Way back in 2003, Rhino released the second volume of their nascent program of Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD box sets. This release substantially upped the ante over the previous volume, featuring three stellar episodes along with a collection of shorts. With the original Rhino set now long out of print, the MST-loving (and owning) folks at Shout! Factory have revived the original Volume II set, adding slim new packaging and a couple of bonus features to help sweeten the deal. Bonus features or no, though, this set is a must-have for any MSTie, as Popdose’s Dan Wiencek and Tony Redman explain.

Cave Dwellers (Episode #301)

Dan: Cave Dwellers is what people who hate fantasy movies think every fantasy movie is like: ludicrous, convoluted, painfully serious and filled with stupidly named people and places. Originally titled Ator 2: The Blade Master before being sucked into the maw of Film Ventures International, it’s a sequel to Ator, the Fighting Eagle, itself a barely disguised ripoff of Conan the Barbarian. It has a beefcake hero in Miles O’Keefe (who forever endeared himself to MSTies by taking Joel and the bots’ mockery in good stride), a tolerably pretty girl, a bad guy in ridiculous makeup, and moments of truly eye-popping stupidity. (See below.) The Satellite crew make a rich feast of this (as they usually did with fantasy movies), starting with the opening credits, which inexplicably transpire over posterized footage from an entirely different film, Taur the Mighty; their reenactment of this sequence is one of the essential MST host segments. Beyond that, there are almost too many plot holes, non-sequitors and moments of sheer WTF-ery for the gang to cope with. When Ator must fight an invisible bad guy, Joel can only lament, “They were too cheap to hire villains!” When Ator flies over the landscape in a goddamn hang glider, they respond in the only appropriate manner by bursting into song: “Ator flies/And so does my heart!” Cave Dwellers kicked off a stellar third season for Mystery Science Theater 3000, and arguably stands as the show’s first indisputable classic episode.

Tony: “How much Keefe is in this movie?” “Miles O’Keefe!” Cave Dwellers is a fave with lots of MSTies, for the way it hit all the sword and sorcery tropes in such a cheesy way. (And I read that not only did this start the show’s third season, but it was the start of a three season show order from Comedy Central!)

Extras: The Mystery Science Theater Hour bumpers.

Pod People (Episode #303)

Tony: Oh man, do I love this episode. This Spanish E.T. ripoff is just so wonderfully bizarre. Poachers smash some strange alien eggs in a cave, but one of the eggs is found by an annoying little boy. He sneaks it home where it hatches into a creepy little furry alien that the boy names Trumpy because of his big nose. (The alien’s, not the little boy’s.) We find that, thanks to some sub-Gumby level stop motion animation, Trumpy can do magic things. Meanwhile, other not-so-friendly aliens are scouring the countryside, killing whoever gets in their way. Also meanwhile, a rock band ends up staying at the boy’s family’s house, which just makes it easier for the bad aliens to knock them off. For a fake E.T. movie, it’s actually kind of dark, figuratively and literally (due to the immense amount of fog involved). In the host segments, Joel and the bots try their best to sing the band’s horrible song (“Idiot control now!”), they duplicate Trumpy’s magic, and they sing a comically wistful song called “Clown in the Sky”. Classic.

Dan: God, can you imagine the poor families who picked this up from the video store thinking it was a nice, cuddly E.T. knockoff? Happily, those mortified families’ loss is our comedic gain. ”Sack of monkeys in my pocket/My sister’s ready to go!” Like Tony says, a classic.

Extras: The Mystery Science Theater Hour bumpers.

Angels Revenge (Episode #622)

Dan: I’ve long argued that ’70s drive-in movies were MST3K’s most fertile riffing fodder, and there’s no better example than Angels Revenge, a film that probably embarrasses more well-known talents more thoroughly than anything else in the show’s history. Peter Lawford, Jack Palance, Jim Backus and Arthur Godfrey are only some of the luminaries degrading themselves at the behest of director Greydon Clark, and all these stars popping up in an otherwise third-rate jigglefest makes the movie come across like the longest, weirdest ’70s sitcom episode ever made. The Angels themselves, alas, are complete nonentities, there to show off the goods and bop the bad guys into la-la land (and, occasionally, threaten to cut their junk off or crush them under a car), leaving Mike and the bots to lambaste them with clear consciences. This is one of the most quotable MST episodes ever (Crow, on seeing a shot focusing on an Angel’s curvy backside, offers the classic “Hey, you’re giving away the plot!”), and so this outing inspired me to hunt for some lesser-known gems. When a pusher threatens to beat up a kid, Mike interjects, “The Bad News Bears are gonna lose that game today, aren’t they?”, while a later scene involving smugglers on a beach prompts Crow to wonder, “What kind of lure do you use to catch cocaine? A spoon?” Angels Revenge is easily one of the most rewatchable MST episodes — even without all the women running around braless.

Tony: And don’t forget about Alan Hale Jr. and Pat Buttram! This was like a bad cross between Charlie’s Angels (for obvious reasons) and The Love Boat (with its collection of over-the-hill celebs probably grateful to find a gig). A lot of fun riffing in this one, although I guess the targets were pretty easy to hit. (And to tie this into the first film on this set, someone is referred to as “Miles O’Keefe with breasts.”)

Extras: Bupkis.

Shorts, Vol. I

Tony: When this set was first released, almost none of these shorts were available on DVD. (One was part of the Volume 1 set.) Now, all but one have been released (with their corresponding movies) either through Rhino or Shout! Factory. We have The Home Economics Story, Junior Rodeo Daredevils, Body Care & Grooming, Cheating, A Date with Your Family (the short not currently released), Why Study Industrial Arts?, and Chicken of Tomorrow with special introductions by Tom Servo. I think Dan and I have pretty much raved about all of these in their respective sets, and A Date with your Family is also particularly good. I’ve often said that the shorts are a great way to introduce people to the show, and here’s a great sample of them. (Trivia Note: This collection of shorts was originally released as part of a VHS box set with Angels’ Revenge. What else was included with the set? A pair of MST boxer shorts. (And yes, I do still have mine!))

Dan: If I had to sell someone on MST3K in just 15 minutes or so, I’d show them any of the titles on this disk. With a very few exceptions (Mr. B Natural, maybe Hired!), these are the best shorts they did in the pre-Sci Fi era. And no one’s happier about it than old-timer Billy Slater. (Oh yeah, and I had the boxer shorts too!)

Extras: Bupkis.

I was telling Dan when we got this to review that this was arguably one of the best MST sets they ever did, with three wonderfully awful movies and a great collection of shorts. The extras were pretty sparse though (although the Rhino set didn’t have any at all). I guess that makes it easier for people who already own the original set, so I suppose I can’t fault them there! Next month will see the release of the 36th volume of the current box sets, featuring the previously unreleased to DVD movies Stranded in Space, City Limits, The Incredible Melting Man, and Riding with Death. So join us then for all the fun!