Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Singles Collection

Studio: Shout! Factory

May 18, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In the music world, a singles collection is usually another way of saying “Greatest Hits” – meaning, the artist has compiled all of their radio hits onto one disc. When it comes to Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Singles Collection, the term is used playfully in reference to it being collection of old, single-episode DVD releases, but we’d argue that it works both ways. The Singles Collection is perhaps the strongest assortment of episodes that Shout! Factory has ever packed together in one set, and because it contains six discs at the price you’d normally pay for four, it’s also a nice bargain. If someone wanted to know where they should start with Shout!’s many MST3K box sets, The Singles Collection would now top our list.

Let’s travel back in time roughly 20 years. New episodes of the original Mystery Science Theater were still airing, but older episodes – mostly due to licensing issues with the movies they featured – had begun to cycle out of rerun circulation. As the fanbase continued to grow, many early episodes effectively disappeared; you would read about these episodes online in places like alt.tv.mst3k, but many would remain little more than legends to the people who hadn’t caught onto the show early enough, or hadn't invested into the online tape trading scene.

Back in the day, the only alternative to poor-quality video dubs of those old episodes were a string of one-off releases by Rhino on official VHS – and later, DVD. In a lot of cases, the episodes that got this treatment were usually quite beloved among fans. (Which made a lot of sense because, well, they wanted these tapes to sell.) A lot of the true classics – including Manos and Mitchell – were released this way. Rhino would eventually move away from the single-episode releases in favor of DVD box sets, a format which Shout! Factory continued when they became the franchise’s permanent home on home video. Not every single-disc release overlapped, leaving a handful of stray episodes to languish out-of-print for more than a decade. That’s where Shout! Factory’s new MST3K: The Singles Collection comes in, collecting all of these misfit releases into one very affordable package.

One of three true gems in this set, I Accuse My Parents is an especially mundane story of juvenile delinquency. Teenage Jimmy’s parents are comically flagrant drunks who seem to flaunt just how little they love their son. In his efforts to get out of the house as much as possible, Jimmy gets an after-school job at a shoe store where he cute-meets a comely nightclub singer named Kitty – who just so happens to be the moll of a local gangster. The boy is taken under the mobster’s wing, first taking on small errands and working his way up to aiding and abetting a murder. (Of course poor Jimmy is too good-natured to realize what he’s doing until it’s too late.) The laughs in this one are many-a-minute, and a recurring riff about Jimmy’s impulsive lying is one of the show’s all-time best episode-long jokes. The feature is accompanied by the short The Truck Farmer, which praises the wonders of modern farming (by 1950s standards) with all of its chemical sprays and cheap immigrant labor. It’s humorously quaint. The episode also features the series’ darkest invention exchange and a wonderfully surreal host segment in which the ‘bots do a straight lip-synch to one of the movie’s night club numbers. I Accuse My Parents is a prime example of MST3K at its best.

A longtime fan favorite, Eegah is named after its central caveman character (a pre-007 Richard Kiel) who has been living in a cave in the California desert since the Stone Age. He falls in love with a teenage girl who almost hits him with her car, and comedy (or is it tragedy?) ensues when he leaves the desert to track her down in Beverly Hills. The film was assembled by actor-writer-director-producer Arch Hall, Sr. as a starring vehicle for his son, Arch Hall, Jr., an aspiring rock ‘n’ roll singer who’d had some mild success in Los Angeles in the early ‘60s. (Much fun is had by Joel and the ‘bots at the expense of Jr.’s huge pompadour and orange complexion.) Despite his lines consisting only of grunts, Kiel gives the movie’s best performance by far. Eegah would be a hilarious viewing experience on its own, without the MST treatment; that the riffers are at the top of their game here just puts it over the top as one of the series’ finest episodes. It’s also the origin of “Watch out for snakes!”, perhaps the series’ most bizarre, enduring tagline, spoken by a character on-screen when his mouth clearly isn’t moving. This is another episode that regularly appears near the top of fans’ best-ever lists.  

Hailing from very early in the show’s run, The Crawling Hand feels like the just sort of movie Mystery Science Theater 3000 was created to poke fun at. Returning home from a lunar mission, an astronaut sends a cryptic message begging ground control to blow up his entry vessel – almost twenty minutes after he should have died from oxygen deprivation. They comply, and his body parts are scattered across suburban California in the explosion. This is bad, because he’s been possessed by a murderous alien entity which can live within dead human tissue. A teenager and his girlfriend find a severed hand while canoodling on the beach, and he brings it home for some vague reason or another. (For science, supposedly, but he treats it more like a pet.) The hand goes on a murderous rampage, like a homicidal Thing T. Thing. It’s amazing how suspenseful this 1963 movie manages to be despite its ridiculous premise and little-to-no budget. Future Gilligan’s Island’s Skipper, Alan Hale, plays the town sheriff. The riffing is a little light compared to later seasons, but for the most part spot-on, and surprisingly risqué. (Favorite gag? “Tell him I’m smoking.” You’ll laugh when you get there.) Among the better first-season episodes.

Of the two holiday-themed episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I’m a little partial to Santa Claus – with its prancing devil and jaw-dropping ethnic stereotypes – but both are part of annual yuletide viewing. Really, the name says it all when it comes to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a legend among b-movie aficionados even predating MST3K. On Mars, parents are worried that their kids are too boring, and the only way to fix this seems to be by making them more like Earth children. The best way to accomplish this, for some reason, is through kidnapping Santa Claus and a couple human ragamuffins and bringing them to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, a grumpy Martian views Santa as a bad influence, and spends much of the movie trying to sabotage and/or kill the right jolly old elf. The riffs are very fun, and the host segments – including the classic MST3K song, “A Patrick Swayze Christmas” – are full of Holiday cheer. This is another essential episode from the show’s Joel-era run.

The Hellcats is a groovy, late ‘60s biker flick that one would assume was a cheap knockoff of Easy Rider until you realize that this film predates it. The plot clumsily meanders around a motorcycle gang who run drugs from Mexico for a mobster, the cops who try to break up their ring, and an army vet who infiltrates the gang to avenge his brother’s death. “Plot” is quite a generous description, because this is a movie where things just happen regardless of whether or not they makes sense. (There’s no real sense of cause and effect so much as the feeling that the director might have been coming up with chunks of his story on the fly.) While the riffage is fine, the host segments fall flat – this is MST3K’s clip show episode, where most of the sketches are flashbacks to ones from previous eps. They probably still felt fresh when Hellcats aired, but now – when most of MST is available at our fingertips – not so much. It’s really not a terrible episode, but it is the clear runt of the litter alongside the other exemplary inclusions in this set.

You remember those childhood joys of eating a McDonalds Happy Meal? Not only did you get to gorge yourself on delicious, delicious processed food, but you also got a toy when it was all over. That’s sort of the feeling you’ll get from Shorts Volume 3, the grease-covered prize at the bottom of this hypothetical MST Happy Meal. This was a third compilation of short films from across MST3K’s entire run, with some highlights that include Once Upon a Honeymoon, Out of this World, and Aquatic Wizards. Although these are also available on the DVD releases of the episodes that originally included them, it’s always nice to have them in one place; each short is typically a bite-size chunk of everything that makes Mystery Science Theater 3000 so great, and they’re perfect for when you’re jonesing for the show but don’t have the time or patience to sit through a full-length movie. The prior DVD edition was only available as an impossibly esoteric mail order incentive, making the ancient VHS version the most easily obtainable one – that is, until now.

To recap, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Singles Collection contains easily the best assortment of episodes available in any of Shout! Factory’s many MST3K box sets – and it comes at a bargain value, containing 50% more MST goodness at the same price point.  You get three (arguably) Top 20 episodes from the show’s original run, another very strong sampling from their first season, a decent and previously hard-to-find episode, and the long-lost third compilation of shorts. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. Shout! also give collectors incentive to double dip, as there are two new Ballyhoo documentaries here: one on the director of Crawling Hand, and another on Sam Newfield, the incredibly prolific b-movie filmmaker behind I Accuse My Parents and such legendary fare as Terror of Tiny Town. You’ll also get the MST Hour wraps, informative new intros by Joel on Santa Claus, Eegah, and I Accuse My Parents, and original movie trailers for all of the features.

(www.shoutfactory.com/product/mst3k-the-singles-collection)




Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.