Shout Factory hits us with a double-dose of “cheese movies— the worst you can find” with the releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K for those in the know) Volume XXXIII and Volume One. The former is the latest extension of the classic sci-fi comedy TV show, where show creator Joel Hodgson — later replaced by head writer Michael J. Nelson — is sent into outer space by evil overlords Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) and, later Forrester’s mother Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl) and, along with robot pals Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (Beaulieu), forced to watch the most inept movies ever made. Volume One, on the other hand, is a reissue of Rhino’s first edition of MST3K, now with additional special features (and clearer, much-less-pixilated transfers) and, as the original is long-out-of-print, now available for less than the kidney-transplant price the Rhino version is going for on eBay.
Volume XXXIII is chock-full of solid episodes, focusing more on the hepcat ‘50s and the swinging ‘60s, starting with 1958’s Daddy-O, a grade-z beatnik drama starring hunky accordion (NOT a typo) player Dick Contino — better known these days for his cameo appearances in a few James Ellroy detective novels — as a truck driver who gets challenged by a sociopathic femme fatale (Sandra Gilles) into drag-racing in and around Griffith Park. Caught by the police in the midst of a joyride that leads to the death of his best pal, Contino captures the attention of beefy gangster Bruno VeSota and is forced to run drugs for him— with VeSota unaware that Contino is working for the cops as well.
The film is full of silly musical sequences, high-waisted-pants and goofy, thick-glasses-wearing gym attendant/thug Bruce, whose squinty, nasal delivery you’ll be mocking for weeks. Preceded by the short “Alphabet Antics,” this piece is full of solid riffs and gags, including the constant mocking of Contino’s pants in the “Hike Your Pants Up” song and Mike Nelson as Bruce interrupting Joel’s lesson in producing the proper “spit-take.” Extras include the Ballyhoo Motion Pictures featurette Beatnik Blues: Investigating Daddy-O! and the amusing “MST3K Hour Wraps” from when the show was syndicated in hour-long chunks, featuring Mike Nelson as droll and frequently clueless A&E host Jack Perkins.
Earth Versus The Spider (1958) — its posters retitled The Spider after the success of The Fly earlier that year — is another film by the prolific and frequently terrible Bert I. Gordon, the raconteur known for everything from cheapie ‘50’s sci-fi thrillers (Attack Of The Colossal Beast) to ‘60’s fantasy films (The Magic Sword) to ‘70’s eco-horror drive-in fare (The Food Of The Gods). Here, the Notorious B.I.G. tells the story of the hapless Jack Flynn (Merritt Stone), who, after getting devoured by the giant spider of the title, is searched for by daughter Carol (June Kenney) and blander-than-bland boyfriend Mike Simpson (Eugene Persson), who discover a thick rope that one of their teachers, Professor Art Kingman (Ed Kemmer), identifies as being part of a massive spider-web. It seems that there’s a massive arachnid hiding out in a series of local caves and it’s up to our heroes — and suspicious Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth) — to take out the eight-legged invader. The movie is pretty dopey (the FX sequences involving a real tarantula photographed against plates of the real Carlsbad Caverns are just as inconsistent as you might expect) but harmless and Gordon, working off Laszlo Göring and George Worthing Yates’ script from his own story, occasionally gets us, particularly with a memorably creepy scene featuring a crying infant left alone in a town devastated in the spider’s wake—Joel and the Bots are even taken aback by this beat. The short, “Speech: Using Your Voice” (directed by Herk Harvey, a veteran industrial filmmaker best known for the cult horror classic Carnival Of Souls), which precedes the feature, is amusingly stiff and the host segments — which include Crow reading his horror screenplay “Earth Versus Soup” — are good throughout, complete with a lot of inexplicable references to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Extras include the Ballyhoo documentary This Movie Has Legs: Looking Back At Earth Vs. The Spider, detailing how quickly the film was thrown together and the difficulty of shooting in Carlsbad Caverns. A trailer and “MST3K Hour Wraps” round out this disc.
Teen-Age Crime Wave is a ‘50’s juvenile delinquent thriller that is more about the sneering of lead Tommy Cook — a former child actor and voice-over artist — than it is about the Desperate Hours-esque drama about Cook’s Mike Denton going on the lam with sneering underage moll Terry (Mollie McCart) and her innocent, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time juvie-jail cellmate Sue (Jane Koberly). The three, chased by the cops, hole up in the farmhouse of elderly James Bell and Kay Riehl and Mike and Terry trade off terrorizing them and making Sue’s life a living hell. The grim, Griffith Park Observatory-set climax is about the only thing interesting about the movie, which is more about the leads chewing the scenery than any real tension between them, but Mike, taking host duties here, has a good time with this material, singing a salute to “The Doughy Guy,” of whom there are many here, and mocking the line “He’ll never touch you, Terry, you’re dirt!” which later became a MST3K catch-phrase. Extras include the trailer, an interview with an engaging Tommy Cook and Ballyhoo’s Film It Again, Sam: The Katzman Chronicles, a 22-minute profile of prolific exploitation producer Sam Katzman.
Last, but definitely not least is Agent For H.A.R.M., a failed 1966 TV pilot-turned-feature meant to capitalize on the James Bond/“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” craze— and not succeeding in the least. Peter Mark Richman as Adam Chance, a secret agent sent around the world (despite the production having been filmed entirely in Malibu and the San Fernando Valley) to protect a scientist (Carl Esmond) who’s developed a biological weapon that turns people into green goo, from bad guy Martin Kosleck, who played any number of Nazis and evil Germans in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Flatly directed by “The Outer Limits” veteran Gerd Oswald, the movie limps along from one action scene to another, but Mike and the Bots have a field day with the material— one series of riffs make fun of an unfortunate henchman who looks suspiciously like Prince. The host segments — involving Mike on trial by Pearl Forrester — are stiff, however, and take away from the fun of the ridiculous feature. The sole extra is an interview with Peter Mark Richman, who shares anecdotes about the filming and how, once the networks passed on it as a pilot, Universal recouped their losses releasing it theatrically.
Rhino Home Entertainment released twelve MST3K collections between 2000 and 2008 (with a “half” release, replacing Godzilla Versus Megalon with The Giant Gila Monster over rights issues, as well) before the license transferred over to Shout Factory. Some of the Rhino sets have gone out of print, leaving late-to-the-table “MiSTies” out of luck. Fortunately, Shout has reissued Volume One, giving us access once again to Catalina Caper (zany, cut-rate Beach Blanket Bingo-esque antics off the coast of California!), Bloodlust (cut-rate take on “The Most Dangerous Game” with Robert Reed as the least convincing action hero ever!), The Skydivers (cut-rate stunt thriller with barely comprehensible plotting and editing!) and, best of all, The Creeping Terror, a VERY cut-rate alien-invasion movie featuring a walking carpet as the eponymous villain and, as no sync dialogue was recorded, narration telling us the plot of the movie in real time! The transfers are slightly better than the original Rhino versions (most likely due to a superior encode) and it’s a no-brainer to get this if you missed out the first time around. Already own the first pressing? Well, Shout has sucked you back in with a bevy of extras— the Rhino release, while offering “un-MSTied” versions of the films with the same crummy transfers, was strictly bare-bones and were flipper discs. Here, we get the original bumpers and stingers missing from the Rhino release; Ballyhoo’s entertaining and informative The Crown Jewels, a documentary on the history of Crown International Pictures, which produced all four of the films in this set (and still exist as an entity to this day); an extended trailer for The Creep Behind The Camera, a 2014 feature about the life of the film’s decidedly creepy actor/director Vic Savage (aka A.J. Nelson); the 2014 ScreamFest panel on The Creep Behind The Camera featuring Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu; and trailers for all four movies. Caveat Emptor, to be sure, but it’s hard to see die-hard MiSTies passing up this new edition, particularly if their collection has a gaping hole reading “Volume One” in it.
Shout Factory has recently announced the contents of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXIV set due out December 1. Included are Roger Corman’s The Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent (aka The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To The Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent); The She-Creature; The Undead and even more Bert I. Gordon with War Of The Colossal Beast.