While we continue to await news of Joel Hodgson’s long-teased reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Shout! Factory continues to do us MSTies right with its latest four-disk reissue. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIII features giant spiders, two helpings of antisocial teenagers and a cardigan-wearing spy with a streak of grey in his hair, and Popdose MSTies Tony Redman and Dan Wiencek are on hand, as ever, to give you the scoop.
Daddy-O (Episode #307)
Tony: The first movie in this set is season 3’s Daddy-O. “(Old) teenagers on the wrong side of the law” was a popular genre for the show, and this is one of their best, from the vocal stylings of Dick Contino to the gutsy young woman willing to match him toe to toe, (“Want some?”), to the great jazz score by John Williams. The movie is preceded by the wonderfully random short Alphabet Antics. Host segments include the catchy “Hike your Pants Up” song, in honor of Contino’s almost impossibly high waistline. Also notable this episode was the ending, where the button to end the show didn’t work, adding more segments with Frank and Dr. Forrester to the end. I guess it was a good way to pad out the end of the show, because every time they pushed the button, the credits would start over!
Dan: Guys in high-waisted pants just seem to work for Mystery Science Theater, don’t they? This movie’s hero was very well summed up for me by Crow: “Why couldn’t this guy be on the plane instead of Buddy Holly?”
Extras: The excellent featurette “Beatnik Blues: Investigating Daddy-O” and the “MST Hour”wraps (used when the episodes were broken up into two one-hour segments in syndication and featuring Mike Nelson as a Jack Perkins-esque host).
Earth Vs. the Spider (Episode #313)
Tony: Our next movie, also from the third season, is “Earth vs. the Spider.” As giant monster on the loose movies go, this one is pretty entertaining in its own right with some legitimately creepy bits, including a shot of a bloody toddler crying in the street. Joel and the bots do an excellent job with the riffs (even throwing in a reference to the previous disc’s “Hike your Pants Up” song), making this a great episode as well. One odd thing was the callbacks to the first season, including the mention of Dr. Erhardt (played by J. Elvis Weinstein who left after the initial season). This also has one of my favorite shorts “Speech: Using Your Voice” which is why I know I must be heard, I must be understood, and I must be pleasing (although I’m still looking for a good wire rack). Host segments include the classic reading of Crow’s screenplay “Earth vs. Soup”.
Dan: Giant spiders are another more-or-less guaranteed home run for the SOL crew, between this flick, The Horror of Spider Island and Giant Spider Invasion. Makes me wish all the more that they could have done Tarantula with John Agar.
Extras: Another great featurette “This Movie Has Legs: Looking Back at Earth vs. the Spider”, the “MST Hour” wraps for this episode, and the theatrical trailer.
Teen-Age Crime Wave (Episode #522)
Dan: One of the apparently innumerable teen-delinquent scare films produced in the 1950s, Teen-Age Crime Wave hits all the usual buttons: sneering, nihilistic “teens” who talk like transplants from ’30s gangster movies; handwringing authority figures who can’t understand why these kids who have it so good can’t just behave; and a Kindly Voice of Reason, convinced he can get through to the troubled teens with some Bible verses or, perhaps, a good ol’ hamburger sandwich. It’s not so bad a movie, all things considered — these lurid, paranoid fantasies at least had the virtue of being watchable — and a firing-on-all-cylinders Mike and the Bots make a rich feast of it. Mike Nelson in particular was still finding his feet as the show’s host at this point, and there’s a scrappiness to his performance in these first outings that makes them particularly good, and is one factor in my long-held belief that the show’s fifth season was its best. When the elderly hostage protests to being ordered around by the teen-age criminals, Mike quips, “This isn’t anything like the time we had the Symbionese Liberation Army over!” Even on his way out of the theater, Mike won’t let up: seeing the title card THE END, he shoots back, “… does not justify the means!” The episode also provides a worthy tribute to that American cultural institution, the Doughy Guy, embodied by a character in the movie’s opening scene and later hailed in song by the SOL crew. Frank picks up the baton on the outro segment by becoming the un-superhero Doughy Man and is promptly maced by Dr. Forrester before pushing the button. Then he un-pushes the button, stops the credits, and gets maced again. And again. And then three more times. The more it happened, the more I laughed.
Tony: I gotta admit, this movie was a bit tough for me to get through. It started out good, and it picked up toward the end, but the middle was so claustrophobic and depressing. Mike and the bots certainly helped with the proceedings, but I just didn’t enjoy this one as much as the others. The Doughy Guy song was great though, and the Mentos parody was one of my favorite Mike-era host segments (especially ironic since, during the initial run of the show, you inevitably saw at least one Mentos commercial).
Extras: The theatrical trailer; a documentary on the film’s producer, Sam Katzman, who churned out movies like Teen-Age Crime Wave in marathon six-day shoots, which explains why the film mostly takes place in one room; and an interview with leading man Tommy Cook.
Agent for H.A.R.M. (Episode #815)
Every MSTie has his or her episodes where everything seems to come together just right, and for me, Agent for H.A.R.M. is one of these. For one thing, it covers several fertile sources of riffing magic at once: it’s a repurposed TV show (actually a pilot that was passed on and sent into theaters); it takes place in an era when chauvinism ran rampant; and its plot is both threadbare and preposterous at the same time. One of the many, many mid-60s Bond ripoffs, H.A.R.M. offers us Chance — Adam Chance — whose ostensible job is keeping apple pie on the table but whose actual work consists mainly of condescending to women, which, to be fair, he does extremely well. The movie never comes close to lifting off, and each non-development is treated to a thunderous singing of the James Bond theme (“dah-dun, DAH-DAHHH”) by Mike and the Bots. Speaking of apple pie, the host segments are some of the best of the Sci-Fi era: Mike, having blown up one planet too many, is put on trial in a gloomy, Bergmanesque courtroom shot in stark black and white, with his trial playing out over each break in the movie. Pearl Forrester is his prosecutor and Bobo, nattily attired in a white linen suit a la Matlock, his defense. I don’t know what it is about drawling Southern attorneys in white linen suits being lampooned, but I find it hilarious, and Bobo’s dismantling of Brain Guy’s testimony — which hinges on the proper way to bake an apple pie — is one of my favorite moments of the entire series. It begins with his disarmingly Columbo-like “Now, there is just … one more thing, suh,” and continues through each and every step needed to make an apple pie, with Brain Guy becoming increasingly rattled until he finally gives the game away — no one uses tapwater to work lard into a pie crust. Something to keep in mind the next time a friend asks you to lie for her on the stand.
Tony: I liked this one. These low-budget secret agent movies always provided rich fodder for the riffers. And I believe Bobo’s white linen suit was based on William Jennings Bryan, as portrayed by Fredric March in Inherit the Wind, probably not so ironically based on the Scopes Monkey Trial. I went through nearly the entire movie wondering if they’d ever tell us what H.A.R.M. stood for, and I finally saw it briefly on a graphic of a map at the very end. It stands for “Human Aetiological Relations Machine”. Yes, really.
Extras: A short interview with lead actor Peter Mark Richman. Money quote: “I was wondering what the hell [Wendell Corey] was doing in this picture. He had done great things, and this wasn’t great.”
That about wraps it up for this time. Tune in next time, when Tony and Dan review Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume I, Shout! Factory’s reissue of the very first Rhino DVD collection, complete with all-new bonus features.