Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXVIII
Studio: Shout! Factory
Mar 28, 2017 Web Exclusive
Shout! Factory continue their steady stream of MST3K box sets ahead of the series’ imminent return to Netflix in April. For the first time in a while, this collection leans solely in favor of one of the first run’s two hallowed hosts, featuring four episodes from the Mike Nelson era and none from Joel’s. Fans will always have their favorite of the two, but even the most diehard Team Joel members should be plenty satisfied with volume 38’s (for real?!) selection of classic MST3K episodes, heavy as it is on picks from the beloved season six, which came at the height of the Forrester-Frank Mads era.
Take a look with me, won’t you? Here’s what this DVD set gets you:
Invasion USA (Ep. 602) Not to be confused with the classic Chuck Norris / Cannon flick of the same name. This Cold War panic movie centers around a bunch of schlubs hanging out in a Manhattan bar at the very moment Communist forces mount an invasion of the Western United States. Red Dawn this is not, however, because rather than mounting any sort of resistance, our stereotypical 1950s-types spend most of their screen time fleeing Communist-inflicted disasters, or wooing swank broads over glasses of bourbon. All of the action comes courtesy of vintage World War II stock footage, and once you realize you’re viewing images of actual soldiers dying in battle it makes the drama going on at the cocktail bar seem all that much dumber. At least the riffing is really good all the way through here -- Mike and the bots are just as exasperated by the stock footage as we are -- and their treatment of the included short “A Date With Your Family” is classic. We also get a bonus Ballyhoo Pictures documentary on this disc titled Zugsmith Confidential, which hashes out the life and times of ’50s and ‘60s b-movie producer Albert Zugsmith. He’s an intriguing character, having not only bore responsibility for schlock like this film, but some cinematic greats at Universal including The Incredible Shrinking Man, Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind, and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Colossus and the Headhunters (Ep. 605) A tribe of shirtless hunks flee their volcanic homeland just as it erupts, only to land in the capture of another tribe in the midst of a bitter power struggle. This Italian sword and sandal flick stars beefy Kirk Morris as Colossus – or Maciste, they can never settle on what to call him – who doesn’t really do much throughout the movie, other than doofily stumble into the plot-driving and action scenes at the point they're nearly over. This (non)action movie makes the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies look like P.T. Anderson films in comparison. By the time the “plot” gets moving, Mike and the bots have a great deal of fun at expense of the many drawn-out, overblown, and under-choreographed battles, where background extras can sometimes be spotted swinging swords at invisible opponents. This one starts out slowly, but the riffing really turns golden by the episode’s midway point. This disc’s bonus feature is titled Mike, by Joel, and it’s a nice little tribute from the series’ first host to its second. Joel speaks candidly about how Mike was chosen to assume the host mantle, and goes into the ways the show’s staff worked to make sure his role as the Satellite of Love’s resident human stood apart from his own. This short feature is illustrated with some great, old behind the scenes footage that longtime fans of the show will enjoy seeing.
High School Big Shot (Ep. 618) Marv, an impotent nerd, is spurred into planning a million-dollar heroin heist by his hussy girlfriend and good-for-nothing wino dad. On Monday he was a scholarship student, but by Friday he’s a full-blown criminal. This is your standard juvenile delinquent movie, a la Reefer Madness or Teenage Mother, but some good fun is had at the expense of the lead character’s distractingly huge lips, his weird bean-eating pops, and the long, awkward pauses that seem to follow after every single line in the film. To round things off, we have the grade-A industrial short “Out of this World,” in which an angel and the devil battle over the fate of a bread delivery man, and both in turn learn the value of eye-catching grocery store baked goods displays. Yeah, it’s really stupid, but that’s why its MST3K treatment is so gosh-darn good. This disc comes with the original, non-riffed version of High School Big Shot, though I have no idea why you’d ever want to subject yourself to such a travesty.
Track of the Moon Beast (Ep. 1007) In this ‘70s indie horror flick, a bland guy named Paul gets smacked by a moon rock. When there’s a full moon he proceeds to turn into the titular Moon Beast, a large and amphibious-looking monster, and goes on a murder spree. (This one brings to mind the Incredible Melting Man episode, and not just because they both feature early Rick Baker SFX work.) The movie moves pretty slowly, even with the riffing, but there are some funny running jokes – one revolving around the Native American character’s beloved soup recipe, and many at the expense of the heroine’s skimpy ‘70s wardrobe. (Personally, I felt like this is the weakest episode in this collection, but it seems to be better-regarded by the MSTie fandom at large. To me, the movie just craaaaaaaaaawls.) This does have perhaps the best host segment of the box set, though: a parody behind-the-music piece on the '70s soft rock band that appears in the film. In the extras, lead actress Leigh Drake is interviewed about her work in the movie, and it’s an enlightening look at how a well-intentioned film winds up this bad. (She’s also a bit MST fan, and was excited to see herself appear on the show.)
Overall, Volume XXXVIII is a strong collection, with three really good episodes and only one so-so one. Diehard Joel fans might be disappointed none of his host episodes appear, but his little tribute to Mike helps make up for that. This is one of the better selections of films we’ve gotten in a while, and the easiest to recommend to more casual fans of the show since Volume XXXV.
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