Thanksgiving is tomorrow and with that, we stuff ourselves on turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and six fan-selected episodes of the Best Of The Worst of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as they bring back the beloved “Turkey Day Marathon.” The cheese begins streaming at 9 AM PST and 12 noon EST on Thanksgiving Day on www.ShoutFactoryTV.com and is also available on the free Pluto.TV app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, mobile devices and more. Join show creator Joel Hodgson and Jonah Ray, the host of the Kickstarter-backed next-generation MST3K, scheduled to premiere on Netflix in early 2017, to deliver a likely main course of Manos: The Hands Of Fate and perhaps a side dish of Pod People or Puma Man!
Available this week is Volume XXXVII, the thirty-seventh (!) installment of MST3K box sets, delivering four new-to-DVD cinematic turkeys delivered to our table by Hodgson (as hapless host Joel Robinson), head writer and co-host Michael J. Nelson, and writers and co-stars Kevin Murphy (robot “Tom Servo”), Trace Beaulieu (“Dr. Clayton Forrester”), Bill Corbett (robot “Crow”), Frank Conniff (“TV’s Frank”) and Mary Jo Pehl (“Pearl Forrester”). You know the concept — Joel (and later Mike) gets sent into space on the “Satellite Of Love” with robot pals Crow and Tom Servo and are force-fed a buffet of Z-grade movie meat — and, with Volume XXXVIII, we’re sent into post-apocalyptic futures, beaches filled with silly monster and dudes in tight shorts, a Japanese landscape filled with goofy aliens and even goofier heroes, and a castle where relatively chill alien Richard Kiel works to clone the world’s leaders.
The Human Duplicators is a visually interesting (the posters promise “a masterpiece of SHOCK in COLOR” and, well, they got the color right) but dramatically inert science-fiction yarn where the towering Richard Kiel — best known as “Jaws” from the Bond flicks The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker and the title prehistoric character from MST3K fave Eegah, yet still unbilled on the poster — plays an alien emissary manipulated by evil scientist George Macready, slumming after roles in such classics as Paths Of Glory and Seven Days In May, into replicating the world’s top scientists. There’s a lot of wild colors — director Hugo Grimaldi borrows from Italian stylists like Mario Bava — but little action and Joel and the ‘Bots have a good day making fun of stiff “National Intelligence Agency” boss Hugh Beaumont, a far cry from being the Beaver’s dad in TV’s “Leave It To Beaver,” with the best host bit being a visit from Mike Nelson as Beaumont himself, raining scorn on the “Satellite Of Love” crew. Extras are limited to the “MST Hour Wraps” from when the show was split into hourly segments on Comedy Central.
Escape 2000 is actually 1983’s Escape From The Bronx or Bronx Warriors 2 (and if that isn’t confusing enough, it's also the American title of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 futuristic prison camp movie Turkey Shoot). Either way, it’s a dud— one of many efforts to capitalize on the post-apocalyptic successes of films like The Road Warrior and Escape From New York. Here, newscaster Valeria D’Obici — whose toothy visage Mike and the ‘Bots compare to everything from Nosferatu to a giant rat — teams up with teenage lunk “Trash” (the charisma-free Mark Gregory) to fight another slumming actor, Henry Silva, a corporate thug trying to destroy what’s left of the Bronx to upscale housing developments. While director Enzo G. Castellari once directed solid spaghetti Westerns like Keoma and able Italian crime dramas, but settled into churning out futuristic thrillers made on the cheap, often using real run-down New York locations; the terrific Ballyhoo Motion Pictures featurette “Leave The Bronx: Making Escape 2000,” included on the disc, goes into detail about the film, its production and the entire subgenre. But what the film has going for it in dilapidated production value, it lacks in anything resembling a coherent story; in her introduction to the film, Mary Jo Pehl bemoans how hard it is to understand anything that’s going on in the film, which pads out a simplistic narrative with lengthy (and unfunny) comic relief with a lusty rebel leader (nicknamed “Toblerone” by Mike and the ‘Bots) played by stuntman-turned-actor Giancarlo Prete, parodied by Mike Nelson in the final host segment. Also, nothing in this film is remotely as cool as the poster art below, which clearly lifts the Tyrell Corporation building from Blade Runner as its backdrop!
The Horror Of Party Beach earned legendary bad-film status when showcased in Harry and Michael Medved’s book “The Golden Turkey Awards,” but this is truly one of the So-Bad-It’s-Good classics of the drive-in era, a beach-movie/monster mash-up that delivers exactly what its title promises. Bizarre monsters with reptilian heads that look like Spanish conquistador helmets and mouths filled with hot-dog-like appendages have been created thanks to toxic-waste dumping— bad news for the surf-dancing teens and bikers who hang out at a local cove and for Hank Green (John Scott, looking about 35), an collegiate aide to a local scientist whose daughter falls into Hank’s arms right after his girlfriend is snatched by one of the creatures. Director Del Tenney pads this film with a number of lengthy go-nowhere subplots (including two drunks played so broadly that Mike and the ‘Bots comment that one of them must have boozer comedian Foster Brook’s book in his car), innumerable musical numbers courtesy of the dorky Del-Aires, and dance sequences that showcase awkward moves and tiny male briefs. One of the best MST3K episodes, Mike and the ‘Bots get a lot of mileage out of just how amateurish the movie is— not only do the monsters look like their heads are about to fall off the actors stumbling around playing them, but the climax — in which Hank races from New York City to Connecticut to kill the monsters with a barrel of salt — is clearly shot at three different times, cutting from a night shot to a day-for-night shot that’s been obviously filmed at three in the afternoon. Extras include an intro by Mary Jo Pehl and the Ballyhoo documentary “Return To Party Beach,” a fun look back at the making of the film (the hipster bike gang Mike mocks for looking like Jean-Paul Sartre? They were real bikers!) and stage actor-turned-director Tenney’s career.
Mike and the ‘Bots go back to the Japanese-superhero-fights-interplanetary-monsters well with Invasion Of The Neptune Men, a 1961 sci-fi actioner starring future action hero Sonny (The Street Fighter) Chiba. As Japanese monster-film historian August Ragone points out in the documentary short “August On Neptune,” the film was chopped to pieces when it was acquired by an American distributor who then sold it directly to television, so if it doesn’t make much sense, it’s not necessarily the filmmakers’ fault. That being said, the story — about a group of Japanese schoolkids discovering evil creatures (essentially robots with colanders for heads) out to destroy the Earth by manipulating its climate and get help from astronomer-turned-superhero “Super Chief” to stop them — seems to consist almost entirely of long conversations about the possibility of an alien invasion and clumsy shots of miniature spaceships/recycled footage of Japanese destruction. Mike and the ‘Bots can’t help but make fun of Super Chief (“Iron Sharp” in the original Japanese version), his ill-fighting clothes and the extremely irritating schoolkids, all of whom seem to have been dubbed by the same person. In addition to “August On Neptune,” the extras include a new intro by Mary Jo Pehl, who comments on how the Sci-Fi Channel, who picked the show up after it was dropped by Comedy Central, forced the cast to structure the host segments around a narrative theme (here, a pastiche of Roman times), which grew difficult to maintain.
Shout Factory has recently announced the contents of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXVIII set due out March 17, 2017. Included are Invasion U.S.A. (not the Chuck Norris film), Colossus And The Headhunters, High School Big Shot and Track Of The Moon Beast. Order from www.shoutfactory.com and get a limited bonus disc containing all of the host segments from the earliest incarnation of MST3K shown on Minneapolis public-access station KTMA.