Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXVII

Studio: Shout! Factory

Nov 21, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

With a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 made possible by a record-setting crowdfunding campaign, excitement around the classic b-movie riffing show couldn’t be any higher. Is this latest DVD box set – the series’ 37th in fifteen years – going to be enough to help hold over MSTies as they wait for the new season’s 2017 premiere? Let’s take a closer look at Volume XXXVII’s assortment of episodes: 

The Human Duplicators: Richard Kiel’s is the most unmistakable mug in this low-budget 1965 stinker about an alien who comes to Earth and attempts to conquer humanity by slowly assembling a small army of android clones. (In the process he also falls in love with the blind, comely niece of a German scientist.) The film’s hero is an FBI agent tasked with almost single-handedly staving off an alien invasion. This late-era Joel episode isn’t the best of this particular box, being one of those rare cases where the awkwardness of the movie winds up being funnier than much of the riffing itself. Still, there are several memorable highlights, including the top secret NASA stand-in headquarters clearly being filmed at a budget travel motel, the weird SoCal Gothic castle much of the movie takes place in, the disco dance floor-like space ship interior and the niece’s absolutely bizarre wardrobe choices.

Escape 2000: This was an early ‘80s sequel to Enzo Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors, part of the wave of Italian Mad Max and Escape from New York knock-offs that flooded video rental shelves in that era. The lone Hollywood actor to show up here is Rat Pack b-teamer Henry Silva, who plays the sadistic leader of a task force in charge of eradicating any stragglers from the now-decimated Bronx, which is about to be bulldozed by an evil business guy to build a fancy housing development. (He and his seemingly-infinite army of men in shiny silver jumpsuits do this mostly through burning the people of the Bronx alive with flamethrowers – perhaps as a nod to the NYC-set, flamethrower-tastic Exterminator series?) The main thing standing in his way is a guy named Trash (no joke), a rogue gang leader with heavy metal hair and a perpetual blank look on his face. With the help of a remarkably shrill investigative journalist, an underground munitions expert and his adorable ragamuffin of a son, Trash mounts a resistance against the villains who want him to leave the Bronx. This early Mike episode is a great one, where a truly ridiculous and incomprehensible film lines up with some on-spot riffing. A lot of fun is had at the expense of the poorly choreographed action sequences, and the bots fall in love with an over-the-top Italian stereotype gang leader (whose name they mispronounce as “Toblerone”); plus, there’s the absurd element of the cutesy-kid guerilla fighter rigging up sewer traps and explosives to repeatedly kill the bad-guy police force. Where are this child’s parents? Oh, right – his dad is the one egging him on over frequent bursts of machine gun fire.

The Horror of Party Beach: Radioactive fish-monsters terrorize a suburban, oceanside community in Connecticut. This b-movie mixes your typical creature feature antics into one of the teen beach party-style movies you’d have seen Annette Funicello appearing in during the early ‘60s. When bikini-clad girls aren’t cavorting with clean-cut bikers to the sounds of surf music, they’re being murdered wholesale by six-foot-tall fish people. And hardly anyone seems to care! Seriously: twenty girls are murdered at a slumber party while others disappear left and right, and there’s hardly a blip of panic registered in this small town aside from a local scientist and two derpy teens (read: thirty-year-old actors) who hope to get to the bottom of the monsters’ attacks. Horror of Party Beach is a great deal of fun, riffed or not, but Mike and the bots do a particularly good number on this one. Quite a few laughs are derived from the movie’s near-suffocating whiteness, as well as the ridiculous-looking fish monster costumes (which appear to have hot dogs hanging from their mouths), not to mention the goofy soundtrack and tiny bikini briefs worn by the gyrating-est male cast members.

Invasion of the Neptune Men: This old-school Japanese sci-fi flick features an incredibly young Sonny Chiba as a pseudo-superhero named Space Chief, who drives around in a rocket-powered car and defeats Neptunian invaders with jump-kicks and fisticuffs. We’ll say it “features” Sonny Chiba rather than “stars,” however, because the real stars of this movie are a gaggle of little boys who’ve been re-dubbed, quite painfully, by full-grown adults. Out of the four movies featured in Volume XXXVII, this one has the most head-scratching of plots; as the bonus documentary explains, the film was cut down for American audiences to eliminate several points where the children inexplicably break into song (what a shame!), and then padded out with nearly ten minutes of stock footage to get it back up to a suitable television broadcast runtime. It’s no wonder it doesn’t make sense – but Mike and the bots make the best of it, finding a great deal of humor in the children’s lack of parental supervision and unexplained presence in nearly every scene, as well as a dogfight between the aliens and Space Chief which feels like it will never end (and recycles the same shots multiple times.)

Extra features this time around are, as per usual in Shout’s sets, very good, led by a trio of documentaries by the always-reliable Ballyhoo Pictures. One provides an interesting biography of b-movie filmmaker Del Tenney (Horror of Party Beach, Curse of the Living Corpse) while the other two go into the makings of Escape 2000 and Invasion of the Neptune Men (the latter also giving a brief, helpful history of Toei studios.) The three late-season films here include newly-filmed introductions by Mary Jo Pehl, who sheds a few interesting tidbits on the making of these episodes. (One interesting topic of discussion was on how the Sci-Fi Channel mandated that their host segments feature a serialized storyline, which explains the odd narratives the show suddenly followed in its final years.) We also get theatrical trailers and a set of MST Hour wraps for Duplicators. Overall this is another more-than-solid outing from Shout! Factory, and one worthy to be added to any fan’s collection.


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