Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show that Entertainment Weekly magazine voted as the third greatest cult TV series of the last 25 years returns on DVD with four more classic episodes. Combined with the twelve volumes released by Rhino, this make 24 four-episode volumes of the show. Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIV has an international flavor with two movies originally from Japan, one from Russia, and another from Mexico.

The first film, Fugitive Alien, has a special spot in my heart. When the series originally aired, we didn’t have Comedy Central where I lived, but the guy at the local comic book store had somebody tape the shows and he would have it running in his shop. I saw bits and pieces of the show that way, and it intrigued me. One of his tapes broke and, since my father had a VCR repair shop, he asked me if we could fix it. We did, and the first episode I saw from beginning to end was Fugitive Alien. I went from being intrigued with the show to being hooked! Fugitive Alien was originally a television series that was edited together to make a movie (sort of). I’m overjoyed to see this episode finally get the DVD treatment, and it’s just as funny as I remember it. It’s the story of Ken, the title character on the run due to the perceived betrayal of his fellow Starwolf Raiders, who wear helmets with blonde Carol Channing wigs. (No, I don’t understand that either.) This episode also gives us the first appearance of Mike Nelson in a recurring role as Biography host Jack Perkins. Extras on this DVD include an introduction by resident Japanese movie expert August Ragone, who explains the genesis of the show and how it was brought to American audiences  and wraps from the MST Hour (a syndicated version that split each episode in half to better fit it in a TV station’s schedule). Nelson reprises his role as Perkins here, introducing each episode in his own imitable way.

The next is Star Force: Fugitive Alien 2 which is, as you might expect, more episodes of the Fugitive Alien TV series cobbled together. The story (such as it is) gets a bit crazier, with a large bomb to disarm and a Kabuki Darth Vader as the villain. This one is a lot of fun as well, but it definitely works better if you’ve seen the first one (which is convenient since you’ve got that one too!). A special treat on this disc is You Asked for It: Sandy Frank Speaks, where we finally get to meet the guy who brought so many of these unusual Japanese movies to the US and was the bane of Joel and the Bots whenever they saw his name come up on the screen.

From Russia (With Love?) we have Sword and the Dragon, a movie about a peasant who goes on adventures to fight rampaging foreigners trying to take over the land and, with about 10 minutes left in the movie, finally gets to meet and defeat a dragon. This actually looks like a pretty fun action-adventure film in its own right that was likely done in by some substandard dubbing. That being said, you might recognize the voice of Paul Frees taking care of a number of characters. Two shorts that appeared on other MST3K episodes are included here:  Snow Thrills (where you can hear about the fun of ”shiing”) and A Date with Your Family (narrated by Hugh Beaumont) are also included. Both of these shorts are great on their own, but the heckling makes them even better.

Finally, we have Samson vs. the Vampire Women. This movie from south of the border stars the legendary wrestler El Santo (the Samson of the title). Sexy female vampires, masked heroics and lots of wrestling are on the bill for this Mexploitation classic. This episode also marked the final regular appearance of TV’s Frank, Frank Conniff, who [SPOILER ALERT] gets taken up to Sidekick Heaven courtesy of Torgo the White. (Torgo is a recurring character taken from the classic MST episode Manos, the Hands of Fate.) Also included is Life After MST3K: Frank Conniff which talks about all that he’s been doing since leaving the show. There’s also a TV spot for the original movie and a great documentary called Lucha Gringo: K. Gordon Murray Meets Santo, that talks about the legendary luchador El Santo and how producer K. Gordon Murray introduced these films to us here in the States.

Also included are four wonderful mini posters drawn by Steve Vance of the individual DVD cases. Once again, I also have to rave about the creative computer animated menus for each episode, each presenting an original host segment with Crow and Tom Servo using voice clips from the show. I don’t know how the guys at Shout! Factory think of these, but they need to be patted on the back once again for them! This is another excellent collection of episodes from this classic series, with one of them being a true sentimental favorite. As you might expect, this comes highly recommended by me.