As 2016 limps to its eagerly anticipated close — seriously, can no one else die for the next six weeks or so, please? — we can look back on one of its few bright spots: a new season of 14 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been produced, and now only awaits an official release date on its new home platform, Netflix. We wouldn’t be surprised if that date ends up being announced on this year’s Turkey Day Marathon, once again hosted by Joel Hodgson and joined this year by new series host Jonah Ray. While we wait the final few months to see what MST3K looks like in the 21st century, Shout! Factory has released Volume 37 (or XXXVII if you want to get all fancy) of the original series run, and Popdose MSTies Dan Wiencek and Tony Redman reunite to review and celebrate.
The Human Duplicators (Episode #420)
Dan: Years before Blade Runner offered a stiff, unemotional protagonist and invited us to speculate on his humanity, there was 1965’s The Human Duplicators and its heavy, Dr. Kolos, played by sentient brick wall Richard Kiel. Now, spotting a Kiel character as an android in disguise is hardly a Holmes-worthy deduction, as Joel and the bots (this is the set’s only Joel episode) eventually note as the movie wobbles to its unsteady finish. Still, Duplicators fits pretty neatly into MST3K’s sweet spot: it’s cheap, with a hilariously kitschy spaceship design that Joel likens to a 60s Christmas ornament; it has a vintage star ripe for picking on in the person of Hugh Beaumont, making his last film, poor guy; and there is enough incident in its plot to give the Satellite of Love crew some raw material to work with. The gags come reasonably fast and furious in this solid-B outing, with a heavy slant on 70s music and TV references: Servo and Crow briefly re-enact a Rockford Files episode at one point, while later Crow finds himself singing the chorus of Olivia Newton-John’s soft-rock smash “Please Mister, Please,” before breaking off to admit, “I hate that I know that.” There are callbacks to both Pod People and Mr. B Natural, and a nice reference to the Jordanaires, Elvis’ legendary backup singers. Host-segment wise, it’s pretty routine stuff until Mike Nelson shows up as Hugh Beaumont, who appears strangely peeved at the bots’ probing questions (even reaching menacingly into his smoking jacket) and eventually launches into a tirade about how everyone asks about the Beav while no one ever asks about Hugh. Oh, and there’s this priceless remark near the movie’s end:
Dr. Kolos: I must return to a land of cold, unfeeling galaxy beings.
Nice one, fellas.
Tony: It’s always fun to have Mike playing other roles, and as a “Leave It to Beaver” fan, I’m especially fond of his Hugh Beaumont. When they first show the title, it’s a mirror image. For some reason, I always giggle when Crow tries to pronounce Eht Namuh Srotacilpud! As far as the movie itself goes, I’m not used to hearing Richard Kiel talk this much! It was a bit off-putting, but I guess he did the best he could with what they handed him. In any case, it’s always good to see him. And as tall as he is, he’s mighty difficult to miss.
Extras: The MST Hour wraps for this episode.
Escape 2000 (Episode #705)
Dan: Leave the Bronx! Leave the Bronx! Those words will be pounding away in your skull like an Italian-accented jackhammer after viewing Escape 2000, a hairy-chested mashup of Mad Max and Escape From New York that is both completely ridiculous and actually not that bad. OK, it actually is pretty bad, but it has a couple of things going for it. For one thing, despite Servo’s “Even though this is Italy, leave the Bronx!” crack, the exteriors in this movie are authentic New York (mostly not the actual Bronx, but come on, they filmed Escape from New York in freakin’ St. Louis). For another, it has Dablone, misheard by Mike and the bots as “Toblerone,” who devours scenery the way a woodchipper devours stumps. Played by Antonio Sabato, Dablone really, really loves what he does, and laughs lustily at every opportunity; he’s mostly absent from the movie’s final act and I cheered along with the Satellite of Love crew when he reappeared. The movie is basically a story of gentrification carried out like an ethnic cleansing, featuring hordes of guys in silver-foil suits who the good guys mow down at will. It all seems like a lot of trouble when you consider that “a year after they restore the Bronx, it’s going to be karate schools anyway,” as Mike remarks. Still, this stupid plan makes for another pretty good MST3K episode: the movie’s rudimentary soundtrack inspires references to both “Games Without Frontiers” and “Another Brick in the Wall” in the space of a single scene, while the presence of a young boy on the good guys’ side leads Servo to remark, “What a weird Courtship of Eddie’s Father episode!” Meanwhile, the host segments find Dr. Forrester making the difficult decision to put his mother in a home — actually, a child’s playhouse, where Mrs. Forrester languishes until being rescued by Toblerone (Mike Nelson), laughing lustily.
Tony: I hear that there are solar houses available in enchanting New Mexico though, so why would anybody even want to stay in the Bronx? (I bet somebody in particular even made them a good deal on solar panels (or “srr pnnls”, if you will)). Dablone was definitely the highlight on this one. The rest was a big Euro-blur to me, comparatively speaking. (Easy trivia tidbit: Antonio Sabado is the father of soap star/Latino hunk Antonio Sabado Jr., who doesn’t seem to laugh nearly as heartily as his father did.)
Extras: An introduction by Mary Jo Pehl; the film’s trailer; and a documentary, “Leave the Bronx: Escape 2000,” which reveals this movie to actually be a sequel to an earlier Italian genre knockoff, 1990: The Bronx Warriors.
Horror of Party Beach (Episode #817)
Tony: I always liked the old Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello Beach Party movies, so I felt it was my duty to review this movie with its tagline “The First Horror-Monster Musical”! It was a horror all right, but maybe not in the ways they intended. Some guys dump barrels of radioactive waste into the ocean (helpfully labeled “Radioactive Waste”). They fall to the ocean floor where the goop oozes onto a human skull, which somehow transmogrifies into a large scaly creature that, according to Crow, has “a face that’s 80% eye bag.” It also seems to have what looks like a ginormous number of hot dogs sticking out of its mouth. More creatures appear somehow (is this all supposed to be from the same human skull, or do we have a mass murderer dumping bodies into the ocean? Would that make a better movie than this one?), and one them loses an arm by breaking a glass window to touch a female mannequin. The handsome young scientist guy brings it to the old professor. When the maid accidentally tips over a beaker of sodium on it the arm dissolves. They all talk for a while and call around for sodium, and finally have enough to rid the beach of the monsters. Add a motorcycle gang into the mix (Mike: “Johnny Mathis & the Conan O’Briens”), a surf group that pretty much front loads all the songs in the first 20 minutes, and a heaping helping of 60s teen angst, and you’ve got The Horror of Party Beach. The riffing’s a lot of fun in this one, but the host segments were hampered by the Sci-Fi Channel’s edict that the show needed to have a continuous story arc. Mike and the Bots were still in space, of course, but their tormentors Pearl, Professor Bobo, and Observer were trapped in Ancient Rome. This backfired when reruns were shown out of order, ruining any continuity they tried to do.
Dan: In fact, the serial approach to the host segments is so unwieldy Brain Guy actually has to play a clip from the previous episode. Lots of super-sharp riffing in this one: When one of the soon-to-be-slaughtered girls at the slumber party takes up a guitar, Crow grumbles, “This better be a strip folk song”; later, as the winsome Del-Aires are making their last appearance, Servo claims, “They stole this music from black people. Black people were going to throw it away anyway.” And Eullabelle’s presence inspires a Woolworth’s lunch-counter joke that, though I’ve seen this episode three or four times already, I never caught until now.
Extras: An introduction by Mary Jo Pehl, a featurette about the film called “Return to Party Beach,” and the theatrical trailer. And as a special Easter Egg, when you go to the Bonus Menu you can also see a video demonstrating the puppeteering done for the main menu of this DVD.
Invasion of the Neptune Men (Episode #819)
Tony: Pointy-helmeted baddies from the planet Neptune create havoc in Japan by making clocks and record players run backwards, only to be foiled by a bunch of little boys and superhero Space Chief (but mostly by a bunch of little boys). If you love badly dubbed Japanese movies, kids that are smarter than the adults around them, exploding miniature cities (including a building with Hitler’s picture on it), a space hero that never goes into space (Crow says he should really be called “Lower Atmosphere Chief”) and a final dogfight scene that takes forever (because it’s filled with scenes repeated over and over along with endless WWII stock footage) than this is the show for you. I think I liked this movie better than the Satellite of Love gang did. Mike and Crow even walk out on it for a while, leaving Tom Servo to fend for himself. By the end it affected Servo so bad that he tried to will the movie into being The Magnificent Ambersons (and he didn’t even like The Magnificent Ambersons). That desperation can make for some pretty funny riffing here. Mike noted at one point, “I hate to say it, but suddenly Independence Day seems like a richly nuanced movie.” This has one of my favorite host segments as, when the Bots decide to perform a Kabuki version of Neil Simon’s ‘The Sunshine Boys for Mike, Mike proclaims that he likes Noh theater better. It makes for a fun bit of verbal sparring, and one of the few times that Mike got one up on Crow and Servo. Trivia tidbit: The part of Space Chief was an early role for martial arts star Sonny Chiba.
Dan: Man, the first time I saw the Hitler building blow up was one of the funniest moments of my life. I was amazed to learn in the bonus doc that most of the exploding-building footage is actually first-rate model work by the effects team. It does little to salvage this relentlessly repetitive movie though, and so Bill Corbett’s return as a bellicose Phantom of Krankor is as welcome to the viewer as it is to Mike and the bots, even if the poor guy has trouble expressing his real feelings.
Extras: An introduction by Mary Jo Pehl; “August on Neptune,” an interview with kaiju expert August Ragone about the film (where he reveals that, whatever faults Invasion of the Neptune Men may have had, the extreme padding near the end of the movie was added by the American producers to make the film long enough to show on TV), and the theatrical trailer.
If you read this before Thanksgiving Day, Joel will once again be hosting the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon, featuring six episodes voted on by the fans. And as far as the MST3K Revival show is concerned, I was a Kickstarter contributor for it [So was I! — Dan], so I’ve been receiving periodic updates from Joel Hodgson himself! In the latest update, he revealed that all 14(!) episodes have been filmed and are currently in post-production. He feels they should be finished with that by the end of January, and they’re on track to hit Netflix sometime in the first half of 2017. It’ll be great to see the show coming back again, especially with Hodgson at the helm!
Finally, the titles have already been released for the next set, due in March 2017. They are Invasion U.S.A., Colossus and the Headhunters, High School Big Shot, and Track of the Moon Beast. And if all goes well, Dan and I will be here to tell you all about it!