With the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion show happening in Minneapolis tonight (broadcast in select cinemas via Fathom Events on June 28 and repeated on July 12), it’s time to take a look at the latest collections of MST3K put out by Shout! Factory and get a primer for the show before the big extravaganza— which reunites original cast members Joel Hodgson (the hapless Joel Robinson of the earlier episodes), Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff (the evil Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank) with head-writer and later star Michael J. Nelson (a temp who was shot into space) and Bill Corbett, who took over from voicing sidekick Crow T. Robot from Beaulieu. Also in the mix, writer-performer Kevin Murphy (robot pal Tom Servo), later villain Mary Jo Pehl, Nelson’s wife Bridget Jones (writer/performer) and Jonah Ray, host of The Nerdist Podcast and star of a new incarnation of MST3K, debuting in 2017.
We’re already up to Volume XXXV of Shout’s series of box sets, but let’s not overlook Volume XXXIV, a special American International Pictures (A.I.P.) edition of the series. A.I.P. is the legendary independent studio that, from 1954 through 1980, released a great number of genre and exploitation titles, particularly those from the great producer/director Roger Corman. Run by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, A.I.P.’s story is documented in Daniel Griffith’s fantastic feature It Was A Colossal Teenage Movie Machine: The A.I.P. Story, which comes with the set. Griffith has said he had to edit this wonderful retrospective — which doesn’t shy away from the issues the studio suffered in the 1970’s as Nicholson left the company and big-budgeted movies like Meteor caused the company’s eventual downfall —down to a two-hour time-frame and there’s hope a director’s cut will be released in the future.
Here, we’re given Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent (also known as, yes, The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To The Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent), a clunky fjords-and-sandals action film handicapped by a budget so small — even by director Roger Corman’s standards — that he wasn’t able to bring it up to the scale he wanted. Viking heroines search for their lost heroes in this draggy piece that desperately needs more of the titular sea serpent, but Joel and the ‘Bots do what they can with the material, with the host segments focusing on, strangely enough, waffles. The short preceding the feature, “The Home Economics Story” (later repeated in the Volume Two set), is particularly stiff and amusing. 1957’s War Of The Colossal Beast, the sequel to Attack Of The Colossal Man (both directed by low-budget titan Bert I. Gordon), is one of the show’s most endearing episodes, due in no small part to the inclusion of perhaps MST3K’s best short, “Mr. B. Natural,” a tale of an androgynous music fairy who convinces a down-in-the-dumps nerd to play in his school band. “Mr. B.— you’re hot!” exclaims Joel, who, like Crow and Tom Servo, quickly grows exasperated by Mr. B.’s frantic prancing. Two movies about hypnosis and regression — Corman’s The Undead and former “Our Gang” director Edward Cahn’s The Sea Creature (best known for the great, little-seen monster created by ‘50’s monster-maker Paul Blaisdell) — round out the set.
Volume XXXV gives us three Roger Corman-produced/distributed exploitation gems. Teenage Cave Man is the only one directed by Corman here, but the film — starring future Man From UNCLE star Robert Vaughn as the world’s oldest teenager, stuck in prehistoric times (or is he?) fighting giant superimposed lizards — is a doozy. We not only get two shorts — “Aquatic Wizards” and “Catching Trouble” — but the disc comes with the featurette “I Was A Teenage Caveman,” with Corman, Stephanie Shayne (the daughter of the film’s “Fire Maker,” Robert Shayne) and film historian C. Courtney Joyner giving good perspective on the making of the movie. Being From Another Planet is a 1992 reedit of 1982’s killer intergalactic alien mummy thriller Time Walker, which Corman’s New World Pictures distributed (the un-MST’d Time Walker is included as an extra here). There’s little that needs to be said about this goofy, over-convoluted sci-fi yarn except that Joel and the ‘Bots have a field day with the silly monster and director Tom Kennedy’s use of mummy-cam POV shots.
The Corman-executive-produced Deathstalker And The Warriors From Hell (aka Deathstalker III) is a swords-and-sorcery epic that brings out the Tolkien/D&D nerd in Mike Nelson— many, many mentions of Renaissance Festivals are made. “Medieval Boogaloo: The Legend Of Deathstalker III” is a terrific interview with Deathstalker villain — and Buck Rogers co-star — Thom Christopher, who has a good attitude about the silly experience. 12 To The Moon, the only lone non-Corman entry here, is a dull 1960 space-travel drama directed by David (They Saved Hitler’s Brain) Bradley where the short, the kitschy futuristic car commercial “Design For Dreaming,” is more fun than the feature. “You Are There: Launching 12 To The Moon” is a great extra, a look at the story in the context of the ‘60’s space-race featuring filmmaker/historian Jeff Burr, who focuses on the eccentric Bradley (writer's note: having met Mr. Bradley while in film school, “eccentric” doesn’t even come close), who never got the recognition he thought he deserved.
Volume Two is a reissue of Rhino Home Video’s long-out-of-print second edition of MST3K, with a few additional special features (the “MST Hour Wraps” from when the show was cut into hour-long segments on Comedy Central back in the mid-1990s). If you already own this, it’s not essential, but if you came late to the MST3K game, it’s comedy gold, with titles such as the Charlie’s Angels rip-off Angels Revenge, the hilariously clunky Miles O’Keefe actioner Cave Dwellers (aka The Blade Master) and, best of all, the MST3K classic Pod People (aka The New Extraterrestrials), which is essentially E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial if E.T. looked like the love-child between Alf and Q*Bert. “Shorts: Vol. 1” — which includes “The Home Economics Story” from Volume XXXIV — rounds out the package.
MST3K fans should check out the Scream Factory Blu-Ray release of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, a 1962 exploitation classic about mad scientist Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) who preserves the head of his fiancée, Jan (Virginia Leith), who’s been decapitated in a car accident that was Cortner’s fault. Jan telepathically communicates with one of Cortnter’s other experiments, a malformed mutant, and all hell breaks loose when she turns the creature against her lover for not letting her die. The story is both goofy — Jan is clearly the old head-through-the-table gag — and surprisingly grim, with a wildly bloody climax cut out of most television versions (the crisp transfer shows this in all its bloody glory). This cut edition is on this disc as an MST3K episode — Mike Nelson’s first show as host — which makes a lot of light of the hapless “Jan In The Pan". Other extras include an alternate scene involving life-model nudity from the international cut, a still gallery and a commentary by film historian Steve Haberman and author and Brain expert Tony Sasso.
Bad-film fanatics should also be on the lookout for Scream Factory’s double-bill Blu-Ray of Troll and Troll 2. Troll, directed by ‘80’s FX whiz John Carl Buechler and written by genre stalwart Ed Naha, has plenty of issues, but is generally light-hearted fun— and likely the only place you’re going to see Sonny Bono, bewitched by Troll magic, turn into a living avocado. Troll looks positively epic, however, compared to Troll 2, an Italian film that has nothing in common with the first film except for the rip-off title. Troll 2, ineptly directed by Claudio Fragasso (who wrote the script under the great pseudonym of “Draco Floyd"), consists of one jaw-dropping scene after another — the story, about a family who stumbles into a picturesque small town, not realizing that the inhabitants are “Goblins” who turn people into green goo and slurp it down, is pretty much beside the point — full of hilariously notable-quotable dialogue (“And you can’t piss on hospitality!”), rubber-mask special effects and stiff performances from the cast, almost all of whom were Salt Lake City locals. Troll’s extras — including a lengthy making-of featuring the creative crew — are voluminous, but Scream Factory wisely licensed out 2009’s Best Worst Movie, a feature documentary on the making of Troll 2 directed by the film’s then-child star, Michael Stevenson, that goes into great detail into the making of this cult classic. MST3K never had a chance to tear into Troll 2, but a Rifftrax download featuring a commentary by Michael J. Nelson and Rich Kyanka is available here.
Shout Factory has recently announced the contents of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXVI set due out July 26. Included are Stranded In Space, City Limits, The Incredible Melting Man and Riding With Death. if you order early from Shout Factory here, it comes with a bonus "MST3K Annual Summer Blockbuster Review" disc.