Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for short), you still know the basic concept: bad guys shoot a good guy into space to study the effects of cheesy movies on the human mind. The good guy and his two robot pals cope with the situation by making smart remarks about what they see with (hopefully) hilarious results. Rhino started the multi-episode sets, but they’ve been carried on by Shout! Factory. Continuing the numbering from Rhino (with the 20th Anniversary set unofficially comprising Volume 13), we have now come to Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXIII, which is quite an accomplishment when you think about it.

First we have King Dinosaur, a classic from the show’s second season. In the movie, two couples explore a strange new planet filled with scary animals, stock footage, and iguanas with fins. This uses one of the typical endings for movies like this: somebody blows the place up with an atomic bomb, while the group is safely fifty yards or so away. (The other ending, by the way, is when somebody mentions that this strange new planet will be referred to as “Earth.” Sci-fi movies got a lot of mileage out of that one!) Also included is an automobile safety short from 1944 called X Marks the Spot, wherein a man and his guardian angel must defend his driving actions to a heavenly judge. Joel and the robots present some short skits throughout each movie and this includes one of the odder ones. They sing a song about Joey the Lemur while Joel flails around a vaguely lemur-like puppet. (Remember this because I’ll refer to it later in this review.) Extras on this DVD include the original theatrical trailer for the movie and a neat documentary about King Dinosaur producer Robert Lippert called The Incredible Mr. Lippert. MST3K ended up using seven of Lippert’s films during the course of their run, so it was good to learn more about him.

The second movie in the set is season three’s The Castle of Fu Manchu starring Christopher Lee as the infamous Asian villain. His heinous plot involves freezing all the Earth’s water. He’s stopped by agent Denis Nayland Smith, but I can’t really tell you much about the details. This movie was so awful and confusing that it nearly broke Joel’s and his robotic pals’ spirits, much to the delight of Dr. Forrester and Frank. Joel challenges the evil scientists to riff the movie themselves and see how they do, and it does not go well. (Remember this because I’ll refer to it later in this review.) Extras include an introduction to the movie by cast member Frank Conniff, who confirms that the movie was just as horrible for them as it was on the show. There’s also a documentary called Darkstar: Robots Don’t Need SAG Cards. Darkstar was a computer game that featured many of the MST3K cast in a serious science fiction adventure. The game was the brainchild of one man, J. Allen Williams who developed it (mostly on his own) for ten years. I’ve played some of the game and, while it looks somewhat crude by today’s standards, it’s not too bad. (What’s the connection to this episode? Joel Hodgson stated that his character in the game had to have a Fu Manchu mustache!)

Season six’s Code Name: Diamond Head is a TV movie (and failed pilot from Quinn Martin) about a spy trying to prevent the bad guys from stealing a weapon called the Cloth of Gold. It’s about as good as you’d expect one of these shows to be and, to be quite honest, I don’t know that it was any worse than the plethora of similar shows that were cranked out around this time. There’s also a short called A Day at the Fair, which has a farm family take their cattle and vegetables to the fair and all the supposed fun that ensues. Extras here are Code Name: Quinn Martin, a short documentary about the legendary producer, as well as Life After MST3K: Kevin Murphy, the first of a continuing series talking about a member of the MST3K cast and what he’s been up to since the show ended. Among other things, Murphy wrote a book about seeing a movie in a different place around the world every day for a year and continues skewering bad movies with a group called Rifftrax, which also uses fellow MST3K members Michael J. Nelson and Bill Corbett. This takes care of one of the nitpicky gripes I’ve had about the last few sets. You see, a few years ago the cast of MST3K formed two different (but mutually friendly) groups. The above mentioned Rifftrax and a second group called Cinematic Titanic which featured much of the rest of the cast. It seemed like whenever there was a feature where cast members were used, it was always somebody from the Cinematic Titanic crew. I hope we get more input from Murphy, Nelson and Corbett (especially Murphy who was involved with the show from its local roots all the way until the end).

This set concludes with another show from the sixth season, Last of the Wild Horses, a 1948 movie of cheesy western intrigue produced (and directed!) by the aforementioned Robert Lippert. To tell the truth, this show isn’t remembered for the movie, but rather for the plot in the host segments. An ion storm sends Tom Servo and Gypsy to an alternate universe, where Mike and the robots are the bad guys, and Dr. Forrester and Frank are the ones forced to watch the bad movies! It’s a funny takeoff on Star Trek’s “Mirror/Mirror” episode, all the way down to Mike’s goatee and evil laugh! It was also fun to see Forrester and Frank actually riffing on a movie (see above) and even part of a host segment of them presenting a song about a lemur named Joey (also see above). This shows that Shout! Factory really puts some thought into the sequencing of the episodes in the set. This also includes a number of vintage MST3K promos. Since these were only shown to preview an upcoming episode, these are pretty rare, so it’s nice to get a chance to see them again.

Also included as always are mini-posters for each movie illustrated by Steve Vance and wonderfully inventive animated menus. I don’t know if this is as strong a set as the last couple have been, but it’s still loads more entertaining than a lot of the junk out there now. Take a look, I think you’ll like it!

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UPDATE: Go here for details on how you can win your very own copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXIII box set!