With the debut of an 11th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 mere days away at the time of this writing, you could forgive a fan for finding himself a little distracted. And yet, as they count the hours until April 14, Popdose MSTies Tony Redman and Dan Wiencek pause from watching the clock long enough to survey the newest Shout! Factory DVD release, Volume XXXVIII. This all-Mike offering concentrates on the show’s sixth season, with a fan favorite from Season 10 thrown in for good measure. So let’s get started …
Invasion USA (Episode #602)
Tony: The first episode is Season 6’s Invasion U.S.A. combined with the short “A Date with Your Family.” This short is the story of how the typical 50’s family should conduct themselves at the dinner table, narrated by Hugh Beaumont, years before his stint on Leave It to Beaver. This kind of subject matter is right in Mike and the bots’ wheelhouse, and they have a good time skewering this one. Invasion U.S.A. isn’t the 1985 outing with Chuck Norris (although that probably would make pretty good fare as well). Rather, it’s a film from 1952 where a man at a bar hypnotizes his fellow patrons into seeing what would happen if the Soviets took over the United States. This is military propaganda at its finest, and the gang from the Satellite of Love hammer this one pretty hard, particularly for its heavy use of stock footage. Crow asks, “So World War 3’s going to look a lot like World War 2?” and Mike later adds, “At least everyone who lived through the Blitz can rest assured it’s been immortalized as filler for this movie.” For those of us too young to remember, it’s hard to believe that there was a time that we were this scared of the Russians (in an ad, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper said of this movie, “It will scare the pants off you!”). And in an odd bit of trivia, an airline counter is attended by two Lois Lanes (Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill). Coates did the first season of The Adventures of Superman in ’52, while Neill finished out the rest of the run. I don’t think this was intentional; it was just another weird thing about this movie.
Dan: Seriously, how cool was it to have two Lois Lanes in your otherwise static, talky, stock-footage-laden World War 3 movie? As fun as the feature is, it’s completely overshadowed for me by “A Date With Your Family,” which along with “Home Economics Story” is probably what I would show a prospective fan to introduce the series at its best. “Brother has a tight psychological grip on Junior!”
Extras: The doc “Zugsmith Confidential” about famed producer Albert Zugsmith, and the theatrical trailer.
Colossus and the Headhunters (Episode #605)
Tony: The second show (also from season 6), was 1963’s Colossus and the Headhunters, another sword and sandal epic from Italy. This one had problems from the get go. First of all, there wasn’t anybody named Colossus in the movie. The Hercules-like hero’s name was actually Maciste (or, as our resident riffers referred to him, “My Cheesesteak”). Secondly, the action was pretty lackluster in this one. (Mike remarks, “I’ve seen chess matches with more action than this.”) It could have used a giant monster or two to liven things up. Mike and the bots do what they can, but this one didn’t do much for me. You can tell there’s not much to the movie when the show’s host segments have nothing to do with it, and even more so when the story is one of their more memorable ones. Evil Dr. Forrester sets out to invent a pet so cute that people will be too preoccupied with it to notice Dr. F taking over the world. Enter Nummy Muffin Coocol Butter, a pink doglike animal that Mike dotes over lovingly (as do the bots, somewhat grudgingly). Unfortunately Dr. Forrester’s assistant, TV’s Frank, has also fallen hard for the pink ball of fluff, who Frank bemoans about in an endearingly off-key ballad. Mike, seeing how much Frank misses Nummy, decides to send him back. The show ends with both Frank and Forrester happily attending to it.
Dan: Uh, at least it was in color? There were some pretty good jokes here and there but the film overall lacks that certain something to take it over the top, whether (as you say) a giant monster or, you know, a charismatic actor in the lead. I never thought I’d find myself missing Steve Reeves, but live and learn, I guess.
Extras: “Mike, by Joel”, a featurette where Joel Hodgson talks about how Michael J. Nelson started with the show, and ultimately took over hosting duties when Hodgson left. I hope next time they give Mike a chance to return the favor.
High School Big Shot (Episode #618)
Dan: I haven’t counted them or anything, but I suspect that the most popular genre ever tackled on MST3K is the juvenile delinquent scare film, and it makes sense: they’re generally written and shot with some level of professionalism, and so lip-bitingly earnest they almost make fun of themselves. In this particular outing, high school nerd Marv is suddenly hit on by Betty (why are these girls always named Betty?), the prettiest, baddest girl in school, who he doesn’t realize is sucking up to him solely for free tutoring. “This guy gives awkward adolescence a bad name,” laments Crow, and boy does he: Marv is so smitten he’s determined to give the callow, borderline-psychopathic Betty everything she dreams of by heisting a million dollars from the warehouse he works at. With a nerd, a vamp, a dumb jock, a drunken dad and various mugs and thugs, there’s a lot of material to work with here, and that’s not counting the movie’s occasional, er, technical shortcomings. (An obviously rear-projected shot of a character pretending to walk has Mike channeling his inner Dustin Hoffman to yell, “Hey, I’m fake-walkin’ here!”) Host segment-wise, we have a dinosaur eating Dr. Forrestor’s foot and various movie-inspired shenanigans from the bots, including my favorite, in which they drive around in a scooter and egg Mike by pelting him with omelettes.
Tony: I enjoyed this one too, even though the movie itself was pretty depressing. Even without Betty steering Marv down the crooked and wide path, he still had to contend with an alcoholic mooch of a father who ended up hanging himself by the end of the festivities. Although it was nice to see Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones from “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek) as one of the aforementioned thugs.
Extras: The original un-MSTed movie; the theatrical trailer for same
Track of the Moon Beast (Episode #1007)
Dan: As I’ve often said in this space, 1970s drive-in schlock probably makes for the ripest riffing targets of all, and Track of the Moon Beast proves it — it’s the gem of this set as far as I’m concerned. Our characters are mumbling, shirtless geology student Paul; his suave, stew-making mentor Johnny Longbow; and Kathy, who at first is some kind of photographer and then spends the rest of the movie clinging to Paul after he is hit by a meteorite and transforms — spoiler ahead — into a moon beast. There are timeless MSTie moments beyond counting in this one: Johnny Longbow’s stew (chilies, corn, green peppers … (sigh) … onions?) and his tedious, made-up Indian legends; the movie’s washed-out Albuquerque setting (Mike: “Actually, most people in New Mexico think about killing themselves two, three times a week”); and Kathy’s grating cries of “PAUL!” during what passes for the movie’s climax. But the heart of Moon Beast is, of course, The Band That Played “California Lady,” the plonking folk number that, not coincidentally, marks the point in the narrative at which Paul begins his inevitable decline into monsterhood. Fun facts: “California Lady” was actually the work of Frank Larrabee, now a contractor in New Mexico, back in the day an amateur singer/songwriter who cut a six-song EP that included “California Lady.” Sing it with me now: “I forced my face right through my skull/And refused to wash my stringy haaaaair!”
Tony: Ahh, The Band That Played “California Lady,” who made such an impression of Mike, Crow, and Servo that they do a Behind the Music-style story about the band’s history (that might have had more than a few alternative facts mixed in). I didn’t remember a whole lot about this one when I watched it again, but it really was a good one.
Extras: An interview with Leigh Drake, who played Kathy. We learn that Drake didn’t see Moon Beast until a decade after it was made; when she finally did, she cried. Oh, and shirtless Chase Cordell, who played Paul, insisted on bringing his weights to the shoot.
It’s hard to believe we’re only a few weeks away from a completely new season of fourteen episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 commandeered by series creator Joel Hodgson himself. I’ve heard some good things by Kickstarter contributors who attended the special sneak preview showings (although they were sworn to secrecy regarding specific details). I wasn’t able to contribute that much, but I will be able to see the season about a week earlier than the general public, which is pretty awesome. Shout! Factory hasn’t yet announced the titles for the next set of the classic show (at this point, most of the movies left will be especially difficult to obtain the rights for), but I believe they plan on continuing the sets as long as they can. And when they do, you can bet that we’ll be back to tell you all about it!