpion (Episode #113)
Tony: 
This was the last episode of Season 1, and the last for cast member Josh (now J. Elvis) Weinstein as Dr. Erhardt and Tom Servo. It’s actually not too bad of a “giant monster on the loose” type movie. Much of that is due to the very effective stop motion effects by Willis O’Brien (who was also responsible for the visual effects in the original King Kong and Mighty Joe Young as well as being a mentor to Ray Harryhausen). The cast felt that Season 1 of the show wasn’t their best work because they were still figuring out what they were doing. I think this is actually one of their better shows of that season, although Joel and the bots do make some strange riffing choices (whenever one character is introduced, it’s followed by recorded applause). This was a good episode with a pretty decent movie (and those scorpions were legitimately creepy). It’s hard to believe that, with this show, the entire first season has been released on DVD!

Dan: I felt pretty much the same way: the riffing was odd and very hit or miss, but the creature effects were terrific. I wish I could say more for Season 1, but I’m with the cast (and everyone else): it doesn’t compare, in terms of bringing the funny, to what came after.

Extras: The theatrical trailer and the documentary Stinger of Death: Making The Black Scorpion.

Outlaw (of Gor) (Episode #519)
Tony: Before this episode came out there was some confusion as to the movie being riffed. Since it was billed as Outlaw, there was an understandable assumption that the movie in question was 1943’s The Outlaw starring Jane Russell. Instead, this is a movie about a guy that transports to the barbarian-like planet of Gor (along with his annoying friend) to save the oppressed people from an evil queen and her power-hungry priest (played with relish by Jack Palance). Mike and the bots were firing on all cylinders on this one on both the riffing and the host segments. The movie seems obsessed with showing us skimpy boob and butt shots, and the gang highlights this in the wonderfully catchy song “Tubular Boobular Joy” (and how ironic is it that the episode with this song would be featured on volume “XXX” of the box sets?). This episode is a favorite among MSTies, and it’s great to finally have it available on DVD.

Dan: The standout of the set, for my money, though I think “It Lives By Night” is a close second. Mystery Science Theater had such a good time with these loopy fantasy movies, it’s a wonder — and a shame — they didn’t do more.

Extras: Three featurettes delving into this movie and the world of Gor: Writer of Gor: The Novels of John Norman, Director of Gor: On Set with John “Bud” Cardos, and Producer of Gor: Adventures with Harry Alan Towers. While these were great, I wished they would have included Mike and the Bots’ live performance of “Tubular Boobular Joy” from the first MST3K Conventio-Con-Expo-Fest-A-Rama. It was quite a treat!

The Projected Man (Episode #901)
Dan: Mystery Science Theater embarked on its ninth season — and its second on the Sci-Fi Channel — with this rather middling outing. Like other British-made films lampooned on the show (Devil Doll, The Deadly Bees), The Projected Man is talky and dry, without the high-end production values or camp grandiosity of the Hammer films that set the standard for British horror in the 60s and 70s. The film tells the familiar story of a scientist who will stop at nothing to prove a daft hypothesis, with disastrous consequences. There’s no real bad guy until the projected man himself (Devil Doll’s Bryan Haliday) goes off the deep end; even after that, the movie remains intensely unengaging: “The plot thin-ens!” announces Mike at the onset of yet another non-twist. There’s some fun to be had making fun of posh, emotionally stunted Brits (“Don’t make me go to the larder and unseal a tin of whoop-ass!”), but there’s only so much comedy juice you can wring out of stasis. The host segments, sadly, don’t improve matters. Because Sci-Fi insisted that the show include some kind of narrative arc, we’re treated to several segments in which Pearl Forrester moves into a gloomy castle she gradually realizes is the Forrester ancestral home. The writers do their damnedest to make this funny, but the truth is, we don’t care — probably because they didn’t either.

Tony: I have to confess that these British horror/sci-fi films were the hardest for me to get through, and there were times that the riffing felt a bit forced.  It didn’t help that the host segments were mostly exposition about Pearl and her gang ending up in Castle Forrester. The stupid thing about the Sci-Fi Channel insisting on a narrative continuity for the host segments between shows is that when they showed reruns, the episodes were out of order!

Extras: A documentary on the making of The Projected Man, as well as the film’s original trailer.

It Lives By Night (Episode #1010)
Dan: I remembered It Lives By Night as another fair-to-middling outing, typical of the show’s uneven final season. On watching it again, however, I was surprised at how consistently funny it is; perhaps seeing it after its dreary predecessor, Hamlet, spoiled it in my memory. If British sci-fi/horror never managed to spur MST3K’s writers to greatness, American drive-in fare from the 1970s was their home turf, and it usually brought out their best. It Lives By Night gives them plenty of mellow richness to sink their teeth into, starting with its weird, melismatic theme tune, which Servo lambastes by warbling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” like a deranged Judy Collins. Everything is earth tones, corduroy, wood paneling and tacky 70s hair, and the crew have a field day with it. “Everything copacetic in here?” murmurs Mike as the mustachioed, porn-star-looking ski-bum doctor enters the room; later, when protagonist John Beck appears to be in the throes of a seizure, Crow quips, “Twenty cc’s of the dry look, stat!” The winning streak extends to the host segments, which features the SOL crew in a remake of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that lets Mike show off his killer Ted Knight impersonation. Later, Mike, Crow and Servo participate in a mustache-off that out-porn-stars the ski-bum doctor by a country mile. It doesn’t quite reach the hilarious heights of, say, Riding with Death — it’s hard to top having Ben Murphy and Jim Stafford to kick around — but it proves the team could turn in top-flight episodes even as the end drew near.

Tony: I didn’t really remember much about the shows near the end of the run. (I was probably still in shock over the cancellation.) This almost seemed like a new episode to me, and it was a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how good this episode was!

Extras: Trailer and short making-of for “The Frank,” a comic short featuring Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and other MST alums.

This is another good set, highlighted by Outlaw (of Gor) and It Lives By Night. Included, as always, are the great animated menus for each disk, as well as mini-posters by Steve Vance illustrating each episode. Shout! Factory has already announced the episodes slated for Vol. XXXI(!). They are:

Episode 203: Jungle Goddess (with the short The Phantom Creeps, Part 1) (BELA!)
Episode 510: The Painted Hills (with the short Body Care and Grooming) (LASSIE!)
Episode 912: The Screaming Skull (with the short Robot Rumpus) (GUMBY!!)
Episode 1012: Squirm (with the short A Case of Spring Fever) (COILY!)

Release date for this set hasn’t been announced yet, but it’ll probably be some time in November. Looks like another awesome set of shows to look forward to!