You know the drill (and if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this). Guy gets stranded in space by his evil bosses and is forced to watch bad movies. He makes some robots to watch the movies with him, and they tell jokes through it for their (and hopefully our) amusement. Shout! Factory is now up to Volume XXVI (that’s 26 for those whose Roman is rusty), continuing the four movie volume sequencing started when Rhino Home Video started putting these out. You’d think that with all these volumes out (as well as individual releases) that we’d be getting close to the end of the line, but there are 64 episodes to go, enough for another 16 (or is it XVI?) sets in the current configuration! Oh well, enough talk about the far future. Let’s get into the not too distant one…

The first episode in this set is The Magic Sword, a medieval sword and sorcery flick from 1962. It stars our hero Gary Lockwood, hissable villain Basil Rathbone, and the bewitching Estelle Winwood. This is a rarity for MST3K: a movie that actually is pretty good, in a Saturday morning matinee kind of way. The plot is coherent, the actors look like they’re enjoying themselves, and the special effects, though cheap, are not bad. Which isn’t to say that Joel and the bots don’t add another layer of hilarity to the proceedings, which include Crow singing a love song to octogenarian Winwood. Included is a trailer for the movie, the wraps for when this episode was featured on The MST Hour (hosted by MST performer Mike Nelson in full Jack Perkins mode), and Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker, a fascinating documentary about famed low-budget producer/director Bert I. Gordon (whose films were fodder for many MST3K shows).

Next is Alien from L.A., a Journey to the Center of the Earth ripoff from 1988 starring the lovely Kathy Ireland and her hideously squeaky voice.  Ireland goes in search for her missing father and finds a whole new world underground, containing a healthy dose of Big Brother and a side of heroic guys who all seem to have Australian accents. This may be one of the more widely seen episodes because it was also shown on MTV to commemorate the show’s nomination for a Cable Ace Award. (Remember those?)  Extras here are the theatrical trailer and an interview with Alien from L.A. director Albert Pyun, who remarked that Ireland’s voice for the movie became so grating that even other characters commented on it!

Then there’s the intriguingly punctuated Danger!! Death Ray from 1967. Ths Italian low rent spy movie stars former Hercules Gordon Scott as secret agent Bart Fargo attempting to save the world from a stolen death ray (that one would assume to be dangerous).    This features the movie’s trailer and the featurette Life After MST3K: Mike Nelson. This is one of the longer Life After MST3K featurettes because Nelson hasn’t strayed far from his riffing roots. A few years after the show’s cancellation, he could be found heckling bad movies through Legend Films, then joining up with his former castmates Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett for the Film Crew series and to Rifftrax (mp3 commentaries for a variety of movies from Birdemic to Twilight to Casablanca). The popularity of this venture is probably what led original cast member Joel Hodgson to band together with the rest of the MST cast to form a similar venture, Cinematic Titanic.

Finally we have The Mole People from 1956, starring B-movie staple John Agar, Beaver’s dad Hugh Beaumont, and Batman’s butler Alan Napier. Like in Alien from L.A., we have people discovering yet another subterranean civilization. This one has a kingdom of albino-like humanoids subjugating a race of dark-skinned monsters. One of the archaeologists falls in love with the only normal looking woman in the bunch. (This tended to happen a lot in movies like this.)  Also included are the movie trailer and a truly interesting documentary called Of Mushrooms and Madman: Making  “The Mole People” that explains a bit about producer William Alland and his reponsibilies handling the horror and science fiction movie unit at Universal. It also talks about how director Virgil Vogel noticed that other studios were having success using stock footage in their movies, which led to its use in this film (and many other subsequent films at Universal). It also discusses some of the special effects in the film, as well as why our hero and his subterranean Sumerian darling were denied a happy ending. While this documentary is very informative, I’m curious about the use of “dramatic recreations” of quotes of some of the participants. I’m assuming these are things that were actually said, but it would be nice to know where these quotes originated.

And of course I have to mention the wonderfully creative menus on the DVDs, as well as the mini posters of each cover illustrated by Steve Vance. I wish they’d change up the cover design though. It’s functional (and it’s been the design that Shout! Factory has used ever since they took over distribution of the show), but it’s kind of boring, especially when you compare it to Vance’s covers, which are shown in postage stamp size on the back. Give him a chance to do the covers and I bet they’d be much more eye-catching. Oh well, I guess it’s what’s inside that counts, and that’s still great as usual.

By the way, the contents have already been announced for the next boxset. MST3K: Volume XXVII will feature the episodes The Slime People (with Commando Cody, Part 6), Rocket Attack USA (with The Phantom Creeps, Part 2) , Village of the Giants, and The Deadly Mantis.