Back in the long-ago depths of 2002, back when multi-DVD sets first began to grace the shelves of Best Buy and Circuit City — and back when there was such a thing as Circuit City — Rhino released the first volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For the show’s dedicated fans, it kicked off a pattern of regularly timed reissues that today has seen roughly two-thirds of the show’s ten-year run (not counting the copyright-violating KTMA episodes) made available. Thirteen years is a long time, and Rhino no longer releases MST3K on DVD, and so current license holders Shout! Factory have begun to reissue the out-of-print Rhino collections, taking the opportunity to fill them out with a few bonus features (always a weakness of the Rhino sets). And so Popdose MSTies Tony Redman and Dan Wiencek head back to the early aughts to (re)visit Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume I.

Catalina Caper (Episode #204)

Tony: I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart (and my head) for “beach party” type movies, and this one is pretty awful, which means it’s perfect for the show. A guy in a captain’s hat and an ascot steals an ancient scroll from a museum to sell to some crooks, some fighting happens and the scroll (in a waterproof tube, natch) falls overboard. The guy convinces the local scuba-loving teens to look for it in the guise of a treasure hunt, and much “hilarity” ensues. And it’s got Tommy Kirk and Lyle Waggoner and the crazy guy in the robe from Mork and Mindy and holy moley, Little Richard’s there too (described as “the only real talent in this movie” even though he was “hopped up on goofballs”)! Servo’s lovely “Creepy Girl” song is (I believe) the first chance for us to bask in Kevin Murphy’s beautiful singing voice. So this one hit just the right buttons for me (although they should have gone with the movie’s original title, Never Steal Anything Wet).

Dan: Yeah, how could they pass up such a great title? This is a fan favorite, but despite the appearance of Little Richard (sadly past his prime at this point) and the wonderful ode to ”Creepy Girl,” I’ve never found much to like in this movie or in what Joel and the Bots manage to do with it. My favorite part is actually the host segment where Joel tells the bots about the 60s, which veers into a resentful diatribe about not being able to go to Woodstock because he was only nine. Bummer, man.

Extras: The excellent documentary The Crown Jewels, which was a history of Crown International Pictures, the source of all four movies in this collection, as well as the theatrical trailer.

The Creeping Terror (Episode #606)

Tony: This horrible movie makes Plan 9 from Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. There’s this giant monster thing that looks like a huge carpet with a snail’s head that eats people by taking them into its big vagina-like mouth. (OK, technically the people being eaten sort of find a way to squirm inside of it.) And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, the soundtrack of the movie was supposedly lost before it was released, so it alternates between being either heavily narrated, badly dubbed, or having long stretches of silence. This gives Mike and the bots plenty to work with, but I think at times that they felt too obligated to fill in the quiet parts, and the riffing suffers a bit for me because of it. The host segments include an on-target (but random) spoof on the old TV show Love, American Style and Mike listening to his new stereo system (for a very long time) with a repetitive musical interlude from the movie. Extra credit for Mike taking a marker and drawing around the edges of one of his CDs. (There was a rumor at the time that this would help improve sound quality. It didn’t, but a lot of people fell for it.)

Dan: There are some MST movies I think of as ”specimens”: beyond merely bad, a specimen is so abnormal that you view it with a kind of quasi-scientific fascination. Manos, obviously, is one of these, and The Creeping Terror is another. Unlike the stupefying Manos, however, which not even Best Brains can entirely salvage, Terror is just competent enough — while still being atrociously inept and misguided — to make for perfect riffing fodder. For my money, this is hands-down the best episode in this set, and one of the best the show ever did. (Though the revelations about the film hinted at in the bonus features definitely make it harder to laugh at.)

Extras: Apparently this movie didn’t have a trailer, so a trailer that was made for Screamfest is included. There’s also an extended trailer for The Creep behind the Camera, a movie about the making of The Creeping Terror and what a truly horrible person its director, A.C. Nelson, was. This actually makes The Creeping Terror even more unpleasant to watch. There’s also a Q&A about The Creep behind the Camera. And while the advertising says that the Q&A features MST3K performers Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, that’s a bit deceptive since Frank is the moderator of the panel and Trace’s participation is relegated to a few shots of him sitting silently onstage listening to everyone else.

Bloodlust! (Episode #607)

Dan: Judging from the trailer now included with this episode, it seems likely that pretty much everyone unlucky enough to go out of their way to see Bloodlust! did so knowing exactly what they were in for. Even so, a modicum of suspense would have been nice — it seems impossible that a movie about four people being stalked through tropical jungle by an armed psychopath would be so boring, but here Bloodlust! is, proving us all wrong. Mike and the Bots put up some decently solid riffage on this one — Mike pegs the psycho’s hunting lodge-style digs as “Eva Braun’s Bed and Breakfast,” while a skeleton swarmed by some very non-scary-looking white rats prompts the reply, “Cadavers for Algernon!” — but there’s just not enough raw material to work with. The team shows admirable restraint in the face of Robert Reed’s warm, fatherly presence; I don’t recall a single Brady joke, though I did appreciate Mike quipping, “On his resume, Robert Reed lists this as The Tempest.” The host segments feel like the Best Brains crew trying to keep themselves awake between rounds spent grappling with this snorefest, and they’re all good. Pearl Forrester makes her first appearance; Mike and the Bots put on a square dance that quickly descends into anarchy; and the SOL tries to hold a murder mystery dinner party, which Crow immediately ruins by confessing he’s the killer. Oh, and the opening short, A Visit to Uncle Jim’s Farm, is good too. “So long, you corn-shuckin’ suckers!”

Tony: I think there was one brief mention of Reed being Mr. Brady, but that was it. They did remark, however, on Reed’s shirt, which Tom Servo remarked was “so tight you could see his liver.” This was yet another retelling of the classic story The Most Dangerous Game, but the movie itself was pretty dull. It was nice to see the origin of Dr. Forrester’s mom Pearl again, especially considering how instrumental she became to the show later.

Extra: The aforementioned theatrical trailer.

The Skydivers (Episode #609)

Dan: One of the most obvious questions prompted by many an MST movie is, “What could the people who made this have been thinking?” So, apologies for the unoriginality, but seriously, what were these people thinking? Something like The Creeping Terror, as abysmal as it is, at least makes a kind of sense — the filmmakers may not have got very far, but you at least can sense what they were going for. I have no idea what kind of movie The Skydivers was supposed to be, who its intended audience was, or how anyone managed to persuade a distributor to pick it up. My best guess is it’s an attempt to tell a “trouble youth”/Wild Rebels-type story without the obvious tropes of motorcycles and teenagers — there’s even a five-minute appearance by a nobody rock band that would have stopped the movie dead had it actually been making any progress. Despite people regularly hurling themselves out of planes, the excitement mostly comes from the jarring, amateurish editing, which elicits startled exclamations from Mike and the Bots rather than actual jokes. When they do appear, the jokes are actually pretty good: this movie features the infamous “coffee” scene wherein two characters agree to get coffee, wander aimlessly around an airfield for what feels like twenty minutes, and then remember to get coffee again, prompting endless coffee-related callbacks and a nice contemporary reference by Servo: “the Coffee Under-Achievers.” Most of the riffs, though, are direct responses to the film’s staggering awfulness, exemplified in this exchange between Mike and Crow:

”Did the actors do their own skydiving?”
”No, the skydivers did their own acting.”

This was the Satellite of Love’s first tussle with Coleman Francis, who would go on to be arguably the most notorious director in the series’ history. His movies were terrible, but they had their own ways of being terrible that ended up being oddly endearing. Or, as Mike puts it near the end: “I still like this movie a whole lot better than Top Gun.“

Tony: Ah yes, the Coleman Francis trilogy of movies (this one, Red Zone Cuba, and the classic Beast of Yucca Flats) were all delightfully awful, Mike and the bots just added another layer of fun on top. I liked how Francis added such a random assemblage of characters in this movie, including a lady on roller skates and a Scotsman in full regalia for no particular reason.

Extra: Another theatrical trailer.

For those of you who are used to the extras-packed volumes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that Shout! Factory usually treats us to, you won’t find that here. Then again, this is simply meant to be a lower cost alternative to the original out-of-print Rhino set (which was going for quite a pretty penny for a while). If you don’t own the Rhino set, getting this is a no-brainer. Should you get rid of your Rhino version and replace it? That’s a tough call, because the one bonus that that set had and this one doesn’t was the original unriffed movies. If that doesn’t make a difference to you, however, go for it (and if this sells well then Shout! will be more likely to re-release other volumes of the old sets). Thanks for reading this review. Join Dan and I next time when we’ll review Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXIV!